The Heart of the Matter
July 06, 2019
The Tourist Syndrome


A few years ago, I went to Istanbul for a vacation. Never having been to Turkey, I was excited to explore a new culture, which I did with great relish -- and a whole lot of hummus. Of all the new adventures, perhaps the most remarkable was the visit to the Grand Bazaar. Not because of the number of shops (2,432). Not because of the history (493 years old). And not because of the masses of people. No. Because I finally got clear about something in my own psyche and, by extension, the human psyche -- something I call the "Tourist Syndrome" -- a phenomenon that, curiously has great relevance to the way in which some people relate to Prem Rawat or any great teacher.

Here's how the Tourist Syndrome plays out:

You feel a need for something (i.e. a new experience, a good deal, an adventure) and decide to go to a specific destination to meet your need. In my case it was the Grand Bazaar and the possibility of buying a really good rug.

So you make your way there and begin your process of locating just the right shop that carries the kind of goodies you are seeking.

You know you are a tourist, but you don't want to appear to be a tourist because, you reason, if you appear to be a tourist, the odds of the merchants taking advantage of you will increase. So you do your best to take on the local color. You take the camera off your neck. You don't speak. You walk with confidence. Anything not to appear to be an easy mark.


Of course, the merchants (who have been merchants way longer than you have been a tourist) know exactly what you're doing. They've seen thousands of foreigners, like you, pretending not to be tourists, so they adjust their approach accordingly.

You see them seeing you seeing them and, even though you are attracted to the merchandise in their shops, decide to keep walking because you feel, somehow, that if you enter, the merchant will have the upper hand and it will only be a matter of time before you buy something you don't really need or want.

So you continue walking, appearing to be cool and purposeful. But the fact remains, you know you want something and you know that what you want is in one of these shops that you keep passing. You also know that this, being Turkey, has the potential to be THE place where you can buy a high quality rug at just the right price.

So you get over your self-consciousness for the moment and enter a shop. The merchant smiles. You smile back, but you don't want to make too much eye contact because, if you do, you are granting a kind of tacit permission for him to begin his sales shtick, which you already know will be extremely slick.

So you stand on the edges, feigning disinterest. You don't want the shop owner to see you actually marveling at his goods because then, you reason, he will probably raise his prices. So you play it cool. The merchant has seen many people like you before. So he bides his time.

The really savvy shop owners give you just enough space so you feel comfortable enough to step in of your own accord. Just to make matters even more interesting, there are an equally amount of savvy shop owners who, sensing your indecision and discomfort, make the decision to cross the chasm to YOU (in a very charming way), hoping to diffuse your anxiety just long enough to gain your trust and thus increase the odds of a sale.

You, sentient being that you are, see the shop owner sizing you up. You see him giving you the space to make your own decisions, which makes you even more uncomfortable, you now playing out an infinite loop of subtle mind games with the shop owner (who, in reality, is just a simple man who loves his children, plays cards with his friends, prays to Allah five times a day, and would be very pleased to sell you a rug at a fair price so both of you get what you want.)

From what I can tell, this same little game has played itself out for countless centuries whenever a human being, with a felt need, hears about the existence of a living Master.

You get curious. You move in his direction. You see his "shop" and are attracted. You get closer. But then, some version of the Tourist Syndrome kicks in. You sense that owner of the shop is very experienced, knows his stuff, and has been doing this for a looooooooong time. An old fear of yours rises to the surface. You don't want to be "taken." You don't want to be deceived, fooled, or sold something you don't need. You wonder if you can trust him/her. So you stand on the edge, arms folded, and observe. You don't want to get too close.

The Master is just standing there, smiling. You wonder why he's smiling -- if his smiling is all part of a ruse to disarm you. Other people come and go from his shop. Some leave with rugs. Some do not. You continue standing there on the edge, trying to decide if what he is offering is actually worth it.

You see another tourist exiting his shop, smiling, carrying a beautiful rug. You gather up the courage to ask how much. The tourist stops and says "It's free. No charge."

Now you are completely confused. "Free?" you think. "How can this be? It's too good to be true. What's the catch?"

An old woman enters the shop and exits with a beautiful rug -- the color of your living room walls. A young, married couple enters and leaves with a small prayer rug, something that would look great in your hallway. The shop owner's two children enter, laughing, bringing him tea.

You think about checking out the other shops. After all, you reason, there must be another 200 in the Grand Bazaar selling the same, or even better, carpets.

Lost in your thoughts, you don't see him approaching.

"Can I help you?" he asks. "Would you like to enter my shop? I think I have just what you're looking for."

He is smiling. The tourist in you wants to move on. But something in you encourages you to stay. You're not sure what it is -- the sound of his voice? The happy people coming and going from his shop? The fact that all his rugs are free?
An introduction to the message of Prem Rawat

Photo #1: unsplash-logonurhan

Photo #2: unsplash-logoRaul Cacho Oses

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at July 6, 2019 12:06 PM


beautiful description of the TOURIST syndrome.
I have been to Turkey a long time ago and other eastern destinations and yes I have played the same game with the shop owners.
Thank goodness I had the sense to not play the game with Prem.
His rugs are free and the best you can get.

Posted by: David Abraham [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 12, 2019 12:18 AM

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