You’re surrounded by an angry pride of wild lions protecting their newly born cubs. It’s dark. You’re in an open game viewing vehicle. It has just broken down. There is no mobile phone coverage. Your flashlight is almost out of battery. Not just toast – you’re dinner!
What do you do?
Out of the gloom walks a woman with a baby strapped to her back. She walks slowly and surprisingly safely through the agitated pride. She’s received permission from the ancestors. This ‘permission’ allows one of your group to go for help on foot without harm. You’re rescued.
Unbelievable or not, this is a true story which heralded a massive transformation for a woman who had once been a fashion model in Paris and at the time was following a highly paid executive marketing career in London. Linda Tucker went back to her home country to live after this experience and became the ‘Keeper of the White Lions’, fulfilling an ancient African prophesy. Not only does she do this for no financial reward but her commitment stuck an exploding firework in the face of the South African canned hunting industry which fast-breeds lions to be shot for money. In the middle of such controversy and receiving regular death threats she’s managing to re-introduce the mystical White Lions in to the relative wild of a small parcel of land at the heart of their original homeland near Kruger National Park.
You’re on your usual morning commute by train from Reading in to London. You hear an overwhelming screeching, crashing noise. The train bucks. A huge fireball hurtles down the aisle towards you.
What do you do?
This happened to Pam Warren in the devastating London train crash of October 1999. Against all the odds she survived. It took over eighteen months, twenty two operations on her face and hands, and a transparent mask over her face to keep out infection before she was physically healed. A nightmare of an ordeal but one she considers was the best thing which could have happened to her. As far as Pam is concerned she’s a different, much better person than she was and is now a profoundly inspiring speaker and author.
Travel, tragedy and illness are all powerful portals to massive shifts of perception to the point where who we thought we were is almost unrelated to who we discover ourselves to be. You don’t have to be caught up in a terrifying landslide on the slopes of Everest to discover your courage and you don’t have to face down the scythe wielding grim reaper either but you do have to step beyond your comfort zone.
The best way to step over that line consciously is to travel – not just to lie on the beach on the Costa del Sol but immerse yourself in a trip which takes your breath away, which introduces you to new cultures, new people, new food, even new prejudices, new experiences, new landscapes, new muscles, new thought-scapes, and different perspectives all of which challenge your status quo. It is an embracing of the unknown.
The transformational aspect of travel has long been known – to pilgrims anyway.
A pilgrimage, according to Wikipedia, is ‘a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.’ This can be to anywhere of relevant importance to the pilgrim like a shrine, temple or cathedral. It can also be a metaphorical journey – going within to explore one’s own nature. Usually the journey is a tough one. For example one of the most currently popular pilgrimages is The Camino Way which culminates at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. There are several different pilgrim routes and many of them are in excess of five hundred kilometres. If weeks of walking is not your challenge of choice you can choose to climb ten thousand steps to Redemption at Girnar Hill, Gujarat instead.
An Odyssey, named after Homers book The Odyssey about its wandering protagonist Odysseus, is a slightly different, but no less transformative, experience. According to the dictionary it means a long wandering or voyage marked by many changes of fortune and/or an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest.
Any pilgrimage, odyssey or adventure (physical or spiritual) will test you one way or another. And even if the adventure appears an outward one, it will call on your inner resilience too. Once you step across that threshold of your comfort zone life expands as you push and stretch your boundaries no matter whether they’re physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. It’s like breaking eggs for an omelette – they can never be unbroken. You find out things about yourself you never knew, you change the way you see the world and others in it, you may even change where you live and how you earn a living. In fact you may change completely.
But you don’t have to go to extremes. Perhaps you’ll choose to climb a mountain like Kilimanjaro in Kenya, learn Flamenco in Spain, learn to skate on natural ice in Sweden, hike the Inca Trail to the dizzying enigma of Machu Picchu in Peru, try out a sacred plant medicine like Ayahuasca in the Amazon Rainforest, swim with dolphins in the Bahama’s, sit at the feet of the lion-headed Goddess Sekhmet at the Temple of Karnak in Egypt, dance all night at a festival somewhere exotic like Costa Rica or commune with the mystical White Lions in South Africa.
Sacred travel and spiritual tours are ‘deep and meaningful’ ways of going beyond our comfort zones. In fact we can take any sort of travel, tragedy or illness and convert it in to a sacred or spiritual journey. This is when we get the juice out of life in a way we may never have anticipated. Going way over our heads in to an experience always gives us a chance to reach out and not just face our fears but touch them with more of our senses. We discover what frightened us can in the end become our greatest ally.
Imagine you’re surrounded by sharks as you kneel on the sea bed. You have a container filled with fish and you’re feeding big reef sharks by hand. One shark has snatched an offered fish and now rests in a trance-like state with her dangerous snout in your lap. You stroke her face. Her strange blank eyes roll in her head. Is this cupboard love? You put the fish container down and move away. Will she take the food or follow you? She follows you. Your touch has become more important than the food.
Mike Rutzen, a tough, silent South African took a year out of his work to learn more about sharks and in particular something called tonic immobility. He wanted to show the world that these terrifying cold killing machines may be something else once we take the courage to look and explore. Nature has given sharks a sweet spot on the side of their snout. When stroked in the right way on this spot they drop in to a trance which they can snap out of like lightening. But Mike used this to connect with them to the point where he danced an extraordinary duet with a massive Tiger Shark. The questions remains: Why did nature give sharks this sweet spot? And why would the sharks prefer the touch of a human to a free meal? In fact why would these calculating predators allow themselves one single moment of vulnerability?
Life isn’t always as it seems but you don’t have to be the leader heading out in to the unknown. You can follow in the steps of inspirational guides who will lead you powerfully across your own threshold. One small step in any unknown has the potential to transform us. Staying within our comfort zone disables our ability to stretch beyond what we know. Choosing to leap in to a new world offers us innumerable moments to explore and discover to our heart and souls content.
And like Mike Rutzen, Pam Warren and Linda Tucker we can all become paradigm-shifters.