I recently spoke at the Adventure Travel World Summit 2013 in Namibia urging the members to respond to the acknowledgment made by the Secretary General of the UNWTO, Taleb Rifai, a year prior, that adventure travel was the future of tourism. I suggested that the adventure travel community faced the opportunity to lead all of tourism into a better future. I had 30 minutes to explain why mainstream, mass tourism, as currently practiced, was failing and how the adventure travel community could, through closer links with the indigenous tourism community, bring their clients closer to Nature and regenerate rather then harm local cultures and ecosystems. The last third of the talk was heart-felt and emotional and the audience responded enthusiastically. (The complete, annotated transcript for Leading the Way: The Adventure of Travel is here and slides here).
In response to the comment – “inspiring talk but short on practical solutions, ” I shall now try to explain how Conscious Travel differs from the multiplicity of complementary & supportive initiatives that already exist, that I applaud, that I don’t wish to duplicate or compete with and that are generating practical suggestions (carbon reduction, fair trade, sustainable building, culinary, tour practices etc.) based on expert knowledge.
(Ironically, after I had written this post but not yet published it, Jo Confino, editor of the Guardian Sustainable Business Section suggested that the sustainability movement was failing not for a lack for things to do but for the lack of a compelling Story or vision: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainability-movement-fail-future. I recommend you check out the article and readers’ comments. )
The Motivation to ACT
Whether we’re motivated to change from fear of the negative consequences of inaction or by a positive desire to create something better, humans are conditioned to believe that we must “do something” and do it either quicker or faster than a perceived competitor. It’s the flight or fight response and since we can’t jump off the planet, the only action of choice is to “fight” the perceived problem and declare war on it. Panic is one state of being that seems to produce the greatest activity with often the least effect. Many of us are feeling a rising sense of panic.
In such a context, being given action plans, goals, and checklists is always attractive and reassuring. Posts and articles titled 10 top ways to ….get rich, get a date, find a great job, or get promoted etc. attract the most traffic. They give us a sense of being in control and dull the pain associated with anxiety, confusion and a rising sense of inadequacy during a period of radical change. That’s why we want our experts to sound confident. It’s scary when they say the present & future is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) and are honest enough to say they don’t know exactly what is going to happen next.
Nevertheless, dishing out prescriptions was neither my intent nor focus at this time and here’s why:
- Humanity has all the resources (money, technology and innovative capacity) to address the environmental and social issues of our time but is failing to deploy. We’ve known what needs to be done for a quarter century. The more important question is – why aren’t we getting on with doing? The tourism sector as a whole (with many great local exceptions of course) has been more resistant to structural and systemic change than most.
- Often what we’ve done in the past has often aggravated if not caused our present problems – especially when we’ve declared war on a problem. Or put another way “if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Even if we were to throw all the resources at our disposal to the problem, it’s very possible we’ll just create more complications from unanticipated consequences simply because we haven’t understood the root cause of our predicament. Until we do, history will continue to repeat itself. That’s why we need to “wake up.”
- In short there’s no point wasting precious time and resources developing the right answers to the wrong questions. The challenge we face as a species is framing the questions that matter – questions that “busyness,” political correctness, laziness and, sometimes, willful blindness, enable and encourage us to avoid.
Conscious Travel is not about blaming and shaming in an attempt to accelerate the demise of an operating model that no longer serves life on this planet. It doesn’t need to waste time pointing the finger as the old model is obsolete and in decay.
“This narrative of normal is crumbling on a systemic level too. We live today at a moment of transition between worlds. The institutions that have borne us through the centuries have lost their vitality; only with increasing self-delusion can we pretend they are sustainable. Our systems of money, politics, energy, medicine, education, and more are no longer delivering the benefits they once did (or seemed to). Their Utopian promise, so inspiring a century ago, recedes further every year. Millions of us know this; more and more, we hardly bother to pretend otherwise. Yet we seem helpless to change, helpless even to stop participating in industrial civilization’s rush over the cliff.” Charles Eisenstein (see http://www.realitysandwich.com/separation)
Nor is Conscious Travel about more band aids, techno fixes, euphemistic yet deceitful phrases like “sustainable growth ” that are deployed to maintain business as usual.
Conscious Travel IS about encouraging and enabling participants in the visitor economy (the biggest economy on the planet to connect people face to face), to wake up and play an active role in the greatest drama of our time – namely the transition from an Old to new Story.
By “Story” we mean the amalgam of deeply embedded assumptions and beliefs that any culture uses to make sense of its world, frame its identity and shape its behavour. Our Stories – sometimes called our worldview, paradigm, consciousness, and mindset – shape our relationships; how we spend our resources of time and money; and what we pay attention to.
For many years in a stable society, these stories were invisible, rarely analysed, dissected, described or questioned as a whole simply because they worked for most people and therefore, enjoyed majority participation and assent. Considered to be obvious and widely held, they needed no discussion. The Story and its subplots constituted the threads that held society together, the glue that bound individual to family to community; and both the lingua franca and protocols that enabled communication and transaction.
The old Story is now unraveling. We’re living in the space between two Stories. A new Story is emerging from within the cocoon called chaos. That’s why it’s such an exciting and terrifying time to be alive. That’s why I refuse to discuss weight loss plans for an engorged caterpillar when it’s about to morph into a beautiful life form that’s able to defy gravity.
The Signposts of Yearning
In my ATWS presentation, I also quoted the French philospher-writer, Antoine St. Expury.
The implication being that somehow yearning had to be aroused. But based on the enthusiastic response to my presentation and observations of what’s happening all around me, I now think the task is less one of arousal (ie evoking the desire to move on) and more to help people better envision where to move to.When our understanding of root cause is accurate and when our vision is clear and compelling we’ll take the right actions and bounce back faster should failures occur.
Signs of yearning are oozing from the cracks and crevices of the crumbling walls that hold up “business as usual”. We yearn for what’s missing in our lives – whether that is a state of being we once knew or a state of being we intuit could and should be known. But our traditional ways of placating, fixing or avoiding those uncomfortable feelings of loss – such as drugs, drink, depression, exercise, eating, working, protesting and even adrenaline-infused adventures – no longer work.
Charles Eisenstein, a contemporary philosopher, raconteur, and author, articulates the many ways in which contemporary society fails us all, rich and poor. Future opportunities lie in seeing those yearning as signposts towards a more beautiful world – and a more meaningful, healthy valuable visitor economy – “that our hearts tell us is possible”.
Conscious Travel IS about doing – don’t get me wrong. We plan to create a form of travel and hospitality that provides sustainable livelihoods as well as deep levels of meaning and fulfillment for host and guest alike without chewing up and spitting out places and cultures. We also know you cannot create a new tourism from the same mindset that created the old. Task # 1 is to wake up and become aware of the filters of perception in order to complete Task # 2 the act of replacing them so that we can get on with Task # 3 building something better.
Conscious Travel is about working with hosts and places from the inside out.
It’s about turning off the auto-pilot – which enables us to wander in a trance – so we can make mindful, aware, informed choices about who we are, what we yearn for, what matters to us, what’s worth preserving and what future is worth creating.
It’s about seeing – envisioning a better way of being hosts and guests. It’s about making visible what has been hidden (the assumptions that underpin our actions), making sure they still work for us and changing them if they don’t.
Then, and only then is Conscious Travel about doing and building new capacities – not to win an obsolete game (more of the same) but to create a new and different game altogether and then to excel at that. Our 12-Step Transformation Program is designed to take convert small groups of hosts in communities from passive participants in an obsolete economy into pro-active change agents capable of leading the way to a truly sustainable, flourishing local economy in which welcoming guests plays a key part.
Conscious Travel is designed to create a lifetime commitment to action learning and change leadership at the community level and develop the appetite for all the “how to” programs being developed by subject experts.
Conscious Travel is for leaders, architects and builder – but builders of whole communities not those who specialise in bathroom renovations!
And these leaders will come from all parts of tourism. They are unlikely to carry a business card that says leader though. Individuals of modest or low status initiated all previous revolutions and major social shifts in our “his-story”. That pattern prevails today. What’s different is that each of us is being asked to step into the role of revolutionary by contributing our unique talents, insights and gifts. What’s different is that our technology now supports the connection of individuals, the sharing of new ideas and their cross-fertilisation regardless of geography in seconds not years. We may feel alone – but we are not. Conscious Travel is a collaborative community of individuals holding hands while we step courageously into a better future of our own making.
Final Metaphor For Today
In my presentation to ATTA I agreed with Buckminster Fuller about not fighting existing reality but to focus on creating something new.The same wise man also said, There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”
But in this case, I’m not sure Mr. Fuller had access to the same information as our generation. Science has, in fact, since discovered that within the caterpillar are cells that behave as if they know they are going to become the butterfly. They are called “imaginal cells” which exist in small number within the caterpillar for much its life and, while the caterpillar is healthy and active, are isolated from each other. Once the caterpillar enters its slumber in the cocoon, these cells start to multiply, and as their numbers grow, join up and merge and start to feed on the body mass of the caterpillar that turns into some form of nutritive soup. When the last of the soup has been absorbed by the new life form emerging from joined-up imaginal cells, it’s time for them to press open the confines of the cocoon and appear as a butterfly. It’s no coincidence that they are called imaginal cells because half the task is imagining the better world and dreaming it into existence.
Throughout this planet right now human imaginal cells are waking up and realizing that their time has come; they are not alone and it’s time to join up and get ready for a new life. Those of us involved in the travel and tourism community play a very important role in helping these human imaginal cells find and meet each other no matter where they might be on the planet. That’s a pretty meaningful role and a damm good reason to get up in the morning, don’t you think? And from where I sit, enough doing to last a lifetime if done consciously and to the best of one’s ability.
Conscious Travel is seeking associations, communities and small groups of hosts willing to explore road testing our transformation program. A one-day workshop is being prepared to initiate the “wake up” process that is specifically designed for hosts. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org reference WakeUp Call.