‘A man of many hats’ is the perfect way to describe Jono Lineen. From working as a jungle guide in the Golden Triangle of South East Asia in the early 1990’s to serving as a humanitarian relief worker with Medicins sans Frontieres, and working as a ski-racer and being a published author – there’s not much that Lineen has left out. Currently working as the senior curator at the National Museum of Australia, the multifaceted man tells us why he thinks walking improves creativity. By Amitha Ameen

jono lineen walking creativity

  1. Tell us about your association with Mountain Echoes?

My literary agent Margaret Gee has a long association with Bhutan and knows Mita Kapur, the producer of the Mountain Echoes festival. With three of my books related to the Himalayas and many years of trekking and climbing across the mountain range, Mita thought I was a good fit for the festival programme this year.

2. Is this your first trip to Bhutan?

Yes! I have wanted to come to Bhutan for almost 30 years. So, I’m very excited to finally have gotten the chance to visit one of the few areas of the Himalayas that I hadn’t travelled to yet.

3. You’ve spent 20 years travelling the world donning different roles. Tell us one valuable lesson that travel has taught you?

Be open to change. Travel is a great lesson in life. When you’re on the road anything can happen and you have to be flexible enough to alter your plans on a moment’s notice.

4. Apart from writing what other career option would you explore if you have the chance?

I had the privilege of working for almost five years with the Noble prize-winning humanitarian relief organisation, Medicins sans Frontieres. If I had the chance, I would return to working with them because the work – providing medical relief in war and disaster zones – was the most fulfilling work of my life.

5. How has travel been consequential in your life as a writer?

In my new book, ‘Perfect Motion: How walking makes us wiser,’ I write about how travel has the capacity to take people into a liminal state – a state outside of your comfort zone. When we are in this mindset, we can view our lives more objectively and clearly. As a writer, when you’re attempting to convey some kind of truth, such a state is essential and therefore travel can be a facilitator of great writing.

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Paris by night

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6.Your most recent research has been about how walking improves creativity. Tell us about it.

When I talk about how walking improves creativity, I tend to break it down into four areas: evolution, neuroscience, story and metaphor.

With evolution, four million years ago our ancestors stood up on two legs and began walking. That action freed up what had been forepaws and over millions of years they developed into dexterous hands with which we could create tools. Stone tools are the first evidence of human creativity.

Over those thousands of millennia, the neurochemistry, neuroelectricity and neuroanatomy of our brains evolved to facilitate and intensify the relationship between walking and innovation.

Elevated creativity increased our confidence and when climate change struck Africa 90,000 years ago Homo sapiens felt self-reliant enough to leave their homelands in search of food security. This led Homo sapiens on an 80,000-year cross-continental walking migration and this facilitated humanity’s intrinsic connection to the journey narrative, developed our perception of time and our subconscious understanding of the power of perseverance.

All these elements have led walking to be one of humankind’s most powerful metaphors. Neuroscientists are discovering that we comprehend the world – especially abstract concepts like love, time or sadness – through metaphor. What is walking a metaphor for – Joy: we see it every time a child takes their first steps. Confidence: again that look of assurance on a child’s face after their first walk. Creativity: enabled through our four million-year relationship between bipedalism and innovative thinking. When we walk, creative thinking becomes our default mode of thought.

7. If you had to give an advice to budding writers, what would it be?

Never give up – persevere. Write every day. And read, read widely from the best writers you can find.

8. Would you like to share an anecdote on one of your most scenic walks?

I could talk about any number of classic walks in the Himalayas, Rockies or Alps but one of my favourite rambles is the Yankee Hat trek south of my home in Canberra, Australia. Every time I do this walk it makes me think about the history at my feet. It winds through a stunning but completely uninhabited park of Namadgi National Park and yet for over 150 years until 1982 farmers had called the valley home. The hike ends at an Aboriginal rock art site and each time I see those haunting 20,000-year-old stick figures I’m reminded of how resilient humankind is. Twenty millennia of Homo sapiens history are concentrated in those ochre paintings. It’s hard not to be moved by the power of that art.

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Into the woods – something out of a fairytale

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9. What kind of traveller are you?

I’m an immersive traveller. I try to be ‘in’ the place I’m visiting. That means minimal social media and a conscious attempt to be open and to learn as much about the area as I can. I try not to plan my trips too much. This relates to my desire for travel to become a journey into a liminal state.

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Solo khumbu, 2017

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10. As a mountain guide, which has been the best climb of your life?

These days I consider myself more of a cultural and trekking guide. My desire is to challenge myself and my clients culturally rather than physically. In this context, I would say my time as a jungle guide in the Golden Triangle of South East Asia in the early 1990’s was some of the most challenging because the heroine trade was still very vibrant in the area and there was constant conflict between government forces, Karen separatists, villagers and the wholesale drug dealers. It was never boring.

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