Thursday, 21 June 2007


My Sweetheart and I recently spent a fortnight on an idyllic Mediterranean island. I did some work while there, but mostly it was a nourishing break.

I don’t really do holidays. I’ve travelled quite a bit, but that’s different. Now I know that many ‘holidays’ (or ‘vacations’ to those who speak American English) also involve travelling. All of mine certainly do. But there’s something about travelling -- in the sense of visiting places you've never been before, broadening your horizons, that sort of thing -- that doesn’t let you completely relax. It's like that song 'Hit the Ground Running' by Bill Callahan:
I had to leave the country
Though there was some nice folks there
Now I don't know where I'm going
All I know to do is hit the ground running

I love to travel. One of the things I love best about it is described in another Bill Callahan song, 'I Could Drive Forever':
With every mile
A piece of me peels off
and whips down the road
All down the road
I should have left a long time ago
The best idea I've ever had
I feel light and strong
I could drive forever

Two years ago I backpacked through Viet Nam, on my own, for four weeks. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, thanks in no small part to the kindness and generosity of spirit of the Vietnamese people. But anyone travelling in a foreign country – especially alone – must always, to some extent, remain vigilant. Pickpockets and hustlers aside, everything is strange and unfamiliar. We don’t know how things work, we don’t understand the language, sometimes we don’t even understand the body language.

The I Ching tells us something about travelling, in Hexagram 56, which is formed of Fire over Mountain. Mountain, on the inside, is stable, strong, and steady; Fire, on the outside, moves. It’s about how to negotiate the role of a traveller; how to keep safe, and maintain your own integrity and roots, while moving through different cultures and situations.

When one is travelling, life is not stable, and everyone is a stranger. Moving from place to place is tiring, both physically and emotionally, and there are dangers. You are a wanderer, searching for something new: crossing borders, just passing through and not staying. You are on the move; the journey is in process, and you haven’t yet reached a destination.

This hexagram is about the need, when in new territory, to be clear and perceptive (Fire), and self-contained and cautious (Mountain).

The Decision is positive, promising good fortune, but most of the lines are negative. Many of them are about the dependence of the traveller on others: because he is at the mercy of others, he must be cautious and careful in his actions. Only two of the lines are really positive, and those are the ones with inherent inner stability and self-containment – and the best one speaks of finding a safe haven and trusted companions.

So travelling is not really about letting your hair down – despite the justified popularity of Full Moon parties (which are, I suppose, a safe haven with trusted companions).

But my holiday wasn’t Travelling. It had some of the advantages of travelling: I was nourished physically by exotic and exquisite food, and spiritually by the breathtaking beauty of the place…clear azure sea, fields of grain, goats grazing under ancient fig trees…

And although in an unfamiliar country, I was in a safe and comfortable place, with trusted friends, and my Sweetheart.
It was bliss.
I could quite easily get used to it.

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