In the Moment
As I continue to work on a memoir/travel narrative that never seems to survive beyond page 60, I have been trying to figure out the answer to a question that a lot of people (mostly American adults) have asked me over the last several years:
“Why do you like to travel?”
This question usually throws me for a loop, because I think, “Who wouldn’t like to travel?” or “Why not?” But I realize that these are not valid answers. Not everyone does like to travel, because let’s face it, there can be a lot of negative aspects to traveling: instability, lack of income, dodgy accommodation, loneliness, getting lost, not speaking the local language, the list goes on.
So why travel?
The answer came to me when I picked up a book on Buhddist theory at a friend’s house. While Jared & his best friend were playing GI Jockey on Playstation, I had to find other ways to amuse myself. I didn’t get through the whole book, but I read about an emphasis on living in the moment, focusing on the here and now.
“I do that, ” I thought. Then I had to admit that it isn’t true.
When I’m at work, I’m wishing I was at home. When I’m reading a book, I’m often thinking about what to have for dinner or what I need to do that day. If I’m watching TV, I feel like I should be doing something more productive. When I’m running, I’m figuring out what to write about that day, but when I’m writing, I’m restless and thinking about relaxing. I’m always thinking about other time frames besides the one I am actually in.
There are two activities I can think of that allow me to eliminate those distractions.
The first is surfing, a hobby that forces me to be alert and in the moment. I’m not good enough to let my mind wander, because the next thing I know, I’ll be in the water scrambling for my board. I have to focus on balance, paddling, watching the waves and responding accordingly. I like it because it engages all of my attention on the task at hand.
My second ‘in-the-moment’ activity is traveling. That’s why I keep doing it. When you are in a foreign destination, you have no choice but to be exactly where you are, when you are. After I’ve spent several hours trying to accomplish simple goals like finding a hostel, piecing together a meal, learning how to say please and thank you, memorizing local currency, or navigating unfamiliar streets, I can appreciate my down time and fully relax. Life becomes more vibrant and immediate, and I don’t wish away the days until something more interesting comes along.
Shouldn’t I be able to do this in my everyday life?
Probably, but so far it seems to be stepping out of my comfort zone that teaches me how to live.