When I first begin a different sort of life in a different sort of place, I write in my notebooks, or plane tickets, or coffee receipts Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid.
Big and bold, the steps of the pyramid:
I come off the airplane, become immediately sticky and sweaty in the tropical midnight heat, locate the university students who agreed to pick up the American from the airport.
We zoom through the city in a taxi; me, not blinking, and them, blinking too much.
Finally, after many turns and twists we arrive at my new home. I shake hands with the owner of the beautiful compound, he gives me the key to my single-bedroom-with-bathroom-and-desk and my friendly escorts take back off into the sticky night.
To me it feels like noon, and for me, it is more important to nest at this moment than it is to get a sleep that won’t come. So I begin my process.
First, I attend to my physiological needs.
Am I hungry? Here’s a granola bar and a little pastry I brought with me off the plane. Wash it down with water from my water bottle. I’m not tired yet, I don’t feel the need for sleep. So I’ll forgo that at the moment.
I regard carefully the needs of safety. I take stock of my room: lock on the door (engaged and double-checked), curtain on the window (drawn and secure), bathroom door (opens to the bathroom, not to Narnia or the garage of a slum lord), under the bed (no spiders or other trespassers).
Third, love and belonging. I am alone here, I will cultivate this for myself.
I smell quite foul. That will happen after a 27 hour flight. I dig through my pack for a towel and my shower supplies, then soap myself down with familiar lavender- frankincense scent. I smell better. I smell like things I remember.
I put on my favorite writing playlist—Jazz Drums—and I begin to unpack. To refold my clothes, to set them in the cabinets and on a proper perch that I see fitting. I set out my little foldable lamp and put it above my bed. I turn off the overhead fluorescent light and the room looks like a campfire on a starry night.
I unpack myself and listen to the snare of my heart and smell the lavender-frankensense and I feel myself belonging. Maybe not here, but to myself.
Fourth, I look at the needs of esteem. I am beginning to feel tired, and that is clouding my head with anxiety. This makes me panic. So now, I go to sleep, and when I wake up, it is late and I can hear the birds singing and I feel the sun rays in the room. I grab my laptop and I write, I write about my soul and my thoughts and my mind.
I remind myself: you are a writer. That’s what you are. And do you read what you’ve written? Read this poem. Read this post. You really feel this, this is authentic.
Self-actualization is the completion of my nesting process. This usually doesn’t occur on the first day, and it didn’t with the case of Indonesia. The self-actualization occurred after I settled in with my internship and made friends with my colleagues. Then my highest priority was not where I could go to feed myself or what are the rules regarding modesty, but what am I really doing here?
Every day, it seemed, I went through this hierarchy. Consciously, for the first few days. Less consciously now. It’s a cycle for me that repeats. But still.
Digest, Remember, Learn, Synthesize.