“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
In what may well be my last session with Paul today (he gave me permission to use his name), we spoke of his plans for an upcoming spiritual pilgrimage.
Now there’s a tricky concept; spiritual pilgrimage. Because our plans to do things for our spiritual growth don’t always go the way we plan.
Many of us have gone to great lengths to deliberately induce spiritual experiences only to find that the more unpredictable events in our lives are as much a part of our pilgrimage as any self induced adventure. This idea is reminiscent of John Lennon’s famous quote; “Life is what happens while we’re busy planning other things.”
To further his spiritual growth, Paul was planning what the Australian aboriginals call a walk-about. But, switching continents, as the Native American saying goes; “nothing makes the creator laugh more than someone with a plan.”
Paul’s ideas for his spiritual growth were as sound as they were sincere. I think there is great value in planning formal spiritual pilgrimages. But he, like so many others, found that life threw him a serious curve ball in the midst of his plans.
In the powerful book (and movie) “Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” Dan Millman points out that there are no ordinary moments in life. While we’re busy planning romantic ways to learn our lessons, life is right under our nose the whole time trying to show us that the way is also less dramatic, at times, than we think it needs to be. If we only pay attention to the moments of our daily lives, as well as the choreographed, “special” moments, we could extract the same quality lessons from our experiences.
Rather than a solitary journey in nature, Paul’s walk-about ends up, for the moment, being completely different than he planned, rerouting him to a place and a situation he wouldn’t have chosen. But there is a hidden perfection in this scenario.
Because, when you think about the true nature of initiation, it makes sense. In traditional cultures, initiation ceremonies were imposed on the boys of the village, often times against their will, to turn them into men. The rituals used were terrifying and even life-threatening by design to induce a true transformation of the psyche.
Mythologists, Michael Meade and Joseph Campbell are two stellar resources on this subject for the serious student of initiation or what we call maturation today.
Unfortunately, contemporary western culture is all but void of formal, initiatory, rites of passage, which are truly transformative to the psyche. This is why we have millions of people walking around in adult bodies feeling like children in disguise.
In Robert Bly’s books, “Iron John” and “Sibling Society,” he goes into rich depth about the ramifications of this cultural dynamic.
Paul’s poignant expression of profound fear in response to this change up in his plans is appropriate to his initiatory process. Life will eventually have it’s way with us, and part of the maturation process is accepting life on it’s own terms.
We’re supposed to be afraid, just as afraid as our ancestors were as they were heralded through their initiatory ordeals. When we fully embrace the texture of our fear (or any other emotion for that matter), only then can we let go of it enough to do the next right thing in our lives. The only time we can exercise courage is in the presence of our daunting fear.
So in reference to Marcel Proust’s above quote, Paul, since the new landscape you planned doesn’t seem to be in your immediate future, you can still return home “with new eyes.” That is to say, with the same adventurous attitude (if not experience) that you were approaching your previous plan with.
Growing up is a process, Paul. You can and will mature with the rest of us to the degree that you choose on a daily basis. We’re all in the same boat. Precious few people are as emotionally mature as they are chronologically old. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, only observed, accepted and skillfully worked with towards change and growth.
In “Rules For Being Human,” Cherie Carter-Scott points out, among many other profound things, that “There” is no better place than “here.” When your “there” has become a “here,’ you will simply obtain another “there” that will once again, look better than the new “here.”
You’re a good man, Paul! I am proud of the difficult work you’ve been doing. It’s been my pleasure to work with you and my privilege to witness your growth. Just remember, the prize is in the process, my friend, so don’t give up on yourself and may our paths cross again.