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Traintalk: Am I a Tourist or a Pilgrim?
by Arthur Paul Patterson

Arthur Paul Patterson pictureTHE LAST FIVE years have been comfortable. Admitting this comes hard for someone with my intensity. An amiable life conjures images of being lazy, being part of a bovine collective, lulled asleep by consumerism and the mind-numbing drone of what my grandfather called “the idiot box” — the family TV set. I laugh as I write this staring at recent additions to that idiot box: a DVD player, a VCR, and Digital Surround Sound. That little distraction that once graced the center of the living room has taken over. My so-called room of living has evolved into a rubber room, where life is virtually mimicked on a densely pixilated screen.

Maybe I’m exaggerating? I hope so! After all, I still voraciously read fiction and non-fiction of high or at least medium calibre. I rarely plummet beneath channel 15 on the cable "dial" into those bland mainstream stations, preferring instead the higher echelons of the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Animal Planet and A & E. Okay, I have too much time on my hands. I have been comfortable. I admit it and I have liked it that way!

After the grinding years of being a minister in the boardroom and congregational trenches, my new vocation as a teacher-mentor of a small community has produced a very self-regulated and happily introverted pullout quoteexistence. Truth be told, until this spring/summer, I haven’t been out and about, even in my hometown Winnipeg, for ten years. Again, I admit I have liked it like that! But I’ve also learned that my reasons for adapting the introverted preference have not been wholesome or productive. My reclusive vocation was a withdrawal from a compulsive and graceless spiritual stardom to a reclusive, safe but cynical turtledom. I went deep inside to lick my wounds, to hide. Beneath my surface security was the nagging feeling I wasn’t fully alive and contributing, like in those risky, nastier days.

Cultural historian Phil Cousineau advises that when lethargy of this sort sets in it is time to go on a Pilgrimage, on a journey of renewal to a sacred place. Phil adapted his concept of spiritual tourism from Joseph Campbell’s archetypal Hero’s Journey in order to provide guideposts as we traverse life’s labyrinth from boredom to creative contribution.

A spiritual trek is as far from a tourist’s vacation as imaginable. While Pilgrimage may be a retreat from everyday life it is not a retreat from our deepest selves. Prerequisite longings, callings, and departures are essential as we move through convoluted roads and spiraling byways homeward.

I had buried my longings so deep in contented safety that I barely knew I was discontent. I was irritable even though productive and helpful in my community. Some Muse, below the threshold of consciousness, nagged me, suggesting that there must be more to my life than safety and repose. The reprieve that my private circumstances had purchased was now cutting into my larger sense of how I was to be in the world. So started my yearning for more.

More than the yearning, I needed a boot in the ass wake-up call. The call came in a roundabout, rather genteel way. An age-old friend of mine, who hadn’t had contact with me for many years, phoned me and asked for advice on dream interpretation. That seemed easy enough; it was a great chance to go out, have a Vietnamese dinner, laugh, and theorize about the meaning of our dreams while reconnecting with a friend.

Drowning ourselves in coffee and conversation, savouring the smell of curried beef, vegetables and tangy spice-filled spring rolls, we delved into the dream world. Our conversation was characterized by the same heart-talk that once animated our friendship many years before. So much had changed and nothing had changed. Dreams dissolve time and time had little effect on our affection because it was rooted in exactly this kind of deep encounter.

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