When you are in a car, beautiful places are a moment;
when you stop the car, they are a cluster of moments.
When you walk, beautiful places are an eternity carved into the soul.
People often ask me the difference between walking and pilgrimage. In a word: transformation.
When you walk, you get to make choices depending on the whims of the moment – where you want to go or even whether you want to go. Let’s take the easy road; let’s stay in bed; let’s stop; I’ve had enough; let’s …
Pilgrimage is choiceless – no buts, what ifs, I shoulds, and then there’s … you know you’re on pilgrimage when you’re out of excuses.
Lesson #1: Keep Going.
Pilgrimage encodes discipline, commitment and the ability to overcome into the pilgrim’s bones. In this way pilgrimage makes us strong, more than physically strong. It makes us strong on the inside. Pilgrimage fortifies our interior life. Pilgrimage teaches us to keep going.
Lesson #2: This Too Will Pass.
No matter where you are – melting beneath the hot sun or bathed in beauty among misted mountains – agony will pass, beauty will pass. Hopelessness will pass. Excitement will pass. The day will pass. The night will pass. The journey will pass. This too will pass.
Lesson #3: Don’t Look Back.
Looked at from its flipside, the Spanish have a word for this: Ultreya! Keep moving forward. What’s behind you has passed. Its hold on the present is up to you. There is nothing behind you. Keep your eyes on the road ahead.
Lesson #4: There Is No There.
This lesson is hilarious, to me anyway. Lesson #4 teaches us that no matter what we’re doing – walking a pilgrimage, writing a book, building a house – no matter what we’re doing, the destination (or the outcome) is irrelevant if we don’t give all of our attention to the demands of the moment we’re in. No matter how long the road, how arduous the journey, no matter how depleted the spirits – there is no ‘there’ if we do not pick up one foot and put it down in front of the other. All that is required from us is this one step. There is no destination if we do not take that one step. We can take one step.
Lesson #5: Assumptions and Expectations.
OMG, here lie the voices in your head. On pilgrimage, once surrendered to the lessons outlined above, we become acquainted with the voices in our head. The chatter. The stories. The outrageous. The disruptive. The unkind. The merciless. The judgemental. The confrontational. The pretending. The wanting.
Pilgrimage puts us in our place. And here’s what’s funny and shocking in equal measure: they are voices in your head. The voices are not real. You have made them up. They have no substance. They are products of your imagination.
Oh, you think you’re past all that? Test your theory. Take a pilgrimage.
Lesson #6: Beauty Is Everywhere.
A parable: it was an arduous pilgrim day. My shoulders screamed. My feet burned. My spirits scraped along the bitumen road. My walking companion said: ‘isn’t this beautiful’. Her comment was like a blast of cold water. I woke from my complaint and looked around me. Soft mountains in the distance. All of it lit by varying shades of sunshine. Beauty, everywhere.
Lesson #7: Kindness Is Everywhere.
Pilgrimage is a journey of the heart. And that, perhaps more than any other aspect of the pilgrim road, demands courage. And therein we find the greatest transformation of all: through pilgrimage we make our peace with life.
Stephanie Dale is an award-winning journalist and author with a passion for pilgrimage. She leads small groups on Walk and Write pilgrim journeys that offer full support, including beautiful accommodation and luggage transfers.
Join Stephanie on two upcoming UTracks Walk & Write pilgrimages: Camino – Sarria-Santiago de Compostela (8-18 April 2019) or Via Francigena – Orvieto-Rome (October 2019).