Last year I went to Mongolia. It was an epic journey: an overnight coach to the airport followed by two eight-hour flights, a day on the trans-Mongolian train and then a bus bumping through the Gobi. It was long but perfect – a slow meditation that eased me into that strange, wonderful, new place.
I love journeys – that interstitial space between ‘here’ and ‘there’, between home and destination. So many people see transit time as “dead time”, trying to minimise it or distract themselves within it. Yet what is a transit if not a transition – a movement from one state to another? It’s a time outside normal time, a place outside normal space – somewhere that, if treated with respect, can offer insights, inspiration, boundless creativity. It’s liminal, neither here nor there; a threshold of place and time.
I switch off my phone, I leave my laptop be, often I don’t even read a book or listen to music – I just gaze out the window and let my imagination wander. I have started three novels on train journeys, and have come to many revelations about myself on long haul flights.
A few months back I flew to Scotland (usually I take the coach) and, yes, it was swift and efficient yet I arrived at my destination feeling as if somehow I had lost out. On the way back I cadged a lift from someone taking a much earlier flight. ‘You’ll be stuck at the airport for four hours,’ she said with a frown. ‘Won’t that be a pain, a waste of time?’ I smiled. ‘Not at all.’ I found myself a corner and settled down with a coffee. I watched the people pass, musing over the week gone by, letting everything settle in my psyche. I took out my notebook, scribbled some observations, doodled some images. By the time my flight was called, I felt blissfully at ease and ready to merge back into my everyday life.
There’s a common adage that we should enjoy the journey as much as the destination – and I think we can take that literally as well as metaphorically. There is so much to be learned on a journey – it frees us from, not just our home environment, but also our story, our usual self. When you’re travelling you can be anyone. We come across people we’d never normally meet; we become engaged in conversations that would never usually occur. While I usually prefer to spend my journeys in quiet meditation and contemplation, I also remind myself that sometimes you find a fellow traveler who can teach you amazing lessons. I can’t number the times I’ve been irritated when someone strikes up a conversation, only to realise that I’d met a true teacher on the way.
Every journey is, to my mind, a mini rite of passage, a baby Odyssey, an embryonic Pilgrim’s Progress. Buddha left his palace, Jesus struck out into the wilderness, Moses trekked across the desert. Okay, so we might just take the commuter train to the city, or a cross-Channel ferry but who knows what insights that journey might bring? So do try it – switch off your phone, keep the iPad tucked away and just open yourself to the experience – yes, even that morning tube, train or bus ride!
This first appeared in my monthly column for Natural Health magazine.