TTC Gathering Review 2020by Kenneth Rayman on February 24, 2020
What is Transformational Travel? Is it a product or a by-product? Is it something that can be harnessed, or must it emerge from within? Can it be or should it be bottled and packaged? Where does the onus lie in transformation, operator or participant? That was what this one weekend was about, defining the movement together as a community with the groundwork laid by the Transformational Travel Council with emerging trends in travel and sociology. I came into this weekend with a huge weight on my shoulders and received reminders of the dangers of the social “highlight reel” almost immediately, finding I was not alone in my crossroads of passion. On the way up to Leavenworth, some stated they were stepping back, or had left travel as an industry altogether, themselves. I had just gotten out of a depressive episode lasting most of January and still dealt with lingering questions involving my old habits returning unexpectedly. “Not a good start to the weekend,” I thought.
That first night I wanted to avoid drawing attention to myself, having never been one to do so, but also keep January’s emotions and fears from resurfacing and communicating scarcity and desperation. I pushed myself to talk to the new faces in the room but still found myself feeling a self-made divide once the initial hellos were exchanged. After familiar faces disappeared, I felt aimless for the next few hours, afraid to talk to anyone lest I interrupt their business tasks, either for the event or their own business that never sleeps. Finally, the ask for a “seat at the table” was graciously accepted negating the divide I had created. Stories of growth and experiences, both travel and non, were exchanged as we got to know who was behind the online persona. I was reminded quickly of the lack of human infallibility and felt for the first time safe in my own space, curious if I could grow beyond the lingering fear in my heart.
The next morning however, I had a fear relapse as I melted in the background when the table got more crowded. I’d been up for about 20 to 25 minutes already when I felt my seizure aura start as I finished filling my plate at the kitchen bar. The opposing counter was a foot away so I braced myself and prepared for a possible fall but feeling my weight shift against the counter I lowered my head and waited to see how it would progress. Right away, someone whom I rode up with noticed my strange stillness. Asking if everything was okay, I alerted her softly, to avoid panicked attention, of my ongoing seizure. She asked what she needed to do but by that point I’d determined its progression had ceased, I only needed to remain braced against the counter until I could control any weightbearing on my legs. Eventually, I hobbled over to a free spot at the table trying to draw as little attention as possible. Before the first session, I found the woman who stood at the counter with me and another who asked if I was okay after also noticing to thank them for their concern. I could tell that something was different in this small intimate setting that we were settling into with the concern shown.
A morning meditation on gratitude followed at our cabin before moving to the larger cabin on the property, serving as an event space with a large event kitchen and loft for the guests. The main program started off with a declaration of purposeful intent for the fostering of connection through the mutual love of travel, of life, and the distinction of man-made, though imaginary, boundaries which those in the room saw past allowing for the creation of a new wave of perspectives in the world. Remarks by the leader of the Council, Jake Haupert, were followed by the other council founder, Michael Bennett, and partner/content specialist Eric Rupp (or the “Lumberjack Buddha” as he was referred to). Michael detailed his journey into the benefits of travel through a discovery he had while working on his doctoral dissertation and the opposite direction it took him from his original research. Eric, meanwhile, reaffirmed the essential tenants of the movement we were there to co-create, the definition of just what is transformational travel, and what distinguishes it from leisure, eco, responsible, and volun-tourism.
The next two sessions gave us, me, space to open up and be vulnerable by introducing ourselves with our elevator pitch and then declaring personal intentions for this weekend summit. After hearing those that rode up with me declare the fears within their journeys but also the clarity that led them to choose to be in the room that day, I decided to tell mine as well. After saying that I’m a writer focused on cultural third-party redefinition, I answered the “if you really knew me” prompt, “And if you really knew me, you’d know that I’m happy to be here but also scared.” As the others went, I made mental notes of who resonated with me and my goals and who I felt I could have an easy conversation with to build rapport. I was cautious however, having admitted to a moment of scarcity rather than abundance. I needed to counter the imbalance with overwhelming value and then re-approach the fear when it, and myself, had the appropriate context.
I would find myself with “fellow travelers” as the saying goes as presenters’ stories mirrored my own, those of life transitions and fears just uncovered in my own life that they themselves had lived through. The room created a space for them to release, while visibly emotional, fears which had no longer served them representing a moment we all had had ourselves, an enormous life shift and personal choice to follow our heart. I thanked one of them after, saying she echoed my current fear alluded to previously in Fear Comes Back With a Vengeance as she assured me I was never alone or without.
I found adventurous enlightenment through presentations by Michael Graziano and Natalia Cohen with their own global awakenings: Natalia, rowing across the Pacific from the US to Australia, and Michael, traveling to every country in the world while studying in a mobile educational venture. Natalia detailed the mental strength it took to row around the clock in 2-hour rotating shifts with 6 other women, yet never escape the dangers of weather, bodily injury and stress, as well as personal isolation. I was in awe of the courage that it took to do these journeys promising only financial forfeit instead of gain, yet the extreme satisfaction of stretching the human existential realm from within. These were “unknown” and forfeit fears were also held when I stepped on the Europe-bound plane for the first time which, after having a similar transcendence with such boundary disruption, no longer plague me. Michael’s journey (envious on the outside to a beginner) included self-discovery of a perceived invincibility ingrained through our comfortability at home. This comfort may lead to personally detrimental actions taking for granted the opportunity in front of you, while being simultaneously detrimental as a cultural representative. His presentation called into question the core values which we hold that degrade the value of the experience. I identified Michael as a fellow empath recognizing the human spirit’s fragility and who found the “global” intuitive connection as I had those years ago leaving St. Petersburg, bawling in a stranger’s arms after the revelation of life, purpose, and existence.
Letting people know my goal of making a “business connection,” I surprisingly found it welcomed with its honesty of value over vanity. Service being the goal, I wanted to see how I could start to make something of my efforts while benefiting someone else's business, understanding business itself philosophically but not practically. They quickly zeroed in on the need of a mentor or coach giving me real suggestions on where to go and how to ask. The more open I was about my aspirations, the more I understood the practical benefits and implementation of their suggestions. I realized a major flaw in my approach was to look towards the industry at large and those in attendance for such an opportunity, when it was the people and businesses affected by our travel that could and would benefit most, which I seemed to have backwards. The most crucial distinction I discovered needing addressed was the value of who and how.
The vulnerability as well as meditative exercises perfectly contrasted the “break free” group sessions and keynotes with the right balance of new age belief and earthbound realism that are so core to my intuitive ability to make those connections, as too much ambiguity muddles my ability to explain transformative personal experiences in relatable but non-eccentric terms. The discussions I had on travel experience and philosophy were matched by the genuine non-travel interests, creating a foundation for connection beyond profession. I came to Leavenworth in a grateful, but fearful, mindset and left with assurance in my own strength, competency, and potential with a clearer way forward propped up and supported by those also helping others experience greater human awareness through travel.