Observing impermanence in our daily lives can be quite difficult. Our friends and family can seem quite stable as we perform our daily jobs in the town or city we have lived in for decades. The fact that all of this could disappear in an instant seems completely unimaginable. It is quite easy to get into such a mindset, where the habits and routines of our lives can produce the illusion of their permanence. For many, it is too difficult to grasp the Buddha’s message of impermanence when faced with such steadiness. I do believe that a deep understanding of Buddhism is more easily gained by those who have experienced the upheaval, change and pain of living rather than by those who have been thankfully protected from such suffering. However, when we are unable to deeply perceive the impermanent nature of our immediate existence, what are we to do? Contemplation and realisation certainly cannot be forced and often the more we try and force things the more we fail.
I have found that a great remedy for such stagnation can be found in travelling. Travelling allows us to experience impermanence as a tangible phenomenon and does not necessitate any deep thinking or contemplation. The mere fact of visiting somewhere else and viewing new sights and hearing new sounds, different from those we are used to, can produce an extremely strong sense of the change of things. We may meet different people and build up new relationships
but, if we are committed to a wandering lifestyle, we will eventually have to say goodbye to these friends and move on. At such times, the reality of the impermanence of things becomes strikingly real.
Travelling also allows us to place ourselves in situations we would not normally feel comfortable in. The different cultural practices of other countries can continually challenge our habits and tastes, whether it be through food, music, language or customs. Away from our tailor-made home environment, we can analyse how our minds react to these difficult situations and we can develop greater insights into our own personalities. Facing up to these challenges can also provide a wonderful opportunity to let go. Often the suffering caused by being away from home is based on a resistance to changing our habits and adapting to the situation we are in. However, if we let go of our preferences and embrace the strange ways of another place, suddenly the culture we are living in can become quite enjoyable and pleasant. In this way, travelling allows us to profoundly experience the power of letting go of our notions of self and identity.
Another dharmic advantage of travelling is that we can obtain perspective and insight into our regular lives at home. When we are away, it is possible to view the relationships that we usually take for granted in a new light. We might feel newfound love for our friends at home, feel guilty about instances where we have hurt them or feel excited about the potential changes we may see when we return. The time spent travelling can act like a preparation for a return back to our normal lives. During this time, we can use this fresh insight on our home life to make determinations about our actions once we are back. Returning home can act as a rebirth and an opportunity to begin new, healthy practices. Travelling can also provide a safe environment to practice the changes we wish to make at home. Often when we try and make changes at home, our friends and family can be quite resistant as they like their worlds to remain stable. By adopting new practices away from home, we can bypass some of that initial resistance and allow them to judge the results of the change when we are back home. For instance, when I was a teenager, travelling away from home allowed me to become vegetarian for the first time. If I had attempted this change while at home, my mum would have been incredibly resistant to the idea. However, the space and freedom of travelling allowed me to practice vegetarianism and this authority of habit gave me the strength to continue my vegetarianism when I returned home.
Travelling then can provide us with a new landscape in which to explore difference and change, and also a fresh vantage point from which we can view our old lives, thereby giving us the courage to adopt new, healthy practices.