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Today we are talking with Ondřej Dobeš, a traveler, practicing mindfulness, and Erasmus+ project facilitator.
He has visited most of Europe by hitchhiking, working as an animator, looking for spiritual retreats, he went to Central America to live in eco farms and their communities, lived in India for half a year exchanging work in hotels for food and accommodation, in the meanwhile moving from one ashram to another (ashram – a place of religious retreat in India), and now he is here, in Brno, telling us about his experience.
A kiddo who went for more
How did you start your journey as a traveler?
I was one of those kids who was supposed to follow the steps of his parents and be a hard-working student, later a hard-working employee. But I didn’t perform well in my exams, so I didn’t manage to enter the university. That’s why for one year I was working random jobs in Brno – a street seller, a waiter, tourism promoter, kitchen helper, etc.
However, after a year I needed to choose a direction in life, so I did what most mainstream kids were doing back then – I took the exams once again and this time I passed them, finally got into a university.
But one funny accident happened to me which changed my life.
The first day at university I couldn’t find my class, so I quit. I quit the whole thing. Maybe you have heard the saying that when one door closes, a thousand of them open. Soon after, I went to Greece to work as an animator at one hotel. Since then my journey as a traveler hasn’t finished yet.
You told me you went to Central America to live in eco farms. Could you tell the readers more about this experience?
I went to Central America looking for permaculture farms because this is the place where they flourish the most.
At first I was planning everything and carefully choosing my next destination in advance. But the longer I lived there, the more I experienced going with the flow when being on the road you meet new people, sometimes joining them, sometimes they join you, listening to their experiences in different places and thus deciding where to go next.
Once we hitchhiked for 3 weeks to one city which was possible to reach within 12 hours by car.
Usually I lived on farms in the forests with other volunteers, doing simple tasks like watering or planting plants, looking after the animals.
If you ever go to these so-called developing countries, just then you can truly realize what does it mean the openness of people – it is very easy to approach them and the contact is much more sincere. Once one farm owner even left us alone in his farm to take care of it while he himself was on a holiday.
I know that everyone says that there is a high rate of crime in Central America and this is true, especially in the big cities. But what I experienced when being robbed is that the robbers didn’t want to hurt us – they just wanted our money. They even gave back to one girl her passport when asked. The nature is extremely rich that even your eyes start hurting from the green you see but the people are extremely poor.
I stayed there for half a year changing the living place each couple of weeks, having nothing more than my backpack.
And was the experience in India something similar to that in Central America?
In India I felt absolutely free. I have never experienced more freedom than in India. Indians are simple-minded people. When I was teaching their kids in one village it was a pure play, and that’s how you feel in the presence of vast space, the ocean, the possibility not to care what you wear, how do you look. People have time there, they pay attention to things, they are very spiritual, conversations from the first moment you meet can go deep. I have never been so happy as I was in India.
How do you deal with the fact that you always need to change places and people, meaning? How do you pull yourself together when things come to attachment?
This is one of the main problems of travelers who commit themselves to long-term travel. The excitement of new experience is followed by hard moments when you start liking the place so much that it becomes hard to leave it.
Then my advice would be to try looking for some ways how to stay there longer. But if it is impossible, I have one trick which helps me to let it go. Because that’s what it needs to be done – let go and gently close the experience.
I imagine all the people who I have loved and who have been dear to me at that time and place, I imagine them on a stage. I call them all to come to me.
And in my imagination, they bow as if they have given a performance and now it has come to an end.
That is what helps me to let go and go on living, to reach out to new experiences.
The ways of a mindfulness seeker
How did you start practicing mindfulness?
Everything started when I was around 22, working as an animator for the hotels. I needed to perform in front of 600 people or so, being involved with them in a social interaction which required a lot of energy. In the end, after each event, I used to be so exhausted, that I just sat down in the middle of nowhere and stared at nothingness. And I used to sit like this for hours.
What I couldn’t express in words back then, now, after reading dozens of books and trying various schools, I can call meditation and try to reach mindfulness which in the end should lead the one who is doing it persistently to a blissful state.
How is your present job as an Erasmus+ project facilitator connected to mindfulness?
I am not a teacher of mindfulness because if you had seen a teacher of mindfulness, you would have experienced on your own skin the power of his energy. I am just a person who helps young people to enter meditative states in a safe and supportive environment which should help them in their personal growth.
Are you able to be always in the present?
I am doing better and better but no, I am not able to be always in the present.
When I was living in India, the style of living was very simple there and the thinking as well, talking to people who weren’t complicated, enjoying nature, eating food. There was no more and no less but the present moment.
However, coming back here means different things. Here people are more into their work and into their problems, running in circles of their life. Here is more difficult to enjoy the present moment. Now it is even more difficult for me because I am in love and my mind constantly goes backward and forward.
What is the role of love in your philosophy of life? As you have told me, nothingness is the final goal of the person who is seeking for mindfulness?
It is a very complicated question and I still don’t have a complete answer to it. But I have a feeling that the more you are able to disattach, the more you are able to love.
Open to the world, to his dreams and to the fear of the unknown.
How did travel and practicing mindfulness change you? Did one help the other?
It is the best school of life and nowhere you would learn so many things as traveling.
When you go out there into the whole wide world everything is so vivid because it is so different and new, your eyes are devouring new impressions. That’s a kind of mindfulness practice – when you walk the streets that you know, you don’t pay attention to anything. And when everything’s new, your mind is very receptive.
There is a well-known practice when people set off into long trips with not many things with them, staying in different places and trying to let go of the attachments, to be in the present.
Also, it goes another way around – mindfulness helps traveling, that is to say, to deal with the fear of going into the unknown.
Finally, the greatest thing which I got while traveling and practicing mindfulness was openness. I became much more open to the world.
We talked a lot about being in the present but now I would like to contradict myself and ask you, what are your future plans?
Actually, I have been practicing dreaming a lot and it is as much important as being in the moment. So far my dreams are to continue with facilitation of Erasmus+ projects and traveling. However, one day I would like to settle down, build a house and have a girlfriend or a wife. To be able to start a relationship that would be strong enough to even have a real fight because we would already know each other so well.
Also having a chance to meet people on a stable basis, I mean, not just once in a lifetime but repeatedly from time to time, would be great. Because it is very exciting to meet interesting new people but in the end, it becomes very tiring every time to start from zero or talk about the same things you talked with a dozen other strangers over and over again.
How would you advise people who would like to follow your steps and have a lifestyle of a traveler?
I would advise them to go for something small at first. I remember when I was setting off for a big trip for the first time, I was very afraid. For not to have a shock, I started with Europe and just then went for something bigger. If you are still afraid, find a companion. But the greatest thing is to face your fear and make friends with it – learn how to live with it. Because each time I am going to a new place, I am afraid. Anything might happen after all.
However, learning how to live with this fear helps to experience great things.
Thank you to Ondřej for an interesting conversation.
You can find more of our interviews in section Rozhovory.