Ithaca is everywhere and nowhere at the same time

As you set out for Ithaka

hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

–      Ithaka by C.P.Cavafy. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.

When someone usually asks me about my Greece trip, the I TELL them is about how good the food was, how good the hikes were, how good it felt being open and real with strangers. But the poem is actually what comes to mind first and I don’t talk about it all (you can read the full poem here).

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Everyone interprets this poem differently. Dimitris (a brother, a friend and one of the leaders of the trip) said (well, wrote) this after the trip came to an end (sounds very wise now that I have read it again):

Ithaca is everywhere and nowhere at the same time…Either way we just travel around our soul…Travelling for me is always an attempt to understand first of all myself and afterwards the huge world that surrounds us…”

This, in a way echoes how I interpret the poem as well. The poem starts off by giving the reader a destination, a goal to be achieved, but then as you go further, it talks about the path to get there – the journey to the destination.

My childhood was quite rough. Imagine being one of the tiniest kids in a school of around 2000 kids. Yes, I got bullied (big time) and ultimately this resulted in me growing up into a person who was uncomfortable around others (I was that guy in the corner of the room who left everyone alone).

I did not think much of it until I realized that because I don’t fit in with my family, unless I make friends, I could end up being alone. I set a goal for myself. A goal to get better at being around people – especially strangers – without being uncomfortable. What better way to achieve this than take a solo trip where I would spend time a bunch of strangers?

So, when I saw Erin’s Instagram posts and stories about a trip to Greece that she and Dimitris would lead, I decided to go. I filled in the application on Erin’s blog and she responded highlighting that the trip would involve a lot of discussions, guided journaling and personal development activities.

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I could be a part of the trip if it felt like a fit for me. Did I know it would be a fit for me? Hell no!! My head said, “dai, don’t go. You will not like it” (“dai” is an Indian expression that is sort of on the lines of “yo”. I dunno, I am no expert, I just use the bloody word). But everything else in me said “dai, go or else you won’t grow and you won’t learn” (it was my heart pah, not everything. Exaggerated for effect I say. “pah” is like dai – another slang used to address someone).

It was a bit of rough start for me (relative to how I thought it would be based on all the work I had done on myself). When Erin had her one on one check in during our ferry ride into Naxos, I don’t remember if what I said (apart from goal for the trip) was coherent or not. All I knew was that I was there to get better at handling my discomfort (which I think stemmed from fear) of being around people, even more so, with strangers.

At the end of each day, everyone sat together and had discussions. We would talk about our hero of the day, the highlight of the day and lot of other things (you get the point – we shared). Talking about the hero and the highlight of the day was easy (I was doing most of the things for the first time, so it came easy). But talking about so many other things that required some levels of self-awareness (this applied to the journaling we did too) was really difficult. How would someone share when that person does not know whatever it is about themselves in the first place?

Initially, I did not fit in as well as I had hoped. To see everyone so in touch with what they felt and seeing them express themselves so easily, left me overwhelmed and I just shut up 🤐. There was so much I was hearing that I hadn’t experienced (I don’t think I will. Can’t say for sure though) and every ounce of my energy went into taking it in and processing everything.

I asked myself “what have I been doing all these years? How can I know and understand another person if I don’t know and understand myself in the first place?”. This was when I truly started putting in efforts to achieve my goal and got over my rough start.

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Now, instead of writing about what I saw in Greece, the places I visited and the tons of amazing food that was on offer, why would I write about something that I did that was unusual for me? Well, travel can be a way to understand the self and then the world that surrounds us and I have realized that now. I think that would make for a better story than something that feels like a travel guide – you can always join them on this trip and experience it!

I did this for the first time in life – combined with travel with introspection – and I want to do it more and more. The energy of the Plaka in Athens, the Acropolis, the beauty of Naxos and Santorini are just bonuses that made my journey a whole lot more beautiful than I expected it to be (the food too. I can’t not include a reference to that).

The poem says “Laistrygonians, Cyclops, wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you.” And my understanding of this line is simple – the journey is what makes achieving a goal a beautiful and soul filling experience.

Yes, sometimes there will be negative experiences, you cannot avoid those. But everything – positive and negative – will teach you. There is always something to learn. Whenever someone asks about my next travels and every time they hear that I would be with a group of strangers, I still see shock. If I could show them the kind of impact that it can have on someone, I would – because words don’t seem to get through to them (they react the same way every single time).

It’s been a hard but great journey to reach where I am now. I still have not achieved my goal – These things don’t happen overnight, they take a lot of work – I am happy to say that I am much better at being around people now (I no longer stand in the corner of the room leaving everyone alone – I mingle and then leave when I feel like).

I cannot end this story without expressing gratitude to the two Erins, Kali, Noa, Leslie, Meghan, Cameron, Marcus, Mark and Dimitris for a being a part of that journey. I really hope to see you guys soon.

Here’s to challenging ourselves and being brave enough to carry on…Yamas!!!

Written by Ashwin Kumar

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