The Geographical Cure: Fantasy Realism or Fiction?
Updated: Jun 14, 2019
"You may wonder, "How can I leave it all behind if I am just coming back to it?" How can I make a new beginning if I simply return to the old? My answer lies in the return. You will not come back to the "same old thing." What you return to has changed because you have changed. Your perceptions will be altered. You will not incorporate into the same body, status, or world you left behind. The river has been flowing while you were gone. Now it does not look like the same river."
-- Steven Foster, The Book of Vision Quest
The Geographical Cure: Should You Be Gone With The Wind?
The Geographical Cure theorizes that you can escape your problems by relocating either permanently or as a digital nomad. This theory, the experts say, is pure bunk.
I am not a professional Joyologist, but my working hypothesis is that a temporary geographical relocation can be positive, transformative, and healthy.
Here are six reasons to be gone with the wind:
1. Escape Monotony and Routine
Let's face it, life is not always an aphrodisiac. Life can be monotonous, tedious, and sometimes seemingly brim-full with problems both big and small. This zeitgeist of modern life can produce feelings of apathy and powerlessness.
Often we're stuck in a rut of our own making or feel trapped by other people's expectations both at work and home. Sometimes the restraints are invisible, or even imaginary. In either case, with the passage of time, our brains overload and become akin to a yogurt alchemized protoplasm.
"If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it’s lethal." -- Paul Coelo
As evidence of this soul sapping homeostasis and our species' desire to escape it, I give you the booming and heavily saturated wellness and well being markets.
With travel, in contrast, you don't have to search, perhaps in vain, for self cures. With travel, well being is almost certainly the outcome.
Why? Because you get a psychic boost from disconnecting from your everyday routine or annoying office politics. The more mundane your routine, the greater the tonic of travel. If you're burned out or flickering fast in that direction, take the "inert" out of "inertia" and consider a travel escape. The point of traveling:
"isn’t to find ourselves, and it’s also not to run away from our problems, but it’s to lose ourselves: to ignore the rigid stories about who we are that so strongly define our daily lives; to become unconditioned from the mono-culture so deeply infused in our psyche that we forget that there are more ways to live than one; and to step away from the false subjective perception that insists that we... are at the center of reality and that what’s right here, right now, is the only thing that matters — a fact that’s almost laughable when you realize how small and insignificant you and your desires are in every place outside of your closed, intimate world."
2. Stimulate and Power Up Your Brain
Trade in your normal "conditions of living" for some extraordinary out-of-your-comfort-zone new stimuli. By switching things up, you rev up that metaphorically protoplasmicized brain. New input prompts your brain to be creative and make new neural connections, a concept called neuroplasticity or cognitive flexibility.
Routines can run on idle, but pursuing discomfort or following curiosity down a unexplored or divergent path has neurological benefits. Travel literally powers up your brain. So eat those Asian scorpions, get within a snake's strike zone, or find a proverbial hidden gem in Europe before they are extinct.
"That old saw about the glass being half full or half empty is dead wrong. What really matters is whether water is flowing into or out of the glass."
-- Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss
3. That Chemical Kick
Staying put is completely unsexy.
By contrast, there is evidence that we get a chemical kick from traveling, much like the effects of a drug. We go from the familiar to the unfamiliar. The change of scenery stimulates the rhythms of our brain and opens our minds. It can be intoxicating, inducing a semi-altered state of consciousness triggered by the sheer joy of encountering something new.
Watch me above playing above in the Roman Amphitheater in Arles France where there are suspiciously few tourists or guards. This is not my usual state of affairs. Sometimes life's dull as ditchwater or a bit of a struggle, depending on the random vicissitudes of family and fate. But, like drinking a magic potion, travel pumps in dopamine and dramatically improves my attitude.
4. Switch Off the Stress Button and Escape Your Problems
Under cross examination, I could probably be witness-badgered into admitting that running away from your problems is not always the best solution. In fact, it seems downright taboo in our current self-obsessed, get-to the-bottom-of it culture.
But sometimes disconnecting from the relentless internal straightjacket of your mind is ideal. Letting go of a mistake or trauma can be a healthy. And, at the risk of sounding cliche, sometimes "losing yourself" can give you time and space to heal.
The truth is that it is cathartic to empty out the over-occupied space of your mind and give it fresh room to roam. Ashes make great fertilizer and a better life may sprout from putting your problems to rest.
After some major surgeries that semi-halted my swimming career, I escaped to the Dalmatian Islands in Croatia and, predictably, came back happier and revitalized. Do you need a proper vacation for some freedom of the mind?
5. Rejuvenate and Transform
At its roots, travel is transformative. And no "travel transformation" or "authenticity" tour is required to get the desired result. Travel brings power, awe, and optimism back into your life.
Much of the time, through default or inadvertence, we sleepwalk through life. Travel awakens you from the slumber. The invisible restraints slip away and are replaced with curiosity and serendipity. Without the mind cluttering ingrained filters we all carry, you can squint and see the world anew.
You find beauty in small or unexpected things, and it stokes the dormant fires within. With newfound superman swagger, you may feel empowered -- as if you can cut through fog with a bright powerful light.
I don't want to dwell on the hackneyed experience of "finding yourself" (though you may desperately crave just that). That's not really the point for most of us.
The point is getting out of our suffocating black box and the confines of regular thinking. Once you step outside your own world, you may discover how un-special you and your problems really are as measured against a different spectrum of living. It can lead to a sense of thankfulness. That, in turn, may change your thought processes, life goals, or understanding of the world.
Dramatic stuff, you might say.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
-- Martin Buber
But when was the last time you did something for the first time? A beginner’s mind sees the world through the lens of possibility with the resulting excitement, enthusiasm, and anticipation. Enthusiasm is an elevating force and you shouldn't miss out on it.
A man dies for the first time, the day he loses his enthusiasm. -- Honoré de Balzac
6. It's Only Temporary
So the truth is that a geographical cure is not just the stuff of novels. It truly can work, and has worked for me time and time again. The intoxicating thing is that it is temporary. You're not "starting over" or rejecting your life; you're exploring. You're not relocating permanently; you're on an adventure far from the established canon of your daily life.
And the fantasy realism memories persist. When you (likely begrudgingly) return to your anchor, you can begin to dream about the next trip, and dreaming is a good counterbalance to the helter skelter potluck of life. Men, money and friends may come and go, but travel is forever.
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”
-- Pat Conroy