The Pull of Conformity, Identity, Ego

I’ve been back for a week and I’ve noticed a struggle in me between continuing to be as I was when I was away and how I’m accustomed to .being now that I’m back in a familiar environment.

Being in a familiar environment, “my” bits of London, means I don’t have to think as much, I know where everything is already, i know how it works, I’m not sitting on the District Line wondering at each station whether I got on the right train as I did when I traveled a few stops on the T in Boston, for example.

But it comes in other ways too.  

I’m questioning why I am back thinking in terms of a 9 to 5 workday, having to get up at a certain time to do just what exactly?  Stopping doing “work” things at another time, why?  When i was away, I had a social pull of getting up to spend time with the people I was staying with, or else I woke at dawn (or before) because I was on a train.  Now I’m home I get to decide, but I don’t consciously make that decision, I fall back into patterns that I’ve established over years and years.

I’ve noticed myself worrying more about silly things like what I’m wearing.  During March, i pretty much wore what was clean.  I took about two weeks worth of clothing and did one load of laundry while I was in Austin.  Did anybody think I was dressing inappropriately?  I don’t know, but nobody mentioned it, if they did.  The only reason for me feeling vaguely embarrassed was the holes in some of my socks.

Which helps me remember that while I was there, I was an alien, i could choose to do whatever I wished because if I broke any etiquette rules, even intentionally, I’d probably be forgiven because I was being English, or quaint, or eccentric.

I spent long hours on trains – I’ve been on a couple of commuter trains and the tube a few times since I’ve been back and I’m straight back into conditioned behaviour.  Not connecting with anyone under any circumstances, getting irritated by anyone making the slightest noise or having a conversation.  Looking out of the window as a way of avoiding what’s going on and escaping into my head rather than as a way of engaging with what I was passing.

The freedom of travel is that we can put aside ego, be surprising to ourselves and others, let go of who we think we are or should be and try out being someone else, maybe that someone is really who we are.  The challenge is to keep that up when all the familiar inputs, people, environment are around us, encouraging us to conform with what we’ve done before.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

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