Saturday, March 9, 2013

Seeing the World

Capturing Finland
People often have "seeing the world" as one of those things at the top of their lifetime to-do-lists. Pyramids beckon from a desert, bustling cities sing a siren's song, and we long for far off sunsets on romantic beaches. For some of us who have adventurous spirits we cannot bear to think that there are entire seas we may never dip a toe in. Travel has much to teach us about ourselves, and if we are fortunate enough to do a bit of it, there are life lessons for the taking.

Open your eyes: We want to see what there is to see. Arrive in any city and the first thing everyone wants to know is "What should we see here?" We want to mark something off our list; a museum, a piece of art, a renowned building. One reason for this is that when we return home we want to be able to answer the question "What did you see?" Unfortunately often in our quest to plow from one tourist stop to another we are blinded to treasures available all around us. Every new place offers up countless unfamiliar aromas, sights, and sounds. Take a moment to pay attention.

Open your heart: Traveling with an open heart means that you are open to getting to know people and their culture. Meeting locals or even other travelers enriches the experience, but  you have to be willing to share a bit of yourself. Chances are, you aren't going to travel halfway around the world and find your soul mate but you may make new friends or engage the culture in a way that teaches you something. If you are paying attention and are in tune with your spirit you can allow the positive things from others too seep into your heart.

Open your mind: Leave the judgement and uber nationalism at home. Patriotism is fine, but let go of the arrogance of thinking that what you are familiar with is necessarily right or better. Every culture has lessons to teach. Be respectful of other religions, customs, morals. Be willing to adapt yourself to whatever the situation is. Ask yourself: What can I learn from these people? What are the positive things about this culture? Allow yourself to be enlightened by the new and different.

If you can't travel: Globe trotting can be expensive. Though happiness studies show that it is a better investment than a material purchase, it may still not be possible for you to make the trip of a lifetime at this point in your life. That doesn't need to keep you from seeing the world. You can open your eyes, heart, and mind right in your own back yard. Have you been to all the museums, art galleries, and parks in your own town? Everyplace has something to offer.

 One thing that travel does is break up the monotony and ordinariness of the day. You can do that wherever you are by visiting the main attractions in your hometown. It's amazing how many people haven't been to the spot in their town that attracts out of town visitors. Open your eyes and see what nearby places have going on. Get a group of friends together and book a tour of local attractions.

Within our own communities we tend to form groups and relationships with those who are like us or have similar interests. Open your heart at home by volunteering at a local charity, or getting involved in a community project. Sit at an outdoor cafe and watch people. Just observing others going about their business can make you feel more connected. Noticing the similarities and diversity in those around you can lead to a feeling of understanding and connectivity. Work on meeting new people outside your normal group of contacts. 

Especially in America every town has several cultures living together. Open your mind by shopping in an ethnic store in another part of the city. Visit a church whose religion you know nothing about or attend an ethnic festival. Participate in a language class offered by a church (I took Greek this way a couple of years ago).

 See your world. Wherever it is. 

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