Pilgrimage-in-Place
~ The Spiritual Journey at Home

Can a spiritual journey be done anywhere, in any place and at any time? Is it possible to do a pilgrimage-in-place, without ever leaving your home?

"Ideally, a human life should be a constant pilgrimage of discovery.  The most exciting discoveries happen at the frontiers.  When you come to know something new, you come closer to yourself and to the world.  Discovery enlarges and refines your sensibility.  When you discover something, you transfigure some of the forsakenness of the world.

~ John O'Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong

In the winter of my discontent, my heart always turns to running away from my "real" life. I just want to travel anywhere to get out of the cold and dark and mundaneness of my existence. This "winter" can be actual in the physical realm and is always metaphorical and in the spiritual realm.

The yearly cycle of the seasons never fails to bring me to this place. While I know that the "darkness" of winter is there to comfort me and nurture me to cultivate the new growth that is brewing in me, finding the patience and the solitude to nurture this process is very, very difficult. My urge to run away is very strong! Every year or so and mostly in the winter, this spiritual journey literally calls my name. (Sometimes I am even lucky enough to time it so I can be an actual pilgrimage traveler in the physical world at the same time! But this is the rare case.)

I often confuse my wanderlust and desire for a physical pilgrimage, for this spiritual yearning for new discoveries. It seems like I can never fully realize what is happening to me until I am deeply into the feelings of destitution and sadness.

While I write this, I am waiting to get my car serviced, and over their intercom, the radio starts playing the song, "It's times like these you learn to live again, It's times like these you learn to love again," by the Foo Fighters.  Immediately I recognize myself and smile at the serendipity of the moment. This song is about the spiritual journey!

The Cross on the Camino to Finisterre, Spain, as you enter the city.Camino to Finisterre: The Cross, seen as you enter Finisterre, Spain

The Frontier Within Myself

My ongoing challenge is to go into this dark place, instead of running away. I must specifically look for new discoveries for myself, about myself and the growth awaiting for me. It is my pilgrimage-in-place. My spiritual journey in-situ. It hardly seems coincidental that my desires and the darkness in my heart all collide around the winter solstice. While the holiday season may get me through the darkest days, I know that the two months ahead, will still be full of lots and lots of darkness of my heart, body and soul. It is just the way it is.

I love the concept of pilgrimage-in-place. I can imagine a traveling pilgrimage, in my mind's eye, even without traveling anywhere. Instead, it is discovering a new frontier within myself. This is comforting for me. It is about Love. It is about resting in the love and warmth of the unknowing of what is attempting to be born. It is resting in the nature of God and the spiritual journey itself. It is all there for me in the spiritual journey, if I can recognize it and accept it.  

I light several candles and breathe deeply. In the darkness of love and comfort, I catch glimpses of a new way of being. I catch glimpses of a new truth. I catch glimpses of possibilities and Hope. It all hits me at the most interesting times as I move through my days.

The Pilgrim Statue on the Camino to Finisterre, SpainThe Pilgrim Statue on the Camino to Finisterre

While I set aside personal pilgrimage times for meditation, contemplation, and my personal practice of yin yoga, I like to believe that I am walking and living a life filled with mindfulness most of the time. I work mostly from home and have lots and lots of time for turning toward mindfulness practices if I choose. It takes more time than most are willing to commit, and I fail a lot to create the appropriate space in my life too, despite a less structured work life.

I soon begin to relish my time to "do" nothing. To be comforted and blessed in just being. Wow, all of a sudden I love the idea of not having to produce. I go a whole month of not doing much of anything regarding my own creative, "productive" work. Yes, I do what is needed to run the house, run the errands, go shopping, and so forth, but not much else.

Not too many of us have the luxury of going away and holing ourselves up in a monastery for a week or a month. For now, my spiritual journey is at home ~ the pilgrimage-in-place.

The Joy is in the Journey

I am beginning to love this concept of pilgrimage-in-place. I feel it deep in my bones. I even allow it.

My pilgrimage-in-place has now turned into moving more deeply into the process, instead of "running away." I can be comforted in knowing that there is always a spring and always a possibility for the darkness to be lifted, even though I don't know when, where or how.  I open my heart to receive the blessings and peace in the unknowing. I hold each and every uncomfortable feeling in my heart, as well as every yearning sensation and every gripping muscle in my body and even every breath that is too short and shallow!

Merely by noticing these things and this process in me, I feel my breath becoming deeper and more even. I feel the darkness lift a bit. I feel my muscles relax. At least for this moment, as I know the feelings will return before my "winter" is over. With each cycle of unrest, hopefully, I will recognize it much sooner and be better equipped to move towards it, instead of away.

I trust in the unfolding, relishing in all of God's people who have suffered along with me, who's own pilgrimage-in-place took them to even darker places than mine. I am comforted as well, by their words. I pray that my "edge"~ my frontier ~ may be a place that holds no fear as I journey to it.

The Spiritual Journey Requires Action

A pilgrimage implies action on your part, doesn't it? Are you willing to take action to go to your own frontier of comfort and understanding? How will you do it? How will you meet yourself, your edges and your fears? How will you meet God in a new way? How will your spiritual journey unfold?

When one takes a physical pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, one feels the energy of rising up in an ecumenical togetherness. Regardless of one's background, regardless of one's religion, regardless of one's culture, the pilgrims unite together in belief; belief that they can be as one, while on their own personal, spiritual journey of discovering themselves!

Just like an actual physical pilgrimage to a sacred site, a pilgrimage-in-place can unite us in the knowledge that we are taking a very real spiritual journey to the frontier of ourselves as others have done before us and will continue to do.

In fact, when I do my pilgrimage-in-place, I include long, contemplative walks on a daily basis. Even in the winter, I bundle up and take my dog with me. The action of moving my body in a mindful fashion helps me integrate what is going on in my heart and soul. When I include my physical body in this spiritual process, I feel like I am moving forward with less tension and more ease. It is the yoga of including my body in my soul's experience. Just like a "real" pilgrimage.

The Long Road on the Camino to Finisterre, SpainThe Long Road on the Camino to Finisterre, Spain

Will you commit to taking a pilgrimage-in-place with me? Will you step outside of what is your normal routine, and take the time to seek a new way of being? Will you spend the time in your personal cell, doing your yoga, your prayers, your journaling, your artistic expression and/or your meditation and reflection? If you did this, how would your personal spiritual-journey-at-home look?

As I write of my experience with pilgrimaging-in-place, I am journaling my own healing process! I am filled with a new Hope as I write. At least for now, I know that this endless cycle of the seasons in my body, heart and soul is indeed being nurtured and comforted for the Spring of new growth.

Blessings on your journey to become closer to God and experience something that is more real! May your spiritual journey be a never-ending cycle of rebirth and new growth, creativity and  production, bounty and harvest, death of what's old, and finally the hope of rebirth and new growth once again!



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My absolute favorite book on how to be a pilgrim: