It is the most uncanny fate of a traveler that, through his experience, he becomes acutely aware of certain universalities within the human experience. The grand, romantic ego that precedes this (oh-so) solitary thrust into the world is slowly tempered by a dawning sense of essential uniformity—one that is humbling for its sheer scope. The individual finds himself subsumed by a sweeping order of harmony in which he is only a felicitous element instead of an exaggerated focal point. If observant, he quickly notes that humans everywhere have the same needs, emotions, inclinations, and basic relations with others.
This is most apparent in patterns of communication. In witnessing a light-hearted, jocular exchange between two Thai people at a market, it is at once registered that the same feeling is relayed between, say, two amiable friends at a supermarket in Georgia. Only the fluid variables of culture and language differentiate the two instances, otherwise parallel.
Now, consider what this means for a moment. Let us imagine the feeling conveyed between two or more people, be it commiseration, frivolity, or affectionate ridicule, to be a musical note. Likewise, let us imagine the culture-language construct to act as an octave, a kind of filter allowing the note to be transposed. At any instant around the globe, there are human exchanges echoing each other simultaneously across divides of space and culture.
From a sudden, omniscient perspective taken by one who is, perhaps, conveniently outside of his body, what arises from these exchanges is a kind of sum harmony made of like notes transposed into a multitude of octaves: a symphony of human expression whose apparent variance is anchored by one scale! Suddenly, the traveler realizes, there is an implicit simplicity within the seeming chaos of diversity. But, one might interject, what is this “one scale”?
We might suppose, if we are to remain in the familiar territory of the sciences, that it represents Jung’s collective unconscious by which all human experience is bound. Or we could venture into Eastern philosophy and assert that it is but another way to symbolize the cosmic ecology of the Tao. And while on the slippery incline of conjecture, why not point out that the Pythagoreans, in their innocently conspiratorial gatherings, spoke of how each planet emitted its own unique vibrational tone, rendering the orbit around the Sun a flaming orchestra of harmony?
So it is that, by simply flowing with our basic human instincts and moods, we naturally participate in a kind of universal dance that must be, for the theoretical observer, very ravishing indeed. Paramahansa Yogananda, the great Indian yogi and author, spoke of an experience in which he was amazingly able to be such an observer. He said that all the differing forms of this world dissolved and coalesced into one great light, unparalleled in radiance. In light of all this, it’s bizarre to remember that Dutch traders in the 17th century wiped out an entire indigenous culture somewhere near Indonesia in order to get a monopoly on the pepper plant! Thus, the traveler stands on many borders—between normalcy and absurdity, between duality and oneness, or, sometimes, just between Laos and Thailand!