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Traveling Light

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For a number of years I have collected lists about traveling light. Most arose from journeys people have taken: place to place, day to day, birth to death. Each list simply describes what was carried, often in a rucksack, sometimes deeper within the traveler. I began collecting these lists, I suppose, because I found myself drawn to their spare poetry — a poetry of emptiness.

I have given each list below a brief introduction. The lists themselves retain as much as possible the language, word order, and spelling of their sources.

This article appeared in our April 2003 issue. Twelve hundred years ago in China, a middle-aged man named P'ang Yun loaded everything he owned onto a boat and sank it all in the Tung-t'ing Lake. After that, we are told, "he lived like a single leaf " See him there in the early morning, treading water in the middle of the lake, watching the last bubbles rise from the depths. The air crisp and quiet. The lake misty and as still as sky. Then he turns, stroking toward the shore.  What would it mean to live like a single leaf? What would it mean to make one's life a journey of simplicity — a journey unencumbered, without distraction? A journey of focus and intention? A journey of lightness and light? Quakers say a divine flame shines within each being. To see that Deep Light — in ourselves, in others — must we first sink the boat? …

Adapted from Journeys of Simplicity: Traveling Light with Thomas Merton, Basho, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard & Others by Philip Harnden. Published March 2003 by SkyLight Paths Publishing. Permission granted by SkyLight Paths Publishing, PO. Box 237, Woodstock, VT 05091


Philip Harnden, a Quaker, has published books on subjects as diverse as land rights of Native Americans and the spiritual life of Fritz Eichenberg.


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