Lose the Caravan and Learn to Lean In

A vintage Volkswagen caravan parked on a road at sunset in the Portuguese countryside
Sunset over a good friend’s caravan in the Portuguese countryside

I used to idealize the caravan. Not the cool booths or the bumper stickers, but the people who drove them. In my eyes, they were free — from the confines of society, but also from their own minds.

As soon as I could, I tried to become one of them. I didn’t have a van, but my backpack and two good legs were enough to keep the spirit alive. I began travelling the world, with everywhere to go and nowhere to be. Each day afforded me the hyper-privileged choice of whether to stay, or to head onward. I was free.

The paradox is, when you live like this, life becomes one giant game of Tinder, in which it’s all too easy to swipe left or right on your experience of a given moment. And when all the world is seemingly at your fingertips, fewer and fewer things can seduce you to swipe right.

So you keep swiping left, skipping to the next place, believing that this one could hold the promise of making you happier. Soon enough, leaving becomes the steady state that‘s more comfortable than staying.

It took me some time to realize that having a caravan does not make you free. In fact, it can be the very thing that causes your suffering.

Having the unbridled ability to move anywhere, anytime, makes it frighteningly easy to become addicted, not just to freedom, but to running.

At the same time you can become allergic to staying and, even worse, to the entire convention of sitting with discomfort, to weathering the storm. While you’re out training a different set of muscles, you can fail to develop the kind of grit that nesters build over years of sticking around for hard things.

I fell into this trap. In my proverbial van, I became obsessed with staying in motion. The moment a new place, person, or experience became unpleasant, my instinct was to lean out. Somewhere along the way, this reflex got so strong that I forgot how to lean in.

It took me until my complete breaking point before I remembered. I then decided to carry my tired body to one last destination — home — and allow it to be my teacher.

To all my fellow runners, this is not my attempt to shame you, or even to stop you. I understand well that each of us has our own journey home, however that looks.

But because I want to make you think, I will share with you one of the deepest lessons I learned from a year of running:

No matter where you’re running, away or towards, sometimes you have to lose the van to learn how to lean in.

What do I mean by this?

To me, leaning in is surrendering to the what if’s, the fears, and the escape dreams. It’s looking discomfort right in the face, knowing your body is dying to run, and saying, I’m still here.

To me, leaning in is deeply linked to the seasons.

Because to truly say yes to life, we cannot stay in the eternal summer, desperately clinging to the good. If life itself is built upon all four seasons, then the real, hard, and vital work is deciding to be here for it all.

And so, I challenge you to this:

When summer ends, when the tans fade, and the crowds clear out, do not head South in search of the never-ending high.

When autumn’s crispness invites herself in, do not despair, but welcome her with a smile. And allow yourself to harvest the abundance that she offers.

When winter descends and the air turns to frost, do not curse Mother for her cruelty, but thank her for her sweet gifts, of slowness, softness, and darkness. If not now, then when would we rest?

When spring beckons, welcome her grand opening. Allow yourself to experience this great rebirth.

And when it’s finally summer again, allow your whole being to rejoice. Allow it to really be this good.

Remind yourself that it is all so much bigger than us; just as the Moon is bigger than us, and will carry on cycling from New to Full, as she did before we came, and will after we’re gone.

When you really believe this, there is no need to run. Everything has its place. Night and day. Moon and sun. Winter and summer.

When you allow it all, you will find that there is an unspeakable beauty in each season. And there is something about being here for it all that makes the whole thing worth it.

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Rachael Madore

Rachael Madore

I’m a freelance writer on a journey to discover what it means to be Human. Welcome to my blackboard.