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Travel as Therapy, Pt 2: 10 Ways to Heal the Soul & Expand the Mind

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While ruminating over my summer travels in Northern Europe, I came up with 10 ways the trip affected me positively.  Last week, I shared the first 5 ways travel can transform you.  They were:

1. You increase your patience.
2. You become more resourceful.
3. You open your heart to strangers, becoming better at giving and receiving love.
4. You lower your expectations and end up happier.
5. You suspend judgment, becoming more tolerant.

Here are the rest of them:

6. You get to feel poor and develop your compassion.

The moment you cross the border into a country with a new
currency is a humbling one, because you are literally penniless.  Nobody wants those bucks you’ve got in your
wallet, so you’d better get hold of some euros, yuan, zlotys or kroons pronto
if you want a popsicle.

Until you find a working ATM, you get to experience what
it’s like to have no money at all. 
Perhaps then you will have more compassion for Oliver Twist, as he
stared, hungry and forlorn, at all the goodies behind the London shop windows beyond his reach.  Then again, if you’re in London in 2009 with dollars in your pocket, you’re bound to feel poor
anyway.

7. You get to feel rich and develop a more expansive state
of being.

Once you do manage to score some yuan or zloty in a place
like Beijing or Warsaw,
things start to look a lot sunnier since the cost of living in most parts of
the world is lower than in America. 

Some spectacular meals in Beijing cost me less than ten dollars, and a
magnificent recital at the Warsaw Chopin Festival was a mere 6 beans.  But beyond just being able to afford more
stuff is the expansion of the mind that comes along with it.  You feel
wealthier, which in turn allows you to enter a more expansive state. 

From there, more abundance is possible – and
more munificence (try leaving a $10 tip in a small family-run restaurant in Costa Rica
and watch what happens).  With this new
mindset of abundance, you’ll carry yourself differently and think differently –
and perhaps dare to achieve greater things.

8. You wake up to your senses.

I was in Berlin
and stumbled upon a corner mom-and-pop produce store owned by a Turkish
couple.  I bought a box of cherry
tomatoes and bit into one on the way home, and – heilige Kuhe! (that’s German for ‘holy cow’)  It was like a bomb of flavor exploding in my
mouth, dizzying in its intensity.  Who
knew that tomatoes could bite back? 

Your brain is supremely skilled at filtering
out the familiar
and telling you only about what matters – namely,
change.  Travel bypasses that filter and
awakens your senses by confronting you with the unfamiliar.  The mind then demands an explanation to the
question, “What the hell is this?” 
That’s when you start to see, hear, feel, smell and taste afresh.

Now you have to stop and really take in the baby-blue Art
Deco building in Riga.  You have to listen to the folk singers in Warsaw Old Town Square
and taste the cepelinai (zeppelin
dumplings) in Vilnius.  You have to feel the lumpy cobblestone under
your sandals in Tallinn
and smell the damp, salty breeze coming in from the Baltic. 

2009-09-22-RigaBlueArtDeco.JPG

 

In short, you get to meet the world again, as if a child:
“Hello, world.  It’s me.  Sorry I’ve been tuning you out for the past
couple of decades.  I promise to pay more
attention from now on.”

9. You get to stop compulsive behaviors.

I check email – a lot. 
But on my deathbed, I don’t want to think, “I spent a solid 20 years of
my life tapping the ‘Get Mail’ button like a narcotized rat – sweet.”  So it was a pleasant side-benefit that,
during most of my trip, I simply had no way of getting online (except on the
super-swanky wi-fi equipped
Estonian bus lines
).  By the time of
my return, I was detoxed pretty well from email and phased it out to checking
it just once or twice a day.

The same can go for smoking (who wants to pay $10 a pack in London?), eating sweets,
nailbiting, or booty-calling ex-boyfriends. 
You just can’t do those things for a while, so your neurology gets time
to let go, tune down, and get you back to normal.  By the time you get back home, you may even
realize that you have the option to kick the habit for good.

10. You relinquish your so-called identity. 

The elements of self are tethered to people, places and
things: you live in the Uppity Northmiddle Side; you hang out with your college
friends from Name Brand U; you Chase Bank (no need to make that one up); you’re
Senior VP of Very Important Stuff; you drive a Prestigemobile. 

But when you travel, you leave the neighborhood, friends,
job, titles and possessions that you thought defined you.  And what’s left without them?  Someone freer and far more interesting,
usually.  After introducing yourself as
just plain George a few times (especially if your name isn’t George), you may
start to appreciate the freedom of relinquishing the burden of persona. 

This is the Buddhist principle of anatta, or no-self, made manifest. 
You let go of the trappings and get down to who you really are, which is
the witness.  The witness feels but is
not the feeling; she sees but is not the scene. 
As a result, she is lighthearted and free to see the world as it is
without getting too caught up in it. 

 

Some say this is the ultimate purpose of travel – and the essence of successful living. 
In the last stanza of Four
Quartets
, T.S. Eliot writes:

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

So you come back home and start to see it again – not as the
world, but in the proper context of a much greater World.  Instead of being a tiny atom looking from the
inside out, you are the more expansive version of you, looking from the outside
in.  And with the Traveler in your mind
and heart, the whole world is now your home.

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