February 2014

I don’t get it

by Steve Brock on February 22, 2014

Wooster, Ohio SunsetOne of the most common points that has come up lately in discussions on meaningful travel is that travel is experiential. But the “experience” alone rarely comes with inherent meaning. Meaning is usually something we discover or come to understand after the event when we reflect. No reflection, no meaning, or so it seems in most cases.

So here I am 24 hours after snapping the above photo in a small town in Ohio. I was on a break between work meetings, wandering around the quaint downtown of this quintessential Midwest town thinking about how wonderful the trip has been: a fun location, a great boutique hotel, surprisingly good meals, wonderful company and positive outcomes of our meetings. The only thing left now was a final dinner and then the trip home.

One out of two went well.

Dinner was great at the home of a colleague who lives in this small town and was the reason why we met there.

Getting home? Let’s just say I made it back.

The short of it is that my flight was cancelled in the middle of the night before departure. It took two hours just to schedule a new flight out of a different city. I couldn’t drop my rental car in the new city, so that meant paying over $200 for a taxi ride for a colleague and me to get to the new airport. All of this resulted in my getting a little less than one hour of sleep that night.

Throughout this exhausted hassle, I kept clinging to the line that, “It’s not an adventure unless something goes wrong.” I half wondered, half prayed, “So God, what adventure do you have in store for me?” God didn’t say.

I ended up leaving from an unexpected city, stopping over in another unexpected city and eventually getting home. No life-changing conversations on either flight. No dramatic moments. No adventures. Just home.

So here I am – home – and I have two realizations.

First, I don’t get it. I don’t understand why any of these travel hassles occurred…yet. And that’s the key: I have to accept that reflection takes time. I just got back. I haven’t had enough time (nor sleep) to adequately process this. You can’t rush some things or, as I recently read in a comment by Brother Lawrence, the 17th century monk known for his humble pursuit of the presence of God, you can’t “go faster than grace allows.”

Second, not everything has to make sense. I want a bow tied and a pleasant little life lesson or moral attached to my every experience. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes we just have to live in the tension of not knowing and trust God to make sense of things later. And so I do.

*******

Fast forward one more day. I had a good night’s sleep and with it comes enough clarity. I still don’t get it all, for I suspect there is more to uncover. But this I do understand now:

I’m home. Nothing more than that. I made it home and am so thankful just for that often underappreciated blessing. Sometimes gratitude is its own destination.

I don’t have to understand what I’m not yet capable of understanding. I don’t have to get it all. In fact, yesterday, all I really needed to get was home.

And I did.

That’s more than enough.

 

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It all seems the same

by Steve Brock on February 14, 2014

I have this friend whose taste in music pretty much coincides with the popularity of bell bottoms and the culturally appropriate usage of the word, “Groovy.”

With the exception of maybe a few later Neil Young and Grateful Dead albums, his perception is that nothing good in music has been created post Watergate.

The funny thing is, when I play some more recent albums for him, he doesn’t say, “I don’t like that.” Instead, he condemns the current music with a casual, “It all seems the same.” He detects – or claims to – no discernible difference between The Black Keys, Mumford and Sons, Switchfoot and Vampire Weekend. I guess they all have male singers and guitars, ergo they all sound the same.

Hmmm.

I find it much easier to be baffled by my friend’s rather limited taste in music than to examine areas of my own life, but alas, I too have plenty of closed doors when it comes to the unfamiliar. I once read an art history book which captured it best. The author commented on how most people, when confronted with contemporary art reply, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” The author noted that a more accurate statement would be, “I don’t know art, but I like what I know.”

We’re all that way to varying. We like the familiar. How much we’re willing to embrace something new has to do with our sense of openness, or, as psychologists call it, our “openness to experience.” As Wikipedia defines it, openness to experience “involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.” To me, it’s really about how willing you are to try something new.

Some people are always open. Others, rarely so. The majority of us are somewhere in the middle. When it comes to popular music, my friend is about as open as an NSA report.

OpennessSo what about you? How open are you to listening to new music? Trying new food? Visiting new places? Meeting people who may be very different from you?

Why it matters is this: Without being open to the new, you may never discover what God put you on this planet not just to accomplish, but to enjoy. That may sound like a grandiose statement, but I think it’s true. I think a lot of people  go through life and miss their true lives by not being willing to stretch beyond the familiar.

What’s the number one regret people in their later years of life have? That they didn’t take more risks. They didn’t try new things.

Don’t wait until you’re too old to try something new. Practice openness. Do something different this week, whether it is taking an alternative route to work or school, trying a new dish, listening to a new music station or talking to a stranger. Just try it. Be open.

Because when you do, you may find something very curious about your life.

It doesn’t seem the same.

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A different look at Brugge

by Steve Brock on February 6, 2014

Brugge SunsetSpeaking of memories (as I was doing last time about Brugge, Belgium), bear with me on this little road trip down memory lane for one more post here on The Meaningful Traveler.

Last time I showed you several photos that represented some fond memories of the Belgium city. But this time, I want to show you a shot (above) of the most photographed view of the place. It’s like the overlook view of the Grand Canyon or Machu Picchu: everyone takes it.

So while there, of course I wanted my own little digital version of it as well. But not the usual. So what did I take? I photographed the same location everyone else does, but not the same subject. In this case, shooting late in the afternoon as the sun descended, my target wasn’t the usual canal or buildings or perhaps a passing boat. Instead, I focused on the sun itself as it turned everything else in the shot into silhouettes and shadows.

I’ll let you be the judge if it works as a photo. And yes I did add some texture to it in Photoshop to give it some added punch since the sky was pretty boring. But even if it is only a nice attempt, to me that’s a success. Why?

There’s great value in approaching the familiar with a new take just to create something fresh. But another benefit is that the exercise forces you to think about and see things differently. That, in turn, equips you to apply that new insight to other places and situations in the future (see, for example, my shots of Arches taken a month after this trip to Europe but also directly into the setting sun).

What started as a desire to not do the same old shot as everyone else now becomes another tool in my tool chest of photography, creativity and perception.

Creativity begets creativity. With ideas, it’s one area where more really is better. The more ideas you have, well, the more ideas you have. And better ones. Quantity leads to quality.

So go out and find a familiar sight. Then try to discover at least a dozen ways to photograph it, even if it is just with your smart phone. Not all (or even most) will be great. But the exercise will make you not only a better photographer, but a better traveler.

You will have expanded your visual vocabulary and that is definitely something that will come in handy on your next trip, or in life in general. It is just one step further along in helping you better see the world in a new way. And after all, isn’t that really one of the main reasons you travel?

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