horizontal vs. vertical travel

horizontal vs. vertical travel

“There are many going afar to marvel at the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the long courses of great rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the movements of the stars, yet they leave themselves unnoticed!”

— Saint Augustine

There’s a popular expression by the Zen meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Wherever you go, there you are.” You can be your own source of peace and contentment in any situation. Just detach from the external world and cultivate mindfulness and awareness in your everyday life, and you can have an instant retreat whenever you like.

As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You are very much in the habit of yearning for those same things. But this is entirely the trait of a base person, when you can, at any moment, find such a retreat in yourself. For nowhere can you find a more peaceful and less busy retreat than in your own soul–especially if on close inspection it is filled with ease, which I say is nothing more than being well-ordered. Treat yourself often to this retreat and be renewed.”

Sit with your spine erect, close your eyes, and focus on your breath going in and out. Or play a guided meditation or some soothing music and let go of the outer world. Turn off the technology around you and simply observe your thoughts. The more you practice this discipline, the more peace and tranquility you’ll experience over time. 

What excites us about traveling to distant lands is the instant change of scenery and the feeling of starting anew. For instance, when you travel from the United States to Asia, you know you’ll be going to unfamiliar surroundings after you land at the airport. You’ll be in a new land — the people, the culture, the food, everything is going to change. However, it’s more rewarding to develop patience and restraint within ourselves in the long run. And that’s where going within can serve us greatly. 

In meditation, the changes are within, not without, and they are likely to take place so gradually that we may hardly notice them in a matter of few weeks or even months. But as time passes, slowly and surely, we’ll find ourselves advancing in the spiritual realm. You’ll begin to experience an intense feeling of coming home — the place where you truly belong — and the craving and temptation to travel to exotic destinations will fade away naturally. The vacation destination will be within you, not in a place thousands of miles across the globe. 

As Eknath Easwaran beautifully explains, “Today many people who enjoy traveling are not content with visiting London or Paris; they want to travel by camel in the Sahara, or kayak in the Antarctic. But no matter how exotic, this is horizontal travel, where we stay on the surface of life. Much more fascinating is vertical travel – that is, meditation, which takes us to the Land of Love in the utmost depths of consciousness.”