Learn how travel can provide a “safe container” for healing grief and loss.
In this episode I’ll share my own insights into how the experience of travel can help with the process of grief. This is also the subject of the new book I’m writing (I did research for it on my recent trip to Italy) … I’ll share a brief overview here!
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During several of my travel experiences in the past I have been dealing with grief and have found the process of travel to be helpful. On one trip to Italy, my husband and I learned of the death of our brother-in-law on the day we arrived in Venice. Unable to cancel the rest of our trip and return home immediately, which we wanted to do, we stumbled through the remainder of the vacation and managed to make peace with our pain.
Here are some of my “takeaways” about how travel can help with grief:
- Permission to wander aimlessly. On our Venice trip we canceled all of our sightseeing plans and activities. We started each day with a totally clean slate and just wandered the streets and canals of the city all day long. By following our intuition and our broken hearts we were able to enter into our grief without distraction or attachment. Had we been at home with family we would have felt obligated to “do something” and “be somewhere” but because we were traveling we were free of all expectations.
- Seeing the big picture. Because we were freed up from the details of our daily life at home, we found more space to explore grief from a “trans-personal” perspective, as something bigger than just our own individual lives. Experiencing grief in another country allowed us to:
- Recognize that all people, everywhere, experience the death of loved ones. Our mortality and the grief it causes us is the interconnecting thread that binds us to all of humanity.
- Go deep into history. By visiting ancient ruins we can see that all of humankind, throughout history has dealt with the pain of loss and struggled to make peace with death. Our experience of grief is just one part of a vast “whole” picture of human loss.
- Surrendering to grief to find joy within. As travelers “stuck” in another country even though we wanted to be home, we had no choice but to surrender to the pain that engulfed us. When we allowed grief to find a home within (and even “became” a living embodiment of grief) we also discovered a startling capacity for simple joy over the beauty of being alive. I’ve written this before: suffering hollows us out so that we can contain an even greater measure of joy … and also love.
- Understanding impermanence. Strolling through cemeteries, relics and ruined structures of the past illustrated to me perfectly that everything that exists in the physical realm is impermanent and will one day dissolve away. Only love and the energy of life persist eternally. And it is the depth of the love we experience for others that causes the magnitude of pain we feel upon their deaths. Grief is one of the visible manifestations of love in the physical realm.
- Learning how to navigate in unfamiliar territory. On our “grief trip” in Venice we simply wandered every day until we were hopelessly lost. We took in everything around us along the way–noticing all the colors and sounds and fragrances of life. And when we felt ready to return “home” we studied our maps to figure out where we were and to slowly find our way back to more familiar territory. This skill of navigating in the unknown will prove to be very helpful to us throughout life and especially during our own dying process as we struggle to get back to a home we can’t remember.
I hope you will take the opportunity to travel some day, even when you are experiencing grief, to experience the profound benefits it can offer!
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