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What if You Treated Traveling as an Experiment?

by Ian MacKenzie Apr 15, 2009
Unconventional philosopher talks about how to make life (and travel) more mindful.

Let’s say you have 20 minutes. You sit down in the middle of a room and tune into the silence. You’re aware of the slightest sounds.

Then…you start speaking your first name out loud.

You play with the different sounds of the word that is your name. Lengthen the vowels. Stress the syllables. Maybe even imagine the word as if it hovers in the air in front of you.

After a while, you might get the feeling you are being “called.” Who is doing the calling? A very existential question. Your voice begins to appear as an “other,” almost a double. Who is this person, you ask?

This is the first experiment that philosopher Roger-Pol Droit describes in his book: Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life

I recently came across an article on Droit, written by Richard Handler, exploring his unconvential ways of stepping outside the mundane.

As a philosopher, Droit is very much under the influence of Eastern philosophy. His intention is to “provoke tiny moments of awareness.” These tiny moments can take a few minutes, a few hours or the rest of your life.

Other experiments mentioned in the article: Peel an apple in your head. Imagine your imminent death. Telephone someone at random. Try to feel eternal. Watch somebody sleeping. Shower with your eyes closed. Become music. Try to measure experience.

All these tasks are meant to provoke a change in the way you see reality.

In fact, the life that we see before us is so obvious, so seemingly boring, that it escapes comprehension almost all the time. That’s the point of the increasing emphasis on what is often called mindfulness, which is sifting through our culture, be it in our gyms and yoga studios, or in psychological journals and certain TV cop shows.

As a traveler, you may think that you’re already challenging your reality. Anytime you step into a new culture, you’re forced to re-evaluate yourself, to hone your awareness.

But as any meditator knows, being mindful is hard work. Thoughts continue to invade your psyche whether you want them to or not. Says Handler:

Paying attention to what’s in front of us takes patience and fortitude. Just try counting to 10, or eating a single raisin, and see if you don’t get distracted by your fitful “monkey mind.”

The good news? It get’s easier with practice.

Similarly, if you were to attempt all 101 of Droit’s experiments in his book, I suspect stepping outside of the mundane would become second nature.

What other ways of experimental travel have you tried? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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