I found a special post card in my mailbox today from Russia. It arrived almost 3 weeks after I wrote and mailed it to myself. The colorful stamps depict now-familiar tiny scenes of my recent visit. The Russian-lettered postmark verifies and honors my presence there. More of my postcards should be arriving any day now!!
I love travel! As a child, my family’s vacations of sand castles and ocean waves seemed exotic and worlds away. As a teenager, I took my very first plane flight from Virginia to Alaska and it seeded my expectations of seeing the world first-hand as well as up close and personal.
There are different approaches to travel, and you can make a choice about how you go. Over time I’ve discovered the difference between travelling as a tourist and becoming a pilgrim. Although it looks similar, a tourist may be seeking only something new to see – to chalk up another country on the travel list. On the other hand, a pilgrim goes with a purpose, watching for the possibility of some personal change within. Both are curious, but Phil Cousineau, in his wonderful book The Art of Pilgrimage explains:
“Curiosity, about the extraordinary in the ordinary, moves the heart of the traveller intent on seeing behind the veil of tourism…. With a deepening of focus, keen preparation, attention to the path and respect for the destination at hand, it is possible to transform the most ordinary journey into a sacred journey – a pilgrimage.”
Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys ….. Pilgrims are persons in motion – passing through territories not their own – seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.
Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian, ethicist and professor
Evelyn Waugh, English journalist and author of novels, biographies and travel books says, “The pilgrim’s instinct is deep set in the human heart. It is indeed an affair of the heart rather than the head.” Poet Rainer Maria Rilke adds, “There is only one journey: going within yourself.”
Traveling with intention brings you into the moment, alive to what is right before you and in touch with what this experience creates within. For some, fumbling with guidebooks, maps and cameras can ruin the moment. But if prepared, the moment isn’t lost. I wouldn’t leave home without my camera and binoculars.
I’ve practiced ahead of time and become comfortable with my equipment. That’s one reason I appreciate what photographer Robert Leverant writes in his poetic book, Zen in the Art of Photography.
“A camera is an extension of ourselves. An appendage to bring us close to the universe …. A camera is only an intermediary between us and a new us…. a means of communication as strong as words. Stronger, for the language is universal and nothing is lost in translation… It is allusion we want. Not illusion…. In discovering the universe, we discover ourselves.”
How do you prepare for travel? In addition to packing your clothes and learning about your equipment, do you toss in a journal and pen to record your observations? If this last item is not at the top of your list, Dave Fox, author of Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!) has some suggestions including one he calls “Foreign at Home.”
I have worked successfully with almost identical exercises in the past, both as an assignment for the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, as well as when I was following one of Julia Cameron’s suggestions in The Artist Way that she named “The Artist Date.” You are sure to be surprised – maybe even frightened – and excited when you complete these steps!
- Choose a place in your hometown where you are “foreign,” somewhere you have never been before: a place of worship that is not your own; an ethic neighborhood, club or restaurant; a gathering place of people not your age such as a nursing home or kindergarten; a place in Nature you have never visited. There are numerous other options you might explore. Make sure you spend enough time – no less than 3-4 hours. Fox says, “If you’re worried about feeling awkward or out of place … you’ve made a good choice.”
- Before you go, journal about where you’re going, how you’re feeling, what your expectations are.
- While you’re there, you can go undercover, try to fit in, or chat with and get to know the people you meet. Explore this new setting with an open heart and mind.
- When you get home, journal about your experience: How did the people or elements of Nature you encountered react to you? How did you feel? What did you learn? What did you discover about yourself?
I must add to Fox’s list: As always, relax and let your new experience become a step on your ladder of exploration. This is also great practice for your next really big trip – hopefully a pilgrimage – both beyond and within.
I would love to hear about your experience with this practice and any reaction to my comments. Let me know if you have associations to this poem by Edgar Allen Poe. And by all means, continue your meaningful travels!!!
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.
But he grew old-
This knight so bold-
And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow-
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be-
This land of Eldorado?”
“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied-
“If you seek for Eldorado!”