How to be a traveler, not a tourist...
I went to India for my 60th birthday. It was a challenge personally, though I didn’t know it at the time. What I did know was I have been living with some new, low-level anxiety due in large part because our world is changing faster than ever in our history. This condition and its effect on us is brilliantly described in Thomas L. Friedman’s book “Thank You for Being Late.” Friedman describes the forces that are up-ending our world causing us to feel unstable in ways never before experienced. A common solution to counter the stress this causes, for me and millions of others, is to increasingly seek out refuge in the comfortable and familiar. We want the security of the known. The flip side of this is our lives get small. So in the spur of the moment, I booked a trip to India with the hope it will help change my trajectory.
Fear is with most of us these days in varying but increasing degrees. In finding ways to deal with this new VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous), we retract, hunker down, pull back, and get more fixated in our opinions and beliefs. Just look at our “judginess” around what we like and don’t like. Consider our comfort levels around those who look or don’t look like us, think, and believe like us. We settle deeper into our tribes. In time, we become locked in little boxes of fixed beliefs, actions, and attitudes. Our lives get small, we get even smaller.
On this trip, Seane Corn, my dearly beloved yoga teacher that I’ve studied with for many years, spoke indirectly about this. Her words made a big impact on me, as they often do. Seane said that while in India, “Don’t be a tourist, be a traveler.” I thought about what that meant. To me, the difference is that a traveler digs down deeper into life as it is, moves past what is comfortable and familiar, and navigates the world with a healthy amount of trust, faith, and curiosity. Well, I was in the right place to dig deep because nearly everything in India is different So, rather than seek safe, familiar ground, I chose to look at and ponder more closely the people and things around me I didn’t understand. I became curious about beliefs, rituals, culture, and religions that seem new and different.
I began to notice a mostly unconscious habit, this evolutionary survival instinct which automatically categorizes the unfamiliar as foe. This awareness changed everything for me. Instead of anxiety and fear, this awareness around the uncertain began to feel more like an energized excitement rather than fear. Very much the other side of the same coin. Gone was the irrational and instinctive need to self-protect. Fear was replaced with a healthy sense of wonder, curiosity, and inquiry.
You don’t have to go to India to experience this. You only need the desire to open your heart to people whose opinions you don’t understand and to be curious about the things that are different. Trust, stay, don’t retract….even though you may be uncomfortable and unsure. Practice allowing life to happen and be the way it is rather than making it how you know it to be or want it to be, all in an effort to self-soothe. Do this and your world opens up.
I did get small on this trip but not in the same way that was happening before. I became small in that good, awe-inspiring way we get when we recognize our minuscule place in this vast world. My world became large when my heart opened to experiences, to the unknown and the uncertain. This opening made space for connection, compassion, and freedom. When we step out of our safe, little box, we feel free and alive again. So, here is my question to you, do you want to be a tourist or a traveler in your life?