From Vol. 2, Issue 1, January 2020
Traveling within: The skill of being with yourself
Traveling is a good learning experience
Growing up, I thought that traveling somewhere else would turn me into a different person—a more interesting, cooler person. I longed to find new stimulation, new art, new places, new ways of living. I also believed that if I went far enough away from home, I would find a different kind of person to surround myself with. Somehow, these people would magically understand me better and help me live a fuller life.
There may have been some truth to this in the sense that I’ve learned an enormous amount from my travels, and while abroad, I’ve met people who were an important influence on me.
But travel doesn’t transform you
But I’ve realized that deep down, humans are essentially the same everywhere, and most of all, I myself remain essentially the same no matter what places I visit. While there may be amazing sites to see, I won’t fundamentally change by going around the globe.
So nowadays, thanks in large part to my practice of Stoicism, I have shifted my attitude. I’m not hungering each day to leave home and get away from my life and myself. Here’s how Seneca puts it:
Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate. Though you may cross vast spaces of sea… your faults will follow you wherever you travel… What pleasure is there in seeing new lands? Or in surveying cities and spots of interest? All your bustle is useless. Do you ask why such flight does not help you? It is because you flee along with yourself. You must lay aside the burdens of the mind; until you do this, no place will satisfy you.
Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, XXVIII. On Travel as a Cure for Discontent
Can you be comfortable with yourself?
Many people are uncomfortable with quiet solitude, left alone with their thoughts. You may have heard of the famous psychology study a few years ago that showed that students placed in a room on their own, with nothing else to do, actually chose to give themselves electric shocks because they were so bored with (or disturbed by?) their own company.
These days, I am quite willing to spend time by myself, quietly thinking. I write in a journal or compose my own ideas in my head. I consider where I’ve come from, what I care about, and whether I’m on the right path. It is not always tranquil but it is restorative.
Meditation can help create a sense of peace, and usually my meditation takes the form of a walk. I like to stroll in my neighborhood, walking the same path to the local park and back. It is a lovely park, small but ringed with tall redwoods of rich brown and deep green. I study the small differences that happen over the year: The magnolia trees bloom, the oaks leaf out and drop acorns, the maples turn fiery red. I find that even a handful of trees can be a stimulating view to a resting mind.
Meredith Kunz is a Silicon-Valley-based writer. www.thestoicmom.com @thestoicwoman on Twitter