Why do we travel? The weekend getaway. The summer and winter breaks. The islands and exotic locations. What are we looking for?
The travel industry is one of the biggest on our planet. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the travel industry generated 7.6 trillion U.S. dollars in 2016. We are looking for something obviously.
Do we travel to escape our mundane lives? That is surely one of the biggest reasons. But often, at least from my own experiences, we bring our fears and anxieties with us. Some of us, me included, might even panic a little without the comforts (and pains) of our daily routines. And yet the allure of kicking back on the beach with a cocktail, with the turquoise water of the Mediterranean, while a cliche, is hard to resist. We want new scenery to refresh ourselves. We all know stress (too much or too little) affects the quality of our lives and we are told a recreational holiday will renew us. Keep us fresh and productive workers. Employers know this and give us paid holidays.
Holidays are a type of recreation, time spent away from work, but what is recreation? Recreation is RE CREATION. Maybe you have heard that before. But it is good to contemplate. Do our holidays enable us to really RE CREATE ourselves? Do new environments really RE CREATE us?
“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.” That’s Alain de Botton. I think he is onto something.
What is ordinary life? Well, I suppose it is a kind of delusion.We are “tethered” to our everyday obligations, worries, and fears. We all lead busy lives, endlessly trying to balance work, family, and the endless options for entertainment, and, perhaps often detrimental to our well-being, comparing ourselves with others via social media. We are also “tethered” to the idea of permanence and trying to cling to it. Permanence is an illusion. The Buddhists tell us this and we can check it out for ourselves. Take a look around. Everything is always changing. Nothing is permanent.
This realisation of non-permanance can engender further worries. How can we anchor ourselves if everything is changing? One response, and I think it is quite natural, is to try to cling to what appears, at least for now, as solid. But there is another response, and at least from my experience, more renewing and life enriching, and that is to allow for this change, not to see it as the enemy, but rather as a potential source for wonder and awe.
When I lived in Poland, I remember visiting Krakow and seeing the tourists flock to comfort zones. The British tourists to British pubs for British food and beer and football. Maybe, out of guilt, some cultural excursions. While living in Turkey, especially around the southern Antalya province, I also noticed the same thing. British pubs, British all day breakfasts, fish and chips, and so on. This of course is understandable. We also want the familiar from our daily routines. It is a kind of comfort, at least temporarily. I understand the appeal. However, for me at least, I feel most renewed with surprise, awe, and stepping out of the familiar.
This stepping out of the familiar doesn’t come right away. I start off by clinging. Worrying what’s for breakfast in the new place, the best deals for lunch, trying to get myself situated. But when I am able to let go, allowing for the new environment to refresh me by not clinging to the familiar, time mostly disappears, or at least the clinging to it, and I feel the most free and happy. I am fully in the present moment, not weighing and judging and comparing, but open and ready to experience whatever is happening now in front of me. I am seeing the world again as if for the first time, because it really is the first time. The Buddhists call this beginner’s mind. You don’t have to travel, of course, to experience beginner’s mind, but it can be one of the ways.
The mind is the source of suffering and pleasure, but the environment, of course, plays a factor. Stepping out of the familiar. That, perhaps, is the source of our recreation. Traveling as a way to see things as they really are, forever changing. Spontaneous travel can help us recover our curiosity. Here is another piece of wisdom, this time from the great Zen teacher Alan Watts:
Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering, for there is no other way of discovering surprises and marvels, which, as I see it, is the only good reason for not staying at home.
This is the child’s mind, open and curious. For me, it is the greatest source of recreation. This child-like beginner’s mind can renew us. Lots of wisdom teachers tell us about the importance of beginner’s mind. Jesus said to become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. What is it about children? Again, look around, they are naturally curious, in the moment, not clinging to the past or future, a beginner’s mind. It seems, at least from my experience, as we get older and become aware of mortality and death, we cling more and more to the illusion of permanence. For me, that is the source of most of my suffering. My mind trying to hold on too tightly. I am most happy in the moment, fully immersed and also observing, curious and open.
Nomadic travel does not require exotic locations and extensive planning. It can happen here and now, in your own neighbourhood. It is about letting go of expectations, cultivating a child-like curiosity.
Here, again, is Alan Watts:
The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
The dance of life! What a great mystery!