Travel as Meditation
A travel destination shows you your fascinations, your curiosities, even your deepest longings. But a destination alone does not a journey make.
A Trip Becomes a Journey
Hidden in the literal experience of “getting away” lie the challenges and opportunities of the mythological Hero’s Journey. Travel can become a meditation when you use its gifts to become more present – with yourself, your life and your world.
Phil Cousineau, whose book The Art of Pilgrimage has been my close companion on the road, names…
Seven Stages of the Journey
- Longing: Honor your quiet yearnings – to see, to touch, to listen, to walk in another place.
- Call: Listen for what beckons you – a dream, a knowing, a loss, a wake-up call.
- Departure: Let yourself go. The time has come.
4. Pilgrim’s Way: Surround yourself with what you do not know, to see yourself with clearer eyes.
5. Labyrinth: Welcome surprises – encounters, delays, obstacles, weather. There is pleasure in them all.
6.Arrival: Look around you. Where are you? Why are you here?
7. Bringing Back the Boon: Share your treasure. Tell your story.
This time last year, I heard the call. I finished a challenging project, put my things in storage, and embarked on what I could only call a walkabout. I planned to be gone for a couple of months, yet I could not see myself returning.
53 year-old Frederic Wiedemann resisted: “I refused to listen to the call for the longest time because it scared me, because I knew it meant leaving my partner, my work, salary, friends, a beautiful home, everything.”
For Mike Killeen, a 45 year-old Chicago business-owner, “The idea was to get the hell out of Dodge, get away from my job, where I felt really overwhelmed and deadened. The idea was to escape.”
Frederic finally set out alone to backpack in the Himalayas. Mike was called with his cameras to the untamed, unfenced landscape of his Irish ancestors. I found myself in the South of France in the middle of September, and never left.
It is not, however, necessary to close your doors for Transformation. For Diane Doe, 55 year-old writer and owner of Boulder import store Worldly Goods, her buying trips to Bali are her way to go deeper: “I meet people and get into the families and get into the deeper culture and slowly shed my belief systems and open up to other belief systems. I travel to stay open.”
Letting Go of the Shore
Being present in travel means opening yourself to what surrounds you – immersion. But leaving the familiar first takes you into what Cousineau calls the Labyrinth. Diane calls it the Dark Night of the Soul:
“For the first two weeks, I am working but I’m still getting more and more immersed in the culture; and shedding, shedding, shedding as I do business, because I do business with families. Then I’m immersed and open, but there’s always an initiation to reach that place – the feelings, the heart stuff.”
When Mike first reached Ireland, he was paralyzed with fear: “For the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t get out of bed. It took time to shift. Once we got settled, all that stuff started falling away and I could then turn my thoughts to where I was, what I was doing, what the sky looked like.”
When the fog clears at last, pay attention. This is what you came for – the treasure you seek.
Returning with Treasure
Mike brought home his wild Irish garden in black and white, along with a new sense of himself and humanity. “I learned how alive I could be. I learned that fear had shut me down from experiencing the world. And there wasn’t much to be afraid of.”
Frederic is trekking still, and dancing his story in wonder: “When I’ve just woken up and the sky’s a little gray, the test is how present I can be to the wonder and the beauty that is the miracle and the magic of the Universe.”
Diane continues learning the language of the heart: “In the more formal structures of meditation, we’re taught that it’s an opening to an experience bigger than what is locked in our bodies. I find that traveling is really a living, breathing meditation in all its aliveness.”
And I am trying to paint with words the qualité de vie I am learning in France.
If you listen, how you travel can show you how you live. As you contemplate destinations, consider the spiritual journey ahead as well.
Tips for the Road
- State Your Intentions. Before you leave. Knowing why you’re going is as important as knowing where.
- Choose Your Companions.
- A Talisman: Keep a symbol of your intention with you.
- A Journal: Create something special. Record your thoughts and feelings. Join each scene through sketching. Collect mementoes for pasting.
- A Camera: Notice what attracts you. Focus on details.
- Go Deep. Choose one or two destinations. Adopt the customs. Develop a routine. Get to know people.
- Plan and Let Go. Leave enough space in your plans to be surprised.
- Use your Body. When you lose your way, get physical. Take a walk. Dance. Swim.
- Take Risks. Do one thing each day you’re afraid to do – for fun.
Katherine Robertson is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles, California. Her work has appeared on ABC, PBS, The Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and the Web.