May 07

Starting The Journey

How we come to leave-taking and embark on a journey is really a mystery.


Our hunger for certainty often trips us up in our attempts to fathom causation.  Most of us have been seduced by the idea of a simple cause and effect chain of events.  However, beginnings are far messier.  They are never what our mind invents them to be.  Unlike reading a book from page one, the inception of just about everything is vague.  It is out of the mist of some remote prompting that great enterprises are born.  There is a kind of ‘mucking around in it’ that takes place before something peeks through, at first, only for brief moments.  It is almost like some vulnerable animal is tentatively testing the atmosphere to determine whether it is safe to come out.   The slightest disturbance is enough to quickly withdraw and wait for another time.


Whether it is the idea of first taking a journey, or, as I wish to address here, why I and most of my fellow Homo-sapiens like to travel, it is hard to make sense of where this starts from.


When I was growing up, I, along with my two younger brothers, would be bundled up into the family car at some ghastly hour before dawn to head out to some distant location we weren’t even aware existed.  Since I grew up in NYC most of these destinations would be upstate NY and I would recall as the light of the dawning sun appeared how the landscape would come into focus and reflect back to me how we were all waking up.  The early morning ‘swamp fog’, the slowly evaporating mists that hovered over the lakes we were passing easily engaged my child mind’s imaginings.  There was a growing excitement.  We were finally out of the grips of the megalopolis (even then NYC was a sprawling cosmopolitan center).  The adventure was “a foot” as they would say.


I’m also thinking, even earlier, about how, while playing outside in the front of my house in Queens, NY I would stare off at this light beacon on the top of the glacial moraine that deposited itself along what is now Long Island and fantasize about what was on the other side.  For a young child the world is incredibly big and the scope of what you actually engage in is rather limited.  So what was only a mile or so away was ‘very far’.  I wanted to go there!


turok-03By the time I was in Elementary School I was engrossed in comic books and was particularly immersed in the series called “Turok: Son of Stone”.  Each edition yielding an unfolding drama of how this character Turok, who was a Native American, had been separated from his tribe and was trying to find his way home.  In attempting to do this he would encounter other people and join forces at times to over come all sorts of challenges as he traversed an amazing landscape filled with prehistoric dinosaurs (i.e., the science wasn’t too important), lava spewing volcanoes, enemy tribes, huge plants and so on.  I was entranced by this wandering process. 


My walks home from school would echo these comic book journeys.  I would often refuse rides home, even when it was cold or raining so I could embark on a journey of my own making. When it was winter and snow still remained on the ground, the melt of the snow would provide the visual material I needed to imagine I was making my way over a varied terrain. I discovered how to enter a light trance state and would play with this small-scale landscape and have these large-scale adventures.  All of this before I got home to have my after school snack of cookies and milk.


As I became more sophisticated in my reading ability I got turned on to The Odyssey by Homer, which to this day has been one of my greatest reads.  This was one of the earliest books I actually read (it was a simplified version that a fourth grader could understand).  This launched me into a voracious appetite for reading many folk tales, mythology, and both classic and modern adventure stories.  And yet I can’t believe that this and what I have recounted so far accounts for my yearning to travel.  I believe they are all reflections of something much deeper in not just my psyche but that of our human condition.  These intimations of journeying were symptoms of a much bigger mystery.


As much as those family trips bring back fond memories, the prompting of my later voluntary sojourns lies much deeper.  I suppose I could delve deeper into my past like some excavator of an archeological site.  I am sure the more psychoanalytically oriented readers can have a field day with this material and I would say feel free.  However, my sense of what I am attempting to share here is that many experiences we have growing up are attempts to remind ourselves of something way bigger than what or who we are as individual people with our unique biographies. 


Especially as children we are more intimately related to another dimension of being.  Part of this may have to do with our genes.  There is some kind of built in mechanism that encourages us to roam and seek out adventures.  It is primeval and connects all the way back to the earliest ancestors.  This urge to journey is in our make up and has always played havoc with the attempts of society to civilize itself.  No matter how entrenched we are in our houses and on our couches, for many of us there is still this urging to get up and go have an adventure.   This is transpersonal and is archetypal if you follow Carl Jung’s depth psychology.


Even if you don’t accept the premise that wandering is hard wired in some way, the opportunity to be able to roam is an important foundational experience for children to have growing up.  Rebecca Solnit (2005, p. 7)) writes “…childhood roaming was what developed self reliance, a sense of direction and adventure, imagination, a will to explore, to be able to get a little lost and then figure out the way back.  I wonder what will come of placing this generation under house arrest.”   I wonder too!  Without some sort of regular engagement with our surrounding environments where we temporarily allow ourselves to roam and play with our imagination we are lost to ourselves; a vast part of who we are is missing.   


Solnit, Rebecca. A Field Guide To Getting Lost. Viking, 2005.


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