Who evolves spiritually? Is it up to old, wise men in caves, preachers in mega churches, or the best-selling new age authors? All of the world's religions are converging on our shores for the first time: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and more. Maybe, just maybe, it's the young people who are waking up? In this culture, people's spiritual lives tend to be either very public or very private and rarely do they share the inner, guiding parts of life. So, here are stories of seeking, confusion and discovery as experienced by us. You know, the ones plugged into smartphones and meeting friends for drinks. Listen as we open our hearts. See for yourself. Are we lost to the well entertained and superficial, or is there a secret life of deeper longing and curiosity that may just help save us all?
If you are a young adult (18-35 years old) interested in sharing your spiritual story of discovery, send a 300-word summary on your journey to firstname.lastname@example.org
Walking through the Columbus rail yard, we were spotted: three college kids with dirty faces and backpacks. A white jeep with police markings sped towards us on the dirt surrounding the tracks.
"Let's go!" Richard yelled.
We ran into the woods, sprinting until we reached a clearing of tall, dead grass. I felt stuck and frustrated. Richard, Liesel and I had toed the edges of the rail yard since morning waiting for an outbound freight train, but had seen none. Only a few hours of sunlight remained.
We talked it over and decided to give our journey one last effort. We crept back through the woods to the far side of the yard and, seeing no one, walked among the trains and switches. Each car was decorated with graffiti and chalk markings, tangible echoes of those who had ridden the rails many times before.
A voice called out to us; it was an older man leaning out of a train engine window. We thought to bolt, but he insisted he was friendly and advised us to venture a mile down the tracks to a bend that led out of the yard. Trains slow down at the bend, he said, possibly enough for us to catch on. We heeded his words and walked that long stretch of quiet and empty tracks, leaving the rail yard behind.
As we neared the bend, we heard it: the unmistakable sound of a train approaching behind us. We hid as the engine rolled slowly past. This was our chance! Seeing no open boxcars, Richard jogged alongside a random hopper car and grabbed hold of its rear ladder. I went next, and Liesel last, barely all arriving on the same ledge: a metal platform about seven feet wide and four feet deep, with a low roof made of the freight container's lip. The space was tiny, but with the trees flying by beside us we looked around in triumph.
As the heart of the city grew visible in the dusk ahead of us, I gave myself to my senses. The train was deafeningly loud - all metal clanging on itself, the screeching wheels creating a drone for a hundred pounding rhythms. The cold wind pelted our bodies, and the city itself became an intimate zoetrope of alleys and old houses and skyscrapers, presented in all their dirt and luster.
These sensations quickly reached transcendence. I felt exposed and unprotected, as Rilke and Rumi and Eckhart wrote of being, and my blunt exposure to this vibrant landscape was transformative, my body re-imagined through the world's touch.
I was afraid, too, for I quickly became aware just how much discretion I had offered the train. We were moving too fast now to jump off, and I had no knowledge of my vehicle's course. My movement through these sights and sounds, then, became forceful. The train would take me with it, wrenching me from my life as it was and offering me, in return, an expansive freedom and the imperative to witness my environment in this intensified and profound way.
We sat down and looked around in wonder. That night we fell asleep in our cold, hard den.
I awoke to a nudge from Richard. The train had stopped.
"Ben! ... The jig's up."
I turned over to see two frowning police officers looking down onto our steel lair. It was morning.
The officers escorted us off of the train and patted us down. We were muddy and greasy. They questioned us: this was our first time, we were college students, we were trying to get to Chicago.
"Well that's not exactly how you do it," they responded, referring to our easily detectable perch.
We rode in the cop car. Where were we? We knew we'd ridden on the train for 12 hours, give or take. The town looked small and quaint; everything was made of brick.
They put us in holding cells - each of us in a different cell. I noticed the toilet in the corner, the hard bed, and how the white walls and nondescript furniture made it feel like a hospital. I heard Liesel through the wall, singing Pete Seeger. I imagined Richard sitting quietly on his bed, contemplating a jailbreak. I started to fear that I'd made a terrible mistake. I waited.
An hour later, the door opened.
"OK, you can go. The rail commission wanted to have a word with you, but they changed their mind."
They led us through a maze of hallways, to a door that opened up onto a side yard.
"How you guys gonna get around now?" the officer asked us.
"Well," Richard smiled, "I guess we're on foot for the time being."
The officer laughed back. "Heck, the tracks go right through there if you wanna get back on," he motioned at the trees behind us. "We don't care."
"Oh, swell!" Richard replied, although I think we all knew that our journey was over. "Hey is there a diner around here? I'm starving!"
We walked to a local breakfast joint. There was a pamphlet in the doorway: Welcome to Bellevue, Ohio. Home of the Caviest Cave in the USA!
After some eggs, we called our friends at the college. They looked up Bellevue, Ohio. In 12 hours on the train, we had traveled roughly 90 miles.
Our time on the train was short, but it has stuck with me in my life. It codified a new way for me to find spiritual communion and sanctuary - not through stories or miracles, but through empiricism and sense. I felt intimate with the world, and that closeness was strengthening. My primary function on the train was to witness, and to do so with my body more than with my mind.
For all of my restriction on the train, the overwhelming feeling from that communion was of a contagious freedom. I feel that I met, for a moment, that bold spirit that comes when you relinquish control over your fate and offer yourself unconditionally to the worn paths of America. It is still there, in the back of my head -- though it gets less acute with time -- reminding me that the rest of the world is only a hop away.
Click through this slideshow for other spiritual stories of discovery