Finding the Common Ground

Traveling is a skill. People, human interactions are a skill. Just like everything else within the human capacity, we get better at things through experience and practice. There’s always a new conversation around the corner waiting to expand our perspective. These interactions are what give me life; energy. So, how do we find mindfulness through human connection? The one thing we ALL have in common: food. 

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The dramatic views, lush forests, steep mountains, charming towns, historic buildings and art. These are all things that drive me to travel. Over time I’m realizing how much I grow from the people I encounter, other travelers with rich pasts and adventurous stories to tell. Or by comparison, folks who remain in the same town they were born in, who know the area inside and out. From small interactions to deep, complicated friendships and everything that falls between. I enjoy the whole spectrum. 

I know I learn best from having people with lives so different from my own pushing my brain to understand and empathize with others. This may stem from being fiercely independent and I'm thankful for it. Meeting people with different upbringings, backgrounds, communities, careers, interests, opinions, beliefs.. you name it. Taking away distractions like screens and work drama to have opening, belief-challenging conversations. These flowing, thoughtful conversations aren't often something you can find in your comfortable daily routine. Living in the same place you’ve resided for 20 years isn't going to help you come across people of all ages and demographics. 

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THIS is how we gain perspective. It’s not just the glamorous sleeping under the stars and walking stunning ridge lines in perfect weather. There’s a lot more to it that forces one to look inward and ask, “who am I?” and “who do I want to be?” 

Why is perspective important? We hear about it, we read about it, and we think about it. But do we understand it? It's not visual, audible, or tangible. I think it’s to understand and connect with people. To truly see someone for who they are. It makes us more resilient, more driven, compassionate, and grateful. It makes us more mindful human beings. More capable of experiencing honest, raw love and vulnerability. The ethereal.

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So, how do we get there? The skill becomes finding the common ground. That place where you feel connected to someone who, upon first judgement, may be greatly different from yourself. Finding a shared experience, memory, interest, or aspiration.

Often I find the best connection is food. The creative expression that feeds our senses and fuels our bodies. Humans have a history rooted deep in faith and food. Primal beings with a shared need. We're all too familiar with that stubborn adult that interrupted our play time to come to the dinner table because “we all should eat together.” Because food connects us. Because, well.. it does. With every scent smoking from the kitchen, every bite, or every broken wine glass. We connect to those we share our meals with. 

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When I’m on a long distance hike, if I’m not eating, I’m thinking or talking about food in some capacity. Hikers bond over their evolving relationship with food as fuel. It’s something we all share, regardless of what brought us to the trails in the first place. Everyone needs to eat, and most of us enjoy the experience of deciding what tastes and textures to put into our mouths. Whether it’s at someone’s antique dining room table or sitting in the dirt around a campfire, eating is a shared event.

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Sometimes it appears we live in a place where people are constantly looking to form groups based on differences. Putting the political environment aside, we have been training our brains to seek out differences between one another. An “us” and “them.” That’s not a place that’s inclusive. That’s not a place where people are compromising, finding optimism, or growing into their human potential. That’s a place where everyone’s world is so small. And maybe they don’t know that when their world expands through experiences, facing fears, and making connections… it grows their heart in size. Maybe we all need to practice.

We need to be in constant practice to try and better ourselves. I uncover my growth by finding a common value with others: family, freedom, creativity, movement. Or to simply enjoy some food and talk about it. It’s not always perfect, sometimes awkward, and often challenging. But, that’s how we first learned to eat and walk as toddlers too. 

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Contributing photos: Neala Broderick