Coninued from: “Know Thyself – Part II – Beginning to Blossom”

questionmarkIn my life, there have been several “Big Question Marks” – areas of deep curiosity that felt like they needed to be answered, or I would somehow be left feeling incomplete and unsatisfied. In many Eastern philosophies, they talk about letting go, but these are some of the things that feel better fulfilled than dropped — because once they are answered, they are gone.

For me, travel was one of those things.

I always had a strong, intuitive feeling that I needed to travel as much as I could right away – to satisfy the curiosity – as the opportunity may not always be there. While I was delivering newspapers in Berkeley, I took a break to tour Europe for a month and a half. It felt incredibly liberating and empowering, knowing that all my classmates were still in high school, while I was off exploring the world.

I carried my frugality with me to Europe, staying in the cheapest places I could find and eating the cheapest of foods.  I decided to splurge once in each country and many of the experiences were pretty comical.  For one, I had a romantic notion of France and espresso and wanted to experience it. I laid down the francs for an espresso and felt a bit pained by how small it was for the price. I then indulged and couldn’t believe how horrible it tasted. It was a pretty surprising and disheartening encounter. In Italy, when I felt the urge for a splurge, I entered a charming pizza restaurant in Florence where I carefully studied the menu for the optimal selection. I settled on something that sounded quite poetic – pizza blanca. It turned out to be just a baked pizza crust, with nothing on it.

vgbridgearlesI visited most of the European counties, walking huge distances, and visited many of the key tourist sites.  Of particular significance to me was tracing the footsteps of Van Gogh in Arles, visiting Jung’s fantastic homes in Switzerland, and fainting for the first time in my life at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve in the packed Sacre Couer in Paris

I traveled with great confidence and became quite competent and self-reliant.

Maybe six months later, I decided to travel again – this time to India and Nepal.  My reason for wanting to go to India was much different from that of most people who yearn to go there. I was only 18, and had heard something about the deep spirituality of India and its sadhus. I had a romantic notion of these sadhus, but instead of going there to seek them out for answers, or perhaps to find a guru, I wanted to discover their flaws in order to humanize them. My experiences in life had been so profound, that I felt that they were my peers. I sensed a tendency within to romanticize them and project on them all of my divine qualities. Instead, I felt that by humanizing them, they would lose their power over me, enabling me to sustain these qualities myself.

My first trip to India was extraordinary. It started on the airplane with the thrilling feeling of being surrounded by people from such a rich and very different culture. At the airport I hung out with Tibetan monks until dawn where I caught a bus to the city. On the way there I saw a body floating in the river and a corpse on the street with its head cracked wide open. The poverty was all around – the leper-filled streets, starving families, and scrawny dogs. Though I didn’t know it at the time I had arrived on Diwali and firecrackers were bursting all around. As I gazed into the face of deep poverty I had the sense that finally I had found my home. Though I lived in America, land of the plenty, my own life was full of suffering and deprivation. In seeing this external poverty, I felt that it was the material manifestation of my inner state – something I wasn’t even really aware existed in the world. And it somehow felt very comforting to know I wasn’t totally alone.

banarasI felt great compassion all around, and also felt the joys in offering smiling hellos to all the kids and genuine Namastes to all the people I encountered.  My own spiritual being naturally blossomed. When I arrived in Banaras, I was so overwhelmed by the density of devotion and layers of spiritual expression that I decided to stay put. I could write quite a bit about my incredible experiences on this trip and also in the pristine and magnificent Nepal. Though I’m sure my own perceptions have changed and been diluted, I really think that India (and Nepal) have changed dramatically over the last 18 years since I first visited. I feel very fortunate to have gone when I did for a taste of this very rich place.

My traveling didn’t end here. There has been quite a bit more. Clearly, traveling expands our sense of reality and stretches our own place within it. Though the world is filled with amazing places that I would love to visit, and though I come alive when I travel, this Big Question Mark has already been answered. If I never travel again, I would be satisfied. Traveling broke open the provincial view of myself and the world that I had developed – and that is exactly what I needed to crack. It also gave me a sense of esteem for having tasted of the adventure. Though I love it, the question mark is now gone. I can let it go. From here, traveling is just an added joy.

Continue to: Know Thyself – Part IV – Opening Up

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