“I’m not impressed.”
It is easily the ugliest modern attitude that gets expressed by this phrase. As an attempt at coolness and aloofness that does not result in any of the freedom that a certain distance from the humdrum world could provide, it is nothing but proving that you are not really engaged in this world, at home.
Life, and especially in these times, is amazing.
We have modern technology making things possible that people have, for the longest time, hardly even dreamed about. We still have so much diversity on this planet, both natural and cultural. We can do so many things, learn about so much, and so easily.
But then, that may be just the problem.
We have seen it all. TV brings news we can’t really care about; documentaries show far-away places that don’t have much to do with our lives, and wouldn’t even look as exciting if we traveled there ourselves; fiction presents worlds that are so much more interesting than the mundane drudgery of our everyday lives.
We have not really seen. We travel through landscapes, ensconced in metal artifices that insulate us from them; we journey through the city supposedly plugged into our own soundtrack, but really shutting out what impressions we would be getting from it, being there with all our senses.
Delving into virtual worlds, becoming someone (or even something) else by immersing ourselves into a book, learning more about this our world through careful study should not be underrated (and also, whether that is through a musty old volume or a digitally-enhanced iBook). We are the only species on Earth who can live and learn like that, through stories.
Learn another language, learn what we know of some aspect of this world, and a whole other way of seeing the world may open up to you.
There is also another side that needs to be considered, though.
When you only consume stories and experiences, it doesn’t matter if they are in books, movies, or even in your own travel to far-away places. They’ll leave some memory, but not really an impression. “Yeah, I’ve seen that, too. Been there, done that,” may be all. And a sad state of affairs.
A deeper engagement makes for a difference
One side of that lies with our being bodies. We are physical beings, experiencing everything through – indeed, as – a body. Heat or cold, a soft touch or an overpowering smell, a faint aroma and a strong taste – we only really experience it when we feel it and pay attention to what we are sensing. A lot of learning is going wrong on that point, because (especially in school) we learn in our heads, but not with our hands…
It makes a world of difference when you don’t just look at a place from out the windows of a car (or sightseeing bus, or whatever), but measure it in your own steps. Run the same circle, and it will not be the same. Notice not just how a place looks (same as on postcards or in the documentary series, if not more boring, probably), but touch and smell and hear it, and you develop a whole other relationship to it.
This is one of the reasons why, to get at home in a location, I like to run there. With a heart rate monitor, used not too much but being there, some attention is directed to my physicality. I measure the place in heartbeats and steps.
The other side of deeper engagement is locality. We, as physical, experiencing bodies, always find ourselves in a particular place. Take a side road, get off your usual paths, get lost, and even the most familiar places may suddenly capture your attention. There are probably some streets a few corners from where you live that would get you thinking “Whoa, I’ve never been here before.”
Learn something more, something to do or something about the place, and even the familiar may look different yet again. Check where you’ve been on a map, or using a GPS, and the place becomes a focal point of deeper engagement, looking at the distances you passed, and the world that surrounds you.
Both physicality and locality of one individual are brought together in an outdoors and sports instrument like the Suunto Ambit, which is why – after having used some of their training and GPS devices before, concurrently – I’m rather excited about this tool/toy.
What makes for the deepest engagement, however, is to bring body and place together not through mindful existence or motion alone, nor just through technology helping to realize and record their relation, but by connecting the two through a purpose.
Experiencing a route, not on the map but in real life, proving that it is possible to run all around an entire city in one go, seeking the most efficient and elegant way to get from point A to point B – all those can already be purposes for you.
Going to a place to learn and experience something that is typical of it, documenting your experiences to tell others of them (or just have a personal reminder), gives it yet further meaning. Using what you have learned for better, for yourself, other people, and the world at large, is better yet again.
Going out to find the new and exciting in familiar surroundings and situations can fashion an adventure in a place called home, same as the adventurous starts feeling more like home when it is more deeply and purposefully engaged with.
Life at home itself can be explored by experimenting with it. New recipes, new experiences, any relationships, they all really are adventures – if only we challenge ourselves to get out of the overly comfortable.
Just don’t say you are not impressed as long as you haven’t impressed yourself.