I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad last summer. I was surprised that it turned out to be just as spiritually edifying as it was culturally. There were two instances in particular that had a significant spiritual impact on me. I thought the experiences I had would be best explained in the words I wrote about them at the time, and so I have included some excerpts from my travel journal. And they act as evidence to the fact that traveling can be a spiritual experience.
I would refer to those instances where words escape us or when we are confronted with something that both fascinates and scares us as sublime. These sublime experiences should be savored. Some of the ways we attempt to remember something, i.e. photos and videos, can actually, in some cases, dilute the experience and make it less than it would have been without any interference. A scene from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” illustrates this idea perfectly.
When we realize our smallness in such a large, expansive world, we start to appreciate all of the little things. Sometimes trying to capture a moment electronically takes you out of the moment. I would counsel that we all try to remain in the moments in order to be able to savor them that much more.
When our group first arrived at Stonehenge, I was skeptical that I would even enjoy the experience at all. I didn’t really feel the same excitement and awe about it that everyone else seemed to. Despite all this, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I both enjoyed the experience and even benefitted from it spiritually.
Thoughts I Wrote in My Travel Journal About the Experience
So here I am at Stonehenge. If this place weren’t so congested with tourists, (a.k.a more people like me) I think I would like it better, but then that’s true of most places, isn’t it? Some say that it’s remarkable that such an ancient creation has remained relatively intact all these years. There are five-year-olds crying nearby. In the field behind me, when I put my face toward the sun and away from the masses of people, I can hear birds chirping.
I don’t want to give up my bench. There are burial sites nearby that contain the bones of people that existed centuries ago, and I am beginning to wonder how distant they were from Adam. I’m starting to see the sublimity of it now. Gaps. Spaces. Cracks. If I put my hands on either side of my face, the people almost disappear and all I see are the stones. It’s almost as if I’m here alone even in the cacophony.
Getting the Perfect Picture
A cold wind is blowing on the other side of me. On the same side, runs a major highway where cars and ambulances speed by making that great tumultuous whooshing sound that all vehicles do as they displace the air in front of them at high speeds. It seems that people basically only come here to take the perfect picture for social media and then leave, with their selfie sticks and disruptive poses.
I both understand and am annoyed by this, although, I don’t mean to sound like I think I am better than any of them. I am one of them but somehow feel apart from them. I’ve become more enchanted with this place than I originally thought I could be.
I’m sitting here on a bench, that for some reason everyone else has been passing by. The air is clean and cold and clear. One lady, in her efforts to get a good picture in front of these old stones, was doing a grand jete (a ballet jump where both legs are extended out from the body). Another woman a ways off was doing a headstand.
Analysis of My Experience
My experience at Stonehenge was a very individual and spiritually enriching. There was a calming energy there. I think it’s something that only emanates from ancient things. It’s almost as if the rocks were wise. There is a reverence that is inherent there that you can’t help but observe and be in awe of. The longer something exists, the more history it accumulates. I urge all of you to visit an ancient place. The Spirit will be invited by the reverence you pay to the history of the place.
The stark contrast of the old with the new brought a sort of monstrous, sublime quality to the monument that exists in few other places. It is clear that essentially anything, which is an extreme, can be labeled as being sublime, like cliff jumping or deep sea diving. But there are less obvious examples of the sublime in travel and in everyday life, and they are the ones most worth savoring.
Towards the end of our trip, we left London and made our way over to Barcelona. It was hot and full of people. The beaches were amazing and the people all very friendly. What I loved the most about our time in Spain, though, was a day trip we took to a place about an hour train ride from Barcelona called Monseratt. Monseratt is a multi-peaked mountain range and is has very uniquely beautiful rock formations. We took a gondola up. There were shops and, an amazing art gallery full of Picasso’s and Dali’s, but best of all there was lots and lots of hiking.
My Reflections on Monserratt
What came next was yet another spiritual sort of experience that I will never forget. Because I had taken so long in the gallery, most everyone who decided to hike had already left to do so, and so I was left on my own. I decided to do a little hiking myself at my own pace. I took it slow and enjoyed the views as the sweat poured down and my smile grew wider and wider.
The rock formations there are supremely unique. After seeing the general design of the architecture in Barcelona it became clear that much of it was modeled after Montserrat and its grandeur. Because of my deliberately slow pace, I didn’t get to see a lot of what I wanted to, but I was able to find this lookout point where I was completely alone. From the edge, I could see down and out past the hazy horizon and Spanish countryside for miles. The rocks I sat on were sunbaked and almost uncomfortably warm, but I was lucky because the breeze that blew through was the only place that I had found on the entire site that was actually cool and refreshing.
It sat there for what felt like a long time. I took time to breathe and appreciate and didn’t want to sully it by taking too many pictures or even writing. I just sat and enjoyed one of those fragile moments; a moment I wanted to “stay in.” It’s one of those things that is a unique kind of beautiful, that diminishes immediately once you try to capture it because it isn’t just about the way everything looked, it was about how it all felt. Conveying a feeling is much harder to do. It is fleeting and yours. Yours alone.
All Good Things Are of God
Anything that is good is of the Spirit. We can feel it in a variety of ways and are not limited to feeling it only in a church setting.There is no limit to when and where we can feel it. The only limits that come into play are the limits we place there ourselves. We can be our own stumbling blocks sometimes when it comes to feeling the spirit. It is easy to forget and start cutting corners when it comes to creating an environment for the spirit to reside when we get stuck in our routines. That is why breaking free of them is essential.
Getting out of our comfort zones and experiencing something new is a sure fire way to feel a greater appreciation for and to become more aware of what we might be lacking and what we might be doing right when it comes to spiritual matters.
I’m sure that there are few people that would disagree with me when I say that travel is beneficial in a myriad of ways, but it is overwhelmingly beneficial when it comes to rebalancing ourselves spiritually.
How to Make Traveling Possible
- Believe that you can do it, even if you feel limited by your job or family life. There are many families that do travel regularly on a budget. It is a great way to make memories and bond as a family, even if it is just a little day trip.
2. Look for alternative and creative ways to travel.
3. Remember that traveling doesn’t have to mean venturing to different countries. There are so many things to see in our own countries as well. The United States is dotted with significant church history sites. Make it a point to visit some of these and to venture out to those places near you that you have always meant to see but never have.
4. Don’t let the false idea that travel is always expensive fool you. There are many ways to do it cheaply.
How to Avoid Tainting the Experience
We have been counseled by our beloved Prophets and Apostles to enjoy the journey. This is true of even a literal journey, and even when in the midst of a literal journey, we can have spiritual experiences. Sometimes a short bout of solitude to be alone with our thoughts and our surroundings can be just what we need to refocus and be more sensitive to the Spirit. Don’t forget to do all you can to “stay in the moment.” Being present is essential to living in the now and, most importantly, to savoring all the world has to offer.