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What Makes A “Traveler” So Unique?

The Traveler Within

By Val Jon

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on deep and permanent in the ideas of living.”

– Miriam Beard

San Miguel de Allende is an alluring destination for travelers, and because travelers are some of the most interesting people in the world, they add character and depth to the city. Not only have travelers deepened their ideas of living, as Miriam Beard suggests, they constantly venture beyond the shores of certainty and explore the mysteries of uncertainty.

Some say travelers are restless and are born with a wayward streak. Others label them as nomads and vagabonds. And still others romanticize them as wayfarers and pioneers. But beyond these fanciful notions, one of the distinguishing characteristics dwelling within a traveler is simple curiosity.

Curiosity may be a simplistic notion, but that doesn’t mean it lacks character or depth. Curiosity is a natural attribute all of us are born with. Newborns are fascinated by absolutely everything and their inquisitiveness compels them to travel, first on their bellies, then on their hands and knees, and finally on their feet and legs.

Yet as fundamental as curiosity is in our lives, many of us lose touch with it. As we mature into adulthood our fascination with learning new things wanes and we tend to become set in our ways. There’s nothing wrong with settling on certain preferences and beliefs, but when it’s at the expense of our inquisitive nature we slip into apathetic disinterest, a condition in which the mystery of being alive gets replaced with the misery of merely living.

But why would anyone trade curiosity for disinterest? For one simple reason: adults must contend with something children are yet to confront—the insecurities of a mature ego. To a child, curiosity evokes an enthusiastic opportunity to learn and grow. But to the adult ego, it conjures up the risk of embarrassment or humiliation. It’s important to realize that although our ego remains safe in the absence of risk, our aliveness diminishes because we’ve removed ourselves from discovering the mysteries of life. The poet e. e. cummings speaks of the opportunity to engage in curiosity this way: “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

While infants don’t necessarily believe in themselves, they’re comfortable being who they are, just as they are, without any second-guessing or self-judgment. This quality of self-acceptance must be integrated into our adult persona if we are ever to believe in ourselves. Those who believe in themselves have moved beyond the need to protect their self-image. Rather than catering to their ego’s fear of humiliation they’ve learned to embrace curiosity with a measure of humility. (What distinguishes humiliation from humility is the ego’s propensity for self-invalidation rather than self-acceptance.)

So how do we deepen our self-acceptance and belief in ourselves? By getting to know who we are in very a specific way; not in a way others expect or want, but in a way that arises within the crucible of our own discernment. Self-belief is borne of our own experimentation with cause and effect, our own insight and discovery, and more than anything, our own responsibility for engaging in a life we deem is worth living, whether anyone else validates it or not.

One final thought before closing this edition of The Traveler Within…there is a useful distinction between a “tourist” and a “traveler” I want to leave you with. A tourist is a casual sightseer who uses their travel itinerary to boost their ego and prove their self-worth. Travelers don’t cater to their ego in this way and they’re not sightseers. Rather, they’re curious visionaries who engage in travel as a way to explore the majesty and grace of the human spirit dwelling within them.

Join me next time as we venture beyond curiosity and into another compelling traveler characteristic. Curious as to what it might be? That’s the spirit!

Val Jon Farris is an award-winning author and Huffington Post columnist. He is also a Spiritual Anthropologist and Professor of Ancient Mayan Philosophy. Val Jon hosts expeditions to sacred sites around the world and offers workshops to those interested in exploring both the wonders of the outer world and the mysteries of the inner self. View his video series:


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