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$18.95True Stories of Transformation and the Soul

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By Sean O’Reilly and 1 and 1
September 2002
ISBN 1-885211-84-8 464 pages

This is a very different kind of travel book. It is a guide for the soul, a primer for the journey that is the archetype of all journeys: the road within. It is a book of transformation and of spiritual blessings bestowed on that great and hard teacher–travel. You’ll understand and appreciate what the great mystics and saints have always known–that you are closer to yourself and the world than you can possibly imagine, and that wonderous things await you in your journeys. Notable authors in this collection: Annie Dillard, Huston Smith, Natalie Goldberg, Andrew Harvey, and Barry Lopez.





The Road Within is a very different kind of travel book, a venture into the hidden territory of the human spirit and heart. It is a book of transformation, of lessons learned, maps drawn and burned, and blessings bestowed by that great and hard teacher: travel.

Some journeys are destined to alter our lives irrevocably. Many of us have had experiences on the road which have changed our view of the world in ways we have difficulty articulating on our return home. We come back from travel changed, awareness broadened, consciousness clearer—a feeling of being closer to who we really are. Once we have had a taste of this kind of change, we can’t get enough of it, or learn too much about the process. In this vein, other peoples’ stories can help us understand the dimensions of the inner journey, and help us prepare for and better assimilate our own discoveries.

The ecology and topography of the inner journey is no less real than any other place we encounter “out there” in the world-at-large. If ecology is defined as the relationship that an organism has with its environment, we must understand that the tissue of what we call consciousness is composed of layers of relationships with many aspects of the world, ourselves, and others, which may not be readily apparent. Gary Fontaine notes in Presence in Strange Lands, “The impact of our journey to strange lands may be much more than the culture shock produced by encountering a new culture. Our previous vision of reality may become vulnerable—spirits may enter our consciousness. Journeys to strange lands become encounters with ourselves.”

In his book The Longing for Home, Frederick Buechner puts his finger squarely on a central part of this process: “Whether we are rich or poor, male or female, our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and be loved…”

No matter what we are looking for, we need maps or a way of comparing our experiences against those of others. Indeed, the essence of following another’s journey is to be shown a map or told a story. But what do you do when the territory consists of more than three dimensions? The stories in The Road Within have been collected and edited to provide you with something of a non-linear map of consciousness. Some of the stories are more typical of the travel genre than others, but all are reflective of the many dimensions that constitute the path to self-knowledge. They include the experiences of scientists, writers, students of Buddhism and the martial arts, deep ecologists, and many ordinary travelers from all creeds and no creeds, each in search of the meaning of life.

Each Travelers’ Tales book is organized into five simple parts. In The Road Within the format has been altered slightly to give a little additional guidance for the reader. For the first section, we’ve chosen stories to illustrate the “Hidden World” of self and nature. Part II contains stories about “Changing Your Life” and those mystifying, frightening, or plainly strange encounters with other people, places, and ideas that irrevocably alter our lives. In Part III, we’ve chosen stories by people who are exploring inner boundaries and reaching for wisdom through “Traditions and Teachers.” Part IV, “The Problem with Evil” gives witness to the dangers of devolved ecologies of culture and startles us into realizing our personal limitations. The “Simple Gifts” of Part V show us the radiance and sometimes unsettling beauty of life that shines through all difficulties and limitations, self-imposed or otherwise.

This is a guide for the soul, a primer for the journey that is the archetype of all journeys, the road within. Hopefully, this book will help you understand what all the great mystics, visionaries, and saints have always known—that you are closer to your self, the world, and God than you can possibly imagine and that wondrous things await you.




Part One: The Hidden World

No Distance in the Heart–Thom Elkjer

Garden of Paradise–Natalie Goldberg
New Mexico

Out of the Depths–Lyall Watson

Call of the Jungle–Janis Roze

The Green Halo–John R. Howe

Passing Through–Marianne Dresser
Bodh Gaya

Hearts with Wings–Paul William Roberts

A Man of the World–Annie Dillard

The Old City–Rabbi David A. Cooper

Beyond the Sky–Laurens van der Post

The Pure Jones of It–Paul McHugh

Fire Beneath the Skin–Tim Ward

Part Two: Changing Your Life

Monk without a Robe–Mike McIntyre

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road–Gladys Montgomery Jones

Homewaters of the Mind–Holly Morris

Paris Angels–Gerard Wozek

Wake Up Call–Scott Erickson
Lake Superior, Minnesota

St. Peter’s Black Box–Sean O’Reilly

Luzviminda–Richard Sterling

Gidget Would Go–Claudia Carey-Astrakhan

Psalm Journey–Marael Johnson

Treading Water–Larry Habegger
Around the World

The Labyrinth–Jonah Blank
Lucknow, India

Part Three: Traditions and Teachers

The Master–Mark Salzman

The Vomiting Game–James Hall

A Taste of Satori–Huston Smith

Dreamtime Odyssey–David Yeadon

Stone by Stone–Jeanine Barone

The Great Holy Mystery–White Deer of Autumn (Gabriel Horn)

Twist of Faith–Rhoda Blecker

The Guy at the End of the Bed–Judy Mayfield

Instincts–Richard Goodman

The Serpent–Dennis Covington

The Interior Landscape–Barry Lopez

Up Your Nose–Redmond O’Hanlon

Meera Gazing–Mark Seal

Part Four: The Problem of Evil

Slouching Towards Turin–Bill Buford

Ground Zero–Peter Maass

Parade of Demons–Katie Hickman

Sword of Heaven–Mikkel Aaland
Around the World

Part Five: Simple Gifts

Encounter with a Stranger–Andrew Harvey

Prague Interlude–David Berlinski

Allah Hit Me–John Krich

Everything for God–William Elliot

The Palais-Royal–Julian Green

No Distance in the Heart

Some knowledge comes from a place beyond the mind.

by Thom Elkjer

The little boy was trotting around between the breakfast tables in the hotel, his arms wide behind him like airplane wings. His eyes were dark and round, his hair tousled black, his features unmistakably Catalan. I watched him and reflected that I might easily have been home, watching my own child fly about the kitchen. Instead I was in Barcelona, thousands of miles from the small town in California where my wife was probably sleeping.

We had moved away from the city a few weeks earlier, to recover from twin blows: first a miscarriage, then cancer. It appeared now that we would never have children of our own. I also sensed a growing gulf between us, which no amount of loving words or physical tenderness seemed to bridge. It was hard to be away from her but also, I had to admit, a relief.

In Spanish, I asked the boy where he was flying.

“Cataluña,” he answered, and looked down at the floor as if from a great height. “Can’t you see it?” An elderly woman at the next table played along, telling the boy that it was too far down for her to see with her old eyes. This brought him up short. He stopped flying and stared at her, as if seeing something terrible in her wrinkled skin and snow white hair. A moment later he ran back to his mother’s lap and buried his head in her skirts.

The elderly woman spoke across the tables, apologizing to the boy’s mother for scaring him. Her companion, in tweed blazer, patted her hand and consoled her. “You couldn’t know,” he said to her in a polished British accent. “Lord knows we never had children of our own.” Now it was my turn to stare. I dropped some money on the table, picked up my newspaper, and left.

Barcelona seems to me a town full of art directors, with everyone dressed in black with splashes of red. This is especially true in the winter, when chill winds blow down the city’s wide streets. The uniform seems to be a black overcoat, with a snow-white scarf and dashing red beret. The Catalans are an elegant people, especially walking together in public, but today I had my eye on the children. Many of them, too, were in black with boldly colored hats or mittens. They capered about, their bright eyes flashing and voices ringing in the cool air. I began to want one of them, any one. I would take the child home to my wife, and we would be parents at last. Surely that would knit us back together.

I finished my appointments, had some coffee in the Cafe de la Opera, and trudged back up Las Ramblas to Plaza de Cataluña for the train back to my hotel, north of the Diagonal. It was morning in California. My wife would be waking up, maybe reading in bed. I would call her and tell about bringing home a kid from Catalonia. We would laugh together as we embellished the plot. I would feel better.

The platform was not too crowded so I wandered to the edge and looked down. The cars of the Barcelona metro ride three or feet above the tracks, on springy undercarriages. The platform is even with the floor of the cars, but there is a wide gap between them. Unlike London, however, there is no warning painted on the platform, or loudspeaker constantly intoning “Mind the step!” Worst of all, the wall of the platform sloped down toward the tracks, so anything that fell over the edge could wind up on the tracks. An accident waiting to happen, I thought, until a little girl in a pink hooded jacket materialized next to me.

This was not a miniature art director, but an open-faced, curious child in soft, little-girl colors. She was three or four years old, steady on her feet except when she was looking up, as she was right now, at me. Her mother struggled with a clutch of parcels and shopping bags. I smiled at her briefly but she was too harried to return it. Instead she spoke sharply to her daughter to stay close. I had been preparing to pat the girl’s pig-tailed head, but I slipped my hand back into my pocket.

The girl and her mother got on the same train I did. We boarded mid-car, and the two of them got the last two available seats. I stood up near the door. We passed Grecia and St. Gervasi stations on our way to Reina Elisenda, and all the while I was thinking, this is the child I want. She merrily explored the train without getting in others’ way, she kissed her mother impulsively (the only time I saw the woman smile), and chatted amiably with someone, perhaps a cat or dog, that only she could see. Once she looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back. A delightful child.

After the doors of the car closed at Muntaner station, the woman began to gather her parcels and make sure her daughter had her mittens. I realized they were getting off at Bonanova, a station before me, and thought briefly about getting off with them. I didn’t really intend to steal the girl, but I wasn’t prepared to lose her so soon, either. Then I remembered my wife, back home in bed. I didn’t want to miss her before she left for work. I had to get back to the hotel to make my call.

The train stopped and the doors opened. Everyone who was getting off the train left the car. The woman quickly zipped up her daughter’s coat and took her hand to walk her off the train. But as they came to the open doorway, just next to me, the little girl pulled her hand free so she could prove to her mother that she could step across the gap herself. Her mother said “no” and snatched at the girl’s hand. Instead she got the sleeve of her daughter’s coat, just as the girl began to step out of the train.

Looking down, I saw her hands disappear into the sleeves of her coat as her mother pulled it upward. The girl’s foot did not reach the platform. The bell rang to announce that the doors were about to close. At the same moment as her mother, who was stepping onto the platform, I realized that the little girl was sliding out of her coat, through the gap, and down onto the tracks beneath the departing train.

Her mother dropped her parcels and yanked harder on the pink hooded jacket, but it was too late for that. I was already on the floor of the car, thrusting my arm down the gap, aiming for the area underneath the girl’s coat. I felt skin, grabbed hard, and managed to get hold of the girl’s wrist. She was so light that it took just one long pull to bring her out from beneath the train and into the air. The woman snatched her daughter from my one-handed grip an instant before the train doors closed. Now I was on the train, mother and daughter on the platform. The train pulled away.

Looking back, I saw the woman convulsively clutching her daughter to her chest and stroking her hair. Some people on the platform picked up parcels while others pointed toward the train, shouted and gesticulated, or simply clapped their hands. But it was like watching TV with the sound turned off. The doors and windows of the train were sealed shut. I couldn’t hear anything but the sound of the train and the pounding of my own heart.

I suddenly remembered the passengers on the train, and turned around to see how many had witnessed the miracle of the girl’s salvation. Not a single person was looking at me. They were all reading, or looking out the window, or talking to each other. For a moment I thought they were all pretending, and that they would suddenly begin to buzz about what had happened. They did not. Finally it dawned on me that the partitions by the door of the train, and the shortness of the girl, had concealed everything. No one on the train knew I had saved her life. It was too fast, and too silent. For them it had never happened.

My heart was still beating high in my chest when I got into my room at the hotel. I took off my coat and sat on the bed, seeing again the scene on the platform as the train pulled away Bonanova station. I had gotten the girl in my hand all right, but only for a second or two. Now she was gone forever. I would not take her home. She would not knit my marriage back together. Hot tears welled up and spilled out of my eyes. I was wiping them away when the phone rang. I mumbled a greeting.

“Oh, thank God,” my wife moaned, and then she was crying too. I pulled myself together and asked her what was wrong. She told me she had just woken from a terrifying dream in which I was trapped by my coat beneath the wheels of a train that was about to leave the station. A little girl had pushed me off the platform and I was lying there, unable to get up. She had woken herself up so she would not see me die.

At that point she began to cry all over again. I was too stunned to reply. Instead I forced myself to listen. She was apologizing for pushing me away after the miscarriage and her cancer. She was so afraid I would leave her, she said, that she was unconsciously trying to get it over with. But now she knew she didn’t want me to leave. She wanted me to come home. She wanted everything to be all right again.

When I could speak, I told her what had happened to me in the train. Now it was her turn to be speechless. For a long time we were silent, paying hotel international long-distance phone rates to simply be together. We needed to recover from experiencing a similar shock, at virtually the same time, thousands of miles apart. When we began speaking again, it was to promise that I would come home soon, that she would be waiting, and that we would begin again.

In certain native traditions, a life you save belongs to you forever afterward. Five years after that day in Barcelona, I can still see that girl in my mind’s eye. She’s eight or nine now, her hair is longer, and she looks more like her mother. I see her running toward me on the Paseo de la Bonanova, her arms swept behind her as if they are wings and she is flying high over Cataluñ a. Indeed she has been mine since the day I met her, the day I learned there is no separation in love, no distance within the heart.

Thom Elkjer is the wine editor for Wine Country Living magazine (formerly Appellation). He has contributed to Wine Spectator in the U.S. and WINE magazine in London, and appears in Travelers’ Tales volumes on Paris, Italy, Ireland, food, humor, and spirituality. He has also published a mystery titled Hook, Line and Murder and is the author of Fodor’s Escape to the California Wine Country. He lives in San Rafael, CA.

Sean O’Reilly is a former seminarian, stockbroker, and prison instructor who lives in Arizona with his wife, Brenda, and their four boys. He’s had a life-long interest in consciousness and theology, and is at work on a book that makes the proposition that classic Greek, Roman, and Christian moral philosophies, allied with post-quantum physics, form the building blocks of a new ethics and psychology. Widely traveled, Sean is editor-at-large and director of international sales for Travelers’ Tales.

James O’Reilly, president and publisher of Travelers Tales, wrote mystery serials before becoming a travel writer in the early 1980s. In 1985 he and coauthor Larry Habegger began a syndicated newspaper column, “World Travel Watch,” which still appears monthly throughout the USA. He’s visited more than 40 countries, along the way meditating with monks in Tibet, participating in West African voodoo rituals, and hanging out the laundry with the nuns in Florence. He travels extensively with his wife, Wenda, and their three daughters. They live in Palo Alto, California, when they’re not in Leavenworth, Washington.

Tim O’Reilly is the founder and president of O’Reilly & Associates, a company that is recognized worldwide for innovations in publishing, software, and the Internet. Before founding his company, Tim taught with the late George Simon, a pioneering researcher in altered states of consciousness, at Esalen and other centers around the U.S., and after his death in 1973, was the editor and publisher of his journals. Tim lives with his wife Christina and their two daughters in Sebastapol, California.