Recently I moved my home base to a small surf town in Costa Rica. I yearned for a simpler life, a sunnier life. I sought out less stuff and welcomed in more soul. I found my happy place in a small town with 1 dirt road. Even in paradise though, one has obligations and responsibilities. On a resent trip home to visit my family, my passport was stolen in transit. It also happened that the Canadian Embassy was closed for 5 days exactly when it occurred. I felt naked, like a true nomad with no-man’s land. I had called the government offices in Canada who informed me that if I had a police document reporting the theft as well as any government issued photo-ID I could get on a plane. In fact, according to international law it is forbidden to be denied entry into one’s own country. You know all those times your Dad reminds you to bring a photocopy of your passport with you when you travel? As it turns out, that ain’t worth squat.
As I found out upon insisting I be boarded onto the next plane to the true North Strong and free, internationally, it is virtually impossible to travel without a passport no matter how many governmental connections you have in your home country and pieces of ID cards you posess.
To make a long story short, I got loud in the airport. I cried. I got upset. I through a tantrum, insisting I be allowed on to the next plane to Canada. I got stressed. I lost my bearings and my thoughts and before long the police were called and I nearly was taken in to custody for causing a scene. Luckily we were able to call my local member of parliament, the Costa Rican board of tourism and the Canadian embassy to get me out of cuffs. In any case, I was still stuck without a passport in Costa Rica for 5 days until the Canadian Embassy reopened and reissued me a valid travel document. On reflection, here’s what I’ve learned-
1. Keep calm and carry on
I panicked and almost got arrested. When I finally managed to calm myself down, I was able to reassess the situation and talk my way out of international incarceration. In panic mode, no one would listen, I felt helpless. Once calm I could take charge of my words, body language and properly express myself and my needs. Ultimately this lead to the police backing down and my being able to properly take care of what was really necessary: getting a new passport and getting back to Canada.
Being upset gets us nowhere. When we are angry, we flail and scream. Our faces get distorted. Our body language gets grotesquely over exaggerated. In a way, we become a dramatized puppeted version of ourselves. It is impossible to listen and truly hear what a tantrum-tastic person is saying because the show of their limbs and expressions is too distracting. In addition, when we yell at people they do not hear or listen to us, they shut down. There is sound but no content. They extrapolate the worst words. They turn off their compassion and turn on their defenses. No matter how difficult, when life is tough and scary and seemingly hopeless, it is imperative to stay calm.
2. Just breathe
How do we keep ourselves from panicking? Long slow exhales. This is how I managed to release some anxiety and calm down enough to act intelligently. While the police officers escorted me to a corner of the airport, I took the deepest breath that I could and exhaled as slowly as possible. It started to work. My thought process slowed down, my vision became more clear. Inhale deeply. Exhale slowly. I started to notice my gate and walk more confidently. Deep breath in, long breath out. I stopped crying, lowered the tone of my voice and dealt properly with my situation.
Monitoring and controlling the breath actually reduces cortisol levels- the stress response. In addition it helps get us into a meditative state. Meditation helps increase brain capacity. This in turn will help you make more intelligent decisions. It will help you listen to guts and instincts. Breathing through it will increase rationality and decrease your chances of escalating a situation beyond your control.
3. It’s all good
Once I managed to relax a little I took a moment to further assess my current situation: I had cash on me, a credit card with a high enough limit to sustain me for a while. I had a backpack full of everything I needed, a computer to take care of necessities and a phone to FaceTime loved ones back home. I said to myself, “You’re alive. You’re unharmed. You are okay. It’s all good.”
In the worst situations abroad, this is what we need to remind ourselves. Sure delays might happen. Sure, there might be a ton of bureaucratic BS to face, sure you might not get home in time for that family celebration or work engagement”¦ but you’re not hurt, you’re not harmed, you’re not dying. It’s all good.
So it turns out clichÃ©s can ring true. Oh and one more – probably should’ve listened to my mom! She told me to relax, check in to a hotel and wait until there was something that could be sorted out, no need to get worked up.