Novelist Michael Crichton once said, "Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of clothes--with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That's not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating."
I'm kind of a movieaholic. I love all kinds of movies. Old movies, art films, European films, musicals, noir, silent movies, Jennifer Aniston movies--you name it. I love the enforced quietude and anonymity of sitting in a hall alone, with just my own thoughts.
For many years I have taken Friday afternoons off to have these cinema respites for a couple of hours. It acts as a sort of zen exercise. The movie is quite unimportant, but the agendaless break in my entrepreneurial routine is priceless. Invariably new thoughts flock into my mind like wild chickens.
One of my favorite movies of all-time is an old Nicholas Roeg film called Walkabout. It's an Australian film about two children who become lost in the Australian Outback desert with an Aboriginal boy doing his "walkabout"--his ritual journey to manhood.
I recently decided to "go walkabout" myself. I had sold my two companies, had separated from my wife of 16 years and had no idea what was next. So this summer I took my own entrepreneur's walkabout. No agenda. Just an extended attempt at a spiritual journey and a traveling prayer for clarity, for unjudgemental openness to the new. Hypothetically a sort of late in life Jack Kerouac adventure.
What I experienced was different from that, but, nevertheless, it was a refreshing and enlivening as a dip in a mountain spring. My reaction to "going walkabout" was not dissimilar to Jack Kerouac, who says in On The Road, "I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility." Indeed.
Unlike Jack Kerouac or an Aboriginal boy, I am no longer a young man. But the principle is the same. In contemporary terms "going walkabout" is a form of radical mindfulness, an attempt to balance the soul. It is perhaps much like what Silicon Valley executives hope to find at Burning Man each summer, but solitary, not a communal, tribal celebration.
Everyday mindfulness is essential to healthy, living entrepreneurship--everything from meditation, exercise, regular physical breaks, therapy, to simply remembering to breathe. Bill Gates takes a month every year to simply be with himself alone in the Washington woods.
But sometimes everyday mindfulness is simply not enough. We may need a radical newness, a deeper break from routine. We may actually need to clean out our augean stables of emotional dross and habitual identity by opening to a totally new ambience, a more radical mindfulness of letting go of formal identity and an allowance of space for the totally unexpected--an allowance for being reborn.
A chosen walkabout is very different from just traveling. For me it is an attempt to be radically alone, yet radically open to the world at the same time.
Did I succeed at this paradoxical task? Well, yes and no. What I did was this: I traveled about 5,000 miles by car in just over a month. I ate cheese grits and eggs with a farmer at a Waffle House in Sevierville, Tennessee. I went to garage sales in West Virginia. I saw the new Ross Perot Museum of Science and Natural History exhibit on the Mayans in Dallas, Texas. I saw the Gettysburg and Antietam Civil War battlefields. I stayed with friends on the south bank of the Arkansas River outside Little Rock, Arkansas. I biked in the countryside in New Hope, Pennsylvania. I went to hot mineral springs and mud baths in Taos, New Mexico. I saw four operas at the Santa Fe Opera, including a new opera about Steve Jobs, which I wrote about last week. I saw pueblos and Anasazi ruins. I visited a Franciscan monastery in Albuquerque. I gambled at an Indian casino. I saw the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Though it wasn't intended as a sight-seeing trip, I certainly experienced plenty of new things on my journey.
However, the personally meaningful part of my walkabout was simply the many hours I spent driving--up to ten hours a day--just lost in unstructured thoughts, in unsummoned meditation. For me, there were no epiphanies, nor did I come back with certainty about business or life. I did not decide to start a new company. I experienced no burning bushes. I did not wrestle with an angel in the night. I just came back with a great deal of certainty around who I am right now.
Marcel Proust, in his novel Remembrance of Things Past, says this: "The real voyage of discovery consists in not seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Thank you, Marcel. That's what I meant to say.