“Soy quien soy.
Una coincidencia no menos impensable
que cualquier otra.”

Wislawa Symborska

6 Nov 2021


Post by Rowena Hill

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Traveling has been an important – and fortunate – part of my life. I wrote this in 2010, when most of the world still seemed open and I still felt strong and independent:

Though I prefer to travel alone, and avoid as far as possible being a tourist, in the sense of taking organized tours and being confined to communication with a group of other foreigners, my contact with places is of course far more fleeting and superficial than that of serious travelers in other ages, explorers or pilgrims. I stop in places, for weeks if I can, and get to know people. But it’s not only the stopping, it’s the moving, with all my senses alert and joyfully picking up images, metaphors, patterns, echoes of other times and lives, that is so gripping and addictive.
On the road I can become aware of my surroundings as space, the given warp on the loom of time, and my actions and experiences as a thread in the weft. Being there, I am sewn into the substance of time stitch by stitch.
Everywhere I go it’s the landscape, the earth itself, that attracts me first and last. My eyes become embedded in its forms and textures; it throbs with life so that it seems to gaze back at me. Or is it I that am gazing back? Who do the eyes belong to?

Traveling over distance my mind creates maps that represent myself as much as the terrain outside the window of the car or train. I map my own body in the contours of hills and valleys, the expanse of fields, the distinctive marks of temples, houses, trees. As evening advances the landscape dissolves into shadows and then into darkness and my body relaxes into the elements that compose it when I sleep. The world is recreated out of the morning light, and I occasionally glimpse the pure joy of its resurgence before memory and the heaviness of the body cloud it over. But it’s still there; when I’m traveling, I often remember that being is joy.
Occasionally there is a sense of having been here before, or of looking through the present state of a place into its past or perhaps an imagined ideal. I had this experience most strongly driving through the desert of Rajasthan. Where there was only dry sand and ruined huts, I saw gardens full of flowers, watered by clear streams. Later I met a woman who had had the same experience. Did I tap into the place’s own memory? Was I subconsciously recollecting miniature paintings? I could smell the flowers.

It’s more understandable when such moments of vision arise at ancient sites, whether religious or secular (often both together). The stones still standing, the place impregnated with the energies of the people that lived, acted and thought there, can awaken the phantom of a lost world. A glimpse can be poignant enough to make us cry from nostalgia for a world we never knew, perhaps had never even heard of till the day we walked among its ruins, as happened to me at the Champa site My Sön in Vietnam.

Such sacred places remember not only transcendence but a way of being inspired by a particular awareness. They are monuments of true residence on earth, and we are fortunate to be able to touch them still. But for how long will they resist? Some of the places I visited have already been destroyed or made inaccessible. Traditional ways of life I glimpsed are being diluted and replaced day by day.

I should try to answer the question of what is a god, as I see it. A god is a force field, a complex metaphor for experience that welds earth and spirit: senses, emotion and the light of mind at white heat. It isn’t necessary to ‘believe’ in gods and goddesses in order to enter their spheres, receive their reassurance or their censure, share in their particular illumination of reality. Their fields can be entered by imaginative identification with them, and are contagious sometimes in places sacred to them. Great artists, mostly anonymous, have created their likenesses, and admiring their beauty can imprint their particular patterns of experience on us.

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