Read an excellent book on “travels of the heart”, by Michael Riddell. It’s about this place in the world (more specifically, the heart) where everyone can reach, if only they are willing to. It's been a long, long time since I last read something that really captured me. Thought it must be shared with fellow readers seeking spiritual enlightenment.
On being a traveller
Most people spend their lives stuck in the same routine, same place, same sameness, and wonder why it is so boring, mundane and repetitive. But there are those who are travellers:
“[…] who feel the constant tug of the road; […] people who love life, but love it too much to commit themselves to only one part of it; […] who stay long enough to learn the truth of a place, but who eventually shoulder their pack and say goodbye. They are on a journey and that is enough. They follow an inner urge, a voice that calls from the depths.”
It is a journey that all of us have within us to take, and one that all of us long for:
“The half-conscious murmurings, the half-remembered dreams, the half-forgotten insights are all signposts on the way.”
And of course like all travellers, there are those who get lost. What does it exactly mean to be lost?
“ […] the feeling of not quiet belonging in the world, like somehow you got born in the wrong time or place. […] Being lost is a wound of humanity which everyone carries but nobody shows. Like death, it’s kept behind closed doors for fears it should spread.
There’s no denying everyone suffers from it, but it seems that everyone denies it:
“It is an ache in the deepest part of you, a longing which nothing in the world ever quiet touches, a pain which is sometimes haunting and beautiful. From this wound springs all that is great in human art and music, and most piercing artists and musicians are broken people. The feeling thrives in silence and loneliness, but is easily deadened by the hissing static of ‘modern’ life. People suppress the pain by carefully filling the gaps in their lives, building sandcastles against the sea. When the tide comes in, it sometimes carries them away.”
Who can you trust on the road?
“Trust only travelers who have known the reality themselves”
What is home?
“Finding the way is all about coming home […] Home is the place where you can be yourself, where you are loved and accepted even though your faults are seen”
About the Road, the path to happier living and life.
“The one constant is the road. It keeps stretching out in front of you. Sometimes it fades so you can barely trace it. When shadows fall across it, the journey gets cold and scary. Further on it passes by a river on a sunny day, and you shiver with delight as you do a bit of skinny dipping. The road holds all these experiences together and makes them one journey. Even when the road is hard, it is still leading somewhere.”
On Happiness and Joy
“Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness depends on what happens. […] Happiness is the preserve of the lucky, wealthy and successful. Joy belongs to any who find it, and the poor seem to find more of it than most. […]
But joy can be elusive. The more you seek it, the more it flees away. Joy cannot be bought or sold, and will not be preserved. Those who chase it for the buz of it find themselves with sore face muscles from trying to fake it.
On letting go
“Relinquishment leads to the heights where the air is pure. […] The only way to regain your senses, to see and hear again, is to become empty. This is not a matter of taking yourself off to a hermit’s cave. It simply means to open the hands, to have but not to hold, to enjoy, but not to possess.”
"There are two approaches. One is an escape from life. When loneliness becomes too painful to bear, when the wounds of life are fresh and deep, when love is a distant and hollow memory, people like to retreat into happy oblivion. They blot out life in its rawness and become fuzzy-headed with whatever drug takes their fancy. They throw themselves into loveless meetings of bodies, hoping that a tide of pleasure may fill the echoing caverns within. […] You wake with a hairy tongue, aware that you have spent a little more of your dwindling self-esteem, and still having to face the pain you began with.
[The other kind is ] the celebration of life itself. It grows from a recognition of God present in every nook of experience. Birth, death, friendship, failure, ripening, love, redundancy and arrival all become fuel to brighten the fire of celebration. […]
To celebrate is to transform; it is to make the ordinary special—or perhaps it is to recognize the specialness of the ordinary. […] Celebration opens our eyes so that we begin to see.
On the depths in life
“Free spirits who long for the open spaces can feel trapped in a valley. It is possible to become depressed, to lose faith that the road will ever lead out onto the plains again. The dankness seeps into the soul. It seems that one always travels through valleys alone, even if there are other people with you. Valleys are part of the journey, and have their own stark beauty.”
“To be human is to experience loss, but that doesn’t help you bear it. […]
You will retreat into a cocoon of sorrow and breathe in slow motion. The colour will drain from the sky, the meaning from life. As a plough tears through hard earth, your heart will be broken up. You will make friends with pain, nursing it as the child of your grief. […] Surely God has left you. The road which seemed to be heading somewhere has become a dead end. A mocking maze with no exit.
Then one morning in the distant future, you wake and hear a bird singing. […] For a few moments, the tide of pain rolls back and you are aware of nothing bu the song of the bird. […] Hardly daring to believe it, you are beginning to come out of the darkness. […] The shadow is now a part of you, a part of the journey, except that it is subsumed in life.”
“Language and culture unlock the mysteries of strange and wonderful countries. Those who don’t attempt to learn them might as well have stayed home and watched a travelogue on television. Without a working knowledge of local customs, the explorer is as welcome as an auditor to a tainted tele-evangelist. True travelers come to learn, unlike colonists who come to conquer. To understand, there is no substitute for time with the people.”
“Money is only a tool. You can use it to help you and others along the road, or it can use you and keep you so busy never travel anywhere. Money makes a good servant but a good lover.”
On lying and speaking the truth
“Lying is so common we call it politeness. It pollutes the stream of conversation. Often it’s hard to tell what is true from what is false. We begin to believe our own lies. When somebody speaks the plain truth it stands out like a hitchhiker at a charity ball. The truth is painful to speak, and brings conflict in a world which lives by deception. […] Nobody wants their precious illusions torn, their nakedness exposed. It is easier to continue pretending and execute those who won’t play.
[…] We speak either the language of deceit or hatred, or that of truth and love. The one cripples and destroys; the other redeems and creates.
Words are like arrows; once they have been sent on their way they can no more be recalled than a rabbit can be celibate. Vindictive words pierce and wound, and apology will not remove the scars they cause. Much children are fatally wounded by their parents. Words such as ‘stupid’ or ‘ugly’ take root in the heart, and grow quietly until they have choked the life out of any healthy plants which may have existed. By the same token, words like ‘beautiful’ or ‘precious’ make the heart’s soil rich and fertile, capable of producing much fruit.”
On simplicity in life
“Godzoners live simple lives, lives uncluttered with knick-knacks or philosophies. As a rule, they do not collect, hoard, consume or preserve. Their needs are few and simple, their words honest and considered, their friendship genuine and warm.[…]All of life is an advernture playground to them, and they have kept their child-like sense of awe in an age of lost innocence. […]
Because they are not distracted by the cacophony of demands which fills the earth, the explorers […] develop the ability to focus. In the hype and hysteria of modern life, they clear a channel through verbal diarrhea. Godzoners are not fooled by Politicospeak or swayed by the Mindbenders.”
“[…] like a profound thankfulness in the way they live, the way they laugh, the way they share. Because they know the Giver, they recognize the giftedness of all that comes, both good and bad. All of life is an opportunity for enjoyment or learning […]
“Acceptance grows from the deliberate short-sightedness of love. It recognizes that one word of encouragement to a fragile person is worth more than a thousand lectures on their faults. Acceptance provides the air which makes it possible for a strangled life to breath and grow again.”
“Death comes early to those who slam the door of the future, and resign themselves to living comfortably in the cell of their own making. Drifters find it hard to understand the surrender of suburbanites to mediocrity. Surely they still have roads untravelled, dreams as yet not pursued. Hope is the tug of the unknown, the lure to move out of the familiar present, the snatch of music that creates a hunger to hear more. […]
The idea of fate is bad karma. Those who subscribe to it become passive and powerless. […] Life requires risk; it requires adventure, experiment, possibility. In short, life requires hope. It is hope that fuels the engine of creativity. It transforms the closed circle of conformity into an open spiral of potential.”
Life cannot be all ups without downs. There are of course dangers.
“Evil is more than simply the absence of good, just as darkness is more than simply the absence of light. Doing wrong things and even bad things takes no great effort, and we have all clocked up our share. But there comes a point when the bad deed is repeated without remorse, when the lie is retold until it is orthodoxy. It is then that a mysterious transition takes place, and wrong becomes evil, the lie takes life to itself. Evil is ‘live’ spelt backwards, and it is the perversion of life. It exists only by sucking the marrow from its host body.
[…] The signs of its presence are envy, domination, hatred, addiction, deception, seduction, and fear. Creavity becomes technology, imaginiation becomes fantasizing, faith becomes ritual.
[…] A favourite ploy of evil is temptation. Unsummoned thoughts come hovering into consciousness. They tease and tantalize, whispering empty promises and plausible deceptions. They play on the weakness of the person they attack.
[…] The best way to defeat evil is to pursue good, or as those in the know prefer, to pursue God. […] To attack evil is to give it life, to walk towards it with trust and confidence is to overcome it.”
“Religion is a sidetrack for those who like to pretend they are exploring the Zone while staying put. The problem is that it takes over words and signposts of Godzone without their reality. […]
[Believers] may be misled by the words used and funneled off the road into the huge holding pens of the pious. They may mistake the words and rules for reality. The halls of holiness are very comfortable, with their cushioned seating and shagpile carpet. […] Soothing sounds of piety and devotion can be seductive to one who began eager to follow and learn. But they do not satisfy.”
“There is nothing wrong with being scared while climbing a rock face; it does wonders to assist concentration on the task at hand. But fear, like evil, often takes on a life of its own. Then it floods the mind and paralyses the will, oblivious to any cause for its existence. Shadows become monsters, questions threats, silence terror. Fear forces people indoors, where they bolt and double-bolt the doors.
[…] Fear is an effective way of controlling people. It is used for fencing bad religion. By flooding the imagination, it drives out the capacity for love and so for God. Who can love when they cannot trust? But those who are afraid come running to priests and wizards, looking for shelter of a rigid authority. The price they pay for it is their freedom. They condemn themselves to the prison of security, all the time having their fears fed by the keepers.
[…] The antidote to fear is a healthy bulking of the love of God. […] As trust and faith grows, the timid traveller can find their feet and head back to the road.”
“The average punter makes enough mistakes in each day to suffice; there is no ned to be crushed by the short-comings of a whole life. The ongoing joy of life in Godzone is a continuing fresh start, looking to the road ahead and forgetting what has gone before. You may cling to your faults if you wish; wallow in the quagmire of guilt like a pig in a poo-pond. It is your choice.”
“If enemies pose a danger to Godzoners, it is the danger that they may draw the pilgrim into their own web of hatred. To return hate is to multiply it; to meet it with love is to make it as powerless as an alligator with lockjaw. Whoever refuses to retaliate against violence to themselves exposes the aggressor for what they are. It is difficult to keep kicking a person who offers no resistance. Unfortunately, this does not stop violent people from overcoming the difficultly, but it does bring their hatred into the open.”
“Self-deception is the most common and most damaging form of lying. We build our images and then try to live up to them, watching ourselves in shop windows to see how we’re going. We pretend to be sensitive while looking for an inside chance to manipulate others. We rename things to make ourselves innocent. ‘wrong’ becomes ‘inappropiate’; ‘exploitation’ becomes ‘revenue earning’; ‘selfishness’ becomes ‘assertive self-reinforcement’ But crap by any other name still has a distinctive smell.”
We need not go down the path of good life alone.
On traveling companions
“intimacy tends to be reserved for people sharing your addiction to the road; either fellow pilgrims or those you meet around a winter’s fire on overnight stops. […] Travellers learn to receive it gladly; to take what is offered and refrain from grasping. They live in the knowledge that come morning the road leads on. Maybe there will be another meeting further down the road, maybe not. For the moment there are jokes and stories, freedom to be yourself with someone who understands, the fun of sharing humanity, if not sleeping bags.
[…] But when the time comes to part, you realise that this chance meeting was the right person at the right time, and that your life is all the fuller and richer for the meeting.”
On friends along the way
“A few [friends] will become as familiar as the sound of your own breathing. Friends you meet with at irregular intervals and in unlikely places, discovering again and again that your wanderings, while separate, have kept pace with each other. […] Mates you can abuse and be your silly self with, knowing that they will still be there in the morning. And then in the quiet times, strolling down an empty road in the twilight peace, you trade words which are so precious and fragile you fear they will shatter on the air.
[…] Companions often change your direction. Never by manipulation or moralising, but by the sincerity of their friendship and the wisdom of their words. It is only some distance along the way, after you have taken the risk of trusting, that your friend will speak the magic sentence which opens your eyes to a new signpost […] It is grace; it never loses its ability to astonish. Your friend may leave shortly after offering their gift, not to be seen again this side of the river. But the gift remains, and the sign of thanksgiving is to use it.”
“In the world relationships are built on common interest. In Godzone the only basis is belonging, and so the traveller has to accept all who God accepts. […] The claim to love has to be tested against the reality of people with body odour and strange habits, if it is to be any more than a warm gooey feeling. The road we follow is a journey into community. […] We must discover that differences are enriching rather than threatening. This only comes after the hard nut of self has been cracked.”
“Worship is greatly misunderstood. God is not some egomaniac who needs constant affirmation, some sort of neurotic narcissist. Those who set out to buy God off the sacrifice of the odd Sunday morning sleep-in could not be further from the truth. […] For these whose hearts have been shafted with love, worship is as natural and as unavoidable as a tree coming into blossom with the warmth of spring. It is love language, no more accessible to non-participants than the words which pass across the pillow between two lovers.”