Still is still moving to me… ~ Willie Nelson
a strong longing for or impulse toward wandering (Merriam-webster.com)
a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about (Dictionary.com)
About 15 years ago I spontaneously visited a friend in Colombia.
It was a particularly wet and miserable February in New York, and I was itching to be anywhere else. I called my friend Luis, and in a week was on a plane to Bogota.
We drove from the city two or three hours to some of the small towns surrounding it. Luis navigated rapidly along winding highways through the mountains, the damp high-altitude fog lifting to reveal trickling waterfalls along the sides of the mountains and explosively green foliage everywhere. Beyond the green in the lower altitudes, the mountains shone orangey-pink in the sun. We stopped by the side of the road, grabbed chunks of the mountain and crumbled it into a terracotta dust that stained our fingers.
At the time, many of the highways on which we drove were guerrilla-controlled, so speed was of the essence, as the guerrillas’ good humor in letting through the supply trucks and travelers’ cars vanished with the day’s diminishing light.
It was imperative that we arrive at our destination before the sun set. We drove through jungle, coffee country, arid towns famous for their clay work, and stayed in small colonial villages where the white walls around the central squares overflowed with bougainvillea, music and cooking smells. The diverse richness of it all was exhilarating. There was also a subtle but persistent edge of uneasiness lurking around the perimeter of daily life that, to my perception, compelled people toward a profound appreciation of the fleeting sweetness of the moment. We decided that while I was there we should eat like crazy and dance every night. And so we did.
At the apex of our non-stop motion, I had a conversation with one of Luis’ friends who said that he did not leave Colombia much because he didn’t enjoy traveling—that he began to lose his sense of self when he was removed from his everyday surroundings.
This was a stark contrast to what Luis and I were experiencing. Inspired by our constant movement—walking, driving, dancing and eating, I expressed to him how passionately I love traveling; how I find calmness within the incessant movement. The strangeness of new places and experiences makes me acutely aware of my own habits and assumptions, which I find liberating. Movement offers me perspective. Perspective creates self-reflection. Self-reflection cultivates insight and empathy and so on.
Once you get a hit of the stillness held by movement and of movement‘s suspended stillness, no matter where you are, you carry the awareness of it with you. Multiple frames of a movie give us one flickering image. Stare at a still image for long enough and it seems to shift before your eyes. This is the pulsation of nature. In the Tantric tradition we call the stillness Shiva and the movement Shakti. Stillness defines motion and motion stillness. We can’t conceptualize one without the other. The beauty is both in the difference and in the merging. We hold them in a continual play. I move. I stop. I pause. I wander.
Colombia, India, Paris, Turkey, Morocco, Greece, Spain, Italy, the UK, New York. I’m not sure how many countries I’ve visited, but these are some I love. I embrace the mirror that travel provides, holding up infinite reflections of my own identity. I bring back experiences, insights and new perspectives for my students. In August, I will rest, my stillness holding its whirling wandering history like a passionate pulse.