Waypost Travel Talk 2/13: Religious & Spiritual Travel
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey in to someone’s own beliefs.
At this travel talk we had speakers who went walking the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, went on a spiritual journey in India and went soul searching and meditating in Bali, Indonesia.
After 7 years of doing what she thought she was supposed to do, like getting a degree, getting a job, getting married, getting a house, she still found herself miserable. She decided to leave that life, and one night while reading a magazine, a photo of India just popped out. She knew India was the place she needed to be and in October 2009 she left. She didn’t know what to expect or what the trip would mean to her, but she knew she had to do it.
Did you seek out India because of its spiritual reputation?
I actually had a chance to go to India for a wedding in 2005, but I had no desire to go and I ended up not going. I think the reason was that back then I was not a spiritual person. But as I was questioning my path in life I delved into spirituality so I like to think that I went down a spiritual path in India that was for me. I didn’t go there with a checklist of spiritual activities, but I structured my trip around different volunteer activities to deepen my experience.
How are you more spiritual now?
I’ve always been reading and learning a lot about world religions and spiritualities, but I was more a student of spirituality than a practitioner. It wasn’t before I started to travel that I understood what spirituality really meant, and to me it was full love and trust in myself. And when I took the leap of faith to live the path I felt I was supposed to live and actually do it, then I became a practitioner of spirituality. India was just the stage for it.
Landing in India, it can be a hectic country, between so many people and the traffic, and which at first does not seem like a “spiritual” environment. So considering this, What was it like for you to transfer from dealing with that chaos to actually hitting the spiritual “meat and bones” experiences? How long did it take to get to that environment and when did you know? why do you think India attracts so many people for soul searching?
When I first walked off the plane in Delhi it smelled like an incinerator and I was thinking to myself “what the hell am I doing here?” I traveled the two first weeks of India on a tour because I felt I needed some help to get around. I actually did not want to even leave my hotel room at that point. It had air conditioning, HBO on TV and I saw no reason to go outside in the hot humid air. But I told myself: “You’re here now, you’re here to experience this culture. Get outside!” I think the key to getting out of the chaos in India and getting into the “flow”, is to surrender, and that theme came up over and over again. I found myself and other western travelers too desperately trying to make order out of India, and there’s just no order. So I found that as soon as I started to fight that urge, it all made sense and I was in the flow.
She was the first in her family to get a passport and has loved to travel for a long time, but after unexpected and major changes in her life she wanted to focus on herself, push her boundaries and try something new. A travel stipend gave her the opportunity to go to Bali and she stayed 2 weeks at a surf retreat. It was her first time traveling solo and she was excited to get a fresh start.
What did you learn about Jenny?
I went there wanting to surf and be physically healthy, but when I talk about the retreat the most important thing wasn’t the yoga or the surfing, but everyday we were were writing in our journals and we had discussions about our worries and what we were grateful for. I even cried every day of the retreat. What it gave me was a safe place to be open to the experience, and I was ready to take on anything that came my way. I said “yes!” to everything and I wanted to absorb it all. It allowed me to really get out all the toxic things in my body, in my mind and in my heart, and finally awaken my inner spirit. Basically it gave me a time-out. I had gone from job to job, from apartment to house, and had never had taken any time in between, just went on with the daily life. Taking this trip allowed me to take a moment and just breathe for once. It was amazing. It was a pivotal moment in my life. Now I feel more peaceful, not as distracted and I feel I have a calm energy to me.
What did you feel was the reason to go somewhere to do such internal work, that truthfully, could be done just as easily right here in the city you live in? What was it about “going away” that had to happen?
The reason for why I needed to go somewhere to do these things was time. It’s hard to take time out of your normal life. Another reason was to get away from people who know you and be with total strangers.
I wrote in my journal that the one thing I was worried about was going home. I felt so good! And I didn’t want to go home and lose that feeling. But my instructor gave me tools to bring back to my daily life, because you cannot stay on that high forever. Now I can go to yoga and think about how I felt in Bali and I feel I needed to go away to get that experience.
A friend of Ola from the Bay Area had decided she wanted to travel in between jobs. One day she googled long walks in Europe and found the pilgrimage. She was emailing pictures along the way, and Ola and a friend found what she was doing really interesting. A mere six weeks after his friend had started her walk, Ola found himself on the trail.
Before you went on Camino de Santiago you didn’t know what you were going to. What was it, now looking back on it, that you wish you’d known in advance or would have done differently a 2nd time around?
There are so many things, both practically and spiritually that I’ve learned.
I basically packed my bag the night before I left for this trip and in contrast I met people on the hike that had been planning this for years. I just ended up there by accident and it was a really interesting feeling to just figure it out as i walked. Practical lessons were that my backpack was way too heavy, so I gave things away as I walked. Another thing was that my shoes were way too sturdy, I should have just used my tennis shoes.
But on a more spiritual level, there are many reasons to do this walk, people walk because of the historical aspect or of religious reasons. Some just wanted to prove to their friends that they could do it and some had been fighting with diseases and wanted to prove to themselves that they could do it. What I personally regretted the most was that I went on this walk with my friend. I would really like to go again, but this time alone. It’s nice to walk with someone you know and share that experience, but even if I had gone on this trip alone, the truth is that I would not have been alone because of all the people walking with you.
Most people walking this road have a mission. Everyone is walking towards the same goal of reaching Santiago, but most are also walking towards the goal of figuring out a problem they came there with. What did you realize from walking with so many people with so many different reasons for being there?
I learned that I’m not alone in this world. People were coming from all over the world, and it was a really interesting feeling of being part of something bigger, we were all sharing the same road going the same way together and by that sharing a part of this world together. While walking I found that to be very spiritual. You’re so close to nature and you’re using only your own power to carry yourself forward. Everything moves so slowly that you actually have time to see things. Time to think and listen to your thoughts. Then you meet all these people along the way and you realize that there are so many people out there who have similar issues and things that they are struggling with. Then you share and maybe discuss small snippets of your life for a mile or two, and you split paths. Maybe you get an answer, or maybe you get another question. But it’s all helping.
What was it that you learned about Ola on this journey?
The most important thing was to realize that you’re not alone in this world. Another big thing was to realize how much time we waste in our lives on nonimportant tasks. We’re so busy, but with things that don’t matter. In the villages I walked through, people had time to stop and say hi and smile, but the closer I came to the city people started to look down and carry on with their lives without noticing each other.
The Waypost travel talks are made possible by Jetpac Travel App for iPad.