[When asked what surprises him the most, he answered:] “Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.”
— The Dalai Lama
That’s the amount of time it took for me to get from Quito, Ecuador to Cleveland, Ohio.
Normally a 8-12 hour journey depending on layover time, the travel gods insisted I spend a workweek getting home:
13 of those hours were spent in Quito’s airport, sleepless, delayed, stand-by situations going wrongly, arguing in Spanglish, waiting in wrong lines to be redirected into correct lines to be admitted into even more correct lines still.
2 of those hours were spent flying to Bogotá, Columbia in a sleepy stupor.
14 of those hours were spent in Bogotá’s airport, confused and careless, shuffling in and out of customs, having dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner, stealing cat naps, drifting about the concourse, absorbing caffeine, catching second and third winds, absorbing more caffeine and reading.
5 of those hours were spent soaring through the sky over Central America and the Caribbean Sea, sleep interrupted by meals and meals interrupted by sleep.
6 of those hours were spent in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport in an unmemorable, blacked-out time blip.
The final 2 of those 42 hours were spent in a comforting haze, floating effortlessly onward to Cleveland.
As someone as obsessed with slow-traveling as I am, moving around at a breakneck, “normal vacation” pace exhausts me, probably more than it would most. This couldn’t have been more obvious than with my most recent trip through Ecuador. Some of you even sensed it by reading in between the lines of my previous post from Ecuador. By the end of the trip I was beyond burnt out. My long march home was icing on the cake.
Ecuador was amazing, don’t misunderstand. And the pace was self-imposed and somewhat necessary given our mission impossible: Meet, explore, know, understand and breath Ecuador, all in the four weeks we had available, all for the purpose of creating a fun, informative, and forthcoming Tales of Ecuador book.
So we went forth and explored one of South America’s most overlooked countries. We attempted to learn and understand the compelling stories we think the world should know about. We met with movers and shakers in this foreign land (sometimes by design, but mostly via serendipity). We uncovered the unique and secret little nuggets that make Ecuador Ecuador. All the while, trying to tie it all together and answer the questions: Why Ecuador? and Why Now?
While the pace was atypical for me, the purpose was still aligned with my philosophy of mindful exploration. It was a deliberate journey in every sense of the word.
Over the course of that trip however, in succumbing to that mission, I slowly started to neglect the parts of me that made me whole and healthy.
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s working ridiculous hours in a job you don’t like, pouring your soul into your own ambitious venture, or galavanting on a foreign bender like me, you often end up neglecting something. While many things are gained, some pieces go missing.
With travel, the thing that makes it so freeing and soul-enriching is that it tosses comfort and routine out the window, replacing it with adventure and a fresh outlook. With this comes a temporary routine-less, out-of-life experience. It can help you remember what’s important. It can help you make peace with your past. It can give you greater clarity on your future. It has the potential to inspire, enlighten, or renew you.
The trade-off is that in addition to removing the limiting aspects of a routine-based life, you also risk removing the benefits as well. This includes creating the proper space for the things that make you whole.
How do you know something’s off? Your body tells you. Your mind whispers to you. Your heart tugs at you. Maybe you get sick. Maybe you get fat. Maybe you get depressed. Maybe your soul hurts a tiny bit. You, or something within you, always knows.
While squatting in Bogotá’s airport, an odd surge of energy overtook me, compelling me to finish reading Choose Yourself! by James Althucher. The section of the book that resonated the most for me in that moment was his idea of the Four Bodies:
"Picture your body for a second. You have a heart that pumps blood one hundred thousand times per day, or seventy-two times per minute, sending 1.3 gallons of blood through your body. If there’s any blockage—in a vein or an artery—you’ll die very quickly. Within minutes. That’s a heart attack. Blood cleans the system, sending water, oxygen, and nutrients to every part of your body... Imagine now you have three other bodies alongside your physical body: an emotional body a mental body and a spiritual body. Imagine a life force that flows between them and through them, much like blood. Imagine a central core that must keep everything healthy. Just like you must keep your heart healthy to live a long, productive, and even happy life, you must keep these other bodies healthy as well and exercise them on a regular basis. A daily basis. A minute by minute basis."
Whenever I feel off-balance, incomplete, or that something is out of whack — I’m usually right. Something is out of whack. Chances are I’m neglecting one of my four bodies.
Sometimes I know exactly which body is off. If I feel out of shape, that’s my physical body. If I’m lonely (as I was periodically while traveling solo last year), it’s usually my emotional body. But sometimes these bodies can be cryptic. While the symptoms may manifest themselves physically, the root problem is not always a physical one.
I’ve come to realize that it’s not realistic to completely eradicate the downs in life and sustain a perpetual joyous state of being. It’s a great thing to aim for, but unless you’re Buddha, it’s impossible. The lows happen. Instead, the goal should be to prolong and sustain the highs, while minimizing and shortening the lows. One way to do this, is to quickly identify when one of your four bodies is out of whack.
As I become more self-aware, I’m getting better at isolating the problem and fixing myself when something off. And in reading about Altucher’s four bodies, I’ve learned to be more methodical in diagnosing myself. I’ve started asking myself to (honestly) answer a set of questions to get at the root cause:
PHYSICAL: Are you eating well? Are you consuming mostly minimally processed food and drink? Are you eating mostly fruits, vegetables, and natural proteins? Are you exercising 4-5 times a week? Do you feel limber, flexible, and strong? Do you feel comfortable in your clothes? Are you drinking too much alcohol? Too much caffeine?
EMOTIONAL: Are you surrounded by positive, supportive and loving people? Are you acting loving toward others? Are you fostering your relationships with those dearest to you? Do you have any unresolved conflicts eating at you? Are you being honest with how you feel? Or are you ignoring your feelings? Are you actively meeting or reconnecting with inspiring people who can help you achieve your goals? Are you living with a give first mentality?
MENTAL: Are you the master of your mind? Or is your mind the master? Are you in your head too much? Are you constantly trying to improve yourself? Are you reading everyday? Are you writing frequently to get thoughts out of your head and onto paper? Are you capturing profound ideas and goals? Are you growing the necessary skills needed to achieve what you want to in life? Are you engaging both sides of your brain? Are you making your brain sweat?
SPIRITUAL: Are you listening to your heart and following your dreams? Or neglecting them? Are you practicing gratitude? Are you spending a little time alone each day to sit in stillness? Do you have a healthy relationship with a higher power, life force, or something that gives you energy and a reason to be? Are you clear on your purpose? Are you clear on what you want? Do you love yourself?
As I wrapped up that hellishly long trip home, I realized all of my bodies could use some attention. I’m happy to say that since being back, I feel much better. I’ve been eating right. I’ve started exercising regularly. I’ve spent time with old family and friends. I’ve set up some daily routines to makes sure all four bodies are staying healthy.
[To supplement the above, I suggest checking out a post this week by the always thoughtful and inspiring Amber Rae, You Are Missed, where she shares some actionable steps to take if you feel “out of touch” with yourself — the equivalent to having an ill Spiritual body, I’d say.]
My hope is that by sharing the questions above, they can help you self-diagnose and identify which of your own bodies may be out of whack.
Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comments below. And as always, thanks for reading!