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In the last article I talked about listening to Steve sharing his nomadic life. Here is the story, as I heard it.
“My name is Steve and I am a nomad without a home.”
I had heard Steve said that many times in conversations and workshops, when we had to introduce ourselves and where we came from. Sometimes he would say that he is “a child of the Earth”, emphasizing that no nation holds claim over his identity, not the least his birth country – America.
For the last eight years, Steve had been traveling the world with his backpack, enjoying a kind of freedom unknown to many. However, his lifestyle is now jeopardized, as borders are closed because of the pandemic. “It has been an amazing ride,” he said, “and now I am feeling the price to be paid.”
Before living as a nomad, Steve had a much more restricting life. “I was numb and depressed and totally out of touch with my heart.” The community he had lived in for almost 40 years wasn’t a nourishing one; there was an expected identity for Steve, and he couldn’t be himself. Luckily, Steve found that when he traveled, he could show up fully and connect with people. And so in the year 2000, Steve felt the call of the nomad’s path and began to let go of pieces of his identity.
“There was a whole series of letting go that led up to me being able to become a nomad. Letting go of my marriage, let go of my identity as an active father. My kids were grown anyway. Letting go of the little farm I lived on. Eventually letting go of my career that I had been in for 35 years.” It was a 12-year process of letting go, concluding in 2012 with the final detachment: the sense of home. “The sense of home was a major piece of letting go, but I couldn’t have done it without all the little letting go’s along the way.”
In February 2012, the middle of winter, Steve was ready to embark on the nomadic life. “It took me six months to sort through my stuff and decide what I was ready to give away and what I wasn’t.” He gave away most of his material possessions, packing only the most essential items in his backpack. “It is about the freedom of a light backpack. My pack is not as light as I wish it was. But the less I have to carry, the easier life is.”
In August 2012, Steve took his backpack and went to a Learning Village in Slovenia. After that he went to walk the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James – a network of pilgrim ways leading to a cathedral in Spain where St. James the Great is enshrined. “And I was only four, five days into the pilgrimage when I got an email inviting me to be a part of an Art of Hosting training in Cairo… So I went there immediately after completing my first Camino. And the next invitation came and after that the next invitation, and after that the next invitation. And I just continue and continue.”
Eventually, one of those invitations brought Steve to Vietnam to support Knowmads Hanoi – an alternative education program that used Art of Hosting methodology. Soon Steve became a vital mentor of Knowmads and the Art of Hosting field in Vietnam. We always came to Steve when facing challenges – be it designing complex workshops or making organizational change – for wisdom and powerful questions. Even for personal struggles, I know I can count on him to listen and support in whatever way he can.
What Steve had done for us in Vietnam, he did the same in many other parts of the world. And this Learning Village became a major convergent point. “My work for the past few years has been meeting people and connecting them one by one,” Steve said, “and this (Learning Village) was the chance to let go and let that happen organically. It gives me incredible joy to see the people that I know and love from Vietnam meeting people I know and love from India and Australia. It feels like a beautiful harvesting, the completion of years of work.”
It was perhaps a mischievous twist that, at the same place of culmination, Steve was facing his next great dilemma. What made the nomadic life possible was the ability to travel freely between countries. “But as the world tightens up and nation states become even more predominant, suddenly I am feeling some loneliness, some sense of lack of roots.” After this Learning Village, Steve had another invitation to go to Australia for another Art of Hosting training, but with each day that passed, the plan got increasingly uncertain. “I have a ticket that gets me to Australia. But what if I go there and the immigration officers say ‘No! We don’t want any foreigners coming in here.’ What then?”
It wasn’t just the lack of traveling options, Steve’s lifework was at risk. “I am not ready to quit this lifestyle of travelling to be in service. But with the world situation it maybe that it is no longer an option… I guess there is the fear of being irrelevant, not having a purpose.” Even the relationships he had built along the way would be tested. “I feel incredibly connected to and supported and loved by a whole global network of people. All of those people are also in their own family, their own homes. And as everybody is self-isolating and consumed by day-to-day survival, will I be forgotten?”
One day before the Learning Village ended, Steve received news that Australia was closing its borders the next day. “And it was a moment of panic. Lots of people got on their computers to try to find flight tickets that could get me there in time. We found one that would have meant my leaving within a few minutes… As I was throwing my stuff in my bag and getting ready, I just slowed down, listened in and said ‘No, this isn’t how I want to leave. This isn’t how I want to live, operating out of fear.’ So I told people ‘Thanks for the help, but no. I’m gonna stay till the end of the Learning Village and don’t know what that will mean, where I will be able to go. But it’s not going be Australia apparently.’”
With Australia no longer an option, Steve thought briefly about staying in Vietnam or going to Shanghai, where Narayan had invited him. But neither option felt right. “If I wasn’t going to be able to travel onward at some point, I really need to be somewhere that I speak the language. And as much as I don’t consider the US home, it is the one place in the world that was welcoming me at that point.” After the Learning Village ended, Steve flew back to America. An old friend offered him a house in Oregon, and that is where he has been living until now.
I talked to Steve a few weeks ago to see how he was doing. “It has been very strange,” he said, “I have a comfortable place to live. But almost all of the work I have been involved in is drying up, getting canceled. I just had a call this morning with Anne-Laure and she said it was like ‘Seeing the future without seeing myself in it.’ And that really rang true for me.”
In order to navigate this time of limbo, Steve relies on his personal practices. Every day he gets up to meet the sun, does some energy practices, some journaling, meditation, spends time in nature, and connects with loved ones via the internet. “I’ve really appreciated the time alone, the time to be in my practices. And it is like breathing. This has been a big in-breath and I also have the need to be active and be with people. I need to breathe out at some point.”
The future might be murky for Steve, but it is not without hope. For the first time in almost a decade, Steve is getting to see spring in America. “And I love the spring. When I arrived here it was still snowing. Things were very brown, it was the end of winter. And now the trees are all blooming. The leaves are coming on. There’s so much life happening, it is the favorite time of year for me. And feeling myself very connected to the land.” As spring is the season for new life, so it might be for Steve. “I think of the metaphor of a caterpillar that goes into the cocoon and goes through a time of dissolving before it forms into the butterfly. And I feel like I’m still in that in between time, that time of dissolving… The past week has been tough as the weather has been rainy and I felt more confined than ever. Today, the sun is shining and I had a long hike and am feeling much more positive and trusting.”