Friday, July 11, 2014

A Vision Quest – Reflection and Renewal

Five years into retirement, people I run into often ask what I do now, “ride my Harley all day?”

Forgetting that for most people this is like saying “how are you?” as a form of greeting, I usually respond that I write these essays.

Follow up if any, is “about what?” but the answer is too eclectic to express in passing.

Frankly, I’m puzzled at the numbers across the globe who read these essays.  For me they are about self-discovery and revelation.

One person who really did want to know probed yesterday into how I decide on the topic each day.

He was puzzled and maybe even surprised at a habit I formed at age 19.  Each morning after waking, now after an early morning walk, I try to spend just a few minutes randomly reading a few passages from some inspirational volumes.

Some date to when the habit formed, such as these two tiny, tattered books I bought in the late 1960s filled with things such as, As A Man Thinketh, and other essays written by James Allen, as well as speeches such as Winston Churchill’s “Never Give Up speech -

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honour…”

These books have been joined over the years by a collection of speeches and writings by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the King James version of the Bible, teachings of Confucius, the Book of Mormon, the diary and reflections of Marcus Aurelius or the Quran.

Some are historical by nature, such as the family heirloom, an 11-volume set entitled, The Story of Civilization, written by the Durant's between 1935 and 1975.

Never in sequence, I just open any one of them to a random spot and read, if only for ten minutes as I did this morning from a one I’ve read and re-read over the last fifty years, Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

Of course, the practice certainly isn’t unique.  I think I learned it from a friend, Bob Jensen, but these books feed me spiritually.

I can trace many of my poorest decisions to times when I was in too much of a hurry to feed this habit.

I read a few minutes from the books I mentioned not to judge them or their authors or as a zealot would, but because they center me.

Ultimately, the underlying thread tying them together, at least for me, is ethics.

I mentioned the Quran last on purpose, because I’m not Muslim.

It is just so different than most people think.  Many of the narratives evoke those similar in Jewish and Christian scriptures.  After all, it’s the same God.

Only when severely twisted and deformed by zealots, as many do with the Bible today, any of these scriptures can be remotely rationalized to condone what extremists do and have done for centuries in the name of their “faith.”

Americans get frustrated as we’re led running from one demon to the next. But any reaction to Muslims in general, instead of terrorism specifically, is because so many of us haven’t read what they believe.

Today, 37% of Americans have never left their hometown.  Nearly 6-in-10 have never lived anywhere other than their current state.

Nearly 12% have never even set foot outside their home state.

I have lived 60% of my life in two states, but like only 15% of Americans, I have lived in four or more states (seven in all, four in the first six years after forming that habit.)

More than 70% of North Carolinians, a state that adopted me 25 years ago, have never lived anywhere else, making it what researchers call the second most “sticky” state but also a “magnet.”

My bio-native state of Idaho, where my roots go back to before it even became a territory and given that name, is half and half, making it one of the top “magnet” states but not as “sticky.”

In the middle of the 1840s, all eight sets of my sixth-generation Mormon ancestors headed out over the Rockies thousands of miles away from their birthplaces to forge a new homeland along the slopes of 111th Meridian.

In the decades before, half of Americans moved.  In fact, 30% lived west of the Appalachians by 1824, and 40% or 7 million did by 1840.  But the area truly west of the Rockies would not reach that population until 1920.

Of course, this does not count members of 250 Native American tribes in the Far West who were divided up into nearly two dozen distinct language groups.

By 1850, my ancestors were joined by 3,000 others who had begun spreading out over 1,100 miles of the Rockies, and there were another 8,000 people living in Salt Lake City.

The population of the Far West was just reaching 179,000 people, 3/4th of whom were in California or New Mexico.  That was only .7% of the nation’s population spread over nearly 900,000 square miles, twice the area of the original 13 colonies. 

But Henry Ford’s great-grandson, reminds us in a TED speech, that in the decades before the Ford Model T, Americans rarely ventured more than 25 miles from home during their lifetime.

Back when I was just put in charge of my first community destination marketing organization in 1975, half of all Americans had never flown on a commercial airliner.  Even today, 30% of Americans have never flown.

Of those who do fly, nearly half don’t in any given year, primarily due to the hassle it has become.

That’s what makes the prophet Muhammad particularly impressive.

In his early 20s, he was living at a time roughly midway between the looting of Rome by Visigoth terrorists and militants and the birth of my 38th great-grandfather Charlemagne, who would turn the corner on the Dark Ages of Western Europe.

Back then, Muhammad was a business manager for trade caravans working 3,000-mile trade routes running high along the eastern slopes of the Sarawat Mountains that rise abruptly to 12,000’ from the Red Sea.

North, the routes ran during the summer, south during the winter and to and from what are now Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Gaza, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

During the time of his first visions, Muhammad had long been gleaning narratives, beliefs and ethical codes from a diversity of faiths along the full length of these journeys and during the merchant fairs at each stop.

Of course, one doesn’t have to travel today to broaden his perspective and get spiritually renewed, especially when so many places have exchanged integrity and authenticity for the turnoff of lines/crowds, consumption, fantasy and sameness.

Even the reflection and renewal I find each dawn as I loop through heavily wooded Rockwood Park resting at the base of two converging ridgelines where I live not far from downtown Durham is validated by science.

Research conducted both before the Great Recession and six years later shows that it greatly accelerated the paradigm shift in the kinds of destinations Americans prefer, now trending more toward “places that are restful and relaxing” being a priority with activities “off the beaten path.”

Even those intent on activities are looking for things “out of the ordinary,” with more than 3-out-of-4 seeking to “relax and unwind,” and 6-out-of 10 seeking to “learn something new.”

Even the vast majority of those planning to splurge seek less stress, enrichment, engage with loved ones and avoiding crowds.

Couple this with findings that 73% of visitors participating in activities, attractions and events prefer real or authentic experiences compared to the 21% who prefer fantasy, and the road to destination appeal is clear.

Travel, no matter how far, at its best can be what Dr. Scott Russell Sanders calls a “vision quest” in his essay, “The Geography of Somewhere,” where I was in the audience when the speech was first delivered.

In part, my early morning habit is a vision quest.  So are the essays I post on this blog.

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