five stages of a pilgrimage
For those who are interested in the idea of Pilgrimage, as opposed to those who are interested on going on a very long walk. I have broken down my experience of pilgrimage into five “stages” each distinct but also seamlessly connected one to another.
It’s difficult to describe, it’s a feeling, an urge, a gradually building compelling. For me it came from watching a film, The Way. For others reading a book, “The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Coelho. In the film Wild, there is a fantastic scene where the main character Cheryl Strayed, is in a shop and sees a travel book on a stand. On impulse she buys it. It was a guide to The Pacific Crest Trail in the USA and it saved her life. The call comes in many forms and once heard, it is hard to ignore.
This begins once the serious planning begins. It is the sense of distancing oneself from “normal life”. The knowledge that family, friends, jobs, filling the car with fuel, all will be left behind. The rhythm of a pilgrimage is so far removed from our ordinary experience of life means the pilgrim has to deliberately reject those connections, albeit temporarily.
The Hard Journey
We leave our home and travel to the start of the route. The journey begins when the pilgrimage begins to hurt. By its very nature a pilgrimage encourages a “spiritual” and physical desert experience. Uncomfortable feelings of being pushed close to strangers and their personal habits. As our bodies complain we feel the aches and pains of continual long distance walking. The head is, perhaps for the first time in our adult lives, alone with its town thoughts, this can be deeply unpleasant. When the pilgrim begins to suffer, that is when the journey begins. As the journey strips us down to our more honest self, it prepares us for the the moment.
The moment is when the hard journey ends and the process of learning begins. This moment creeps up unexpectedly. One moment you are consumed by your own challenges and the next you’r not. One moment you are looking inwards and the next, you are looking out. At last, the pilgrim is encountering the very best of themselves and, if you are so inclined, you find the best of God.
The pilgrim returns. It can often be an uncomfortable experience. A pilgrimage, of a significant duration, offers new routines, a new rhythm for life. For many, myself included, it was a more comfortable fit than the pre-pilgrim life, and it takes an enormous effort to readjust. A pilgrimage should make a deep and profound change in the way you live your life. And home is the hardest place to live out that change.