Travel-Induced Enlightenment: It Doesn’t Exist.

(This post is really just ramblings from my journal… nothing in particular about our travels, just my thoughts….not always cohesive or coherent. Anything that appears to be stated as matter-of-fact is just the nature of using words to convey ideas, but I try and use forgiving language to compensate.)

In a world (social media world, that is) inundated with #wanderlust posts it is easy to understand the growing itch among many to travel. This is particularly prominent among the millennial age group most exposed to such social media travel porn. Is it a stretch to say that Instagram’s success is fueled by users scrolling through hundreds of tiny squares longing for the body, food, lifestyle and travels of others? (Maybe I’m just relaying my personal love-hate relationship with the picture-based social media giant).

Moreover, there seems to be a budding ideology of travel-induced enlightenment; a notion sustained by awe-inducing photos captioned with an inspirational quote or thought, on how such a landscape can lead to a spiritual-like experience. This concept is an unfortunate side effect of wide-spread exposure to the lives of others; if these social media posts are someone’s first introduction to the idea or possibility of awakening it can be particularly misleading (but at the same time awesome for introducing them). Maybe each post can be followed by a disclaimer: “experiences are just that…experiences, all meaning we attach to them are in the mind”. As a Seeker, it is easy to get caught up in seeking experiences, since they are something tangible in this ethereal journey to the center of one’s self.  As the Zen saying goes, “Don’t mistake the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself.” Don’t fix your gaze, or intention, on the teaching, on the guidance, or on the experiences.

In my short 25 years of existence I’ve made my way from Alaska to Peru, from Italy to The British Virgin Islands, and back again; I’ve called both a boat and a van my home. I am by no means saying I am a professional traveler (I am easily intimidated, confused, and disheartened). However, I can say with absolute certainty that the act of going to all these places has not made me any better of a person, no more enlightened. Many travel because “life is a journey,” or “I get restless in one place too long,” “to see the world, to be cultured,” or maybe ironically “to find myself.” I mean, after all, this is an essential element of the classic Hero’s journey: from Gautama Buddha and Odysseus to Luke Skywalker and Frodo. To leave home, face trials while abroad, and then to return changed, having found themselves in the end. As T.S. Elliot puts it, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.  Thankfully, this travel need not be outside our living room; that the Hero’s exploration is not of this physical realm. Aren’t these journeys metaphors anyways? I feel as though I am stating the obvious, and what thousands of college papers have expounded many a year over.

There is no reason one is more likely to discover themselves trekking through the Himalayas, than they are on their farm in Missouri. If the Seeker is looking towards the moon.

To look to the external, for the answers to an internal journey will constantly result in disappointment or false peaks (a peak, that once you hike close enough, you realize is in fact not the peak at all).  If travelling to remote areas, and being surrounded by cascading waterfalls, or expansive ocean, leads to an individual’s awakening, it would be a wonder why everyone hasn’t forsaken their 9-5 lifestyle. But it doesn’t. Sure, change up your surroundings, your surroundings are just mirrors – mirrors of yourself. What I mean by that is, what most of us perceive from this world is thought based. Consequently, our fluctuations in perception of our surrounding environment is controlled by the mind. For instance, you can take two individuals and drop them in the heart of Florence, Italy, provide them both with the exact same experiences (food, excursions, gatherings), and one may completely love it, while the other may spend the whole trip wishing they were home. All of our experiences, and how we interpret them, are a reflection of our mind and nature, they are mirrors.

A nice, new shiny mirror located in Bali might be more appealing than that dusty, old one down the road in Montana. Some mirrors are less distorted, less dusty, allowing an individual to see themselves a little clearer; and these shinier mirrors may make it easier to catch a glimpse of your inner light (you will likely find this to be so if you have ever sat in the company of a truly awakened teacher, everything fades away and all is okay). However, this does not require taking a sabbatical to Indonesia. In fact, such an “experience” could be a setback to awakening, because you may confuse the beauty of the experience (the finger pointing to the moon) for awakening itself (the moon). As I mentioned before, this can lead to individuals constantly seeking experiences, i.e. travel, so they feel as if they are closer to enlightenment: a vicious cycle to break. My honest, humble, suggestion would be to buy Emptiness Dancing by Adyashanti off Amazon. It’s cheaper, and likely, a more direct route to existing in primordial peace. Isn’t that the point? To have peace always – when you’ve under performed at work or school, when you’ve been let down, when you’ve suffered loss, when you feel out of control? Peace in the calm and rough seas alike? I guess you could just fly to a remote beach every time life took an unfavorable turn.

I want to make it extremely clear, I think traveling is a wonderful experience. This is not my argument against travelling. This is for those sitting at home, thinking their lives will never be as magical as the yogis cartwheeling along the beaches of Costa Rica, or taking a vow of silence in Tibet. Instead this is a heartfelt plea to those blossoming Seekers out there, to do what you can where you are. If our world is manufactured from our thoughts, then we are in luck, for traveling is the same as not traveling – because it is in the mind! Or better yet, travel to travel, if that is what you want to do, but don’t fall victim to the falsity that travelling will make this path towards awakening any more accessible or attainable. You have all the tools right where you are.

So close your eyes and imagine you’re walking the streets of New Delhi …tasting goodies from roadside food carts, smiling at a stranger, interpreting a sign Hindi.

(Side Note: Whether you meditate while staring at the sunrise or a wall, it is important to note that they are the same, just the finger pointing to the moon. However, I understand that posting a picture of a beautiful sunset is more appealing than a picture of a wall – das cool)


If you read all this, I am impressed.




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