“I’m so tired of people needing a reason for doing everything in their lives. Do it because you want to. Because it’s fun. Because it makes you happy.” (author unknown)
I got this today from a friend and it got me thinking. First, I had to point out that “because I want to” is a reason for doing things. It is pretty impossible to act without reason, unless you are an ascended Taoist master or someone suffering from St. Vitus.
But taking a more sympathetic view of the quote I believe what the author is refering to is this constant need, which is probably mostly fear, to control your situation, environment, people, and your future. Don’t we applaud those who are sensible and plan for their futures, sacrificing temporary joys and comforts for the sake of future rewards? Don’t we teach our children the value of delayed gratification? Don’t we, in short, live in the parable of the ants and the grasshopper? Isn’t the moral of that story the foundation of our own morality? “It is wise to worry about tomorrow today.”
We want to do things that are productive, things that are profitable, things that will bring us health, wealth, and happiness. There is really not much more to it. We want control and we are afraid of the ultimate place of lack of control: the future.
We pursue happiness like it is just turning the corner into a busy train platform, lost in the crowd is your opportunity for catching up with your dreams, your wishes. We pursue happiness because it is constantly slipping out of sight, and often out of mind. We trudge on an don for years without stopping to look around to see if we are still on the right trail.
A while back a friend of mine, who seems to spend most of his time traveling the world, was talking about travel, most especially tourism. “I detest tourism,” he said, “and all tourists.” But, I asked back, aren’t you a tourist when you go to Greece, Australia, or wherever you are going to next? “No, I am a traveler. Big difference. Tourists are to traveling like processed cheese is to artisanal Camembert. No comparison at all.” So how do you travel and avoid tourism? Do you avoid all the tourists spots? “I try to get to know someone in the country of destination before I leave. With the internet it is easier. I ask locals and natives as many questions about their daily habits as I can. If I can I figure out a way to borrow a couch in their house. I want to go to Indonesia and never ever once even see a McDonald’s. Not possible, of course, but I try. I eat what locals eat where the locals eat. Yes, sometimes I go to the known places, like the Eiffel Tower, but I will try to go with a local’s eyes, perhaps at an inconvenient time when there are few tourists. I went once to the Alamo, in the middle of summer at noon. There were very very few people there. It was great.”
I complained that this had precious little to do with tourism v. traveling. It was simply smart crowd control. I too like to avoid the busier places, from the supermarket (anytime after 10p is great), to the DMV, to the amusement park (well I lose on that one, but I try to pick rainy days if I can!). I detest Disney because it is a perfectly engineered crowd – which is how they make their money, I understand, but what a terrible place to spend hours in line.
I mentioned to him how I agreed with him about how I questioned how much people really saw of, let’s say, the Grand Canyon, when they spent about 2 hours there and took 100 pictures. I have been to the Grand Canyon dozens of times and spent hundreds of hours and am nowhere even close to claiming I can grasp its majesty. There is always more to see. He then said something which I think resonates with the anonymous quote above. he said, “A traveler could go to a country and spend ten years and never really see it. But furthermore, he could go around his state for 10 years and never really see everything. And further more, he could go around his ZIP code for 10 years and never see it all. he could go around his neighborhood, and not see it all. he could spend 10 years looking at his own backyard and never exhaust it. That is traveling.”
We go to places with agendas, with to-dos, with goals. I want to go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. I can do that and say I went to Paris. But have I? I know people who go to London to see the Big Ben, the Tower, the Houses fo Parliament. I lived in London for over a decade and I can tell you I have not seen all of London, not really. It takes time, but it takes something more, it takes a paradoxical lack of planning. Because when you have a plan you are stuck in a process, with a beginning a middle and an end. But when you give that up, all you have left is play. And when you are playing you are immediately open. And when you are open you are ready for surprises, and for joy. Planners have a schedule for mandatory fun. There is a big difference.