Over the course of the last ten years I’ve done a lot of long distance travel. Combinations of taxi’s, busses, planes and trains for seemingly endless hours. Trips that total 24+ hours.
I remember I once decided to take a 24 hour bus ride to get from Argentina to Chile and visit my friend. I read an entire book cover to cover in that journey.
Or when I was in India, the 24-48 hour cross country train rides. Hanging out of the side of the train smoking hash and drinking chai as the Indian countryside passes by.
Or the long distance road trips I’ve done as well, when I drove from New Jersey to Arizona and then back again. Hours lost in a blur on the open roads.
I recently had a handful of these experiences. A 3 hour bus ride. Then an 8 hour flight. Then a 1 hour taxi to get home. A few weeks before that a similar journey where I had a 2 hour drive into a 2 hour flight into an 8 hour layover into a 3 hour bus ride. Then coming into Brazil a 4 hour flight followed by a 10 hour flight followed by an hour car ride.
I’m a seasoned vet at this long term travel shit. Over the years I’ve normalized this process. It’s become easy for me to float through these days of travel where I’ve merely accepted that I’m going to eat the day. In fact, the days fly by somehow.
I recently noticed something particularly interesting though during one of these extended journeys. While sitting on a bus after a full day of travel I noticed that my mind was abnormally calm. Thoughtless. Still. My body too felt very relaxed. Like a wave passed through me and I was stoned.
In that moment all of these experiences clicked at once and the insight crystalized.
Have you ever noticed that during long distance travel time seems to pass by in a funny way? 8 hours or even 12 or 24 hours can somehow blur together and pass in the snap of a finger. If someone were to tell you “hey go kill 12 hours” that’s a long amount of fucking time to kill! Yet somehow on a plane or bus the hours seem to fly by while doing seemingly nothing but listening to music or being lost in thought.
It’s also a mental phenomenon. I find that after a certain amount of time I simply run out of things to think about. I’ve been through the normal routine of things on my mind, reached conclusions, and don’t need to spend more time thinking about it. (Similar to my experiences of Vipassana and long term meditations).
It’s almost like I reach a meditational state. By allowing my brain to wander freely, it eventually runs out of things to think about and my mind and body both feel extremely calm. It’s this funny rouge or in-between state of consciousness where time moves differently and the mind is abnormally calm.
It’s almost like the brain knows that it isn’t going to have to do anything for the next few hours, so it down regulates itself for the upcoming travel to conserve resources – especially because it knows that my quality of sleep might be affected as well.
It would make sense that my brain puts me into an altered state of consciousness so that it can better protect me by conserving energy. It would also make sense that through the repetition of this habit over the years, my brain can now anticipate the activity and start pre-prepping to go into travel mode when it sees the patterns begin.
As I think back on it, I’m also a sleep machine on planes, trains and busses. I’m often asleep before the flight even takes off and I don’t wake up when it does.
Physically too, I can contort my body into positions I’d normally never be able to sleep in. I fall asleep in next to no time at all and then stay asleep for huge chunks of time.
I like to think that I’ve trained myself to be this way over the years. My brain has a script that it follows when it knows that I am going to travel and it puts me into an altered state of consciousness as a result.
Knowing what I do about flow states and in general altered states of consciousness, I have to be curious if I’m somehow inducing transient hypofrontality and/or generating Alpha and Theta brainwaves as a physiological response to the environment.
Or, if when the brain sees the pattern of travel starting, my brain starts generating a particular neurochemical cocktail that gets my brain into the perfect state to travel because it’s had enough pattern recognition over the years to know what I need to sustain this journey.
Evolutionarily it would make sense as well. Historically there have always been groups of people who travel for long durations of time over vast amounts of geography. This altered state of consciousness might be an evolutionary response to helping people cope with the stresses of long term travel so that they can continue for longer durations of time before reaching their destination. In short, it’s like an evolutionary endurance hack.
It would also make sense that this is why infrequent travelers have a hard time traveling long durations. Their brain doesn’t know how to sit still for long periods of time and at first it will revolt. The brain hasn’t developed the appropriate neurochemical response because it doesn’t have the patterns yet in the mind. You exhaust neurochemistry and it takes a greater toll on the body.
So what am I saying?!
Long distance travel can induce an altered state of consciousness where time is distorted and the mind goes blank.
It’s also potentially something that can be trained over time – but more experimentation and evidence is needed before we can decide this.
My theory is that it’s an evolutionary response intended to conserve mental and physical resources to counteract the toll that long distance travel takes on the body. In the brain I’m curious to see if we might be able to map slowed brain waves and/or transient hypofrontality of some kind (or in general down regulation of pre-frontal activity).
It’s a phenomenon I’ve always been vaguely aware of but couldn’t ever put my finger on, and I feel that all of the dots have connected in a new way I didn’t previously see, thanks to my understanding of flow states and how the mind works.
For now this is just my experience and musings of tapping into altered states of consciousness and my ability to play with different frames of mind as they arise, and my attempts to explain and de-mysticize.
Have you had a similar experience? Is this uniform for many of us? Let’s see if I’ve stumbled onto something or if I’ve lost my mind or a mixture of the two 🙂