That afternoon as I tramped around the lake I was thinking of Thoreau’s essay “Walking,” which I often reread as it reminds me how to pray, and how to imagine “the holy land,” which for Thoreau is wherever you are. It’s not a place but a kind of presence, a prayerful attention—which I’m not very good at, which is why I keep walking. And walking. I’m searching for the gospel of screeching ravens and snowy pine boughs and curling wood smoke.
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves,” writes Pico Iyer, “and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” Iyer has written a dozen travel books about exotic far-flung cultures—from the Philippines to Katmandu. I loved these books, but the one I reread is a critique of all the others: The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, in which Iyer explores the necessity of the inner journey. The thesis of his book is suggested in a line he borrows from Thoreau: “It matters not where or how far you travel—the farther commonly the worse—but how much alive you are.”
When we travel we are always looking out at the physical world with the eye and in at the self, at the I. This delicate, difficult braid of self and world, of both seeing and seeking, is for me at the heart of the writing process. But it’s also at the heart of prayer.