I wish I were on a road trip of unlimited possibility. The road never ends and all of that.
But I’m not.
I’m in my sixth decade and face some health challenges. So far I’ve been able to manage things fairly well, but that may or may not last.
As a result, my road trip has some limitations which makes it all the more poignant. I’m not on a search for novelty; I’m more on a quest of experience.
“Experience of meaning” is a phrase I came across recently. Joseph Campbell in an interview with Bill Moyer said:
People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that the life experiences that we have on the purely physical plane will have resonances within that are those of our own innermost being and reality. And so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive, that’s what it’s all finally about, and that’s what these clues help us to find within ourselves.
Bill Moyers so elegantly responds…
You changed the definition of a myth from the search for meaning to the experience of meaning.
And all good road trips lead to the “experience of meaning”.
Let me share a flying story, from an earlier (aerial) road trip:
Sun streams through the canopy. It is brilliant, warm and enveloping. The sky is blue and below the saphire-turquoise waters of Tahoe lie like a jewel on the earth.
I sit in the cockpit, a thin fiberglass shell held aloft by 15 meters of flexing wing. At the edge of each wing is a small winglet that projects vertically into the sky.
I bank the plane, the tiny winglet parallel with the earth, searching for lift.
I feel lift under the winglet. It’s a bubble of air and I balance on it. The plane and I are one. Together we rise–we dance– into the sky.
Warm sun streams through the cockpit. Endless blue sky; Tahoe below.
It was a moment of perfect synchronicity. The energy of the air, the warmth of the sun, the beauty of the earth.
And for that timeless moment, all was one.
Sun, energy, beauty. And I was riding in the midst of it all, connected to it all, now and forever.
This moment has stayed with me and its intensity hasn’t diminished with time. It’s an experience that gave me a sense of knowing that is rooted in the unknowable. It’s a feeling of timeless, complete connection and joy.
“Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking in time cuts out.” –Joseph Campbell
Is this perhaps the “experience of meaning” that Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers are exploring? An amorphous knowing not easily shared? A deep and soulful encounter with eternity?
Our souls need nourishment. They thrive on a bit of mystery and ambiguity that lead to a deep sense of knowing. The fun of travel is that it’s not just metaphorical; the answer lies just around the bend!
The metaphor of the road trip is an old one, embedded in our discourse. Fork in the road; bump in the road; the road to ruin. Twists and turns. What is the magic of the road?
I believe it’s a sense of present moment awareness–so present on a road trip– that opens our non-thinking selves to deep and moving impressions.
I visited Plaza Blanca recently. It’s a dramatic landscape a bit off the beaten trail. Georgia O’Keefe memorialized it in From the White Place, painted in 1940, oil on canvas. An uneven rutted road leads to the rock formation. My car was not made for off road driving, and I carefully picked a path through the desert dirt to the parking area.
I got out.
I was immediately engulfed in a profound sea of silence. Silence so deep and endless it was nearly palpable. An eternity of silence amidst the eroding towers of rock.
As I write this, I can still feel the silence, the slight wind as it passes by without a sound. It was an “experience of meaning”, a connection with eternity.
Cancer often leads to an “experience of meaning” in that it takes us out of our heads and into our souls. In this way it can be a gift. Gilda Radner once said: “If it wasn’t for the downside, having cancer would be the best thing and everyone would want it.”
If it wasn’t for the downside.
With cancer, the world becomes very real, very quickly for most of us. That which is not essential is eliminated. That which is meaningful remains.
And it’s here that the “experience of meaning” may have a chance to take root. People talk of the impact of the beauty of a flower; the charm of a small bird outside the window; the touch of a loved one. Here in this place beyond our minds is an experiential road trip. That’s the road trip for me. And hopefully for all our souls.
This past week, I wrote a piece about my cancer experience. It’s a chronology of tests and treatments. A friend of mine, knowing a bit of the background, commented: “It’s amazing what we survive.”
Cancer or not, I think we all want to do more than survive. But to fully live, we need to be open to the magic of the moment to have the “experience of meaning”.
With cancer, the recognition that time is limited becomes part of our reality. We quickly learn to focus on the here and now, and what is important. Clock time fades away; we may get stuck in psychological time; but elements of eternal time seem to crop up more often.
And with the recognition that an eventual deadline approaches, one realizes that each moment counts. This is the gift, the meaning of time and the experience of meaning that often eludes us in our frantic daily lives.
Question: So what is the real meaning of a road trip?
Answer: What is the meaning of life?
Let me leave you with a Zen koan:
Enlightenment is like the moon on the water.
the moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.
Safe travels everyone.
More Reading on the Experience of Meaning:
Serendipity: Life Lessons From The Road
Traveling The Timeline of Now
11 Life Lessons Learned From The Road
Weathering The Storm
Flying and Sex
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A really wonderful piece of writing Pat. You have a flair with the pen.
Thanks, John. I need to get back on the road and get writing again! But in the meantime, a podcast. I’ll tweet about it as we get ready to launch.
Love how you find the positives in a tough situation. How having cancer can be a gift. It shows you the meaningful things in life, and let’s you focus on what really matters in the short time we are all living on this Earth. God bless you. We think that although tough times can lead to depression and low spirits, there is always a hidden gift or blessing in it. An opportunity to grow. To learn. To appreciate. Everything in life is a gift if you are looking at it that way.
I’ve come to see life as a road trip. What might we learn? What are we supposed to learn? And how can we use it all to evolve? It’s an ongoing learning process, and I’m very grateful for it.