What is Meditation? A mental exercise to improve concentration or a tool for total transformation? While one school of thought defines Meditation as “an approach to training the mind, similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training the body”, the other school thought, especially the Buddhist School of thought, puts Meditation on a bigger pedestal and defines the purpose and the meaning of meditation as “liberation of the mind from attachment to things it cannot control, such as external circumstances or strong internal emotions. The liberated or “enlightened” practitioner no longer needlessly follows desires or clings to experiences, but instead maintains a calm mind and sense of inner harmony.”
While the meaning of meditation and even the motivation to meditate for people could be diverse and several, but the one thing that is certain is that both spirituality and science have begun to acknowledge the benefits of meditation. Some of the benefits include a reduction in anxiety and depression, better concentration, more creativity, more control over thoughts, especially the negative ones amongst a host of other benefits. And like a true ally of Meditation, Solo travel too has a positive impact on our lives. Building more perspective, improved mental health, the much needed ‘Me’ time, and greater self-reliance are some of the benefits of taking a journey, with and also within ourselves.
Both Solo Travel and Meditation Are ‘A Journey Within’
To travel solo is to take two journeys simultaneously – one to the destination where we are headed and one onto ourselves. When we do not have a constant companion with us at all times – be it a friend, a partner or a family member, the focus shifts to the destination and our own selves. The intricacies of where we are, the many people we meet, our conversations, our experiences, whatever we encounter in our own company stays with us for longer. When we travel with someone else, the journey is more about the shared experiences, which is fine and even memorable most times but the connection with a place gets stronger if it’s a one on one experience. To quote Alain De Botton from ‘The Art of Travel’ – “It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially molded by whom we are with, we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others. Being closely observed by a companion can inhibit us from observing others; we become taken up with adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, we have to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.” Solo travel, thus, creates that organic personal connect with the destination and the very many shades of it. This organic personal connect leads to self-reflection and a better understanding of how we, as an individual, perceive things. Meditation is similar in many ways. It’s an experience that we have, with ourselves. The responses to our thoughts, surroundings, our breath, our consciousness is unfiltered and organic – without a third party between our mind and our surroundings. And this makes us understand ourselves in an organic manner, untempered by a third party. The journey of self-discovery through traveling and Meditation, is thus, quite similar in nature.
Tolerance, Appreciation & Patience – Teaching of Solo Travel And Meditation Are Similar
Imagine taking a journey all by yourself to an unknown and unfamiliar land not knowing what’s in store for you, maybe it’s good or maybe it’s bad or a bit of both. Traveling Solo, thus, exposes us to the unknown and different ways to deal with it. Be it the different people, lifestyles, circumstances, social situations and natural calamities that we encounter – it teaches us to how to become more tolerant. More tolerant of our adverse circumstances and also of what’s going right for us. It also teaches us how to be more patient. After all, who can travel successfully without being patient and tolerant about not having the comforts of ‘home’? Tolerance, appreciation, and patience, thus inevitably, leads us to more calmness and stability in our state of being and what else brings us closer to that state of mind? Yes, certainly, it’s Meditation.
Solo Travel And Meditation Are The Much Needed ‘Me Time’
As we already know now, solo travel is more about the ‘Me’ than a group of friends or a couple or a family. The experiences we get, the conversations we have, the problems we face, the solutions we find, the long walks, the new eateries we discover, the momentoes we buy, the pictures we take – each of it reflects a little of our own selves. Away from the need to constantly talk – more often the ‘small talk’, solo travel is the time away. It is not an escape, it is time away, to recuperate, to revitalize, to enliven and be, just by ourselves.
Rita Golden Gelman, in Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World rightly points out “My spirit gets nourished in faraway places. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a biological need, perhaps a biological flaw, that compels me to seek the excitement and challenge that comes of being in a place where nobody knows me.”
In the same spirit, Meditation is the time away from the outside and time for the ‘inside’. Time with your thoughts – let them flow and not getting carried away – time with one’s breath and not absorbed the usual everyday drudgeries but a higher purpose – of inner peace, something that is impossible without the ‘Me Time’
Solo Travel and Meditation Helps Address Stress and Anxiety
It’s not an understatement to say that ever-increasing Mental Health issues have become more like an epidemic in the present times. Rising use of social media leading to toxic levels of consumption, an overdose of information, staggeringly high levels of phone usage coupled with the good old corporate rat-race and the domestic grind of life are some of the major factors triggering stress and anxiety. If we think about it, is the wide acceptability of solo travel these days and ‘finding one’s voice’ also a consequence of lowering mental health standards in our everyday lives? Perhaps. But the one thing which we all can be sure of is that Genuine travel experiences reduce anxiety. Period.
In a nine-year APA study that tracked the health of 12,000 middle-aged men, researchers found that those who took at least one vacation a year were almost 30 percent less likely to die from a heart-related cause compared to men who did not take time off. And to further the benefits of traveling, adding the ‘social’ aspect to travel too, goes a long way. Thus, comes in the concept of volunteering along with traveling – clubbing the experience and traveling and working for somebody other than ourselves. The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on one’s overall psychological well-being. Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection to another person. Working with pets and other animals have also been shown to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety. Perhaps this is why I recall my trip to a quaint little elephant village in Thailand as a transformative travel experience for me.
Away from a working internet connection, concrete jungles, and phone notifications, making paper out of elephant poo, cutting bamboo leaves for elephant feed and waking up to a mother-daughter elephant cuddling with each other worked like a charm for me.
Solo Travel And Meditation Guide Us Away From Rampant Materialism
That is the thing about Solo travel that it’s more about experiences and less about ‘things’. Sure the Instagram generation has made ‘lust’ out of this liberating experience as well but even then it is experience focussed. It is about the moment one is in at present, it is about the stories of self or of others but essentially about stories. This kind of solo travel doesn’t have to be a continent-hopping expedition where one counts the number of countries traveled to instead the number of boring days spent in one unfamiliar country. It can also about saving up, cutting off unnecessary expenditure for perfumes and purses, and take a short weekend trip and just end up talking to strangers for personal diary worthy conversations.
Similarly, with meditation, as one achieves more control over one’s thoughts and builds mindfulness, the realization that accumulation of ‘stuff’ is not the answer happens.
Both Solo Travel And Meditation Make Us More “Creative”
How does traveling solo lead us to be more creative? Well, this is an especially interesting connection. Research suggests that living in and adapting to different foreign cultures facilitates creativity. A study conducted by Adam D. Galinsky Et Al., Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA titled: ‘When in Rome … Learn Why the Romans Do What They Do: How Multicultural Learning Experiences Facilitate Creativity’ examines how living in a different setup, especially in a multicultural setup improves a) facilitates idea flexibility (e.g., the ability to solve problems in multiple ways), (b) increases awareness of underlying connections and associations, and (c) helps overcome functional fixedness.
Similarly, Meditation works on our Neocortex, limbic system, and reduce the reactivity of the reptilian brain (those do sound like crazy big words but just mean that it works on our cognitive capabilities leading to less rigid creative functionalities) and thus leading to more creativity and innovation.
Now those were a lot of big words and a lot of research was referenced to make a fairly simple point – when we are outside our comfort zone and in an unfamiliar surrounding, our mind naturally works harder to get us into a comfortable position and we learn to accommodate and solve problems. Similarly, when we calm ourselves and our ever wandering thoughts don’t get the better of us when we regularly meditate, the mind functions better and all kinds of chemical changes happen that make us, well, more creative amongst a lot of other things.