In Motion: The Experience of Travel

Image of In Motion: The Experience of Travel
Release Date: 
October 11, 2010
Reviewed by: 

The other Sunday, after encountering bitingly cold winds along a Marin Headlands coastal trail, my wife and I elected an urban walk through Mill Valley instead. Walking with our pair of Borzois through a neighborhood of varied, eclectic architecture styles, I reflected on the stimulating diversity of that special place.

Then, maybe 15 minutes into our urban walk, we spot a trail, wandering between houses and the road. Spontaneously, we elect that path, which winds through a magic forest of ferns, bay trees, redwoods, gnarled oaks, magnificent stately tall stands that then give way to fabulous views.

A couple of hours later, we return refreshed, renewed, inspired. Our serendipitous discovery, leading to the experience of a special place, is what Tony Hiss labels “deep travel,” which he explores in In Motion: The Experience of Travel.

Those who think about place and place experiences are both singular and significant, especially if the lessons learned from such thinking may be accessed by those who may not have done so much thinking about place. Tony Hiss has spent his professional life thinking about time and place, then sharing his insights and learning through a memorable body of work at the New Yorker over a third of a century, and a diverse portfolio of books, including the acclaimed The Experience of Place, and now In Motion: The Experience of Travel, his meditation on the life essence, life-enhancing and life-framing consequences of place choice.

Mr. Hiss makes the case that the place experiences of deep travel—an “extended present” of awareness and stillness leading to reflection, insight, and inspiration—can be as sustaining as eating, sleeping, and relationships. The “deep travel” place experience that he explores and explains is the intersection of flow (promulgated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi), the consciousness awareness of the human potential movement, and the inner peace and enlightenment resulting from the awareness that meditation can bring.

If “travel,” is to embark on a journey to a distant place, framed as “macro motion,” then “deep travel,” as Mr. Hiss employs the term, can be framed as “micro motion.” In Motion: The Experience of Travel is an invitation to deepen the experience of such basic micro motion as walking through your neighborhood with the presence that invites insight, learning, and inspiration.

The deep travel experience may be unexpected, even a surprise. But, rather than the deep travel benefits being random and occasional, Mr. Hiss advocates that deep travel benefits be integral, essential, a means to access the highest level of human experience of what psychologist Abraham Maslow described as the “hierarchy of needs.”

Deep travel can be considered as integral to the path to enlightenment. When viewed through the prism of deep travel, our trips are not only functional and purposeful—to go from A to B to do X—but our trips are also explorations to deepen knowledge of what is already known, to discover the unknown, and “to help us become more fully ourselves.”

In Motion extends his Experience of Place to the meditative, transcending the doing in place to being in place, whereby the deep travel place experience is the byproduct of some other place experience. Thus, while you are engaging in some other place experience—running an errand, going shopping, traveling to an appointment—you can derivatively engage in the deep travel that Mr. Hiss describes and advocates. He asserts that the benefits of deep travel—embracing such health effects as exercise, mental stimulation, and newness—are best realized by moving through places.

Reading In Motion can set in motion more awareness of our place experiences, patterns, and their consequences. If motion stimulates awareness, health, and cognitive capacity, as he asserts, then the relationship of a sedentary society—youth and adults alike—to health problems, lagging school performance, and disappointing economic competitiveness, is not just correlation but causation.

Some 30 years ago he encountered—and subsequently penned an effusive review of—a Hunan style Chinese restaurant, operating in a small closet-dimensioned space, located on the fringe of San Francisco’s Chinatown and North Beach, describing it as the best Chinese restaurant in the world. His New Yorker review, informed by his deep travel experience, stimulated such interest and popularity that the restaurant subsequently expanded to a much larger place, located some distance from Chinatown.

The highly seasoned, country style of cooking, indigenous to Hunan province in central China, is very different than the more familiar less spicy Chinese cooking style of the Eastern Coastal China region. Mr. Hiss’s serendipitous deep travel place encounter enabled him to write a story that popularized the restaurant, led to its expansion, and created another writing project, for ultimately, Mr. Hiss edited Henry Chung’s Hunan Style Chinese Cookbook.

The scope of coverage and explorations chronicled In Motion are wide-ranging, diverse, and eclectic—as befits a treatise/meditation on place and its seminal significance to society. Though not the typical academic work of footnotes and referenced sources, neither is this volume a compendium of personal opinion, pontifications, and unreflected upon experiential observation. Rather, this is truly a book of authoritative scholarship in the vein of reflective action.

The scholarly credentials and intellectual gravitas of In Motion are established by the research cited in the text. In the course of his research, the author consulted more than 100 significant thought leaders concerned with the manifold aspects of place. The stature of the institutions that supported his research further substantiate the seriousness of this work.

The derivative benefits of place motion can extend beyond the primary purpose of that place motion per se. One can vicariously and virtually “move” through many places, thereby benefitting from the cognitive stimulus of deep travel by reading an author’s place motion path. This reading, then, can be a moving place discovery experience. Mr. Hiss suggests his book may be read with maximum benefit in a moving vehicle, such as a train, where some of the most rewarding deep travel induced insights may be derived.

The deep travel connection that Mr. Hiss draws between motion and conscious awareness of the present—and the manifold benefits that derive therefrom—rings true. Place encounters stimulate creativity, invite innovation, and trigger insights that may unlock a puzzle.

Mr. Hiss is not alone in describing how what he labels deep travel can stimulate insight. In his 1921 treatise on The Foundations of Science, French mathematician and physicist Henri Poincaré wrote about how solutions to intractable problems—problems that he could not solve while sitting at a desk—suddenly emerged during a walk along a seaside bluff and a Parisian street. According to Monsieur Poincaré, while accessing innovation when sitting at his desk was difficult, even problematic, when walking ideas “rose in crowds.” Significantly, he advances scientific theory for how the very act of movement stimulates the movement of atoms, leading to new combinations that would not have emerged from atoms in a static state.

Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., in Crossing to Avalon, the engaging chronicle of her own deep travel journeys, says each choice that we make in life, each encounter with an idea or a place is a soul journey. The sum of our lives is the aggregate of these soul journeys, more specifically the exploring of these deep travel experiences, and the lessons derived from reflection on those deep travels.