In search of spiritual experience

When I was in college, I took a year off to try to make some money, and in my determination to avoid being cooped up in an office, took a job as a carpenter’s helper. It was a small company, mainly just the owner and me, working all day on small home-renovation jobs, painting and wallpapering and fixing up. I figured those skills would come in handy someday, and now that I own my own fixer-upper, that’s proven true.

Anyway, one day when we were working away, chatting about this and that, my boss Ray said to me, “So, what’s life all about, anyway? Is it a spiritual quest?” And that simple question, asked in such an offhand and sincere way, in the midst of an ordinary day — not in a classroom, or a lecture hall, or some place sequestered from the everday reality of working and living — has stuck with me much more than anything I learned in philosophy class.

Being an eco-traveler, I think, is a kind of real-world expression of that spiritual quest. It’s not just about zipping off to somewhere exotic to look at a rare animal or bird or jungle. It’s going to a place in search of a deeper experience, to connect with that place, with the land and the people.

Cameron Karsten, a blogger for Brave New Traveler, takes that idea to the next level, with his new column on “the art of spiritual travel.”

“True travel is a place of opening yourself to the processes of inner journeying,” he writes. “It is laying down the arms of ordinary life and undertaking a new style wholly involving oneself and the world abroad. It is a return to the recognition of who you are, where you came from and where you’re going within the mass of global evolution.”

Check it out at Brave New Traveler.

Another spin on the spiritual journey is the pilgrimage. Millions of Muslims travel every year to their sacred sites; Jews return to holy places in Jerusalem; Christians of various denominations visit shrines, cathedrals, holy cities. New-agers seek out a spiritual experience in places like the red rock canyons of Sedona, Arizona, or in the ancient cultures of Bali or Peru.

Whole travel industries have grown around this need to be a pilgrim. Sacred Earth Journeys and Journeys of the Spirit offer lots of options for seekers of all sorts… swim with wild dolphins in Bimini, or visit the pyramids of Egypt, or explore Maya sites in Mexico.

But in the end, the new place we seek is somewhere within ourselves.