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Journeys: Exploring Your World, Inside and Out

Leaving home to find home

If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One destination is never a place, but rather, a new way of looking at things.

-Henry Miller

Journeys are one of the most powerful and literal tools for making passages or transitions because they manifest our internal drives and desires in the outside world. The journey is a deliberate effort to move beyond ourselves. We venture into unfamiliar territory to seek challenge and change, to find new answers and dimensions. Journeys free us from the bounds of our own space, allowing us to experience things in a way that is not possible in our home environment. They open us up to the unexpected and the magical. Such experiences can be consciously recognized as markers of past growth and impetus to further growth, as steps beyond limitations and into freedom, and as leaps into new aspects of one's identity.

Journeys also help us connect with the universal sense of what it means to be human. When we journey among others beyond the familiar, we have the opportunity to see what is common among all people: how we love, how we work, how we relate in family and community, what our basic needs are, and how we meet them. Journeys connect us with the pathos of the human experience, and through this teach us compassion for others. They broaden our understanding, heighten our experience of who we are, and challenge us to express our true nature more fully.

The journey may be a trip to just get away for a while, or a move to a place that becomes our new home. It could be a "call to adventure"-the hero's journey-following a deeply felt desire, an instinctive pull to a place for some purpose. Our journey may be to overcome a specific obstacle or to connect with a spiritual or historical source. Or perhaps the impetus simply resides in the knowledge that going someplace new will bring new opportunities for change. We may not know what we're looking for, but we know we're looking, and the journey helps us to find it.

There is a long history of renowned "rite of passage" journeys. In literature, the protagonists of works such as The Odyssey and Pilgrim's Progress were transformed by epic journeys that moved them through several phases of their lives. The enlightened religious masters tested their faith, strength, and resiliency, or strove toward a higher level of understanding, in solitary journeys. The Buddha left his cloistered world of privilege to witness poverty, disease, and death. Jesus journeyed into the wilderness for forty days and nights to test himself against temptations and evils. Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments.

Pilgrimages are another classic form of the "rite of passage" journey. According to anthropologist Victor Turner, the pilgrim hopes to have "direct experience of the sacred, invisible, or supernatural order, either in the material aspect of miraculous healing or in the immaterial aspect of inward transformation of spirit or personality." In addition to being an obligation for the devout, more and more individuals are visiting sacred sites in order to access and enrich their spiritual lives.

In contemporary culture, the hero's journey is a widely used rite of passage. Its appeal is evident in the enormous interest in reality TV shows which depict all kinds of challenges and transformations. The key ritual elements-separation, the ordeal, and return-are present, yet instead of being positive journeys to the soulful place within, these TV journeys are typically about outdoing fellow travelers, with competition obliterating compassion. Nonetheless, this phenomenon is evidently tapping into the collective unconscious: exploration and pioneering are, once again, exciting to the human psyche. Something stirs inside us when we see human beings entering forsaken lands, carrying nothing to ensure their survival but their personal baggage. We encourage from our living rooms. We root for someone with whom we identify. We plan strategies, fantasizing how we would behave, what we would do, if we were there. Remarkably, the medium of television, which all too often dulls our awareness, seems to be activating an ancient consciousness within us. This same enthusiasm can serve us immensely if it moves us beyond spectatorship, spurring us off our couches and into the adventure of our own lives.

I've found journeys to be a great tool for making passages in my own life, and I highly recommend them to my friends and patients when feasible. Journeys may serve to give them a boost, to remove them from a difficult situation, or to help them experience new things without daily life excuses; for instance, they can gain new perspectives on their psychological life by wandering alone or speaking with strangers, they can acquire enrichment through embracing other cultures and traditions, and generally they can do things they would never do and be someone they would never be at home. The journey is often the key to moving them into new phases of their lives. Journeys are not so much about going to a certain place but about bringing the world inside oneself, and in doing so, broadening one's self-knowledge.