“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” —Lillian Smith

Travel saved my life. Or to be less dramatic, travel opened my eyes. Then I made changes to save my life.

My mother was an alcoholic. 12 years between me and my nearest older sibling, I was raised practically as an only child, with the burden of responsibility I felt for my mother and loads of fallout landing on my narrow shoulders. I felt trapped in my relationship with her.

Later, as an adult, mother of two, my world was still not my own.

The joys and responsibilities of raising my own ones were often overshadowed by daily phone check-ins or obligatory visits with mom. I was never certain how I’d find her, always on pins and needles, anxious as to what my next encounter with her would be. How it would end, how I would feel.

My responsibilities felt overwhelming most days, as did the anticipation of not measuring up with my mom, no matter how hard I tried.

I Had Lost Myself in the Day-to-Day

In 1999, I felt called to join a retreat in Ireland. In my younger years, I had traveled a bit with my brother but traveling on my own was new to me.

With the help of a dear friend, I was able to arrange the logistics to allow everyone at home to be cared for – to allow me to step off a plane in Shannon on a soft April morning, rent a car, and find myself driving to a tiny village in Co. Clare.

There I settled into a surreal rhythm of gentle days – an ease that held me as I sank into re-discovering my long lost self. For 10 days, I was nothing to no one. For the first time in my life, I tended only to what I needed or wanted. My eyes opened to a new way of seeing things. I was on a pilgrimage.

The Journey from Head to Heart

A pilgrimage involves heeding or feeling a call, separating from the familiar, making a journey – often through hardships.

Upon arrival at our destination, through intention and contemplation, we can come face-to-face with our truth, our heart’s wisdom, the resolution we’ve longed for. A resolution that was, perhaps, right before us all the time, but was freshly brought to our attention through the journey.

This journey within – this pilgrimage toward self – is an opportunity to listen to what your heart wants to say. We’re so comfortable with, or distracted by, the daily rhythm of our lives, we don’t always know what our spirit wants us to hear.

Seeing new places, paying attention to the unfamiliar, sparks our imagination and creativity. We glean new insights and are able to shift our perspectives so as to see situations and experiences in a new way. A way that is aligned with our genuine selves.

Seeing the Moon on the Other Side of the World

I wasn’t prepared for how I felt, the contentment that came so easily as I walked the ancient Burren stone.

I felt the Moon above me as I walked the moonlike landscape, taking in all that surrounded me – the winding roads in the distance, a tender wildflower blooming at my feet against all odds. I saw myself in that flower.

Standing at the Atlantic’s shore, the horizon stretching forever, the wind began to clear the cobwebs from my mind and the inner voices of judgment and criticism that made me feel small were lifted away.

From a still point within, I began to hear the inner whispers of my own voice guide me into new territory. A voice I liked. I began to feel like me.

For two weeks, I stayed in this place of wonder and wisdom. I found myself unable to sleep at night, unable to stay within the cozy cottage walls. I needed to be outside.

I sat on a stone bridge to feel the air, see the Moon, watch the dark shapes of the night. Every night I went there, wandering back to the cottage before dawn. I didn’t need sleep. I needed to be awake to this genuine self that had been buried by life.

I didn’t want to leave. I walked across the tarmac and up the stairs to board the plane. I stood at the top of the stairs breathing in and feeling the soft Irish air that I’d come to know so well – that had stirred so much inside me and held me in its embrace until the flight attendant closed the door.

I vowed to take home with me the friends I’d made, the wisdom gleaned, the clarity I needed to shape my next steps in becoming the daughter, mother, wife – woman – I longed to be.

Travel to Stay Present

Now, a couple decades later, I travel for many reasons – to satisfy my curiosity about places and the people who live differently than I do. To feel part of this beautiful world we live in, beyond the walls of my home and daily routine. To wake up. And to renew the journey from head to heart.

From the minute I wrestle my suitcase out from the deep recesses of my closet, I feel my heart quicken and my spirit is already at 35,000 feet.

Traveling demands our presence. We step into the unknown. We can’t operate on auto-pilot; we must pay attention. If we don’t, we miss our flight, make a wrong turn, or lose a passport.

Even if we travel with another person, we are called to listen to ourselves. We are vulnerable and through that portal of vulnerability we are called to be present to ourselves in a very real way.

There is a quiet within us that holds an invitation to be who we genuinely are and take steps to do whatever is required to embrace the world within.

Are you ready for your journey?

Think of a time when a change of scenery helped you gain clarity about your life situation. What were the key features that supported you? What are some ways you can open yourself to your world within through the wisdom and change presented in the unfamiliar? How has the notion of travel affected your worldview? How has this changed as you’ve aged? All things being equal, where would you choose to make your pilgrimage? Please share with our community.

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