Recently spending three weeks traveling in Bali, Indonesia, I was reminded of the vastness that exists beyond our daily rituals and routines.
As healthful and helpful as they may be, sometimes stepping on new soil and exploring the world around us can be the just the mirror we need for exploring the world within us.
That’s not to say that mindfulness, meditation, embodiment and the like are not life giving pursuits, indeed they are. However, they are not the only life giving pursuits. They are not the only way to expand consciousness. And they are not the only way to awaken our hearts and minds to our deepest passions and potential.
For me, traveling outside of the United States was a spiritual initiation of sorts about 10 years ago. Since then it has weaved in and out of my life story and remains perhaps one of the more predominant threads.
I can rely on it for deeper insight, healing, heart awakening and integration of the shadow aspects of myself and of life. In those 10 years of journeys, I’ve learned to approach travel like a meditation. With this intention, there is a lot available to gain through traveling near and far.
So here are five reasons why we should all consider getting off our meditation cushion and onto the road, into the air or on the sea to somewhere we’ve never been:
1. Awaken the senses.
We often move through our days perceiving similar sensations that we did the day before. We know how our home smells. We eat foods that we like to taste. We recognize voices of those around us. Our sensations are informing us every day, all day long. While many of us have practices that help to develop more awareness around sensation, I have yet to find a practice quite like travel that will awaken all the senses simultaneously and instantaneously.
I will never forget first walking up from the metro in New Delhi and being completely overwhelmed by sensation. Smell, sight, sound, touch and even taste all present and unavoidable. Of course, this doesn’t mean we remain in this state of heightened senses.
Travel awakens the senses through new input and provides new pathways to explore within the self.
2. Present moment living.
With senses awakened, we can more easily feel into the present moment. Beyond that, travel nearly insists that we be present. Away from our home comforts and conveniences, whatever those may be, we are often more conscious of our surroundings. On some level this comes from our human survival instinct.
Even if we are traveling to a relatively safe place, it is still in our interest to be more aware of our environment than our default setting. This is not a state of fear or heightened sympathetic nervous system, although it can be when we first give it a try.
Over time and with practice, this becomes a constant turning towards the moment and being aware of what’s going on around us and within us right now. This is such a gift and will only help us for deepening mindfulness in everyday living.
3. Shadows will follow.
Whether it’s us being blamed or doing the blaming, we’ve all heard that people travel to escape. What I think we can agree on is that it doesn’t work, at least not for long!
Where we go, so do our shadows.
Traveling has a way of putting us into unknown situations that can easily expose our shadow aspects. It could reveal a reaction that we are stuck in, a bigger mindset that needs shifting or a deeper need that longs to make itself known. When we are somewhat disoriented from changes in time, place, comfort and so on, that’s exactly when we have the opportunity to meet unknown parts of ourselves with compassion. If we are conscious and willing, this gives us a chance for deeper understanding of the self and further integration.
4. Discover new resources.
Traveling often suggests discovery, exploration and new-ness. We often think of that in terms of how it relates to our perception of the world around us. We explore a new landscape. We discover an unknown path. We learn about a culture or people that are different from what is known to us. All the while, we also explore ourselves.
We also discover new things about ourselves. This can be simple, like a new flavor that we enjoy or how we can communicate without sharing a common language. It can also be profound, like a newly found skill or desire. It’s a reminder that this potential is always available. We can discover new things within ourselves throughout our whole lifetime.
5. Free yourself.
We are greatly influenced by our daily environment. We often shape this environment, filling our homes with photos, paintings and furnishings that we like, choosing our form of transportation or lack thereof and so forth.
What we sometimes forget is that our environment also shapes us. Traveling takes us, at least partially, out of this setting. It allows us to be shaped by something else and to also do more shaping of ourselves. It is really freeing to wake up in a space that is unknown and orient oneself to that place based on who we are in that particular moment.
Often I have returned from traveling to realize that I no longer liked the color of my walls or the clothes in my closet. While those things are trivial, we can also free ourselves from ideas we previously held about ourselves and the world around us. We can begin to explore social constructs and agreements that don’t seem to be working for us anymore. That alone can be a powerful first step to freedom.
Whether it’s our first trip or we’ve lost count, travel can be a practice in mindfulness if we move into it with intention.
It can help us grow and awaken to our deeper calling if we are willing to engage with it and with the people it brings across our path. It won’t always be easy or fun. It is not all about white sand, sun and romanticizing the foreign. Sometimes its ways can be harsh and rocky. However, with courage and compassion we can grow immensely through mindful travel adventures.
Author: Kristin Hauser
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Thomas Frost Jensen/Flickr