In Paulo Coelho’s allegorical novel, The Alchemist, an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. The absorbing story follows the journey of a boy in search of a hidden fortune, only to discover the richness inside himself. The story is simple and inspires wisdom.
There are many paths to spiritual awakening. For Santiago, traveling outside of his comfort zone into the mysterious frontier lying ahead is a testament to the importance of listening to our hearts and taking action moving forward.
For me, like Santiago, travel introduces new realities and provides a broader worldview for enriching my soul and enhancing my own landscape for further inner growth and development.
So when I was invited to join a group of 15 on an adventure to Southern Spain and Portugal, I accepted. I knew I would be entering unknown territory. New challenges lay ahead and I would escape my own comfort zone and take a huge leap of faith with hopes of realizing a spiritual awakening in this region so rich in history and mystery. I viewed the opportunity as my own pilgrimage of self-discovery and renewal.
I traveled alone to Lisbon, Portugal and then flew to Seville, Spain, to meet the group. We traveled by cars to a rural area of Andalusia, the same region where Santigo begins his journey, to spend our first week in a 19th century farmhouse, traveling each day to areas in and around the region before moving on to Portugal.
Aside from the few people I knew from Asheville, the rest of the group were unfamiliar to me. Believing that people equal possibilities, I traveled with the intention of making new friends and creating new social ties.
The first night at the farmhouse, everybody agreed to the agenda for the week ahead. Each day, anybody could go anywhere, with anyone, for as long as they wanted. Dinner for the entire group was served sometime in the evening, with everyone pitching in to cook and clean. There were no expectations, and a nice flow soon permeated the farmhouse.
This area, where Santigo lived and worked as a shepherd, is a melting pot of ethnicities. Given that the origin of humanity was almost certainly in Africa, several theories suggest that the first real humans in Europe were in Andalusia, having passed across the Strait of Gibraltar.
As we traveled this magical region filled with narrow medieval streets and whitewashed homes nestled into the hillsides, I found the common image of Andalucía to be one of bright colors, romance, and passion. The figure of the matador in the bullring, cape and sword in hand, and the gypsy art of flamenco, all combined into a symbolic life in this mystical part of Southern Spain.
At the end of each day, the group came together for our evening meal, always consisting of a medley of tapas, fresh fish, olive oil and saffron, Manchego cheese, olives and some of the sweetest wines I’ve ever tasted. We shared our stories of explorations and discoveries and I was beginning to understand how we were all somehow connected.
As the days went on, I discovered how each of us, in our own way, was searching for his or her own hidden treasure. By sharing our experiences we were richer somehow than when we first arrived. Everything around us became brighter, and each day was better than the day before.
While exploring the many ethnic influences of the region, I gained a broader understanding of how the terrain of earth and soul are perfect reflections of each other and how the connection to the spiritual essences within all of us ushers in deeper levels of acceptance, feelings of peace and releasing of fears.
On this journey, I fell in love with the people, the language, the food and the essence of all those who had traveled here from the beginning of time. I realized how destiny was waiting for me in this land I would never have discovered on my own.
Somehow fate was on my side as I had traveled across lands and water, determined to tackle my fears of the unknown in the pursuit of my own personal legacy.
By taking this forward leap, I met people who would forever be a part of my life and explored a part of the world no longer just held in my imagination. For life to be fully experienced, you must make peace with your fears and step out of your comfort zone.
The connection soon became more apparent between my inner-self and the Earth I walk upon. Like Santigo, I came away with the knowledge that when you leave behind the familiar, you can’t help but be changed by the unknown.