Sunday, December 03, 2006

Why We Travel

Most of my travel these days is limited by time and money. Most of my travel in recent years has been for business or to visit family and friends. The rest of my travel in recent years has been my regular trips to the beach in Mexico, which is a lovely vacation, but aside from the drive, is hardly travel. Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco) is as familiar (and as comfortable) as an old pair of jeans, well loved and familiar, and requiring very little.

As I find myself this week in a place I have never been, in a culture that is unlike any I have ever experienced, in a place that looks different and feels different from anywhere I have ever been before, I realize why we travel.

Certainly we all travel for the reasons above…to relax, to visit, to work. But travel to a new place allows us to see everything with a Beginner’s Mind.

Beginner's mind is a concept in Zen Buddhism. As the name suggests, it refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. The term is especially used in the study of Zen Buddhism, other Asian philosophies, and martial arts.

The phrase was also used as the title of Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki's book: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which reflects a saying of his regarding the way to approach Zen practice: In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few. From Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beginner's_mind

My first exposure to Beginner’s Mind was a few years ago in a coaching exercise. I was to walk around in the woods, in a place I had never been, experiencing it as if it was all new to me. I listened and smelled and saw. I felt tree bark and heard leaves crunch and felt the wind in my hair. It was work to look at these familiar things with a Beginner’s Mind. I kept trying to imagine how I would react if I never had seen a big rock before. Would I lick it? Would I rub my face against it? Would I be afraid of it?

Travel allows you to see things with a Beginner’s Mind, without the work. Everything is new. Even the stars look new. And we become curious about everything. We want to know everything. We want to know why and how and when and who. We have a list of things we must research after an excursion away from the house.

We also have Beginner’s Body. We experience colors and sounds in a new way. We taste things anew. We compare things. Do mosquito bites feel the same here as they do at home? Are there this many birds singing this many songs at home? Does darkness come as quickly as it does when the sun falls behind the mountains in Bisbee?

Travel reminds me to let my senses and my mind be open to all the possibilities, whether at home or traveling.

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