Notes From My Knapsack 7-7-16
The Tao of Tourism
Many are the forms of spiritual practice, from simple prayer in a living room chair to yoga on the lawn; some visit monasteries or other sacred places, while others have a mantra or icon or focal point of some sort, even just a candle, to keep the mind under control and the spirit aimed at the divine encounter.
I've long admired the Zen teacher Bernie Glassman's observation that any spiritual discipline that doesn't work for you on the 5:15 train home is no good. That's a Yonkers version of saying if you have to have complete silence and no people around you at all else you'll be distracted and disillusioned from your heavenly focus, then you may be missing out on at least one of the purposes of meditation, which is to not only reduce your pain and suffering, but to empower you to help reduce the pain and suffering of others.
Some have said that "hell is other people," but without getting into a whole long theological discussion, I'm not in that camp. Not that some of you aren't irritating. I mean, really irritating. Bless your heart.
So I found myself thinking, while off in a touristy area with my family, about how the experience of being a tourist, a traveler in the midst of other wanderers, can be a way of insight if practiced attentively. A way, or as has been appropriated from the Chinese, a "Tao." In this case, the tao of tourism.
First, there are those other people. You can learn from them, in all their diversity, self-centeredness, and pursuit of personal goals (getting that last Danish before you, for instance, at the morning scrum in the motel breakfast room), or you can despise them. As a Christian, I'm pulled up short by my Lord, who says he died for even the lady who shoved me aside to get to the waffle maker even though it's clearly not her turn. I can see that of Christ in her, and pray for her peace, or I can sit and seeth. The latter is poor for digestion, isn't it?
Then there's our own situation of rootlessness. One gratification of the end of a day is coming home to one's own stuff. No matter how cluttered, dysfunctional, owned or rented, it's yours and you know where to sit and how to plug in your devices. On the road, whether in a campground or a room on the third floor of a standard box o' lodgings, you end the day with a very real encounter with impermanence. I am only here for a time, I can only leave my mark in the trash can (or end up paying for room damages), and things are definitely not arranged to my convenience. Even at Disney, it's still just a temporary space in which you live. Which triggers all kinds of thoughts.
And finally the tao of tourism helps you think about where you're going, and why you're heading there the way you are. Is this trip necessary, our elders learned to ask in the 1940s, and now we ask it in a different, more eclectic and cafeteria sort of way. We can go so many places: why are we here? What are we after? And like the dog chasing a car, what will we do when we get it?
Then there's the experience of getting home and seeing it anew, but that's another day.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about what you've learned on your summer travels at email@example.com.