A Different Kind Of Pilgrimage That Can Change Your Life
Cover Photo By Keegan Houser
By Bruce Davis, Ph.D.
There is a time in life to make a pilgrimage. Let’s pack up some belongings, and set out on a path hoping to get a glimpse of what life is all about. There are many pilgrimages with footsteps for us to follow. Pilgrims walk to the mouth of the Ganges in India, circle Mount Kailash in Tibet, or trek toward an ancient chapel in Spain. The pilgrimage calls us to leave modern life and journey into the wilderness of a remote countryside. After enduring lots of weather, tired feet, and spectacular nature, there is inner peace to find and more.
Pilgrims quickly realize that in making a pilgrimage, it is also an inner pilgrimage. As dramatic as the outer journey maybe, there is an inner journey which can be equally transforming. Every pilgrimage is a journey where personal limits struggle with nature’s terrain, one’s own mind, and the silence. The outer adventure of finding our way in a strange land can be a mirror of the inner journey into our psyche. Every pilgrimage is a trek from our civilized identity to a landscape that is something other, something personal, the mystery of trekking around the soul. When asked, “Why do you make the journey?” the answer universally is, “Because the quest itself calls me.”
In today’s demanding world, a new kind of pilgrimage is being made by many. People in all walks of life are hearing a calling to drop all the gadgets, unplug from all obligations, get away from the noise of daily life. Let’s take a journey. Instead of going to Tibet, India, or Spain, an inner pilgrimage calls. We want to get out of the busy world and find freedom from the busy mind. Instead of traveling to some remote part of the world, we seek a remote part of the self. We seek a quiet mind, inner peace. People of all religions and no religion are making a pilgrimage into silence. They are making a silent retreat.
When making any pilgrimage there are two schools of thought. There is the “rough it” school that physically and mentally challenges the pilgrim, long hours of trekking in harsh conditions. Then there is the nourishing program where the circumstances of the journey are giving and supportive along the way. The thinking behind the bare-bones approach is that the challenges make the pilgrimage. The thinking about the more nourishing journey is that the pilgrim can focus on the pilgrimage itself, the quest.
Making the pilgrimage of a silent retreat, an inner pilgrimage, also has two schools. One could be called boot camp for the mind with hour upon hour, day after day of silence and meditation. The concept is that the intensity of the program will discipline the mind and bring clarity. The structure will force awareness to break through the desire to be distracted or comfortable and come to terms with naked awareness. Inner calm and knowing can become available in these circumstances.
The second school believes a nurturing retreat relaxes the mind and gives awareness of the heart. This awareness of the heart is where inner peace is found. Hours of meditation and strict discipline are replaced with trust for the pilgrim to make their own retreat, find their own trust as part of self-discovery. In this second school, the love and small joys of the retreat support each person to find the source of love and joy within.
Deciding which kind of inner pilgrimage to make is a personal choice. The first school of pilgrimage focuses on a denial of self as a path to finding no self. School two believes fasting to lose weight makes sense. Fasting to find inner peace is like telling a child no dessert, no candy, no play, now enjoy yourself. Or in other words, nurturing ourselves during retreat supports awareness to rest and receive the nourishing peace of the heart.
The pilgrimage into silence, nature, meditation touches each pilgrim differently. The first school is centered on mindfulness, watching thoughts to find the space of no thought. The second choice is about heartfulness, quieting the personality and letting awareness rest in the gentleness within. In the depths of the heart is a wholeness, a well of inner peace.
In school one or two, in every pilgrimage the wonder begins when the trail seemingly ends. This is when the thoughts stop and awareness is fully present. In this moment there is nothing to depend upon but the journey itself. The presence of the pilgrimage comes forward in our awareness. This is the magic of making a pilgrimage. We are living in the nakedness of the moment. The presence of full awareness, emptiness, and heart essence brings us to something like combining light and grace into a single, unending, vast moment.
Regardless which type of inner pilgrimage we make, the inner journey is full of discovery of self and no self. Who are we when identity ends and just awareness rises? The unplugging plugs us into new territory, an inner terrain where nothing is everything, awareness is beauty, an amazing adventure with no boundaries or limit. In a great humility of simple being we want to absorb this essence of goodness, love, joy that is our awareness. Getting out of our routine, traveling into foreign lands is to find a greater landscape, the ground of our potentiality. Making a silent retreat is to make a pilgrimage that can change our life.
An example of pilgrimage of intensive mindfulness meditation is the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Ma. To experience heartfulness meditation is our Silent Stay Retreat Home & Hermitage near Napa, California.