Travel and the Magic of Thin Places

I love to travel and am frequently asked, “Which place is your favorite?” It’s like asking what is my favorite flower? My favorite flower is whatever is in bloom. At that moment in time, it captivates me.  While a similar response would also be accurate with traveling, four especially memorable experiences come to mind.

Grapes Living for a week in a renovated traditional countryside cottage in Provence is one. Our cottage was located in a vineyard and it was there I soaked up the magical light of the region. Much to my surprise, the impressionists had NOT taken artistic license! I took hundreds of photos of the grapes just outside our front door, attempting to capture the transformation of their beauty as that incomparable light shifted every few minutes. To this day, I return to the memory of that place when I want to escape from everyday life and just breathe.

Then there was my first trip to China! I could have never imagined personally relating to this country, much less fall madly in love with it. The energy of the ancient melding with the energy of the modern was palpable and transformational for me.

Another unforgettable place is South Africa’s Cape Point, an hour’s drive from Cape Town. It wasOcean there I witnessed the magnificent force of the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans converging. And then
there was cruising the grandeur of the magnificent Fjords in Norway. I still consider both of these among the most intensely beautiful and powerful sights I’ve ever seen.These places, along with so many other poignant experiences and inspiring sights have filled me with awe and inspiration. Mostly, I anticipated they would. However, I began to relate to my travels in a different way after a friend shared a most compelling article:

“Where Heaven and Earth Kiss” written by Eric Weiner, references the term, “thin places.” A thin place has been defined by travel blogger Mindie Burgoyne as “a place that draws you into itself, and transports you into the presence of a world beyond this world. You are moved into the presence of a mysterious power. There, all things you perceive through your senses are charged, electrified, illuminated with the presence of that power.” Weiner elaborates on the concept by saying, “A thin place is where the sublime bends low.”

I can certainly relate to my senses being charged and illuminated in the presence of breathtaking beauty. However, the distinction is that “thin places” connect us to something beyond ourselves – or perhaps to something deep within ourselves. When in the presence of thin places, we “perceive intuitively or through some inexplicable perceptive powers, glimpses of the divine. . .” or what Weiner refers to as the “Infinite Whatever.” In these thin places, the distance between Heaven and Earth collapses.

Have I actually experienced “places where Heaven and Earth Kiss?” Two places instantly came to mind where I was deeply impacted by an unseen, unexpected energy that was transforming.

My first experience was in the early 80’s while traveling in Israel. Local friends took us to Jaffa, one of the world’s oldest cities. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, Jaffa’s harbor has been in use since the Bronze Age. Its history is filled with a series of conquests through the millennia.

OldCityWhile there, we visited our friend’s art studio in an ancient building overlooking the port of Jaffa. After our visit, I walked to the water’s edge. It was there I had an unusual experience. I felt the energy of this ancient place touch something deep inside of me that rang with familiarity. “I have lived here before,” was the message, which came through loud and clear. It was my first connection with the sense of a past life. It took me totally by surprise. The feeling was profound, yet I felt completely at ease. Of course, I mentioned it to no one at the time, lest they look askance and question my sanity. Today I would have no reluctance to share the experience in the moment. Nor, 30 years later, has that memory diminished!

“Thin places captivate our imagination; we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive.”  Eric Weiner

It wasn’t until 20 years after my trip to Jaffa that I had my next experience with a “thin place.” Literally as well as figuratively! In PrayFlag2002 I traveled to Tibet for the first time. Located on the “roof of the world,” Tibet has an average altitude of over 13,200 feet and is situated on a massive plateau between two Himalaya ridges. I was astonished by my response to this place. While there is breathtaking scenery, spiritual awareness, spectacular vistas, and huge tracts of emptiness, it is not an easy place in which to live or visit! The weather can be extreme, the terrain is severe and the air thin, requiring tourists to use oxygen to avoid altitude sickness. But the people are cheerful, devout and serene. The sounds of constantly twirling prayer wheels along with the hum of chanted mantras took up residence in my being. Tibet’s energy enveloped me. I could have stayed and knew I would have been happy and content making a life there! What was that about? At the time, I had no words for it. I still don’t.

“In truth, however, once you’ve been in a thin place and allowed your spirit to absorb that which transcends the senses, all need for definition ceases. Our spirits learn differently than our minds.” Mindie Burgoyne

Amazingly, I had the good fortune to return to Tibet four years later. This time Tom and I were married in this sacred place. Perhaps, in some mysterious, divine way, this culminating event, I could never have imagined, had been calling me long before.

“There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything.  I feel it, though I do not see it.  It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses.  It transcends the senses.” Mahatma Ghandi

While thin places, according to Weiner, are often sacred ones – St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul – they needn’t be, at least not conventionally so. For one dear friend who has traveled extensively, Minnesota’s North Shore is, hands down, her thin place. For another friend, it’s Denali, Alaska.

“A thin place is not necessarily a tranquil place, or a fun one, or even a beautiful one, though it may be all of those things. Thin places may relax us, but they also transform us – or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves.” - Weiner

Thin places captivate our imagination; we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive. “You don’t plan a trip to a thin place,” Weiner goes on to say. “You stumble upon one. To some extent, thinness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Travel to thin places doesn’t necessarily lead to anything as grandiose as a ‘spiritual breakthrough,’ whatever that means, but it does disorient. It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. Either way, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic of travel.”StM

Next month we are going on a pilgrimage to sacred sights in France. While I anticipate feeling awe in the presence of these ancient sites, I am also open to whatever messages are there for me. Stay tuned.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller