How Does Travel Really Broaden “the mind”?

March 25, 2017
By Lucyli BRONZE, London, Other
Lucyli BRONZE, London, Other
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

How does travel really broaden “the mind”?
— a study on the culture of nomadism

“Home is here and now.” – Buddhism

We are united across generations by values, propensities and desires to connect with the land that nurtured us. We demand answers to the questions: Where are we from? Why are we here? What are we living for? The phrase travailen, coined in the 14th century, means to torment, labor or to strive actively. The act of travelling; otherwise referred to as one’s movement across geographical location, is the struggle to uncover what we are made of by allowing us to connect to the world that raised and nourished lives, to develop resilience and be challenged.

A man picked up a wooden branch. He sharpened it against a stone and etched a geometric design onto the ground, an intricate pattern embellished with an accent of animation, meticulously crosshatched and organically shaped on the earth’s brownish beige. The symbolic and mysterious image expanded seeming endlessly into the peripheries of his territorial influences, across the sea and beyond. This was the mark of humanity’s nascent ambition of world exploration.

When humans first left Africa, they followed the coastline into the Middle east, and finally, into the expansive continent of Asia. There have long been theories that early humans sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, from Africa to South America, the Caribbean, Europe to Greenland. The initial navigation of humanity across the Earth was driven primarily by food and climate, necessitated by scarcity. Nomadic tribes of up to a few dozen people followed the migration patterns of the herd animals they hunted. The encounter of new objects, climate changes and the extremities of the environment urged them to develop new methods of survival. Around 300,000 years ago they mastered the art of making wooden spears. About the same time, fascinated by the effervescent orange-glow by rubbing wood collected on their journeys----they discovered fire making… Food was scarce and conditions unfavorable-- but humanity survived the hardship. The nomadic lifestyle broadened the human imagination, potential and it strengthened mankind’s resilience.

It may be argued that the act of travelling is humanity’s constant struggle with his land that yields fruits of sustenance but at the same time propelled natural disasters to destroy his civilization. The relations in between them are predestined and perennial.

The human race began to settle with the beginnings of agriculture, and later industry. Humans began to pursue security and the comfort of relishing the present moment. …

There was a time when tribal Mongolians roamed across a vast dramatic landscape with no specific place to call home. For generation after generation they had lived as nomads, sleeping where they made camps, precariously constructed with bare wooden sticks protruding from bright arrays of fabric. They kept their livestock moving, chasing the fresh pastures that became available as the seasons changed. Swirling contours of mountains and rivers marked the limits of their territory, and their nomadic existence permeated all aspects of their culture.

It is the practice of travelling, the constant unsettling urgency, the liberating embrace of nature and the limitless and omnipotent presence of the land that broadened the minds of the Mongols. Their outlook of the world is optimistically ambitious. Their culture of travelling made them values their homeland, a utopia in which freedom thrives--- defend it to the best of their abilities—and fight for the liberation of the world. The book Wolf Totem explores the constant struggle of the Mongols to break free from the dominance of Confucianism in the 19th century Communist socialism in the 20th century and —rigid constructs of contemporary societies. Emphasizing hierarchy and the ritualization of all aspects of daily life, Confucianism has, by most standard accounts been one of the great civilizing forces in Chinese history, fostering a way of life that stresses harmony and non-abrasive social interactions. Yet lack of expressive and adventurous ideas, the ceremonial catalogue of moral principles and the intangibilities of its concepts are arguably primary defects of the Confucian theories. These are the founding principles that shape the lives of the dominant Han ethnicity of China.

“If the Mongols are wolves, then the Hans are sheep"—weak, docile, easily controlled, herd animals. The author of Wolf Totem concludes that the very same philosophy that had created such “a brilliant ancient civilization” has also “weakened the people's nature” and contributed to China falling behind and suffering a century of humiliations at the hands of the barbaric powers. The Mongol invasion of China to take over the Han ethnicity and -- Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan presided over the Chinese Yuan dynasty after his victory. Casualties of the Hans to the Mongols numbered 30,000 to 12 in their last battle… The author of Wolf Totem notes, “nomads have been the only Easterners capable of taking the fight to the Europeans” The three people who really shook the West to its foundations were the Huns, the Turks, and the Mongols all of whom are nomads....

The triumph of the Mongols was short-lived.  The book Wolves Totem ends with a chapter in which Mongols were forced to adopt the humdrum lives of the Hans, becoming compliant sheep. Their natural habitats were destroyed with their cultural values lying in tatters, upon which regular plots of agricultural lands were plowed in distressing perfection. The evolution of the complexities of human societies has resulted in the devolution of intellectual freedom. In this case, the end of the nomadic culture signals an end to the ideological and cultural emancipation of the Mongols.

Generation after generation, our attachment to the spiritual, cosmological and philosophical connection to the land deteriorated as we are more often being enshrouded by the buildings of the new millennium and the soil beneath us is separated by a layer of artificiality. Despite this we now live in an epoch of time when the freedom of expressions and the advent of technology make the interconnections of societies infinitely stronger. In some places, cultural identities are homogenized, while in many others; culture is diversified, universalized and used to liberate the people. Some people travel for the sake of temporary relief wishing to detach themselves from the fixed identity that they are defined by on home turf. They may develop a new and novel character unfettered by their pasts and, if they go far enough afield, unrestricted by the homogeneity of their own cultural backdrop. Others travel to appreciate the history of our land, the establishment of our civilizations and the past of our “journeys”.

The theoretical approach of Laozi’s, the great Chinese philosopher focuses on the existence of things that are ideal of all existence, “people have desires and free wills, and thus must act naturally and return to the most natural state of life”. This is the state of total liberation. His contemporaries follow his advice and seek a balanced lifestyle through travelling and admiring nature. “He who defines himself and can’t know who he really is.”, Laozi believes that the true character can never be unchanging and it will be constantly influenced by the social environment. It is only through the practice of travelling can one uncover a hidden identity and come to the point of realization that “we have the core of our being, beyond the influence of the others.”

The contemporary culture of nomadism is now associated with anticipation and discovery. Striving on the modern outskirts of the Pacific Northwest, a group of nomads have eschewed their settling lives and joined the Northwest tribe “I felt trapped in an endless cycle of that I was dependent upon to keep me alive and healthy…” said a journalist who accompanies the tribe, “I knew that this is my ambition and I had to follow them out west. ” He has learnt about the great ambitions of the nomads. He is searching for something - sometimes a sense of belonging - or 'home'. “ I was in search for a new arena, a broadening of the mind,” he says. The mind broadening experience in his words is associated with an encounter with otherness and exposure to social and cultural norms that are exotic and liberating, allowing him to uncover the hidden “self” …

One travels to explore endless possibilities, to strengthen his or her determination and to relate to the history of humanity. Although agriculture and industrial interests deteriorated the necessity of travelling and diminished the importance of nature and land, humanity has always venerated the land upon which they flourished, remembering the struggle of its predecessors. The history of travelling was once driven by external factors—humanity’s struggle against adverse situations. But it is now transformed into a spiritual duty, that is, the pursuit of personal liberty or the ambition of universal freedom. In doing so the human race gained resilience. Humanity preserves the living culture of travelling, ambitions and desires by being culturally receptive and environmentally conscious. 

“Your true home is in the here and now.
It is not limited by time, space, nationality and race.
It is the world in which you live and where you prosper.
And only through the exploration of it can you expand your horizon ”
------ Buddhism

The author's comments:

It is a pleasure to write to you and to be able to introduce myself. I am a lower sixth form student from Westminster school, a leading academic school in central London, studying economics and art as my A levels. I enjoy analysing texts and cross-disciplinary creative writing and I am really passionate about human social, behavioural sciences and history. The essay that I am submitting is inspired by my research on mankind’s interdependence with the land and nature— a research how the travelling culture is shaped by and is interweaved with our social constructs. I feel curious and concerned about the becoming of our modern societies and connected to the cultural motivations behind traditional and contemporary nomadism. While the advent of technology alters the social, political and even the topographical environment around us, we still relish the unique relation that connects us with our land.  The notion of “home” is no longer limited to the social environment in which we are raised on, restricted by borders that were once unimpeachable— it is now universal.

This essay has been awarded 1st in the school essay “cultural perspectives” prize, and I would really like to share this with people who are passionate about similar genres and creative writing in general.

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