Comparing life to a journey is a frequent means for explaining life’s ups and downs and encouraging people to actively engage in life instead of resisting or hiding from it. The comparison assumes that most people are conscious of what is involved in a journey. Since I am on a short journey this week, it seems an auspicious time to reflect on journeys.
Journeys come in all shapes, sizes and levels of intensity. The simplest, such as a trip to a county fair or a birthday party (or even the grocery store) go generally unrecognized as such. Excursions of a few days or few weeks, for which one needs to pack, are most often done by choice and are usually deemed mostly pleasurable. Larger changes of venue may lack some elements of choice or expectation of pleasure. Travel for business or relocating one’s residence are among these. Largest of all (excluding the journey into death) are quests (journeys of discovery), and those circumstances in which one ends up fleeing everything that is familiar, often with only the clothes on one’s back. The list is not exhaustive.
Whatever their type, journeys share some common elements. All journeys involve change. It is part of the definition of “journey”. Staying in the same place, seeing exactly the same people, doing only the same thing cannot possibly be a journey. It is also difficult to call that living, and barely identifiable as being alive. Those who have limited tolerance to change will have difficulty negotiating not only what is commonly recognized as a journey, but also the changes inherent in life itself. The difficulty is proportionate to the inability to accept change.
Journeys involve the unknown. No matter how well a journey has been planned, the unexpected will arise. No one – at least no one whom I know – has the ability to anticipate every detail of a fluid future. The ability to handle risk is an unrivaled blessing for any who engage in journeys (all of us, a least some times). Embracing the risks of journeying without fear – or at least, without resistance – begins a journey with a positive feeling of expectation. The consciousness of being able to handle whatever may come to pass creates an enabling confidence that actually brings forth the right solutions at the right times. These positive feelings of confidence and expectation dwarf the vicissitudes of the journey, overshadowing discomforts.
Most journeys involve some level of discomfort. I have not known any journey that does not. Uncomfortable airline waiting gates, cramped legs on planes, cramped shoulders from long hours behind the wheel of a car, abrupt weather changes, mosquitoes at that paradise-like outdoor retreat, less than optimal temperatures in that restaurant, the detour that delays and leads off the desired route, all such variations from an envisioned perfection produce discomfort. For some, these are the high points of their journeys. It is what they remember and what they discuss. It blinds them to the journey’s joys and high points, which are inevitably also there. That intense focus on discomfort at the expense of appreciation deadens these journey makers to the joy they might otherwise have felt.
Yes, there are joys! For me, there is a certain thrill of being on the road, making discoveries along the way, leaving behind the various tasks I cannot accomplish while gone. There is a sense of freedom, of not being locked into a rigid schedule or way of doing things. There is the joy of seeing and conversing with especially those with whom and to whom I am traveling, as well as those spontaneous contacts I may meet along the way. There is the beauty of the nature I am traversing – certainly the list is not exhaustive! It needs only to focus on what is awesome, what is filled with beauty, nuggets of wisdom that arise, the sheer generosity of nature and of those one may meet along the way, the elements of comfort and pleasure. It needs the gratitude to appreciate what is revealed by the focus on these things. These joys are well worth any passing discomforts that may occur.
It takes courage to embark upon a journey. It takes openness to whatever may transpire. To attempt a journey in an attitude of disapproval or rejection of what the trip may or may not entail is to never leave on the journey in the first place, even if one’s body may change locations. It is the openness to the journey that brings to the traveler the best the journey has to offer. Courage is a part of journeys.
It is my belief that these elements also apply to the journey we call life. There are those who rarely leave their homes; there are those who will risk an occasional vacation or short business trip. There are those who seem continually on the move, and those whose whole life seems to the onlooker to be a glorious adventure. Similarly, there are those of us who, while alive, are hardly living, and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, those whose lives are so full as to seem to be many lifetimes rolled into one.
I invite us all, rather than to simply accept that life is a journey, to think about the parallels. How do the elements of journeys relate to the elements of living? Can they be applied to making desired changes in life, as well as on journeys? How does it seem to you? Joyful journeys to us all!