“The world was simple – stars in the darkness. Whether it was 1947 B.C. or A.D. suddenly became of no significance. We lived, and that we felt with alert intensity. We realized that life had been full for men before the technical age also – in fact, fuller and richer in many ways than the life of modern man. Time and evolution somehow ceased to exist; all that was real and that mattered were the same today as they had always been and always would be. We were swallowed up in the absolute common measure of history – endless unbroken darkness under a swarm of stars.”
This is an excerpt from Thor Heyerdahl’s famous travel book Kon-Tiki, in which he recounts his journey across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands with a small crew on a traditional balsa raft. When I first read the above mentioned paragraph, I sensed a kind of humility in his words. He and his crew exposed themselves to the ferocious elements to such an extent that would be unimaginable for any one of us. They were out on the ocean, naked you could say, and victims to the forces of Nature.
Heyerdahl was driven by the kind of curiosity and spirit for adventure that separates a mere traveler from a full-fledged explorer. These traits would bring him into situations like these and they would give him the opportunities to experience life to such a degree that is simply unknown in our society. What he saw and experienced was the purest essence of our planet. His eyes and mind were as open and his gaze and soul as pure as humanly possible. Being this close to Nature is like dipping into the source of life itself and it would cause Heyerdahl to phrase his words the way that he did.
It is what I see is missing in our thriving era of backpacking. I think that we are often times missing the point. Instead, we are making everything about social media and meaningless achievements. Nowadays it is more important to visit as many different countries as possible. Working off a bucket list is considered as “seeing the world” and the higher the number of checked off countries is, the more acclaimed this backpacker appears to be. But for what? Numbers were created by humans and are thus irrelevant when we are talking about Nature and our planet. In my understanding this is not what explorers like Heyerdahl or Magellan set out to achieve. I believe there was a higher goal for them; a higher understanding; a real desire and drive not to only learn about our Earth, but from it.
A higher spirit needs to be equal parts humble and adventurous.
We need to understand that our ephemeral lifespan as human beings is not nearly long enough to see the entire world. It is simply not possible. If I had to give an estimate as to how much we are able to see of this world, I would say less than 1%.
I’d like to give you an example.
I once read an ebook about Sri Lanka written by a couple who has been living on this small island for over twenty years. At the beginning of their book they mentioned that after two decades they still discover new things to see and new places to discover. After two decades! Now, look on a world map, find the tiny spot south of India that represents Sri Lanka and tell me again that it’s possible for us to see the whole world in a life time. What we are able to see is only a tiny fraction of it. Let’s not make any illusions that we can see more. Instead, we should do what we can with what we have been given.
By going back to the higher goals, higher understanding and higher spirit I mentioned earlier, I would like to start by asking you the eponymous question: Why do we travel? Most obvious answers would include exploring new countries, meeting different people from different cultures, discovering ourselves, and anything else that is based on our selfish desires. They are by all means not bad, but they are deeply human and if that’s all we strive to accomplish, then we are missing something more – a higher plane of understanding.
When we talk about “human nature”, then we mean something that we all have in common – regardless of race, color, religion, distance and culture. Our human nature is our essence that brings and keeps us together. And because we call it human “nature” it is my belief that it’s closely tied to Nature at large. It’s a connection that has been established millennia ago. And I believe that this urge to explore has been implanted into our nature as a sign from Nature that it wants to tell and show us something. By seeing as much as we can in this short span that we have been given, we can get a better understanding of the workings of this world and thus also of our own human nature.
Nature is telling us something every waking hour of our lives, but do we listen? When we heed the call to travel we imagine all the reasons mentioned above. But they only scratch the surface and are born purely out of our ego. Mother Earth is the best and most important teacher that we have, but often times we play the role of the brat seated in the last row, who claims to know everything better and refuses to listen.
We only see the direct way shown to us by our ego. The indirect way of learning more about Nature is vague and requires more focus and patience. This focus, attention and patience is what I see is missing in many travelers. If we would pay attention, we would begin to understand as to how grand our planet is and how speechless it would leave us. The right language has yet to be invented to express how utterly magnificent our Earth is. We are given this short period of time on here only to understand our small role in the grand scheme. And this is fine. This is our role and this is everything Nature wants to teach us. By giving us this desire to explore and to learn as much as possible.
There is an underlying current that flows beneath the one of our human desires. It’s the one that connects us to our place of birth.
Another thing that I believe we have in common with our Earth is that we are both not on a journey. Contrary to popular belief, I agree more with Alan Watts’ argument. That life is not a journey, but a dance. Let me try to explain: How does the Earth move? Does it head for a specific destination? Straightforward to a goal? No, it doesn’t. It rotates on its axis and revolves around the Sun like all the other planets in the solar system. It is as if all the planets, our Earth included, are dancers and the universe is a cosmic ballroom. And since the Earth is governed by the laws of Nature and we humans also oblige to the same laws, it would only be natural for us to do the same: To dance. To be the same: Dancers. So, I, for my part, will join the entire solar system in their ballroom and dance until the music stops.
It will all end eventually, inevitably – our human life, our human race, our Earth, our Sun and with it our solar system. It will all reach its final destination, but this is not the reason for its existence. There is no reason to head for this destination, because it is not important.
I like this way of looking at our playful nature; the idea of playing and dancing in life and not having to reach a destination. I’m more in the moment and not caught up in my mind while moving to a rhythm. On a journey my mind tends to have enough power to keep me occupied and to prevent me from enjoying the present moment.
Learning by playing; understanding by playing; living by playing – what a joyous life this would be for everyone!