I think all of us think from time to time about the wonders of travel, meeting new people, adventures, new places, and different perspectives with which we can live our lives with new eyes. Traveling has a sort of enchantment attached to it. The mysterious allure of meeting someone or somewhere for the first time and not really knowing what to expect has the effect of charming just about anyone.
Interestingly, thinking about the topic today, I stumbled upon Seneca’s letter to Lucilious On travel as a cure for discontent. I had already read it before, but each time I grab the book, new perspectives pop up like newly grown plants.
Traveling is a topic that has always occupied a place in my mind and I’m sure it’s the same for you. Have I done enough? Where should I go next?
This is especially true in a world in which you open Instagram and find out that apparently everyone is traveling all the time. Travel has been elevated to a necessary and almost spiritual experience.
Here is an excerpt from Seneca about traveling:
“The person you are matters more than the place to which you go; for that reason, we should not make the mind a bondsman to any one place” –Seneca, Letters to Lucilious
His thoughts on traveling are pretty precise, he disregards travel completely as something ultimately necessary to live a complete life.
“I am not born for any one corner of the universe, this whole world is my country” Seneca, Letter to Lucilious
According to Seneca, you cannot use travel as a cure to your soul’s discontent.
The kind of discontent Seneca talks about can be felt when you open Facebook and see someone posing happily on a photo in Bombay or some other exotic place and think to yourself that “if only you were there”, you would finally be able to be happy and content with yourself.
Seneca argues that you could, in fact, go to the place you’ve been dreaming about, but you would still feel the same because the problem is not your lack of experience, but the relationship you currently have with yourself.
No amount of travel in the world will cure that discomfort. A wise man will feel at home wherever he is.
I’m not sure if Seneca knew this himself, but writes with acid humor that preserves all seriousness nonetheless. Superb writer indeed. There comes a point in his letter to Lucilious where he goes as far to claim that a wise man will feel at ease and at home, no matter what, no matter where. Even at “The Forum” he says. Downtown Rome at the time, where it is loud, smelly and full of people, sort of like living in the worst place you can imagine and feeling at home there.
This follows the principle that happiness and a worthy life can never be found outside of oneself, always inside. To think otherwise is to remain a slave to the circumstances or events outside ourselves and our control.
Live with this belief: “I am not born for any one corner of the universe; this whole world is my country.” If you saw this fact clearly, you would not be surprised at getting no benefit from the fresh scenes to which you roam each time through weariness of the old scenes. For the first would have pleased you in each case, had you believed it wholly yours. As it is, however, you are not journeying; you are drifting and being driven, only exchanging one place for another, although that which you seek, — to live well, — is found everywhere. — Seneca, Letters to Lucilious
So I shouldn’t travel then?
If you find yourself asking this question, you haven’t quite grasped it yet.
The wise man prefers to be at peace than at war, but he will endure war nonetheless.
This is not an excuse for not traveling. Traveling, in itself, is an amazing experience that everyone should do at least once in their lives. Anything that exposes you to new perspectives, new ideas, and gratefulness for being alive should be done or at least procured. Nevertheless, not being able to travel at some point in your life is not an excuse not to live and enjoy your life as it is right now.
The thought of “I cannot be happy because I haven’t done this or that yet” is the same excuse, at least in principle, as “I cannot be happy because I don’t possess all the money in the world”. This way of thinking is a never-ending cycle and the problem is the way of thinking itself.
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”
The joys of traveling will be infinitely more rewarding if you do it with the right disposition so stop drifting and being driven and begin to live where you are now, home.
A great complement to this read: Sound Minded
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