Spiritual Practice as defined by Wikipedia is, “the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development.” So in a nutshell, a spiritual practice helps one obtain some sort of enlightenment or realization about themselves and maintain an overall healthy wellbeing. So how exactly is travel a spiritual practice?
Well , from my experience I can tell you before every trip, I always clear my mind of negativity and leave all of my problems on the ground. Something frustrating or Sad could be happening in my life at this very moment, but I always try to check my problems at the door before beginning a trip. As J. Cole cleverly wailed in his song Ville Mentality, “You call it Runnin, I call it Escapin….” Sometimes with problems in life you just have to take a step back, and come back to the problem later. Traveling gives me a chance to do that. Besides, working close quarters with about 8-10 other people in an airplane is an interesting experience to say the least. Not to mention your passengers have their own trials while being stuffed into a giant metal tube about to go soaring 35,000 ft. above ground. So in a sense, practicing mindfulness and common curteousy/decency before every trip is a must for me. Nobody enjoys a grouchy flight attendant projecting all of their problems onto other people.
Another sort of ritual I perform before every trip, is making sure I have my tools of the trade (i .e. Passport, Badge, uniform, watch, etc.) as well as my own personal tools for my travels (i .e. Camera, Tripod, Journal, Stationary set, etc.). Again a practice of mindfulness when completeing these tasks is essential for clearing the mind, and kind of just helping me stay out of my head. This task itself is not only performed before every trip, but essentially every time I check into a hotel, and when I check out of a hotel. For me its sort of like Catholics every Sunday following certain prayers and customs before receiving the body and blood of Christ, I follow certain checklists to make sure I can go out and have a great adventure and learn what I can from the universe that day.
I don’t have any sayings, mottos, or prayers before take off and landing, but I can tell you I try not to manifest a giant fiery explosion of the plane I am sitting on. Manifestation, as I have been personally learning, is a powerful tool to help you live an abundant life (sort of like prayer) and I know from personal experience if you think too much about it, chances are it will happen. Kind of like riding in your car down the highway and you find yourself thinking about a blown tire and then all of the sudden your tire blows. You just try not to think about it and manifest that shit.
When it comes to layovers and rest, that is a time of personal reflection. For those who don’t know, I have another project on the side called the Letters project. Every day I write myself a letter in which I explain a lesson that I ‘ve learned or just give myself some daily encouragement to keep going at it in life. Personal reflection during layovers/rest is my favorite. It gives me a chance to really connect with myself and the universe and just sit with the lessons of the day. It also gives me a chance to practice gratitude, as I am staying in some really nice hotels, courtesy of the company I work for. Each hotel room is like my own personal temple to reflect, practice gratitude, and ponder the deep questions of life that plague me from time to time.
Layover Adventures, as I like to call them, are also one of my personal favorites. I have made it a habit to get out and explore the country and observe the culture where I am currently at. Although service can mean different things to different people, to me, I am practicing my own service by contributing to the local economy, perhaps by purchasing a local souvineer, or trying the local cuisine. Perhaps some day there will be an opportunity to serve overseas, like by teaching English or volunteering with the peace corps. and practicing yet another version of service, but for now I just do what I can while I’m out on the road.
Courtesy and Respect are two values I hold dear and try to practice everytime I ‘m out on the road. Observing local customs like not shaking males hands in the Middle East, or bowing to my Elders out of respect in Japan are some of the ways I try to adhere to and respect local customs. Also learning a little bit of the language for every country I ‘ve been to has been a must for me. So far Arabic has been the hardest to learn, but I still keep trying out of respect for such a beautiful,rich, and complex culture out in the Middle East
Practicing amends through respect and courteousy of a culture is another way I view Travel as a Spiritual Practice. This stems from my own personal beliefs and experiences through deployment and my time in the Army, but I believe in distancing myself from certain mindsets and preconceived notions by getting to know the people and not the caricature of an enemy that was fed to me at one point in my life. Due to a highly politicized enviornment at the moment that is all I will say on the issue and prefer to keep thoughts on this particular spiritual practice to myself. I respect all views and opinions on this issue and have therefore decided to keep my thoughts on this to myself, so as not to provoke tensions on an otherwise peaceful blog.
And finally there is just the moment of being in the moment while traveling. Traveling has an amazing way of making you slow down and be. It takes you out of your head, out of the past, out of the future, and into the present moment where you can just be. Your aware of things like how your breathing, how your eating, how your sitting. Aware of the sheets on your skin, or how the weather in that particular country feels on that particular day. Perhaps your aware of your own dialect and how you sound compared to everybody else, how you walk with a purpose vs. walking with calm and leisure. Thich Naht Hahn is one of my favorite Buddhist Authors, and I never quite understood what he meant about being in the present moment until I started traveling and immersed myself in unfamiliar settings. I can tell you from my experiences, the present moment is definitely the place you want to be. A sense of calm and purpose awaits us there, and slipping back into my head is always one of the most disappointing set backs on my spiritual journey.
All in All these are just some of the ways I practice my spirituality through travel, and how Travel itself has awoken within me a more guided practice towards my spiritual wellbeing. I highly encourage you the next time you travel to at least immerse yourself in a deeper understanding of where your traveling to through your own beliefs whether your Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, etc. and just take the time to truly appreciate the beauty and lessons this life and this world has to offer.