“I am who I am and that is that.” Spiritual Journeys to the Rescue.
GuruGanesha Singh and Seal repeat that mantra in a song on one of my yoga playlists. I am who I am, in great part, due to my long-distance life experiences and spiritual journeys.
Travel can be life-changing. There’s nothing wrong with visiting family, enjoying a Broadway show, or basking on a beach. But, spiritual journeys can be more penetrating than a Club Med getaway.
Some test their limits with skiing, marathons, hiking, biking, surfing or mountain climbing. Not as many stretch themselves via spiritual journeys and explorations.
Network Tours and RetreaTours are two go-to sources for the Chicken Soup for the Soul vacation.
James Aram is the North American representative for Network Tours, a company in India that organizes “spiritual adventures of a lifetime.” He says these trips provide for deeper longer-lasting experiences.
“Traditional tours showcase the best places of interest to tourists, locations of natural beauty and intriguing cultures. Spiritual tours are for people seeking to focus on deeper and more profound matters of the heart and soul. A traditional tour creates novel experiences… memories of lovely people, fascinating cultures, and beautiful places. A spiritual tour leaves soul impressions in the receptive heart of the traveler pilgrim—impressions that transcend people, cultures, and places… soul-stirring impressions that last lifetimes,” explains James.
Lauren Rathvon and her husband, BJ Graf, live wherever they lay down their suitcases. Exploration is the name of their game. The ex-pats share that love of the world with others via RetreaTours, an enterprise that strives to create itineraries that are authentic, accessible, and affecting.
“We now explore every single day of the year, living and working in hotels and guesthouses around the world,” says Lauren. She raves about her partner in the gypsy life, saying BJ has “an unparalleled ability to connect to people of different cultures. My life’s work is to help facilitate personal growth and unpack otherwise overwhelming experiences,” she adds about the transformative spiritual journeys they offer.
Every day is a journey to understanding for Lauren and BJ. When they are not hosting a RetreaTour, they’re scoping out attractions, accommodations, and meals so that they can act like hometown hosts, pretty much anywhere in the world.
“We are passionate about demystifying and de-stressing international travel for our guests. We distill a well-rounded journey. We honor people’s time, energy, and money by consciously creating a meaningful experience for a good value.”
Both Network and RetreaTours specialize in spiritual journeys to India.
“There is no doubt that travel is transformative in and of itself, but traveling in India acts as a fantastic catalyst for rapid growth and change. In India, you experience new sights, sounds, colors, and smells, and it is this beautiful assault on the senses that can help transform mental and spiritual blockages and lead to breakthroughs,” says Lauren.
One of the most powerful spots for her travelers is Ladakh, in northern India. “Ladakh is said to be more Tibetan than Tibet. Steeped in rich and colorful Tibetan Buddhism and set in a high altitude desert moonscape, Ladakh can seem a world away.”
BJ discovered the beauty and soul of Ladakh more than 20 years ago. Furthermore, given his long-standing relationships with monks here, RetreaTours’ spirit seekers are invited into their monasteries, ancient temples, and even homes and dining tables.
“Because we go slow and get beyond the superficial, guests have a chance to engage the culture and, more importantly, the people,” she says. “You can read books and blogs all day, but it’s only when you engage with a person of different beliefs and value systems that true understanding and compassion can be accomplished.”
Another magical spot for RetreaTourists is Amritsar. About 220 miles from Ladakh, as the crow flies, Amritsar is home to the Golden Temple, a Sikh treasure in the state of Punjab.
“The gentle strength of this religion and people affect our guests profoundly. Many of our guests take advantage of the opportunity to volunteer at the temple, which feeds over 100,000 pilgrims for free on a daily basis. Putting their compassion in action makes for a lasting impression.”
Network Tours offers a dozen spiritual journeys in India. Adventurers can follow in the footsteps of the Buddha, Yogananda — even the Beatles. Network’s Magical Mystery Tour takes visitors through the Himalayas from Rishikesh to Jaipur with a stop at The Beatles Ashram, the former Maharishi Mahesh ashram that inspired the White Album, and turned the lives around for the Fab Four and friends.
In addition, there’s a five-day pre-tour that can be combined with the nine-day Magical Mystery Tour in February. The extension includes time at Neem Karoli Baba’s ashram. Babaji was the guru of many kirtan musicians and Ram Dass, the former Harvard professor and author of “Be Here Now.” Led by a musician, this tour offers nightly Beatles concerts to immerse one’s senses even more fully.
James says that everyone, regardless of their knowledge of yoga or level of devotion, will reap lasting value from an incredible Indian spiritual journey.
“The attentive and alert traveler will find value and meaning in any well-organized tour,” says James. “To make it truly memorable, however, one must enter into such a tour with open heart, honest mind, and no preconceived expectations—other than to expect the unexpected, especially in India.”
“The essence of India is her spirituality. If one looks beyond the country’s many social and material challenges, the true pilgrim cannot help but be touched by the palpable threads of devotion and reverence for the Divine that are woven through the fabric of the Indian culture. India’s charming, hospitable people and her remarkable art and architecture will captivate the traveler, but it is her spiritual essence that calls the devotee-pilgrim back.”
A tour of South India’s temples begins November 28 in Chennai with stops in 16 towns in several states. As part of that 20-day exploration, Network Tours’ travelers will visit the ashrams of Ramana Maharishi, Sri and Mother Aurobindo, and Amma, the hugging saint. To balance out the spiritual side, there will be time at beaches, tea plantations, river rides on the incredible backwaters, and Ayurvedic spa treatments.
“The soul impressions received while on pilgrimage only serve to deepen one’s devotion already brought to the tour. The vibrations of sites-visited and holy ground walked-on inspire the devotee’s greater spiritual growth and understanding,” adds James.
Network supports an NGO which assists in the education of underprivileged children in India. Karma yoga/seva (selfless service) is often woven into tours.
“Travel in new lands inspires a self-confidence that translates to every other facet of life.” — Lauren Rathvon
Among her upcoming spiritual journeys in India is a Cultural Tour, in 2016 that spans five classical Indian cities in the north. Then, The Pulse of Rishikesh, and Live Beyond Your Borders, in, 2017. Next, two summertime adventures are The Ladakh Experience, and Highest Self in the Himalayas.
“People bring their own cultural mindsets and containers on these tours, but inevitably those containers get filled with the bounty of love and wisdom from the local culture and religion. No matter the lens through which they are viewing the trip, our guests are able to receive insight that they can apply to their own lives. Of course, the goal is to drop the lens altogether,” says Lauren.
For more spiritual journeys to India, led by people I know, read https://thenamastecounsel.com/2648-2/ and https://thenamastecounsel.com/spiritual-journey-to-india/.