So How Was the Trip?!

For the past two and a half months, I have been on a whirlwind journey of adventure, self discovery, growth, and renewal. As ditzy as it sounds, I’d describe it as a real Eat Pray Love. Each of the three chapters in the book of my travels this summer has taught me something completely different than the previous, but all fit together to form the steady theme of “new clarity” that I benefit from since returning.  Before I unpack all the wisdom, I want to share a quote by illustrator Emily McDowell: “Finding yourself is not really how it works. You aren’t a ten-dollar bill in last winter’s coat pocket. You are not lost. Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. “Finding Yourself” is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering of who you were before the world got its hands on you.”

So for all those who ask why I needed to fly all over the world to “find myself”; I didn’t. I merely gathered strength for the next step and rediscovered who I have known I am the entire time while learning about myself and others.

In Kenya, I not only got a glimpse into a world and a culture so different from that which I grew up in, but I immersed myself into the lives of the locals, the children, and the Jews that put themselves in danger so we could feel comfortable in a foreign land. What I slowly came to realize was that as much as the cute and dirty children were clueless about what boats were and had never seen a camel, they communicated in the simplicity that children everywhere employ: laughter. A laugh, a nod of understanding, a smile, an offer to play ball is all the same to a child, regardless of background. The more I observed, the more I understood that Kenya, as a whole, shared so many similarities to Israeli culture, and actually started to feel at home. On a personal level, I discovered a capability of independence even in a strange environment, an aptitude for quick thinking, and a compassionate side which I had been searching for. I related more to life in the city of Nairobi and the passion for adventure grew with each passing day. In addition to all the fun hikes, elephants, and safaris, the day to day living, or the “getting the hang of it”, was the true highlight. Learning KiSwahili and building relationships with natives was challenging, but stimulating. I delved into and became part of a larger picture in a beautiful place not so far away from home.

I carried those lessons to America, where I found myself on my own in the Big Apple and relaxed control, letting the flow of the trip take me to her house, their couch, Washington Heights, Brooklyn, Teaneck, Woodmere, Passaic, Upper West Side, and Midtown. I saw new places, got the hang of transportation, and stood by the chuppah of one of my closest and dearest friends in the world. I reconnected with the sisters that made me who I am, the family that took me in, and the ones that helped me grow when I thought it was impossible (talking to you Bais Chana). I hopped on and off subways and boats, saw the night skyline, went to Broadway’s Waitress, the Jonas Brothers in Madison Square Garden because my precious friend felt it so important that I make the most out of my trip, cooked, yogaed, laughed, and rejoiced in the feeling of fullness that was quickly overtaking me from all the love and kindness my friends provided. I reevaluated what was really worth my energy and excuse my language, but decided just how many f**** I have to give. I made conscious decisions about my life going forward because for busy and distracted people such as myself, it can be difficult to look up from my immediate surroundings and prioritize. America had helped me to realize I needed to make those closest to me a priority. I also knew that letting go of the “How” in what I wanted and needed got me exactly to where I was supposed to be. I started to see G-d’s puzzle pieces of the last 8 months fitting together one epiphany at a time and saw finally that all the work I had put in to my life was starting to pay off.

“Let Go and Let G-d” brought me to Thailand: the Israeli right of passage. I flew on a million planes, grew in friendship, in maturity, and experienced the vacation life to the fullest. There, I conquered my fear of heights (I felt the fear and did it anyway) with not just one, but two jungle ziplining adventures. I cared for elephants, challenged myself to 10,000+ steps a day, and hiked the waterfalls of the north. I mingled with Israelis and Thai alike, learned how to count to ten, sharpened my ping pong skills, laughed often, and burned lots of tuna. My friends and I saw beaches, jungles, mountains, and monkeys all in one tiny corner of the world. From swimming with fish in the lagoon to our amazing jeep crew to the enormity of Chabad on Shabbat, everything leading up to this moment began to make more sense. I was being taught to surrender. The “How” had been taken care of completely every step of the way. Arriving to each island with barely an idea of where I was staying that night led me to believe that it would all be sorted if I only worried about the “What” and the “Why”. Patience wormed its way in, as did some more compassion. Friendliness took the place of hesitancy and adventure transformed into a verb. By the end, I couldn’t help but feel light in my entire self. A much needed and deeply ingrained sense of peace that everything is just how it is meant to be slowly unfolded its wings.

So in two and a half months I guess I did eat (debatable), pray, and love. I saw and felt new experiences and wisdom. Most of all, I wrote it all down; every day; in a journal I now keep next to my bed in order to make a practice of internalizing all the incredible lessons I stumbled upon along the way. “These trips change you,” my friends told me. They were right, in a way. I have changed, but transformation is really the only constant in life. We age, we grow, we develop, and we internalize our surroundings to form our perceptions of self. The question then becomes: will you manifest the negative or the positive? My mentor always says, “The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves become our reality.” This trip and every event leading up to it was the gateway into discovering how exactly I want to tell my story to myself and others. So if you ask me what’s my biggest takeaway, I would have to say the power of creating a hell of a good story. 🙂

About the Author
Shani Weinmann was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the Jewish community of Toco Hills. She attended Torah Day School of Atlanta and Yeshiva Atlanta before coming to Midreshet Harova and then joining the IDF. She now works as a Madricha in the Midrasha and is studying Dance.
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