“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains,” (Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust, p. 13).
I was recently talking with someone about culture and trying to figure out how to understand different challenging interactions. I was starting to realize that in any cross-cultural interaction, at least 4 different factors need to be considered, my personality, my culture, the host culture, and also the sub-culture I am interacting with (or the personality of a particular person I am interacting with).
I have driven myself crazy sometimes, trying to analyze how much each of these different factors is contributing. At other times, I have tried to change my personality to try to “fit” into the culture or sub-culture, which doesn’t really seem to work.
Realizing that there are so many different factors at play in any interaction does give me a better appreciation of how complex interpersonal and cross-cultural interactions really are, and it gives me pause to not feel as much like I need to “figure it all out,” and to try to let myself understand things as I go along.
I received a card awhile back that has the following quote on it, “We cannot discover new oceans until we have courage to lose sight of the shore.” I suppose this is kind of the dilemma of my feeling that I need to “figure things out,” that I keep trying to chart the map at the same time that I am exploring the “ocean,” and these are two contradictory things, as one really needs to get lost before one can find something new. The challenge is allowing myself to feel lost for awhile to learn, rather than at the first sense of feeling lost trying to immediately find my place on the map.
I was just reading Emerson’s “The American Scholar,” and there is a section where he talks about how when one is in the midst of an experience, and for a variable time after the experience, that one is blind to the true meaning of it, but that it is only at some undetermined later point that suddenly experience becomes clear, understandable, and also a part of one’s life story:
“The new deed is yet part of life, – remains for a time immersed in our unconscious life. In some contemplative hour, it detaches itself from life like a ripe fruit, to become a thought in the mind. Instantly, it is raised, transfigured; the corruptible has put on incorruption. Always now it is an object of beauty, however base its origins and neighborhood. Observe, too, the impossibility of antedating this act. In its grub state, it cannot fly, it cannot shine, – it is a dull grub. But suddenly, without observation, the selfsame thing unfurls beautiful wings, and is an angel of wisdom. So is there no fact, no event, in our private history, which shall not, sooner or later, lose its adhesive inert form, and astonish us by soaring from our body into the empyrean.”
I guess things will always make sense at some point, but this understanding is always a function of the past and not the present experience. What I didn’t expect in moving to New Zealand was that I would spend so much time bumping into myself and finding myself exploring “the mind,” when I really wanted a break from that for awhile and sought to go out and “explore the world.” That is Solnit’s point, and Emerson’s as well, perhaps, that to go out into the world is to explore one’ Self.