And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
The purported link between travel and spiritual enlightenment has always interested me. I think its because over the last few years I have seen so many friends head abroad with a rucksack, a map and a vague idea that seeing other lands will have a beneficial affect on their psyche. Said friends have often tried to interest the Degu Witch in traipsing round a foreign land or two, but to be honest I've always been oddly resiliant to the idea of travel. (I went to France on a school trip once, it looked pretty similar to England to me except they ate mussels with their chips and had little models of the Eiffel Tower in all their little tobacconist shops. I didnt see much evidence of the cafe culture everyone goes on about either, but to be fair I was in Normandy not Paris, it was pretty chilly for the time of year and I was more interested in perfecting my Time Warp dance steps for the end of trip disco than in observing French culture).
The idea that travel goes hand in hand with spiritual enlightement probably comes from literature, not so much the Bill Bryson travelogue writings but the weightier fiction tomes a la Kerouac's On the Road or even more popularist literature like Alex Garland's The Beach (dramatised with the excellent Leonardo di Caprio playing the lead). Such books make travel seem a bit cool, a touch adventurous and laced with the promise of self discovery and esoteric knowledge that lie beyond the discovery of the average person sat at home watching the telly.
Anyway, influenced by literature or not, it seems to be the done thing these days for most people between the ages of 18 and 40 to pack that old backpack and set off to experience life. This is how they put it, their words not mine - Its one of three stock answers I get when I ask people what they hope to achieve from their travel: 1. Experience life, 2. Broaden the mind, 3. Find themselves.
All this baffles me a bit. Last time I looked, there were signs of life pretty much everywhere. From the mountains of the Himalayas to a concrete housing estate in Hull, life can be found quite easily. One wonders why it is necessary to trog all over the world to find something that is without a doubt on your own doorstep...?
But they don't mean experience life, they mean experience different cultures....which is a different thing altogether. Assuming our intrepid travellers don't do what most travellers do (if they are honest) and head straight for the local McDonalds as soon the plane touches down on foreign soil, chances are they will have a real opportunity to learn about lifestyles and cultures that differ to their own. From an educational point of view, no doubt experiencing other cultures, languages, cuisines and beliefs is fascinating. However, doing it under the premise that you are experiencing life is extraordinary. You'll find just as much life on that council estate in Hull, life doesn't become any the more interesting or real just because the scenery is prettier.
The whole broaden your mind thing gets me as well. I've watched some of the stupidest people known to man trot off diligently to the likes of Machu Picchu (You know the type, wouldn't know their Incas from their Aztecs...) with the expectation that staring at a few ruins they know nothing about will miraculously sprout a spark or two of wisdom into their heads.
Frankly, the travel will be of little benefit to their sadly underused minds. They'd do better spending a week under the duvet with the Boy's Big Book of Knowledge. Leaving your own country may well give you some knowledge (I learned how to order a ham sandwich in French on that long ago school trip to France) but it will teach you nothing that you can't find in books. For the person who truly wants to learn, being country bound, home bound, even bed bound is no barrier. You can travel the world in books, understand the great minds and even view the breathtaking views of continents and worlds alien to our own. Granted, those lacking imagination may well be unable to appreciate some of these things without going there for themselves, but that doesn't mean they are broadening their minds, it is merely an indication that they have a heavier reliance on their five primary senses.
When people tell me they travel to "find themselves," I find it hard not to laugh (actually, being a bit of a bitch, I don't try very hard, I just laugh.) The whole concept of needing to travel the world to find yourself is an entirely ludicrous one to my mind. It's procrastination from putting in the real work to find yourself and its far more about escaping from than journeying to. The you, that centre of your being that we all search for so desperately is not waiting for you in the sunny climes of some far away land, it is right with you in the here and now. When you travel, you know yourself only in isolation, it can teach no lesson about how you relate to the environment that you have created, the relationships you have formed, the life that you have chosen to lead. Seeking a glimmer of spiritual enlightenment in a world entirely divorced from your own is a redundant undertaking.
I often find the attitude of seasoned travellers to be a little sanctimonious and it irritates me because they entirely miss the point and the value in what they are doing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking travel, I think there is a lot to be gained from seeing the world, but what I do dispute is the claim that travel is a necessary step to a form of spiritual enlightement. The attitude that having a few more stamps in their passport entitles them to a lofty claim to any kind of spiritual advancement is laughable at best. Though there is a kinder side of me that pities them a bit for needing to spend all that money to do achieve something that I can achieve at home with a quiet room and a 20p stick of incense.
In my opinion, travel is a bit like drugs, it probably can play a part in unlocking the inner you but to be honest, anyone worth their salt doesn't need to rely on it. If you absolutely cannot engage with your inner self any other way than to go climb foreign mountains and look at ancient ruins then knock yourself and your passport out. But don't make the assumption that what you are doing is necessary for everyone. Spirituality is the journey into the mind, not the journey across the world and many people (myself and many other witches included) can make that journey perfectly successfully in our own armchairs. If you don't understand that the journey into your own mind is the hardest and most rewarding journey you can ever hope to make then I am afraid I can teach you nothing.
The real secret of knowing yourself is to journey as deeply inward as possible. It's about understanding the detail, not the scale, it's about seeking out the elements of your world that matter and learning how to weave them into the tapestry of your life. Its about having the courage to sink deep inside your own mind, to wade through each carefully constructed layer of self preservation and knowing you have the strength to confront whatever lies at the bottom of your own pit of fears. No scenery, no drama, no grandeur, just that long honest journey inward.
Two minutes walk from me is a corn field, I walk there, I ground there, I lie on the earth, I look at the stars, I've danced in the morning dew and I've watched the bats at twilight. I've played in the snow, picked flowers and brambles and had the occasional private cry away from prying eyes. I probably do most weeks what most people do when they travel, only I've made it a part of who I am. I don't need to cross the world to engage with nature or my emotions, I've learned to look deep inside and reached an understanding how I fit into my world. I found spiritual enlightenment only minutes from my door and in doing so, I've taken that journey to the only place that really matters.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1246908 (deberinger5)
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