Migration, movement, travel are all part of the great instinct
to care for the Earth, to spread its gifts, to benefit all beings.
We have moved across this planet since we became a species.
The question now is, HOW we choose to do this moving and
what benefits or detriments will accrue due to our cumulative movement.?
Moving fast is great for the airplane, hotel, fast food and rental car businesses.
But can you feel how many are left out from this fossil-fuel based giving?!
When we move slowly, we feel more. We have the time to notice more along the way, to feel connected to the places and life that we are visiting.
When we travel with less, we need to find our sustenance along the way, like the pilgrims that have been walking the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain for centuries.
We travel to spread our love, our sense of wonder, our delight at finding newness, freshness, differences that we ache for in our bones.
One of the most elemental joys of human beings is to give. When we travel vulnerably, we allow others to give to us. And I don’t mean just human beings.
Every living being — trees, fungi, deer, birds, flowers, fields of grasses, wishes to give its gifts and be received. And by traveling slowly we have the supreme opportunity to receive these precious gifts.
And conversely we bring our own gifts — even if they are only our two ears, two eyes, one curious mouth and magnanimous skin. But of course we bring so much else with us, perhaps a small musical instrument, our singing voice, our stories, our curious questions. Watch children when they are taken out in a nature area — how do they explore and learn naturally? We bring our skills, our crafts, our fresh and differing perspective that the beings we visit find so refreshing.
We bring our openness, our willingness to be surprised, our gratefulness for being unencumbered by our usual drudgery and routine.
But consider how much good the great traveling flocks of birds do in their migrations. They spread seeds all over the planet and poop. They agitate waters so more nutrients are available to shellfish and others. They bring song to cheer and encourage any number of beings who are making their living in the forest, the valleys, the plains and the mountains.
When I trekked by foot into the hills of Northwestern Thailand and Eastern Burma (now, Myanamar) I brought my flute to share with the tribes people in their simple huts. They fed me cups of rice and vegetables and tea and offered me a simple rice mat to sleep upon. We exchanged smiles and bows and the glory of witnessing one another. I still remember munching on the great bunches of wild cilantro that grew along our way.
When I traveled by plane or even train, I missed so much. I remember the babies crying terribly, hurt by the air pressure of the ascending or descending airplane.
We in the West have so many low-tech wonders that we can share — solar panels, water filters, biochar stoves (we can build from cheap scrap metal!) that can relieve natives of smoke-inhalation and provide charcoal, improving local soil and mitigating climate change.
When we travel in more primitive areas, we don’t need our cell phones, our computers or our relatively fast pace of living.
When I was in Phuket, Thailand, strolling on warm, humid nights, I could hear a huge array of insects, smell the large banana blossoms, feel the whole Earth around me breathing in tandem with the tropical forest.
But going out to the islands on a noisy power boat was not so pleasant. Its constant noise drowned out all the subtle sounds and cues.
But in Savu Savu, Fiji, some natives gently plied the waters in narrow wooden boats and you could hear every wingbeat of the egrets taking flight from the mangroves.
The age old encounter of mutually respectful strangers is like the Christian myth of Gabriel greeting us at the gates of Heaven. We greet one another as we wish to be greeted on the other side of life.
A bicycle can be leaned against a shed, and we can sit down at once and share whatever is there. The closer our bare feet are to the Earth the more we sense what it is affording life there. I remember wandering Fiji in the middle of mango season — five, six different kinds of mangoes, scattered about in great numbers. At first I thought what waste and then what plentitude. And as I slowed down, I noticed how many birds and insects feasted on these.
The Fijian people speak in quiet, hushed tones because they are in reverence to the place they live. They carry machetes but you never feel endangered because there is plenty and there is no need for hurry or anger.
Anywhere you travel slowly you are like a beach shell that is washing up on doorsteps and village markets. The natives will smile at you because they know you have come far to be with them, even if they have very few teeth left in their mouth, they will smile broadly for the gift of you.
And in these slower environments, the smallest gestures go a long way. A bow, hands folded together in front of your heart (“Namaste”), a smile, a gift of something small, a thumbs-up, are all love poems you carry to every other culture you visit.
Sampling their proffered food and drink, trying to weave a basket with hibiscus leaves, wearing one of their sarongs (a wrapped skirt), trying to dance one of their dances, speaking a few broken words of their language — these are all kind gestures and gifts.
And when we are stripped nearly bare of our normal communication methods, we have to work much more diligently, conscientiously and with greater awareness.
How much like meditation itself is slow travel!!!!!
As I write this I look at the trees out my window, full of driplets of fresh water and the birds are flitting from tree to tree, finding the last of the winter berries, taking sips of the droplets each tree offers.
Slowness is the true source of intimacy.
Till we meet along the soft path again.