“The soul is no traveller.”
This bit of apocryphal nonsense comes to us from the venerable Ralph Waldo Emerson, who goes on to talk about the “superstition of travelling”.
The benefits of travel are imagined? If that’s the case, I’ve wasted my life. Passport stamps are pretty much my biography.
Emerson criticizes his fellow Americans for rambling abroad to soak up culture. If we had any “self-culture”, he said (over 150 years ago), we wouldn’t clamour for a fix of Rome or Montmartre or Epidaurus.
The essays in Emerson’s (recently republished) “Self Reliance” preach hard against imitating. A person is a country unto himself, he says. We ought to grow a culture unique to the needs of our own inner and outer geography. Existence wants us “as is”. But we don’t trust our own “isness”. We hold up Olde English, or Tuscan, or Classical Greek as the ultimate “isness”. “But,” says Emerson…
“Those who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth.”
Culture evolves around those who stay in one place, who insist on being themselves, says RWE. This would be the creative crucible for originality in music, architecture and food. England-Italy-Greece: cheddar-parmigiano-feta. Is that what Emerson is saying? And the soul much prefers its own cheese – so why leave home to nibble on other milk products, however well they might be cultured?
Fine – I get the point – authenticity arises from within. What I don’t buy is that soul has preferences. Soul is more like a quality of being (anywhere). It signifies a state of awareness. Just like meaning, soul isn’t a “thing”. It’s not some cheesy substance, and therefore…
Soul cannot be the subject of a sentence!
The soul is no traveller? That’s nonsensical. Yet we continue to eat up all this soul-talk. We desperately need a radical switch in perception.
Soul is the journey observing itself. (It’s more like a verb.)
From Berlin to Byron Bay to Buenos Aires (or staying right here in the West Coast rainforest), soul is recognition of the underlying truth of things. It’s the acceptance of that truth. If we insist on subjecting the S-word to nounhood, let’s call it our “spiritual self-confidence”.
And what better way to develop such a thing than by breaching the barriers of our comfort zone.
By hitting the road.