The Immersive Visit: When we immerse ourselves into another’s space, we have a rare opportunity to share an intimate experience with another person inside his or her world, and, in turn, we can sometimes see our own lives differently in this new context. Typically, we surround ourselves with our own paraphernalia of worldly possessions, tools and mementos within our own familiar walls. These things serve to help us and, in some cases, cocoon us in our daily routines. It is not until we slip into someone else’s life for a few days, that we experience a different way of breathing new life in and expelling old life out.
It is quite special to try someone else’s skin on for awhile and feel its fit. When we slip into his or her linen at night with perfumed pillows and listen to the sounds of the home and neighbourhood inside of and beyond new windows, life becomes poignant in its unfamiliarity. The cars and sirens on the road sing urgently. The music blaring in the neighbour’s garage is foreign even when we recognize the melodies. The ornaments on the dresser tell unknown stories and the dust bunnies under the bed have inherited the dirt of other people’s feet. The dog of the house curiously peeks in to love new company. The books on the shelf express another’s interest in biology and science fiction. Who are we here in someone else’s room?
We Become Connected: It is in these special visits that we become connected to our hosts in powerful ways. We ask different questions of them prompted by the stuff of their lives. “Who is that in the picture? Where did you get this…? What a lovely picture?” They have let us into their personal space. We shower in their bath tubs, and sit on their toilets. Our skin touches the soft bath towels that have cleaned their bodies many times before us. “Why have they chosen this soap with tiny granules of salt and apricot nut? What a pretty picture of what looks like the Grand Canyon to pause at while I do my make-up?” I notice when visiting a friend’s home that I am engaged differently by my morning nuptials, using the bathroom products chosen by somebody else and for different bodily reasons such as cleaner teeth or filing down calluses with interesting pumice stones.
We talk longer because we have the luxury of the whole day. The challenge in this intensive visit is to consider how to navigate the twenty-four hours of one or more days together when we are used to squeezing people into a coffee visit for a couple of hours at the most. What will we do? What will we talk about? Somehow, the days pass fluidly and we find our groove. We learn each others’ likes and dislikes and we align together in compelling and memorable ways. The visit becomes a milestone of our relationship because we disclose more than we thought we might, and we trust each other more because of it.
Being the Hostess: As life-changing as being a guest can be, so too, can it be to invite someone else into our homes. I feel my day-to-day experiences keenly when I welcome someone into my space and re-visit my own way of being through their lenses. I clean the house carefully to consider their potential cleanliness standards when I know that my own day-to-day complacent routines can sometimes overlook details. I feed them my paleo diet, and explain its benefits as others politely nod and drink my homemade chai tea made from fragrant Moroccan spices. My fluffy ginger tabbies jump up on them and demand cuddles, and I set the furnace thermostat higher to consider their comfort when I have gotten used to wearing sweaters to combat the moist morning chill of the Canadian West Coast.
We walk on forest trails that bring me peace despite the bears that make them look around tentatively. I tell them stories of a mill town that has seen better days. We take naps in the afternoon, and after dinner, we enjoy some blackberry liqueur on the veranda while contemplating the peach hues of the Powell River sunset. Humming birds stop by for a buzz and then quickly flitter away. The older gentleman neighbour walks by with his dog and waves at us as if he has known us for years. My houseguests wonder how I handle the privacy of this little life in this small town while my husband ferries away working on Texada Island everyday. “I like it, ” I explain, not quite sure how to explain that I feel bigger here, not smaller; safer, not wilder, “I like it…until I don’t, and then we go away somewhere until we want to come back again. As well, it affords me time to think and to write. I have joined a writing group. I have always wanted to be in a writing group, but have never had the time before.” I catch them wondering if they could manage the isolation away from the urban grid in this beautiful forest life. It can be lonely and people do not really like being alone.
Couch Surfing: Many people couch surf around the world. I think that they enjoy it not only for its affordability, but because it brings them this rare opportunity to see life from their hosts’ perspectives. Sharing personal space with someone else can be very game-changing as I know many people who have made major changes in their own lives upon returning home by adopting some of the diets and day-to-day skills that they have learned on their trips. For example, they have begun composting; taken up new hobbies; started listening to new music and much more. The Dauntless Jaunter (2012) explains that there were over 4 million successful couch surfing experiences reported in their data and research (https://www.dauntlessjaunter.com/travel-tips-advice-how-tos/couchsurfing-complete-guide/5/). There is always risk involved in this type of whole-hearted leap of faith into someone else’s home, but the rewards seem to be plentiful.
The Value of Full-Immersion: I remember being told by my friends who had gone to other countries to learn new languages that they had come back not only learning the language better than they might have done from books and a teacher in a classroom, but they also learned about the culture within which the language was used. They were forced, in some ways, to try new things that they might not have done otherwise. I remember learning to appreciate olives when visiting Spain where before I found them bitter and distasteful. All of a sudden, I liked dates after tasting them in smoothies in Bali. Where I was initially shy of public baths and massages, I learned to embrace new spa experiences in different bathhouses around the world. The Turkish bath was the most aggressive exfoliation and massage of my life. In another case in Chiang Mai, after a Thai woman jumped on top of me and moved my body in uncomfortable positions, I walked away from the stretching experience being able to move my hips without pain. Vietnam set my feet on fire with reflexology that had been passed down as a science from one generation of masseuses to another in the city of Hanoi.
By immersing myself into other people’s lives and customs, I have found new ways of living my own life. So often we are caught up in living life second-hand through books, social media and other forms of media. Unfortunately, in relegating most of our relationships to this type of pseudo-connection, we do not gain the profound opportunity to be truly in touch with each other. It prompts me to write this article to invite people to come and visit me more often, and to remind them to invite others into their own homes for these special kinds of visits where we can explore ourselves and our relationships in new and authentic ways. Immersive visits are very important gifts to share with our friends and, in some cases, strangers, and I encourage us to take off our shoes at the doors of other people’s homes and step inside to become mindful guests with an open spirit.
“I thought it peculiar how one new experience can alter your perspective on places you’ve known your whole life.” M.J. Prest, Immersion