Adventure, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

To Wander Is the Purpose

Photo by Matso

I’m in a house. One place for six months, but I’m not settled down. My house feels strange, alien, sometimes uncomfortable. Why have I signed a contract that says I must be in one place? Why have I stopped for six months, when the windy road in the morning is all that calls to me?

Renunciation. I never loved that word, not as such, but I gave up my home, my belongings, and my job. I even gave up my temple. A higher path called to me, and these things are no ladder to reach it. As any backpacker knows, the first thing you do is chuck stuff. You packed too much, the bag’s too heavy. A journey of the spirit begins the same way.

But I saw this chucking as pragmatic. It’s not that I didn’t want a house; I just couldn’t afford to keep one and travel. The road says otherwise. It turns out, New Orleans teaches me, I don’t want a house at all.

Religion, too, I’ve renounced. Not denied—I will always abide my vows. But the path of the repeat customer, the path of the teacher-and-student, the path of community celebration, these are not going to take me up the river. I adore them; they are fine tools. I do not, will not mock religion. But when I see the man who still uses these tools, I see a man with a different face, on a different road with unsimilar hopes.

Some days I don’t seek the divine at all, but I won’t pretend I found it.

In the morning my creed catches in my throat. I make sacrifice, I sit before my god—what do I say? What is the oath, the mission I will swear today?

I am on a mission, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know the purpose of my journey, or why I move on. So I’m a wanderer. A dirty, aimless wanderer.

On Esplanade there are kids in brown pants and dirty coats. They’re travelers. Not one of them states a purpose. They tell jokes and ask for money. People spit on them.

So spit on me.

I wear a nice shirt, I wear a designer wool jacket. These kids ask me for money. I’m not their colleague. But I am the outsider just like them. My feet need sand, just like them.

Is it wrong to wander without purpose? Of course: it means you do nothing for Society, and that makes society frown. If you’re not trying to get somewhere, you might not work too hard to get there. A wanderer is next to a freeloader. That’s a sin.

No one loves a sinner except rock songs and reverends. So when I declared my journey I declared a purpose. Purpose is poetry, purpose is soul. I said: meet the gods. 

I hope to. But this is not something you plan. There are no steps to take toward it. When you get up in the morning and make a little list, what do you write: meet the gods? Go the gods’ house? Set up a god call?

There is no bridge to where I’m going. I can’t have faith in any path. So my faith is in the journey.

The most selfish journey leads to enlightenment.

To wander is to see the invisible. It is to place yourself instantly out of the social order, out of normal life. The tourist, at least, fills a recognizable role; but the perpetual traveler departs the prescription of security and stability that society preaches.

From this vantage, the pain and the joy of human life come into tremendous focus. We value kindness more, and become kinder ourselves; we lose more, and learn to live with loss. If I had to design a seminary, I would say it’s this: travel. If I had to design an art school, I would say it’s this: travel.

How do you find the gods? You find yourself.

How do you find yourself? Run.


16 thoughts on “To Wander Is the Purpose

  1. I too am a wanderer. I know how the world perceives them. And yet I personally understand the value of being one. It’s a choice one makes to live outside of the prescribed norms. It’s not comfortable but it stretches you. I’d rather be stretched than not. 

      • Drew, I only put a name to it today, while reading this post. One only has to look at my resume or listen to me describe all I’ve done over the past 25 years since college to come to this conclusion. I just never had a name to put to it. What I appreciate about your post is that I realized I’m not the only one. And that there is value to living such a life. I have often thought I *should* settle somewhere, put down roots, and decide what it is I’m going to DO in this life. Today I realized that this IS what I’m doing. Wandering. And that’s ok. I will love to talk to you about it more when I visit you in NOLA. Again I thank you for this post! It was especially meaningful to me today!

        • It’s a tough life, sometimes — uncertainty on the one side, and people scoffing at you on the other side. But it sure does have its beauty, doesn’t it.

          And you’re welcome. Thanks for being here, Sarah.

  2. JeninCanada says:

    This would be why wanderers, people truly without a home and roots put down, are so rare. Humans are social creatures and we thrive when we have a structure of that sort around us. Wanderers exist outside the social contracts and you’re right, they are very much like freeloaders, except wanderers can give us rooted types something noone else can; stories of their experiences in other places with other people. Those are, and have always been, worth much more than materials to trade.

    • Very good point Jen. I do hope, continuously, that what I do (not just my writing, but what I do in my personal and social life) is somehow of value to the people around me. I was sometimes surprised, while bicycling, just how much even a small act can mean to someone.

  3. Josh says:

    Your post reminded me of a certain poem. I was inspired to undertake this impromptu translation:

    In my younger years, I was strong and fierce;
    Hand on my sword, I went wandering alone.
    And who says that I wandered only nearby?
    I roamed from Zhangye [in the far NW] to Youzhou [in the NE].
    When hungry I ate flowers, [like Boyi and Shuqi secluded at Mt. Shouyang];
    When thirsty I drank the flowing water of the Yi river, [like the assassin Jing Ke].
    I met nobody who understood me;
    Only burial mounds from ancient times.
    On the sides of the road, I saw the two tall tombs,
    Of Bo Ya and Zhuang Zhou.
    Men such as these will not be easily found again;
    Wandering like this, what is it that I seek?

    Tao Yuanming, “9 Poems Imitating the Ancient Style, #8”


  4. Pingback: What Is Vodou Initiation Like? «   Rogue Priest

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