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Kerala Tourism: Human by Nature

What does it mean to be human?

Kerala Tourism asked me this question as part of their #HumanbyNature campaign and I thought it was such a fitting topic during these strange times. We are all asking big questions right now, undergoing a series of learnings and unlearnings, and making the internal changes needed to transform our external world into that which we truly want it to be.

Yet as I engage in this deep inner work, it feels somewhat daunting to move forward: there are so many uncertainties.

Today, I am instead looking back, reflecting on my 2015 trip to Kerala, India and how that experience shaped who I am today.

Kerala tourism - a girl is smiling after traveling through India

Baby Steph in 2015 – Kerala, India

Kerala Tourism: Human By Nature

I used to think that travel brought me to the core of my humanity.

In fact, that’s why I went to India in the first place, back in 2015. I was unhappy, disconnected and lonely at the time, desperately craving something bigger in my life: meaning, purpose, passion. I had a successful career as a health care professional, a beautiful apartment and brand new SUV…yet at the end of the day, I was alone and unhappy.

I took a leap of faith.

I quit my job, packed up my apartment, sold most of my belongings, and bought a one-way ticket to the most ‘spiritual’ destination I could think of … India.

So began a three-month soul-searching journey which took me all the way from the tip of Kerala to the Golden Temple in Punjab. I was looking for an almighty answer to my own set of existential questions: what is my purpose in this life? Heck, what is the purpose of life? 

When I stepped off the plane in Thiruvananthapuram, I was nervous, alone and without a plan. I found myself in a yoga ashram in Neyyar Dam, a serene space situated along the Western Ghats.

Kerala tourism - a landscape image of the neyarr dam region at sunrise

Neyarr Dam at sunrise

My rigid body was forced into awkwardly executed pretzel-like poses and my stubborn mind rebelled from the meditation exercises like a wild horse refusing to be tamed. I recall stammering along to Sanskrit chants in which I had no idea of the meaning or translation, looking around in bewilderment as eager tourists and locals alike were lost in the moment, eyes closed and swaying, or perhaps gently shaking a tambourine in rhythm to the beat of the music. My body was sore, tired and dehydrated from the Keralan humidity, yet something had stirred within me.

I had no idea at the time how resonant this experience would be.

After a few weeks in the ashram, I emerged feeling a little lighter, as if I had released a weight off my shoulders or a rock from my backpack.

I moved onwards to Varkala, a beautiful beachside town along the Western Keralan shoreline.

Kerala tourism - a landscape image of Varkala beach at sunset along Kerala's western coastline

Varkala beach at sunset

I stayed with a Keralan/Irish couple, Ali and Liz, sleeping in their spare bedroom. Each evening we cooked and ate together, along with anyone they happened to meet and bring home from the beach. We’d all sit in a circle, cross-legged on the floor, scooping up bits of flavourful potatoes or spicy lentils with fresh chapati, while swapping tales from the road.

I continued with my yoga and meditation practice, finding moments of stillness on the beach.

Kerala tourism - an image of a woman meditating on varkala beach

Varkala Beach, Kerala – 2015

Five years later, I am so excited to share with you that I am now a 200-hour registered yoga instructor and am training to become a guided meditation teacher! I am currently staying at a Canadian beachside town where I am still pursuing moments of solitude and stillness.

Sauble beach, Canada – 2020

Sauble beach, Canada – 2020

At the end of my three months in India, I sat on the airport floor awaiting my long journey back to Canada, and wrote in my journal:

I leave India with such a full, happy heart. How do I even begin to describe such a special place? It has this mysterious and enticingly exotic charm to it. It’s bold and chaotic, marching to the beat of its own drum. It is diverse, culturally rich and spiritually awakened. The vibrant sights and sounds captivate and overwhelm the senses. It can be infatuating and infuriating all at the same time. It’s the kind of place that will test your patience and your character; it will open your eyes and challenge your beliefs; it’s a place where comfort zones dissipate and life lessons are unveiled…and just when you think you have begun to figure it out, it will blow your mind all over again.

That’s the thing about life. Just when you think you’ve begun to figure it out, the winds shift in direction and change blows in. Sometimes the storm is so powerful that once the dust settles, we look around and barely recognize our surroundings. That’s kind of how it feels now, in the wake of the pandemic.

But through this time spent at home, I’ve realized this: we don’t need travel to connect to our human nature, that integral essence of ‘goodness’ in which we all share despite our differences. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not retiring my backpack any time soon, but now I understand travel is not the only way to tap into our human nature. It is around us all the time, should we simply slow down enough to notice it: it’s in the people we meet and the ordinary moments that stitch our days together into months and years.

If the pandemic has taught me one thing, it’s the blessing of being alive: to embrace the ups and the downs, the joys and the sorrows. This is the beautiful paradox of humanity: there will always be duality. Instead of chasing the highs and desperately trying to avoid the lows, I choose to focus on the neutral space in between with appreciation and contentment.

So, did I ever find the answer to my existential questions back in 2015? The ones that led me half-way across the world on a one-way flight to India…

Well, it turns out the answer was simple: there is no answer.

Perhaps we humans aren’t meant to know or understand everything, but rather, we are meant to feel; to feel the depth and brevity of life, both the magic and the pain.

That is our human nature.

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Kerala tourism

Pssst…this post was sponsored by Kerala Tourism.

Please read my disclosure for more info. 

Thanks for your support!

You may also enjoy:

Backpacking India: Overland from Kerala to Punjab

Eating like a local in Trivandrum

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Janis said:
This post really helped me understand that humanity is all about duality: good, bad, order and chaos. And being neutral is the best way to be happy and aware of everyone and everything around us. India sounds like the perfect, spiritual place to discover this.
August 16, 2020 at 9:49 am
Timothy said:
Valuable information. I would consider starting my India journey in Kerala
August 15, 2020 at 10:14 pm
Helen said:
Beautiful Kerala! I agree- we can't know life but we can feel its magic! I love this Stephy, a great read
August 15, 2020 at 3:34 pm