These days, if you’re looking for a spiritual retreat, the possibilities are endless. You can meditate in an ashram in India, explore the wilds of Iceland searching for sacred herbs, do yoga in Cartagena, or embark on a gastronomic tour of Tuscany. In Sedona, Arizona, you can sign up for a Vision Quest, a Soul Healing or even a Spiritual Vortex tour. Thanks to an alchemical amalgamation of our ever-present desire to expand and our increasingly global community, if you have the expendable resources, you can quiet your mind, soothe your soul, and heal your body anywhere from Crete to Sri Lanka.
But sometimes the options alone can seem overwhelming. How can we find our singular inner peace when a simple Google search for a “spiritual retreat” yields more than 1.2 million results? When we want to experience something meaningful, many of us turn to travel, and spiritual retreats can offer incredible benefits when we’re looking to experience something in the company of others. But what about all the other “whens?” Like when we’re limited by budget, when we’re looking for the type of answers that nobody else can provide us with, or when we simply want to be . . . by ourselves? When all my “whens” led me across the Atlantic Ocean for three months, I ended up on my own wonderful, very personal, and (now very public) spiritual journey. I was traveling to the United Kingdom and beyond to write a book about rediscovering “enchantment,” an elusive word– my quest was a search to find closure over the sudden death of my father, and to chase a childlike whim: I was researching and chronicling both the modern and ancient belief in faeries.
The trouble was, once I arrived in the UK, I had no idea where to begin. Eventually I discovered that when on a self-guided quest, the single most important thing I could do was to learn how to listen to myself. It sounds like a no-brainer, but trust me – learning how to let go, observe, listen, and then act, based on nothing but your own instincts, or intuition (if I could introduce that word here) is both incredibly freeing and incredibly risky. What if in trying to follow my gut instincts about where to go, who to speak with, and what to do, I led myself astray, or worse, ended up in a dangerous situation in my misguided attempt to “tune in to the world beyond?” No way around it, I soon realized I was simply going to have to test myself and find out. So I sat back and waited for a sign. As in, from the Universe. After all, when you’re on a search for the fantastical, it doesn’t hurt to try fantastical things.
I’d been in Glastonbury, England, wondering where to head next, when the Isle of Man caught my eye. On a poster in a store window. And then again, oddly, in a book I happened upon. The third time, a woman I’d just met asked me out of the blue, “Well, you’re going to Isle of Man next, aren’t you?”
I told her, Yes . . . I was now.
But once I arrived on the island in the middle of the Irish Sea, I felt at a loss for direction. I’d been hiking for some time, the early summer sun warm on my back, when suddenly, my assured forward progress was rudely interrupted.
I looked left, right, then straight ahead.
I had arrived at a metaphorical – not to mention an annoyingly physical — fork in the road. On the metaphorical side of things, I’d left my job some months ago to travel the UK in search of magical creatures. On the more physical side of things, I was hiking in a foreign country sans map, and the path in front of me had just split into three directions.
Being one traveler, long I stood… until I got restless and decided to try another tact: something I’ve come to call “Intuitive Hiking.”
For all of our safety, I should mention the warning label that accompanies Intuitive Hiking (as written by me): Do not attempt in the Himalayas, the Swiss Alps, the Rocky Mountains, or any other such place that commonsense would assure you that doing so may shorten your life span significantly.
But you knew that. So there I was, standing in the sunshine. I closed my eyes and got very still. I listened to nothing but the wind sweeping into the trees from the ocean below, until I heard something else. It was my own voice, or perhaps it was what we call a gut feeling, but it was decisive, and it was telling me to head straight uphill. I listened.
My walk that day would lead me to the ruins of an old house, and then deep into a darkly wooded forest where a truly bizarre experience awaited, and boy, was it something worth writing about. That hike on the Isle of Man — a location I’d followed my instinct to visit in the first place — was the first day I discovered that the little voice inside us, when we give it a chance, can really have an awful lot to say.
By the end of the summer, I’d learned to hear and listen to that guiding voice without question. And the result was an incredible, moving, and yes… enchanted journey. Now that I’m home, I still listen to that inner-voice, and it hasn’t led me astray yet – in fact, the more I pay attention, tune in, and then go with the flow, the more interesting opportunities and expansive experiences come my way.
It might sound wacky, but give it a shot if you’re so inclined. Opening up to signs and signals from the world around you, things that hold meaning to you alone, can be a magical experience. And it’s something you can practice everyday, from the comfort of your own home. Version 2.0? Use that technique to help you select your next trip abroad. Whether it leads you to a great spiritual retreat website that will be the perfect fit for what you need now, or on a journey all your own, why not let the Universe help guide you in the first steps to take.
Right or left, Sri Lanka or Crete… well, what do you think?