Long-Term Travel for the Senses

I’m leaving Marburg after almost seven weeks here. The first four weeks were dismal and chaotic, and during this time I had a lot of nervous highs and listless lows.  Getting settled in a new country is the only stressful activity I’ve ever known to wear away at all of my faculties at the same time. It’s really the Ironman of life experiences, one in which you’re subjected to fear of destitution, judgement by others, doubts about self and life, gross miscommunications, inability to learn quickly enough, confusion, frustration, loneliness, sickness, and physical exhaustion. Just like I’m not a proponent of masochism (like doing an Ironman just “for the challenge”), I don’t think that long-term travel or moving to another country should be taken on just to “build character”. Stress kills, so don’t seek it out–that’s my philosophy. No, the huge benefit of long-term travel comes not from these first four weeks of hell in a new country but from the time that follows them. It’s the time during which you’ve been surprised and disappointed so many times that your mind naturally lets go of expectations almost entirely. The phenomenon enhances the senses, which for me, as you know, is important. In the United States it seems I was always shocked or disappointed because I had years of familiar experiences upon which to build my expectations. When things didn’t go according to my expectations, I was upset. Restaurant food was always not as good as I had imagined, Sundays were always gloomier or busier than I had wanted, and family times were never as wholesome as I had pictured.  This is because there I had life figured out. I knew what to expect and I demanded it. This is a binary way of life in which the senses are not used. An experience either fulfilled my expectations (1) or it didn’t (0). Maybe that’s why regular life is so dull and unsatisfying at times. During the past two to three weeks in Marburg, in contrast, I’ve noticed my invigorated zeal and honed senses. My legs don’t want to give out every time I walk up a hill; they’re ready for anything. My nose latches on to every aroma wafted down the street. I hear elderly couples laughing, children screaming, and store owners singing, but I never stop to analyze these sounds, to think “How strange” or “How annoying”. They’re merely music to fill the silence in my head, silent because my mind is too busy taking everything in to be bothered by thought or emotional reaction. I become life’s participant (almost animal-like) instead of its judge. And with my expectations dropped, my heart feels full and open instead of tight and agitated. I feel unrestrained by my own mind. This feeling–the same feeling as when you get off of a bus that’s been driving for hours on a curvy, bumpy road and everything feels still and solid–is good for our bodies, good for our minds, and is one path to being more sensuous. And this is why I can’t stop moving around, why I’m always looking for somewhere new to go and live next. Call it artificial fascination; I call it remembering how to live well.


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