Taking the “Oy!” Out of Travel:
Spiritual Balm for the Weary Wanderer
By The Contemplative Traveler©™
Whether you’re a solitary soul in search of contemplative quiet or flashes of enlightenment – or are a devout follower of a well-established religious tradition who’s missing the companionship of fellow seekers, travel can be hard on the heart and mind. Distance from friends and neighbors can make it extremely challenging to stay connected spiritually, as can the lack of familiarity with one’s surroundings while trekking the globe. This is true for business travelers as well as families vacationing in unfamiliar territory.
But with a little bit of advance planning, mindful travelers will not only be able to stay grounded – but might even come closer to finding true bliss by broadening their knowledge and practice.
Attendance at major religious festivals across the globe can become not merely feasts for the senses, but opportunities for the adventurous traveler to engage with a wider community by celebrating differing concepts of the Divine.
Conversely, stealing away to a retreat center can be just the tonic for those needing rest and rejuvenation. Such facilities may be linked to established religious orders or entirely secular. But in general, the teachers and staff employed by retreat centers are highly skilled at helping their charges keep the world at bay until balance and harmony are restored.
And for those in search of more traditional encounters, any one of the many search tools available online can be useful in helping business travelers and even parents with children connect with the information they need to keep their practices on track. Many churches and temples now list workshops and small group study programs in addition to providing their weekly worship schedules.
The following are just a few of the many helpful resources out there to help you maintain – or regain – your bliss. (If your religious or personal growth practice is not listed here, try Googling the name of your tradition and the town where you are or will be staying. Or, check with the staff at the local chamber of commerce, public library or your hotel for assistance.)
- Retreat Finder: From going within at silent retreats to purposeful pampering at high end spas, this website can help you plan your next steps on the road to wellness.
- Wanderlust: Regain your center and sense of purpose by connecting with yoga and personal growth teachers, fellow fitness enthusiasts and seekers of serenity at one of the many festivals offered each year in the U.S., Canada and Chile.
- World-Wide Labyrinth Locator: The Labyrinth Society and Veriditas have partnered to create this free, user-friendly tool for finding labyrinths for meditation and contemplative walking in settings from hospitals to schools, churches and parks across the globe.
- Atheist Meditation Community on Facebook: Thought-provoking posts regarding atheism, meditation, mindfulness and religion.
- DharmaNet: Online learning resource center with information regarding the diverse range of Buddhism practices.
- Secular Buddhist Association: Listing of secular practice centers in Australia, New Zealand and the United States and social networking sites online.
Christianity – Catholic:
- Parishes Online: Find Mass times, contact information and descriptions for Catholic churches across the U.S. with this comprehensive online directory.
Christianity – Protestant:
- Open Directory: Although not comprehensive, this list from the Open Directory Project can still be a useful starting point for your church search whether you’re a Protestant or just curious about the many different denominations of this faith.
- Shaivam: Shiva’s home on the Internet helps seekers find their bliss with information about Hindu scriptures, a prayer of the day and a directory of temples around the world.
- Prayer Finder: Enter your zip code to determine prayer times and locate mosques, cultural and fellowship centers, and other facilities worldwide.
- goDaven: Orthodox Minyan times and places of worship worldwide may be found quickly and easily by simply entering your location in the search box at the top of the website’s homepage.
- Union for Reform Judaism: This easy-to-search online directory helps travelers locate Reform congregations in the Bahamas, Canada and across the United States. The World Union for Progressive Judaism also offers a similar search tool for worshippers traveling outside of the U.S.
- United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism: This branch of Judaism offers its user-friendly Find a Kehilla page, which enables individuals to locate places of worship and service times in the United States and internationally.
Ten Places to Spark Reflection and Wonder
By The Contemplative Traveler©™
Whether you’re drawn to the bright lights of a big city or to quiet, dusty back roads, traveling mindfully can be as easy as engaging one’s senses. Here are ten places to get you in the mood to think more deeply about your past, present and future.
- Chagall’s America Windows, Art Institute of Chicago, IllinoisDesigned specifically for the Art Institute of Chicago to commemorate America’s bicentennial, Marc Chagall created this spectacular six-panel, stained glass work celebrating the nation’s commitment to cultural and religious freedom. The stained glass windows draw viewers in with their vibrant colors, and then hold hearts and minds captive with their numinous blue glow in a joyous visual homage to dance, literature, music, painting, and theatre. Unveiled in May 1977, the Chagall Windows were popularized by the movie, Ferris Buehler’s Day Off. Recently cleaned and restored by the Institute, they are truly mesmerizing.Meditation Themes: The power of light, color and the arts to uplift and heal.
- Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PennsylvaniaA turning point in America’s Civil War, Gettysburg was the nation’s bloodiest battle. A full 51,000 combatants were cut down by cannons, long rifles and hand-to-hand struggles during the opening days of July 1863 as the Union’s Army of the Potomac ended a second attempted invasion of the North by Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The fierce fighting turned the surrounding Pennsylvania farmlands and forests into graveyards – and the private homes and churches into hospitals for the unprecedented number of severely wounded. More than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers passed through Camp Letterman General Hospital alone before receiving more advanced care at hospitals in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. So numerous were the dead that transfers to the Union cemetery – created from a portion of the battlefield grounds hallowed by their shared bloodshed – continued even after the cemetery’s November 1863 dedication at which President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address.Meditation Theme: That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. – Lincoln
- Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DCDesigned by Henry Bacon, this shrine to America’s hard earned freedom stands nearly 100 feet high. Each of its 36, Greek-inspired, soaring Doric columns represents a state in the Union at the time of the assassination of America’s 16th president. Two additional columns are located at the entrance behind the colonnade. The seated figure of President Lincoln – a 19-foot-high, 175-ton colossus birthed by sculptor Daniel Chester French – is shown deep in contemplation, evoking reverence for the man and his ideals. No heart can ever be too hardened to be moved by his Gettysburg or Second Inaugural addresses which are inscribed on the memorial’s north and south chamber walls.Meditation Themes: Tolerance, compassion, and the last full measure of devotion.
- Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, CaliforniaThe world slips away within a few steps from the entrance to Muir Woods – a burbling brook or snap of a twig often the only sounds heard en route to the Bicentennial Tree in the Bohemian Grove. This is the forest primeval – a preserve of Sequoia sempervirens more commonly known as coast redwoods – the tallest living entities in the world. Declared a National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908, this sanctuary was described by famed naturalist John Muir as “the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.” Travel to the park during the peak summer tourist season is made more convenient thanks to the Muir Woods Shuttle.Meditation Themes: Timelessness and serenity.
- The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DCThe Smithsonian is simply unparalleled in its capacity to deliver sheer, holy-cow-scale moments of awe. Whether you’re entranced by the Hope Diamond and other jaw-dropping gems, life-sized models of whales, or the mysteries of human flight, the Smithsonian is a bucket list must-do. The 23 galleries of the National Air and Space Museum alone are home to the 1903 Wright Flyer (Orville and Wilbur’s airplane), Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Friendship 7 capsule in which John Glenn first orbited the Earth, the Apollo 11 command module which transported the first men to walk on the moon, spacesuits worn by men while walking on the moon, and a touchable moon rock – all proof that achieving the impossible really is possible.Meditation Theme: The human capacity for greatness.
- Walden Pond, Concord, MassachusettsOn July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau began a two-year experiment with living simply in nature – an experiment which continues to stir the tree hugger in all of us. His mindful walks took him around Walden Pond, through forests, and even into nearby Concord to visit Ralph Waldo Emerson and other friends. He also gardened, read, made the first accurate survey of the area’s rich ecosystem – and courted his writing muse. Today, with Sunset Saunters, Story Time at the Beach and a visit to the replica of Thoreau’s humble, one-room cabin, Walden Pond is still the natural choice for individuals and families to find peaceful moments away from life’s daily pressures. Chipmunks skitter from plant life along easily accessible trails as red-tailed hawks, blackbirds and kingfishers soar above 460 acres of open space – all while the splashing of small-mouth bass breaks forth from the pond’s sparkling, sun-kissed waters.Meditation Theme: If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that will suffice. – Meister Eckhart
- Great Salt Lake, Utah: Termed “one of the great views on the American continent” by John Muir, the Great Salt Lake is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River – roughly 75 miles long and 35 miles wide – and is what remains of Lake Bonneville, an ice age-era body of water formed more than 30,000 years ago. With its white oolitic (lime) sands, Bridger Bay Beach on Antelope Island is a great place to stroll mindfully or dip one’s toes in the salty water. And because it’s nearly impossible to sink due to the lake’s high saline content, floating is also a popular pastime.Meditation Theme: The buoyancy and resilience of the human spirit.
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Upper Peninsula, MichiganWinding along roughly 40 miles of Lake Superior’s south shoreline between the communities of Munising (west) and Grand Marais (east), America’s first National Lakeshore offers travelers dramatic, colorful views from sandstone cliffs, pensive moments sparked by glistening waterfalls and rolling sand dunes, a late 1800s-era lighthouse for exploration, and more than 100 miles of pristine beaches, perfect for meandering mindfully. Drive-in and backcountry campgrounds are available inside the park. Restaurants and hotels are located in nearby Munising and Grand Marais.Meditation Theme: Mother Nature as artist.
- Reflecting Pool, The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ Scientist, Boston, MassachusettsMany a pleasant summer afternoon has been spent by visitors relaxing beneath the linden trees along Huntington Avenue and enjoying the serenity of the 670-foot-long reflecting pool while their little ones frolic in the children’s fountain at the world headquarters for the Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston. Designed in 1972 by I.M. Pei & Partners and Araldo Cossutta, Associated Architects, the Plaza area is bordered by Reflection Hall, the original Mother Church, and a Byzantine dome-topped Mother Church extension. Free tours of the Mother Church, a massive Romanesque structure designed by architect Franklin I. Welch and completed in 1894, showcase stunning opalescent stained glass windows, Canadian red birch woodwork, frescoes of Italian artisans, mosaics, white Italian marble floors, and an Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ – one of the largest in the world. Open Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays).Meditation Themes: Art, beauty and the creative mind.
- Battle Green, Lexington, Massachusetts“What a glorious morning for America!” So said Samuel Adams to John Hancock on April 19, 1775, following the opening skirmish of the American Revolution. Eight Minutemen lost their lives, and another ten out of the seventy-seven who had turned out to face the British were wounded. The remains of the eight who died on the day of “the shot heard round the world” were interred beneath the Revolutionary Monument, the nation’s oldest war memorial (erected on the Battle Green July 4, 1799). Henry H. Kitson’s Minuteman Statue, a life-sized bronze depicting a colonial farmer with musket, has been standing guard over the Green at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Bedford Street since 1900.Meditation Theme: Gratitude.