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Taking the high road

Author Joseph Dispenza talks about travel with a spiritual purpose.

From the February 24, 2003 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


An acquaintance I'd lost touch with recently e-mailed me. We'd had some really interesting chats about our mutual interest in spirituality, and he told me of a friend who was having a book signing at an independent bookstore near my home. I "Googled" the book title (What did writers and researchers do before the invention of Google.com and the other search engines?), and learned that The Way of the Traveler by was about how to travel with a spiritual purpose.

At the event, the author introduced himself and recounted his interest in spiritual living as a very young man. He became a Roman Catholic monk early in life, and lived a fully committed monastic life for eight years. After a great deal of thought, he left the monastery but didn't quit his spiritual journey. Ultimately, that journey led him to study religious subjects, including books on Christian mystics, holistic healing, and Eastern religions, as well as the writings of Sentinel founder, Mary Baker Eddy. Dispenza has taught and written on cinema, travel, and holistic healing, and founded a center designed to advance the philosophy of holistic healing.

A publisher of travel books in Santa Fe, New Mexico, asked Dispenza to write a "cross-over" book connecting travel with mind-body-spirit phenomena. As he thought about the request, the phrase "All travel is inner travel" came to mind and became the idea on which he based the book.

In The Way of the Traveler, he uses the classic "hero's journey" as a metaphor for all travel (including inner journeys pursued solely for spiritual growth). Every journey, he argues, has five steps: 1) the call to take a trip; 2) preparation for travel; 3) the encounter with the new destination; 4) the homecoming; and 5) the recounting of the trip.

The hero's journey is modeled after the many examples found in mythic and classical literature, and especially on the epic quest of Perseus in Greek mythology.

One idea in The Way of the Traveler that resonated with me is that of making a list of spiritual qualities that you want to give and encounter on your trip, and to take the list along as a checklist. Dispenza offers the following examples:

forgiveness
cheerfulness
charm
self-esteem
willingness to listen
mental clarity
tact
openness to change
strength
generosity of spirit
honesty
flexibility

Other ideas on traveling with a spiritual purpose include: how to get one's mental engine going before a trip begins; keeping a journal as a way of capturing the insights that come with seeing new places, meeting people, and just having the time to think and explore; ways to find a spiritual impetus for gift giving (in an interesting twist, Dispenza's concern is gifts taken along to give to those you meet, not the fruits of tourist shopping); and ideas about cultivating the expectation of abundant resources for the journey.

While I would draw the line at the notion of assembling a shrine to a pending trip, and some other New Age concepts offered in The Way of the Traveler, Dispenza's book is packed with inspiring quotes and suggestions for those interested in adding a spiritual dimension to their travels.

Traveling with the expectation of spiritual enlightenment—Wow! It's not been the first thing I've thought of when I've traveled, but now, with the gentle nudges from Dispenza's book, it will be the first thing on my travel prep list. Do I hear Provence beckoning?

A conversation with Joseph Dispenza

Dispenza co-founded a spiritual retreat center in Mexico called LifePath, A Hero's Journey of Self-Discovery. He's dedicated to living and teaching spiritual ideas, and travels frequently between Mexico and the US on visits to LifePath's offices in Austin, Texas.

I spoke with Dispenza after a very crowded book signing at the BookPeople store in Austin, Texas.

In our e-mail exchanges setting up this interview, it was clear to me that you are familiar with the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. What impact have they had on you?

Reading Mrs. Eddy was a total revelation to me—when I began to understand what she was talking about, in terms of you either believe in Spirit, or you don't believe in Spirit, and if you believe in Spirit, you believe all the way, and it is effective in your life. I think that was her great contribution.

What personal preparation got you to where you are today with LifePath and your books?

My preparation was years and years of trying to be a student of spirituality. And then being guided to write that phrase, "All travel is inner travel." I don't know where it came from. When it came to me, the minute I saw it, I knew it was truth.

Getting back to Mary Baker Eddy for a minute, I think her great contribution was understanding, in terms of the hero's journey, that "the monster" is a mirage. That really is the refined version of the hero's journey—that there is no "Medusa." [In Greek mythology, Medusa was one of three snake-haired Gorgons, whose appearance turned the beholder to stone. During his quest, Perseus beheads Medusa. In Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy portrays hatred as a hydra-headed beast, "showing its horns in the many inventions of evil" (p. 563).]

At what point does this "seeing through 'the monster'" happen in one's journey?

[It's] part of all of the stages. You can't "sit at home" in a sense. You can't stay in your comfort zone. You have to engage in the process, and it's engaging in the process that I think she [Mary Baker Eddy] is talking about.

You must have faced a spiritual process or journey that brought you here?

The thing about leaving the monastery [is that] people say, "OK, you entered a monastery, you left a monastery. Tell us about what goes into leaving." You don't just get up in the morning and say, "OK, send my clothes to such and such an address." There were really months of agony.

I had taken what you're supposed to call perpetual vows, final vows. I remember when I finally got [the] dispensation from the Vatican. It starts out by saying, "Insofar as we are able, we dissolve you from your obligation and your vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience." Even the Church wasn't willing to get involved with [my] relationship with God—a beautiful statement.

I immediately began to be part of an organization for social change and began to organize to do this and to do that. The challenge is to have that inner spiritual experience as a foundation, then take it out and [return] again—that, again, is a hero's journey.

So, for instance, I retire into meditation for half an hour in the morning. Then I go out into the world, and I actually practice the spiritual principles of kindness, generosity, willingness to listen, understanding, wisdom, and all of the other things that are the content of my spirituality. I take that home in the evening, and I retire with that and examine my conscience about it; then find out how I did and where I want to go with that the next day. That's the arc of my life; I do that almost unconsciously now. I wake up in the morning, and I have certain spiritual practices that I do. But I understand that I need to activate those in the world.

You mentioned in your talk that the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City was really a cultural wake-up call, similar to the hero's calls in epic journeys.

I do believe it was a call to Western culture, money culture, power culture, to examine itself; that there might be something in it to be put back on track again. It got off track. The culture was moving on blissfully, whistling, saying, "Nothing's wrong, nothing's wrong," forgetting that there was the rest of the world.

What I'm seeing now is more of a willingness to entertain the idea that maybe we [in the West] are not the captains of this planet. Maybe, indeed, we are only part of the situation, and not the whole as we had thought. I think this is very healthy, and it's going to lead to great, great healing. And if it follows along the arc of the hero's journey, it will end up with us coming into touch with new information about ourselves that will enlighten us, make us stronger and better.

When you sow the seeds of what you know spiritually, is it like dropping a stone in a pond, with the ripples going out and touching others?

It could be something as simple as the spiritual truth that no one is my enemy. If you think about that, and you globalize and planetize [the idea] that no one is my enemy— this is what we're talking about with these cultures that are at loggerheads and at each other's throats. We somehow have gotten the concept—it's a very non-spiritual concept—that someone can be my enemy. We know that on a spiritual level that is impossible because we are all one, consciousness is one, and there can be no such thing as an enemy.

So if I wake up in the morning and entertain the idea that there is no such thing as an enemy, then I've added that to consciousness. Then I've done planetary healing. I've done planetary work. It's as simple as that. People say, "Oh, I can't do planetary healing." What's become so apparent and so beautiful, is [the growing understanding of] how my individual action, my personal spirituality, has planetary connections and repercussions.

As a younger man, I never got that, even though I had a feeling that I should go out and march, or [that] I should be in social causes, or I should write books on the topic. As I'm getting a little older, I'm realizing the connections between personal spirituality and planetary healing. And that's a big one. I think that's a huge lesson that's about to be learned.

People may be attracted to addressing global or community issues, but the question arises: Should I go out and volunteer, pray, help this neighbor, or write a book?

The answer to all of that is, "Yes, you should." It starts with what I'm entertaining in consciousness. People say, "Should I become like Mother Theresa?" You can do all kinds of social things. I don't do any of that stuff anymore; I don't march. I don't give money to causes. I'm almost ashamed to say it. I don't support politicians. I don't do any of that. What I do is I retire into myself, and I get myself spiritually straight about things, and then I just sort of live my life.

If you wake up one morning and you believe that you still have enemies and that there's a possibility of being enemies [with someone], then you haven't done your spiritual work. Get that straight first. Then you can go out and do anything you want.


Kate Dearborn lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and daughter, who both think she has way too many books.

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