As I become more and more churchless, the notion of wandering seems more appealing than traveling. So I guess I could be called a spiritual wanderer, though I don't like the word "spiritual" any more.
So even though I put it in the title of this post, let's drop it. I'm a wanderer, not a traveler.
Meaning, I used to believe in paths. For over thirty-five years I considered myself to be on a spiritual path. For most of that time I also thought I was on a career path. Ditto with a marriage and family path.
I liked the idea of paths because they are well-defined. They start here, and end there. You can usually tell whether you are on or off a path, even if it is conceptual or abstract.
For example, members of my India-based spiritual organization would gossip about a fellow member: "I hear he is off the path!"
In other words, he wasn't meditating as instructed, had started eating meat or drinking alcohol, or -- heaven forbid -- was having sex outside of marriage (a frequently broken rule, yet not usually admitted to others).
Now, I readily admit that sticking to a path makes sense when (1) there actually is one, (2) it can be discerned, and (3) it demonstrably leads to somewhere you're sure you want to go.
When my wife and I go on a hike in one of Oregon's wilderness areas, we always stick to a path. It's the quickest and safest way of enjoying ourselves. We have a specific destination in mind, and there is a well defined way to get there.
Thus traveling is fine in certain circumstances.
I look on this as setting out to do something with both a path and outcome firmly in mind. You know what you want to do and/or where to go. So you pack a bag, literally or metaphorically, and start to travel.
However, wandering is another option. Here, you are very much open to changing plans or direction. Because you don't have a firm destination or goal, no itinerary to follow, acceding to an impulse to head elsewhere doesn't involve much thought.
You just do it. Here today. There tomorrow.
I guess this is akin to being a hitchhiker rather than a bus driver with a set route. You can get into any vehicle and go where you want, though you can also have a temporary destination in mind -- knowing you might well change your mind at any moment.
Philosophically, for me traveling implies either free will or (paradoxically) destiny of some sort.
I either freely choose a definite place I want to go, or that place is fated for me. The latter is how many religions and spiritual teachings look upon their "path" -- as leading to a goal that either must be freely chosen as an act of faith, or has been destined by God to be followed.
This used to appeal to me. Now it doesn't. There is rigidity in traveling, in being on a set path, in believing that getting from here to there is so important, failing to do so means your life is seriously lacking.
By contrast, wanderers are unpredictably blown by the world's myriad winds. They are part and parcel of their territory. That is, they aren't so much seeking to move through a location to get somewhere else, as to enjoy the movement that comes with being within a place.
To borrow a turn of phrase I recall Alan Watts using frequently, this is akin to the difference between dancing and hiking. When dancing, you enjoy movement for its own sake. Going around in circles is just fine. When hiking, though, you want to get somewhere, usually by following a path.
After pondering this wandering vs. traveling notion before meditating this morning, I found myself driving into town on our two lane rural road. As often happens, I came up behind a car that was moving more slowly than I had been going.
Generally this produces at least a mild sense of irritation in me. I'd been keeping my speedometer at 50 or 55. Now I had to slow down to 40. Bummer! It was going to take me longer than expected to get into Salem.
Today, though, "wanderer" instantly popped into my mind when I put my foot on the brake to stay a safe distance behind the slower car. I'd been going at one speed; now I was going another speed. No big deal. The world had set me on a different course. No problem.
This probably sounds mundane, and it is. Which is partly my point.
When you're wandering, there isn't a whole lot of concern about where you are, what you're doing, how the scenery appears. The wandering, the dance, is the thing, not the traveling, the hiking.
Different ways of moving. Different ways of living.
I'm not saying one is better than the other. That's something a traveler would do, not a wanderer. And I'm more attracted to wandering now. Of course, I suppose I might wander into a place where traveling looks appealing.
That's what so great about wandering. You never know. Surprises abound.