"Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible
to be homesick for a place you've never been to,
perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground."
Copyright © 2016
by Ralph F. Couey
except cited quotes
My life long I have struggled with a nascent restlessness, a yearning for somewhere else; someplace never clearly defined or envisioned. Perhaps just to see what lay beyond the horizon. It never seemed to matter how content or comfortable I was at that particular moment, or what strictures on movement the inevitable responsibilities of life imposed. Structured vacation tours have never interested me. What I wanted was just to wander off in whatever direction I happened to be pointed, curious to see what I might find along the way. I found a kindred spirit in Matsuo Basho, the acknowledged master of Haiku, who lived in the late 17th century. He once wrote, "The journey itself is my home."
We are a people driven by destination, the unnatural consequence of life lived in the context of accomplishment. We are unable to leave anywhere without knowing where we will end up. The journey is spent fretting about how long it's taking to get there. Once there, we engage in the purpose of that trip, and when that purpose is fulfilled, we set another destination. Even at the end of the day, we still speak of "going to bed," as if the mattress was just another place on a map.
While going places and doing things are part of what's required of me, I have tolerated those duties. But where I am truly fulfilled, where I find my greatest peace is in the simple pleasure of wandering.
My recent passion of hiking tends to fit that urge. On my off days, I look forward to setting my feet on a dirt path somewhere and walking. I'm not really going anywhere, which drives some people crazy. After all, why go at all if you don't know where you're going? But it is that lack of proscribed destination that shifts the focus to the journey itself. I look, I listen. I smell and touch. I try to open my mind and spirit to the world around me; to connect with the woods.
That's the way vacations used to go, at least for us. We'd set off in a particular direction and let the day's events be determined by whatever we encountered along the way. We explored side roads and back roads, getting lost more than once in a time decades before GPS. I was always entertained when we had to ask a local for directions. For a few moments, our lives touched, and we learned a bit about them, and they about us. I never lost that perspective. Even today when driving down a road in the dusk, I look for homes with lights in the windows, and remember that lives are being lived in the glow of those lamps. Those memories have stayed with me, as those journeys have become a part of me, shaping my thoughts, my emotions...my dreams.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, "A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." The act of arriving signals the end of a journey. That is different from just stopping at night before resuming the next day. I love the freedom of not having any place to go. On an epic 9-day motorcycle trip that I took out west in 2002, I was asked by a curious pair of tourists in New Mexico why I was on such a trip. I told them,
"There's a horizon out there.
On the far side are places I've never been, things I've never seen,
people I haven't met, experiences I've never had.
All day long, I seek that horizon, freed by the knowledge
that I have nowhere to be, and all the time in the world to get there.
It is that restless desire to go there, see that, do that...feel that
which carries me through the day.
And the best part?
Every morning, there's a brand new horizon out there...calling to me.
I just don't think it gets any better than than."
The eloquence impressed them, and shocked me. It was one of those moments when the channel between my heart and mouth refused to be impeded by my brain. I have thought many times in the 14 years since about that verbal eruption, and what that statement said about me. I've also been happy that in those intervening years, every word of it remains true.
I readily admit that his approach is not for everyone. Some of you need destinations and schedules; grudgingly I also admit that I do as well. Just not on my days off. But this feeling that has never left me, also I think defines me to a great extent. It has been the best way for me to understand...me.
The best journey is one that is led by the heart, and only lightly steered by the brain. Our sense of adventure, our curiosity about the unknown, our need to discover; to know what we never knew before is a trait that is a part of us all. If we can dig down through the pile of "gotta be there's" and "have to do's" we can all find impulse.
Seek it out. Act on it. It will be the first steps toward freeing the spirit within and allowing it to soar, even just a little. And along with that freedom, you will at last find what has eluded you.