There are many good reasons to get on a plane or pack up the car. But travel writer Pico Iyer makes an ironic case for not. His The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, is a tiny book I read in one sitting this weekend, and it gave me pause. Quite literally. It has cured me from an insidious malaise and a first-world problem I’ve been guilty of—vacation envy.
Iyer’s point is that we can all build stillness and pauses into our lives right where we are, and these small retreats can perhaps fuel us, stimulate us, and satisfy us even more than travel. If you find it hard to meditate or to sit alone for a long while and just think, maybe a trip isn’t going to clear your mind the way you hope it will.
I’ve noticed that sometimes what comes under the guise of an adventure or vacation, is more about running away from life—from the stress, the busyness, the seemingly unsolvable problems—than seeing the destination. No matter how far you go or how often you take these trips, you always come back. To you. And your crazy life.
In our culture of achievement, too, travel can be a compulsion of more. It becomes a hunger to just go, go, go: I’ve never been to fill-in-the-blank. We need to use up our frequent flyer miles before they expire. Time to check off some places on the bucket list. There’s that cruise that’s such a great deal.
A number of years ago I got worked into a frenzy, thinking my husband and I were running out of time to show our kids the world. I plotted out the trips we needed to take and how we could fit them in, between work (parents’ and kids’), school and budget. Then I realized there would never be enough time to show them everything I wanted to. There could always be regret that we didn’t do that trip. Or that one. So, a few well-chosen journeys would have to do. Take a breath. Enjoy the days at home. Help them explore their inner worlds. That, I hope, will serve them at least as well as a European grand tour or a Disney cruise.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with travel, and I’m sure Mr. Iyer would agree. But I was glad to be reminded by him that the journey within is where the real adventure begins. If only we take the time to stop going places and sit still.
Photo: Flickr/Marius Waldal