“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
The Little Gidding
As I was cycling within the mystical grounds of Sukothai, the ancient Siam Kingdom, I could feel the tropical sun’s intensity peaking early. Setting my bicycle aside, I found the shade from a bodhi tree provided that perfect respite in which to relax and reflect upon life. I also took comfort from the accompanying statue of Buddha and his serene smile that so calmly embraced the world around me.
Finding clear vision or as defined here as objectivity is a very satisfying discovery, much like finding that key piece to a puzzle you’ve been working on forever, especially if the puzzle is a rendition of an M.C.Escher painting. My recent Southeast Asia travel experience, has as with every world travel experience of mine, provided me with another enriching, incremental step toward self-discovery and an increased awareness of one’s place in the world.
There’s a popular phrase I’ve heard and seen on T-shirts in numerous South American and Asian marketplaces that goes “same, same, only different”. This whimsical seemingly nonsensical phrase may carry greater wisdom than first observed. There’s a fascinating new scientific field which involves the study of fractal formations. Fractals are often defined as self-similarity. Self-similarity in Nature can be defined as the repetition of a unit pattern on different size scales or, stated another way, having parts that resemble the whole. A tree, representing the whole, with its individual parts; root system, branches and leaves, is a classic self-similarity example.
Self-similarity patterns continue throughout Nature in the form of seasons, cloud formations, coastline formations, tidal movements, so numerous you want to just relax under a shady tree, light up a joint, take in the Zen moment and whisper softly, “WHOA!”
A great gift that can be revealed through world travels is the gift of objectivity. Once I’m physically removed from my normal daily rituals, tasks, routines and influences, coupled by my swift adaptability to new surroundings, my mind becomes unencumbered, able to transcend and observe life objectively.
As a world traveler and having concluded my fifty-fourth country visit, in Cambodia, I’m observing numerous repetitive patterns in mankind’s habits and behaviors as well. It’s deja vu all over again! These fractal patterns happen everywhere, no matter how diverse the societies may appear; whether in Ecuador, Nepal, Poland, or Vietnam, each society sharing common humanity and topographical traits.
For example, I’ll be sitting on a bus, gazing out the window looking at the Cambodian countryside, and I’ll suddenly notice my travel experiences merging, folding and unfolding within my memory with the passing scenes: rural Cambodia, with its bucolic landscapes and impoverished family compounds; food- preparing mothers, structure-building fathers, laughing kids, and roaming, sleepy farm animals, will merge in my mind with similar scenes found in rural Nepal, Ecuador, Poland and Vietnam. The landscapes alter, some lush, some dry, depending on the season.
Fields yield to hills which yield to mountains which yield back to fields again. The passing harvests with the workers in the fields vary slightly, crops ranging from rice to coffee beans to wheat, most work still conducted by manual labor. Divided only by languages, these cultures conduct similar tasks simultaneously throughout the world, yesterday, today and tomorrow: birth, childhood, adulthood, marriage, kids, family, death, rebirth, as certain as the sunrise each and every morning.
A similar transcendental moment occurred while I was riding a hot, slow-moving train through the rural Czech Republic countryside. Across from my seat, I’d see the passengers’ faces slowly transform with each half conscious sleepy nod of my head as passengers arrive and depart with each incremental train station stop. I would glance up and find sitting across from me a talkative pair of students who would suddenly transform into a quiet, tired-looking middle-aged working couple who, after another nod, would transform into a fragile, forlorn-looking elderly couple. Were they different people or the same couple seen through the years on the same train?
Travelers too exhibit repeating patterns and routines. The routines will vary depending on the types of individual that travel. They may be routines that make us feel comfortable, make us feel safe, or make us feel alive. Kindred spirits will intersect on the travelers’ road more often than unlike souls. As independent and individualistic as I am my recent Southeast Asia travels during the winter months will still be closely repeated and experienced by another person in the succeeding two months or the same winter months next year. Years later, I may meet that same person in a coffee shop, this recognition perhaps only acknowledged by a friendly nod or smile. Are our two holographic universe intersections a part of a thousand similar “chance” meetings taking place simultaneously in the world?
In my objective traveler’s role I enjoy observing the locals’ daily routines as they make preparations for the tourists; cleaning the streets and sidewalks, opening cafes, restaurants, stores, positioning themselves with motorbikes and rickshaws for hire, or cooking in food stalls, breaking for lunch, weaving, gossiping, yawning, closing shop and returning home to prepare their evening meal, to be all repeated the very next day, unless its a holiday or religious event. This scene is in each city, each town, and each village “uniquely the same only different”
These scenes of relative peace and contentment that societies exhibit sometimes get rudely interrupted by wars initiated by powerful greedy mad men who show evidence of similar sociopathic behaviors, inflicting pain upon the people they rule or manipulate until the people finally have had enough of them. One can simply study human history, whether in Europe, Asia, the Americas or Africa, and find these repetitive patterns. No surprise the symbol for mankind in the Hopi Indian mythology is a foolish character that the gods just smile at, shaking their heads in disbelief.
Yet, while humankind may exhibit similar behavioral fractal patterns…certain individuals and cultures concurrently demonstrate unique characteristics as to how to deal with life patterns we can not avoid.
In Southeast Asia, whether in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam, the Buddhist philosophical /spiritual influence is strongly evident among the people, revealed through good healthy physical routines such as sunrise exercises, healthy nutritional diets and healthy mental attitudes. I was impressed by the average Thai or Vietnamese’s peaceful demeanor, consistent genuine kindness, friendliness and respectfulness for all living entities.
Such kind behaviors and mental outlooks are not always as prevalent in other regions of the world. This distinction was so profoundly felt by one Canadian fellow I met that he was going to make a concerted effort to be friendlier to strangers when he returned home, a transference that could alter the fractal dynamics of humankind! Could one ask for a better example to the benefits of world travel.
Back under that Bodhi tree I swore I could hear the Buddha whisper “seize the moment, gain perspective, find objectivity, and live in the present.”
These words reminded me of a passage from one of my favorite books, The Zen Book, which summarized my feelings at that moment: “Happiness just IS. It isn’t something you have to earn, look for, or wait to receive- it’s always there. To find it, simply stop looking and become it.” Enough said.
To read more of my travel writing, and to see my photography from my Southeast Asia travels, and more, please visit www.travelark.org/traveller/pecoskid and www.michaelmcguerty.wix.com/mcguerty-photography
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