Travel and Individuation

Travel and Individuation

I wrote this post for the Jung Society of Utah blog, based on a longer piece I authored here.

“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

T.S. Eliot

When I return home from traveling, my house always looks different. Intellectually I know that everything is just as I left it, but after being away, the most familiar place in the world to me seems “off” in some way, not how I remembered it. Maybe the shade of paint in the bedroom looks brighter somehow, I think. Or perhaps it’s the way the light from the kitchen window filters in across the table at this hour of day, a time when I’m not usually home. But as I roll my suitcase down the hallway, there’s an overwhelming feeling of alien unfamiliarity. Then I realize it’s me. I’m the element that’s been transformed during my time away.

Carl Jung traveled extensively, and used his experiences to gain greater insight into his own life. “I understand England only when I see where I, as a Swiss, do not fit in,” he wrote. “Through my acquaintance with many Americans and my trips to and in America, I have obtained an enormous amount of insight into the European character; it has always seemed to me there can be nothing more useful for a European than some time or another to look out at Europe from the top of a skyscraper” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.247).

Similarly, traveling has allowed me to meet a variety of fascinating people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. In conversation with each of these strangers, some of whom became my friends, I’ve enjoyed listening to and learning from their unique perspectives. I’ve also discovered shared interests, dreams, and goals, or common values. This has highlighted to me that we’re all very much the same at a fundamental level. All of the friends I’ve made in my travels have helped me become a more authentic version of myself in some way.

Travel has made me more honest and real. (Photo taken at a toy store in Florence, Italy).

In seeing more of the world through travel, I have also been able to step outside of my comfort zone and learn to enjoy new experiences and new people, despite my natural introversion. Successfully extending myself beyond the familiar has allowed me to feel at home even in places that seemed very different than what I’m used to. Through experiencing my adaptability in a way that I hadn’t before, I gained confidence, which has allowed me to feel safe and secure, even in troubling situations. This gave me even greater confidence and trust in myself, as I realized that I’ll always be able to navigate any situation I’m presented with.

To me, that’s what feeling at “home” is really about—being able to trust and have faith in myself and my capabilities regardless of the circumstances. If I have enough trust and faith in myself to confidently face and be present with whatever is happening right now, anywhere can feel like home.

Travel in the outer world may also guide one to inner exploration and greater wholeness.

I used to prefer thinking that it was possible to have all the answers, but travel has opened my mind to life’s mysteries. The more I experience of the world, the more I realize how much I don’t know. This is exciting because I love to learn new things—it’s become a huge part of what makes life interesting and worthwhile for me. I find peace in knowing that there will always be more to learn.

In the darkness and shadow of mystery, there is power and magic. During my time in Egypt I took a cruise down the Nile. One evening, just before sunset, the ship’s crew turned off the engines, lights, and music, and we all gathered on the top deck and waited. At dusk, the hazy gray sky burned yellow and orange as the sun sank into the glistening silver river. Away from any city lights, the palm trees and desert sand dissolved into the eerie blackness of 5,000 years ago, and it was almost as if I could feel the presence of Isis and Osiris, watching us from the riverbank. All was still and silent, but only for a few minutes. The deck lights came back on and the party resumed. Through enjoying the contrast of light and dark, knowledge and mystery, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for all the subtle forms of beauty and wonder in the world, which has heightened my creativity and intuition.

Sunset along the Nile.

Overall, travel can greatly contribute to individuation. In an article for The Guardian, journalist Jonah Lehrer writes, “We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.” I have always found that to be true.