Nature has a carrying capacity. The western, modern way of dealing with that is to take from the “haves” to give to the “have nots.” For example, if one area doesn’t have enough water to support the population in, they bring more in. If there are too many wolves in the area for human safety, they shoot them. If tour companies want to grow, they build more hotels and roads. This is not sustainable spiritual travel.
If we are to be good stewards of the earth, we can’t participate in this. We have to find other ways to feed our inner yearning. Going out isn’t working anymore when there are crowds, long lines, destruction of natural habitat and local culture. The price is too high. So, perhaps we need to go elsewhere, go within, or stay still. Perhaps we need to consider sustainable spiritual travel.
Sustainable spiritual travel isn’t just about cleaning up after yourself. It’s about being aware of the way your presence changes a landscape and a culture. The other day someone told me that her learning about a different culture and sharing it made it sustainable. I disagree. It can take a lifetime to know and value the nuances of a culture. If you don’t have this, you can’t know if you are damaging it or not.
For example, I recently bought a book on Celtic lore. It contains the story of the great bard, Taliesin. The author skips over the part about Gwion’s shapeshifting. This is an important piece of the story. Clearly the author doesn’t know this or else he wouldn’t have left it out. If his telling becomes the popular rendition, we lose the trail to ancient wisdom. So, he isn’t preserving culture. He’s destroying it.
Not thinking things through can result in unintended consequences. What we do today can ripple into the future with disastrous results. So, how can we learn and grow while respecting the environment and our fellow creatures? Here are some ways to practice sustainable spiritual travel.
- Take the road less traveled. Spirit is everywhere. Instead of hitting the big 50 destinations, choose ones that are less popular. Fewer people mean less impact on the environment and local community.
- Travel closer to home if it uses less energy and resources.
- Instead of going to workshops to learn someone else’s culture to teach it, why not sponsor them to teach it? This way nothing is lost in translation.
- Rather learning someone else’s traditions, learn your own. We all have animist spiritual roots if we go back far enough. Perhaps there are people still living who can share their stories and wisdom. This will help you connect to your own family line and could help you heal your own ancestral wounds. What could be more personally meaningful than that?
- Instead of looking for how you can exploit something, sell it, or create a business, focus on how to build a foundation for spiritual peace so that you don’t need this validation or money. Let the peace be its own reward.
- Instead of going to five destinations, sink your feet deeply into one. Roots and depth are a good thing. We don’t have to be stimulated constantly to have fun or grow.
- Practice reciprocity. Give back in value what you take. This could be with money, but I am thinking more of other types of contributions. If you learn a lot from a trip to Cambodia, support a Cambodian charity. If you got a lot of value from a book on Native American wisdom, donate to a Native American charity. Perhaps you can donate your services to a community in need.
- Go within. You don’t have to be anywhere in particular to do this. Inner journeys are always sustainable spiritual travel.
- Mentally revisit places you have already been. Once I was called to revisit West Kennet Long Barrow. When I arrived I asked, “Grandfather, why have you brought me here.” The answer was, “To show you that you don’t need to be here to be here.” That’s when I learned that I could tap into this energy by going within. You can too. Once you have it, it’s yours forever.
- Use local ways of doing things. For example, if you want to purify your space, but there is no white sage or palo santo growing near you, use something that your local land can produce. Remember Nature’s carrying capacity. When we take only what can be produced naturally, we sustain the balance of an ecosystem.
- Consider how things are produced or harvested. For example, do you think about where crystals come from? How are they mined? What is the impact to the earth? Were human rights violations a part of that mining? Do you want to contribute to that?
“When you know better, you do better.” ~Maya Angelou. It’s time that we do better. If you’re a wanderer like me, please consider making changes so that your travel is sustainable spiritual travel. Let’s not export exploitation and commercialism to the holy, untouched places that inspire us.