How Defining A Place Limits Your Experience Of It

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“The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is.” – Marcel Proust

For the 27 years that I’ve been alive, I’ve spent just over 23 of them in Australia. And to me, Australia was pretty much Adelaide – the place that I grew up in the suburbs and went to uni in the city. The place where I went to the beach and music festivals during the summer and then went into hibernation during the winter.

The kind of experience I looked forward to every year.

It was nice. But I also felt that it lacked a lot.

Having graduated university into a post-GFC (remember that?) employment market, I had struggled to get a job in my early twenties. I bounced around quite a bit and didn’t know where I fit in.

Thus, I developed somewhat of a bitter view towards both Adelaide and Australia perceiving them as lacking in opportunity and even a little racist.

Anyway, that was my version of Australia. In terms of the sun, sand and sound, it was awesome. In terms of helping me grow into myself and my career, it sucked.

I thought that my view was pretty on point given that I had been born and bred here. However, over the years I’ve met foreigners who’d travelled around Australia themselves and their stories would always contradict my own.

An outsider’s perspective

These foreigners would light up whenever they’d talk about Australia.

They’d tell me about how they’d snorkelled around the Great Barrier Reef, driven the entire east coast in a van, stayed on Hare Krishna farms, partied at Rainbow Gatherings, worked with Aboriginal communities up in the Alice and picked papayas over in WA.

Damn, gotta get up there while it’s still around! [Source: SBS]
Their Australia was so different to the Australia that I had come to know.

My stories were about growing up in a very linear way. Their stories were of adventure and possibility.

To me, Australia was Australia. To them, Australia was AUSTRALIA! 😃

Their stories poked holes into what I thought Australia was and opened my eyes to a side of her that I’d never known. An Australia that was still waiting to be discovered.

Returning home with new eyes

Every time I return to Australia, it feels like I have landed in a new country. A more open and beautiful one.

Although Australia has indeed changed in many different ways over the years, it is less about what has happened on a micro and macro level, and more about how I see it that has changed.

While I used to confine Australia to my experience, hearing the stories of others and travelling to other countries myself has shown me that Australia is so much more than any box that I could put her in.

[Source: Giphy]
In saying that, no matter how many stories I hear and no matter how many experiences I have, whatever I define as Australia will never amount to the true experience and potential of what Australia actually is.

Therefore, aside from fulfilling practical purposes, does it make sense to live by a definition of what Australia, or anywhere else for that matter, is at all?

Australia is…

These days, I feel that it makes much more sense to experience wherever I am not as some thing, but as what is in front of me in its fullness.

Instead of clinging onto my own or someone else’s interpretation of what the place is, I’d rather explore her just like a curious child or an intrepid traveller would – in a state of question.

By dropping all ideas of what I ever thought Australia to be in favour of “let’s just see,” home has really opened up to present new possibilities.

I never thought that I’d play music in Adelaide, but the other week, I did. And I realised that what was stopping me was my limited definition of what was possible here.

A photo posted by Eugene Phoa ❁ (@eugenephoa) on

While there are physical realities that we need to deal with wherever we are, what matters the most is how we define it as this will form our experience of reality. Thus, if one is able to step outside of their definition or simply drop all of them, what they may find is that which they seek had been waiting on their doorstep all along.

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