As I write this, I am on vacation in Ericeira, a quaint fishing village in northern Portugal known for its beaches, fresh fish and some of the best surfing waves in the world. Visiting a small European town like Ericeira is like going back in time. In the big cities, technology seems to be changing everything (and everyone) at a dizzying pace. But in Ericeira, people still make their living from traditional fishing methods and life is much as it was hundreds of years ago.
In Ericeira, people while away the hours in beachside cafes, sunbathing in the numerous beaches, or in more active pursuits such as hiking, cycling or surfing. The rugged coastline and the quaint traditional European architecture conspire to help visitors forget about the high-tech and fast-paced trappings of the digital modern world.
It seems to me that this idea of going back in time, while rarely expressed, is a driving force in many people’s vacation plans. When we want an escape from our daily lives, we often visit ancient ruins, historical sites and museums where we can be reminded of what life was like for previous generations. Or we return to nature, visiting the beaches, forests or mountains that served as the natural habitats for all life on earth before civilization and eventually urbanization shaped the world around us.
It is easy to see the reason for this longing to return to the past. Humans are very adaptable, but the dizzying rise of technology surpasses our resilience. In an age where information flows faster than the speed of light, we yearn for experiences that slow us down. When social networks have replaced relationships, we long to connect with people in real life. And when we spend our lives surrounded by glass, steel and concrete, we long for the beauty of more natural settings. For these reasons, we use our vacations to travel in time, tracing our history along the routes of ancient civilizations, imagining simpler times, or seeking understanding about how we got to where we are today.
We don’t seem to consciously identify this aspect of time travel as a core component of our vacations. But bringing conscious awareness to time travel as a possible pathway to wellbeing might allow us to practice this more often. No need to wait for our annual vacations, we may connect to the past on a more regular basis. How do we go back in time? By practicing rituals that we remember from our childhood, by reading and talking about history, by spending time in nature, by separating ourselves from technology. No time machine needed, just a classic novel on a park bench, a game of scrabble with family or friends, or a stroll in the woods. While the past is easily forgotten in the modern world, it is also easily accessible for those who wish to find it and can provide a much needed respite from the torrential digital stream of modern life.
While we yearn to visit the past, we wouldn’t necessarily want to move there permanently. On our more rustic vacations (like my visit to Ericeira), we appreciate the temporary nature of the sojourn into an older world, and we are happy to get back to the comforts of modern life. The world of yesterday, while simpler and purer in many ways, was also less safe, less comfortable and less convenient than the modern worlds we have constructed.
But each time we visit the past we come back changed in some way, with a better understanding of who we are and where we come from. These retrospective glimpses into times gone by help us to better see how modern life is at odds with how we have evolved. By visiting the past, we are reminded of those aspects of life that are timeless and universal. We come home reminded of ancient strategies for living our best life.