I think Chaucer was onto something when he said (ever so loosely translated) that when April showers begin to coax the grasses and flowers of spring into bloom, and the song of the birds fills the air, people everywhere are eager to venture out on a pilgrimage. The signs of spring definitely ignite that desire in me. I want to emerge from my winter cocoon, to really celebrate the vibrancy of the natural world and my own connection to that world.
A few springs ago I had the opportunity to walk a series of three connected pilgrimages through the main island of Japan, visiting 100 temples and images of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. That experience was challenging, inspiring, and transformational. It convinced me of the power of pilgrimage. It convinced me that everyone should do a pilgrimage at some point in their life. And, it spurred me to start looking for opportunities for mini pilgrimages in my own neighborhood.
This spring in particular, as we continue to grieve for events and realities of the past couple years, pilgrimage can help us heal. The value of the pilgrimage is captured in this Emergence Magazine feature about the Shikoku Pilgrimage. “Pilgrimage can call to us at times of transition. Something in us grows restless, or the current structure of our lives cannot expand enough to allow change to happen, or we are grieving, or in need of healing, and so we must move, step away from comfort, attempt to see differently, ask different questions, look to that which is greater than ourselves.”
A pilgrimage doesn’t need to be hundreds of miles long in a far off land to work its magic on us. A pilgrimage simply requires us to walk without expectations and with deep veneration for the world around us. It requires us to leave behind, in some form, our ordinary life for the duration of the journey. It requires us to observe the world around us with curiosity, to notice our own way of walking and interacting within the world. We must set out with an intent to connect to the world outside of ourselves as a way to awaken our awareness of what lives inside of ourselves. Yet, we can’t expect any of that to happen. Sometimes a pilgrimage is just about walking, about moving along the earth.
I invite you to make a pilgrimage this month in your local neighborhood or somewhere further afield. I recommend choosing a spot where you’ll encounter the natural world and the humans within it. Select a route you haven’t taken before. This journey isn’t about how much distance you travel, it’s about how you walk the steps you’ll travel. Set aside a specific amount of time. Silence your phone— maybe even leave it behind. Begin walking. Do you normally walk quickly? Slow down. Do you normally walk slowly? Speed up. Change your pace or style to interrupt your habits and take yourself out of your comfort zone. Look at the world around you. Observe the textures, colors, sounds and smells. Practice looking for beauty in a place where you wouldn’t ordinarily expect to find it. Pause and take a breath of gratitude whenever you experience something surprising, or unusual, or even painful. In those painful moments, the breath you take is a reminder of the miracle of being alive in this moment. At the end of the journey you may have a slightly different perspective of the world. If not, that’s also part of the journey.