Freedom: The Road to Freedom

It was an exciting evening for Dwellers as we kicked off our Freedom sessions with a riveting Speaker Night, The Road to Freedom. Our guest speaker was Ryan Paugh, also known as the Tall Kid. He is a 6ft 5in tall American from Washington D.C., USA, who left his corporate job and took the plunge into a 15-month sabbatical to travel. How many of us would do that kind of thing? Many were curious enough to come and hear his story. It was an adventure indeed. As he shared his journey, we found ourselves drawn into his world, as if we were on the road with him.

Slides of Ryan’s journey flashed across the screen as the audience took their seats—a taste of what would be in store that evening. Julia began by asking our audience what interested them to come to the session, and what freedom means to them. Some were curious about Ryan’s motivation in embarking on that journey, and what his life was like after that. One person asked whether taking a sabbatical to travel was the only way to find oneself. Several said that freedom to them meant being able to do whatever they want at anytime without worrying about responsibilities or the demands and judgments of others. One person shared that true freedom is the ability to do what he is supposed to do. Some had a question about how Ryan maintains this sense of freedom having returned to a job, and whether the routine of work now sucks this freedom away. Another asked how not to be lost in too much freedom. All great questions and statements! In an attempt to address all of them, Ryan shared two stories and imparted valuable lessons from them.

So, what motivated Ryan to drop everything and take off? Before jumping into his 15-month long journey, Ryan shared that he was working as an executive recruiter in a company in Tokyo, Japan where he made a lot of money, enjoyed the Roppongi nightlife, and came to the point where he should be fulfilled, according to society’s standards. But there was a voice in the back of his mind early in his career that told him that there was something more. He tried to quiet it initially, so he stayed for another year and started doing meditation, only to find that the voice got louder and louder until he just had to take the jump. It became clear that he had to go and that it had to be travel—even though he had no idea what the itinerary would be, and people around him thought he was crazy to walk away from his job.

Ryan started his trip with 3 goals: no plans, no timeline, and no budget. Scary as it sounds, he decided that he was doing to let the inner voice guide him instead of structuring and planning everything. His journey took him to 27 countries spanning across America, Europe and Asia.

As it turned out, those 15 months were like a meditation for him as he began making the journey from his head to his heart by listening to the voice. Ryan discovered he was free to be himself, to create meaning in anything, and to choose a response to whatever life threw at him.

Life throws us opportunities and lessons. The question is are we aware enough to pick up on them and “follow the rabbit down the rabbit-hole”, so to speak? Ryan related how he met Alex, a total stranger who happened to sit down at his table in a crowded restaurant. What seemed like a chance meeting turned out to be a profound six-hour long conversation and a travel buddy gained. Alex would ask Ryan whenever something happened, “What do you think it means?” or, “Why do you think it happened?”. Ryan gave an example of how he got badly injured in a motorcycle accident in Nepal the day before he was due to fly back to London for his brother’s wedding. “What do you think it means?” Alex asked. But of course! Ryan had been living like a monk and he was nervous about going back into society because he wanted to maintain his spiritual state, so he (or the universe) caused the accident to happen so that he would not have to participate in activities like bachelor parties that would take him out of his spiritual state. Now here’s the takeaway from this experience: most people expect the world to give them meaning; like people expect their job or their relationships to give them meaning. But Alex showed him that it was the other way around—you give meaning to everything. In doing so, Ryan shared that he found the freedom to create meaning, and to have power over circumstances instead of being a victim of life.

More tall tales: In his second story, Ryan flew to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam after buying himself new camera equipment. As luck would have it, on that first night in Vietnam he was robbed of everything—except for a book of Descartes’ “Meditations” in his pocket. The US embassy wouldn’t let him in without a passport, even though he was an American, and wanted to charge him $100 which he didn’t have. Although he managed to get his dad to wire the money to him, ironically he needed a passport to retrieve the money. When he finally got a written letter from authorities to enter the embassy, a huge thunderstorm came and smudged everything on the letter. What a predicament to be in! Things didn’t get any better and Ryan recalled whipping out Descartes’ “Meditations” only to open the book and be greeted by these words: “Our possessions control us.” At this point the audience laughs with him. Was the universe playing a joke on him or something? Ryan resorted to sleeping on the beach in Vietnam for three weeks, stealing bread that was about to be thrown away. For the first few days, he was angry in disbelief, irritated and thinking of the future but then he realised that he had the freedom to change his response if he wanted. He came to the point where he started thinking differently about possessions, and he uncovered the freedom to choose his response to whatever happened, and more importantly, to choose a positive response. Now, when Ryan sees people suffering, he sees that they chose their own suffering because they have the ability and the responsibility to move out of a victim mentality. Suffering happens to us because we aren’t seeing something, and we can create meaning and choose how we respond.

What an epic! Ryan found it challenging to come back into society but he did. He felt that he now has the responsibility to pass on the meaningful lessons and experiences he had gained from the journey, and this is his meaning in returning. On that note, many of us were left with our thoughts stirring, or more questions, or a desire to pack our bags and hit the road! So get your thoughts and questions together and join Ryan again at the coming Fireside at TCC PoMo on Tuesday 23 September from 7.30-9.30pm. Seats are limited.

RSVP to Weiping @ 97106326 to reserve your seat now!