Strangers in Boxes

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Fear, isolation and lethargy are the common social plagues of our time. Social fear breeds within us right from our school days, where public embarrassment, bullying and popularity contests are often the status quo. Social isolation is manifested all through our adult working life as we sit side by side with the same co worker in the same office year in year out exchanging courteous hellos, or shallow small talk, knowing the layout of their desk better than we do the person. Groups of friends form in youth and gradually disperse as we inevitably progress into a monogamous relationship, a marriage and a family; and lose the drive to meet new people out with our little circles of comfort. We chose to share our world through a filtration of images, chosen words and self-promoting highlights and so develops social lethargy.

These three afflictions are nothing but normal products of our cultural surroundings. By changing the scene, we can change the picture and escape this madness.

Travelling is a fully enlightening experience. If you throw yourself in at the deep end, the rewards are incredible. There is no starker way to change your social surroundings than to stay in a community full of other like-minded curious travellers, free and open to new ventures. It was in one such place in Italy that I met my pack. In a matter of days, I was suddenly part of a community tighter than any circle I’d ever been a part of at home. We formed a group full of all sorts of crazy characters. Take Seb for instance, a gentle multilingual giant besotted with the natural world and, in particular, growing mushrooms from rotten wood. Jo was a spiritual, yoga enthusiast with whom I shared poetry and could divulge my inner most secrets, demons and desires. Wayne was a deep political thinker and highly intelligent hedonist masked in the gimmick of a football hooligan. Every one of us in fact was fascinating and inspiring in some way or another. There was never a lapse in conversation or a moment where I didn’t feel like I was discovering more and more about not only those around me, but about myself. We were on this journey of enlightenment as a unit. We’d spend every day together and huddle in a group embrace before dispersing to bed at night. We’d play guitar and write songs into the night, with the odd wander to the gelateria or local bar in between. It was a bond that felt intuitively natural, unforced and real.

Some might think travelling creates a synthetic environment, a base camp in a foreign land that forces travellers together out of necessity and acts as a refuge from loneliness. They might think our bond was not real friendship as one might have with lifelong friends at home, but a blip of necessity on strange soil. I disagree. I think such an environment scraps the social rules instilled by modern society, as we know it, and replaces them with a blank canvass upon which we can meet and bond with other humans, free and hungry like ourselves. This canvass enables us to behave in the way we’re naturally programmed and form real bonds with those around us, unobstructed by the pressures and fears of our culture. I grew to trust and love our pack in a matter of weeks. Undoubtedly, as time went by, we’d drift in different directions and onto new ventures, in and out of new circles, but we’d never forget the time we’d spent together and the bond we’d shared, so pure and removed from the churn of daily life back home.

If you want to feel like a harmonious part of the world, then this is the kind of venture for you. It’s the type of environment we’re supposed to thrive in and the one that fits our social profile as human beings. Upon returning home, I couldn’t believe the extent to which those three aforementioned plagues had separated our society and rendered us strangers to so many would be perfect pack mates.

We’re all wandering alone and scared in a crowd that collectively craves togetherness.

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