Two weeks ago, one of the most intense and invigorating periods of my year occurred: the annual Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference. For four days, some 90 students and 25 faculty members met in an intimate bookstore in Northern California for workshops, panels, and evening events that celebrated travel writing, travel photography, and much more.
Over the four days of the conference, as every year, unanticipated insights took seed and risks took flight, and some profoundly important lessons and dreams were conceived. Usually I write a piece summarizing the conference for Gadling, but this year an excellent summary has already been posted. And somehow, what I want to say about the conference, or about the thoughts that emerged from the conference, all seemed to come together in my concluding speech.
In those final remarks I said some things I’d planned to say and some things I absolutely hadn’t planned to say, things that just spontaneously erupted in me as I talked. That eruption, I think, is part of the magic of an event like this, where unexpected connections and mysterious interweavings occur, where you learn things you didn’t even know you were learning and grow in ways you didn’t even know you’d grown.
Here are some excerpts from my remarks. I hope they touch you with something of the spirit those four days cultivated in me, and I hope they enrich your journey, in the outer world and the inner world, too.
One of the things I like to preach when I’m in my preacher mode is that whatever you put out into the world comes back to you a hundredfold, and I feel like this conference embodies that. The generosity that the faculty put out comes back to them. The risk-taking that you put out comes back to you in the best possible way. So much of it is about you going out into the world with the right spirit. The world rewards you when you do that, and I hope that’s one of the takeaways you’ll bring back into the larger world from this conference: What you put out into the world comes back to you….
For me this year is especially important. A month ago, a great party was held in this very room. The occasion was the fact that I had one of those unfortunate birthdays where you age by 10 years overnight. I went to bed in one decade of my life and woke up in another. That birthday was my 60th birthday. For about two years prior to this, 60 was the Voldemort of birthdays for me. I could not pronounce its name out loud. I was so absorbed in the idea that turning 60 meant that I was really, really, really old. And I didn’t want to deal with that. I just wanted to ignore it, or deny it.
And then I had an epiphany, that this is what happens in life: You have a fear and the more you deny it, the more you empower that fear. And then the more you decide to embrace that fear, you immediately empower yourself. I realize that turning 60, or saying that I’m turning 60, is not a death-defying act. But for me it was a very big leap of something. I decided to just say, “OK, world, I’m turning 60.” And it felt great.
What this taught me about fear was that we have the ability to either create a fear and let it grow and prosper, or deflate a fear and take it away. And on the road, as in life right here at home – I believe that we’re always on the road, wherever we are – the way you get rid of a fear is you embrace it. So I embraced that. And I hope that’s a takeaway for you from this conference: that whatever your fear is, embrace it. Embrace it.
It’s about risk-taking. It’s about journeying into your discomfort zone and how that can magically open things up for you. I think that’s an important lesson….
What it comes down to for me is that while I believe that our souls go through various mutations and continue when our physical bodies don’t, I also believe that our souls inhabit our physical bodies one at a time, and we’re here right now, each of us in our physical presence and with our souls, and for all practical purposes, this is it: This is our one chance to live life as fully and gracefully and graciously and lovingly as possible. This is it.
Every single moment, this is it. This is your moment. This is your moment. This is your moment.
The more you infuse those moments with integrity and honesty and passion and attentiveness and the desire for quality and the desire for connection – and to me, the word that really summarizes all of these is love – the more that you infuse every single moment of your path, of your journey, of your life, with love, the bigger and better and richer you become. And everybody around you becomes bigger and better and richer by that too.
And that’s travel, that’s travel writing, that’s travel photography, that’s dish-washing, that’s laundry – it’s really everything, it’s a part of every single thing that you do.
What I hope you’ll take away from this on your journey is that it’s your responsibility to be a steward of the planet, to be a steward of your own stories, to give them the care and the nurturing that they need and to let them out into the world when they’re ready to be let out into the world, and to be a steward of your relationships and connections with other people.
I hope that you will spread the love that you felt here. If you take the seeds of love away with you and scatter them around the planet, we’ll all be so much the richer for that, and this world will be such a better place for that. That’s your sacred responsibility now, your sacred trust.