Sunday, November 9, 2008

Letting Go

Sat, November 8, 2008

How do you do a spiritual journey?
How do you get ready for a pilgrimage?

These two questions challenged me months and weeks before boarding the plane on November 4th. Are they too trivial to share and are readers interested in what I wresteled with during trip preparation? Knowing that ministers and people who know me through my work in the church influenced my early decision to avoid these concerns as an open conversation, but as of now I have decided to share this experience as authentically as I can.

We’ve been traveling for five days so far, two days of air travel and our third night in Cape Town, South Africa. Adjusting to the time zones passes between us now as a humorous refrain, “Does anybody really know what time it is?” We’ve done well getting on the local schedule. It helped that we left a few days early because that made space in the schedule to transition before the pace picks up. Adding to the complication, it is Spring here in the southern hemisphere. Fortunately, the weather is similar to the November east coast Indian summer days we left behind. (For the sake of accountability, is Indian summer one of those terms that needs scrutiny or abandon? Let me know so that I can edit my vocabulary.)

In these three days we have experienced and learned so much that I need to get grounded again. Perhaps one of the first important lessons about how to do a spiritual journey is to be open so that there is room for new understanding. Bill, Maria, Eric and I have been in this conversation.

The need to make room for the new may seem obvious, but it isn’t easy. I started meditating months ago, cut my hair real short, tied up, rescheduled or transferred as many work items as possible, all in an effort to “LET GO.” I tried to pack light, because I dislike paying for overweight luggage and wanted to be able to handle my bags. Of course a few items didn’t make the final cut that I wish were here now, but I can do without.

One of the last things to go was my election-obsession. Traveling on Election Day made it inevitable. When we boarded the plane from Boston to London, I was thrilled that every seat had its own TV screen, “Yeah! Where is CNN?” Well, British Airlines carries BBC News and the few minutes of U.S. politics were a day or two old. So, I finally settled down and let go of needing to hear the state by state tabulation results. Eric and Maria shared earlier that polite applause rose up when the pilot announced that Barack Obama had won.

I thought I had beat the high cost cell phone roaming fees ($1.49 per minute) with text-messaging, but once we took off from Heathrow Airport in London the T-mobile and Sprint signals were gone. I let go of my electronic gadgets too.

And last, there is a flat screen TV in my room. After checking, I found a U.S. news station that was replaying Obama’s Grant Park acceptance speech. By evening the announcer was digitally-frozen in front of a microphone with the Washington Monument in the background. If she moved, of course she'd update us on the election, but I resigned and let go of TV too.

It sounds a little funny and a bit exhausting. Letting go is not easy, especially when we are not aware of how tightly we hold on to so many things. It is comfortable to be attached to things, ideas and people who occupy our space and attention. Detaching from the familiar is a necessary challenge in order to be present and make new connections.

This pilgrimage is a story told by four travelers and shaped by the people we encounter as we cross the African continent. The four of us will also be reshaped as we live for the next few weeks in a new land. Already people, information, deep conversations and fresh contexts are stirring up our emotions.

Sharing this story for me is an act of letting go: it is an act of faith. It is hard. It means risking being known and unknowing. It means trusting connections old and new. It means arriving here in six different African countries, each time as a stranger and returning home both stranger and more familiar than how people knew me at my departure.
I guess this is about transformation.