• Maria Grzywacz

Tuesday Talk with... Ira from SriSeeker

Please introduce yourself, what’s your name, where are you from, where are you based and… what’s your biggest passion?

My name is Irina Viscun, but I go by "Ira", as this is a commonly used shortened version of my name in Moldova, where I was born. My life has taken me on a world-wind expatriation adventure across multiple continents, languages and cultures. I grew up in the United States, pursued graduate studies in France, and deepened my spirituality in Asia. Amid these chapters, I traveled extensively throughout the world, including a student-run trip to Ghana in 2005 that transformed my worldview definitively. Currently, I reside in Sri Lanka, and call this Serendip island my home now for almost 5 years.

It is my greatest passion for holistic living that brought me to the deeply healing shores of Sri Lanka. I embraced my growth as an Ayurvedic practitioner & yoga instructor, offering one-of-a-kind traveling Healing Retreats in a land that draws on the original sources of mindfulness, Buddhist philosophy of compassion and traditional medicine. Here, I was able to come in close contact with a "middle-path" practical way of life, what the Buddhists call "Loving Kindness". In Sri Lanka, I have found my spiritual home.

How do your personal values influence your professional choices?

Throughout the years, I have pursued a healthy balance between my personal and professional paths. It has not always been easy, as seeking alignment between the inner & the outer worlds is not immediately apparent. I have dealt with my share of unrealistic expectations from my past employers, and it has taught me that it often came from my own lack of clear communication of boundaries. With time, I understood that personal and professional aspirations go hand in hand, and my self-development began to change my career path. The more confidence I drew in my innate abilities, the less they were taken for granted. The more I invested in my individual goals, the more valuable an asset I became to my employer.

Eventually, I graduated to a place in life where I was no longer seeking validation by way of meeting someone else's expectations, and my professional life took for a very satisfying turn. I became an entrepreneur honing my skills as a self-starter and feeling passionate about fulfilling my personal objectives. Today, I can say that I no longer feel any separation between my personal and professional selves. For me, self-development, self-discipline and self-reflection are synonymous with integrity, earnestness and commitment, which is what I bring to every relationship that I cherish, be it professional or personal.

In what way can travel help us become more sustainable/live more consciously?

Travel experiences are gateways into living more consciously. A trip abroad is a microcosm of our world, where every pre-existing reality gets thrown-up in the air. Those familiar comforts that we have come to count on are tossed out of the window. The time zone is different, the geography is different, the language is different, the culture is different - no wonder some people prefer to stay home and never leave their comfort zone (smiley face) ! It's a wake-up call, it demands that you look at things differently, not everyone is ready for that.

But, there is a growing community of seekers that are pursuing a far less-familiar kind of thrill. It is not-so-much rooted in the extreme type of adventure, I'm alluding to adrenaline junkies here, but a softer, more meaningful pursuit of entering the realms of unknown territory for the sake of feeling connected, feeling "seen" & "heard", feeling alive. We can characterize it as being a side-effect of the "uber-connected" digital reality of today, which in truth has disconnected us from most of our tangible realities grounded in day-to-day life. But, I am very much of the opinion that it is not the technology to blame for our own short-comings. When connections are strong to begin with, little can break them. And when connections are weak, we will easily find the excuses for their severance. That's just human nature.

Earnest people everywhere in the world are seeking a deeper kind of connection. Our global predicament has awakened us to the fact that everything is inter-connected, be it through climate change or global economic crises. We can no longer deny the fact that the way that we live, the way that we act, affects those around us. And travel is just another form of sharing common experiences rooted in a common humanity. Travel is an opportunity to cross borders in order to realize that cultural divisions are a form of illusion. We can celebrate our differences, and we can also rejoice in our common experiences.

Where do you see most potential for growth when it comes to travelers’ (not only environmental, but also personal and spiritual) awareness?

I believe that travel will become more and more about personalized experiences, and less about "cookie-cutter" tour packages. Today's tourist is a much more sophisticated traveler, speaking multiple languages, highly educated, and savvy at what they look for in their travel abroad. We are seeing more and more professionals from other fields entering the field of travel because the demand for expertise is growing very rapidly. The travel advisor today is not merely responsible for providing the best deals on top-rated locations, they are expected to possess in-depth knowledge of their destinations. The old-school travel agent has been replaced by the likes of online booking platforms like Booking.com, TripAdvisor, AirBnB, and so on. Today, when the travelers solicit for travel advise, they are seeking firsthand knowledge of each hotel, of each excursion, of each activity, and that can only come with experience.

In Sri Lanka, I have co-founded a travel company that takes that kind of expert navigation even a step further. Sriseeker is an initiative that designs original and authentic cultural-exchange programming, where the traveler is as much a part of the experience as the local host. Take for example our traditional Sri Lankan Drum & Dance workshop, where the guest would spend 2.5 to 3 hours learning new steps,

trying their hand at new drum beats, and interacting with a local dance teacher and her students that extend their regular practice to fit the parameters of an inter-cultural experience. All of them find themselves in a new territory, sometimes relying on non-verbal communication to be more "telling" than any university lecture can provide. It's a visceral experience, and all of this takes place within the capsule of a 3-hour meeting between people that do not belong to the same set of cultural denomination. It's challenging, yes! But, it is also so much fun, and it is so rewarding!

Transformative experiences are the latest buzz-word in the world of travel today. But, this is what transformation really means - the meeting of two foreign forces, and their mutual transformation through a shared experience of learning, laughing and growing together.

Three things you’re most grateful for today!

Today, I am grateful for my health, first and foremost. It's a cliche, but good health means being able to stay present, engaged and motivated. There are many more things I am grateful for, but they all stem from one place, from the center of my being, which I work diligently to maintain in good balance and good health.



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© 2020 by Maria Grzywacz