If there’s a silver lining to the global pandemic, it has to be the realization to make our physical and mental health a priority.
I was in southeast Asia as the world was shutting its borders in March 2020, coming home to Canada to quarantine for 14 days and enduring an endless information overload from the news cycle.
I needed a panacea for my bewilderment about what was happening on our planet.
So I sought out the comfort of words.
From that day in mid-March, jetlagged from 18 hours of flying, I began a digital journal.
Although my body was still thinking it was in a time zone on the other side of the Pacific Ocean and my mind was overwhelmed by the constant updates charting the rapid takeover of the planet by the pandemic, I let words guide me.
Although I had handwritten my journal as a teenager, as an adult I relied on my laptop to be my confidante.
Some days I would write about what I could see from my high-rise balcony, a large city that had been silenced by the pandemic, streets empty of cars, bikes or pedestrians.
Other days I would write a review of whatever TV show had captured my attention like I was having a conversation over tea at a café with a friend.
And more times than I can count, I would write about what I was feeling, how the uncertainty of each day crept into my thoughts and built up inside me.
But as I typed, my breathing would slow, my focus would be on my fingers tapping on the keyboard, my internal monologue finding an outlet.
I was constantly surprised by what appeared on the screen. I hadn’t been so honest with myself or dedicated to personal revelation since I was a teenager.
According to a recent article published by the University Medical Center of Rochester, “…one of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy way to express yourself. Keeping a journal can help you identify what’s causing that stress or anxiety.”
My work is writing, but taking the time to journal is all about me.
It helps me manage stress and anxiety, to understand the negative, and give myself a pep talk.
According to an article in Psychology Today, there are eight ways words can be used. I learned I was doing a stream of conscious journaling, writing whatever came into my head. No restrictions, no editing, just letting the words pour out. And it became as important to my health as when I would slip into a pool and swim laps, a way to calm the negativity and reduce the doubt.
As I let my words occupy my digital journal, I continued to read books, articles and blogs, but I also missed my life of travel.
Books provided a welcome mental journey, but travel had always been a necessary physical and social part of my life. I even missed the simple act of packing a suitcase.
During conversations with friends and family, I saw how many of us wanted to travel again, but wanted to make it memorable.
Sacred Earth Journeys, founded by Helen Tomei in 2003, knows there are travelers who want to go beyond traditional sightseeing, seeking out destinations for more than a bucket list of insta-worthy stops, but to learn and immerse themselves in history and spirituality.
As Tomei, explains, she wants to offer tours that offer a deeper understanding and fuel a traveler’s personal journey to welcome change, learn and transform.
Destinations such as India, Ireland, Peru, Greece, Mexico and Egypt have been the backbone of the tour company’s offerings, and in Spring 2022, Italy will be added: La Dolce Vita – The Sweet Life of Mythic Italy, led by author/screenwriter Phil Cousineau.
Tomei has found a kindred spirit in the American writer, a storyteller committed to leading tours showcasing a country’s history and its mythology, rooted in the power of words.
Cousineau’s first tour experience was when he was asked to accompany poet and essayist Robert Bly on a tour of Ireland, sharing his knowledge of mythology and discussing literature at literary and sacred sites throughout the Emerald Isle.
“Being paid to study. Paid to learn. It was a sweet spot in my life,” explains Cousineau.
Thus began a regular path for the American writer to mix his love of literature with travel, who has published more than 35 books, worked as a screenwriter and producer in television and film but also wanted to fulfill his continued need to travel.
I want to show people the soul of a place—the music, food, dance and storytelling.Bestselling author Phil Cousineau
When he was growing up, Cousineau’s family embraced books, spending time together reading aloud from the classics, from Homer to Twain, and when possible, visiting museum exhibitions that related to the books.
It’s those early days of family time that he’s brought to his tours, creating experiences that are more than checking off a list of places in a guidebook.
“The ability to empathize and engage with diverse stories outside of our own lived experiences can bring us a greater sense of human connection and empathy,” explains Cousineau.
It’s that link of words and emotions that he repeatedly references during his tours, encouraging tour participants to be present, to focus on the destination.
“We become unpolitical ambassadors when we travel,” said Cousineau, “and we need to be thoughtful, respectful and reverent.”
Before each tour, he sends out a reading list, to encourage travelers to start immersing themselves, ready to engage as much with Cousineau as with the local guides about the places they’ll see.
And although he realizes the need (and obsession) of mobile phones, he discourages their use during the day, to keep the focus on being in the moment.
Cousineau begins each morning with a conversation with the group asking participants a variety of questions to consider and discuss, like “what do books really mean to you?”
And after a day of exploring, learning and listening, Cousineau restarts the conversation after dinner with a question, “what was your favorite moment of the day?”
He was inspired by the Great Conversation, the ongoing process of writers and scholars discussing their predecessors’ works.
He has seen how the trips become an emotional outlet for many, happy tears a consequence of repeated days of being able to be focused on words, stories and experiences.
And once a year, a lucky group gets to experience Cousineau’s writing tours. Regularly held on the Greek island of Hydra (and in Ireland), participants in the week-long writing retreat get time on their projects, lively conversations with other writers and day-tripping around the island, leaving behind daily distractions and focused on a community, like the Great Conversation, focused on their words and creativity.
“More people are traveling for a reason,” says Cousineau “but they also think about when a trip is over. How can I keep this journey alive when I get home?”
Cousineau recommends eating the food, playing the music, watching movies and reading—words that can inspire.
As we adjust to our ever-changing world and the effects of the pandemic, it’s words that can help us survive and thrive, whether it’s a journal, a book, or listening to stories.