|Travel, for any reason, has the potential for new insights and, if you’re very fortunate, you may even experience the transformative magic of travel to a “thin place.”
“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” G. K. Chesterton
I began to relate to my travels in a totally different way after a friend shared a compelling travel article entitled, “Where Heaven and Earth Kiss,” written by Eric Weiner. Weiner references the term, “thin places,” 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.”
We can all relate to our 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, Weiner goes on to say, we “perceive intuitively or through some inexplicable perceptive powers, glimpses of the divine.” In these thin places, the distance between Heaven and Earth collapses.
Reading Eric Weiner’s intriguing article, I instantly recalled my first two encounters with places where I was deeply impacted by an unseen, unexpected transformative energy.
The first occurred in the early 80’s while traveling in Israel. During our time there, 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.
We visited our friend’s art studio, located in an ancient building overlooking the port of Jaffa. Following our tour, I walked to the water’s edge. It was there I had an unexpected sensation. 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 that came through loud and clear. This was my first sense of a connection to a past life. It caught me totally by surprise. While the feeling was profound, I felt completely at ease with it. 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 in sharinging my experience. Nor, all these years later, has the memory of that feeling 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 many years later that I had my next experience with a “thin place.” In 2002 I traveled for the first time to Tibet. 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. There is breathtaking scenery, profound spiritual awareness, spectacular vistas, and huge tracts of soothing emptiness. But it is not an easy place in which to live or visit; 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 sights of the colorful prayer flags dancing in the wind, the sounds of constantly twirling prayer wheels and the hum of chanted mantras took up residence in my being. Tibet’s energy enveloped me.
The group I traveled with could have left me there! I knew I would have been happy and content making a life in that sacred place! 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
I had the good fortune to return to Tibet four years later. This time, in this magical, sacred place, Tom and I were married. 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
Thin places, according to Weiner, are often sacred ones – St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul – but 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 in Alaska.
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. Regardless, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic of travel.”
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller