“Wherever you go, there you are.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn
“Always the dream was somewhere else, further off, and I took a series of geographical cures in search of myself.” -Alcoholic Anonymous, p.338
When I was around 25, I embarked on what my father would later dub my “Magical Mystery Tour.” I was working at a job I enjoyed but felt monotonous. I was not healthy and felt stuck. I needed something radical. I shaved my head and embarked on said tour. In one year I roamed the southwest for several months spending time with various family members. Then I spent time at a yoga retreat center outside of Santa Cruz. And finally, I spent the remainder of the year in Hawaii. It was a great time. It was also a time of searching, mostly for myself and who and what I wanted to be.
It was a good time. Though, I later learned about the concept of “a geographical solution.” Moving around in hopes that you will learn about yourself. Hoping that a change in scenery will change the emotional landscape. This can be short-sighted. It’s looking for a change on the inside by changing the outside. If the tiny house gets moved to a new location, we still have to dust.
Sometimes where we chose to live may create or influence our identity. Especially if we move to a specific place with a particular vibe, the place then becomes representative of who we are. Or at least we might hope it does. Places are often imbued with characteristics, but as people, they are complicated and often hold paradoxes beyond our neatly packaged expectations of them. Expectations of becoming a certain kind of person in a particular place may be fulfilled, but not always.
Change is an inside job. At the yoga retreat center, a friend, aptly named, Hamsa said to me, “You’ve got to stay in one place so God can work on you.” I’ve remembered these words and come back to them intermittently throughout my life. It reminds me of an adage about spirituality: we can dig twenty different one-foot holes or one twenty-foot hole in an attempt to get to a wellspring. There exist dedication and commitment in digging the twenty-foot hole. We learn about the ground we are digging. We have hope for the outcome.
After the “Magical Mystery Tour,” I stayed in the same city for ten years. I grew roots and touched the spring. I had a range of experiences and met a range of people. I developed a lasting career. One of my favorite things about being in a place for a long time is running into an acquaintance or friend at the grocery store. Being in a place allows the growth of a community. In a recent episode of On Being, I heard an interview with Parker Palmer. He said, “To move closer to God is move closer to everything humans have ever experienced.” Building community allows for that. With a retrospective gaze, I understand that to be part of Hamsa’s message. It resembles the sacredness of stillness and silence.
I was lucky to have the opportunities to travel and feel grateful to have had these life experiences. Travel also allows us to move closer to the range of experiences human beings have. However, travel and moving are not a replacement for internal transformation. Mental, spiritual, and emotional growth requires work, insight, discipline, and grace.