There is something quite spiritual about proper hitchhiking. I am not talking about the practice whereby you seek help from strangers to travel the distance from your current position- Point A- to a desired position- Point B- because your lift did not show or your car broke down.
No, I am talking about the type of journey, at the start of which, the traveller chooses and is committed to treat the journey as a source of discovery, inspiration and orientation in life.
And in doing so, he or she travels an inner path to discover the essence of his or her being, his or her connectedness with a larger reality: the human community, nature, the cosmos or the divine realm.
Thus, to go from the current position to the desired one is not a journey inspired by need or necessity, instead it is a choice – motivated by the deepest values and meaning by which the traveler lives.
The true hitchhiker seeks little material comfort for the journey. Hence, there is no need for excess baggage. A few changes in clothing, a small bouquet of sanitation and a means to record the journey –in word, or paint or pictures- are all that is required. Any more, and the door to distraction is wide open.
Relying on strangers to cover the physical distance from the current to the desired allows the traveller to connect with the larger human community whilst giving up control. Just how much each temporary companion will contribute to the spiritual path of the hitchhiker cannot and should not be anticipated.
This will only be revealed later, often much later, perhaps in an unguarded moment of emotional discomfort or spiritual clarity.
For to hitchhike requires patience – the understanding that life moves at it own speed and that no amount of human frustration or agitation will alter its pace.
In current times where speed is celebrated and slowness is condemned, modern man requires extra-ordinary amounts of stimulation to occur at predictable times to keep him or her happy. If a movie starts or a train arrives late, frustration is likely and complaining is deemed appropriate.
If the Internet is down or the blender is broken, agitation is likely and chaos deemed inevitable. For all we have planned has been disrupted and as a result the day would be wasted in its entirety.
In this belief it is thus no accident a broken car or no-show lift is seen as being ‘stranded’. Stuck and unable to move or continue.
But not so for the hitchhiker. For he or she understands that these interruptions are opportunities to continue their spiritual journeys.
Time to be used for meditation, prayer and contemplation.
He or she knows that the essence of the journey is not between the current position and the desired position, but rather within the self and that these quiet moments are indeed moments of inspiration and discovery that should be fiercely guarded against contamination by agitation and frustration.
For the key to happiness is to be found in our ability to synchronize ourselves with life, the here and the now, rather than the futile opposite.
It is in these moments that the true hitchhiker will reach for a camera, a pen or acrylics to record the ‘decisive moment’ in which a little of the true meaning of life will reveal itself. Just look and you will see.
It might be the pain in the eyes of the old man asking for a coin, or the young boy that leads his blind sister across a busy road, the old lady that sells her freshly made pan cakes from a dilapidated cart, or the young pick-pocket applying his nifty, naughty craft.
For these cannot be observed from the comforts of a car or train in motion. Nor can it been seen with eyes filled with anger and frustration.
Many years ago in rural Transkei a friend and I were stuck in a small settlement wanting to return to our camp. We’d walked many miles along the beach that day to see a wonderful, unique rock formation. We under-estimated the distance and arrived late that afternoon, much too late to walk back.
So, we started canvassing the little nearby hamlet for someone with a car and the willingness to transport us to any appropriate point closer to our temporary home. We had no cash in hand, so we could not offer payment for the transport.
Someone pointed us to a friend with a big warm smile. Said he had a car – that we should go and talk to him. The man with the big warm smile made a deal. He would take us home, if we could pay for his fuel.
Relieved, we agreed and took comfort in his old Datsun SSS. He took time to say goodbye to almost each and every member of the hamlet, much like I imagined he would do when returning to his job at one of the mines near Johannesburg at the end of his annual holiday.
Just a little while into our journey, he asked if we would like to listen to some music. Off course we would, and in anticipation we started praising some of the local talent that were popular at the time in the area.
He just smiled and turned on the old cassette player.
“Ohhh, the crystal chandeliers light up the paintings on your wall/ the marble statuettes are standing stately in your hall”.
It was the sweet, syrupy country sounds of the late Jim Reeves. Straight from my Dad’s own record collection. Memories raced through my head. The old record player, the torn record covers, Saturday evenings around a cozy fire under the old tree in our backyard, dad doing one of his awkward standup shows singing along with the old records.
There was no longer any difference between the migrant worker and the postal worker, or the back seat of the Datsun SSS or the couch back home. It did not matter where I was or with whom I was. What matters most is our connectedness – with the self, nature, the human community and the cosmos.
Most importantly, you cannot travel the path unless you become the path itself.
And for that, you need no more than a backpack, a keen eye and an open mind.
Many years later I met a fellow traveler on an island in the Andaman Sea. For a short while we met at a sidewalk restaurant every night to have dinner together.
Seafood mostly. Contemplating life. Sharing stories and pictures. Until it was time to move on. Her next boat was going one way, mine another. Turns out she could have been a Jim Reeves fan too, as I could swear I heard her sing Crystal Chandeliers as she made her way down the steps to the pier.
This was our last supper. A simple prawn curry with tamarind eaten under a thatched roof by the beach.