I have slept exclusively on couches belonging to friends and strangers (via couchsurfing) since arriving in Europe. Living in another’s home, even temporarily, is an extremely personal exercise, one that requires heaping doses of transparency, generosity, and open-mindedness. I did not anticipate learning so much about myself and others from the simple act of crashing on someone’s couch, but the experience has been so overwhelmingly positive that I will continue seeking this type of accommodation throughout my travels.
As I place myself in situations where I must expose myself to others, I strive to overcome fears relating to vulnerability and judgment. Openness exists in a reality where everyone is truly unique, the practical effect being that I will appear different in some way in the eyes of every person I will ever cross. This makes transparency a daunting idea. But I am learning that when the authentic self shines through, others recognize this truth at an intuitive level, which more often than not leads to respect and acceptance. The biological or energetic reasons underlying this behavior response escape me, but I sense that the interconnectedness of humanity means we are all members of the social contract of the universe. Under the terms of this contract, we must each contribute our individualized gifts so that the whole may function. And so you appreciate someone just being himself, because that’s how it all works.
With this understanding, I seek to move authentically, comfortably, in harmony with my surroundings. Moving authentically requires not only that we reveal the quirks and idiosyncrasies that make us so lovably weird, but also the individual flaws that render all of us human. It also sometimes demands a showing of strength and courage that others expect from us because they can see what we are capable of, even if we can’t.
I spent the past two weeks traveling through Austria because it is a beautiful country, and because what kid from Hawaii ever goes to Austria? My first stop was Innsbruck, a city built by the gods for avid outdoorsmen. No one in this oversized town sandwiched between the Alps is there by accident, although accidents are inevitable. People live in Innsbruck to pursue their passions, which often involve such death-defying activities as downhill biking (the Alps are steep as fuck!), backcountry skiing (avalanches!!), or, in the case of one of my couchsurfing hosts, things like this: https://youtu.be/gtOeB7_2GuQ (!!!). This place is full of people doing exactly what brings them joy; high probabilities of physical harm and low probabilities of hitting pay dirt through these activities are just necessary risks of a fulfilling life. I appreciate that.
After a week spent rock climbing, hiking, and biking, I crossed the country by car (in under five hours) to Vienna, the polar opposite of Innsbruck with respect to both geography and culture. Viennese are said to be more formal than other Austrians, and even a little rude, perhaps the consequence of living in the only real city in a country filled mostly with villages and farmland (but beautiful farmland at that). Aside from the elderly woman in the subway who stepped on my foot as a way of getting my attention, and then demanded that I turn down the volume in my earbuds—I suspect she was just trying to connect with me, albeit in Viennese fashion—most people I encountered were actually pretty nice. Inclement weather restricted my movements, so I spent most of my time wandering the predominantly Turkish neighborhood of my generous host.