When I wanted to find myself, I didn't go some place far away and secluded like an ashram in India. The distance was too great and besides, I still considered myself Catholic at that time. So I went for the next best thing.
I chose a little religious and spiritual commune located in Taizé, France. It consists of Catholic and Protestant priests and monks, as well as people who live there either temporarily or permanently. Visitors from over the world come to the commune searching for peace, quiet and a connection to God.
I went there because I was looking for answers to my many questions: "What is the meaning of life?", "Is there a God?" and above all, "Who am I?" I hoped that the solitude and isolation would help me find myself. Although I am not an extremely religious person, I did my best to integrate with the other visitors. I stayed there for a week and every day, I attended the prayers and sang the songs together with everyone else. But even though I sat there in the church with all the other people, I felt totally and utterly alone. They were so immersed in their prayers that they seemed to be somewhere far away where I couldn't join them, no matter how hard I tried.
I came back home even more confused. I didn't find the answers I was looking for. In fact, I even lost something: I decided, once and for all that religion wasn't for me. But most important of all, I can't help but think about all the things that I missed because I was too busy trying to find myself.
Taizé is located in a very beautiful part of France. Nearby is Cluny Abbey, a place I had learned about in history class. There were many more places I could have visited. My father grew up in Lyon and I could have seen his old hometown for example. But I didn't.
Despite my initial plans to do visit again the next year, I came back home never to return. While staying in the commune wasn't entirely a bad experience, I knew this place wasn't for me and looking back, I think I should have done something more fun, like actually seeing France in all its glory.
There are so many great reasons to travel: to learn a new language. To see the world. To make new friends. There are also many reasons not to travel and I think finding yourself is one of them. After all, self-discovery is an inner journey, not an outer one. Was it really necessary for me to go to Taizé? It wasn't. I would have reached the same conclusion if I had just stayed at home. And we all know that finding yourself is overrated anyway.
Traveling can be life-changing, educational, mind-opening and it can actually lead to self-discovery. In fact, I know that it will definitely lead to self-discovery because that's what traveling does. But don't make it the focus of your journey or you will miss out on all the wonders other cultures have to offer. After all, what's the point of traveling when you're not going to see anything of the country you're visiting? This world is so full of awesomeness like great food, music, beautiful arts and gorgeous buildings. I wouldn't want to swap these things for some elusive, intangible goal of finding myself.
So next time you find yourself thinking about going to some ashram in India or a secluded island in Indonesia, save your money and your time. If you do decide to travel, please do it right. Go out, make friends, visit every place you can imagine. Walk the streets of the city you're in and inhale its many smells. Discover the various restaurants, festivals or concerts. Try to understand the local culture and learn some words in its language.
Just please don't travel to find yourself. You'll be much better off staying at home.
This post was originally published on The European Mama.