028 - On Traveling To Change - Moral Letters for Modern Times
You are not the first person to be fooled by thinking that a change of place will lead to a change of heart. Though you were told “A change is as good as a rest,” your heart is heavy that you have not benefitted from changing jobs and changing house. This is because you are looking for change in all the wrong places. If the lens through which you look at the world remains affixed to your eyes, is it any wonder you see the same things no matter how far you wander?
You may be the most minimalist of packers, needing nothing but a toothbrush and your ID, the Jack Reacher of philosophers. Still you are laden with that most weighty of baggage: yourself. Pluck a small-minded person from Anywhere, USA and place them down in a foreign land. Their prejudices will have made the trip without having paid a penny for the fare. What does it matter how many miles you put on your shoes if you do not first orient yourself in the desired direction? You cannot outrun yourself. As Jon Kabat-Zinn put it in his book of the same name, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” This is not as trivial as it sounds, so pause a moment and dwell with the thought and what it means to you.
If you do not know yourself at home, abroad you are but a stranger who also doesn’t understand the local ways. Rather than easing your burdens, they become heavier with each step you travel, because now you are uncomfortable as well as being confused. When you carry a stranger within yourself, you will be bothered by strange food, strange smells, and strange faces.
When you are buffeted on all sides by a cacophony of voices, how likely is it you will listen to that small voice inside yourself? Some say it is the measure of success to be comfortable in discomfort, to be at ease when others are weary. When you are learning to tame your mind, Deuteros, you can be measured in the measures you take to test yourself. A wise man does not subject himself to needless stress. Yes, we can overcome and thrive in any setting, but that does not mean we prefer to suffer. Put yourself at ease so that you may more easily confer with your inner thoughts. You have time enough for displays of virtuosity when you have become master of yourself. I say be like those who have not traveled beyond their front porch but first explored the uncharted territory within.
Before I stop I will pay the toll for my fare today, and I will do so in the coin of Edith Schaeffer:
People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it.
If you focus on your thoughts and motivations and values, you have a chance to earn a peace of mind that no destination can afford you. The change that lies within you is one no change of place can deliver.