A few months ago, I was sitting in an airport waiting to board a flight to Thailand. In the weeks prior, the upcoming journey had subtly but deeply changed everything in my daily life.
I had experienced the transforming effect of traveling, even though I hadn’t yet moved a single inch. I had felt more present and alive, as if looking at the world around me through a different lens.
I couldn’t help asking myself a question:
How can traveling bring us into a different state of consciousness, even before the journey starts?
Every moment becomes special when we know it’s not going to last.
We know that the mere fact of being abroad—in a different environment—alters our perceptions and mood. But what I find amazing is how our state of consciousness can change when we haven’t left yet, but we know that we will travel soon.
All of a sudden, the familiar places and people around us may acquire a new significance, as if we are looking at them for the first time.
Simple everyday things, such as the buildings around us, the voice of a friend or the taste of the most ordinary dish, become special. We suddenly feel more present, more alive, more awake—perhaps a bit melancholic too.
The simple prospect of leaving soon can produce all these changes in our mood and perceptions. How can that be?
Living as if There were no Tomorrow.
As far as I’m concerned, the answer is quite simple. In the days before a journey, I experience the realization that my familiar surroundings are soon going to disappear. The places, people and sounds that are so near now are not going to be there anymore in a few days—and so I stop taking them for granted.
Every encounter with a friend, every meal, every walk in the neighbourhood acquires a new and special meaning, because I know that I am not going to see those friends or taste those meals for a long time. Gradually, that same intensity spreads to even the most superficial encounters and moments.
The reassuring certainty that “everything is going to be just as it is” abruptly disappears—and with it my projection into the future.
Then, only the present is left.
I always feel grateful for those days of heightened awareness, and I inevitably end up asking myself: Couldn’t we always live like that? Couldn’t we live each day of our lives as if we would die tomorrow, enjoy our friends’ company as if we were never to see them again and savour the taste and richness of each meal as if it were to be our last?
Well, we probably should, since our existence itself is a journey.
Traveling as a Metaphor for Life.
If we lift our gaze just a tiny bit, we can easily realize that we are always on the brink of traveling. Despite all our efforts, we do not know when we are going to die, nor when our loved ones are going to leave this physical world. Our existence is so unpredictable that we can’t even predict if we are seeing any given place for the last time in our lives—even the bar next door.
So why aren’t we all living our daily lives with that level of awareness and presence?
Why do we keep taking for granted people and places, until life shows us that we had better not?
The realization that whenever we meet somebody or do something it could very well be for the last time is uncomfortable for most of us; it breaks the illusion of our immortality and of the permanence of the physical world.
Yet, the realization that everything is subject to constant change can also be a doorway into complete presence.
The understanding that nothing lasts has the potential to trigger a complete breakdown of our minds, which don’t know how to function without constantly projecting into the future. In this sense, traveling can literally blow our minds away!
And where there is no mind, presence can make its appearance.
How Traveling Can Lead to Presence.
Traveling can throw us back to a condition of existential instability, reminding us that our structured life—with all its assets and commodities—could end at any time. With the right intention, we can transform this realization into an incredible motivation to live the present fully, wasting no time in speculating on the future or dwelling on the past.
While this is especially true for long journeys, even a simple weekend out can be an occasion to meditate on the continuous change to which we are subject.
Traveling can help us shift our point of view and realize that the feeling of stability we sometimes try to ingrain in our existence is, after all, an illusion.
Life is ever changing and unstable by definition.
Yet, if we stop taking the future for granted, we may discover a new form of stability—one rooted in the present moment, time independent and thus, in some sense, eternal.
Author: Raffaello Manacorda
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr