Why Do So Many Of Us Feel We Need To Travel For Authentic Spirituality?
Perhaps, because so many of us (myself included) come from a society with broken or distant spiritual traditions, we feel we must look to other spiritual ways or cultures to feel spiritually fulfilled.
Think: Month long spiritual treks to Tibet, Ayahuasca ceremonies in the depths of the Peruvian jungle, an ‘authentic’ vision quest experience including sweat lodge with a Lakota Medicine Man in South Dakota… It’s quite an industry, but is it really necessary to travel for authentic spirituality?
Don’t get me wrong, if your spiritual path leads you in a certain direction, far be it for me – or anyone else – to question that. Go where your heart and your spirits take you, and be confident in your journey!
My concern is when people feel they must look externally to find spiritual validation, when they discount their own spiritual identities for worry that it’s not ‘authentic’ enough.
Nobody Has A Monopoly On Spirituality
I think that, in our Judeo-Christian western culture, we are often taught, whether it be through certain church teachings or just through societal pressure in general, that our spiritual experiences are not valid.
Thus I think it’s natural to look to those cultures that have an unbroken tradition of spiritual inclusion, and to those cultures that consider spiritual experiences as a normal, everyday part of life.
For those of us who have ended up seeking answers in other cultures (whether it be through our own volition or because we were approached), I can speak from experience when I say what a relief it is to have our spiritual experiences normalized.
But just because some traditions are more accepting of spiritual experiences than what our own culture appears to be, doesn’t mean that they hold more truth, or can teach us about ourselves better than our own traditions and ancestors can.
It bears repeating: nobody has a monopoly on spirituality.
Sure, we in the west may have to work a little harder at it due to broken traditions, or a lack of understanding, but that’s our challenge and our journey.
I find it terribly encouraging that historians, anthropologists and other academics are taking a fresh look at my own Celtic culture and gleaning so much information about how and what my ancestors believed. The same is happening across Europe and, turns out, our traditions are not as broken as we once thought they were.
If You Seek Spirituality, Look Inside Yourself
But even if that were not the case, I would still stand my ground on this topic.
I will never believe that the spiritual experiences of the young woman in the apartment a few doors down who attends local prayer circles are less authentic or powerful than the young man who saved his dollars and traveled to Peru to do an Ayahuasca ceremony. Or that the man who heads down to the inner-city park to greet the dawn every morning has a less powerful experience than the woman who walks the Camino de Santiago.
I will never believe that it is necessary to travel for authentic spirituality. Nice? Of course – when can we leave?! Necessary? No way.
The Spirits come to us no matter where we are standing, and spiritual validation doesn’t happen in one culture vs. another, it happens within each one of us.
It happens because we show up, we surrender, and we signal a willingness to learn, and we can do that anywhere.
Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Your Own Ancestors And Spirits
Don’t get me wrong, every tradition has something to teach and beliefs to share; it is fascinating, and the work of a lifetime to learn about others and sometimes to have the rare experience of participating in others’ ways. We expand our minds and our horizons, we learn and become wiser (one hopes.)
But I think that we often forget, in our rush to embrace others’ spiritual ways, that our own ways are every bit as valid, and that the spirits who walk with us as we rush down Bay Street from one meeting to another, or pop into our heads while we’re stuck in traffic on the Gardiner Expressway, or visit the dreams we have while we sleep in our shoe-box-sized inner-city apartment, are every bit as real. Every bit as ‘authentic.’
And the reality is that, once again, it doesn’t matter how many Tibetan monks tell you you’re gifted (and by the way, everyone on this earth is gifted), you need to believe it inside yourself for it to form a piece of your identity i.e. for it to stick.
Go Where Your Heart Takes You, But Go For The Right Reasons
I’m not saying that one should only stay within their own cultural ways when practicing spirituality – oh heavens no. That would be ridiculous (and ridiculously hypocritical if you’ve read my bio.)
All I’m saying is that you don’t need to travel for spirituality if you don’t want to. Nor do you need to be First Nations, Peruvian, Sami or Tibetan to be “authentically” spiritual. You only need to be YOU.
I promise you, no matter where you’re from, (even if you don’t know where you’re from), you have ancestors that go back to the beginning of time, enough to line the entire horizon, and those ancestors are knowledgeable, loving and they want to support you.
And yes, while certain ritual aspects of a tradition may be lost due to the passage of time or historical events, the important part remains: The spirits continue to watch over us, continue to want to help us, and continue to be willing to teach us.
All we need do is ask, and whether we do that in a Peruvian rainforest , a Scottish standing stones circle, or in the comfort of our own living rooms in downtown Toronto, the answers we glean are equally valid.