I have wanted to do a post/video for a while on the important role that travel has played in my life. So as I prepare for a trip to the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) and Qatar, I thought this might be an ideal time to invite into your curiosity some reflections.
The obvious benefits of travel are recreative, rejuvenating and restful. Yes of course all of those. But I am on a slightly different glide slope for this one
Let me set the stage with a few lines from a book I read in 2004 that has been pulled off the shelf for a read on the plane some 13 yrs later…
“It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are.”
― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
If you have never read de Botton this is an excellent start.
I had the opportunity to travel to remote parts of India when I was 17, the first of what would be many trips to that part of the world. I can’t calculate the impact of the trip on my entire life but I can say that even then I knew I would never be quite the same.
Some 30 countries later, on train, boat, helicopter, plane, horse, rickshaw, and tuktuk my entire interior world has been rearranged, tweaked, enlightened, and infused because of the places, spaces and faces I have had the privilege to encounter.
When we travel we are jolted out of routinized thinking, movement, interaction and eating. We are arrested by new surroundings, smells, souks and stations.
All of these have a way of getting us out of our little dinky world, but more importantly out of our little dinky thinking that often has us unconsciously assuming my way, my world is surely the way most people live and breathe, right? It is one of the reasons we made a commitment to give our kids, while they were still young, travel opportunities in different parts of the world: expanding their outer world meant inevitably expanding their inner world.
You can’t help but think differently in different parts of the country let alone different parts of the world.
We are told we have between 70,000-90,000 thoughts a day but about 90-95% of them are the same thoughts as yesterday. Nothing jolts you out of that rut better then a change of scenery.
de Botton again…
“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.”
So, can I offer a few things I have tried to engage in my travels?
First, GO PLACES! - there are 196 identified countries in the world. If you only stay in one or two it is like reading only a page or two of a book. Places change us, expand us, infuse us. Sure we have to save, plot and plan. But read de Botton, part of the trip is the planning and anticipation; that alone has a molding force.
Second, SEE SPACES! - architecture posesses one of the most acute powers for arresting our minds. Whether is it the Taj Mahal in India, the I.M. Pei designed Dallas Symphony Hall or the Islamic Museum of Art in Qatar, be it St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, or the 46m long Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho Temple in Bangkok, the magnitude of these spaces expand what can be, give you a portal into an entirely different world and open you to possibilities you can’t get from a flat page or computer screen.
Third, EXPERIENCE TRACES of the Divine evolving in creation. The French vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape, the red dunes in Nambia, the majesty of the Nepalese terrain heading to Namche Bazaar, or the towering Redwoods of northern California. Terrain changes reorient our bodies and spirits in ways nothing else does in the same way. Natural wonders abound in every landscape, mountains, desert, plains and sea. And when those wonders lodge in us they provoke wonder and curiosity and take us to new creative vistas. I have always returned from a trip more curious, and more creative. And for those of you that gravitate toward water/sea? There is a reason!
Last, MEET FACES - My kids have always been half embarrassed because I talk to total strangers a lot. This is really an important practice in other lands where their world is so vastly different than mine. Get good at asking questions, peer into their world, their life, their thoughts their routine. I had an exercise in a class I took where I had to go spend two hours with someone very much UNLIKE me. It could have been different in any number of ways. But the idea was I had to get comfortable with "other." This was valuable simply because you can often have that experience near your home. Even local travel can change, challenge or invade your current worldview. One of the reccurring thoughts that hits me almost every time I get into conversations with people in a different context is “this is their life, this is really who they are, they are not on vacation..how interesting.”
Traveling helps me remember how ethnocentric I am, how unenlightened and clumsy I am, how narrow and uninformed I am. I am sure that will happen again as I venture into a totally different world this week. But a world of unbelievable vision, architecture, cultural uniqueness and beauty. There is no doubt my next several weeks have #wildlybetter written all over them. I hope you are thinking about your next trek… that alone heightens our senses!