Updated: Sep 4, 2020
Sometimes when many people observe the same thing, you know you are onto something. Emphasis on sometimes. And when that observation matches your own experience; once again, you could very well be onto something. This isn't always the case but it can be a clue urging us into deeper study. I look back on my life and when I review it with a discerning eye, I can see that there have been several times where my wanderings have lead to large changes in my life. Changes that made big differences in how I see the world as well as my physical standing in my environment. Throughout the years, there have been a number of impressionable people who have spoken about such types of transformative experiences. One such reflection I was told by Dogen Zenji; Zen master who brought the Soto School of Zen to Japan from China, who was quoted as saying that it was better to take ten-thousand steps than to read ten-thousand books. Referencing the Zen idea that knowledge only points to wisdom and that true transformation only happens as we personally experience it. To make things more interesting, a good friend of mine shared with me some material citing Socrates' argument that virtue cannot be taught but must be learned through life experience. Could this mean that travel by its own nature, is inherent "wisdom building"?
During our wanderings within the world, Information is taken in through the five senses; sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch, all impressing upon us with information that can not be thoroughly expressed by the written word. In the Zen Buddhist tradition, the three pillars of wisdom are the Sangha ( fellow practitioners ), Dharma ( the teachings ), and the Buddha. Support, teaching, and example. In one of the Buddhas parables, he shares that the teaching is like a raft used to cross a lake but at some point, even that understanding must be let go to gain deeper knowledge.
the Buddha said " In the same way, monks, I have taught the Dharma compared to a raft, for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of hold onto. Understanding the Dharma as taught compared to a raft, you should let go even of Dharmas, to say nothing of non-Dharmas.
I understand this to mean that intellectual knowledge is a means but not the end. We must travel beyond intellectual knowledge to further our life's journey. Some things must be let go of to gain the deeper forest and it is being suggested here that it is our current understanding is that which is holding us back from going farther into a deeper understanding. For if we are to further our spiritual development, we must let go of what we think we understand and physically venture into the unknown.
So this dialogue from the past hints to the idea that there is something beyond our rational and academic conditioning that we have experienced. That there is something that can be gained from reaching beyond the borders of our past and move into the realm of the subjective. Naturally, this leads us to the next step of our analysis; what happens to us as we journey into the world with our eyes wide open? Well, this is bringing up for me some of the subjects being discussed by the modern-day fans of the Quantum world, the relationship between the observer and the observed. According to some of the adventurers of modern-day physics, we are hearing that as we delve deeper into the world of the Quantum, we are confronted by the mystifying relationship between the observer and the observed. Current Quantum studies describe a world wherein things are more deeply connected than we have ever imagined. And it goes far deeper than a mere connection but that the observer and the observed ...greatly affect one another. Think about that. If there is any truth to that..that to which we are traveling is changing us and we are changing them. I know, this sounds a bit hard to swallow...yeah I get it.
What has stood out for me the most as I reflect upon my travels over the years, has been the strong sense of connection that I have felt with all the beings on this planet, both plant animal and person. I have felt at a very real understanding that we are both different and the same. I have spoken before in other blogs about my family's travels to the Brazilian rain forest in Ecuador as we spent time with the Sani Tribe and how they shared with us their beautiful and amazing world they live in. One of those spiritual moments came at a time while on a guided walk with Victor and Sergio. Victor was a member of the Sani trib and a friendly young student of biology studies at the local university. Sergio was aalso young Sani man in his thirties who he had described to us earlier that he was chosen by his family lineage to take the role of a local tribal shaman. They were taking us on guided nature walk and we had been traveling along a single track path through the jungle looking at amazing insects and birds and all kinds. When all of a sudden an enormous scream came from the forest. Now, I'm not certain if any of you have heard a howler monkey up close but I think I know where the folklore of the "monster" in the forest came from. Their cry sounds just like you just walk up on a Tyrannosaurus Rex and he's not too happy to see you. Well, what do you do when you have just stumbled across the scariest sound you have ever heard; of course, you chase after it. At that moment, Sergio glanced over at me and my nephews and gestured for us to follow him. Now, I have to start by saying that my nephews are one-hundred percent, modern western kids. Computer games, the internet etc etc and if wasn't for their crazy uncle, I think they would choose to spend most of their time indoors. Well, what do my stereotypical western teenagers then do....... well of course...... they chase after the Sergio the Shaman as he runs wildly off-trail through the Amazon Rain forest in search of a band of wild monkeys of course. Being their uncle and the guy who got them into this mess, I felt it was my responsibility to follow them........ Ok, that wasn't true......I wanted to go along and chase after Sergio as well. I quickly glanced back at their mother and my wife and gave a feeble jester of; don't worry I won't loose your kids in the jungle and off we went. Running, dodging, and weaving amongst the trees, bullet ants, tarantulas, and who knows what else. Our attention was focused on the canopy above hoping to catch an image of the source of this absurd sound. It was at this point that the context of what we were doing started to settle in me. We had traveled three hours by boat to get to the lodge, walked for over an hour on a single track through the jungle and now were blazing a new trail to chase the source of a sound that sounded something like an animal from the time of the dinosaurs. Watching the back of Sergio as he leads us deeper in the Amazon, it occurs to me that if he had dropped dead from a heart attack, my Nephews and I would be screwed. What were we doing and why was it so darn fun? At this point, my bearing was completely lost and the forest started to look the same in all directions, we were definitely under Sergio's guidance and protection. So, what do you do in this case..... of course, you keep going. It wasn't long before our guide comes to a halt and gestures for us to look up. With that, the canopy erupts as the troupe of Howlers notice us and decide that we were not welcome here and we must go back to where we came from. The sky begins to rain what I can only describe as monkey debris..... palm fronds, sticks and other things that I would prefer not think about. It was at that moment that the "change" took place. My two nephews, a Shaman from Ecuador and I sat laughing as we were being pelted by a band of mischievous monkeys. It was at that moment that I saw what I had traveled so far to accomplish. For in that moment, we had completely embraced an entirely different world. A world that was so far from the world we had left only a few weeks ago, and now, here we were fellow Sani hunters doing what Sani hunters do and loving every moment of it. We were not the same people we were when we first came here, we had changed.
But let me go back to the philosophy of this discussion. Let's leave behind the forest and walk one step further, back into the analytical. Let's move again into the world of neuroscience and see what they have seen. For some time, it has been understood that thought exists at the neural level. That memory thought and ideas...the way we see the world...is chemically and neurologically based. Now I'm going to go out on a limb here so...just stay with me. I know...I get it...I'm going out on the limb but we are explorers...aren't we? If the world affects us and we affect the world and the touch that the world has on us is hard-wired chemically and neurologically in our brain...could you then say that our explorations and wanderings become a truly transformative change to who we are? At not only the thought and spiritual level but at the physical level as well. Are all of those interactions and experiences making us very different people? And conversely, let's not forget, our wanderings into the world are changing the people we meet as well. So much information moving through us, changing the very structure of our brains? How could it not?
As a wise man once said, "Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me where you've been." When Mohammad asked that question, he was inquiring into; who are you? What have you become? Who will you become (that's another discussion)? By his question, I believe that he understood that information is not transformation. He understood that the places we've been, have changed us, and made us into the people we are today. Maybe it's time to let go of what we know and venture off into the unfamiliar and see who we are to become. So, how has travel changed you? We would love to hear your journeys and the wisdom that you gained from those interactions with the world. If you have a moment, please leave your thoughts below and we hope to someday see you out there.