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The Art of Pilgrimage

“Pilgrimage is a metaphor for any journey with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply to the traveler.”

~ Phil Cousineau

I picked up a book during my travels in Nepal. This is nothing new. I am always buying books, especially when I travel. If something catches my eye, or my heart – it becomes a sort of verbal souvenir. I’ve also found that many times, local shops in foreign countries carry small press or local offerings that you literally cannot find in the greater global marketplace, and when I come across such things, I usually pick them up.

What that translates to is at least a small stack that comes home with me, intermingled with dirty laundry and unused coins in various currencies.

The Art of Pilgrimage is a book I picked up in a hotel in Kathmandu. It caught my eye and then it captured my heart.

Quotes from the book began filling my journal alongside the observations and memories I recorded along the way, and in the dark, lonely days of extreme illness when I was all alone in a country where I knew no one, these pages brought me comfort. Suddenly I wasn’t the only person on a spiritual quest that was requiring everything I had to give, and its words became light in the darkness.

It got me through.

It got me home. 

By the time I arrived at Hotel Shambaling, I had been with my tour group for ten days straight. Being an introvert, I was so done with crowds and tour guides and rigid schedules that were dictated by a jam-packed daily grind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have seen and experienced all that I did in such a relatively short time, but the schedule was exhausting, especially since each day started with 2-3 hours of fairly intense yoga. 

This hotel was a complete departure from the frantic pace of touring. Luxurious and well-appointed, it was even filled with singing bowls on every floor and in every room. The entire hotel had a sense of peace and a quiet spirit that lent itself beautifully toward meditation and the contemplative life.

My room contained one book (The Teachings of Buddha) and a singing bowl, both of which got heavy use during my short time there. I started and ended my days with yoga, even had someone come to my room to give me a massage. I had been ill for about a week at this point, so I spent time in comfortable chairs reading and meditating, doing whatever I could to rest my body and recover.

In hindsight, I wish I had read The Art of Pilgrimage six months before my trip to Nepal. It talked about the longing to travel, preparation, the departure, and the pilgrim’s way, breaking all my ideas of traditional travel and distilling them into intentional steps on a journey that begins way before you ever leave home.

Although I tried to prepare myself for what I was about to encounter in the weeks leading up to the trip, most of my preparation was physical in nature–the right clothing for the different climates, the medicines and toiletries that would be essential and/or difficult to find in a third world country.

I overpacked my suitcase, and yet found that I was woefully unprepared for the emotional and spiritual aspects of a journey that would change my perspective not the world around me, and the world within me. Then again, if “Religion is what we do with our solitude” as Alfred North Whitehead says, then my observations, my introspection turned toward the world, is in fact, my religion. It is something which not only feeds but nourishes my soul. I was searching for my heart’s desire. My true longing.

“Where your heart wanders during those chambered moments will show you the direction of your true longing.” – Phil Cousineau

I can ask the question, but it always, without fail, comes back to writing. I don’t need to trek to the Himalayas to “go toward the mountain”. I have been going toward this mountain for some time now. So often in my life I have allowed myself to become side tracked by other good things, allowing good to become the enemy of best.

“Inward seeking is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.” – Walker Percy

I was changed by the things I saw, heard, smelled, tasted and experienced while I was in Nepal, and these kinds of changes, while subtle, are also deep. Some are changes that have helped me to be more compassionate – toward myself and others. Some have shown me things about myself that I would like to change, and those changes are pieces of a personal process that is a part of the greater journey.

It’s difficult to quantify them here, in list or even paragraph form. All I can say is, they will inevitably come out in my writing, in my personality, and in my perspective as I continue through this life, experiencing even more people and cultures that are foreign to my largely western upbringing.

And so it has begun–this quest toward seeking and finding my true desires. My longings realized. As I get set to launch my next book series in November, I am starting a new path, a true path, where writing takes a front seat and other “good” things find their place elsewhere on the edges of my life, to be drawn out from time to time but no longer taking the main stage.

The Art of Pilgrimage has been a deep and authentic reminder that each step on our path can be significant, even sacred, if we let it. The key is intention. It’s mindfulness. Awareness of where your heart and soul are at in the process. I highly recommend this perspective-altering book before, during, or after your next journey.

After all, the journey is the destination.

 

 

 

 

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