Full-Time RVing As A Spiritual Path
Originally published in New Thought Magazine, January, 2000
By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
When my wife Madeleine and I left our home in northern California three years ago to become full-time RV'ers, I didn’t really know all we were getting ourselves into. Like so many other full-timers, we were making a big leap to begin our new lifestyle, and it's only in the light of the intervening years that I've come to more deeply appreciate what I now see are the spiritual dimensions of full-time RVing.
I've found that the great religious traditions of the world agree on at least seven basic principles of spiritual living, and that these all align with the RV lifestyle! The first of these is that to begin an authentic spiritual quest, we must make a leap of faith. The leap is the beginning of new life, and with this, there is a distinct sense of making a break with the past, and of being initiated into a fundamentally different way of relating to life. One distinctive characteristic of a spiritually oriented life is the willingness to let go of clinging to outer guarantors of security. Full-timing is inherently less secure and more vulnerable than having a fixed abode: let's face it—our only home is rolling down some road somewhere, hopefully right behind us! It calls forth this first element of a spiritual journey: faith, either implicit or explicit, in ourselves and the spiritual impulse, and in a benevolent force beyond the surface of a physical reality.
When Madeleine and I were contemplating leaving the home we loved in the beautiful rolling hills of Sonoma County to become full-timers, there were times I thought I was crazy to even be considering it. Yet we both had an inexplicable feeling it was the right thing to do. There was a quiet inner urging. Life was just somehow too "tight" feeling, and we had a deep longing for more freedom, more time, less financial pressure, for adventure, for being more fully alive. The road was calling, and in spiritual life, responding to that call always requires the aspirant, if ready, to leap. In retrospect, I can honestly say these last three years have been among the happiest of my life. Not the easiest, but the most satisfying.
We had very little idea what to expect. I didn't even know what a "fifth-wheel" trailer was until we bought one, or heard of a "glow plug" until the day we purchased the '86 Ford Diesel pick-up which would become our horse. Despite our inexperience, though, everything came together remarkably easily for us, once we made the inner commitment to leave home and go on the road. In our case, we had only about one month to install ourselves in our newly-acquired trailer, liquidate and give away the belongings we wouldn't bring with us, and get on the road.
This was when I could clearly see the second principle of spiritual living being manifest: that when we make the leap to follow the spiritual yearning the invisible forces of the universe will come into play to help us on our quest. This doesn't mean we haven't had to work hard and overcome certain resistance, but there were always remarkable synchronicities that kept us going, that opened doors and allowed everything to proceed smoothly. For example, I had a beloved grand piano that would need a new home, and from an unexpected angle, a perfect home was found, as well as friends who would forward our mail to us, and others who would be happy to ship the boxes of cassettes and CD's of my original piano music to us as we needed them, since we would be traveling and putting on concerts. In spiritual traditions, the hidden helping forces continue as long as the aspirant is sincerely following the inner calling; I'm sure there are many full-timers who can feel what this second principle is about.
The third principle of spiritual life is to simplify the outer life so that one may have more energy and time to devote to enriching and deepening the inner life. RV living is ideally suited to this. It is simply not possible to indulge much in the temptation to over-consume that is so rampant now in North America. If I want to buy another pair of pants, I first have to be willing to give away a pair of pants to make room for them in my small RV closet. This is wonderful! We love the relatively small size of our fifth-wheel—27 feet with one slideout—because our lives become living experiments in mindfulness, orderliness, and simplicity. Every article that is with us on board our rolling home must be truly contributing, so we cannot collect fat—the accumulations of marginal "stuff" that can so easily clutter the lives and drain the energy of people living in houses.
When we simplify our outer life, our awareness can become less scattered and more focused in the present moment, which is the very heart of life. A mind overly pre-occupied with past and future misses out on the freshness and beauty of this landscape, this stream, this delicate inter-change with another person. I have found full-timing to be a powerful spiritual practice in this sense of being more present, more fully attentive to the unfoldings of each moment, each day. Being a continually rolling stone, very little moss gathers in the mind! And as full-timers, we must be alert and attentive, or our rolling home will perhaps be rolling into a ditch somewhere! The very precariousness of our life brings greater fullness to the gusto of appreciating. It.
By simplifying our life, we deepen our connection with the fourth principle of spiritual journeying, which is that we as individuals are part of something greater. The spiritual journey of our life is discovering this ever more fully, and living it.
Before I was a full-timer, I'd see big RV rigs rolling down the highway, and as a person concerned about the earth and future generations, I thought they were a particularly flagrant example of American wastefulness and overconsumption. Now I see it so differently! As full-timers, our trailer is our house. I see full-timers as probably the most environmentally-friendly, light-living people in the North American culture. Since we follow the geese north and south, we use very little energy for heating and cooling. A single seven-gallon propane tank lasts us for months, and our whole house can be plugged into anyone's wall outlet! Even when we lived, formerly, in a small house and tried to be very energy efficient, there's just no way we could come close to matching the truly minuscule (by American standards) amount of energy and water we now require to live. And we put only about 20,000 miles per year on our truck, which is less than most people who do a typical commute to work. As full-timers, we are thus in the rather unique position of living an earth-friendly lifestyle that still allows tremendous opportunity for travel and living comfortably.
As full-timers, we can have more freedom from excessive consumption, distraction, financial overhead, social obligations, and environmental culpability, and we can also have more freedom to serve, to create, and to cultivate our inner life. My wife and I , for example, travel all over North America; on weekends, I put on a concert of original uplifting piano music, and she puts on an exhibit of her visionary watercolor painting. We often present a seminar on enhancing creativity and intuition, do individualized "music and art" portraits for healing and inspiration, and offer free concerts at nursing homes. We know of other full-timers who travel and contribute by helping flood and tornado victims, or who create beautiful handmade crafts for sale at state fairs, or who serve at national and state parks.
The sixth principle of spiritual journeying, that outer life flows from the inner, and that true service in the world must be based on inner cultivation and depth, reminds us that true spiritual teachings of the world have always emphasized the importance of inner purity, silence, and devotion as prerequisites to true success on the spiritual path. We have found that full-timing provides a nurturing context for spiritual cultivation, and we find ourselves referring to our trailer as our "rolling temple." It is the sacred space that we bring with us wherever we go, and it is from this sacred space that we can share with others and be of true service in the world.
The seventh principle flows from this, that those who have heard the call and left home for the spiritual life are linked together by a significant bond of trust. Those of us who are full-timers all have different stories and outer events, but we instinctively feel a kinship with each other, born from having made the leap and fully engaging all the challenges of life on the road. The community of aspirants has always been seen in spiritual traditions as a precious treasure, and over the centuries, the test has often been for this community not to degenerate into becoming simply an exclusive club, but to embrace the world, enriching and shining light into it. This may be our challenge now, as well.
We all perhaps instinctively know that our time here on earth can best be seen as a journey, as a remarkable adventure, and that the terrain is more an inner landscape than an outer one. Perhaps for this reason, spiritual traditions have all encouraged pilgrimage and travel, cutting ties of conditioning and habit, and leaving the harbor of security to venture forth into the beckoning unknown. Growth always requires taking certain risks. And in many traditions, it is after people have completed their householder roles in their younger years that they devote themselves to the spiritual quest, becoming, in the process, truly wise and benevolent elders with riches to bestow from their experienced hands and hearts. Honoring the call of the open road may bring a flowering of spirit with blessings that ripple out in uncountable directions.
Will Tuttle, Ph.D., composer, pianist, Zen priest, and author of The World Peace Diet, is cofounder of Karuna Music & Art and of the Prayer Circle for Animals and Circle of Compassion ministry.