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Packing Lightly


Give up the world; give up self; finally, give up God.
Find god in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your absolutes.
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more.
Repeat. Repeat.
Keep this and only this:
   what your heart beats loudly for
   what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.

-Sheri Hostetler, A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry

In the days before I left on my pilgrimage I carefully considered what to pack.  My husband and I are good about packing lightly and always travel only with carry-on bags (and that includes one backup just for the camera equipment!).  But as we considered what we would really need for our month away I was aware that this process was a metaphor for the whole of my life.  We live fairly simply in our small condo in the heart of the city, we share one car, but we do have endless rows of books and music on our shelves and a small collection of Northwest native art we love. When we returned home I did some purging, went through the closets and cupboards and discovered all manner of things gone unused for so long.  Even in our small space we live a consumptive lifestyle and end up with lots of “stuff.” 

While on our journey we each had a small rolling bag for clothes and a small backpack.  Even so, after dragging those things from place to place it occurred to me that wearing some sort of pilgrim dress day after day would be much easier. The two most important things I carried with me (apart from my passport and tickets) were my journal (seen above with me holding it on the train) and my camera.  These were the places I could inscribe our journey in words and images and I have gone back to those pages and pictures many times since our return.

We don’t tend to buy many souvenirs while traveling, just a couple of inexpensive but thoughtful remembrances. The etymology of souvenir comes originally from the Middle French, literally, the act of remembering; it is an object that reminds one of a certain place, occasion, or person; a tangible and visible entity; a reminder of past events; an entity that can cast a shadow (that last dictionary definition was my favorite of the lot).

My travel pin collection began unintentionally.  I had placed my “Oblate of St. Benedict” pin on my backpack before leaving as a reminder of the spiritual nature of my journey.  Then serendipitously I realized when we landed in Vienna that it was the Feast of St. Benedict, a connection I had not made prior to our journey.  My Benedictine roots were very important to me on this trip and so in each city we stayed in I added to the remembrances: (from left to right, not in order of our itinerary) Salzburg, Hallstatt, Vienna, Hallstatt (again — more on this symbol in another post), Oblate pin, Latvian flag, Riga, Munich, Schwandorf, and Brussels.  Now these souvenirs go with me through my days in ordinary time as a reminder of extraordinary journeys and a vast landscape– both internal and external — still to explore.

In Salzburg I found these replica antique keys in a small key shop across from our hotel.  I love keys and doors and often have dreams of discovering hidden rooms, so this has gone on my key ring as a reminder of the doors I am opening within myself.

Do you pack lightly? (both for traveling and life?) What are the things you could leave behind to lighten your load?  What are the remembrances you want to carry with you? What are the symbols in your life right now that would help you to remember the expansive journey you are on, the many doors you have yet to open?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

**Make sure to visit this week’s Poetry Party and read the marvelous poems! **

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7 Responses

  1. What thoughtful responses. . .

    Laure, the Russian doll image opening from smallest to largest is sublime too.

    kigen, yes wise words about being fully present to the moment no matter where our walking takes us too.

    so glad to hear it A and good to see you here.

    Sue, that is such a marvelous dream, I hope you do lots of juicy expressive arts work with it because it sounds like one to absolutely relish.

    lucy, thanks for your thoughtful and heartfelt words. Those judgments are persistent little creatures aren’t they? Always wanting to come along for the ride. :-) I loved catching up today in person at the edge of the sea.

    Thanks Bette, that Girl Scout motto could really get you in trouble I imagine! :-)

  2. Love your travel pins. I have a collection, too. I really like the idea of putting a cool key on my keyring to symbolize opening new doors or locking bad doors. If I plan ahead I can achieve light packing. I have to leave behind my Girl Scout theories of ‘always being prepared’. otherwise I pack too much. Nice to see you with your little black journal :)

  3. well, i had to pause and journal for four pages or more and i didn’t even get past the first two questions. do i pack lightly? i would like to think so but the answer is no, i don’t. when i travel i am quite good at packing lightly and can make it on any trip with a roll-on and backpack. however…i think i shall reinstitute a little jewel called the “23 fling boogy” whereby i dance through the house and get rid of 23 things :-) it’s a start anyway.

    what are the things i could leave behind to lighten my load? leaving behind judgments & resentments would lighten my load immensely. it seems that i have to unpack them again and again, because they keep hopping into my carry on. aaaaarrrgggghhhhh!!!

    wonderful post. i love the photos and the many images you have created with your words here. it was great to see your whole face today :-)


  4. That key is beeyootiful! (Keys and doors do it for me, too. I dreamt the other night that I went back to the last house my ex and I shared, where I was very unhappy. The whole interior had been refitted, was much larger than it used to be, and on the door to the music room (yeah!) there was this heavy mahogany French door – absolutely beautiful. It was a very encouraging and affirming dream :)

    Great post, Christine. Thank you :)

  5. I agree with the poem. To let go of past and future and to stay present, might be the best way “to travel light.” If you are a world traveller, your travels are all the more joyous if you are fully present, and if you are a homebody, a short walk in the neighborhood, or simply tending to your own garden, can be replete with exotic discovery. Not taking too much actual baggage with you, if you travel abroad, would be a good reminder to keep to the here and now.

  6. lately christine i have become dumb, for the most part, and unable to rub even two of the smallest of my own words together. but i am slurping up all the delicious ones of others … such as the fine poems you’ve been gifted with for this week’s poetry party. interestingly enough, i live lighter than i pack. and oh there is much that i could leave behind me. in the moment as i think on the symbols of doors i’ve yet to open, i think of those russian nesting dolls (or boxes). but unlike the ones in real life, i’d prefer to have the nesting work the other way round … from smallest opening up without end to large. hoestetler’s poem is sublime.