My last visit to London, in July of this year, I had dinner with a former classmate. We had taken “Intro to Buddhism” together.
I didn’t know it then, in my first semester at Middlebury College, but many themes from that course would wind their way through the following years of my life.
Over our glasses of red wine—Merlot, I think—I recounted a memory of that class that stands out from the rest. It’s funny, sometimes, what ends up sticking in our minds.
Someone had asked our professor if he wanted to reach enlightenment—if that’s what he was seeking.
He had answered softly (he always spoke softly):
“I’m not so interested in enlightenment. I’m interested in the possibility of expanding my awareness.”
Maybe this is unhelpful, and maybe I’ve spent too much time around Buddhist philosophy, but this is what I have to say in answer to that oft-repeated question, “Did you find what you were looking for.”
I wasn’t looking for anything, so I doubt I would find it. That’s the difference between a trip and a journey—only one has a destination.
I found no thing on my Camino journey. Nothing. I did not have any epiphany. My life did not change.
If you set out walking (meditating, praying, anything) in search of enlightenment, I think you will be disappointed.
And that’s not depressing; it’s inspiring. It is exhilarating, this not knowing. It is enthralling, this seeking-but-not-finding. It is magnetic, this grey in-between-ness of no-thing—neither empty of wisdom nor full of answers.
If “no” is not a satisfying response, I’m sorry, but it’s the only one I’ll give—at least for now.
No, I did not find what I was looking for.
I wasn’t looking for, you see.
Something on the same subject I wrote about halfway through the Camino, in a moment of clarity:
“Will I come back wiser?” asked my ego.
I don’t know, my more honest self replied. I think I’d be the last to know.Do any of us come back “wiser” from anything?
I have my doubts.
I will come back with bigger calves from walking and stronger shoulders from carrying my pack.
This is certain.
I will carry in my heart thirty peaceful mornings where dawn breaks over still meadows, and the wind whispers a song only I can hear.
This is certain.
I’m not interested in finding. The beauty is in the in-between.