Spiritual Travel ~ A Journey into the Breath

Deep within the soul of the pilgrim, spiritual travel beckons. The words "pilgrimage" and "travel" are used here as metaphors for the spiritual journey that we must take. This pilgrimage certainly can be physical but our intention makes it spiritual as well. Let me share a story.

The Pilgrimage Road Takes Many Turns

Many changes have been occurring in my life this past year that have led to my questioning of just about everything. The death of a sister-in-law, my husband losing his job, a soul companion seemingling having parallel experiences and moving to our southern colorado home in the mountains. While I have longed for some of these transitions, when they arrived, I found myself baffled by it all.  

Once again, I am being called for spiritual travel deeper into my soul.

I wake up today at 2:30 a.m. I feel the familiar urge and get up and go to the bathroom. Without awakening fully, I hope, I stumble in the semi-darkness back to bed. I feel like I will drift off to sleep, as I do most nights. However, tonight, I don't. I lay here as my mind swirls around nothing and everything.

I finally pull myself out of bed about 4:45 and turn on the waiting and ready coffee percolator. I build a fire and sit next to its warmth in the chill of this October morning. I feel emotions arising. I recognize that yes, in my spiritual travel-life these moments are there for me to "wake up" to something. 

OK, I am awake! Maybe only in the physical sense! My thoughts continue to churn.

Long Pilgrim Road on the Camino Primitivo, SpainLong Pilgrim Road on the Camino Primitivo

Why is it that I love where I am in the physical world, yet still feel a nudging for something more? I have been sitting in the cloud of unknowing now, for what feels like a long time, as each new step in my life unfolds. I feel like something is growing, yet I can't identify it. 

I sit in the darkness, by the fire for yet another period of reflection, as I review all that I love about my current life, and all that I feel are my gifts. I use these gifts, yet am I really using them to their fullest? 

I reflect on these questions: Am I a writer? Am I a spiritual guide? Am I a yoga teacher? Am I a healer? Which am I? Where and how shall I best utilize my skills? Why do I feel the "calling" to do more? Why am I never content? Why do I want to go on pilgrimages? 

The Spiritual Traveling Reveals 

I recall bookmarking a quote from a book that I am currently reading called the "Snow Leopard" by Peter Matthiessen. The book was written in the 1970's about an actual pilgrimage voyage he did as a team member to study wild sheep in the mountains of Tibet. The book is a brilliant metaphor for the outer pilgrimage as internal pilgrimage. 

In the darkness, I open the book to see why I was drawn to this quote:

"Just as a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth freely floats in the blue sky from horizon to horizon following the breath of the atmosphere - in the same way the pilgrim abandons herself to the breath of greater life that . . . leads her beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within her, though yet hidden from her sight."    ~ Lama Govinda, "The Way of the White Clouds"

I re-read the passage. And yet again. In fact, the more I read it, the more amazingly it glows for me. There isn't just one word or one phrase that is shimmering, but the entire passage. I don't recall this happening to me with quite the same effect, despite my experience with the "Lectio Divina" practice. (This is a Benedictine practice meaning "divine reading." It is the practice of reading, meditating, praying over and contemplating scripture to open your heart to a new revelation from God). 

At first, I didn't understand the layers of meaning in this passage. I just knew that I was incredibly drawn to it. I held this feeling. I sat with the words. I held them in my heart for some time, before I could put into words why this passage was pulling me in right now.

Camino Primitivo Waymark, SpainCamino Primitivo Waymark

As a yoga teacher and contemplative, I am fully aware of the power of the breath to bring Presence into one's life. I know this practice. I am constantly doing this practice. Yet somehow through the words of the Lama, and the metaphor of the "breath of the atmosphere," I am really filled with awe.

Perceiving the Breath with New Eyes

Everything is breathing around us, isn't it? The ever-flowing air that is all around us, all the earth feeds itself through respiration and transpiration. Yes, I know this, but do I really know this? 

I was seeing the breath through the eyes of a beginner. Once again. This is how spiritual travel works - always seeing new meanings, new layers, and new depths to "old" words. 

How will I then, abandon myself to the "breath of greater life?" I immediately feel my own breath deepen and my heart shift as I read these words. The key is to breathe, but not only to breath but to abandon to the breath; allowing the "breath of the atmosphere" to fill me and ignite me with new energy, hope and Presence. This is enough. I am enough. 

Spiritual travel always asks me to follow the breath to find the present and look only in the here and now. However, I strain to look towards the distant horizon as far as I can see. Yet the metaphor is that I will never, ever see the destination, but only hold in my heart that which I do know is here. I still create the intent of discovery. I do this when I create the intent of drawing nearer to the "breath of the atmosphere," or more aptly the breath of God.

I hold the intent deeply present within me, to follow this pilgrimage of inward spiritual travel. The path that reveals itself one or two steps at a time. Maybe even a backward step now and then. When I look too far into the distance, the path is no longer clear. 

We all know the destination of the pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, don't we? Yet we also know that it is the journey itself that transforms us, not the destination. The answers to life's mysteries are not at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The Camino is only the road to get us going. Therein lies the greatest metaphor. The answers are within us, deep within our own breath as we exchange the very life essence with the All.

Statue of St. Francis of Assisi in Front of the San Francisco Cathedral, Santiago de CompostelaStatue of St. Francis of Assisi in Front of the San Francisco Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela

Breath as Spirit

It is the breath that can be interpreted as Spirit, or Holy Spirit. The hymn writer, Edwin Hatch (1835-1889) knew this when he wrote:

"Breathe on me breath of God - Fill me with Life anew - That I may love what thou dost love - And do what thou wouldst do." 

The singers of the hymn knew this when they gave the hymn the title of 'Spiritus Dei' (Spirit of God), thus linking the image of 'breath' with that of the Holy Spirit (as in the Greek, where the same word is used for 'spirit' and 'breath.')*

For its inspiration, this hymn draws largely from John 20:21-22, following John’s account of the Resurrection: "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even, so send I you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" (RSV)

Is it any wonder that this passage pulled me into this incredible place of open awareness? This is the "destination" that my spiritual travel revealed to me, in this moment. This is the true heart of the pilgrimage traveler. 

May you too choose to take the spiritual journey, where your spiritual travelings are more than just physical, as you wander the landscape of your life!



(*reference: History of Hymns: "Breathe on Me, Breath of God.")

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