You can become a spiritually-reflective traveller if you
bring in God into your holiday picture!
Many of us love to travel. We’d probably travel even more if we had less responsibilities and more money. At one time, I was what you could call a travel-addict. Over the years, I managed to travel in more than 30 countries!
These days, I don’t travel very much. It perhaps isn’t just because I’m in my 50s now and my energy-levels are different from what they were back in my ‘wild’ days. It’s also probably because my understanding of the purpose of travelling has changed.
There are two ways of looking at travel. One can view it from a secular perspective or from a spiritual one. The purpose of travel in the two cases can be very different. From a secular perspective, one could travel for several purposes, such as:
• Relaxation, enjoyment, adventure having a ‘fun’ time or ‘chilling out’, as they say.
• Wanting a ‘change’; escaping the boredom and tedium of routine life.
• Seeing new places, meeting new people and having new experiences.
• Increasing one’s knowledge of other cultures, ways of life etc.
For many years, these were among the major purposes for my almost obsessive travelling. Those days, I had essentially what you could call a materialistic understanding of travel. That is, if I visited a place, my major focus was on seeing material things (museums, palaces, forts and historic buildings, or zoos, forests, beaches, mountains etc.) and indulging in various forms of sensual stimulation (eg. eating ‘good’ food, attending a musical concert or a dance performance).
‘Sightseeing’, that gives sensual pleasure which is temporary, was really what much of my travelling was for. This was an understanding of travel that I probably shared with many others. In fact, this was also probably how ‘Tourism’ was envisaged and marketed by many travel companies the world over. Then wedded to the ‘religion’ of Hedonism, travel was for me yet another means for obtaining pleasure through sense-stimulation. In those days, even if I visited a place of worship, it may have been just to admire it as an interesting work of craftsmanship, a beautiful physical structure, like the other monuments that my travel guidebook recommended tourists really ought to see.
From a spiritual point of view, the purpose of travel is very different. In diverse spiritual traditions one learns of spiritual aspirants or masters who travelled a great deal. The purpose of such travel often included the following:
• Searching for a spiritual guide.
• Searching for spiritual knowledge.
• Seeking out and being in the company of fellow spiritual seekers.
• Communicating God’s message to others.
• Communing with God while on travel, sometimes in remote places like mountain caves, forests etc.
From the materialistic or secular point of view, travel can undoubtedly have its benefits. It can help us open our mind, expanding it to embrace new ways of living, new cultures and new ways of doing things. Travel can enable us to meet people from diverse cultures, religions, ethnicities and nationalities. This can help one become more universal in one’s thinking, learning to discern the oneness that binds all people together. Facing challenges while travelling can help us become stronger and more resilient.
All that is well and good. But from the spiritual point of view, the purpose and benefits of travel go beyond that. From the spiritual perspective, the purpose of travel should be to help us grow in our connection with God and to do God’s will. If you study the lives of saints, you will find that, centuries ago, many of them did a great deal of travelling including on foot or on horseback or sailing in ships. They sojourned to distant lands, taking the message of God to people there. In those days, when the means of travel were limited and journeys often entailed many great dangers, these people travelled keeping God as their destination. For them, travel wasn’t for a ‘summer break’ or to have ‘fun’ or to holiday in some ‘exotic’ locale. Their purpose was entirely different: to do the work that God had set for them. Along with their physical travelling from place to place, these master journeyers engaged in a profound inner journey, going deep within to seek to understand who they truly were.
From a spiritual point of view, travel can afford us many opportunities to grow in our connection with God and in relating to God’s creatures while also having an enjoyable time. For example, if suppose you travel to a place by the sea for a holiday, you can definitely have fun swimming in the sea or making sandcastles. At the same time, you can be awestruck at the immensity of the sea or admire the beauty of the shells scattered on the beach and use these to reflect on the beauty, power and majesty of their creator, God. If you spot a party of seagulls flying overhead, you can reflect on how God guides them across vast stretches of water and provides them food to eat. And at the end of your holiday, when you return, you can thank God for the good time that you had and for bringing you home safely. In these and other ways, you can become a spiritually-reflective traveller if you bring in God into your holiday picture!