“All conditioned things are impermanent. When one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.” — Buddha
Simple as the Buddha may have made it sound, getting right with impermanence isn’t so easy. Accepting the true, transient nature of life means accepting loss at its grandest scale. Acknowledging that the most basal of our pursuits—comfort, happiness, love, life itself—have no final destination is a serious dose of reality.
It’s easy to interpret this nihilistically, particularly in the face adversity or grief. But impermanence doesn’t mean that these aren’t worthwhile pursuits. Life has meaning if you choose to give it meaning, whatever that meaning might be. And I believe that this is what the Buddha meant when he talked about impermanence—when you accept that the journey is what matters and begin truly living in the present, the bumps along the road are less painful because you’re not focused on them.
This is something that I’ve personally struggled with. I’ve experienced—and caused—a profound amount of pain and loss over the years, and viewing that solely through the lens of change has been nearly impossible. At some subconscious level, a big part of my decision to pick up and leave my old life is probably a feeble attempt to own that pain.
A friend recently joked that now when I get homesick I can just go sleep in my car. Funny guy. But in practice it’s not quite that easy. And what I didn’t anticipate and didn’t prepare for was the magnitude of attachment this thing we casually call home.
Merriam-Webster defines home as: “a familiar or usual setting,” and “the social unit formed by a family living together”. The two definitions illustrate an important distinction—home is not just about physical location, it is also about relationships. In fact, one (me) could argue that home really has nothing to do with place. Before the first agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, all humans were nomadic. It’d be interesting to go back and ask those early wanderers exactly what home meant to them.
Still, our contemporary concept of home—rooted largely in consumerist pursuits—runs counter to the motives of the modern nomad. Indeed, it’s exactly this concept of home that most of us are running from. True nomadism demands acceptance of the impermanence of place, and along with it community—two things that tend to be fundamental to the post-Neolithic human experience. My ignorance to this has frequently been a hard lesson throughout my journey.
Ultimately, we’re forced to redefine the concepts of both home and tribe to something a little more ephemeral. Doing this requires changing your perspective on some things and doubling down on some good habits. For me, this has been the difference between being devastatingly lonely and happily alone. And I believe that embracing these tenets will help you find immense joy in life, whether you are partnered or single, living behind pickets in the suburbs or camped out at Wally in a van, working in a career in a cubicle or grinding through odd jobs to fund the next trip.
Redefine “Home” As Everywhere
It took me a while to learn that there’s an important distinction between “nowhere” and “everywhere”. This is paramount for self-perception and has been crucial for my sanity—think “homeless” versus “adventurer”. It’s had a profound effect on my motivation, self-confidence, and self-respect.
This also has a major impact on how other people treat you. Want to instantly shut down a conversation with someone at a bar? Tell her you’re homeless and live in your car. If you’re trying to make genuine connections during your travels—and you should be, because this is the secret to truly unforgettable experiences—this perception can be the difference between a free place to stay with a local family and a night sleeping on a wet concrete bench in a Philadelphia bus station (which I don’t recommend).
Semantics? Perhaps. But I’ll take positive self-affirmation over negative self-destruction any day of the week.
There’s another unintended consequence to this kind of thinking: you begin to see yourself as a world-citizen. When everywhere feels like home, your sense of ownership and community rapidly expand. Pure magic happens when you manifest this aura—people sense it and they treat you like family. You’ll slowly become a steward of Earth and humankind instead of an accidental xenophobe.
As someone who has struggled with crippling depression, I realize the potential irony of this statement. Telling someone who is severely depressed to “choose happiness” is like asking an alpaca to solve a double integral. Don’t make no sense. (Sidenote: If this is you, I implore you to ask for professional help. I truly understand how difficult this is, but there’s nothing down there but more pain. If you have no one to guide you, contact me and I’ll try to help you find someone that can help you.)
For the rest of you, it’s a matter of perspective.
Most of us are pretty smart beings. We usually know which decision will put us on the road to joy and which might kill us (sometimes these are the same, that’s an extra-special case for which you should be immensely excited). Even in light of seemingly impossible circumstances, you can almost always steer yourself in the right direction. Don’t believe me? Ask Richard Branson, Robert Herjavec, or Tony Robbins. Or me—the fact that I’m writing this is testament to the sheer power of positive will.
Use Your Time Wisely
Social media marketing legend Gary Veynerchuck warns to, “Limit your time with people who sit around and complain, aren’t kind to others, don’t support your ambitions, see the downside of every situation, aren’t optimistic and positive”.
The chronic pessimists. We all know at least one.
When the amount of time you spend with people is limited, the quality of that time is magnified exponentially—be it positive, negative, or neutral. It becomes imperative that you remove people that aren’t contributing to your growth from your life. Fair warning, this might be family, old friends, or folks that you care deeply for. It will be incredibly hard (especially when you’re on the other side of this, ask me how I know) but you have to walk away. The opportunity cost is just too high.
Be careful not to let this morph into self-righteousness. Be nice. Take a close look at yourself first before you start passing judgment, which is exactly what this entails. That doesn’t mean that you can’t still be compassionate and humble, however. Resist the urge to crusade—rooting your happiness in your ability to “fix” someone else (codependency) is seriously unhealthy behavior that can ultimately kill you.
Accept the impermanence of the relationship, grieve, and move on.
This is perhaps the one thing that has caught me the most off-guard. Being free—truly free—is harder than it sounds. Humans just aren’t designed for uncertainty, and that’s exactly what this life is all about. Embracing that and not wavering from the path has been one the biggest challenges for me. There’s no shortage of people that will tell you all the reasons you shouldn’t be doing something, and you absolutely must ignore them and press on. Do not let their skepticism play to your innate sense of uncertainty.
Real freedom also requires an incredible amount of discipline. Hopefully you still have meaningful ambitions. You still have to earn a living, buy gas, insurance, tires, plane tickets, food, gifts for your family during the holidays, deal with emergencies, maybe put a little away in savings. When lounging in a hammock and drinking cheap beer every day is a legitimate option, it can be hard to resist. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Don’t lose sight of purpose and meaning—you are in a unique and rare place to seek exactly these things unencumbered.
Lean in. Stay confident. Be humble. Reject the naysayers and commit fully. Or in the words of experienced vanlifer and YouTube host, David Roberts:
“One thing is for certain though, you can’t live like this while trying to hold on to the other. You simply can not get here with a tentative, uncertain soul. This is an all in or stay away from it type of lifestyle.”
Go get it.
See y’all on the trails!