What is a Pilgrimage? It is more than a long walk to an old place! Let’s find out why…
What is a pilgrimage?
To go on a pilgrimage is to travel to a shrine or sacred site, usually completing the final miles on foot. It is to pass along a path to a place of devotional, spiritual significance.
But is that all there is to it? Is the destination the only goal? Is the only motivation simply to arrive?
What about the actual journey?
The pilgrimage IS the journey. It speaks to the pilgrim of who he is, shows him his inner most self. The journey gives the pilgrim the chance to intimately consider his path thus far and to consider and reconsider his next steps. It gives him the space and peace to seek the spiritual nature of life and to commune with it, seeking a deeper understanding of the divine. It allows him to see and accept what is of the soul and what is not – what he can leave along the way.
He may travel with others
Pilgrimage may be with a group; perhaps amongst friends or like-minded strangers – providing each other with encouragement, support and the opportunity to view the experience through the eyes of others. The wise pilgrim can gain insight into his own personality – seeing it reflected in the actions and reactions of his fellows. He will learn from the conversations and the silences too. He will notice the changes in his own mood as he walks with different companions.
Or the Pilgrimage may be alone
It may be a solitary mission, the pilgrim walking with only his own mind for company. He may find his thoughts slowing, becoming less reactive during the journey. He may let go of the need to narrate on life – just allowing it to flow through. Having silenced or learned to ignore the inner chatter, he can watch the world without judgement. The pilgrim will find himself behind the thoughts he allowed to define him.
The pilgrim must avoid distraction
To fully immerse himself into the experience, the pilgrim needs to shut out the world beyond his immediate vicinity. The world wide web screams loudly into the brain. Turning off the phone, cutting off from the constant stream of information and its red-button temptations to log in, like, share, re-post can calm and focus the mind.
and get out of his comfort zone
Perhaps through unfamiliar or rough territory, a pilgrimage can be gruelling. The pilgrim can be so far removed from the comfort zone that he leaves his everyday worries behind to concentrate on the immediate needs of food, drink and shelter. The pain of the walk or fear of becoming lost may be regarded as a trial of endurance. For some, unaccustomed to travelling on foot, the body may demand rest. The pilgrim who pushes on despite this will develop resilience and confidence.
A pilgrimage gives time to think
The pilgrim has space to consider the issues in his life which sap his energy and spirit. During the hours of walking he can mull over past hurts and disagreements and see them with a new perspective. Without everyday distractions, he could enjoy moments of deep, clear introspection. In adopting a more balanced view of life and his place within it, the pilgrim can lose emotional baggage.
He may see life more clearly
The pilgrim’s goals may alter, his attitudes and opinions soften. His determination may be heightened and his aim surer. And his arrival as a pilgrim will be as a wiser man.
The pilgrim must lose to win
Away from family and hearth, the pilgrim loses much of what he identifies with. No longer cocooned in his home, alongside his commute, work and hobbies, the pilgrim finds himself in what is left. Whilst on this journey, nothing is seen bar the man. The pilgrim’s medals and honours are gone. Moreover, he is metaphorically naked.
Only the truth remains
The journey, albeit temporarily, strips him of his status and position in society. Unable to hide behind his story, laid bare, he must face himself. The man who stands in front of the sacred site will know himself a little deeper.
Challenges along the way
The pilgrim arrives at the destination via a route which has often challenged him in some way. Physically, emotionally, mentally or personally – the challenges faced are devoid of familiar comforts. They ask him to redefine his barriers and aspirations. Indeed, they demand that he review his definition of himself. The destination is indeed the end of the journey, but the pilgrim who arrives is surely changed from the person who began.
And at the end he is a richer man
So, as he reaches the end of his journey, the pilgrim prepares to return to the world…his world. But he has his experiences to bring into it. He can assimilate his pilgrimage into his world. He may notice subtle changes to begin with but the experience will grow and colour his reactions and thought patterns.
The pilgrim will return a wiser man.
More on pilgrimages – in a motorhome!