Escaping Samsara through Travel

True story, I had a passport before I even had a birth certificate. I was born in the 1970’s, and I suppose back then one could do those things. I was blessed with the gift of going new places and doing new things since way back when everything was new. As a small baby, I had no one language, no one identity, no one way of doing anything.

But things change. As we grow, we create habit, some things become familiar, and we also learn the comfort of clinging to that familiarity. We develop a sense of me and mine, and along with it, an attachment to what now feels like a solid identity. At some point in my youth, the thought of going somewhere strange, being unable to speak the surrounding language, getting lost, or doing and possibly failing at new things became terrifying. I said no thank you to travel. I stayed put. And for a while, so did my mind.

At some point in our lives we all become stuck in a comfort zone.

The danger of the comfort zone is that we are more than the singular identity the comfort zone provides us with. By clinging to and defending my one perspective of what’s me and what’s mine, I remain stagnant and stuck in one place. When I’m stuck in one place in my mind, my behavior, thoughts and emotions solidify, tighten, and close in. I literally become close minded.

All actions which then arise from this close-minded point of view further help me dig in. I say no to travel, I say no to the things that ‘aren’t me,’ I choose sides, I defend my views. Each of these actions further creates a world where things seem black and white, where the comfort zone of ‘self’ becomes more necessary. As the cycle repeats, the cycle strengthens, and I’m less and less likely to venture back out into the unknown.

seal and sea lion skull on the beach

This is the cycle of samsara itself

Samsara is a foundational concept found throughout eastern spiritual philosophy that describes the inherent suffering in the cycle of life. Referred to as the Wheel of Life, the Karmic Circle, or the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, the cycle of samsara describes cyclical process of creation, dissolution and rebirth.

In a nutshell, I arise into form as a human baby, as consciousness develops so does a mistaken sense of “me and mine.” In my grasping to me and mine I develop mental afflictions, and in acting from these mental afflictions I build karma. This karma then leads me back to rebirth. Repeat. As long as I continue mindlessly in my own comfort zone, my own neighborhood so to speak, nothing changes. Or because things always change, they change for the worse.

Travel Reminds us There’s Something More

To break free from this close mindedness, to break free from the cycle, at some point we have to just get up and go. Buddha teaches us there’s a path to freedom, an end to the suffering, a way out. Travel can teach us that this movement is possible, and as we change our scenery, we can begin to change our minds. We know that through neuroplasticity the network of connections in our minds can change. What better way to work on remapping than by physically navigating through unknown city streets, through foreign subway maps, and asking directions from people whose language you may not yet speak.

To make progress along the spiritual path, we must be willing to leave the comfort of home, to learn a new language, to get lost along the way, and to potentially fail. Over and over again, we have to allow ourselves to fail. It’s only through failure that we eventually learn to stay the path, and get it right. It’s only through failure that we find freedom.

whale vertebra on the beach

The Discomfort of Travel is Magic

In my early adult life I finally recommitted to travel. I took baby steps with simple in-state trips, and I began to remember how much I loved it. With a newly rekindled desire to see new things, I ventured out further, I flew to new countries, I traveled alone. With each experience of success, I was willing to do more. I certainly had my share of failures along the way.

The discomfort that arises when we travel can show us where there’s still room to grow. Like an arrow pointing at our mental afflictions, discomfort is a neon sign that says there’s something there I’m still clinging to, grasping at, defending. That’s not the way I do it, I like it better at home, I’m confused, I’m fearful, I’m lost, I’m feeling stupid, or I’m unwilling to admit it. When I’m in some place new, finding comfort requires me to stay open.

The more closed off I remain, the more resistance arises. When I resist the circumstances of the outside world, the outside world pushes back. When I’m open to what arises, and learn to go with the flow, the world opens up to me. With mindfulness, I can see this. I can see that each world, while different from the one I came from, is perfect. Perfectly designed to show me where I’m stuck.

whale spine lies on the beach

The Final Destination is the Path

Some people don’t enjoy travel. They prefer the comfort zone. Some people crave and collect passport stamps like others collect material things. They have a list, they check it off, they want to say I’ve been there and I’ve done that. There’s no one action that alone brings spiritual growth. But for me, mindful travel has been a life changer. By mindful, I mean travel not as something that further solidifies my attachments and aversions, but as an act of exploration. While traveling can be as simply as an exploration of the world out there, for me, it’s been a fun way to explore the world within.

I was blessed with the opportunity and good fortune to have been born into this world with a passport in hand. After a few starts and stops, I now intend to use it fully. I’ve no one final place in mind where I’ll unpack my bags and end this journey. My journey is to stay on the path. Through travel, through the experience of allowing for newness, differences, and change, I’ll continue to become less of one single thing, and more of each and every experience that’s made me.

My comfort zone will expand, and I’ll be at home no matter where I am. Happy, spacious and free. May all beings be as lucky.


Sara-Mai Conway is a yoga and meditation instructor, and retreat leader with Baja Surf Yoga. She actually did get her passport before she had an official birth certificate, and you can read her full bio or learn more about how to join her on a trip at our retreats page

All photos in this blog by Sara-Mai Conway and taken somewhere along the Pacific Coast of Southern Baja. 

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