Winner: 2015’s Blog of the Year #2
In my lifetime I am pleased to say that I have played a part in inspiring a great many people to go on significant travel adventures. As anyone who’s gone on such a trip knows, these often constitute one of the most important experiences in the shaping of who we ultimately become.
Overcoming challenges builds confidence and strength and seeing how other cultures handle various situations exposes your own culture to be a choice rather than a fait accompli. This frees people and opens their minds. I am very pleased to say I currently have two friends traipsing around the world on my suggestion and it’s been absolutely thrilling re-living my own travels through them.
There are vacationers, holidayers, travellers and trekkers. The first two groups stick to tours and lodgings that remind them of home. The latter two seek exactly the opposite of home and they’re the ones that are truly travelling as opposed to sight-seeing. Every traveller knows that strange sensation of getting out into the streets after a long haul flight. There’s this wonderfully surreal feeling of, wait a second… wasn’t I just there and now I’m here?!?!
A change like that always seems so curious to your brain at first. It’s aware the entire culture has shifted. Every face looks different. Maybe they drive on the other side of the road and the food all smells different. I’ll never forget eating turkey with peach sauce in a restaurant in Budapest only hours after I had been playing with my band back in Edmonton. That’s still my most memorable changeover. That shock to the brain is a very cool feeling that I’ve always enjoyed. I know I’m building new pathways in my brain by being exposed to these differences.
As you travel your own assumptions about the world and yourself get stripped away. How you use a payphone. How you sit when you eat. What you eat at what times of day. How you use a toilet. How introverted or intelligent or rich you seem to other people. All this stuff changes and as it does it exposes to you that your culture doesn’t do it the right way, your culture is literally made out of the way that it does things.
There can be many cultures within one country—you can get a recipe for some authentic Italian cooking from someone in northern Italy and it will look nothing like the authentic Italian cooking from a different family in southern Italy–or even just across the street. What we call “tradition” is really just a habit passed from one generation to the next.
You also realize that food is just a word. It can be applied to all kinds of things that you’ve never traditionally thought of as food. Like monkey brains. But then, to devout Hindus you eating beef is pretty grim. In Europe you can order tongue or tail in restaurants. Watermelon juice is common in Asia whereas Black and Logan Berry is often served in Eastern Europe. North Americans buy special food for their dogs. The entire world has habits that its culture has taught it and so many times people are seen to be wrong if they exist outside of those habits, but these are just ways of being. And there’s no reason they can’t all comfortably co-exist.
Whether you’re a traveller or not, take a look around your life at the assumptions that you make. Look at how you have a list of acceptable things to eat for breakfast. The fence in your head that is created by the definitions you were taught is precisely what the Buddha meant when he talked about seeing through the illusion. You can have a giant cinnamon bun or a hunk of sausage or chili for breakfast if you want. You’re an adult. You can run with scissors. But so much of your life has been dictated to you by what you’ve been taught to think. Seeing past these limitations is what allows people to become fully themselves. And in being fully themselves, they can finally truly see others.
Whether you go on a big trip or not make sure you challenge your own assumptions. Build a life that suits you rather than pointlessly struggling to become someone that suits a pre-ordained life. That isn’t your life. That’s the chalk outline of a life. You can be much bigger than that. The only thing that’s stopping you is an ephemeral wall of thought. As the composer Roger Waters said, it’s time to tear down the wall.
Love you all.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.