Exploring the boundary between pilgrimage and travel

One of my favorite things about travel is the gift of seeing the art, style, architecture and history of different cultures through the ages.

Taking in various landscapes and the natural beauty of Mother Earth in far off places.

Beholding ancient and modern change, creativity, nature and people around the world plants a seed within me and eventually, inspires something deep inside of me to rise to the surface.

This is how I travel - outward in.

Mesmerized at Aya Sofia in Istanbul, Turkey

The Third Eye Chakra

This is also the essence of the third-eye chakra, Ajna.  Our two physical eyes look out into the world, our third-eye looks inward.

I could sit and look at historic sites and relics, sacred places, nature, and works of art for hours (I often do!) and witness how they stir my imagination, intuition, and help me to see myself more clearly.

This is yoga off the mat and in the world.  A practice of deep looking.  Of being fully present in the world.

Using all of my senses, I drink in the sights through my eyes, ears, nose, skin and heart.

To behold new places, people, culture, art, history and nature fills me with beauty…

The definition of beautiful is to be full of beauty.  It’s an inside job.

Beauty is all around us when we seek it out.  That’s not to say we should ignore what’s uncomfortable in the world.  Not at all - we’re not practicing toxic positivity here.  That’s spiritual bypass and not a language I speak.

What I’m suggesting is to take it all in.  The beauty and the terror.

Not everything I witness in my travels is beautiful, to be sure, yet if I look for the beauty, even in the terror, I always find it….

In the smile of a stranger.  In the people who offer a helping hand.  In the blossom of a flower in the mud.  In street art.  In the simplest food made with care.  In the kindness of others.  And that inspires me and cracks my heart open more than anything I can witness in the most luxurious of places, palaces, or fine dining establishments.

The practice deep looking has served me for years to seek out the world, experience it with all of my senses, and reflect on how it touches me.

Practicing 'Deep Looking' in Dubrovnik old city.

How to Practice Deep Looking

This practice of deep looking is something you can do in nature, perhaps sitting in a park or watching the sun rise or set, in front of a piece of art or architecture, at a place of worship or historic site, or when sitting in a busy place watching the world go by.  It’s a mindful and meaningful way to intimately see a place with your full presence and notice things you might otherwise pass by, and become aware of how it makes you feel.

  1. Sit or stand comfortably and take a few breaths to center yourself and settle into stillness.
  2. Soften your gaze.
  3. Take in the colors, shades and shapes of the place you’re in.  Notice where there’s light and shadows. Notice what your eyes are drawn to and what they avert from.
  4. Allow your eyes to linger for a while on a shape or color and take in the nuances of whatever you’re gazing upon.  If something else naturally catches your eye, shift your focus to that and linger for a while.
  5. As you absorb your surroundings with your eyes, see if you can include your other senses, nothing what you hear, smell and how it touches your heart.
  6. Notice how you feel.
  7. Take a moment to offer gratitude.

What I also love to do after the experience of deep looking is to jot a few lines in my journal as a way to reflect on what I saw, what touched me, how it made me feel, and what I learned.

The practice is simple, yet profoundly rewarding.  An accessible way to drop into the present moment, connect to a deeper part of yourself, and the world around you.

It is the sacredness in this way of looking out into the world and yearning to be moved by what you see that distinguishes the pilgrim from a tourist.

xo Angela

Offering gratitude at Sebatu Water Temple, Bali
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