Women journey on a variety of paths to understand both the geographical and the spiritual. This remarkable ensemble of women write about their spiritual awakenings, sharing the experiences that led to their spiritual growth and transformation.
How difficult it can be to talk about what is spiritual. We experience moments of “connection” to a “higher power”; times of “communion” with what we sometimes call our “soul.” Yet the language we use doesn’t come close to capturing the depth of the experiences themselves. Almost by definition, what takes place in the spiritual realm eludes description.
The stories in this collection nevertheless attempt to initiate a conversation, at least, about those elusive moments—in the context of travel. In some ways, one could say that all journeys are spiritual; by its very nature, journeying involves a leap of faith. We climb onto a train, strap ourselves into an airplane seat, or step onto a winding path with the fullest of hopes—and yet knowing nothing for certain about where the venture might actually lead us.
Perhaps that leap of faith is what makes our spiritual center so accessible when we travel. In the act of moving from one place to another, somehow a space is created where, if we’re lucky, a moment of clarity alights on us and offers a window into our natures, and the nature of everything around us. Travel to distant places has a way of opening a path inward, to possibility—to memory, even. After a while, the physical experience of travel somehow becomes less significant than the inner transformations we undergo: when, by moving through space, bumping up against strangeness and being changed by it, we somehow become more of who we are meant to be.
Ancient philosophers and contemporary mystics alike have proposed that we are conceived in the womb with a deep knowledge of everything, of all the secrets and mysteries of the universe, and that life is a process of “remembering”: As we live and learn, we reconnect with knowledge that we already have; it is as if we simply draw back a veil so that we can see and understand it all anew. The stories in this volume have convinced my coeditors and me that the act of travel is a potent way indeed of calling forth that inner knowledge. To relearn what we already know on the deepest level; to wake up to it and allow it to change us. Such is the power of the spiritual journey.
But for women, the path of that journey takes on yet another dimension. Many of our childhood experiences of spirituality revolved around the sacred male image found in the Judeo-Christian tradition—which, implicitly and explicitly, often excluded us as females. Yet we know that other religions reject that focus on a wholly male God: Native American, Hindu, and African traditions are rich with imagery of female deities, and archaeological evidence has pointed to long traditions of Goddess worship in ancient cultures all over the world.
The collection of essays that follows attempts to provide a forum in which, through our unique experiences as women, we might begin to find ways to reclaim, honor, and celebrate our spiritual power and wisdom: to explore what might be called the sacred feminine. You will read here of many kinds of women’s excursions of the spirit—some in the context of faiths like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, while others venture into the realms of Goddess spirituality, shamanism, and African and Native American traditions. Still, many of these essays describe journeys that have less to do with worship than with explorations of inner spiritual strength, or even of deep connections to the spirit of particular places.
We begin and end with stories set along the classic pilgrim’s trail, in which the traveler undertakes a spiritual quest by walking many weeks or months along a well-worn path. The first of these, Abigail Seymour’s “Go Beyond!” takes place along Spain’s Camino de Santiago that dates back to the Middle Ages; the last, Kelly Winters’s “Trusting the Trail,” occurs on the Appalachian Trail that runs 2,000 miles, from Georgia to Maine. Both lead the traveler to a kind of introspection and reckoning with herself and her beliefs that is nothing short of transformative.
But there are other ways of connecting to one’s spirit than by setting out on a walking pilgrimage. Some of the women in these stories partake of the religious rites and rituals of wholly foreign cultures, such as Emily Zuzik does in “Going Without at Ramadan.” Some women, like Sue Bender in “Sweat Lodge,” do it by venturing into darkness, metaphorically and literally, in order to touch their own luminous centers. Some use travel as a way of healing physical and emotional wounds, or to test and push their inner strengths and limits, as Linda Ellerbee does in “No Shit! There I Was…”. Others, like Maya Angelou in “Return to Keta,” travel to foreign lands that they find strangely familiar, and where they encounter ancestors—or past lives—long forgotten by the conscious mind. And still others, like Jill Jepson in “Cave Temple of the Goddess,” embark on their journeys as skeptical pilgrims—only to return with a new kind of faith.
What all of these journeys share, however, is their ability to convey the power of feminine spiritual transformation—of its possibilities and direction, of its contingencies and freedom, of its poetry and joy. And although this book cannot provide any fixed direction—markers for other cartographers of the spirit, it is our hope that the stories here will serve as gentle spurs for those who desire to embark on such a journey for themselves.
PART ONE: AWAKENING
Go Beyond! — Abigail Seymour
Knocking on Heaven’s Door — Anne Lamott
Awakening the Stone — Kim Chernin
Mother to the World — Cherilyn Parsons
Jam Bah Doo Nah? — Susana Herrera
Renewing the Sun — Emily Hiestand
The Way Back — Tehila Lieberman
New York City
Return to Keta — Maya Angelou
No Shit! There I Was… — Linda Ellerbee
PART TWO: WAYS OF JOURNEYING
The Masseur — Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Cave Temple of the Goddess — Jill Jepson
Going Without at Ramadan — Emily Zuzik
El Maestro’s Magic Water — Kelly Booth
Sweat Lodge — Sue Bender
The Way of Tea — Amy G. Carlson
Initiation — Kim Chernin
In Ronda — Lucy McCauley
Encounter in the Sea — Diane Ackerman
PART THREE: TRANSFORMING THE SELF
Train Ride to Wisdom — Natalie Goldberg
AWOL in Aquitaine — Lorena Cassady
The Sadhu from Texas — Anne Cushman
Enchantment — Margaret Paul Stark
Stag Dance — Brenda Peterson
The Door to Joy — Irma Zaleski
The Sound of Healing — Kim Tinsley
PART FOUR: WALKING THE SHADOW SIDE
Prayer for the Wounded World — Joan Halifax
The Desert — Laura Harger
Home for the Dying — Carol Stigger
Maenid Furies — Lucy Rees
Fire and Holy Water — Peggy Payne
A Bed Like a Vessel — Kuki Gallmann
PART FIVE: EMERGING INTO THE LIGHT
Trusting the Trail — Kelly Winters
Lucy McCauley is the editor of Women in the Wild and Travelers’ Tales Spain. Her writing has appeared in such publications as the Atlantic Monthly, Los Angeles Times, Harvard Review, Fast Company, and several Travelers’ Tales books. She is a freelance writer, editor, and a member of the International Womens Writing Guild. She lives in Texas.
Amy G. Carlson is the coeditor of Travelers’ Tales Japan and The Gift of Birds. She has been an English teacher, snow plower, house builder, world traveler, gardener, seminary student, church lady, mountain climber, and poet. She lives with her husband Reed in Washington State.
Jennifer Leo’s “Chinese Like Me” appeared in A Woman’s Passion for Travel. She has also contributed to The Adventure of Food. She lives in San Francisco.