Spiritual awakening occurs when we push past the middlemen that tell us what to see and think, and take it upon ourselves to find the true meaning of life. Our boss may tell us it is about hard work, diligence, and paid vacations. The media may describe it as iPhone’s, great sex, and a good insurance policy. However, once you get these voices out of your head, and find a place where you can sit alone and contemplate, suddenly a deeper appreciation begins to surface.
“It is not so much that the place heals us—it is our reaction to the place that heals us,” describes J.Z. Knight, a mystic, teacher (Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment), author, and featured expert in the 2004 film, What the Bleep Do We Know? “There is a restorative essence in nature that causes us to look at our life, and discover why it is a privilege to be alive.” And with that introduction, I invite you to pack your worries, fears, and nagging conscience, as I whisk you away to thirteen of the most spiritually inspiring destinations of a lifetime. An experience which will include the five elements of life: earth, air, fire, water, and self.
(Nurtured Healing, Grounded by Mother Nature’s Enduring Stability)
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana
“Makgadikgadi? he asked. What’s out there? Nothing, they said. Only idiots go out there. Fine, he said. That’s the place for me,” describes Gabriele Klink, about the founder of Jack’s Camp, one of the few places to stay in the Salt Pans. In biblical scripture, the desert is described as a wasteland leading to the garden of the promise land. The Pans are about as barren as one can get, offering 12,000 square Kilometers of nothing but salt. They are located on the edge of Botswana’s Kalahari Desert, and are not easy to miss.
What is so inspiring about this barren wasteland, scattering its fossil mine of earth and bone to the wind? Each season, sometime between September and March, the rain will find its way to the Makgadikgadi Pans. When this happens, the sand sheets turn to grass, zebras and wildebeest come to graze, flamingos travel to nest, and the once lunar landscape bustles with life. The same thing is true for the human spirit. When we allow ourselves isolation and contemplation, alone in our thoughts, we invigorate the heart, renewing our spirits. Nowhere in the world can someone achieve such peace, the kind of harmony where you can sit and listen to your own hair grow, than at the Makgadikgadi Pans. There are two ways to get here. One, through the vessels of your own mind. Two, through Unchartered Africa Safari (www.unchartedafrica.com), the only operator with permanent camps in the area.
Your journey begins with a bumpy, four hour bus trip from Lima, of which you will see nothing but red desert and plastic bottles and trash caught along the sand drifts. You are loaded into a rickety, five seat propeller plane, thinking to yourself, What the hell am I doing out here? Then you’re whooshed into the air, and suddenly the dark sand and lighter subsoil begin to form a drawing of a monkey, spider, hummingbird, and astronaut figure. These are the Nazca Lines of Peru, and they can only be seen from an aircraft. “Seeing the lines and figures really makes you wonder how and why the people did this?” confesses VJ Sleight, entrepreneur (Stopsmokingstayquit), author, and two-time cancer survivor. There are a number of theories, including, they were used as landing strips for ancient astronauts, designed for ceremonial flights in primitive hot air balloons, and drawn for the god’s viewing entertainment, as an offering in exchange for immortality.
(Breath of Body and Soul)
Mount Rainier, Washington State
The greatest spiritual destinations in the world are often among high elevations, where we discover just how small we really are. “Mount Rainier is one of the most breathtaking places in the natural world,” explains Knight. “It is so abundant in life and beauty—I have found that in this environment, the consciousness of nature is more profound for cleansing and getting in touch with ourselves.” Mount Rainier, located in Washington state (USA), is an example of the true capabilities of nature’s paintbrush. It’s massive body extends 14,411 feet into the air, with permanent snow fields and glaciers highlighting its deep crevasses. However, as beautiful and majestic as the mountain ranges in North America are, two of the most inspiring landmarks are found in South America and Asia.
Machu Picchu, Peru and Emei Shan, China
Machu Picchu is a mountain peak located in the Andean Mountains of Peru. Hidden within the clouds and green forests, lies this sacred city once inhabited by the Incas. A city whose walls were so well concealed, it is the only remaining Inca civilization that was not destroyed by the Spaniards. Not much is known about its architecture, other than it was constructed of massive, individual stones. Each one dragged up the mountain, and hand chiseled to a precise fit not even a knife blade could penetrate. Emei Shan is one of four holly Buddhist Mountains in China. It offers four spiritual feasts to the eyes, including the Golden Summit Sunrise, Buddha’s Halo (arc shaped rainbow), The Devine Lights (orbs of light rising after an evening rain), and the Sea of Clouds (vast accumulation of thick, rolling cloud formations).
Glastonbury, England, presents a number of unexplained enigma’s, including crop circles, Stonehenge, and the Glastonbury Tor. “Mysteries, like Glastonbury, invigorate the spiritual mind,” says Knight. “They give us the energy to heal ourselves and be restored.” The Tor, is an extinct island, which once overlooked acres of marshy, shallow sea, mist, and fog. Over the centuries as the land dried, the island became a conical hill. Growing out of its 521 foot high peak, is the ancient remains of a fourteenth century chapel. The Celts believed the mound of earth below Glastonbury Tor, was a gateway to the underworld, where the Holly Grail was buried. Its previous name may have been the Island of Avalon, where King Arthur sought healing, and would later be laid to rest. Regardless of your belief, the area offers a powerful presence, reminding us of the many undiscovered secrets in history.
(Destructive, Masculine Energy, Followed by Spiritual Renewal)
The masculine energy of fire brings destruction, mayhem, and death, but it is also followed by fertility, creation, and rebirth. As we go to the Southern portion of France (Languedoc), we find an area rich with history, religion, and free masonry. “Chartres Cathedral is not about Jesus dying for anyone,” explains Knight. “It is about the hope of humanity ascending from ignorance to enlightenment.” It was the only cathedral built between the 12th and 13th century, which has never allowed any human remains to be buried beneath its vaults. The original cathedral was burnt down in 1194, followed by a miraculous reconstruction that took only 25 years to complete. Today, the Chartres remains substantially unchanged. It features a 38-story tower, breathtaking stained glass windows, labyrinth floor symbolizing the pilgrimage to forgive our sins, and a statuary of notable alchemists and scientists.
From sunrise to sunset, Varanasi is a power reminder of the frailty of life. “There is a mass of people on the banks, ghats, and in the water, including ash-covered men sitting lotus, praying to women washing clothes next to blazing funeral pyres,” describes Sleight. “Suddenly, you hear a loud smack—the eldest son smashing the skull of a dead person to release their soul.” At night the streets close down, as hundreds of people gather to release lanterns down the Ganges River. It is completely lit up with fire. You can smell the overwhelming aroma of flesh and incense. Where Veransi kindles the soul, Khajuraho kindles the loins with graphic scenes from Kama Sutra. “There are scenes of orgies, battles, men having sex with horses—there is a position 73 and 84,” says VJ. “And they really do have a position number 69!”
“I have never really set out on a spiritual journey,” explains Sleight. “But after being to six continents and 30 countries, I realize the world is so vast—any one religion could not have all the answers.” Angkor Wat is a massive temple in Cambodia, consisting of five towers and four giant pools, which collect water after the rains. On the outside walls are carvings telling the stories of kings, gods, and dancing diva’s. Angkot Thom (Great City”) is the small town not far from the temple. “You enter from a bridge,” says Sleight. “On the one side are heads of demons—the other, heads of angels—symbolizing the pathway between heaven and hell.” There are other temples, one depicting nothing but smiling faces, another struck by lightning and never finished (bad omen). There is a pink temple (Banteay Srei) constructed by women, and Ta Prohm (featured in the 2001 film, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), where the tree bark is said to shimmer like liquid silver.
– (The Essence of All Life)
Water weaves all life upon this planet into one collective garden. It washes our wounds, releases our sadness (tears), and cleanses our sins. The Dead Sea, borders near Israel and Jordan. It is the lowest point on the earths surface (currently at 1,370 feet below sea level), and is continuously dropping. This ancient body of water is made up of 33 percent salt, 21 minerals (12 not found anywhere else on the planet), and is actually not a sea at all, but rather a salt lake fed by the Jordan River. While it is named for the lack of life within its depths (other than bacteria and microbial fungi), many cultures and religions believe it has life giving, healing powers. Such illnesses claimed to be treated by the lake, include arthritis, hives, dermatitis, psoriasis, asthma, and other respiratory illness (the salty air provides up to eight percent more oxygen than the air in Canada).
“After leaning into the thin veil that separates this life and the next,” describes cancer survivor, Alyssa Phillips (www.alyssaphillipsinc.com). “I knew this was where I was intended to be washed clean of the experience—it was time to—turn the chapter, and start anew.” Alyssa traveled across many miles to experience cleansing and re-baptism in the waters where King David, Aristotle, and Cleopatra all made the same pilgrimage. Whether you seek physical healing, a spiritual rebirth, or the funky feeling of floating high atop these extremely buoyant waters, the Dead Sea has a way of making any-body feel very much alive.
Sitting alone at the beach and contemplating the ocean—offers an open ended consciousness of renewal,” describes Knight. “What is left, is not (the worries) you are bracing yourself against, but (the thoughts of healing) that revitalize you.” In the Mayan Highlands of Guatemala, lies another body of water surrounded by nature’s gardens, and three monolithic volcano’s, known as San Pedro, Atitlan, and Toliman. Unlike the Dead Sea, which offers an intimate rebirth of one’s self, Lake Atitlan is more of a spiritual reconnection with Mother Nature. Its deep aqua waters (1115 feet by most scientist’s estimation) are alive with fish, plants, and a recently discovered lost Mayan civilization. The indigenous population continues to believe in their ancient idol, Maximon, who is a fusion of Mayan gods, Catholic saints, and historic explorers. As a popular yoga retreat, this area offers many comforts of home, including coffee shops, restaurants, shopping, water sports, and guided tours.
Spiritual gurus speak of the four elements of life as the root of existence, but many pagan traditionalists also believe in a fifth element, known as the human spirit or self. This is the point of our tour, where we take your attention away from the destinations, themselves, and invite you to experience spiritual healing from within your mind. We don’t necessarily have to trek halfway around the world to discover peace, relaxation, and a connection to Mother Nature. “I think the greatest travel spot is inside of ourselves, in a moment of spiritual tranquility,” says Knight. “It can be in the backyard as the sun is going down—It can be during a chaotic time at work, waiting at the airport—and believe (you) me—it can even be done on the way to the bathroom.”
“It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing—it doesn’t matter what you look like. What matters is that you care enough to ask the great questions inside of yourself. We have the ability to contact our own inner hero, our own awareness, and be our own greatest defender. Every human being is a blessed being—We only need to be told that…”
Photos via UnsolvedRealm.com, Footsteps-in-Africa.com, Vulcan.wr.usgs.gov, Blogofasia.com, Listverse.com, paradoxplace.com, Indialine.com, Sedunia.com, Theplanetd.com, and Resortresidenceandrentals.com
(Article originally appeared in Urban Male Magazine)