“Welcome to Mongolia!! I hope your planning has all paid off, and you are ready to embark on this amazing journey. Not in Kansas, but at the head of the yellow brick road. Instead of the Emerald City your journey is inside yourself. What will your Emerald City look like? What self discovery will happen? What will you forgive in yourself or in others?”
This was a message sent from a friend on the day I arrived in Mongolia.
I had taken such care to plan a trip of personal discovery. A trip to a remote region of the world full of adventure, physical challenges, and new experiences that would reflect my inner journey of change and discovery.
You see, I had lost touch with who I was and what I wanted in life. I had stopped listening to my intuition. I had started doubting my own abilities. I was carrying so much fear…fear of being alone…fear of rejection and abandonment…fear of failure…fear that I was not good enough…fear of setting my own boundaries…fear of safety for just being me.
A life ruled by fear held me back from my dreams and left me vulnerable to toxic people and unhealthy situations.
When I decided to ‘Let Go” and set out to travel the world it was to push past my fear and rediscover who I was. I wanted to listen to that inner voice. I wanted to learn to set healthy boundaries for others. I wanted to remove my own limiting thoughts.
So off to Mongolia I went…
Did I mention that one of the things I was leaving behind was a history of toxic people and unhealthy situations? The universe can have a warped sense of humor at times.
On Day 4 of my adventure I found myself in the most northern part of Mongolia. We had traveled 10 hours over bone-jarring rough roads, passing only a handful of people all day. Tomorrow we were to collect our horses and start the 6 hour horseback ride up into the mountains to the summer grazing grounds of the Reindeer People. While apprehensive, it was the part of the trip I was most anticipating.
We pulled up to a nomad ger (Mongolian term for a yurt), and went inside. Following the customary milk tea it was agreed that we would stay there, and I was asked if I wanted to stay in the ger (with the three men who lived there) or tent camp. I asked where the (female) guide would be sleeping and opted to sleep in the tent as well. After setting up the tents, I pulled the driver and guide aside to talk about what happened. I stated that I was open to home-stays but only if the female guide or another woman of the household was in the ger.
As a solo female traveller, I did not want to be the only woman in a ger of men.
When I made my simple request the driver became argumentative. Instead of acknowledging how I might feel unsafe he pushed back. He became angry. He blamed the guide. He blamed me.
In the past, any display of anger would have made me feel unsafe and I would have acquiesced. I would have given up my own boundaries to appease the other person. This is what I have done most of my life. This is what I have done in most of my relationships. It dawned on me that if he were angry now, he would be worse on day 24. If I felt unsafe now, appeasing him would not make me safer; distancing myself from him is what would make me safe.
I was faced with a very difficult decision. Do I continue on the tour with a volatile driver or walk away from all my planning and expectations?
I listened to my intuition. I stuck to my boundaries. I let go of my dream.
The next day we started the long trip back to Ulaanbaatar. Those two days, in complete silence, gave me a lot of time to reflect. I started to question myself. Had I made the right decision? Was I “over-reacting”?
The purpose of this trip was to learn to listen to my instinct, to hold my boundaries, to clearly state my needs even when I am feeling afraid. I had just accomplished the real purpose of the journey.
And I had an epiphany.
I didn’t need to spend days living with the Reindeer People to have a life-changing experience. I didn’t need to travel the world for a year, or spend in a month in silence at an ashram, or a week in the desert of Nevada.
Life-altering experiences happen inside us, when we open ourselves up to the changes we need to make. Sometimes an event or place can be the catalyst, but it is not what is life-altering. The honest self-reflection, the desire to grow and change, the openness, the letting go…these are the true life-altering moments. They happen slowly, over time.
My life-altering moment was not standing up to the driver. It was all the small steps and hard work I had done leading up to that moment.
And so I acknowledge that my journey began long ago, before I ever left Kansas and started down the yellow brick road. The Emerald City is a wonderful goal, but it is not the end of this journey, just a stop along the way.