Isak Dinesen once made mention of the fact that she was a "mental traveler," meaning she had gained most of her knowledge of foreign places by looking through the eyes of those who had been there, and written their experiences down. Not only is that a more ideal way to go to places which would be difficult to get to, it is also the way to avoid certain traveler's pitfalls that seem to hamper every vacation. Things like the price of gas or tickets, foreign languages, and petty thievery. It is also the only way to experience places that are no longer there.
In looking through the eyes of others, you do not have the sort of emotional stakes you can't back out of if things get too rough. For while it is true that having an emotional experience during reading has been proven to be almost identical to physically experiencing the thing yourself, we can still move in and out of the difficult places more easily. Such as taking breaks from Admiral Byrd's vivid images of being alone in the arctic, to turn up the heat and put the kettle on for a warm cup of tea. The same can be said of being stranded the two hundred-odd days during the siege of Mafeking, when the common citizens had to dig small rooms underground to remain safe from the constant shelling. But -- oh -- the bravery and fortitude of those people who not only had the ability to express their thoughts, but were honest about them at the same time. Truly, my idea of inspirational reading. The best I can think of, in fact.
The other interesting thing about looking through the eyes of others, is that there is no time element. For a mental traveler, it is possible to take part in exploring the jungles of Africa, travel west with the pioneers, and visit an archaeological dig all in the same week. With more intensity than watching a state-of-the-art movie. Because it is not simply that the authors have painted such a vivid canvas of their surroundings, but they have managed to give us a connection to their own emotions that acts as some sort of catalyst to another place and time. What's more, we come away knowing them more intimately than some of our own closest friends. Somehow (I don't know how, it's a mystery) they have managed to impact us with their insights and touch our lives even if they have already been dead for a hundred years. They have actually reached out -- traveled beyond their own life-spans -- and given us something of value that we can use for today.
Which is almost unbelievable.
Maybe mental traveling is more "impressive" than physical travel because our mental capacities are so much greater than our physical ones. And if that's true, then it stands to reason that our spiritual capacities must be even greater than those. If only we would take the time to go adventuring around in those areas, as well. Hmm... rather an exciting idea, actually.
Maybe I'll look into that more tomorrow.