Unraveling my travel envy and embracing the fray

My friends are posting photos from their oversees trip on social media. I see them smiling, exploring, adventuring, learning about another culture, another history, another part of the world. My envy meter jumps. I am simultaneously happy for them and jealous of what they are doing. I was invited to go with them, but turned them down for a number of reasons – Covid, cost, time, obligations here at home, other places higher on my to-visit list. But the jealousy still bubbles up inside as I look at their photos. My social media posts are photos of bees, tomatoes, and flowers from my garden – nothing dramatic or exotic or particularly exciting.

As soon as the feelings of jealousy arise, I am aware of them and stop momentarily to examine the cause. Why do I feel this way? Where is this envy coming from? Is it, as the millennials say, FOMO (fear of missing out)? Maybe. Is it rooted in anger at feeling obliged to stay close to home and take care of my dad (because that’s what daughters are expected to do)? Partially. Is it rooted in fear that I may never get to travel long distances again? Doubtful. Is it because I’m angry at myself for choosing safety and sameness over adventure and excitement? Unlikely. Is it because I’m culturally-conditioned to want to “keep up with the Jones’s”? Hmmmm. Or is my jealous envy rising up because I am genuinely craving some travel and adventure?

Travel has always been both a symbol and an act of freedom and independence for me. When I was a teenager driving for the first time alone, I remember a sudden and profound sense of autonomy. I was completely on my own with the ability to choose where I was going, what I was doing and with whom. All the decisions I made in that car were mine and mine alone. It was a heady experience. I was totally responsible for me, and I could do anything. Even now, getting into my car alone to drive anywhere at all, I feel that same sense of independence and freedom.

Perhaps that is the crux of it here today. Traveling means being free, independent, autonomous. It means being away from the day-to-day expectations, responsibilities, obligations (whether self-imposed or otherwise) that life throws at me. Perhaps this envy of my friends is a simple desire to feel freedom and autonomy from my own responsibilities for just a little while.

And yet when I stop and pay attention to that little bee, that green tomato, or that brilliant flower that I posted to Instagram, there is no jealousy or envy. There is only the bee, the tomato, the flower. And truly, within each of those small, ordinary, everyday things in my garden is an exquisite world full of adventure and wonder. The truth of the matter is that I feel as much freedom and independence right here in my yarden as I do traveling. I have autonomy here. I have adventure and wonder here, if only I acknowledge it.

A bee explores a milkweed flower in our garden

As I ponder my feelings I go outside and watch a bee land on a flower, bouncing slightly and grasping it with tiny barbs along its legs. The tip of its proboscis reaches and probes inside the ring of petals, gliding down one tiny petal like a child on a sliding board, to the sweet nectar hiding in the center of the flower. Its fuzzy legs brush against anthers, collecting yellow balls of pollen along the way. As it begins to fly away to the next flower, its legs dangle as if caressing itself with the petals of the flower. The flower is intricately designed to attract the bee, provide it with a reward, and place its pollen where the bee cannot help but carry it away to the next flower. A dance of life, eons in the making but so quick it would be easy to miss in the blink of an eye. Yet watching that dance takes me on a journey so fascinating, so profoundly elemental, so intriguing that, for a moment, it captivates me as mightily as the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia or a bell tower in a downtown Budapest cathedral.

A waterfall in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia (photo by Deb Hanson, 2019)

Being here now, in the moment with the bee and the flower, is as free as I can be. Complete autonomy, independence, freedom – from emotions, from past and future, from expectations or obligations – independence from the social and cultural conditioning of my human world. In this moment I am alive and focused on the beauty and magic of life. An experience in time that has never been before and will never be again. An opportunity to soak in the absolutely singular uniqueness of what is happening within me and around me right now. An experience that once passed, will never return, but sews a new thread into the fabric of me forever.

Being acutely aware of my feelings, of being present with the bee and the flower, of gratitude for this moment does not come easily, but with practice – a regular, committed practice of paying attention, stopping to smell the flowers, focusing on what is, right now. It takes practice to unravel the old behaviors and emotions I’ve relied on for so long in my life – the doing, the going, the striving, the envy, the jealousy, the wanting of something else. But with this practice, I am free, present, and grateful. The gift and wonder of traveling into the world of a bee on a flower is as rewarding as any oversees trip, as long as I choose for it to be.

In The Little Mermaid, the witch Ursula says, “Life is full of tough choices!” Indeed, life is made up of days, hours, minutes and seconds, and in every single one of them I have a choice about how I perceive the world and how I live in it…

  • As a victim or a victor
  • As a dreamer or a doer
  • As an entitled prick or a humble human being
  • As someone who is jealous/angry/hateful/sad or someone who is grateful/loving/caring/present.

With each choice I become more tightly woven or loosely free. I can spend my energy clinching the old fabric of my envy or embracing the fraying edges of freedom and wonder.

Right here. Right now.

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