Whenever I’m in a remote or particularly spectacular place in the world, one strange thought always appears in my mind. This thought occurred to me a few times over the course of our trip in South America. It’s a thought I used to enjoy, one that would give me a certain pride, a sense of achievement, of how far I’d come, but my thoughts, and feelings, about this thought have changed recently, and now I’m not quite sure what to make of it.
We were in this stunning little fishing village in Uruguay, called Punto del Diablo (Devil’s Point). The village featured in Lonely Planet magazine’s list of 20 places you have to see in the world. A quiet, peaceful place, five hours by road from the capital, Montevideo. We booked a cabaña through airBnB and got it for a good price because there are few tourists here at this time of year. In the summer the population jumps from its usual few hundred to well over 30,000. That’s a lot for a small village, but not a huge amount on a world scale, and the greatest majority of tourists here still come from Uruguay and Argentina.
The thought I get in those kinds of places then is, ‘I wonder how many people from Linwood have ever been here before?’ As I said, this thought used to give me a sense of achievement, like I was some kind of ambassador for everyone who lives or had lived in that small town in the west of Scotland. If Linwood had a flag, I would’ve gladly planted it in the soil of so many places to proudly show all the other visitors just what the people of Linwood can achieve, and to show The Proclaimers that Linwood is no longer ‘no more’. This thought invoked the pioneering spirit of the many great Scottish explorers gone by: David Livingstone, Mungo Park, John Rae and James Grant.
Is there anything wrong with that? Mindfulness experts, like Leonie, would say that this thought is just a thought. You can’t stop your mind from having thoughts, whatever that thought might be. You can, they might say, change how that thought makes you feel. If you have the thought that you’re not good enough, for example, you can learn not to get hooked on that thought, which could lead to you feeling depressed or angry or even arrogant. That takes work, but it’s possible.
Practitioners of acceptance and commitment training (ACT), like Leonie, can then help you to use these kinds of recurring thoughts to identify what’s most important to you in life, to help you live a life driven by your values, the things you really care about.
So, what does this thought say about me? Since travelling is important to me, something I enjoy doing, and since I get this thought a lot while travelling, could it tell me something about my values, about why I want to travel?
I’m not sure. I have to think about this some more. Maybe the answer will come to me one of these days, since I’m back in Linwood at the moment. If Leonie was here, and not still in Bolivia, I would ask her for advice. She’d probably ask about the other thoughts and feelings I got when I had this one particular thought. When I have this thought, am I also comparing myself to people back in Scotland? I know a lot of people from Linwood – my family included – who love to travel and visit spectacular places on earth. That’s definitely not unique to me. And, no matter where I go in the world, the hotel guest book has always been signed by someone stating Scottish as their nationality. So maybe this thought I get is a judgemental thought, and that might not be so helpful. Or is it this sense of adventure I enjoy, this pioneering spirit, of following in the footsteps of so many others?
Or maybe this relates to another thought, the one that tells me that only people from a certain place or with a certain background can travel and be successful.
Or maybe this thought is just a thought, like so many other thoughts, and I should let it drift by, in true mindful style, like a cloud in the sky or a leaf on a stream.
Maybe Leonie can let me know what she would say.