By Mike Slagle, Editor, LifeStream™
“All journeys have destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” ~ Martin Buber
The most memorable of our travels, the journeys that stay with us, haunt us even, long after we’ve returned home change us in some noticeable way. They satisfy what theologian Richard Niebuhr calls “a deep characteristic of human nature” to move into new realms, not only physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Such travels are not necessarily the trips we’ve taken to the most exotic locations, the farthest destinations, or those we’ve looked forward to with the greatest expectation. They can be as close by as a walk through a local park or the woods adjacent to our backyard. They do, however, share one common feature. Each comprises an archetypal quest into a new realm of being – a journey, undertaken consciously or subconsciously, in order to obtain something, to reach a destination and a destiny. Their lasting impact upon us comes from an awareness of having made a passage or transition.
This is soulful, or sacred, travel. It entails no special visa or baggage, only an attention to, a curiosity about, the path beneath our feet. It is seeing our own interconnectedness with everything around us and, thereby, awakening us to a sense of the sacred in each step of our journey.
“In each of us dwells a pilgrim,” Phil Cousineau tells us in The Art of Pilgrimage. “It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred.” This is our archetypal longing for transformation – that deep-rooted urge to move to another, more meaningful realm.
When we travel with a sense of the sacred, our journey takes on significance. We are no longer just tourists scurrying from one guidebook attraction to another, so fixed in expectation that we are unable to experience a real sense of place. As pilgrims, we wonder at the world. We ask questions and discover the authenticity of the experience. In doing so, we uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary. Because the journey has meaning to us, we do not hurry from place to place.
Sacred travel also teaches us to “stretch ourselves” when our journey becomes arduous or trying. Traditionally, the pilgrim’s path has been a difficult one. A sacred journey required sacrifices, giving something up, along the way. In this way the pilgrimage became a metaphor for relinquishing material and ego needs to prepare for the spiritual transformation at the end of the journey.
In much the same way, if we allow annoyances like flight delays, lost luggage, inferior lodgings, and inclement weather to torment us, we yield to our own comfort and close our minds and our pilgrim’s eye to the sacredness of the journey. As a result, we return home from our trip feeling unchanged by it.
With insights we gather on the road, we can begin to see our everyday life as a pilgrimage. The journey reminds us that we will encounter obstacles, that these are necessary hurdles we must overcome if we’re to find deeper meaning in our life. We cannot allow them to deter us from the sacred path. The pilgrim’s epiphany, our revelation, is this: The sacred is all around us. From the journey, we learn to look at our surroundings… and our day-to-day life… with a new awareness.
Anatole France captured this very essence of sacred travel when he said, “Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.”
That harmony, not the places we visit, is the true destination of our travels. And when we learn how to carry the quality of the sacred journey into everyday life, we no longer feel like a stranger to the world… or to ourselves. We sense the change and the journey stays with us.