I am currently sitting in my car looking out onto the beautiful mountainous range of the Utah landscape that rests just outside of Zion. Recently, I have had to reconfigure my understanding of the concept of traveling and reassess the reasons to why I travel. My understanding was changed dramatically when I broke down a certain ideology that I have always held true when I have traveled in the past. I call this the photography ideology. A huge motivation for me to travel was oriented towards the action of taking photographs. I held this ideology very dearly entering into this specific trip because I had recently been getting positive feedback from others regarding my pictures. I think I embraced those positive comments in an emotional way because of my desire to engage in art of my own and create my own art. In this past school year, I have spent a lot of time with some inspiring artists. From spending time with them, I myself was encouraged to begin to create art of my own. Thus, I have recently began dabbling in journalistic writing and photography. When Christian and I were in Yellowstone, I found myself being relatively frustrated and feeling in a funky mood. I questioned why this is and I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t enjoying the present moment enough. I then proceeded to question what is causing that lack of present appreciation. I concluded that my lack of appreciation for the present had some correlation to me taking photographs and journaling my experiences.
Since Christian and I left for this trip, I have been taking photos in an obsessive manner. It seems that my sole desire for this trip has been to capture images of even the smallest details of where we have been. When I made the realization that my desire to take photographs was dominating my other motivations of why I came on this trip, I decided to put my camera in my case and not take photos for the rest of the day (this was Saturday at Yellowstone). At that moment, Christian and I sat at the Solitary Geyser up in the mountains. And instead of taking pictures, I closed my eyes and inhaled the tolerable scent of the sulfur. When I opened my eyes, I saw the water bubble and explode, to which it then sent small waves onto the land. It was so much more of a spiritual experience than it was if I was to just take a picture.
The following day, Christian and I drove through Idaho and Utah. We passed the Grand Tetons as well as some amazing mountains in Utah in addition to a magnificent sunset. And yet I chose not to take any pictures. I accepted the challenge I gave myself to take minimal pictures and thus, I did so. When I resisted my urge to take pictures, I quickly became antsy. My antsyness derived from my urge to capture every detail. If I didn’t capture every detail, I felt as if I would forget what I had seen. I feared that I would lose that memory forever. I think I was feeling that way because of the photography ideology that have developed over my traveling experiences. And then, as a friend of mine had encouraged me to do, I questioned my motives for why I take pictures. What I found was that my obsession with taking pictures wasn’t about creating new art to present to the world (which is a positive motivation), but that it was related to my “hoarding” mentality. When I say hoarding mentality, I am referring to the tradition among some of my family members who believe that it is okay to store up as much stuff as possible. In these family members’ houses, there is a plethora of junk. This junk had meaning to them at one point in their life, but doesn’t any more. The other reason why they keep these items is for “just in case.” I must admit myself that I do the same sometimes. When I was taking photos and journaling every minor detail in an obsessive manner, I was trying to hoard the experience and the setting. I was trying to steal every possible thing I could from this one location. I was taking and robbing the land of its dignity and its essence. And for me, that seems not okay. I was acting no different than a missionary with a savior complex or a CEO establishing an off-shore industry. I was saying, let me come over here and impose my philosophies and ideologies and take as much as I can to store up for my personal heaven. I then left the land to deal with the humility and degradation I had just enacted on it. With my obsessive photo taking, I am pillaging the spirit from the land.
When one acquires something, that person either acquires it by taking it for oneself or by receiving it as a gift. I felt as if I was not just taking from the land, but that I was stealing from it. Stealing tends to include taking something away without any regard for the place it was taken from. When one receives something, it is because the host exercised discernment and decided that the gift was worthy enough for the receiver and the receiver was worthy enough for the gift. There are many times in which one receives a gift without even expecting it. Some gifts are only granted to a person if that individual is acting in humility. I wasn’t entering into Yellowstone in a humble manner. I just came in with my missionary mentality, expecting an experience as I took a piece of its spirit without any consideration or regard for my host. And I did this all for the purpose of taking it to bring back and hoard.
It seems as if my purpose for traveling and stepping out was all to conclude in me coming back home. I take these detailed photos and I write a ton about what I did because I want to be able to reflect back on my experiences or show people the cool things I saw. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but if it’s restricting me from enjoying the present, I won’t have much of an experience to look back on anyway. This is because I didn’t engage in the experience or the nature like it was a piece of art. Instead, I remained distant and unattached from it and just took from it. Another reason why I am worried about capturing so many details is because I am conscious of the possibility of how the trip and what I saw will benefit me in the future (whether that be having a good story to tell, applying for something or figuring out where I am going to live). The problem with that worry is that I am not fully present in the present. Through this motivation I am trying to control the situation and control my future. This past semester in school, all of my plans were shattered. I have learned to control my future less, plan less and to be open to all possible existences. By capturing every detail of my trip with the motivation of how those details will benefit my future is a contradiction to the lesson that I have learned in a very intense manner.
I would like to propose what traveling is, at least for myself. Traveling is stepping out. I step out of my front door and there is an experience out there that I have the blessed opportunity to engage in. It’s art. And instead of taking from this experience, I must give to it. I want to wholly and utterly give myself to this new experience and this new setting that I am in. Minimal connection to the present world (social media, family and friends who are not with you) and no connection to the future. I want to lose myself. I want to get lost in this new land and this new paradise. Heaven is already present. Heaven and paradise are not when we die. Paradise is here and now. This is something Rob Bell says in Love Wins. He also says, “Everything is Spiritual.” This goes back to engaging in each experience like it is art. And when I journal or take photos, I shouldn’t do it out of greed. I want to do it in a manner that gives to this experience and creates more beauty within it. I want to do it in a manner in which I am participating with God in the creation of more art.
Another important facet of this traveling philosophy is that I give myself holistically to this experience, without expecting anything in return. Humility is required. If a certain people group invites me into their abode, I want to challenge myself to enter in without a camera. I don’t want to create boundaries between myself and them as if I were observing them and their mannerisms. I want to go in and give myself to them and the experience and become one with them. I want to fall in love with them. When I travel and worry about the detailed photos and notes I am going to take so that I can hoard it, I am never really stepping out. I never really left the house. It’s not much different than looking up pics on Google (which is another reason why I don’t need to take that many photos because people can do that all the time). Stepping out is losing regard for the home and making this new place the new home. It’s important not to have hatred for the old home though (although I do understand there are some very legitimate reasons of why anger and resent could be for a certain place) (and maybe that’s a home you need to get away from or it was never a home) (I need to do a lot more thinking on what makes up a home although I’m sure that understanding will come in time).
I love how Christian said that we don’t even need to tell others about our experience. Some people won’t care, others won’t relate. But, we shouldn’t feel pressure or an obligation to bring these experiences back home. In reality, we lost a part of ourselves out there. The receiving part of all of this is that we might find a new part of ourselves out there. But, I shouldn’t expect that gift or try to go take something and claim that as a gift. What I am writing and learning is a new part of myself that I have never had before. It’s a gift granted to me by the land we have traversed upon. I didn’t deserve it, but I was blessed with it. Thank you.
To read Pt. 2: What is Traveling? Pt. 2