Near the end of my four-week volunteering stay in Nozawaonsen, I was at ease. I just finished two paid online projects, my to-do lists were all done and I had nothing to do but relax and enjoy myself in this mountain town famous for its numerous hot springs and wintertime powder slopes. I spent my last two days strolling around town, attending a festival and watching local farmers bring in the season’s last rice harvest. However, over the past weeks I had been getting slowly addicted to sitting on my ass, watching Netflix on my laptop and getting increasingly close to procrastinating even my most important work.
Three days later I found myself cycling up a steep mountain road, the unrelenting rain slowly soaking me to the bone and the weight of my backpack pressing my already tender nether regions firmly down on my bike’s hard, narrow saddle. The easy days in Nozawaonsen were definitely gone; I was on the road again. That night I set up my tent on a soggy field, crawled inside and faced a long and damp night. When I left my tent the next morning, I found that the soggy field had dried up and actually offered a tremendous view of the Shinano river cutting through the town of Ojiya in the valley below. Bathing in the light of a bright, late summer morning sun, the scenery filled me with a desire to quickly pack up camp and get going. After a few days of adjusting to life on the road, I was ready to face whatever lay ahead and explore the world once again.
There is an old, well-known story about two wolves fighting inside all of us; one white, and one black. The white wolf stands for compassion, peace and all the ‘good’ emotions. The black wolf represents anger, hate, fear and our darker impulses. The moral of the story is that the wolf you feed the most wins the internal struggle and thus dominates your personality. Personally, I’ve always thought less of these absolutes. I much rather prefer to think along the lines of Yin and Yang: two seemingly opposing forces that, upon closer inspection, are actually interconnected and interdependent.
In my mind, my two wolves need each other to survive. They might be opposites with each their own drawbacks, but both possess beneficial aspects necessary for this nomadic lifestyle I chose. One is somewhat lazy, borderline alcoholic, prone to procrastination and with a lingering entertainment addiction. It is nonetheless very capable in relieving stress and making social connections for business purposes or to combat the occasional bout of loneliness.
The other wolf is tougher, not easily distracted from its goals and able to withstand the sometimes hard conditions of life on the road. It has an insatiable lust for adventure, to seek what’s beyond that next horizon. It follows a lonely path, however, and it has a tendency to isolate itself from the world and possible opportunities to actually sustain itself in the long term.
Finding balance between these two aspects of myself has been difficult these past few months. I’m learning, though. I’m learning when to feed the wolf of determination, to focus on my goals and not be hesitant about heading off on weeks of hard living. And I’m learning when to feed the lazy wolf and allow myself to sit back and enjoy the comforts of civilisation every now and then.
I’m also learning to accept these two halves as part of a single, greater whole. I used to feel guilty when staying in the comforts of a big city too long, only to feel disillusion and regret creep up when I left civilisation for a great outdoor adventure, where it would take a while for me to trust in my own abilities again. But as I said, I’m learning to accept these differences within me. To trust my travelling instincts, no matter which wolf is winning the fight at that moment.
I just returned to Nozawaonsen after a week of inspirational, wanderlust-inducing cycling through the Japanese countryside. The wolf of determination has been fed, but I won’t let it go to sleep just yet. There’s more travelling to be done, and I can’t get too comfortable here.
But every evening I make sure to let myself get lazy and watch the dragonflies dance over the yellowing rice fields outside my window. And while the setting sun throws all its shades of orange over the cloudy mountain ridge across the valley, I sit a little more easily while my two wolves stop their fight long enough to watch the sunset with me.