12 October, 2015

Traveling Sangha

I’ve had the pleasure of doing three trips with Spirit Tours, which are so aptly called “journeys of the soul”. Indeed, each tour was heart opening, full of unforgettable experiences, and a much needed perspective reboot.
Bhutan in 2012 was unlike any place I’d seen before – a country so pristine, so barely touched by Western influence, and so warm and peaceful, that it’s all but ruined my taste for anything less! I think fondly of the smell of the wood fire smoke, chanting with the monks, and the golden sunlight at dawn and dusk.

Japan in 2014 was such a delight! Kyoto was a beautiful, complex, and welcoming city. The tour, which focused on Zen Buddhism and the deity Kannon, (or Quan Yin), immersed us in the world of  Japanese art, culture, and the Buddhist worship of the Divine.

And then, most recently, I traveled to Bali in 2015. Now, anyone will tell you, Bali is ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR! “Heaven on earth” is a phrase used quite often, (perhaps why it’s known as the Island of the Gods), and for many, it’s like no place else they’ve experienced. The accommodations Spirit Tours arranged were perhaps the most luxurious I’ve ever had – every need was met, every sense delighted, everything was just so dang beautiful! The ocean and the lush tropical greenery of the island were breathtaking.

The people and their daily lives were so drenched in spiritual mindfulness that you couldn’t help but adapt to that way of life, too. Bali is nothing short of pure bliss.
But I was surprised to find that a major part of my enjoyment of the trip had nothing to do with Bali itself – and I realized it had been true of my two previous trips, as well. My favorite part of the trip was the spiritual family that formed amongst the members of our group, a phenomenon I like to call “The Travelling Sangha”.
“Sangha” is the Buddhist term that refers to the sense of spiritual community and family and I realize that it’s a quality I’ve often sought out in my life. As an only child, I was constantly taking on my friends’ families as my own. As a theater major and life-long drama nerd, it was the sense of community built around a show that really appealed to me. And here, halfway across the world, travelling with people I didn’t initially know, I found it again!
I had not previously met most of the people on this trip. Usually with Spirit Tours, one travels with a group from their spiritual home base. But for me and for maybe 7 others, we were joining a group from a different spiritual center. We were being paired to room with people we had never met, we were embarking on a journey on the other side of the planet which would expand and challenge us in ways we could not anticipate. And most of us were doing it with complete strangers. But we didn’t stay strangers for long. We were all there with a common goal – to experience the Divine in a completely new place and in a completely new way, through a completely new culture. Sure, we were also there to laugh, and get a massage or three, and to maybe enjoy a few cocktails on the beach, but we were mostly there to experience Spirit in a new way. And part of that new experience of Spirit came directly from the bonds we formed within our little travelling sangha.

At our last morning meeting of the trip, we sat in our open air meeting space – birds singing, sun shining, green as far as the eye could see, an inviting infinity pool trickling below us, our bodies invigorated from the morning yoga and decadent breakfast (don’t get me started on the incredible breakfasts there!). The group was tearful. We were sad to leave this beautiful place and for the experience of a lifetime to end, but mostly, and as many people commented, we were sad to leave the group dynamic we had formed.
But, as Spirit Tours owner, Jim Cramer (or “Om Jim” as he’s known over there), reminded us, that connection would carry over back into our “normal” lives. And it’s true. I’ve found that that sense of connection remains alive and well after a trip is over. When you return home and run into someone from the group, your heart lights up. When you see a group member’s recent accomplishments or pictures on Facebook, your heart lights up. And all of a sudden, you find that the heart igniting connection to sangha has not only carried over, but has expanded and broadened back home, too.

We travel lovers know that travelling changes us, opens us, pushes us in unimaginable directions. Some of life’s best memories come from time spent somewhere else. But I’ve come to find that travelling with a group heightens and enhances that experience. And the best part is, when you take a trip where a sangha is formed, you get to bring home an extra souvenir.

Many Blessings,

Ariana Kaiser
blogger for Spirit Tours

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