There is something alluring about the idea of leaving – leaving home, responsibilities, places and people behind. Leaving behind our familiar, safe and ordinary ways of being, our routines, the ever-shrinking circles of safety and security in which we invest so much time and energy.
Why do we feel the pull of the unknown?
We know enough to suspect that we will be uncomfortable, sleeping in unfamilar places, eating unfamiliar foods, unable to locate the comforts we take for granted at home. Why, then, do we long to travel?
For some, it is the lure of the unticked box on the checklist. I’ve seen Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna … must go to Copenhagen and Amsterdam soon. I’ve done Europe and South America – now it’s time for South-East Asia.
But for the spiritual seeker, the personal growth valuer, travel is not about seeing all the places. In fact, spending months in just one place is better than flitting a day here, two days there, and a week somewhere else. In a few months, there is time for the human being to stop and settle – for the soul to catch up with the body. There is time to relax and contemplate. There is time to see the place through the eyes of the locals, or at least as a resident rather then a tourist.
And yet, in each new place, there is a blank canvas. There is the opportunity to build, from scratch, a completely new life. New habits of sleeping and waking, working and playing, loving and praying. When in the grip of new habits, one becomes a new person.
The real beauty of travel is that is highlights how much of what we think if as “me” is simply automatic responses to our familar environment. Take us away from the people and things which tell us who we are, and suddenly we are free to be whoever we choose to be.
Of course, most people will hastily re-create as much as possible of their former home in any new place they visit, carrying with them familiar clothing, books, and Facebook pages to ensure they don’t get too scarily out of touch with who they have always been.
For those with the courage, though, travel offers up the opportunity to cast away all reminders of lives gone by. To embrace vegetarianism, siestas, midnight prayers, and a thousand other unfaimiliar practices – to learn to love each new life just as much as the one before.
After a few such metamorphoses, we know at a visceral level that who we are is not fixed, that points of view and opinions are as flexible as diet plans, and that the only constant in this rainbow parade of experiences is the fascinated observer.
The Buddha said:
Thos who leave their parents, go out of the home, understand the mind, reach the source, and comprehend the immaterial, are called shramana.
Shrama is effort – the shramana come to understand the truth through their own efforts.
A traveller may, of course, be using the constant stimulation of travel to avoid deep introspection. He or she may find their sexual desirability is enhanced in places where their accent is endearingly exotic. A journey may be a ticking-off of a bucket list, proving one’s worth to the doubters, an escape from an intolerable situation, or any one of dozens of other motives.
However, for those who have awakened, travel is a vehicle for spiritual exploration. A way to learn that the person we refer to when we say “I” is nothing more than a construct, dependent on the familiar to bring it forth. A way to discover that there is so much more to us, and so much less to us, than we ever imagined.