Photography/Art Editor: Photos and an Essay

“The Elements of Travel”- Paulina Stachnik

“There’s no secret to balance. You just have to feel the waves.” – Frank Herbert

After spending the last four months corralling classrooms of thirteen-year-old boys, it was finally time to travel. Travel means different things to different people. For some, it’s an escape from mundane routines. For others, it’s a time to unwind with family, friends, and loved ones. I have always likened traveling to a passionate love affair. It sweeps you off your feet (literally), places you in a different mind frame, and encourages you to indulge the senses. Suddenly, you find yourself being beckoned closer with the alluring promise of discovering something new.

I have once heard the saying that traveling is only glamorous in retrospect. The grains of truth behind this sentiment grit in memories of six hour long standing train rides, mosquitoes the size of fists, and encounters with not so perfect strangers. But like any love that is truly significant these experiences, too, bolster the understanding of self and humanity that only crossing borders—geographical and otherwise—can create.

The Greeks explained this divine balance of wisdom and humility by reducing nature into four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. The originator of this theory, Empedocles, believed that these basic units were the root of all physical matter—mountains, oceans, birds, and man. He emphasized their endless clash and communion principles and strove to derive an understanding of harmony. After four thrilling—though imbalanced—months, I was a hoping Sri Lanka would restore that equilibrium for me.


Dum vita est spes est. Where there is life, there is hope. As nature’s stabilizing force, Earth is a constant reminder of this maxim. This picture was taken in Dambulla, home of Sri Lanka’s ancient Buddhist caves where hundreds of years ago monks gathered chant and meditate for hours. The silhouette of the mountain reminded me of Mother Nature’s fixed presence in our lives—a presence that brings humans balance yet is so often taken for granted. What brings you security? Hope? The answer, I found, is often right beneath our feet.


Air’s wispy, intangible nature carries with it the breath of inspiration. Always shifting, always moving, with air anything is possible. Native Americans revered the dragonfly as a symbol of change. According to folklore these creatures of the wind carry messages that deal with deeper thought and remind us to pay attention to our subconscious. This photo, taken at White House bakery, proves that inspiration is everywhere—we just have to catch it.


This picture was taken in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s centrally located cultural hub. Ashley and I saw a performance that showcased the region’s traditional dance where fire eaters finished with this coup de grâce. The Greeks valued fire, a symbolically male element, for its purifying powers. Having the ability to transform matter, it simmers with the power of metamorphosis. Fire lends its gifts to the Phoenix, a mythical bird that rises out of its own ashes in an infinite cycle of death and rebirth.


Water, representing our “dreaming minds,” is an element that must be quieted before it can be understood. Buddhism teaches the importance of this mindfulness, of living in the present moment, or else these signs a fresh journey may be missed. Watching the sunrise on the eastern shores of Arugam Bay was a reminder of the new beginnings that are dormant in every tide, every wave—and that sometimes before moving forward you must learn to stand still.


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