To Travel or Not to Travel
To travel or not to travel, sometimes that is the question. We are a restless species at base. The great St Augustine described himself as "a restless seeker." In a sense, that fifth century saint summed up the human predicament nicely. An acquaintance of mine who died over a year ago was not alone a "restless seeker," but he was also a restless traveller. The way he dealt with his imminent demise was to take to travelling with an increased compulsion, if his previous obsession with it had not been intense enough. Even to meet this man, you instinctively and intuitively picked up his restlessness. He was always on the move, always going places, always living in the future, always making plans and more plans and more plans. He was a deeply discontent person, and evidently unhappy in the moment.
|This road in Marley Park will eventually lead into the mountains|
As I write these lines on the screen before me, I am at home in my attic study, having just finished one of Deepak Chopra & Oprah Winfrey's online meditation sessions. Usually, I would be down in Isca Marina in Calabria for Easter, but this time I chose to stay at home while both my brothers travelled southward to the Mediterranean. I have also just completed an eight week guided course on mindfulness in my local university -DCU. Maybe that was one of the contributing reasons to why I did not wish to travel this Easter. However, there were also issues of getting my house into a more homely state to dwell in. I have managed to get some long-standing jobs done about the house, and so not travelling did help.
However, for me as I live alone, I enjoy the peace and solitude of my Easter holidays. I find that when I stay put alone I do a lot mental travelling - sometimes maybe too much. However, such internal journeying can be either stimulating or even disturbing. Let me spell out what I am about here. Restlessness can result in our desire to physically travel, but it can also see us staying put and travelling the equally hazardous roads of our own inner landscape.
And so as I sit here typing these words on the screen of my laptop I am travelling the roads of my own inner landscape. Thankfully these are mostly interesting pathways leading me to a great extent along scenic routes to the discovery of a newer and deeper sense of Self. Moreover, I am also painfully aware that inner exploration for anyone of a depressive nature can be most disturbing, deeply unsettling and not a little scary. I have written much over the years in various blogs about my suffering from clinical depression of the uni-polar variety. Hence, I have known only too well the back-roads and side-roads of sadness and depression for a good number of years in my past life. Thankfully, I have had no reason to travel those dreadful by-ways of the lonely depressed mind in the last sixteen years. Knowing them only too well, and my consequent awareness of what can pull me away from the more secure roadways and pathways to the real self and into those dreadful by-ways of depression has led me to leading my life with a good map, both medical and therapeutic.
So journeying to the centre, or journeying to the Real Self, can and often is a painful one. However, as I have just stated, like any journey we set out on, we must make preparations, arm ourselves with the best maps, bring passports, visas, money and so on. For the journey inward, we need the help of friends, spiritual guides, reading, discernment, patience, humility, openness and above all compassion for the Self. All self-exploration, then, must be done with sound preparation and guidance, because as all spiritual teachers, guides, counsellors, therapists and any good, solid and well-trained facilitators of it will know, any form of deep meditation or mindfulness must be accompanied by solid sustenance for the journey.
|Flowers in Ardgillan Castle & Demesne, Skerries|
In a nutshell, the difference between mindfulness and meditation is that the former is the secular face or incarnation of the latter. Mindfulness is meditation divested of its religious garments, to use a metaphor. However, in practice, to my mind at least, they are very much the same thing. In short, I believe that mindfulness can be done at several levels. The basic or foundational level is that of being mindful of the body and breathe. The next is the level of being mindful of the thoughts, feelings and emotions. A further and deeper level would be mindfulness of the Inner Self or the Real Self. Again, more religious incarnations of mindfulness, would speak of a spiritual, if not a divine, experience associated with either meditation or prayer. However, I do believe my nutshell explanation in the first sentence in this paragraph gets at the essence of the thing for the beginner.
Yesterday and the day before I went out walking with my camera in hand, after I had done my period of meditation. I found on both occasions that I had a new and more aware sense of the beauty of things than I usually would have if I had not done any mindfulness practice at all. Having said that, I was also somewhat overcome, too, by the fragility and beauty of life. I had a sense of the destructiveness of the power of the more worldly pursuits of humankind, namely the despoiling and destruction of nature that is occurring at an alarming rate. One would have to be living in a cocoon not to be aware of the environmental destruction we are subjecting our planet to literally on a minute by minute basis.
Now, as an experienced meditator, I know myself only too well and realize that I cannot let myself dwell too much or too deeply on the flip-side or negative side of the "realization of the fragility and beauty of life" as such would bring morbid thoughts on. Enough to go out into my garden, mow the lawn, and do my own little bit to nurture nature, and in so doing nurture my own soul. Likewise, I recommend getting involved in one or other green campaign because so doing lessens the negativity that can be overwhelming when we contemplate how humankind threatens the very survival planet Earth.
|More flowers, Ardgillan Park, Skerries|
Recently, I was counselling a young boy who is suffering with depression. He is also attending a psychologist. He was sent onto me by the school counsellor as she felt that my teaching him some meditation and visualization practices might help him. Usually, I make a brief sketch of the client's state of mind on the whiteboard, with his help. Needless to say, I work with all the good advice given by his psychologist and school counsellor, ensuring at all times that I do not contradict what they say, as working with others and on the same path is always crucial. I sketched out what he was doing with his psychologist. She was working with what made him Happy and what made him Sad. We listed both these on the whiteboard. What made him sad was that life was ultimately about loss, that everything and everyone grew old and died. What made him happy was everything to do with living. These were polar opposites as we sketched them out. The birth of his little sister in more recent times has been a moment of singular happiness and joy for him. "Seek life", "go on living", "live in the now" were all messages we felt were good for living. I recommended that he buy a present for his little sister and one for himself to celebrate the option for life. When he returned the following week he had bought both presents and was a far happier boy. As we were talking we spoke of the cycles of life and that often the life-death cycle can be a unity which we must respect as we are integral parts of it. To get lost in either end of the cycle might not be the whole truth somehow. Certainly getting lost in a cycle of depression, where we choose the dark and the negative and the deathly and death-ridden will lead us to despair. Choosing sheer hedonism, a life of sensual pleasures may be choosing life as nothing but empty satisfaction after empty satisfaction. Such a choice may, in fact, be very superficial. Choosing to hold the hand of a sick or dying person, may paradoxically be choosing life, because those last moments of that person's life are so worthwhile.
Now, this is what I mean by travelling within. Another metaphor could be "internal weather." What's the weather like in your mind now? Stormy? Sunny? Cloudy? Grey? Dark? Dismal? Rainy? Windy? Night? Day? Sunset? Sunrise? and so on. We do mindfulness and meditation and we travel ever deeper or ever higher (depending on your directional metaphor) into the Real Self, but that journey has many twists and turns, many obstacles, many hills and valleys, many rivers to be crossed, even seas and mountains at times - all of which means that we need to be well prepared and always look for help. Going it alone is always dicey, to say the least.
To all the readers of this journal of a soul, I say "Buon viaggio!"