3 Lessons from the Travel Fellowship
- Spirituality exists in the everyday
Before the travel fellowship, I had always seen spirituality as religion taken to the extreme (I now know it is about the process of finding the meaning of life). It was retreating into the wilderness for decades to learn more about life, giving up all desire for the material world. Spirituality was always a mystery to me, despite all that I have learnt through the common curriculum. Especially at this point in my life where I am wondering about the different stories of people living their life to the fullest, I wonder if there is some sort of commonality between all the stories I have heard. What common points are there between Mother Theresa, a random travel blogger and a monk in exile? Spirituality seemed like it could be the answer to my questions.
But what I learnt on the travel fellowship is that the best kind of spirituality is also the most common kind of spirituality. The one that exists in every day in the lives of people, hidden in plain sight in thoughts, actions and habits. It is living in accordance with the values one has and “upgrading” oneself. It sounds easy theoretically but translates into lifestyle choices that make a huge difference in daily life. Take, for example, meditation. It helps one to ponder and to find “inner peace”. Most of us have heard of its benefits but not all of us can do it. A few friends of mine who practice meditation tell me that they had struggled to mediate regularly in Yale-NUS for various reasons and are looking to include it back into their daily lives. These “upgrades” such as Meditating ( or any other spiritual actions) tend to be neglected in our daily lives due to various reasons. According to the Eisenhower metric1, these spiritual actions are urgent but not important and thus we tend to procrastinate on it due to the lack of time-pressure. This neglect results in our suffering, feeling like a part of us is incomplete. One way to reverse it is to simply be aware that it is important and hence we need to make it a priority
In this 6 weeks after the travel fellowship, I think the lessons I gained on spirituality is something that is rubbing off into my daily life. Most of the lessons are like salt in caramel. I can’t verbalise it well, but it’s working its magic on my life regardless. I have grown more mindful of my thoughts and actions, making sure that my actions reflect my intentions.
(1) For all the procrastinators out there, here’s an interesting article on procrastination and the Eisenhower Matrix: https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/03/procrastination-matrix.html
For the uninitiated, the Instant Gratification Monkey is the part of your brain that makes you procrastinate—he’s a primal part of you who lives to maximize the ease of the present moment.
2. Travel in order to grow in different aspects
Travelling puts one in a different state of mind due to the vulnerability of one’s self and the uncertainty in everything. That vulnerability manifests itself in confusion and mishaps, such as getting the wrong station despite checking online multiple times. But it also makes me more open to new experiences or to view an experience differently by making me more alert and receptive to the things around me and to my senses. Because of this altered state of mind, I got to see my teammates in a different lens and learn more about them beyond what I know from school.
Moreover, travelling has enabled me, an outsider to the societies I visited, to see the issues in that society that I have missed in Singapore. During the travel fellowship, I was particularly surprised by my curiosity towards the human rights in Asia (sparked by the treatment of Tibetans by the Chinese government) and the environmental impacts of travelling and tourism at large. These were areas that I did not expect to have such a burning curiosity towards and I am now better informed due to the trip.
Travelling, in general, is also a good way to just broaden our worldview. Different people will have different world views broadened but for me, my perspective on food has really widened. Food is a crucial part of travelling-being able to have an authentic local meal at the pace of the city/town is one that videos cannot replicate. At our current technological levels, I don’t think my experience of sitting in a small Chongqing noodle stall eating spicy noodles at a lightning fast pace of fewer than 10 mins or having Tibetan noodles on a carpeted couch in a small alley with Tibetan tea and cigarettes is replicable. I think the local’s relationship with food is a clear reflection of the culture as it involves human interaction, food production of the region, the spending power of the consumers and the needs of the people. Food can reveal so much about a place, but it isn’t just about the food. It is the entire experience of sitting in an eatery surrounded by the locals that are the experience I savour, be it in an expensive restaurant room or in a small alley.
3. Rethinking what culture means
Culture is a funny thing to think about.
I identify strongly with Chinese culture in Singapore: I celebrate all the major Chinese festivals, and have a decent understanding of Chinese history. I speak in Mandarin and am no stranger to Chinese traditions such as calligraphy or tea appreciation. Even then, I didn’t feel in place with China and its culture the whole time I was there. I felt like a green apple in a sea of red apples. Sure, I could blend in with the crowd and I was mistaken for as Northeastern Chinese many times. Just like how a green apple is evidently different from a red apple though both are apples, the Chinese culture was one that I could not identify fully with. Huge crowds no matter where we went, shady looking buildings exteriors and the split children pants are just a tad too much for me, even though I had expected it. Having been to different parts of China I can safely say the china is indeed diverse. Even the cities we visited during the travel fellowship is evidently different. Xian and Tibet have such different cultures that I felt like I was in a different country. I think even Singapore and Malaysia are more similar to each other. Because of this cultural diversity, I think I was surprised when a few people we have met on the trip told us that Singapore and China are the same: we all share the same ancestors. I suppose the Chinese value ancestry and race over nationality which is why Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong are points of contention for the Chinese Government. But being a good common curriculum student, I just could not resist the urge to ask: If ancestry means so much, then we don’t we all just identify as African?
Culture is this ever-changing thing, and UOB ads are right that every generation defines itself.
We understand that even though each generation expresses themselves differently, the same values define us. Find out more at http://uobgroup.com/rightbyyou