Do You Have to 'Eat, Pray, Love' to Take a Spiritual Journey?

The book "Eat, Pray, Love" is all the rage, again. After its run on bestseller lists a few years back, it is set to be a major movie success, starring Julia Roberts.

It makes one wonder why, and whether or not it tells a story which makes us feel that we need exotic travel to stimulate our spiritual journeys. But do we?

One can take a spiritual journey without ever leaving home. And the notion that anyone "leaves everything behind" is actually laughable. Wherever we go, we bring ourselves; we bring all of the past experiences that make us, us. So, to borrow a Hebrew adage, while changing our location may change our destiny, the journey to transform ourselves begins with a journey inward, not outward. That's an insight as old as the Genesis story of Abraham.

Abraham is instructed to set forth on a journey which demands that he leave his country, his homeland, and his father's house. Clearly the ability to journey physically is not entirely disconnected from the ability to journey spiritually. But to make it a necessity, is to make spiritual journey a subset of travel and leisure for the wealthy or those willing to live a beggar's life. That is why Abraham's spiritual journey, like all of ours, begins not with a journey outward, but with a journey inward.

"Go to yourself" is how Abraham's journey, begins. That is the command which Abraham will spend the rest of his life trying to fulfill, as will all of us who are on a spiritual journey. Unlike the journey out of the Garden of Eden undertaken by Adam and Eve -- a journey compelled by their landlord, the Lord, the successful spiritual journey is not a forced exit from anywhere.

The successful spiritual journey is a natural outgrowth of asking ourselves where we need to be, where we are most likely to fulfill whatever it is we understand to be our life's purpose. It's not so much about what we must drop as what we are willing to take on. It can happen sitting at home, in the desserts of the Middle East, or on the road to Italy, India and Indonesia, as it does in "Eat, Pray, Love."

Success on our spiritual journeys, where ever they may take us, is measured not only by the personal fulfillment which they bring us. The successful spiritual journey will bring goodness not only to us, but to those around us. In fact, one could argue that the best gage of the success of our journeys is how they serve those who are NOT with us on the journey. That awareness of others is what separates a genuine spiritual journey from one more new age fantasy of personal fulfillment disconnected from anyone or anything else.

A great spiritual journey may be facilitated by a physical one, but physical travel is surely not a pre-requisite of spiritual growth. For that, one simply needs a mirror and a window. The mirror is for looking in every day and asking ourselves, "How am I doing?" The window is for looking out at those around us, those who may not be taking the journey with us, and asking them the same questions. When the response from all queried is generally positive, we are not only doing the spiritual journey, we are doing it well.

Brad Hirschfield is the author of "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism," and the President of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

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