We are often called to make a pilgrimage: to a place from our personal past, to a sacred site from our collective history, or to a place of beauty and power in nature. We go to renew our connection with nature or place, with people, with ourselves, and with the Great Mystery. Sometimes we go with the intention of doing ceremony to honor the spirits of a place or its people. We offer our gratitude and receive teachings and healing. Whether we make our pilgrimage to an old neighborhood, to a mountain or lake or to ancient sites, we return with a deeper understanding of ourselves and reminds us of our connection to a force greater than ourselves.
I have encountered numerous people who are making plans to undertake a pilgrimage, myself included. I have had the opportunity to make numerous pilgrimages over my lifetime and have found that each one has offered unique gifts of healing, insight and inspiration.
Pilgrimage is a spirit-renewing experience, a journey with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply to the traveler. With a deepening of focus, keen preparation, attention to the path, and respect for the destination, it is possible to transform even the most ordinary trip into a sacred journey.
Pilgrimage is the kind of sojourn that marks just this move from the mindless to the mindful, from the soul-less to soul-ful experience. The difference may be subtle or dramatic; by definition it is life-changing, offering an opportunity for a ‘spiritual awakening,’ as pilgrimage offers the promise of personal contact with a sacred force.
For most pilgrims, the inspiration to embark upon a pilgrimage typically falls into one of two categories: feeling a longing, that is you hold a dream of visiting a country, city or a sacred site? Perhaps during our childhood we may have read a story or viewed a documentary of a place that inspired us to day-dream? Or perhaps you receive a calling to embark upon a sacred journey that did not come by an expectation rather when you may have been in meditation, a place of stillness.
Guidance is available both in planning for the pilgrimage as well as during the pilgrimage. Yet we must be good listeners to receive the information. Time invested to learn about the location and the path of the pilgrimage beforehand is time well spent. Learning about the history of the location to be visited, investigating whether there are areas near or along the pilgrimage path that may also call your attention, determining the sacred offerings you are called to bring and, as sacred journeys are marked by ritual ceremony, perhaps a prayer, a song, building of a fire or whatever feels appropriate, are important considerations.
Attentiveness and curiousity are important skills to master during the pilgrimage as the ordinary perception that gets one through a day at home is inadequate for this journey that requires us to remain open to guidance and to trust what we receive. When the imagination is activated, no encounter is without meaning.
To allow our senses to open, it is imperative that the path of the pilgrimage be undertaken as a meditative walk; the destination should not be the intention, rather the focus should be on the journey, for this is more of a mystical experience than an excursion or hike.
It is most important to perform a ritual or ceremony upon your arrival at the pilgrimage site, regardless whether it is a sacred site, a shrine or a place in nature so that whatever feeling within you that arises can be expressed. Taking the time to connect with the energies present may often result in receiving guidance from the spirits inhabiting the space as to what is needed.
The return from the pilgrimage will oftentimes allow for a profound shift in the pilgrim’s consciousness that results in the return to one’s home feeling different, perhaps unrecognizable from the way it looked and felt before.
It is important to celebrate the pilgrimage experience so as to honor the gifts and teachings received. You may want to create a sacred altar upon which you can place stones gathered, water from the site, drawings of the experiences and/or notes taken during the journey to serve as a physical reminder of your pilgrimage. Additionally, sharing stories of your experience also serve to ground the teachings in your being and perhaps, inspire others to undertake their own pilgrimages.
Yet the most important part of the return is incorporating the experience into your everyday life.
It is important to recognize that a pilgrimage has the opportunity to change lives, whether we go halfway around the world or in a local park.
As the Sufi mystic Rumi wrote: “As you start on the Way, the Way appears”.