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Saturday, 26 February 2011

Finding Stillness During Travel

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Beep! Beep! That’s my alarm clock. It’s 5:30 am.

I’m a morning person.

Unfortunately most people I know seem to be night owls.

When the sun lowers my eyelids follow suit, and by 9 or 10 pm I’m ready to sleep. I’ve been called “lazy” and “lame.”

But there’s something about getting up with the sun, or before it, and watching the day and the neighborhood come to life, as the natural lighting gradually increases, as though someone is turning it up on a dimmer.

Yesterday I visited an ashram in Varnasi, India (an ashram is a place for worship and spiritual study) and had a chance to meet Baba-ji, the ashram’s guru. Asked to talk about his life, Baba-ji told us about his winding story, from a village in India to Berkeley, California, where he built a house that uses renewable energy. Despite his accomplishments, he still felt empty. When one day he met an enlightened man who had arrived from India, Baba-ji took the advice given and left his posessions and house behind. He meditated for years alone in the forest. He attracted pupils who wanted to learn meditation and yoga, and together they built an ashram in Sonoma. They have built another ashram in Varanasi, India.

His most important advice to us: Find time for stillness.

To our eager ears, Baba-ji talked about his former village and the stillness that reigns there. Yet with the introduction of the TV and the mobile phone in the past decade, village life has changed.

“Technology distances us from nature,” said Baba-ji.

“The more technology we have, the further away from nature we get. Animals are deeply in tune with the nature around them. Animals go to sleep with the sun. The birds. They awake early at 4:30 and sing their song, and then with the daylight they hunt their food and bring it back to their nests.”

His words gave me reassurance. The next time someone calls me “lame,” I’ll silently smile and think I’m attuned to nature.

But Baba-ji’s words give us something to think about as travelers.

How much technology should we bring with us when we travel?

One benefit of authentic travel is the opportunity to experience, not just see, another way of life. We can experience a new rhythm of life.

I see travelers fidgetting with their ipods, with their portable video games, and portable DVD players on long train rides.

Why not use that time to experience stillness?

Can you eschew the television in the hotel room? Un-stick your eyes from your computer screen? Pocket the i-pod, and let the clunk-clunk-clunk of the Indian train be your soundtrack. Hand-wash clothes in your bathroom, rather than toss them into a washing machine, and feel your soapy hands.

Giving up technology is a hard sell in our daily lives. It’s much more possible when we travel for a period of time. Do we want our travel to be just like our day-to-day, or do we want it know something different?

What if you set your “out of office reply” to “Traveling - out of contact. Embracing stillness!” You’d undoubtedly inspire someone else to do the same, if only for a moment.

Stillness is difficult. Help it out.

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