It has become a public perceived human right (western world) to travel and go on vacation. As H.C. Andersen expressed it “to travel is to live”. In those days travel was closely interlinked with “Edification” a word and activity that sadly has lost much of its popularity and appeal in modern times – the times we live in.
These times have become the COVID–19 times or era more than anything else in the present (near present time and slightly past time). And COVID–19 has taken away our right as humans (civil right?) to travel wherever (almost) and whenever we want, or for most of us where and when we can afford it.
At the risk of starting a minor shitstorm, the majority of travelling (besides business travelling) has become about experiencing things over being edified. It has become more about being able to tell where you have been, than actually being there when you’re there, and showcasing your globetrotter aspirations on SoMe. Yes, yes I know, it is not true for all and it is an oversimplified heuristic.
So, what to do when you can’t travel? Is there any ever so slight upside or compensation to the obvious downside? Maybe there is if we dig a bit deeper than scratching the speedy surface of modern life.
There are other perspectives than that of H.C. Andersen on the topic of travelling and vacation. And since it is not even an option to travel, we should look to those who present other perspectives and examine if there are some alternatives we could benefit from in these (en) forced restrictive times.
There are several and I would like to present one of these in the form of some Stoic insights from Marcus Aurelius Antonius, Roman emperor and stoic philosopher in the last part of the stoic philosophy era (121-180). In his heritage, we find his “Meditations” a classical philosophical piece that actually lay dormant until approx. year 900, supposedly in the family keep and never published before that.
In book IV (modern: Chapter 4) section III “The Sanctuary” Aurelius makes some highly relevant thoughts available that also strikes relevance in our time.
The following are my comparative translations, interpretations and slight modernization of language of the Danish Edition translated from Greek 1930 and a UK edition translated from Greek by Meric Casaubon in 1634 [i] and subsequent edited editions.
“When people need a vacation, they withdraw/retire: they go to the countryside or to the seaside & beaches or up to the mountains. You also know the yearning for such resting places. But the entirety of that sensation is in its essence a big mistake because you have a place where you can retire – yourself.”
In excellent Stoic style he offers the long-term constant readily available alternative to escape your mundane everyday life surroundings:
“At whatever time you want, it is in your power to retire/withdraw into yourself and to be at rest and free from all businesses. A (hu)man cannot find a better sanctuary to retire than in our own soul; especially a human who possesses such a state of the soul may presently here find perfect ease and tranquility.”
And his personal coaching and advisory continue with a timely remote fragrance of mindfulness and mental yoga:
“Give yourself this present/gift of retiring to your own soul on a continual basis and often, and hereby refresh, rebuild and renew yourself. Less demanding and simpler will the life be that awaits you there and observe! Instantly the weight on your soul will lift and disappear so that you are a renewed human. When your vacation is over you can without offence or bitterness return to life, wherever duty calls you.”
For obvious reasons Aurelius had no idea of the virtual world or did he – the virtual sanctuary of our soul is not entirely far-fetched – an individual virtual sanctuary. A sanctuary where you chose your companions if even for a fleeting glimpse.
The virtuality potential pre-COVID largely underestimated has in many cases turned out to be in-COVID overestimated – virtual sociability is just that, only that, and not a substitute but only a supplement in the lack of the real thing – physicality.
What Aurelius gives us is another real thing that many of us has down prioritised, displaced, or in the worst case even forgotten (we all know what Peter Drucker says about knowledge and how perishable it is when it is not used, “The manager and the moron”, 1967[ii]). The art of introspection and contemplation we so rarely have “time” for when in the hamster wheel mode.
I leave you with the paragraph that follows your return to wherever duty calls you:
“By the way – offended? For what is it that you’re offended by? About the miserable state of humankind? Then remember this foundational sentence, that we are humans, we are creatures of reason, created for the sake of each other: and to endure is part of our duty; and, when folk cheat it is not (necessarily) on purpose; …”
So, the next time I dream of travelling I’ll remember that last part of the quotes “We are humans, we are creatures of reason, created for the sake of each other” and when I stray towards travelling (in-COVID–19) I will remember “to endure is part of our duty”. I will stay at home and rest in the sanctuary of my soul – guided by the advice of Marcus Aurelius Antonius Augustus. Naturally supplemented by an array of Zoom meetings and conversations on Clubhouse.
Instead of the commanding “Stay the f#ck at home”, my hope is that this short semanticisation in the Floridiean sense (Semanticisation requires not only meaning but also sense—and when sense breaks down, you have just logic-chopping, Luciano Floridi) will be seen as even a tiny light, a motivation and support in the present and the future post-COVID era – for it is always there, “yourself”.
[i] Translated out of the Greek by Meric Casaubon in 1634 as The Golden Book of Marcus Aurelius, with an Introduction by W.H.D. Rouse. It was subsequently edited by Ernest Rhys. London: J.M. Dent & Co; New York: E.P. Dutton & Co, 1906; Everyman’s Library. http://www.philaletheians.co.uk/study-notes/living-the-life/marcus-aurelius%27-meditations-tr.-casaubon.pdf Also available in different formats from Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2680
[ii] Peter Drucker, ”The manager and the moron”, December 1, 1967. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-manager-and-the-moron#