Zen and the Art of Traveling

Travel Happens

Unfortunately, we’re rarely in control when we travel long
distances. Be it by plane, train bus, metro, etc. This is in stark
contrast to the rest of our lives when we are in firm control of at
least our time and location. Sure, sometimes we need to wait in long
lines or twiddle our thumbs during long hold-times on the phone. But
in that case, we’re still in control. We continue wait or hold
instead of walking away or hanging up but we’ve measured the cost
against the goal and have made the decision to continue waiting. We
consciously continue to sit there because the goal is worth it.

But travel is different. You can’t just get out of the plane, or
off the train, or off the bus or out of traffic. You’re stuck. The
“out” is never better (unless you happen to have a parachute) and that
feeling of out-of-options is not a comfortable one.

My Experiences

I’ve travelled a fair amount by various modes of transport for both
work and pleasure. I’ve been through a number of, um, interesting
events:

  • I put my kids to sleep for the night under benches at an
    airport because they finally announced at around midnight that our
    flight had been cancelled until early the next morning.
  • In a flight from Florida to Utah I watched 3 full length
    movies. 2 of them were sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off.
    Without air-conditioning. I, of course, missed my connection and
    got stuck overnight in Salt Lake.
  • After missing a connection in Florida we ended up renting a
    car to drive to our final destination (arriving at 3AM) because
    the airline refused to even put us up for the night.
  • I had packages left on a train because men with (big) guns
    were telling us that dogs weren’t allowed on the train, even
    though we specifically had a dog-ticket for said dog.
  • I was trapped in an airport’s terminal-to-terminal train
    system that failed about 50 feet from my destination
    platform (causing me to miss my flight).
  • I’ve travelled across the country for a meeting that ended up
    being cancelled.
  • I got stuck in Seattle because of grid-lock on the highways
    preventing me from reaching the airport in time. But it was a
    day-trip, which means I only had a backpack and no
    luggage/clothes/etc.

Now, I’ve had a lot of uneventful trips too of course. But somehow
the story that “I flew from Sacramento to Denver and arrived 30
minutes early” just doesn’t have the same interesting story behind it.
And I’ve had a lot of other delays, missed flights and other negative
events that also aren’t worth mentioning.

What I’ve Learned

Out of all those mishaps, the ones that I look back at with the
least negative feelings were the ones that I refused to let myself be
stressed by the events of the day (or night). Fighting it, in the
end, never had any significant effect because, as I’ve mentioned
previously
, you’re the visiting team in a game where the home
team has a huge advantage. In the end I was always still stuck
somewhere other than home. I was just angrier. If you must fight the
fight, fight it at home. Pick another carrier for your
next trip.

One eastern philosophy worth studying teaches that we should be
more like water than a rock. When obstacles get in the way of water,
water just flows around it and is, in the end, unaffected. It’s the
rock that is continually broken down by oncoming obstacles until it’s
own health is seriously jeopardized.

The next time you’re stuck in the river of travel, try being the
water instead of the rock. The trick, of course, is letting go of
your desire to be somewhere else immediately. Instead, buy a book and
relax. You’ll get there eventually so you might as well be as rested
as possible and in a good mood when you arrive.

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