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Defining Inner Travel: The Problems and Possibilities

by F. Daniel Harbecke Jul 12, 2010
Here are the reasons why no one will ever be able to fully define inner journey.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.” (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)

It’s not bad as a buzzword. It sounds like something spiritual, or some sense of travel that’s deeper than the usual kind. You know, not just travel – inner travel.

We haven’t gotten much closer to a definition, and there’s the bind. Does inner travel mean something worthwhile, or is it just a flash phrase? Which is it to be: advertising, or substance? Following Editor Christine Garvin’s prompt, what does inner travel really mean?

Inner Travelution

If nature abhors a vacuum, society cringes at an undefined word. This is precisely what makes inner travel so unique. Like the internet, it is a constantly evolving idea, developed through the imaginative efforts of its many contributors.

When Ian MacKenzie launched Brave New Traveler in 2006, inner travel didn’t yet exist. Over time, the term coalesced as a description of ideas and experiences related by travelers. When asked what inner travel meant, Ian left it to the community to describe.

And, in the nearly four years of BNT’s existence, the question of what inner travel means has been explored not only by scores of writers, but by thousands of readers around the world.

But we’re not off the hook yet, because even collaborative works need definitions. It may be better to ask what inner travel is not, by exploring the roots of inner travel (ha ha yourself, Australia) in similar concepts: finding yourself, mindful travel, and inner journey.

Lost and Found

Inner travel has its origins in a rather untrendy phrase: “finding yourself.” Not long ago, the quest to “find yourself” was an acceptable interest, not so different from the philosopher’s appeal, “know thyself”.

Today, it’s a different story. Finding yourself is largely seen as a mindless waste of time, championed by New Agers and hippies. Only slackers and misfits “lose” themselves, doomed to ramble aimlessly until they wake up and “get a frickin’ job.”

It’s no coincidence that finding yourself is frowned upon, as most of Western society adopts trends of an increasingly materialistic outlook. With a few exceptions, individuals are shamed out of personal searches in favor of culturally-approved directions. What remains is an attitude that mocks the outsider.

Right Mindfulness

The original sense of mindful travel comes from the Buddhist concept of “Right mindfulness” (samma sati), the seventh factor of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Right mindfulness (sometimes “right memory” or “right attention”) is to direct awareness toward patterns and experiences that affect mind and body.

This training helps disciples avoid being carried away by judgments or distractions, but to be aware of emotion, sensation and thought as they occur without dwelling on them. It is a detachment from the clamor of the conscious mind to focus on being in the present.

Since most of us aren’t Buddhists, mindfulness has taken more worldly connotations not related to enlightenment. Mindful travel today is often related to globalism, both in the personal and political senses. There have been numerous articles written on mindfulness regarding:

  • cultural sensitivity
  • environmental impact (green travel)
  • ethical interaction
  • local law and custom
  • “authentic” experience

If mindfulness has become more about “attentiveness”, the question of mindful travel becomes “attentiveness to what?”

Of a Personal Nature

At first glance, inner journey appears similar to mindful travel: they both involve a deeper, more contemplative level of experience. However, an inner journey is an intense study of personal nature, while mindful travel is more related to culture.

Inner journeys are specific explorations of meaning, while inner travel is a general mode of experience.

Generally speaking, an inner journey is a philosophic, psychological or spiritual inquiry, not actual travel in the physical sense. However, some important differences become clear between inner journey and inner travel. Inner journeys are specific explorations of meaning, while inner travel is a general mode of experience. Inner journey is strictly introspective and personal; inner travel is introspective as well as extrospective.

In comparing these three concepts, we can at last establish a definition for inner travel.

Defining Inner Travel

Perhaps the strongest proponent for inner travel is Joseph Dispenza. The first line in his book The Way of the Traveler declares “all travel is inner travel.”

I believe this is an overstatement: all travel has a potential to be inner travel, just every relationship has a potential for significance in one’s life.

While travel isn’t entirely meaningless, it’s not inherently meaningful. It’s a matter of recognizing the value of the experience, wherever and whatever it may be. If this is so, the quality that makes travel significant is less about physical movement and more about meaningful engagement.

The best way to picture inner travel is to think not of travel per se, but of any significant pursuit from start to conclusion. In this perspective, geographical travel becomes a vehicle for a personal journey of meaning. The concepts of finding oneself, mindful travel and inner journey are united as the components of inner travel.

From this place, inner travel can be defined as:

1. Self-discovery: a recognition of truth through individual expression of purpose, resulting from
2. Mindfulness: an awareness of meaningful relation and interaction in any form, and
3. Inner direction: a deep level of personal involvement.

Choose Your Own Meaning

Far from sales or gimmick, this is a profound approach to both the experience of travel as well as the everyday. It is a challenge at the same time both inspiring and daunting, as any adventure should be.

The original intent was to gain clarity and control – to “master” the word; yet inner travel seems larger than ever, sublime and full of possibility. It may be, after all, that some words are not meant to be mastered.

Do you agree with Daniel’s assessment of inner travel? If not, what parts do you think should be added or changed? Share your thoughts below.

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