March 19, 2014

4 Ways to Travel Toward Stillness. ~ Jessica Carter

Balloons and Sky_Jessica Carter

For those of us who live in the world’s wealthiest countries, we are nearly always on the move.

We heave our tired selves into cars, planes, boats, trains and we traverse cities, countrysides, continents. Our airports are full, our roads are full, our bags are full and our tummies are fuller.

For thousands of years, we humans moved no faster than our feet could take us. When we travelled by sea, our speed was at the whim of the wind. When we travelled by land, it was often with the help of a four-legged creature—camel, horse, sled-dog and the like.

In the last two centuries, we’ve galloped forward with breath-taking pace—we can reach the other side of the world in a day; we can be with one side of the family in the morning and the other in the evening; we can chart our maps with google, without any need for the stars to guide us.

Even when we are still, we are on the move. Our atoms balance on an earth that spins endlessly while the planets, stars and moons of our universe swivel on their own orbits. Our sleeping bodies rest against the sighs and shudders of breath.

But movement doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, after a few months of constant travel, I’ve come to realise that when I travel, I move to find the stillness.

In an interview with journalist Sarah Wilson, Deepak Chopra once said: “My body travels. I never leave home.”

I love that idea, but I interpret it a little differently—my body travels to test the boundaries and waters of what feels like home, and in that I try to learn to redefine my little corner of stillness. Over time, I’ve learned that through movement comes a chaos that forces me to find clarity, and with that, stillness and stability.

In Ayurveda, like increases like and opposites create balance. Therefore, when the world becomes complex, I don’t want to complicate it with more things. Instead, my instinct is to simplify—my food, my choices, my processes.

When we travel, we’re faced with millions of new faces, places, decisions and desires. But as we navigate the new, the movement is also the perfect opportunity to look inwards and listen to our heart and gut feelings—the contours of the still place inside each of us.

These are some of the ways I’ve learned to find stillness when I travel:

1. I wait. Queuing can be one of the most painful parts of travel, especially when there’s a grumpy-looking customs officer/salesperson/bus driver at the end of it. So, instead of wanting the waiting to pass, I just wait. I do some deep breathing, perhaps recite the Let-Go mantra on the in-out breaths, and I let the impatience around me lull me into patience.

2. I sip, slowly. One of the pleasures of travel is indulging my taste buds; I think that’s why a lot of us love to travel. So as I scarf down truffles or haloumi or honey-drizzled dumplings, I try to do it with a glass of something. Whether it’s water, wine, white tea or hot chocolate, I sip slowly and savour the stillness that comes with a cup of liquid.

3. Nourish. I always get philosophical about those HSBC adverts in airports that claim there are 500,000 people in the air, flying, at any one time. That’s a lot of bodies jolting above us, defying gravity at breakneck speeds. Flying is fun, but it’s not natural. So when I’m flying, I pay attention to my most basic function: digestion.

Every time the drinks cart comes around, I get some hot water. Sometimes I get a slice of lemon to add to it, or I use my own stash of digestive or green tea bags. I also opt for the most simple food options in-flight to make digestion easier. On a recent flight, I tried out the vegan raw food option. It’s not available with all airlines, but I’ll try it again—eating salads and apples for most of the trip ensured that my body wasn’t getting clogged with unnecessary sugar, salts, oils and preservatives. After landing, I felt light and comfortable, not stuffed or starving.Photo: John Starkie

4. Gaze. It’s easy to condense a city to a list of Lonely Planet sights. It’s much harder to just sit and feel the pulse of a place by watching its people and the way they move, the words they say, the shapes of their buildings and the colours of their sky.

I’m learning to be a still traveller by resisting the urge to take another photograph, taking time to capture the memory for myself—what are the smells, tastes, sounds, colours and textures a photograph could never detail?

5. Carve a routine from the chaos. Part of the fun is creating a new routine for every new journey.

On my last trip in Europe, I started every morning from my strange bed with a silent Thank You to the universe. But I’ve also tried making a habit of delightful things like spending an hour after lunch everyday reading a book, only ever taking the stairs, doing the Jivamukti Magic 10 in every new hostel room. The idea is let the new surrounds inspire a small routine that grounds me while I travel.

Then I carry the routine back home with me, along with the sand still stuck in my shoes, and it continues to ground me there, too.


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Editorial Assistant: Pamela Mooman/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Jessica Carter, elephant journal archives

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