The World Travels Around Me
I may assume that there is a world out there in which, embedded, I move, act, and travel. But I may also take another stance, reverse my perspective, and consider myself as being stationary and immobile, around which the world itself “travels”: I do not travel around the world; the world travels around me!
I had this experience for the first time while traveling in a mini-bus in the Guatemalan Highlands. I experienced the absolute stillness of a traveler, around whom the outside world seemed to move. Just as in a video game simulation, where all experiences change by turning off one program and choosing another, nature feeds us with a never-ending set of new worlds and circumstances. We call this constant change “travel.” But what if it is not our movement that causes it, but the constant movement of the world around us? What if our sense of having a body is also part of this constantly changing world – which is the reason why our body is also changing and becoming older? What if, like Descartes, the only stable thing I can know for certain is my own consciousness?
I know that my consciousness, unlike a digital simulator, is not able to instantly change the place in which it wants my body to be. Effort and time are needed to move from one country to another. But what if my moving is an illusion? The necessary interval required for a change of location notwithstanding, the principle is the same: I open my eyes in one place and I am immersed in one world; I then wish to be in another place and a few hours or days later I open my eyes in another country. My wishes materialize. Is it my consciousness and will that change the world enveloping me, or does the world move in such a way around me so as to conform to my wishes? The two possibilities actually amount to the same thing: I experience the core of my being as immobile and constant, while the world moves around me.
This way of viewing my relation to the world happened a few more times after the Guatemalan Highlands. But the idea first became visible to me in Laos. While I was waiting with my suitcases for the early morning bus at a countryside bus stop outside Muang Sing, a strange series of visual impressions gave flesh and bone to this idea. I had put my heavy red suitcase near the road so I wouldn’t delay the bus by having to carry it from the bus shelter a few meters away. Minutes later, a pair of cows appeared out of nowhere and started playing on the edge of the road, behind where my suitcase stood. After a while, a group of people on their way to work passed through the same point where the cows had been playing earlier. I then realized that my suitcase was the real protagonist in both shots and decided to make it the central object in a series of consecutive photos. By being the only constant, permanent element of my journey, the suitcase suddenly became the symbol of the immobile witness at the core of my being. As it sat there motionless, it turned into the hub around which the whole world seemed to revolve. The suitcase and I seemed to be permanently still, while embedded in a constantly shifting world.
This ability to see oneself as stationary and the world as revolving around one’s center, rather than the world as being stationary and us moving within it, is crucial to a traveler’s experience in a number of ways:
First, it allows one to experience travel as no different from life itself. All life experiences, irrespective of where one happens to be, belong to one’s center, which is immobile and atemporal. The more diverse the experiences we choose, the wealthier our life becomes. Connecting with this atemporal center allows the traveler to see his travels as part of everyday commonality – not as something special or unique.
Second, while experiencing the immobility of one’s center, one comes to feel that this center does not have a nationality, a town of birth, or even a gender. The traveler then, while standing outside of the identifications and “character” that have been accumulated throughout a lifetime, realizes that he is as much a citizen of Laos as of Cyprus. The silent core within each one of us is unaffected by the labels of the external world. We are all members of humanity, we are all world citizens.
Third, our experiences of the world obtain a unique veneer. We realize that it is around this immobile observer that the world “parades,” and that whatever understanding we obtain can only be personal and therefore unique – inasmuch as each and every one of us is unique. When I experience a trip to Muang Sing the way I do, this experience of mine arises for the first time in the history of the universe. Nobody ever experienced the sights, sounds, and smells I now experience in this specific way. The unique images parading in front of my suitcase the way they do, together with their interconnectedness, meaning, and symbolism – arising in my mind – have never before appeared in the world. The outward happenings and how I perceive them is a “new event” in the universe. Actually, it is something more than that: the moment the experiences in my consciousness come-to-uniquely-be, I give rise to a new creation in the cosmos! The appearance of my individual experience is no different from the hatching of a bird, or a bamboo shoot forcing its way through the earth. That my consciousness is subjective, does not annul the fact that it is something real. It is as real as a planet, or a tree, or the song of a whale. The universe does not need the corroboration of other peoples’ minds in order to legitimize the reality of my own consciousness. Every experience each one of us has is unique in history, and it changes the universe as much as the appearance of a supernova in some corner of a galaxy.
Last, and most important, this experience becomes crucial to the traveler’s inner journey. The Stillness within each one of us may become both palpable and visible, while relating to the outside world. Our silent core ceases to be an abstraction. It becomes the center of the universe – our universe, which is the only one we experience. Then the world ceases to be this gigantic entity of places and events in which we move about like little insignificant ants: It suddenly becomes an intimate caring world conforming to our wishes. One that was created for our enjoyment and for our learning.