Imagine that you’re sitting in traffic as an endless line of cars in front of you inches forward at a snail’s pace. In the distance, you can see a procession of majestic clouds drifting freely across the horizon. For a moment a thought gently whispers in your head,“Why can’t my life be more like those high-flying vaporish travelers?”
Your inner query gets you wondering. Your daily commute is a drag, the bills are incessant, and the exciting career you once envisioned has turned into a repetitive rut. Once again you ask yourself, “Why can’t my life be as light, free and spontaneous as the far off clouds unfolding across the clear blue sky?”
The call to adventure
Perhaps an epic adventure is just what you need to renew your spirit and reboot your life. Professors get sabbaticals, executives have periodic retreats and kids get the summer off. So, why shouldn’t you carve out some time to take a breather and recharge your soul?
The distance between your dreams and your reality can vast indeed. When your deepest aspirations are thwarted or put off, then it’s easy to find yourself discouraged and psychologically depleted. Feelings of lethargy and listlessness are usually an indication that you are on the wrong track and need to shake things up a bit.
I believe this feeling is so common that it’s virtually universal. For instance, “Eat, Pray, Love,” the best-selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, recounts her own story as a woman who dreams of having a wonderful husband, a beautiful house and a terrific career, but nothing in her life seems to live up to her hopes and expectations.
Following a divorce, Gilbert finds her life at a crossroads. She realizes she has a choice: 1) to remain on the well-trodden path of the life she’s familiar with or 2) does she embark on a journey that will take her to far off places and unfamiliar territory?
Leaving your comfort zone
Gilbert decides to leave her comfort zone in favor of a quest that will take her to exotic places across the globe. For instance, she’ll explore fine cuisine in Italy, discover the power of prayer in India and experience sensual love in Indonesia.
Gilbert’s journey was one of self-discovery as much as one involving outer landscapes. Ultimately, she will learn the ancient wisdom that in order to find yourself, you have to be willing to let go of yourself.
That can be very difficult though, particularly when it means setting aside all you are familiar with. Indeed, taking that first step — crossing the threshold into the unknown — is the most challenging one of all. As Gilbert notes about her crossroads decision, “The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving.”
In fact, Gibert was very much enacting what the mythologist Joseph Campbell once called “The Hero’s Journey.” Campbell believed that the stories of heroes and heroines offered inspiration and lessons that can apply to each and every life. For instance, he contended that there were universal themes in the hero’s journey:
- The call to adventure. A hero or heroine crosses a threshold separating the mundane world from the enchanted world (which is unknown).
- The hero or heroine undergoes a series of serendipitous adventures, which test but ultimately build character.
- The hero or heroine discovers spiritual wisdom and knowledge, which is not widely recognized or appreciated by people who never venture out of mundane existence.
- The hero or heroine returns to conventional society with hard-won wisdom.
In so many respects, Gilbert’s journey and experience appear to reflect and echo the themes that Joseph Campbell talked about when it came to the Hero’s Journey. For example, in an extended passage that is worth quoting at length Gilbert says:
I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call ‘The Physics of The Quest’ — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: ‘If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared — most of all — to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.’ Or so I’ve come to believe.
Be a fearless traveler
In fact, Gilbert returned from her exotic adventures bearing a wealth of spiritual insight and wisdom, which a wider audience seemed to hunger for. Indeed, the bestselling memoir she penned became the basis for a Hollywood blockbuster starring Julia Roberts.
Regarding travel and the importance of going off the beaten path, Gilbert offers the following advice:
- “Better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
- “To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice.”
- “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.”
- “I crossed the street to walk in the sunshine.”
Follow your bliss
It takes courage to live authentically. It’s very easy to get stuck in the rut of doing the same thing over and over again. But boredom and weariness are symptoms that you may need to venture forth in search of experiences that will test your character and reveal your soul.
Joseph Campbell once said, “If you follow your bliss, then doors will open.” Gilbert adds an encouraging addendum to that thought — namely that, “God never slams a door in your face without opening a box of Girl Scout cookies.” The key to unlocking a richer and more meaningful life is in your hands.
— Scott O’Reilly