Dépaysement is a French word that indicates that sense of disorientation we feel in a unfamiliar setting, for instance when we are abroad.
- the feeling of not being at home, in a foreign or different place, can be either a good or a bad feeling; change of scenery
- (obsolete): exile
I am personally very familiar with dépaysement. I was just a child when I first experienced it.
It is still today one of my most common state of minds – I am a foreigner by choice, after all.
You don’t need to live abroad to be able to experience it – having a beginner’s mind means being in a constant state of slight, curious dépaysement.
It is not all sparkly and simple, though. At times it can be empowering for a confident grown up person, but the downside could be as strong – it can make you feel alone, different, a misfit.
In fact, I very well remember my younger self hating it. I remember that longing of being just as everybody else, that struggle to fit in an easy to understand box and the fascinating quest to a label, any label that would make my persona understandable and familiar and clear to others.
Stepping out of our comfort zone is not easy. Yet, this is where some of our best experiences in life have the chance to happen.
The trick is to feel comfortable in this state. To like it, even. As if it were – as it actually is – a special, privileged place inside our mind.
This is a state to seek, not to avoid.
A place where you can meet yourself and others on a different, deeper level, sometimes with no need of language, no need of common grounds other than the human nature.
A place where a smile is a mean of universal communication.
A place where your gut feelings are more relevant that a complex explanation.
I grew to love dépaysement. I grew accustomed to that unsteady feeling of being constantly amazed by every detail. It is quite exciting, yes. Yet it can be very tiring. I always joke that after 8 pm I cannot speak any of the three languages commonly used in my daily life – not a single one of them: I just emit unintelligible sounds! In spite of this, I am convinced dépaysement is nowadays one of the most important foundations to my mindfulness practice.
It is tempting to avoid a new experience because of the fears around it. It would be much more reassuring to remain in the known, instead of travelling (figuratively and not) towards what is new and uncomfortable. But this would mean avoiding the experience, and ultimately forfeit our growth.
Resilience is the key here. You build resilience by acknowledging your feelings of discomfort and then stepping out of your comfort zone and into dépaysement anyway.
Your brain will adjust.
The scary thoughts will dissipate when the reality of the new situation will reveal itself to be not as terrifying as your worst-case-scenario.
And next time you will be a little less scared. And a little more resilient. And a lot freer.
Hope this serves you.