50 Great Spiritual Adventures for the Next Millennium
A list of fifty experiences to touch your soul and (maybe) change your life forever.
This list first appeared in the Winter 2000 issue of Spirituality & Health.
1. Hide an altar — Jean McMann, Mill Valley, CA
Place a tiny figurine above a door molding, a photograph inside a closet, or a beautiful marble in a chink in a stone wall — any special object in a place where only you will notice. Why? These will inspire and refresh you privately. Sometimes we don't want to explain our beliefs and symbols, although we like to have them at hand. Also, looking where we don't usually look keeps our eyes alert; we begin to see more in our surroundings. It might be good, in fact, to change the locations of these subtle altars often, expanding our zones of attention.
2. Enjoy beginner’s mind — Mary Earle, San Antonio, TX
I have started spinning at age 50, and it has been a great thing to not know, to become an apprentice.
3. Create a holy book — Editors
Find passages from the world's sacred writings (or novels, poems, essays, etc.) that speak to you. Include pictures.
4. Be outside naked for no reason at all — Ramona Richardson, Ringgold, VA
What an exciting time to be alive! As the spiritual renaissance flowers, people are coming to see the spiritual life not as a destination, but as an adventure — the greatest life has to offer. We are moving from being a culture that knows to one that discovers. This focus on the eternal journey has deep roots in the world’s great wisdom traditions, from Jesus’ call to enter the kingdom of heaven as a child to the Buddhist concept of beginner’s mind.
So the promise of the new millennium — or the next few minutes — enthralls us. These ideas for spiritual adventures come from our readers, advisors, friends, and editors, describing experiences they’ve had, or yearn to have. Some are grand, others are bold in their everydayness. What do they have in common? In her wonderful book The New American Spirituality, Elizabeth Lesser (see #14) shares a question poet Maya Angelou once asked her about an experience: “Did it disturb your soul and call you to grow?” These do.
We hope they’ll inspire your own journey into the year 2000 — and beyond. — The Editors
5. Swim with dolphins — Linda Glazer, Cambridge, MA
I spent a week on the island of Bimini. Each day I spent six hours on a boat with fellow dolphin-seekers, cruising, playing, waiting for the dolphins to find us. I watched these beautiful, graceful creatures as they raced the boat and playfully leaped alongside. I swam with them and listened to their song. I haven't been the same since. A transforming experience! I can't wait to do it again. [This can be dangerous to you or the dolphins unless done with experienced guidance. — Ed]
6. Record your own“Songs in the Key of Life” — Editors
Track down the music of the special times in your life and collect it on tape. Be sure to write the liner notes (explaining your choices) and share them with those you love.
7. Make a pilgrimage — Steve Kiesling, Ashland, OR
In honor of our mother's 70th year, in June 2001 our family will walk, bike, and/or bus the 850-kilometer pilgrimage from the town of Roncesvalles through the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where legend has it that the remains of the apostle James are buried. In the Middle Ages this was the most notable pilgrimage after Jerusalem and Rome. Today’s pilgrims experience not just spectacular scenery but some of the best medieval architecture (and the best food) in the world. Then, as now, those who complete the walk earn a scallop shell.
8. Socialize a puppy for the blind — Editors
Sign up to keep a puppy until he or she is ready for advanced training as a guide dog (15-18 months). Your job is basic training and, most importantly, teaching the puppy to be comfortable around people in a variety of situations. All too soon you'll need to say good-bye, but you'll never lose the knowledge that you've helped to make a profound, positive difference not only in a canine life, but in a human life, as well. (The Puppy Raisers Website, www.iserv.net/~rugrat1/main/index.htm.)
9. Answer the call of the Grand Canyon — Ramona Richardson, Ringgold, VA
My friends and I are planning to hike from the rim to the river and then to do a boat ride down the river. I am currently an out-of-shape 40-year-old woman. But the vision of being able to truly experience the Grand Canyon has given me the strength to start a fitness program. I can feel the canyon calling me!
10. Get thee to Guyana — Cindy Coady, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I recently spent three months in an Amerindian village in the middle of the rainforests of Guyana. I lived in a little hut with no electricity or running water. My daily tasks involved helping to build a new school and do basic HIV-Aids education. But what I gave was nothing compared to what I gained — morning walks in the rainforest, the creation of a basic and profound relationship with mother earth, learning the art of living simply, and embodiment of a new culture. I am back in the concrete jungle now, but my days in Guyana have altered my life forever.
11. Find out if 40- Days hath your habit — Akiva Atwood, Jerusalem, Israel
Here in Jerusalem, ancient tradition says that the way to change a habit, or to develop a new one, is to visit the Western Wall 40 days in a row, praying for divine assistance at each visit. We have found it an excellent way to renew one's spiritual practice when it feels run-down.
12. Spend an hour with a giant box of crayons — Laura Biermg, Stone Mountain, GA
- Dedicate crayons, poster paper, floor space, and time.
- Hang your masterpiece.
- Admire and be admired.
- If you can't do 3 & 4, at least give yourself 1 & 2.
13. Run for office — Editors
It could be a church board, local politics, or anything. Be a person who stands up and is willing to take a risk and to lead. You'll find new gifts, overcome challenges, and gain an appreciation for what it takes to get things done.
14. Participate in birth and death — Elizabeth Lesser, Woodstock, NY
As a home-birth midwife in the 70s and 80s, I was often able to peek behind mystery's veil, as new life blessed this tired world with purity and awe. Likewise, I consider the deaths that I've witnessed as opportunities to go a little way into the next world with the people I love. Attending the births and deaths of your friends and family does not have to be a medical or morbid experience. It can be approached as a spiritual adventure that demonstrates the wonder and eternity of life.
15. Travel the making way — Alex Grey, Brooklyn, NY
Make a work of art (drawing, painting, sculpture, poem, song, etc.) of an image or experience that burns in your soul. When you create with the fire of your longing to unite with God, to transmit your most deeply experienced feelings and highest visionary insights, then art is prayer; art is love. Your art can be a spiritual practice and a way of recording and validating your transformative journey. A work of art is a psycho-plasmic mirror of your soul, a way to see who and where you are. Along the making way, you discover your own unique methods to tap the creative flow of the cosmos, and discover that others share the same feelings and vision.Your art becomes a reminder of our collective truths.
16. Lose yourself in the great outdoors — Don Wright, Woodstock, NY
Find a place of total solitude, but know your way home.
17. Deeply explore a fear — Sam Keen, Sonoma, CA
The practice of trapeze provides me with a daily occasion to become a connoisseur of my fears, to see where they reside in my body, and to separate the rational from the irrational. When I stand on the pedestal poised to throw a trick, I pause and take an inventory of my body — eyes squinting, hands sweating, chest narrowing, knees trembling, stomach jittering, mind filling with catastrophic images. Then, I breathe deeply and invite my muscles to release their burden of fear. When I neither force myself to be fearless nor run away from the danger, an area of freedom opens up within which I discover new options. I cease to be a victim of my fear and I break the hypnotic cycle of dread, the vicious feedback loop, the self-fulfilling prophecy of failure that shrinks my world. A fear a day keeps the psychiatrist away. We learn to fly not by becoming fearless, but by the daily practice of courage.
18. Find a teacher or a mentor — Editors
All of the wisdom traditions include the idea that there's somebody wiser than you from whom you can learn. Use all your own wisdom to find that person.
19. Reach across barriers — Editors
Find somebody on the opposite end of the belief spectrum from you and begin a genuine conversation. Seek to understand, not to convert.
20. Locate yourself in the cosmos — Barbara Landis, Lititz, PA
Embark on a year-round adventure to learn the stars and their positions. Imagine cold, crisp evenings in winter as you find a moment of peace by looking to the sky for a friendly formation.Imagine warm summer nights sitting quietly and studying the heavens. You can enjoy this adventure throughout the year in any location or climate, and you could share it with others.
21. Review and forgive — Katherine Romanchuk, Alberta, Canada
I am 47 and have had a very full life, but there rests within me some discomfort about the difficult times. I still wonder if I handled them the best I could have. So, to celebrate the new millennium, I am going to document my life experiences from as far back as I can remember, including the emotional, physical, mental, and/or spiritual responses. Where there was anger, hurt, or pain, I will forgive the people involved, with a prayer and a ritual to bless the teaching or lesson I learned from the experience. Where there was reward, joy, accomplishment, happiness, I will celebrate these events again with a prayer of gratitude and a blessing ritual.
22. Mediate a dispute — Editors
Jump into the middle of a sticky situation? Well, recent mediation shave brought about cease-fire in Northern Ireland, and tobacco settlements. Whether your kids are bickering or your community is divided over zoning proposals, when two sides are caught in a dilemma, there is a third option. This is where you come in as a patient listener, bridging differing points of view. There are scores of books on the subject. Try Resolving Conflict Once & For All by Mark Stein. Also, get in touch with the Mennonites, who run mediation workshops, at www.mennolink.org.
23. Feel the power of nature — Don Wright, Woodstock, NY
Don't just look at a waterfall, sit in it. Feel its power to wash away whatever you need to let go of.
24. Write love letters — Ramona Richardson, Ringgold, VA
I plan to write all the people I love: my husband, children, parents, and friends. These letters will include my feelings of love and gratitude along with some of the things I find special about them.
25. Create family rituals — Editors
Mark the many life changes that take place in the home by inventing rituals. It could be a return-from-vacation ceremony, or a leaving-on-a-trip service. Have a blessing for a new home or for buying something new. If this seems excessive, ask yourself: if you don't want to bless it, why do you want to bring it into your home?
26. Place yourself Onstage — Bob Scott, Warwick, NY
Don't worry about being good, just about showing up. Deal with ego, fear, desire for attention, fear of failure, working with others, and taking direction. Discover your playful, theatrical side. Learn about your own emotions and to respect what others do. Feel the benefits of getting involved in something you and others care about deeply.
27. Do what you do, but do it in a different place — Scot Morris, Del Mar, CA
Roller-blading on the Great Wall of China is a different kind of awesome than say Central Park, and running the centennial marathon in Greece over the original course from Marathon to Athens was a triple thrill, so what I'm saying is don't allow yourself to get in a rut. Enjoy the varieties of life.
28. Find your holy space — Eiedieh Azad, Tehran, Iran
A few months ago, as a tour leader I traveled to different cities of my country, Iran. I went to many mosques, mostly historical. They had this wonderful effect on me. There is a mosque in Naiin, near Isfahan, which has abasement used for meditation and prayer. It's a wonderful place. It makes you think about your whole being — who you are, where you came from, your purpose in life. It's a perfect place for soul-searching.
29. Coach someone — Steve Kiesling, Ashland, OR
In college, a bunch of the other athletes and I had a "leadership coach" who helped us in all kinds of ways: from advice, to meals, to money for books or, in some cases, tuition. The condition? We had to promise to provide the same kind of help to someone else.
30. Build your dream — Jim & Marilyn Davis, San Juan Evangelista, Mexico
Ours began as a received opportunity: a small piece of land on a lake in rural western Mexico, where Marilyn has been a cultural anthropologist for over 25 years. If husbanded correctly, this humble patch will be our spiritual anchor in years to come. We embarked on building a small, but in no sense crude, shelter. Traditional adobe construction, indigenous and infinitely malleable, was a given. It was also given that we would build with our own hands and the help of village compadres, godchildren, and friends. A restoration-architect friend taught us construction techniques that stretch back to Roman times but have been lost to local contemporary craftsmen. Construction has reached the time to top out and put on the roof. We expect to finish this stage of our journey at the beginning of the new millennium. The next leg: dwelling.
31. Revisit the trees of your childhood — Ronnie Shushan, Woodstock, NY
For me, they are the majestic, moss-covered oaks of New Orleans. Walking under their canopy on the wide boulevard where I grew up, or leaning against a massive trunk by the lagoon where my dad took my sisters and me canoeing,I find many of my memories in the long, gnarly, intertwining branches of these 200-year-old trees. Truly revisiting the oaks will require learning more about the termite infestations that threaten their survival. Perhaps the termites are a reminder to leave sentimentality behind when embarking on a spiritual adventure.
32. Set down what you believe — Editors
Whether traditional creeds work for you or not, write your own, unique statement of belief. Share it with your partner, your pastor, your kids, and/or with [email protected].
33. Ride the blues dragon — Lisa Richey, Lake Waccamaw, NC
I have a 12"-x-12" official pity-party box. When I lose perspective on how glorious life is, I open it and play until self-pity is a thing of the past. My body has multiple sclerosis, so the outside of my box is decorated with funny pictures and sayings like, “What good is a disease if you can't use it?" and "If you can't feel sorry for yourself, who can?" Inside, it's filled with Groucho Marx glasses, bubble wrap (to POP!), a kaleidoscope, Narnia paper dolls, a Patsy Cline tape, blinking heart, false eyelashes, love notes from friends, etc. The point is, we all have to face the blues dragon from time to time. If you can't slay it, why not have fun riding it?
34. Listen to the still, small voice — Maureen S. Christopher, Oxnard, CA
Every time you finish anything, stop, sit (if possible), relax, and ask “Now what?" Listen for the answer. Then do it.
35. Celebrate with fellow crones — Billie Mazzei, Lacey, WA
On my 60th birthday I invited 25 of my closest women friends to a Crone party, celebrating women's wisdom. Each was asked to bring a story to share of a woman in her life who had made a difference. We shared the stories, a wonderful collection that brought smiles and tears, toasted the women with champagne and song,and made ice-cream sundaes. It was a marvelous, spontaneous, loosely planned party that people are still talking about two years later.
36. Sing out! — T George Harris, La Jolla, CA
My best religious moments lately have been private hymn-sings, the good old gut-busters of my youth that I later sang with buddies in the army and at Time, Inc.'s old bar, the Three G's.The old songs — "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder" " Rock of Ages" " Beulah Land" "Battle Hymn of the Republic"— come running through my mind when walking, dozing, driving, or whatever. They are genuine freedom, release from the nervous fixations on the petty. When my soul is in tune,they make a fair sound in the shower of a morning, but when I'm crimped they come out raspy and strained.
37. Sail a tall ship — Susan Browning, Houston, TX
Reading of one sailor who "saw God in the sails" inspired me. Using my whole body (it's back-breaking work), relying on personal strength and the strength of comrades, appreciating the sun, wind, and rain, coming to terms with the sea from which we all came — yes, that is finding God in the sails. I would like to serve on a tall ship for a week, to test my physical, spiritual, emotional, and creative mettle.
38. Start a sacred exercise plan — Fred Brussat, New York, NY
I used to hate working out at the health club, but not anymore. Why? When I finish, I say a prayer thanking the machines, thanking my body parts one by one, and thanking God for creating the health club. It turns going to the gym into going to church.
39. Be a stranger on a train — Rico Hewson, San Francisco, CA
Try the old American trains that run from small town to small town. You don't have to go anywhere in particular. I bring some favorite books or my journal. Get a window seat and relax. People come and go and seem at their friendliest.
40. Ask the grail question — Editors
Jungian analyst and author Robert Johnson tells of the Arthurian knight Percival, who was admonished, if he ever actually found the Holy Grail, to ask one question: "Whom does the Grail serve?" The first time he found it, he was too overwhelmed to ask, and soon the Grail and the castle that contained it vanished. After searching for many years, he found it again and immediately popped the question.The answer: "The Grail serves the Grail King." In other words, in whatever quest you undertake, make certain you are in service to something greater than yourself.
41. Find your sunrise — Deirdre Taylor, Westport, CT
In early spring several years ago, I drove before dawn to the farthest point on the Point Reyes peninsula in western Marin County, California. I watched the sunrise over Tamalais Bay on my right as the brilliant colors of the sky reflected over the Pacific Ocean to my left, and herds of elk grazed peacefully all around me. Finding myself completely alone with creation at its most splendid,I found myself.
42. Take a break — Editors
Stop what you're doing and take a look at your life. That look can be a lengthy sabbatical or a jog around the block. Don't be afraid to ask yourself what are you doing and why are you doing it.
43. Write and share prayers with friends — Rosemary Cunningham, NY, NY
About a year ago a friend introduced me to the idea of writing my own prayers. I found that putting these prayers on paper deepened my connection with God's presence in my everyday life. The day I had to put my beloved, but very ill, dog Maxine to sleep, I wrote a prayer to read by candlelight in the examining room. Each time I look at that prayer now it reminds me that God was there with us in that very painful process that day. "Maxine's Prayer" has brought comfort to several friends who've lost their dogs in the months since I wrote it.
44. Let people take care of you — Vanessa L. Ochs, Charlottesville, VA
As I was nervously embarking upon a long (for me) trip, my friend Rabbi Rachel Sabath said, "Let people take care of you.” That was a real challenge, as I am usually either taking care of other people or trying to cause no trouble to others. But, as in Jewish tradition, it is a great mitzvah, a holy obligation to be a kind, attentive host to guests, I realized that I rarely allow others to perform that mitzvah for me. And so that's what I did. I experienced what it was like to be cared for, and through that, I understood better how we can allow ourselves, if we choose to, to receive divine care.
45. Play the game of minutes — Bill Webber, Riverside, CA
Frank Lauback, the great literacy advocate, suggested the "Game with Minutes.” found it to be one of the most effective spiritual exercises I've practiced. Begin by pausing each time you look at your watch to become aware of God's presence. Once this practice has become established, move to looking at your watch each hour on the hour. When an hourly habit of turning to God is established, begin to look at your watch each half-hour — then fifteen minutes. Soon you will be able to move to ten minutes, then five, each time practicing the presence of God. In time the watch will no longer be necessary as you are aware of the presence of God continually.
46. Sit — Emma Mackenzie, Sheffield, MA
Spend an entire day sitting in one place being completely attentive to the world immediately around you. Follow the path of one cloud as it moves across your field of vision. Close your eyes and pick a sound — a bird call, the song of an insect, a lawn mower, a truck moving along the highway — and follow it from beginning to end. Watch the movement of life in and out of the space you have chosen, whether it be a flock of birds feeding in the newly mown hayfield or a group of teenagers walking, talking, and giggling down the street.
47. Spare 10 seconds for appreciation — JSunny
Being a breast-cancer survivor, my priorities did a somersault. The "curse" of having a life-threatening disease has now become a blessing. Having answered this challenge, every day is a treasure. Helping other breast-cancer survivors, volunteering to speak at various functions, and just being kind to other human beings have made my life contented and peaceful within. Taking t'ai chi taught me how to really relax into gratitude in about 10 seconds. I take a huge, deep breath and slowly, slowly let it go. Let my thoughts concentrate on my breath and listening to my heartbeat. I treat myself by taking a few more breaths and appreciating what I have in life.
48. Step Back in Time — Ronnie Shushan, Woodstock, NY
At 17, standing on the site of the Parthenon, I began to understand something about the passage of time, about cultures flowering and dying out, and how we build on what's come before. Fifteen years later, climbing the steps at the Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque, I was awestruck by this Mayan village reclaimed from the jungle in which it had been buried for more than a thousand years. At the dawn of this new millennium, it seems appropriate to step back in time in this way, to glimpse what remains of a distant culture and reflect on the impermanence of our own moment in history and on what we leave behind.
49. Fly to freedom — Susan Reiland, Milwaukee, Wl
Riding, gliding, flying my bike down a steep hill… gripping the handlebars, up off the seat, standing on pedals, leaning back… cool, breezy, whistling pressure against my face, my body… the descending rush filling me up… suspending me… I am freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!
50. Meditate on this — Christine Caldwell Bair, Harrisburg, PA
While meditating on the Scripture, "Be still and know that I am God," I experienced a powerful expansion of spiritual awareness and understanding with the reduction of the verse: Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am Be still and know Be still Be.
Many thanks to all of our readers who wrote and emailed us their ideas.