Do you, like me, long to wander?
When it comes to travel, there’s a term for that—wanderlust. And while the term itself might set my soul ablaze and have my mind dreaming of far-off landscapes and spontaneous adventures, I also know that wanderlust can be masking a deeper longing hidden within. I know that my tendency to wander has a shadow side that often stems from brokenness, and I’m not the only one to notice this. After hearing parts of my story, my graduate school professor (a well-known therapist and spiritual teacher) insightfully posed the question that caused me to look deeper into my love of travel and pilgrimage: “I wonder why it is that you wander?”
I also know, though, that our places of brokenness are also our places of redemption and so often, then, become our vocation. The root word of vocation, after all, is voice, and it is through entering our own stories and brokenness and participating with the Divine in the work of redemption that our unique voice is established and our vocation shines through (I have a feeling our friend Dan Cumberland of The Meaning Movement would agree).
It is not in spite of our brokenness but because of it that we have a message to contribute to the world. It is like the two sides of a coin—one does not exist without the other—and it is because of my yearning to wander and my inner work around that longing that I know that there are upsides of wanderlust, too.
And while this is my voice, my vocation, and my message to share, it is a truth for all humanity. That’s the beauty of redemption, is it not? Truth revealed through brokenness, life born out of death—just as the phoenix rises from the ashes.
If you pay close enough attention, wanderlust can actually be a signpost on the path toward healing and wholeness and serve as a tool for transformation. John O’Donohue describes the spiritual nature of wanderlust and its role in our journeys in his book, Anam Cara. “The person is always a nomad, journeying from threshold to threshold, into ever different experiences,” O’Donohue says. “In each new experience, another dimension of the soul unfolds. It is no wonder that from ancient times the human has been understood as a wanderer.”
Wanderlust is built within each one of us and is the fuel for our journeys. Our desire to wander tells us where we are unsettled and invites us toward growth. The difference between the brokenness found in wanderlust and its healing power is what we do with it. Do we follow it on a whim and without question, as if some mode of great escape? (Something that I am still often guilty of.) Or do we lean into its stirrings, intentionally wandering into the wilderness and listening closely to its whispers of dissatisfaction and its desire for something more?
This is the power of the practice of pilgrimage. And in travel, it is these two paths that determine the difference between an ordinary trip and a pilgrimage and a tourist and a traveler. Whether wanderlust has a positive or negative impact on our journeys is dependent on how we engage its invitation.
Ready to begin using your wanderlust for good? Start with these 3 steps:
1. name your longing
When you notice that familiar desire to wander creep up, name that desire and bring it into the light. It could be as simple as “I’m noticing I don’t want to be here” or “I’m dreaming of jetting off on vacation again.” You might even have wanderlust for an experience in the past. For example, I know when I’m looking back on my time studying abroad in London with longing, it’s because I’m missing something in my everyday life, which gives me an opening to dig even deeper.
2. uncover your search
Once you’ve named your longing, determine what triggered your desire. What was it that made that desire to wander come to the surface? Where are you longing for healing, direction, or fulfillment? Perhaps your desire to wander isn’t necessarily sourced in a place of brokenness but more a reflection of stagnancy and a longing for more adventure, delight, or spiritual connection.
3. chart the course
After naming your longing and uncovering your search, go ahead and wander—after all, as Seekers of the Sacred wandering is part of our nature. This time, however, you’ll be able to act on your wanderlust knowing why it is that you wander as you journey with the awareness, intention, and hope of a pilgrim, trusting that the Sacred Guide will always lead you toward new life whenever you dare to follow the Divine stirrings—and wanderings—sourced from within.
Where do you experience wanderlust? What’s the deeper search?