Shannon Quinn: The Spiritual Journey Manifests Itself in the Physical Journey: A Story About Floating the Missouri River

“There are two kinds of suffering; the kind that causes more suffering and the kind that puts an end to suffering.” -Buddha

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I am a believer in the interconnectedness of the spiritual journey and the physical journey.  The movement from place to place allows for our minds to open up, and for our hearts and bodies to grow.  I often think of a spiritual journey as a mountain.  There’s beginnings, bases.  The upward climb.  The summit.  This is followed by a decent.  Once we work through a struggle, or time of intense change and decision making, we eventually become enlightened with an epiphany, a strong feeling, a realization, it becomes a downhill ride until we reach our next peak that we must conquer.  When I climb mountains in real life, I connect the physical ascent I’m making to my mentality.  I face the duality of the climb, the difficulty and the ease; the changes in the landscape.  The challenge of reaching the summit is what pushes me onward.  The summit is the reward; the realization.  The opportunity to grow and become stronger.  In nature, the reward is a view, a time to relax and rejuvenate oneself before heading back down again.  In a spiritual journey, the reward is the realization of one’s strength and the ultimate mental growth gained from our mental struggles.  The satisfaction of understanding.

As we walk through this life, often times we limit ourselves to the spiritual journey that makes us feel comfortable.  Just like climbing a mountain, it can be hard and painful.  It can make us want to stop in our paths and turn back.  Some of us do turn back, and avoid the mountain all together.  Missing the summit.  Spiritual growth however requires us to weather the difficult and the painful.  That can be when we learn to see the most.

For myself, hiking up mountains is very often difficult, but I love doing it.  During my trip to Montana, I was faced with a feat of wilderness travel I was unfamiliar with.  Learning to kayak was daunting at first.  I was afraid to be on the water, and was afraid of what I did not understand.  Our group had just finished an 8 day backpack through the Scapegoat Wilderness, and I was feeling up for the next challenge.  When actually faced with getting in the kayak for the first time, I felt intimidated.  I wouldn’t have pushed myself to do it if it wasn’t required of me.  It felt uncomfortably daunting to be swept away by the mighty Missouri River, and there were times when I found myself frustrated trying to navigate the boat in one direction when the wind wanted to take me in another.  The banks of the Missouri are made up of sludge that will steal a person’s boots like quicksand if one doesn’t persist against it.  There were times on the trip down the river that I felt like I was fighting against the river.  A few times I thought to myself “I’d enjoy this so much more if I were truly good at it.”  I thought this internal frustration was tainting my experience, but did my best to remain positive and calm throughout.  “Only 7 more days… only 6…”.

Then there was the utter beauty of the experience that I hadn’t expected to find in my wildest dreams.  The vastness of the desert landscapes, the ancient sandstone cliffs, the diversity of the flora and fauna.  We took a detour into the Neat Couley, and climbed some of the sandstone structures.  The way the sun collided with the water some mornings made it appear to be nothing short of pure gold.  I learned to ride the river instead of trying to fight against it.  Acceptance.  I saw my first wild bald eagle, and many more after that.  Despite having to paddle against the wind at times, we had the wind at our backs others.  One night a harvest moon rose above the prairie, and I recall crouching down to view the orange glow through the sagebrush.  I fell in love with that landscape right then and there.

Through all the difficulties of conquering the wild river and overcoming my fear of entering the water by kayak, the beauty of this journey down the Missouri was all worth it when we reached the end.  The summit.  I recognized that along the way, my fear of tainting my positive experience with thoughts of the opposite were part of my ultimate growth.  The difficult, the painful, the uncomfortable experiences in life are the ones that force us to broaden our horizons.  If we only limit ourselves to the spiritual growth that makes us feel comfortable, are we really growing?  Is anything changing?

We come to realizations all the time.  We resolves conflicts on a daily basis.  It is often when the river becomes wild, or the mountain seems impossible, that if we persist, we find the greatest strength within ourselves.  When one allows their body and minds to openly merge, for the mental journey to manifest itself in the physical form, I believe that we can find fantastic amounts of strength within ourselves.  Connecting the physical movement up a mountain or down a river is pleading to be metaphorical.  To manifest your spiritual journey in the movement of your feet creates a rhythm that grows to be new and more wonderful with every step.  Constant rebirth.

I implore you all, readers, to climb a mountain, float a river, or even go for a walk somewhere beautiful without any real destination at all.  Set an intention, ponder it with each step.  Dig deeply, open your hearts and minds. Challenge yourselves.  Sometimes the journeys we are most afraid to embark on are the most crucial.

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