By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
(CNN) - Earlier this year, thanks to a global religion reporting fellowship, I had the opportunity to explore the spiritual landscape that is Rishikesh, India.
It’s a magical little city nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas that’s holy to Hindus and a mystical playground for Westerners.
The journey was something I lightly anticipated as “Eat, Pray, Love … minus the pizza and sex.” It turned out to be so much more.
Maybe you followed the two-week experience, as it unfolded, at #RoamingRavitz. Or perhaps you’re hearing about this adventure for the first time. Either way, I hope you’ll be curious to learn more.
My time in Rishikesh was full. What I learned from the swamis, gurus, astrologers, yogis, healers and seekers I met there left my head and heart spinning.
Months later, I have finally made sense of it all. I invite you to check out the full story of my odyssey at "Indian Awakenings."
Also be sure to read "Lost and found: Missing in Rishikesh, India, the 'Land of Gods,'" where I delve into the mysteries surrounding the disappearance in Rishikesh of two Western men. Some have theorized that they fell victim to "India Syndrome," an unusual condition in which young Western travelers become delusional and, in extreme cases, disappear - often during quests for enlightenment.
I went into both reporting ventures not knowing what to expect. They brought me places I never saw coming.
If a spiritual destination left you transformed, I'd love to know where you went and what you learned. Please feel free to share in the comments section.
Opinion by Justin Vollmar, special to CNN
(CNN) – When I was 18, I was drawn to a strict Christian sect known as Independent Fundamental Baptists. They convinced me that they were the only true church and I became a born-again, washed-in-blood Christian.
I left Gallaudet University, the nation’s premier school for deaf students, to enroll at Capital Baptist Deaf College, where I graduated with an unaccredited bachelor's degree in pastoral studies.
For the next seven years, I was a pastor in Silver Spring, Maryland, working 60 hours a week for little pay. My senior pastor was a harsh taskmaster, scolding me and always pushing me to work harder. Meanwhile, he earned $80,000 a year and played golf two times a week. I lived in poverty and did not see my children much. I got burned out.
I resigned my position and was shunned by the church. My faith in God was severely shaken. I started to have doubts about the Bible’s claims. I questioned whether God’s love, which is supposed to reside inside Christians, was real.
Still, I didn’t quit the church.
(CNN) Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, sits a magical place ripe for exploration. It’s called Rishikesh, and for the next two weeks it will be our spiritual playground.
I am going there thanks to a religion reporting fellowship, and I’d like to take you with me.
A holy spot for Hindus, Rishikesh is also a destination for Westerners hungering for a different and deeper kind of sustenance. Among the most renowned Rishikesh searchers: The Beatles, who came here in 1968 to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
It’s dotted with ashrams. Painted holy men roam the streets and sit in nearby caves. There are sunset ceremonies along the sacred Ganges River, and yoga classes flow as consistently as the hallowed waters. Pilgrims flock to temples. Visitors can surrender to ancient forms of medicine, find healing and be cleansed. Some are said to arrive in Rishikesh and never leave, losing themselves forever in the quest for enlightenment.
By Jordan Hultine, CNN
Atlanta (CNN) - As the 49ers and Ravens take the field in New Orleans’ Super Dome for Super Bowl XLVII, a man very familiar with that field, Chris Reis, will be watching the game with his family.
It was only three years ago that Reis was playing in the big game for the New Orleans Saints. He burst into the national spotlight with one unusual, but game-changing play, an onside kick recovery that surprised the opposition and many say paved the path for the Saints’ 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
It was an unlikely position for a kid who grew up in a broken family, with a father who was in and out of his life and addicted to sex and alcohol. Reis broke through the obstacles to succeed, he says, in part by finding God in high school. He went on to play for Georgia Tech where he served as president of the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was briefly signed as a free agent by the Atlanta Falcons, but the team cut him loose before he even saw field time. The Saints then signed him as a free agent, but sent him to play in the NFL Europe league. Later that year the team called him back to New Orleans where he played the next four years with the Saints.
By Jen Christensen, CNN
Andrew Domini’s feet were blistered and bloodied. He could barely walk by the time he finally made it to a pink marble church and crawled the last 90 feet to a quiet shrine tucked into the corner.
As he paused a couple of weeks ago in front of the wooden coffin that held the remains of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and prayed, the 19-year-old said he finally felt at peace.
Domini had walked nearly 70 miles, becoming an unlikely spiritual pilgrim. But the religious shrine wasn’t in Rome, Jerusalem or some other officially holy city. It was in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.
Editor's Note: Rob Bell is the Founding Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His latest book and DVD are called Drops Like Stars.
By Rob Bell, Special to CNN
One Friday evening in the fall of my senior year of college I got a headache.
I took some aspirin, laid on the couch, and waited for it to go away. But it didn't; it got worse. By midnight I was in agony, and by 3 a.m. I was wondering if I was going to die.
As the sun rose, my roommate drove me to the hospital where I learned that I had viral meningitis. A neurologist explained to me that the fluid around my brain had become infected and was essentially squeezing my brain against the walls of my skull.
So that's what that was.
By Dave Schechter, CNN
I’ve thought for some time that if more Americans had personal contact, even friendships, with their fellow Americans who are Muslims there might be less mistrust and misunderstanding about the role Islam plays in their lives.
The years have convinced me that interfaith dialogue, particularly the one-on-one variety, is a more viable way to break down barriers between people than large-scale efforts.
Now, before we go any further: Yes, within a worldwide population of more than 1 billion Muslims (which include a few million in the United States) there are those who, for a variety of reasons, hate the United States, would do it harm or support such action.
More on meditation here.
The CNN Belief Blog occasionally shares spiritual journeys of others and offers this one from a longtime executive chef in New Orleans, Louisiana.
As his city, state and region struggled this summer to make sense of what the Gulf Coast oil disaster would mean, Kenneth Smith, 50, prepared to hang up his apron and move from feeding people's bellies to feeding their souls.
He was getting ready to leave the kitchen and enter the seminary, when CNN sat down with him.
Read his story, in his own words.
When a South Carolina mother recently was accused of suffocating her two young sons, CNN Radio's Amanda Moyer was asked to look for someone who had survived an attack by their mother or father.
She found the horrific yet inspirational story of Chris Keith, now 30.
When he was 5, his father killed his mother and brother in their Tulsa, Oklahoma, home. He also shot Chris in the head, before committing suicide.
Chris credits God with saving him. He now speaks to youth groups and juvenile justice centers, hoping his message will resonate with a struggling teen.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.