Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Where does your spirit wander on a journey?

Machu Picchu and the rising sun. (Photo © John Geary)
Swedish author and diplomat Dag Hammarskjold wrote,
"The longest journey
Is the journey inwards
Of him who has chosen his destiny."

The line is a comment about a spiritual journey.

All journeys are journeys of spirit, although how spiritual each one may be depends on where you're travelling, what you're doing, and what you frame of mind is at the time.

If you're visiting a spiritual site, it certainly helps. However, you don't have to be at a "spiritual site" to have an incredibly spiritual experience. I've had plenty of those just walking through a local park, or even sitting watching nature at play.

But I've also had some incredible spiritual experiences while travelling to other countries. And while visiting a spiritual site does not guarantee you'll be "spiritually enlightened," I challenge anyone to not feel some kind of awe or maybe feel just a little bit of "perhaps there's something bigger than me operating in the universe" when you stand at dawn, overlooking the temples and structures of Machu Picchu.

Aside from literally taking your breath away (it's a big of climb up from the parking lot to the site, in very thin air), watching the sun come over the mountains in the east and shining down upon the site will take away the breath of all but the most jaded viewers (who probably wouldn't be there in the first place.)

I was fortunate enough to experience this during a trip with Mountain Lodges of Peru several years ago. No matter what else I get to see in my lifetime, I have a hard time imagining it could be much greater than that (not to say I won't try, mind you!)

Exploring the site, looking far down into the valley below its precipitous sides, dodging one of the wild lamas that call it "home" really does force one to think about, well, everything.

That's a spiritual experience I've enjoyed high up among the clouds.

I've also enjoyed them below sea level.

During a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, I swam with dolphins.
Spinner dolphin off the Kona Coast, Hawaii.
(Photo © John Geary)

This was not one of those aquarium experiences where tourists get in a pool with tame dolphins not even native to the area; this involved going out into the ocean on a small craft early in the morning, tracking a wild pod of spinner dolphins much like one would when going to see wild gorillas in the African rain forest.

There was a good chance we'd see them, but no guarantee. Our leader led the six of us in a group prayer as we cruised out into the bay.

And we did see them. Then we got into the water with snorkel gear and swam around, never approaching, never touching them, just letting them come to us, if they chose. One swam right up to me underwater, looked at me a bit, then swam away. We even got to see a mother with a newly born baby swimming along beside her. We could hear them communicating with their clicks, whistles, and chirps.

If that's not a spiritual experience, I don't know what is.

Many of my spiritual experiences have involved birds. Every time I see parrots in the wild, as I have in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and the Caribbean, it's a spiritual journey. Even seeing wild birds in a local park in B.C. is a spiritual experience for me.


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Sandhill crane grooms near Delta, B.C. 

Ditto when I'm paddling. When I dip my paddle repetitively in calm waters while canoeing or kayaking, it becomes zen-like. Padding through the early morning fog of Alberta's Maligne Lake, canoeing in a misty rain and following an eagle in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan, seeing the biggest beaver ever during a desert paddling trip, kayaking down a river while hearing jungle sounds all around in Ecuador - they're all spiritual experiences.

And I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of seeing waterfalls like Mosi oa Tunya ("The Smoke that Thunders") or countless other small wilderness cascades.

Then there was the time I had a "weasel encounter" in Calgary's Fish Creek Provincial Park. Sitting there watching minnows swim around in a feeder stream, I got the distinct feeling something was there, looked over and five feet away sat a weasel, also mesmerized. I jumped a bit, it then jumped, and the spell was broken, but that encounter - and many more in the park I lived five minutes away from - was a great example of spiritual journeys taken close to home.
Ste Anne de Beaupre (Photo © John Geary)

While natural surroundings seem to help me connect spiritually, I've also experienced some moving moments in more urban areas. At the top of that list: the Basilica Ste Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. When I visited there, I could not help but look up in awe at this structure that was too large to capture in a photo, even with a wide angle lens unless I stood back so far as to make the photo unappealing.

Inside, it's not much different. I'm not a huge fan of architecture, but this place is really special. Allow yourself plenty of time to be awed if you visit there.

These are just a sampling of my own spiritual wanderings. There are so many places to visit, so many ways to take spiritual journeys, doing so really is a life-long adventure, an exploration of self and our relation to the Universe.

Let the journeys continue.

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