One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. Henry Miller
When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in. D.H. Lawrence
This site is called Open Roads United, in no small part, because the people who create, write and shoot this site are enamored of movement. We love, and live for, given the chance, to roam, to journey, to travel, near and far.
Accordingly, the worldwide pandemic we currently and collectively face would appear to be the worst sort of news.
Our ability to travel, as of this week, for better or worse, is being restricted. Sort of.
For while there are places in the world that we cannot travel freely this morning, our minds, hearts and souls remain open to travel without borders or limitations. Kind of.
It is true that we may be, depending upon circumstances, confined to our rooms, our states or country. But it may also be equally true that travel of any real consequence is ultimately of little to no value without regular excursions to our own interior.
Simply asked: What can one learn from other lands, countries or even worlds, if one does not explore these new vistas with open eyes, with an open heart and open mind?
Little. Travel under such circumstances become just another form of consumerism. We’ve been there and done that; we’ve crossed that place, that culture, those people off our list. In the process we become consumer obsessed.
No, from time to time we must stop and explore the interior of our selves so that we might be able to truly see and appreciate what is in front of our faces, no matter where we travel.
From this perspective, the new pandemic just might represent a wonderful and very rare opportunity.
It is my position that the greatest Journey is the journey to nowhere, the journey inside your heart, mind and soul.
I learned this lesson from many places, over many years.
I learned, for instance, early on, that the simple act of movement beyond the small, tired and mono-cultural world in which I was raised; required me to open my mind, my eyes.
In the painful years of mid-western, German- Catholic suburbia; where I was raised, nearly everyone not only looked the same, they also seemingly, given the content of their speech, thought the same.
Once I expanded my horizons, I found that others did not necessarily think dress or think like the great masses of my home world. My mind was necessarily forced to expand.
When I moved from Cincinnati to a small sunny, perpetually green Georgia town, in the mid 80’s, altered my entire world view greatly, if not completely. Encountering, for instance, white trash in full Klan garb in the supermarket checkout line twisted my sense of reality almost as much as encountering true southern kindness and generosity.
Ditto when I moved from Atlanta’s privileged playgrounds to the cultural charnel grounds of rust belt and snow swept Cleveland in the late 80’s.
Overseas travel opened my mind further.
I will remember, until the day I die, Italian soldiers flinging open the corridor door of our train compartment in the middle of the night. Machine guns hung from their shoulders. Nothing will expand your world view like a machine gun.
Later my mind was inexorably inflated by witnessing the realities of life and death.
Little will realign your values and world view like the birth, death or serious injury of your own children and/or those you love.
Because I grew up in America, I grew up in basic denial of death. Death tended to curb sales of useless retail goods, so death was banished from our society.
Banished until someone you know, and love, dies before your eyes.
Death then becomes real and, if you are lucky, life becomes something new and beautiful thanks to your introduction to death.
Later I spent twenty years labor interacting with the injured, dying and dead. I learned that every day is anything can happen day for anyone.
It’s a lesson that doesn’t come to many Americans until too late in life. It is a lesson which, sometimes, requires brutal circumstances powerful enough to realign national myopia. Circumstances like a war or pandemic.
Clarification under such circumstances does not bring immediate clarity, rather it causes the masses to either look inward or explode in anger.
That anger is, in fact, fear. In times like this pandemic most, therefore, choose between fear and well intentioned bewilderment.
The waters of life, for many become muddied and only time can allow those who are confused and angry (fearful) to understand the actual nature of reality with any clarity. Some remain angry and confused for life.
In other places and other times, death comes earlier, and cultural attitudes are more intentional.
In other cultures, an introduction to death can serve as gateway to enlightenment. Consider the following:
Many meditations focus on something associated with beauty or joy or peace. Perhaps some of you may puzzle over why a contemplation would focus on death. Actually, in the teachings of the Buddha, it’s a very important practice. It’s part of the general importance given to impermanence, change—and death is a dramatic case of that. Reflections on anicca—that everything that arises passes away—is central to wisdom practice.
A contemplation on death is neither an exercise in morbidity nor a dwelling on the unhappy side of life. In fact, when marana-sati (death awareness practice) is done properly, it’s quite astonishing how much stability and peace come out of it. …
[In] The Sattipatana Sutta,…the Buddha laid out the essentials of mindfulness practice, includes a cemetery contemplation. At the time of the Buddha the yogis would go to actual cemeteries and sometimes live there for extended periods of time….
For myself, life did not make sense until some I knew and loved died before my eyes. Other encounters with the death of friends and time spent with yet others in hospice, sharpened my understanding, vision and appreciation for life to an even greater degree.
But for these experiences, the world before my eyes would look dull, unpolished. But for these experiences, I would not know myself nor the world I live in.
But for these experiences I would be but just another globe trotting consumer.
Because of these experiences, I am clear as to my own personal values: impermanence, karma, life, death and love.
Because of these experiences, I can appreciate when I am drifting from what is important and adjust eventually, accordingly.
Because of these experiences I am able, most, some, days, to ride the rails of my life.
Perhaps the challenges of this moment represent a similar opportunity for all of us. Perhaps the challenges of this moment offer us a chance to live a more enlightened life, to go beyond low grade panic and increased consumption of ice cream and Netflix.
Perhaps we have been graced with nothing less than an opportunity to appreciate our lives.