2. Places and Spaces

 My birthday, July 17, 2011.

My birthday, July 17, 2011.

An “interesting place” is just a point on the map, coordinates comprised of latitudinal and longitudinal lines that allow us to zero in on the ‘idea’ of a physical space in time. A space then is just emptiness until consciousness and awareness is brought to it. This is why I’ve always said travel is not about the places you visit, but the person you are when you inhabit these spaces. Take, for example, the Taj Majal.

The Taj Mahal was a grandiose expression of love, a tomb built by a Mughal emperor to house the body of his most beloved wife. On my 37th birthday, my last full day in India after living there for three months, I found myself painfully aware of being alone, when all I really wanted was love and connection. It didn’t matter that I had just finished volunteering for India’s most important environmental lawyer, a man who sued the State of India over the course of 20 years to create a green zone around India’s most famous monument. He argued that the cultural relevance of the Taj Majal was worth more to India than the short-term gains of Industry, the effects of which had been yellowing and pitting the virginal marble. While I wallowed in loneliness, a couple beside me was celebrating their wedding anniversary. Their awe and enthusiasm could not be contained as they marveled at the extravagant ivory ode to love.

To me, the juxtaposition of these points of view proved that an “interesting place” is only as interesting as the awareness we bring to it. An “interesting place” then is simply a mirror of our internal state of being at that moment in our lives.

When boiled down to its essence, like the breath, being only exists in two states; expansion and contraction. To insert travel into this construct then makes travel a series of micro-choices: Do we bring expansion, which is love, into the places we inhabit? Or do we want to bring contraction, which is fear? I’d be willing to bet my best friend’s 401k that if we all brought love and expansion into the places we inhabit, the world’s borders would quickly evaporate. Think of all the new places we could then visit, interjecting love, connectedness, and goodwill along the way.

Travel is an idea. It is consciousness in motion—a movement through time within a physical reality where our senses comingle with people and ideas. I think it’s safe to say then that the most interesting place I’ve ever visited has been all those places where I’ve been at my best—expansive, engaged, present, aware, and connected to both myself, the people, and the culture. When you travel in this state of being, you can’t help but be a vortex for interesting people and experiences.

A place is only as interesting as the consciousness that is brought to it, for without consciousness, there is nothing.

(posted June 22, 2018)

Note: This was actually an essay I wrote for a travel writer position at The New York Times in the fall of 2017. The assignment was: tell us in 500 words or less about the most interesting place you’ve ever been. The crux of this essay is an underlying theme in ‘A Curious Year in the Great Vivarium Experiment.'