The desire behind the journey

The journey is a much used metaphor for the trajectory of life – as well as for the different phases, aspects or particular experiences of life.  It is a metaphor with mythic potential: the journey of the sun and of the moon in the sky, of migrations both human and animal, Homer’s Odyssey, the Saga of Eric the Viking, the Crusades, Eros and Psyche, the shamanic journey, etc.  Journeys appear over and over again in fairy tales: East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the Snow Queen, Jack and the Beanstalk and The Musicians of Bremen, to name a few.  But the journey metaphor also has a deeply personal potential: the journey of one’s life as a whole, a journey of the heart, a journey of adolescent discovery, an educational journey like through university or a professional training, the journey of parenthood, an actual journey to a particular place or places and the way this impacts your life, a spiritual journey, and so on.

Journeys imply time, place and change.  You are not the same at the end of a journey as you were at the start.  I suggest that behind every journey in life or in story, lies desire.  There is something that one wants, hopes for, desires that motivates the action and direction of a journey – the more important the journey is, the deeper the underlying desire.  The deep desire motivating the journey may not always be known or understood by the journeyer.  It may lie beneath many layers of desire that feed the journey.

I am going to share here a particular journey I took in my early 20s – my emigration to Britain, where I have remained ever since. Initially I just wanted to separate from my life as it was in the US.  I wanted to separate from my family, from my former lover and from what I saw as the excessive consumerism and superficiality of Californian life – to have a new beginning.  I had spent a summer travelling around the UK, mostly hitch-hiking, just before my last year at university, and it had given me a sense of freedom, excitement and adventure that charmed me.  I had a sexual encounter that summer, that awoke a deeper physical passion in me than I had so far known, and I felt I wanted more of this. This desire for freedom was, I believed, what mainly drove my decision to undertake my journey.  Of course, as we know, life is not so simple.  I met many challenges, difficulties, and emotional heartaches within a short space of time after my arrival.  I was not free after all, as I had to earn a living, work out relationships, and make important decisions about creating new circumstances in my life.  It was hard.  But I still wanted to stay in Britain.  Why?  I didn’t really know at the time, but at every point where I could have returned to the US, I felt compelled to remain where I was.

After many years, what I have uncovered is my desire to be close to my mother – and to “mother” in terms of the earth that I feel I come from.  This makes my journey seem counter-intuitive, as my mother was American and I left her to undertake it.  But, a bit of family history might help reveal an understanding.  My father was English, and my mother was American.  She fell in love with him in the late 1930s, when she met him in Washington DC where he was a visiting scientist at the Carnegie Institution.  Against the wishes of her father, she married him and headed for England, just as the clouds of war were gathering.  He was returning to undertake the development of radar, which became a hugely important defensive tool during the war.  My mother moved with him from Cambridge, to Swanage and then to Malvern, following the radar research as it moved to avoid enemy detection.  I now understand the psychological romance of wartime existence that affected so many of her generation in Britain, but as a child what I felt was her deep connection with that place and time.  She was in love, during an intense time, in a new place, bonding with others in the same boat.  It remained a part of her own journey that had a kind of mythic aura about it.  When she talked about it, I could feel her sense of connection.  And that kind of connection was something I felt deeply lacking in myself.  So, without consciously realising it, I tried (mistakenly) to reproduce that experience of connection she had found.  What I really wanted was to connect with her – and to find, through that, connection to place, to body, to life.

I did eventually begin to find my own means of connection – but that was another journey, not the journey of migration I made in my 20s.  It took 40 years for me to really deeply connect with this place on earth and with my own body.  Through this connection there is a growing sense of a deeper and ever present connection, which I now experience as having been there and available all along – waiting to be recognised.