Art can transform, but first we have to be open to the messaging
Yesterday, here in a suburb of Valparaiso, Chile, I took a tentative walk down the long, sloping street where my bed and breakfast sits to see if I could find a market or restaurant. Sunday most things are closed around here, all the small tiendras shuttered for lunch, bad timing on my part. However, very close to the corner of the main drag where I stood wobbling in the midafternoon sun, my injured knee aching from even the small effort, stood a Best Western hotel.
It's not my habit to seek out western hotel chains when I travel. In this case, being stymied by all the shuttered restaurants, I limped into the lobby to see if they had a restaurant open.
They did, but that's not what caught my attention.
This big sculpture did.
This unformed striding woman is at least eight feet tall, her head held high and her metal locks flowing behind decorated ears. She walks into the Not Knowing of the world of travel, something I have done for years now, most recently into Chile, where I rode the Atacama by horse with a few other remarkable people.
What is so compelling is what is left unformed. Most of the woman's body doesn't exist. Not yet. That is the promise of travel, of experiences among those we don't yet know, in places we've not yet seen.
The way I receive this is how I have learned to receive travel itself. When I am willing to walk out into the world largely unformed, what new ideas, cultures, experiences and visions I may gather serve to help form what is open inside me.
But this is much larger than just the idea of travel. This is about how we move in the world at large, and whether or not we allow such movement to enlarge us along the way.
Just leaving the house, our home country or our state and taking a wander doesn't guarantee that we will grow. Travel educates, most assuredly, but only if we are open to what the winds bring us.
Traveling by the written or visual word is much the same for those who can't head out for other reasons, be it a disability or limited resources. As Karen Blixen said to Denys Finch-Hatton in the the movie Out of Africa,
"I am a mental traveler."
It doesn't matter so much as our willingness to go to new places which may frighten, challenge or change us. That is the true value of travel.
When you and I head out into the world resisting all we see and experience and come home largely untouched but convinced we are wiser for the effort, we are still ignorant. If you and I stay at American or Western resorts in developing countries, remain safely in the confines of the pricey facility, we fail to learn what is available: the truth about widespread, terrible poverty, the lives of the people lived beyond our walls, the impacts of climate change on the farmers whose produce graces our lunch table.
Those issues lie alongside our protected experiences. We are far more useful to the world when we are willing to see the costs of our lifestyles, a truth far more important now than ever.
To that, being in the world, wherever we are, clinging tightly to the definition of the world as we know it out of the terrible fear that our ideas and understandings may indeed be misguided is how we perpetuate our ignorance.
Wisdom is, for my part, heading out only partially-formed, like this striding woman (a male version exists at a sister hotel in Santiago). She allows the winds and breezes and hurricanes of life and experiences to move through her. That which is important, forms more of her as she moves through her life.
That done, the next time she strides out for the next experience, she, and we, if we are wise, remain wide open to what is next.
This is as much a metaphor for Life as for travel, for they are one and the same.
One lovely sculpture, a thousand ideas. That is the beauty of art.
This dynamic idea is precisely why I push myself out into the world.
My interpretation doesn't make me right. However, as I see it, the willingness to allow the world, its cultures and experiences and vastly different landscapes become part of us instead of wash over us, is part of what Becoming is all about.
Art, whether in the form of protest songs or evocative memes, brilliant colors such as those which line the streets here in Valparaiso, all serve to teach us to see, to question. To Become, as it were, someone of the world, not just someone dwelling in the safe confines of what is known.
For to my mind, and in my limited experience, to stay with what we know is a great limitation. The more we face, the more we embrace, the more we are to each other.
With that, then, I plan to stride out into the world again today, open to what may come, and willing to acknowledge that, like this lovely woman, what I understand to be myself is merely scaffolding, in need of much learning.
Even if all I can do at the moment is limp, my mind still strides forward.
Art inspires. Embrace it, for it speaks to the ache in us all to evolve.
Dear Walkabout Saga Reader:
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