In the first week of March, I was busy dreaming about Bir – the mountains and monasteries, the mystic morning light, and cups of milky tea, when my phone buzzed with a message from Booking.com. They said that in light of COVID19, they were happy to let me cancel my reservation for free. After sulking for an hour – I did.
Ain’t no one too cute for Corona
Even if we can withstand the infection – it’s selfish to not think about people around us. About parents or people with impacted immune systems. And so, avoiding travel, which is not urgent, is the conscientious choice to make. We’ve done it when there are budget or time constraints. We’ve done it because duty or family called. So why not now when our communities need us?
That’s not to say that we must give shoulder to the wheel of life, and not shrug. In other words – breaking free of our daily routines, experiencing the new, and indulging ourselves every now and then, is all part of what the doctor ordered (More on the science of why we should travel is here).
My argument is we can try new habits or activities which give us as much of a kick as traveling. This is possible because of the brain’s enjoyment of everything new and shiny. That’s what drives our love for travel. Because what else is travel but a cluster of novel experiences? A jump off our hamster wheel life?
And so, we can attempt a cluster of new experiences without changing pin codes. This is possible because, as per psychologists, when the brain says, “I need a break,” what it means is “I need change.”
Let’s spend some time understanding this. Imagine a commuter on the way to work. There’s crazy traffic – like on Delhi’s Outer Ring Road. The commuter starts to get fidgety, frustrated, and then angry. It takes longer than usual to reach the usual destination (or achieve the regular result).
That’s the brain using its usual neural pathways.
Now, let’s think of the commuter taking an alternative route to work. She is curious about the new route, alert, and excited to see if it helps her reach on time. In the end, she beats the traffic, enjoys a smooth drive, and has discovered a quicker/scenic/easier route to the daily goal.
That’s the brain firing new pathways.
With these activities, which are both fun and meaningful, we can encourage neuroplasticity. Give ourselves a change (= break). And get that travel-high without changing postcodes or breaking the bank.
Sold? Here are my top 5 suggestions.
1) Do an online course:
Udemy has courses in Neuroplasticity, Arts Therapy, and Investing in Stocks.
There’s also Skillshare – if you want to do poetry on Instagram, or mixed media art or just learn how to crochet dresses.
For the more academically inclined there are platforms like edX, Coursera and Khan Academy. Even LinkedIn does short vocational courses on everything from Humour in the Workplace to Video Script Writing.
Remote learning and working are the order of the day – so why not take on a subject or a hobby you’re curious about? Apart from how it makes your CV look, it’s just fun to do.
2) Curate a Film Festival at home:
A self-curated movie binge can be a close second to getting lost in foreign lands.
You could find yourself getting used to life in an ashram – swotting mosquitoes and swiping floors with Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. Or chuckling over pasta and sizzling chorizo with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip to Italy or The Trip to Spain. I am still infected by Samin Nosrat Fateh’s fascination with salt in her epic Netflix series where she travels to different locations to understand what she calls the 4 basic elements of great food (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat).
These are my recommendations. Pop some corn, grab some fizz, dim the lights and off we go.
3) Do a Home Spa:
If you’re a luxury traveler who misses the resort spa – there’s no need to deny yourself at home. The benefits of a home spa are many:
– A good self-care routine can lower anxiety
– It can also make you look and feel better
– You develop a new skill
– You save a bucket of money
So why don’t you light candles? I recommend any soy wax ones (check out Omved). Even a Bath & Body Works one will last you ages. And to get you started:
P.S. You can read more about essential oils here.
4) Reading a great book (Listening will work too)
Few of us are in the habit these days, I know! But, let’s face it – “We, as a species, are addicted to stories.” We’re wired for stories. That’s why reading makes a great pastime when you can’t travel (and even when you can). Jonathan Gottschall who wrote The Storytelling Animal asserts that when we read a book – the same areaslight up in our brain as the protagonists. We become the heroes and heroines of the novel, instead of remaining bystanders. What a great way to live vicariously!
What better way to engineer neuroplasticity than by meditating? According to research, a wandering mind is associated with lower levels of happiness.
So, retraining our mind through meditation can potentially make us calmer and happier. Researchers at Johns Hopkins agree. Obviously, the ones who meditate regularly certainly do. As Pablo D’Ors notes in his Biography of Silence, “The quality of meditation is proven in life itself.”
If we meditate well, we live well.
There is an infinite variety of meditation methods. So, feel free to pick and choose. But, as advanced practitioners say, once you like a method – be consistent. Godspeed!
What are your recommendations? Share the knowledge. Spread the love!