In his seminal essay, “Why We Travel,” Pico Iyer writes, “All good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder.” Travel stretches us so that our mental clothes don’t fit anymore; it reminds us over and over that the anchoring assumptions of our youth lose their hold in the global sea. Travel to strange places can make us strangers to ourselves, but it can also introduce us to all the exhilarating possibilities of a new self in a new world.
When we travel, we connect the external world with the one inside. On the best trips, these connections can become so complete that a kind of samadhi (union) is achieved: We transcend not just the barriers of language, custom, geography, and age but the very barriers of self, those illusory isolations of body and mind.
These moments do not last. We exit Notre-Dame, buy our ticket in Calcutta, climb back into our minivan in the Himalayas. But we come back from those moments—like the Japanese pilgrim I met—lighter and energized, with a refreshed sense of the meaning of life.
What I relearned on my circuit of Shikoku is that every journey is a pilgrimage. Every sojourn offers the chance to connect with a sacred secret: that we are all precious pieces of a vast and interconnected puzzle, and that every trip we take, every connection we make, helps complete that puzzle—and ourselves.