“The people listen to the travelling monks, but not to the local monks.”
ShamanGal’s father was born in China, so he remembered that proverb when introduced to the work of Brené Brown. Apparently, it’s only four characters long in Chinese.
I took it to mean the same thing as “No one is a hero in their hometown.” Experts in perception tell us that we quickly get habituated to the conventional, not examining it, so it is the novel, the outside voice, the different that we notice.
That’s a fundamental part of business communications, too. Staff get used to internal communications, but when they hear the same message in different media, they perk up their ears. That’s why the head of Scandinavian Airlines knew he had to get on the mass media to get the attention of his employees.
Our job, says Joseph Campbell, is to tell the old stories in new language. The fundamental wisdom about human nature hasn’t changed in centuries or in miles, but because we have found ways to fade those messages into the common noise of culture, those messages usually get lost in our consciousness. We go for the comfortable instead of the challenging.
The trouble with man is twofold.
He cannot learn the truths which are too complicated;
he forgets truths which are too simple.
— Rebecca West
One of the best ways to tell the old stories in new language is to find the deep wisdom inside of our very personal experiences. Truths that have been lost in the background of our own history often pop into sharp relief when we find them in the story of another.
Put it before them briefly so they will read it,
clearly so they will appreciate it,
picturesquely so they will remember it, and, above all,
accurately so they will be guided by its light.
— Joseph Pulitzer
In the end, all we have to offer is our own experience and understanding how the big shared world looks from where we stand. Our contribution is never absolute truth, as the only absolute truth anyone knows is that “All is nothing, nothing is all,” which is true, but doesn’t really move the discussion forward, but rather the contribution of our unique experience of the world.
The gift of seeing the world through the eyes of another is the gift of illumination. What is taken for granted, understood as obvious and has become invisible to people around here suddenly becomes clear when seen in contrast through the different viewpoint of another.
To come into relationship only to speak and not to listen is to maintain the structures of our own ego. Hearing the stories of others, taking in their experience, offering empathy for their feelings, and glimpsing their truth makes our own internal landscape more clear, showing us what to value and what we need to lose because it blocks our growth.
I know that people can see me as a travelling monk, my experiences different to theirs but my stories still resonating with them. I know that by always being ready to engage other travellers I have met along my path, I have come to know myself better, taking that inner journey. I know that these two things are the essence of my illumination, being enlightened by getting clear and offering light that clears the space for continuous common humanity.
Repetition isn’t a bad thing, as I was reminded just this week, just another way of stating the obvious in a way that grounds connections, another lesson I learned by opening to other travellers.
We can no more see our own heart than we can see the back of our own head. We discover our own heart by seeing it reflected in the hearts of others. That’s what travel does, open opportunities for that reflection, be it our own travel or sharing the stories of travellers who pass our way.
When we see ourselves in the stories of others who we first thought were not like us, we see ourselves in a new way, even as we know we are the same person we always were.
Old stories, new language. Unique personal experiences, deep shared wisdom.
Thank you, travelling monks.