As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. --Buddha
Everything in the world comes from the mind, like objects appearing from the sleeve of a magician.--Lankavatar Sutra
Mindful travel awakens the senses. Colors are more vibrant and electric; sound is brighter and stirs an inner song; images race across our inner screens as we sense we are part of an unfolding drama.
Attention and space are the main requirements--give your attention to the present moment and separate yourself from the discordant, frictional spinning of a runaway mind. Breathe out vexation and anxiety and inhale the clean, untainted air. Allow it to work its way through the blood stream. It will find the hidden pathways and revitalize them. Like holy water passing down a stream, it will cleanse and renew, second by second finding its way to the deep pools where Buddha as Mystic is ready to create his magic.
As the writer John Welwood states, "Life has its own sacredness.which shines most brightly when we get out of the way." This is the imperative--eliminate the blockages and impediments; obliterate the dams that keep the life force from coursing through us. When we are on the road, this often seems easier. It is easier for us to let go and breathe. It is easier to hold that breath and let it stir our sleeping Buddha nature.
"Where is Buddha to be found?" asks the student of the Zen master.
"Go scrub the floor," answers the master.
The missing Buddha may be found in the strangest places. Devoted disciples go on far-flung pilgrimages to find him, journeying to Lourdes, Mecca, Jerusalem and Angkor Wat. They cluster under the Bodhi Tree and they wade into the opaque waters of the Ganges at Benares. Vast sums are spent by pilgrims to deepen faith and strengthen conviction.
Not all the sacred places are mapped and marked. Not all are described in sacred texts, but somehow we feel their pull when they are near. Thoreau experienced this at Walden Pond, John Muir in the wildlands of the West and among the great Sequoia's. For the artist Georgia O'Keefe it was the desert southwest where old bones bleach in the sun, and for the poet May Sarton, the forested seashore of New England.
Whatever our Mecca or Shambhala, it is always the place that quiets our storms and makes us feel whole. Sometimes it is the home of our ancestors, for others places we associate with freedom or an identity yet unrealized.
Paris was such a place for the writer Henry Miller. Living in poverty in New York during the 1920's, he dreamed of an escape to Paris, where surrounded by avant-garde artists, emigre intellectuals, film-makers and musicians, he might begin a career as a writer. Arriving overseas in his 33rd year, he was alive with energy and ready to bring about his new life, no matter what the sacrifice. It didn't take long for Paris to help him find his voice.
"It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I have been sent here for a reason, I have not yet been able to fathom. "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am."
A feeling of immanent grace is present in sacred places....Not only do we feel more grounded, but senses quicken. Vision may actually improve--not only our ability to discern form and color, but the ability of the mind's eye to see what we must do and where we must go to make ourselves whole. So often the experience of travel sends us down a path with more heart and meaning. There is also a feeling of embodiment.
So often the rat-race of modern life makes us feel empty and outside ourselves. At home we may be numbed by our obligations and sense of entrapment. At work we may feel diminished by organizational hierarchies that pigeon-hole us. All doors seem shut; all paths gated and closed. We dare not try anything new or we are sure to be slammed, rejected and rebuked. If we try to break out of a professional rut we will endanger our retirement, which is the one shred of potential freedom we still cling to. Our bodies reflect the restricted freedom, whether the symptoms are shallow breathing, chronic aches and pains or weakened immune systems.
When we find a sacred place it is common for breathing to deepen, muscles to relax, feeling to return to numbed limbs. Our chi or life-force begins to pulse and our occluded inner pathways flow with energy. Maybe for the first time since youth, we feel that what we do matters. We are part of a larger whole and can make a significant contribution. This in turn deepens our breathing and even more of our armor crumbles. No doubt this is one of the reasons why so many spontaneous healings occur at Lourdes and other sacred places.
Traveling with openness and awareness works a strange effect on inner navigation. We enter a field of possibility that reverses our polarities. Compass needles quicken; divining rods twitch. We know better than to relax as we sense the eruption of something important and defining. These were my sensations in 1994 when I traveled by train to Berchtesgaden:
Just outside of Bad Reichenhall, the valley began to narrow and the mountains steepen, forming craggy faces where heaven meets earth. Storm clouds huddled ominously at the nexus like a charged ether, infusing each stony visage with life blood.
A sentinel extruding from the mountain wall commanded my attention. He was inspecting us closely, apparently deciding whether we were interlopers, and if so whether we were cause for alarm. A shrug in the talus caused scree to run down the lower slope next to the grade, and for a moment I wondered if the train would be buried in a raging slide.
To my relief, the rock-fall abated. Apparently we were no real threat. The train continued on, paralleling the serpentine path of a frothing river.
With every kilometer the landscape grew more wild and furious. The river and mountains seemed to be at war, and for the moment the mountains were ascendant, constricting flow through a narrow, bouldered channel. The river foamed with intemperance and then fell into a deep gorge, roaring like a maimed stag.
I wondered what sensations Neville Chamberlain felt and thought when he came here by train from Munich in 1938 to negotiate with Hitler in Obersalzberg. He too must have been struck by the dark immanence of the Bavarian Alps and this place, in particular. Maybe it even occurred that he was out of his element.
This was stark contrast to the tame flatlands of the English wolds. This was a geography of Id and impulse, intuition and emotion. Detached reason could hardly be sustained in a place like this. You might easily wonder whether deep within these mountains was the dark eruptive core of a German zeitgeist--a zeitgeist and destiny it was futile to resist.
The weather was taking a severe turn. The train passed into a forbidding shadow and summer rain pelted the windows angrily. It stopped as quickly as it started, causing the train to be cloaked in a steamy veil. We passed around another bend and were struck by radiant sunshine. All around me color burst forth from the shadows--raw umber in the foliage, vermilion and magenta in the storm-laden clouds. The play of light reminded me of the moody contrasts of Brueghel and Vermeer.