“We’d take a last embrace, she whispering to me, “What am I going to do now?” …But the moment I left her my head cleared. It was another kind of music, not so croony but good just the same.” (p. 170 in Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer“)
Partially in celebration of Miller’s wise words, and partly because I really freaking needed it after three months of hardcore travel, I have been a mega-hermit for the past seven days in Chiang Mai, Thailand. If you’ve never tried isolation during solo travel, read on and see if you might like to give it a whirl.
During our normal lives, it’s a real challenge to avoid talking to people and take solitary time. In our jobs, we’d likely be fired if we spent a week of silence. A teacher could well get a solid kick in the shins from a moody adolescent if the young girl got the silent treatment instead of an explanation to question number three. For a parent, I imagine silence is even tougher, if not impossible!
But there may come a day, or even a blessed clump of days, when a “Me-cation” is possible: a vacation into your own fine self. Don’t talk with anyone, don’t answer to anyone’s demands but your own. Instead, just listen to to the whir of your own brain. Do the solitary things that make you happiest, and silently observe the world around. (For a mother, the equivalent is a “Momcation.”)
For me, my Hermit Week involved the following: Wandering Chiang Mai and taking photos, reading (Paul Bowles is crazy!!), typing (both emails and stories), working out, watching shows I love online, pondering life, enjoying my Chiang Mai hotel, and eating Thai food. I praise the earth and the sky for the opportunity to take this “Me-cation”, because we all know that such a chance is rare!
Here are some of the sights around Chiang Mai I saw that made me smile:
1. A parade of absolutely miserable (but very colorful) schoolchildren.
2. Giant plush blueberries (?) walking with the kids in the parade. I think there was a walking artichoke, too, or maybe it was a durian fruit.
3. A sign in a pile of tiny stuffed elephants begging: “don’t squeeze pls”! I wonder — had there been a squeezing epidemic in the past that damaged previous wee pachyderms? Poor babies.
4. The most terrifyingly spiky-stemmed “flowers” in history. (They’re like Medieval weapons! If you bopped someone on the head with one, your opponent would be toast.)
5. A man on a motorcycle scratching his nose deep inside his helmet. It looked like his head was a round onyx ball held up on a stick!
6. “Witty Ice Cream”. As I put my tongue on it’s icy chocolate softness, I could almost hear it sassing me. Don’t worry — I licked it good in punishment :)
Looking back on this week of solitude, a ton was accomplished online in terms of planning the upcoming Ghana leg of my trip (so excited!) but an even bigger ton was accomplished in the realm of my personal tranquility and sanity.
I’ve never really done this type of hermit-izing before, to this extent. There was always a friend to meet up with, or a work meeting, or an event to attend. But this experience has gotten me thinking: maybe it’s worthwhile to carve out time for “Me-cation” journeys into our own selves more often, whether we are traveling or whether we are at home.
Several studies have been done proving that silent mediation in schools at the start of each day can boost productivity and tranquility in students. Similarly, other studies suggest that silent sustained reading during class time is extremely beneficial. I can say from experience that it is mega hard to make a room full of teens stay quiet for more than one eye-blink, but they truly need it. We all need it!
My favorite thing I saw during this whole silent Hermit Week is captured in the photo below.
Somehow, a seedling from the stunning magenta flower bush behind the fence had fallen into the sewer and taken root. Now — oh glory of glories! — there is a shocking pink and green flower arm reaching up out of the dark subterranean depths towards its parent! I love it.
I feel a bit like that rising plant now. After seven days of feeding and nurturing myself in my dark “Me-cation” cave, I’m now ready once again to reach out and re-embrace our wonderful world. My Thai massage course starts tomorrow (woo hoo!) and I feel centered and eager to connect with great new folks and ideas in the morning.
Maybe you’re traveling, or maybe you’re at home, but consider making your next journey a silent slide into your own self. You’re wonderful, and plus, when you come back out, you’ll feel great!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!