Companies like Google are starting to embrace Eastern traditions. Meditation is now seen as a key to unlocking productivity and new ways of approaching complex tasks. Classes in meditation and mindfulness—paying close, nonjudgmental attention—have become popular with most prominent companies. I had the great opportunity to attend my first 10 days of Vipassana meditation retreat, and understand the value of this practice.
Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. For 10 days I was unable to speak, read or use technology. A very deliberate sanction designed by the teachers to limit distraction from the 8 hours of daily meditation and that is what makes travel a tool for self-improvement.
I began to see, in small ways, how my perspective had shifted. Meditation is designed to shake you out of the everyday way you see the world, and this shift caused a new and unique kind of freedom and power to emerge in my life. It ultimately creates the opportunity to consider an alternative perspective in any situation, good or bad, and eliminates the urge for judgement or harshness when considering another’s point of view. The scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear.
When I think of what travel has given me, it is very much the same. Generally speaking, in my daily life, I wake up with a sense of wanting to improve, of wanting to be better than I was the day before. When planning a trip, and experiencing the sense of anticipation for the eventual journey, the awareness of renewal and unlimited possibility for adventure and learning is intoxicating. And through these experiences, I grow. I become clearer about what I like, what I don’t like, where I might be failing, where I can improve, and what gives me my greatest joy.
Bill Bryson, a renowned travel writer once wrote, “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”
And it is absolutely true. You cannot help but experience the world in a new way when you start each day learning. Where is the hotel in relation to the beach, if it’s a sunny destination? Where is the most highly recommended restaurant and can you walk there? How do you ask for directions in a country where you don’t speak the language? Where can you access wifi if your location doesn’t offer it?
This is in stark contrast to knowing where the beach is if you live near one, or where your favourite place to eat is in the city you call home. These familiarities can often create a sense of robotic non-awareness because we operate as if on auto-pilot in our decision-making. And while it can be comfortable to simply ‘know’, the magic is always in the unknown, in the unknowable, waiting to be discovered.
And I’m reminded constantly of how much I don’t know. Travel as a tool means I have to listen, I have to learn, and I have to understand a new perspective, especially if I’m in a different country where things just aren’t done in the ways I may be accustomed to. On a recent trip to Punta Cana with friends, I learned very quickly that Caribbean time is not North American time. Beyond the obvious time zone changes, there is a much slower pace. ‘Island time’ is not ‘big city time’, and there’s a reason for that.
Meals that are ordered and eaten are to be savoured and enjoyed. They don’t arrive as quickly as they might in a city like New York. Your bottle of wine may not arrive quickly either. And it has not much else to do with the fact that the sense of urgency simply isn’t part of the culture. And so you catch yourself sitting back. Relaxing. Letting the slower pace transform the ‘go-go go’ mentality that may otherwise dominate your mindset if you are visiting this destination from a faster-paced city.
And in these experiences of self-improvement, while using travel as a tool, the people that I meet are very much the same. There is almost an exuberance about life when connecting with them. They want to share their stories, they want to make suggestions about things to try, or others to connect with. It’s an exhilarating way to appreciate the world around you.