Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Woman's Path: Women's Best Spiritual Travel Writing

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

# Paperback: 288 pages
# Publisher: Travelers' Tales Guides; 2nd edition, 2003
# Price: $16.95
# ISBN: 1932361006

Appropriately, A Woman's Path, a collection of women's spiritual travel writing, was a Mother's Day gift from my daughter. I am a writer, too, frequently writing about my journeys across physical geography but equally spiritual terrain. Nothing explores us as much as our exploring of the world around us. Travel means a stretching of our personal comfort zones, as we leave our homes and our routines far behind.

In the more than 30 essays in this collection, women of a wide array of backgrounds perceive the world around them with uniquely feminine perspectives. Authors as known and respected as Anne Lammott, Maya Angelou, Natalie Goldberg, Diane Ackerman, and many others tell of their journeys, inner and outer ones, as they deal with joy, grief, discomfort, sickness, achievement, healing, and enlightenment. Destinations are as varied as Peru, India, France, Ireland, Greece, New York City, Niger, Poland, the Appalachian Trail, and others. These are women undergoing a spiritual transformation, and their travel essays take us along, to be transformed by their accounts. They take on their journeys as women and only women do, coping with societal expectations and prejudices, dealing with the fears of being a woman in the wild, finding courage when all falls down around them. As women do.

I have always believed the best training for life is to travel. Travel teaches us to stretch ourselves. Travel reveals the differences between us and everybody else, instilling understanding of the cultures varied from our own, and then again, travel soothes with the discovery of how alike we all are in our bonds of humanity, crossing all boundaries of class, culture, religion, ethnicity. Travel builds courage, as we are inevitably faced with our fears, only to overcome them. Travel connects - the traveler with the world and its inhabitants, with nature and spirit, with the divine in ourselves and outside of ourselves. The world is surely the best classroom.

If I have only one "wince" about this collection, it is the sidebar boxes interspersed throughout the essays. Each box has a clip by some other author than the one of the essay, the themes often disconnected from the main story. They drew my eye away just when I was immersed in someone's journey. I would suggest deleting them, or transforming them into epigrams prior to each essay.

A Woman's Path, edited by Lucy McCauley, Amy G. Carlson, and Jennifer Leo, is a pilgrimage to be enjoyed by every woman who reads it, whether on the road herself, or from her armchair, traveling in spirit.