The Road That Teaches: Lessons in Transformation through Travel

by Valerie Brown,

QuakerBridge Media, 151 PP. Paper $14.95

Review by Priscilla Estes

“As a traveler, I arrive not once, but again and again.”

Long-time Del Val member Valerie Brown carries you effort- lessly in her backpack through Spain, Scotland, Japan, New Zea- land and India, using the road to answer every hiker’s question: Why do we do it? Why do we travel by foot, an intimate and measured conveyance, enduring privation, fatigue and suboptimum conditions?

A seasoned seeker and unique blend of Buddhist and Quaker, Brown hikes to find herself; to test her commitment; to learn to let go of anger, frustration and dis- appointment; to ease her lifelong battle with impatience and resis- tance; and to embrace acceptance.

Travel’s surprises, hardships and joys peel both a physical and spiritual onion for Brown. She began her first major pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago in Spain, doubting her physical endurance, apprehensive of her traveling companions, and frightened that her “fragile dream of finding true meaning from this journey would go unrealized.”

Clear and descriptive language lets us smell the mud and see the butterflies, learn the history of St. James, taste the figs and anchovies, and feel the blessed relief of unbooted feet as Brown struggles to live in the moment and realizes that her “inner empha- sis on speed is about fear.”

Each chapter describes a pilgrimage that brings her closer to her Buddhist and Quaker beliefs. A pre-dawn mud walk on the banks of the Ganges sends a rush of electricity “through the bottom of my feet to the top of my head,” helping ignite the Light Within, a central tenant of Buddhism and Quakerism.

On a trip to Celtic Iona, an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scot- land, Brown found courage to throw off her need for financial security and align with her heart, balancing desire for intimacy with her fierce independence.

The physical details of travel and cultural history illuminate a wealth of personal and spiritual insights. Nude group baths in Japan break down insecurities; a tea ceremony cultivates aware- ness and openheartedness; honoring the goddess Kannon brings sadness for the choice of career over motherhood.

Chapters begin with a quote and “Lesson” and end with “Quaker Queries for Reflection” and a “Practice Lesson,” creating both prayer book and guide book. Helpful appendices share training tips, packing lists and travel resources.

Travel, for Brown, is a way to heal and grow, to make peace with the head and the heart, and to discover the grace of love. This book is honest, educational and inspirational — handy qualities for any pilgrimage.