Rising like a phoenix from the ashes: let go of the person you are to become the person you are capable of becoming. Transformation can happen at any time. But at certain times, it is easier to let go of emotional baggage and redefine who you want to be. Be it during a caesura like these days – or when heading into high altitude deserts by bike, all by yourself. Enjoy the new episode of my podcast!
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— Transcript of the podcast —
Hello and welcome to another episode of my podcast ‘Insights from Solitude’. My name is Anne Westwards and I’m sharing my learnings with you that I gained in the year and a half that I spent cycling solo through Asia and the Middle East along the ancient Silk Roads. Today’s topic is about ‘letting go’.
The person you are capable of becoming
I want to start with a quote saying:
The most intense fight you’ll ever have, is between the person that you are and the person that you’re capable of becoming.
I really like that quote. But I would like to change the wording of it. I don’t think it has to be a fight. It can be more a letting go of the person you were yesterday, in order to become the person you could be tomorrow. Or the day after tomorrow.
So normally, I first explain the mental concept to you and then I get to an episode from my cycling expedition. Today, I would like to reverse this, in order to make clear what it means to let go.
Cycling into deserts and high altitude mountains
During my cycling expedition, I had a tendency to get up very high mountain ranges pretty late in the year, when snow was already on horizon. I’ve also got a penchant to get out into deserts and steppes, where water tends to be a rare, rare thing. And I’m well aware that I am taking risks, but there is something… it’s a very deep inner urge that I have to follow. I guess you could call it a spiritual calling. But in the end, it’s really just me enjoying the solitude out there and the deep inner peace that comes with it.
But don’t get me wrong I am well aware of the risks I’m taking. And I am afraid, very much so, actually. Because there are things that you can (and should) be afraid of. Be it wolves, the cold – at times when I knew that I would face nights at minus 25 degrees Celsius in a tent – , or the worst enemy of all: thirst. It’s just a risk that you may run out of water because you miscalculated or because you have an accident.
A turning point: who do I want to be?
So before I get out into situations like this, I take my time. Why? It’s about mental preparation, I guess, and it’s about gathering the courage. But it’s also about letting go. Letting go of the person I was before I cycled out there. Because that person is not going to be capable to do that.
I have this very deep feeling that: those are the turning points, those are the caesuras, where – and this is a chance actually – those turning points where you know that this is a new chapter. It can be something as simple as a bike trip, but it can also be a crisis as we are facing at the moment. These are natural turning points, where this is a chance to not fight the person you are today or you were yesterday. But just to look at: ‘What do I have with me? Which (mental) baggage do I really want to take – take this baggage out into the desert, up these mountain ranges?’
The phoenix will rise from the ashes…
For me, it’s – in a way – a kind of dying. It’s letting the person that you were die in the process and just see… It’s like this analogy of the ‘phoenix rising from the ashes’. Just letting go the concept of you – of who you were before. And then just seeing what rises from the ashes. Believe me, so far always something has risen from the ashes. You’re not going to be left with ‘no person to be’. You are going to be a new self and this takes time.
… and only you know when it’s ready
Sometimes, I started doubting my own sanity, because it does take time and I won’t be able to tell you when I’ll be ready. This can take up to a week for me, just getting ready to leave. Sometimes, I compensate and find excuses for myself. So for example, when getting up into the Pamirs or the Himalayas, I would browse the bazaars, get some more supplies. An extra handful of nuts has never hurt – and it hasn’t! Maybe get an extra sweater because I’m afraid of the cold. I’ve done all these things.
Then at some point, you face yourself in the mirror and acknowledge to yourself: ‘This is not about the physical preparation anymore. This is about getting mentally ready.’ The first time I got out into the mountains – the Pamirs – in Kyrgyzstan, getting into Tajikistan, it took me a while to acknowledge that to myself: that I need time to get mentally ready. And no one is going to be able to tell you how long it’s going to take. You know it.
Transformation when you’re thrown into the unknown
Right now, we’ve been thrown into this new situation that we all have to handle. And nobody told us a week ahead of time: ‘Oh, a change is coming. Please get ready!’ But I still think that it’s a similar process that’s happening, in the sense that there’s a new situation. The old securities, the old beliefs maybe, they’ve all been shaken in some way, shape or form.
And now, we are heading into a new land, so to speak, cycling up into high mountain ranges, into the desert – you name it. It doesn’t have to be threatening, even though many people right now perceive the situation as threatening. But it is a new reality. It is a changed reality from what it was before. And I think that is what’s important: it has a very huge potential for transformation, for our societies, but also for us personally.
Asking questions and growing habits
I would always advise to start with yourself, because this is the person that you can actually, to a certain degree, control. We can always think about transforming society later on.
But just acknowledge or see this as a chance for letting go of old baggage. And actually actively decide: ‘What do I want to take with me? Which character traits do I want to hone? Which routines would I like to establish? How do I want to treat others? How do I want to approach others at these times?’
And we all know that once we repeat things for a certain amount of times, we can actually grow new habits. So it’s not that far-fetched, let’s say.
A wonderful chance: returning as a new person
I’ve always returned, each time I set out. By the time I returned to civilization – or maybe rather: by the time that I returned to human habitation -, I’ve always been an altered person. I wouldn’t say I was a better person per se. But there was this process of shedding weight and baggage beforehand. And this is a wonderful chance.
It’s a kind of, I’d say, ‘rebirth’ – because that’s the first image that came to my mind, just thinking of the phoenix. But it’s really just about stripping yourself bare and then consciously deciding: ‘Which are the things that I actually want to take with me?’
Letting go – and see the chance
I hope this has inspired you to think about the current situation a little bit differently, maybe seeing it more as a chance than a threat. As always, I’m looking forward to to your comments, your thoughts about ‘becoming’ and ‘letting go’. And as always, if you like the content you’re most welcome to subscribe to the channel to get updates. And I’ll make sure that I work on the next episode. See you again soon. Bye!
PPS: Let me bring the Silk Roads into your living room! Join me for one of my upcoming travel talks (online):