Ignore Your Television

On my solo cross-country bicycle tour in 2011, I had a panic attack in broad daylight.  At an outdoor coffee shop on the side of the road in Colorado, I'd perused an email from Change.org and read the words, "bring a fair trial to rape victims in Nigeria".  My biggest mistake was that I continued reading, and was horrified to learn that five men had gang-raped a Nigerian woman for hours, and video-taped the entire thing.

Poof. My sense of safety was shattered, and I became a weeping mess, crying by myself at a table for two. I felt like I'd been born with a neon sign over my head and a bullseye between my legs, and that all over the world people wanted to hurt me just because I was a woman.  I was terrified.

 TV stinks.  I drew this image while traveling across the country, to remind myself to ignore the news.

TV stinks.  I drew this image while traveling across the country, to remind myself to ignore the news.

Now, maybe you aren't that sensitive.  But I'm not the only one who gets nightmares after watching Game of Thrones or a particularly grisly episode of Vikings. As the Buddhist teacher/author Thich Nhat Hahn says, "Be careful what you put into your subconscious."

It's the damn truth.  Never will you be more aware of what's in your subconscious than when you spend hours and hours all by yourself while traveling alone.  It's when the scum rises to the surface of your brain, and you'll realize where all those horror movies and murder mystery novels went after you read them: into your "worry tank."

My advice: don't give you worry tank too much ammunition. If you're gearing up for a solo adventure, avoid the bad news.  Don't watch the TV if you can help it.  Stick your nose into an uplifting novel or, better yet, someone else's successful adventure story, and keep it there.  The world isn't all rainbows and butterflies, but you know what's equally true? "What you focus on, grows." So, you know, focus on rainbows and butterflies.  It will be the most important preparation that you do for your upcoming travels.

 Notice where you are, instead of worrying about what could happen. Colorado is beautiful!

Notice where you are, instead of worrying about what could happen. Colorado is beautiful!

Worry doesn't help you.  It's hard to believe, for those of us who grew up fretting over every little thing, in hopes that by fretting we would somehow keep bad things from happening.  Worrying makes everything worse. If you're stressed out and stuck inside your mind, you won't sleep well or pay attention to your surroundings or be able to think clearly when an emergency actually arises.

Nope, don't worry.  Meditate instead.  It's the oh-so-boring, too-simple-to-really-work advice that you'll hear time and again from the people you admire most.  Stay present.  Focus on your breath.  Look around. Listen. Notice the pretty flowers. This is your life, not a Game of Thrones re-run.  Nobody's sneaking up behind you with a dagger. And, if they were, you'd notice them more quickly if you were meditating.  Just sayin'.