Thursday, December 23, 2010

No Journey Wasted

I received a Kindle (Amazon's wonderful wireless reading device) last week as a pre-Christmas gift, and ever since I've been immersing myself daily in books that have been on my "to-read" list for ages. I've named my Kindle "Oscar," after Sesame Street's "Oscar the Grouch," because when it arrived in the mail I immediately looked for a dark, cozy, small place to curl up and read. 

Oscar and I have become great friends. He can hold up to 3,500 books, can you believe it? Perfect for travelling. And the books I buy on Amazon are delivered to my Kindle in under 60 seconds. Amazing. 

My second pre-Christmas gift from this very good friend was the autobiography published this year by the one man I would consider my "celebrity role model."  I first read Huston Smith during my third term at Rogue Community College. I was young -- I had just celebrated my sixteenth birthday -- but devoured the assigned reading for my Intro to World Religions course more vigorously than most of the older students. Concurrently enrolled in an Intro to Anthropology course, I was enthralled with the connections I could draw between the two courses, and reveled in the discovery of parallel theories. I had uncovered one of my true passions: the study of world cultures.  


Religion plays a prominent role in any culture. Practiced, unpracticed, official or informal, government-sanctioned or outlawed -- the belief systems of societies and individuals are key to understanding their respective ideals, laws, and norms. I see spiritual conviction as the underlying catalyst for our pursuit of meaning in life. As such, I feel that I can't truly know a friend until I know -- really know -- what they believe. 

What I found in Huston Smith's World Religions was a breath of fresh air.  An exuberant, deep, and nonjudgmental discussion of the good in each of seven major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Dr. Smith's unbiased focus on the positive contributions of each "wisdom tradition" was exactly what I sought, exactly what a young, impressionable mind needed to be encouraged to pursue her dreams to travel and explore the world. You see, having spent twelve weeks learning about all the good in the world, I left immediately on my first journey (as an exchange student in Belgium for a year) with no reason to fear anyone or anything I might encounter.  I had never met a Hindu, a Taoist, or a Muslim, and yet my knowledge of the good aspects of their most sacred beliefs equipped me with a curiosity and "believe the best" mindset towards everyone I met that may have been the key to my success as an exchange student.  I returned home with many friends from whom I learned a lifetime of lessons about knowing and loving people whose beliefs and convictions you may never share. Subconsciously, I had adopted Dr. Smith's method of looking for the good. I count this as one of my best qualities and hope never to lose it. 

So now I have read one-third of Huston Smith's autobiography in one night.  I had to stop myself. I want to savour this, take it in page by page and really absorb it.  I will certainly read it again (and again and again and again), but I want to remember my "first impression" thoughts as I turn each page for the first time.  

One such "first impression" has resulted in the new title of this blog. In the first chapter, Dr. Smith shares some of the titles he rejected in the process of naming his autobiography.  His second veto resonated strongly with me: No Wasted Journey. Smith references Socrates' last words before succumbing to hemlock poisoning. Smith paraphrases,

"Either death will be a peaceful sleep, or better yet, Socrates said, we will travel to Hades and meet 'the heroes of old who lived just lives in their day. No wasted journey, that.'"

The phrase no wasted journey "pierced me like an arrow," Smith writes. "I was a young man and felt I could not live without seeing every marvel the world offered. And usually when not teaching I was to be found, unpredictably, on one of the six continents (never Antarctica) on some journey seeing some of the world's wonder."

With these words he expresses my exact sentiment. I want to experience and discover it all! And so, inspired by Socrates and Huston Smith, I've renamed my blog No Journey Wasted. It's a slight twist on the original, but I feel that this grammatical rearrangement better conveys my intention of finding the good in every journey. I have been on several interesting journeys, some of which have taken unexpected and sometimes largely unfavorable turns. Yet I can truly say that there has been no journey wasted.  I have loved some and learned from all.  I expect the one at hand to be no different.  Please join me as we journey to Eurasia this semester!


3 comments:

  1. Great thoughts. You would enjoy reading THE WAY OF THE PILGRIM. It is about a Russian man who takes a journey all over his country in search of spiritual wisdom. He finds it with the help of a Russian Orthodox starets. Huston Smith writes the book's beautiful foreword.

    http://www.amazon.com/Way-Pilgrim-Continues-His/dp/0060630175/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1293122077&sr=8-2

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  2. Great thoughts. You would enjoy THE WAY OF THE PILGRIM. Huston Smith writes it's foreword. It is about a Russian man's journey through his country to find spiritual wisdom. He finds it with the help of Starets. It would be an appropriate addition to Oscar before your Russian adventure!

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  3. Thanks for the recommendation, Joel! I've added the book to my Amazon Wishlist and I look forward to reading it.

    Merry Christmas :)

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