Apr 2012: We’re All Travelers in Time

by Brad on March 31, 2012

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”   — St. Francis of Assisi

When I travel, I’ve made it a practice to be more aware and present to what the world’s special places offer. Travel has become a way to explore time, place and myself more deeply. A few years ago, this practice became somewhat of a ritual when a friend gave me Phil Cousineau’s book, The Art of Pilgrimage, before one of my trips to Maui. I adopted many of its ideas during my stay, and can say that, even traveling to a place with a sacredness all its own, I found deeper connection with life’s energy, both the island’s and my own. Whether heading to Maui to “do nothing” or leading a nature tour into British Columbia’s majestic coastal wilderness, it has helped me reframe “trip” into “pilgrimage,” a journey with personal intention that reconnects me with my own soul and spirit. Adding this sense of “purpose” has changed the way I see and think … about travel, about Maui, about nature and about myself.

At some level, conscious or not, each of us longs for contact with the sacred – the felt experience of the breadth and depth of life beyond our everyday ability to comprehend. Yet because our lives are complex, chaotic and often overwhelming, we find little or none of the silence or personal awareness required for this experience of oneness to manifest. We’ve often relegated even the possibility of it to either that long-dreamt-about-but-never-taken personal retreat, or the once-a-year vacation that often falls far short of its promise.

In re-reading The Art of Pilgrimage this week on the eve of another Maui pilgrimage, it struck me how we might view life as a pilgrimage, too, and that perhaps we could learn to experience the sacred every day, not just during times set aside for special purposes. What if we could find the sacred where it really lives – right here, right now?

For sure, it would require a new way of seeing and thinking. Ordinary thinking can get us through an ordinary day, but we’ve got little experience with the kind of thinking needed to experience the extraordinary at all, say nothing of experiencing it in each [ordinary] moment. We may not be able to imagine that such a level of thinking even exists! But what if we could see our entire life as a journey with the explicit intention to experience its inherent sacredness? Viewed this way, we create the sacred with each step we take. Today’s failing, then, is that we simply don’t notice. Transforming how you see and think is a big shift, yet with even greater rewards. Instead of being overwhelmed by the idea, however, consider “baby steps.” Two exercises can open you to the magic and mystery of life, every day.

Exercise: Observe your thoughts: Ordinary thoughts create ordinary days. So ingrained is this process of “thinking” that we rarely see thinking as a driving force in how our days go. Only by interrupting this incessant flow of thoughts so you notice those thoughts can you reconstruct life’s meaning from fragments that have gone unobserved until now. The practice: Stop what you’re doing several times a day. During a simple moment of quiet reflection, notice the thought you’re having that very minute. Just name the thought, without judgment. While awkward at first, the practice teaches you to listen. You will hear. With time, you will come to experience the sacred longing inside you.

Exercise: Go for a walk: Bodies need exercise. Minds need clearing. Emotions need a break. Relationships need to include one with yourself. Souls need quiet time. Spirits need connection to nature. Walking does all these. There’s perhaps no better “activity” to connect you to your own inner truth than walking in nature. For a half hour or so, two or more times a week, wander in silence; honor the time as sacred and purposeful, resisting any temptation to solve problems or make to-do lists. Notice the sights and sounds of nature; tune out the rest. Listen to what comes up for you. You will hear. Nietzsche said, “Never trust a thought that didn’t come by walking.”

You find life’s meaning in the experience of the sacred; you find the sacred where it’s always been … inside you, not in the retreat or vacation you never get. And you discover it by noticing. Stop, look and listen … you’ll discover what you truly love. As Cousineau says, “What’s missing longs to be filled in.” In providing space for it to happen, it does.

A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

We’re all living the “hero’s journey.” While neither your journey nor mine may offer intrigue or acclaim as did the journeys of the Buddha, Jesus, Odysseus, Gandhi, Thoreau, Mother Teresa, or even Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, every one of us is here to experience what’s deepest inside us. Those we hold in high regard for their journeys were neither richer nor smarter nor luckier than you or me; what distinguished them was the clarity and perspective they had about what mattered most to them. They knew their truth and lived it.

While we know it is true of many of them, and while we suspect it is true of all of them, time alone in nature offered them a direct connection with this, their source. Nature is perhaps life’s ultimate teacher. True, she has a resume with four billion years of experience here on earth, yet her magic is “right here, right now,” in each moment, waiting for our listening. Joseph Campbell, a well-known mythologist, likens our journeys through life to a walk through a labyrinth. I love his perspective: “Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god.  And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.” How better might we experience this than to allow ourselves the simple gift of quiet time in nature? OK, perhaps walking a labyrinth in nature, but you get the idea.

Some of you, I know, cannot imagine not doing this. Others of you, and yes, I know, cannot imagine doing this. Regardless of your current viewpoint, time alone with your thoughts begins to empty the mind of its clutter. The space created lets life’s potential rush in, allowing us, as Louis Pasteur once said, “to see everywhere in the world the inevitable expression of the concept of infinity.” With no space for the new, however, the “same old same old” strengthens its grip on your old ways of thinking. It’s springtime. Nature is beginning to show her majestic colors.  Be there. Be here.


Openings to New Possibility


An invitation to bold possibility: Transforming the perspective offered in this month’s article into your own way of being could be a rich program of individual coaching. In writing as I do, I am under no illusion that the vast majority will not, all on their own, integrate these ideas into their everyday lives. The power old beliefs hold to constrain thinking is phenomenal. Having a “guide for unexplored territory” is as important as would be having a guide for a journey into nature’s wilderness. I’m here to help. I’ll meet you wherever you may be on your journey. Together we’ll challenge the thinking that holds you back, discover what matters most to you, and chart a course into the territory of your potential. Contact me, and begin to shift forever your view of what’s possible.

The Road Not Taken website: Visit my website, www.RoadNotTaken.com. You can now gain access to more articles, blogs, and newsletters, so you’ll find “new stuff” on a regular basis. This newsletter will now also be found as a blog entry (under the category Purposeful Wanderings), along with several back issues. You can comment on anything you read; I see this kind of dialogue as an example of how we may all learn together. Coming soon: The Road Not Taken Community, a subscription offering free of charge, giving you the opportunity to stay connected, to be challenged, to interact, to learn and to grow. Stay tuned.

Book of the month The Art of Pilgrimage, by Phil Cousineau. This month’s article highlights several reasons to read this book, whether you are traveling or staying home. Cousineau suggests that we won’t find the core of our sacred longing in a time or place or event or plan, but in how we see and think and walk, every day. “Practice listening as if your life depended on it. It does.” I’ve found this book a great companion for travels away from home, and now see it as a companion for the “everyday journey” of life as well. A repeated bit of wisdom offered as your reward is the ability and the strength to “pass by that which you do not love.” What a freeing thought.

Download April 2012 pdf 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

linda st.clair March 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Greetings from Gabriola Island!
This piece on pilgrimages resonates with me especially when you move it to that “every day” occasion and while recognizing that when we approach certain places that we are visiting it is very helpful to have a “pilgrim’s” mindset. If you haven’t already explored David Whyte’s book: “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity” you might find that interesting as well as collection of readings of a spiritual autobiographical nature called “Pilgrim Sours” edited by Mandelker and Powers. Finally, since labyrinth’s are now in many places since Grace Cathedral in San Francisco introduced it to many in North America it is worth reading Lauren Artress’s book, “Walking a Sacred Path.” It is truly a helpful walk and finding labyrinth’s in so many places when you travel is a gift!
Thanks for your gift of this newsletter.


Brad Glass March 31, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Thanks so much for your kind words, Linda. And yes, I love David Whyte’s work, and will now check out the others you recommend as well. Glad all is well up in B.C. — Brad


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