In my last post I talked about the importance of becoming more present and attentive to life regardless of where we feel like we are. However, I still believe the idea of movement and wandering plays an important role—even if we are deeply present, stable, and rooted.
I’ve been greatly inspired by stories of journey, pilgrimage, and exploration. John Muir, Annie Dillard, Henry David Thoreau, Peter Jenkins, Donald Miller, Leo Tolstoy, the anonymous Pilgrim of The Way of a Pilgrim, Innocent Smith of Manalive, and Christopher McCandless of Into the Wild have each inspired me. They all hold their own distinct forms of exploration, walking, journeying, and discovery.
What else do these wanderers have in common? They’ve all told brilliant stories, relayed powerful observations, and made fascinating discoveries about themselves, others, and the world. Wandering seems to be a sort of prerequisite, or incubator of sorts, for mindfulness, creativity, insight, empathy, and compassion. In fact, recent research has shown a link between wandering minds and creative solutions to problems!1
There are those who are able to realize the sacredness of the present moment and the wisdom of stability2 without doing too much wandering, but for many of us, wandering has been crucial to our formation and identity.
The New Oxford American Dictionary provides two definitions that I like:
- to walk or move in a leisurely, casual or aimless way
- to move away slowly from a fixed point
Wandering, by the first definition, has played an important role in my life. I’ve spent a fair amount of time physically wandering. Growing up in the country in northeast Ohio, I would often go for long walks in the woods or neighboring fields—usually with my camera in hand to help me notice the small things. In college some friends and I went on a cross country road trip where we ended up abandoning our broken down vehicle and continued across country via foot and bus (perhaps a post for another time). One summer a small group of friends showed up at my door on foot asking me to join them. Where were they going? They didn’t really know, they were just walking and stopped by to see if I would join. We spent the next 2-3 hours walking and talking together through the country roads of Ohio.
When I lived in Vietnam, I would often go explore the nearby mountains on my motorbike. One time this lead to the discovery of one of Vietnam’s oldest Banyan trees, another time the discovery of a remote nature preserve, and another time to a stranger who lead us to a secluded swimming hole in a mountain stream. The point is wandering frequently opens up the door to unprecedented opportunities that could never have been planned or anticipated otherwise.
I interpret the seconding definition of wandering (to move away slowly from a fixed point) to have more of an inward application. In G.K. Chesterton’s book Manalive, Innocent Smith travels around the world in order to rediscover his home and life again as if for the first time. It’s a metaphorical story, of course, but sometimes we need to step away a bit from what is familiar and what is “normal” in order to rediscover it again. It can be scary and difficult learning to hold loosely those familiar and comfortable things. I remember midway through college I came to a point where I felt like most of what I believed about my faith was just what people had told me. I wouldn’t call it a faith crisis, but I went through a processes of rediscovering what I had been taught—trying to really understand why I believe it, exploring alternatives, asking questions, and turning over stones. I didn’t walk away from my faith, but I definitely had to take a step back to rediscover it in order to live it out with authenticity and integrity.
I’m not at all suggesting that everyone needs to travel abroad or go on some extraordinary adventure in order to find inspiration or to have a unique story to tell (Annie Dillard can spend five pages describing an insect she observed in her backyard). Consider a few very simple ways wandering might play a role in your life right where you are:
- (Wander: walk or move in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way) Go somewhere new without really having a plan or itinerary. Spend a day at the park without plotting your route to making a plan. Go for a bike ride, or walk, through your neighborhood taking streets you’ve never taken before. Take 15 minutes without your phone, computer, or a book just to daydream. Walk or bike to work if you can. Those “in-between” moments can be so vital for self-reflection and internal processing.
- (Wander: move slowly away from a fixed point or place—and come back again) Hold things loosely. Ask more questions (try not to be cynical) and enjoy exploring why you believe what you believe. Step outside of yourself for a bit. What scripts do you constantly run about yourself? (i.e. You’re not that smart, you’re not good enough, you’re weak, etc.). Ask God to affirm who you are and ask him to show you what he enjoys about you. Allow yourself to notice the things you’ve accomplished and appreciate the fact that you are unconditionally loved.
Not all who wander are lost, but the reverse is also true: not all who are lost wander. I am afraid those who are lost, but do not wander, will have a much more difficult time making the discoveries they need to grow and progress in meaningful ways.
So if you are a wanderer, take heart! You’re not lost. You’re likely closer to your true home than you’ve ever been.
Fellow pilgrims: May you take more time to wander—inwardly and outwardly. May your wandering bring you home again with clarity, vigor for life, and compassion. May you take more time to accept that you are loved, valued, and have unsurpassable worth.
*Post title from the poem “All That is Gold Does Not Glitter” by J. R. R. Tolkien
2The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is an excellent response to the very mobile and transient nature of our society.
Photo credit: Lance Baker [Loc.] Da Nang, Vietnam