A reader, ‘notmebutyou’, submitted the comment below:
I’m currently studying abroad, and hadn’t realized that I was struggling with the tension between reflection and action until I read this article; I also thought it fit well with your most recent post about being back to blogging. What do you think? How do you balance the two when you travel (and when you’re at home)?
(I’m glad you’re back, also!)
Balancing reflection and action is really tough, but I think giving the question a lot of consideration can help to maximize experiences. Just constantly going, and moving, and doing, is fantastic and exhilarating, but at some point there needs to be thought put into the questions of “why is it so enjoyable?” “what does it all mean to the world, and to myself?” and “where is it all leading?”
Society has too heavily romanticized the ideals of ‘living in the present,’ and pretends that we are static beings who can go by ephemeral joys. But no, we are incredibly dynamic and everything we do now has been caused by everything we’ve done in the past and will affect everything we do in the future. Disregarding this backward and forward looking element of all experiences takes away from their fascinatingly intricate realities. It is important to stimulate your five senses of physical perception (hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste), but it is even more important to stimulate your intellectual perception. Doing so allows us to enjoy existence in a higher way. In fact, that is one of the reasons why we need to sleep, so our minds can process all that has happened while we’re awake!
However, thinking too much is similarly handicapping. You can’t spend one hour a day being active and then twenty-three thinking about all of the one activity’s various levels of relevance to life- if someone did that, then they wouldn’t really be living at all! It depends of course on the specific situation: I might spend no time reflecting on the cereal I ate for breakfast, a little time reflecting on the craziness I saw at Times Square tonight, and probably a lot of time unpacking my visit to an election center in Venezuela. The importance of certain events can wane over the years, or gain more importance overtime, and some things can be thought of in private, while others might be useful to talk to someone else about, even maybe a professional. Overall, to reflect you have to first live the experience- thoughts can be a wonderful complement- but too much reflection may hinder new experiences.
As you can see, balances like these are aggravating because the importance of both aspects is so clear, but too much of either hinders the other. Traveling is complicated too because while in new locations there is so much stimuli that it can be overwhelming, but we also tend to pressure ourselves to get as much in as we can in a short amount of time. At home it can be more calming and thus more enabling for reflection. I guess that I’ve balanced the two by really beginning to see the world as my home, and adopting this kind of home-calm while in extremely ‘foreign’ situations. Having this attitude, as well as being able to see the need to dedicate time to both action and reflection, has given me an ability to balance the two pretty well. But some of the things that require more deep thinking, I still want a nice vacation to sit and discover.
I’m glad that the post helped you to think about your own experience while studying abroad, and I’d love to hear more about how you balance the two in the future.
Thanks for readings, and especially for sending the comment and question!