Forced Meditation: What I learnt while travelling around New Zealand in a camper van

Everything happens for a reason and at the right time

Before I had even packed my bags, my fiveweek road trip in the North and the South Island of New Zealand were to be transformative. I was seeking answers. Answers whose adhering questions were mostly ethical and highly theoretical. Yet life happens and as per the aforementioned mantra, it happens when it wants and needs to happen. So, a single day before a 24-hour+ trip from London to Auckland, I found myself unexpectedly single with a broken heart and plans that were on the works for more than a year suddenly collapsing on themselves leaving me entirely unprepared for what my return from NZ would look like. Barely keeping it together, bursting into tears whenever my mind and body got a break from carrying bags, running up and down corridors and boarding flights, I made it to NZ. I went in expecting answers. And answers I got. Only they were answers to questions I had not yet asked. 


No level of preparation could ever have prepared me for the reality of spending so many hours disconnected (from the internet and from civilisation in general), alone, staring at the road and the surrounding nature. The only words in which I have myself managed to conceptualise what I experienced would have to be “forced meditation”. With music playing in the background (mainly Arcade Fire to be honest), I drove and drove and drove further still not towards a destination (one of the biggest perks of having a vehicle/home combo), but simply for the sake of exploration. I drove on scenic side roads, often following (and being blinded by) the sun, accompanied by nothing less or more than my thoughts. I drove past fields and left my thoughts behind amongst the grazing cows; I drove towards new, exciting thoughts triggered by the landscapes changing from tropic to bucolic to alpine with every stretch of distance. I drove next to rivers, lakes and waterfalls, and with every bend or ripple in the water I saw the reflection of my ego disturbed. 


Were I safely at home and not in the middle of this extraordinary country, I would have dealt with this new reality quite differently engaging in all types of distractions, keeping my mind busy and my heart as content as I could under the circumstances. Were I not in the Southern hemisphere and thus in the opposite time zone to everyone that would normally hold my hand, allow me a shoulder to cry on and listen to my muffled arguments and excuses, I would not have been forced to look deeply within myself and truly understand my emotions as they were organically evolving. Having been forced to dwell on my thoughts and lay them on the road ahead, I began to question realities I never had before. How much were those plans that I was grieving my own and how much were they simply figments fulfilling desired societal expectations? How certain were I really about being located where I would have been, doing what and being close to (and thus away from) whom I would have been? The unexpected rip in my life’s trajectory and most importantly its relative timing to my road trip allowed me (or better forced me) to really question and discover what I really want from and for my life. 


And the answers came more organically than I ever thought was possible. Amongst the original thoughts that emerged, I started to notice brand new connections between situations, feelings and memories that regularly twirled in my mind. I could see some of my wants clearly taking shape popping at me like the drawn lines on the road, whizzing past my van under my feet as the miles packed on. Images and words manifested themselves to me so clearly that I just had to listen. There was no ignoring them. For me that were five concepts, related and unrelated not only to each other, but to my life as it was before they revealed themselves to me. Revealed not in the sense that they were hidden per se, but that their absolute significance was. I chose in that moment to not ever let anything distract me again from those five concepts. I made the conscious decision to let them drive me and let them inspire every choice that I make from now on until I re-evaluate and discover that I have changed once more. 


My experience of “forced meditation” was revelatory and frankly shook me to my core. It allowed my mind space and time to grow, relax and reflect that I wouldn’t have normally allowed myself. I gained not only a valuable experience, but a tool to take forward in my ‘real’ life. “Forced meditation” might mean a different thing to every person, but for me it means that I now allow the chance for boredom into my life. What I found out through my experience is that in contrast to popular belief, enough time does indeed exist for simply sitting. I now choose to log off. No computer, no telly, no phone, no podcast, no audiobook, not even music if I find it distracting. No matter how entertaining or informing, the above are distractions. Sitting on the couch with no distractions and without the open road ahead is much harder, but incredibly fulfilling. The frustration of inefficiency was overwhelming at the start and anxiety sometimes inevitably takes over. I like to breathe deep, acknowledge it and consider: Can you in the present moment do something to tackle whatever is causing you to feel this way? If the answer is yes, then by all means finish your thought, make an action plan, get out of your comfortable seat and attack. You’ll feel better for it. 


However most of the times the answer is no. Acknowledging that the worrisome thoughts are as equally, if not more, unproductive than the neutral or positive ones, choose to shiftyour mindset on what is instead in your control. Allow for the space and time where boredom may emerge, because eventually you will realise that boredom is just a threshold to be stepped over into what your mind is truly capable of and what your soul really needs and desires. 


 Anastasia Baka

social scientist with a specialisation in media practice for development and social change.


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