Are you a pilgrimage traveler or a tourist? What is the difference you ask? Should you care?
The difference between the two types of travelers is in finding Presence in the moment, wherever you may go, so that you may discover something more about yourself, something you didn't already know. It is traveling with a purpose, most especially for self-discovery.
If you are passionate about traveling and you have always wanted to travel in order to aid your personal growth, you have come to the right place. In this website, not only will I entertain you with my own pilgrimage travels, but I will help you open your own eyes to also become a traveling pilgrim. More than a mere tourist, but a pilgrim on a spiritual journey that complements the physical journey and with a sacred purpose.
The traveling pilgrim is willing to embrace the discomforts of unfamiliar surroundings, by stepping away from the ordinary sight-seeing to experience a living culture full of Presence, past and present. The pilgrim is also constantly open and aware of the possibility for a new trail or vista in all its sacred beauty, just around the corner!
Every journey you take can awaken you to a new way of being! When you use your senses to see, feel, touch, hear and taste all the experiences available to you when you visit a sacred site, your experience of the journey becomes a full spiritual experience. Indeed, when you travel anywhere outside your usual routine, whether nearby your home or to a distant, sacred site, you can be a Pilgrim.
The pilgrimage traveler discovers each and every sacred place, in the moment for what it is, unique and powerful, and as it may have appeared through time, through all its human and Divine experiences.
We can call a pilgrim one who travels to a holy place for a specific purpose. The purpose may be merely for adventure through travel to a foreign land. Not all adventurers are on a spiritual journey. However, I believe that without a spiritual goal, traveling is often reduced to a quick glimpse of the sacred site, often only through the lens of the camera, before rushing onward to the next location. This is NOT my desire, nor do I believe it should be yours.
The pilgrimage traveler takes a journey to exotic and not-so-exotic spiritual sites that have great significance for the culture in which it lies. Every single culture has sacred sites, or special places to where people take sacred journeys. The best pilgrimage is one that requires difficulty to reach, either by walking or by rough and inaccessible roads. The spiritual journey is not the same if you can saunter up to it with minimal effort.
Walking long distances has long been known to help the seeker clear his/her head and become more in touch with him/herself. This is why I pilgrimage to mountaintops. It keeps me in the moment, requires effort that is more than physical and puts life and its problems in perspective when you reach that glorious summit.
The journey to the mountaintop is a spiritual metaphor for life. But then, isn't all travel a metaphor for your life's experience? Especially when you remove yourself from your ordinary existence to encourage something new to manifest? And what better way to stretch your personal experiences and take you out of your comfort zone than through pilgrimage travel?
"Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun."
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
The purpose of a pilgrim's travel to a particular sacred site may be singular, or it may be many fold, depending on the intent of the individual and/or the group. The seeker is seeking to discover something out of the ordinary, something that is missing in his or her life. Traveling to foreign places and foreign lands jolts one out of the everyday, the routine and the mundane.
In order for the pilgrimage traveler to be successful, he/she must move beyond their usual perceptions and be willing to open wide their senses to see, feel, touch and experience, not just the place, but the journey in a new way. It is perceptually seeing with new eyes, hearing with new ears, feeling in a new way, and spending the amount of time needed to open to these new experiences of the holy place.
Most pilgrimage travelers are seeking to find one, if not all of the following personal attributes as a result of their long journey; peace, healing, unity, worship, forgiveness, inspiration, clarity, spiritual instruction, life direction, adventure, connection and most importantly, Presence of Something beyond themselves.
For the pilgrim, the purpose is the search for personal transformation. In fact, one of the most insightful experiences of my life came when I discovered that you can have a spiritual journey and personal transformation, without ever going anywhere! This is a pilgrimage-in-place and can be just as effective as an actual journey.
But can you truly learn to see more than just the physical site itself? Are you willing to use all of your senses, to feel the energy of the place? Are you a mere tourist, passing through, snapping a quick photo of the place and then rushing to the next "sacred site?"
If a journey is truly a spiritual journey, what happens if you set your camera aside for awhile? What happens when you arrive at the spiritual site at sunrise or sunset? What if you meditated at a site, or did Yoga? What if you read extensively about the history of the sacred place and the human experiences there, both past and present?
There are many more questions that can be asked, when you ask yourself, how it is that this most holy place can be experienced with a new lens. And that lens does not always come attached to a camera. And if it is attached to a camera, the shots are unique and open to a new way of seeing the subject matter.
I traveled to the Santuario de Chimayo, a tiny Catholic mission church deep in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Taos, New Mexico, where the dirt is believed to contain special healing powers.
As I toured the grounds, and the chapel, seeing all the offerings of talismans, rosaries, and crosses, how could I not feel the energy and emotions of the thousands of supplicants over the years who cried to God for healing, through eating the holy dirt, drinking it in water, or smearing the holy dirt on themselves? I did not care what my belief was, I just basked in this energy of faith. And yes, I took some dirt for myself, just in case I needed it in the future!
Spiritual travel is about going out to go in as John Muir, the great naturalist, likes to say. The pilgrimage traveler is open to inner discovery through outer awareness. Experiencing the jolt of the unfamiliarity in the outer environment when you travel, causes you to examine yourself internally, doesn't it? Walking long distances also brings your mind to an internal place of contemplation, doesn't it?
Most travel sites and blogs are full of chronologies of the journey, written in a dry, rote fashion, devoid of feeling, new experience or imagination. They do not describe the sensations, the sounds, the smells, felt in the very core of the body. They list places seen, often don't even tell the story in a visually appealing manner. There is no description of, and therefore, perhaps no internal transformation.
When you journey as a pilgrimage traveler, you open yourself to a new way of experiencing the sacred site. Instead of insulating yourself with familiar food, hotel chains, resorts and experiences, you open yourself to feel all the sensations of being in the new place. If you are willing to open all your senses to become vulnerable, this can be a life-altering experience. The Pilgrim is opening him/herself, indeed to a new way of being.
Won't you join us in a spiritual journey and experience all this Sacred Earth has to offer by opening yourself to personal transformation? Will YOU be a pilgrimage traveler?
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Need suggestions on what to pack for your next pilgrimaage? Click Here or on the photo below!
Our recommendation for the best trekking pole. Carbon fiber construction (not aluminum) makes them ultra light weight. Hide your poles in your pack from potential thieves, before you get to your albergue! (See more of our gear recommendations!)
My absolute favorite book on how to be a pilgrim: