To my faithful MOL readers…
It’s been AGES since my last post…and I’m feeling so bad about this. But these last few weeks – nothing!!! Each day I waited for inspiration and…nothing! I’m so very thankful that the only deadlines I have are self-imposed. Under any other circumstances, the consequences would be dire. I’m so grateful you’re here…and I’m here…and we are here together again. Thank you, each of you, for not giving up on me!!
“The deepest sense of a pilgrim tries to look through the facade of a culture
and into its soul.” Phil Cousineau
If you’ve learned anything about me from reading my postings, you know that, even at this advanced age, I continue to walk the pathway of self-discovery. The landscape along my path is constantly changing. Sometimes it is filled with color, song, and sunshine. But at other times, I’m faced with steep hills, twisty curves and abrupt obstacles. My life is this journey.
Last week I happened upon The Art of the Pilgrimage – The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cousineau. I was instantly captivated! If you’ve been following my posts you know I love to read, that I have referred to myself as a consummate “seeker” and that I like to travel, both virtually and in person. So it seems inevitable that, eventually, this work would somehow, someday, someway find its way to my nightstand.
My purpose in writing this particular blog post is not to present a book review. Nor is this book a typical travel guidebook. If you never read a word that he writes in this book…if you merely scan the photos – black and white, sometimes grainy images of people, places and things – you know instantly that Cousineau’s travels are not ordinary…that somehow, what he takes home from his trips is a whole lot more than souvenirs, postcards and photos of historic monuments. Cousineau, a scholar, lecturer, author, film maker and professional traveler purports that there is a sacred aspect to all travel that has “nothing to do with monks singing Gregorian chants.” There are people, landscapes, objects, that cause us to stop, to slow down, to pay attention. When we allow ourselves time to fully absorb the encounter, to find its soul, it is raised to a level above ordinary – to the sacred.
That’s the difference, too, I soon realize, between being a tourist and being a Pilgrim. A tourist is focused on what he may take away from the experience…on memories – of foods, historic castles, souvenirs, perfect photos. But the Pilgrim, the sacred traveler focuses only on what he/she can leave behind…what this Pilgrim can give to this specific moment. Maybe the contribution comes in the form of a comforting word, maybe a gesture like a hug, a pat on the back, maybe it’s a shared laugh or tear, or it could even be that wish-laden token tossed into a fountain. Something… anything personal and that is given to that worthy moment. Cousineau calls these personal bequests our gratuities.
My challenge, as I read this book, was to find a way to adapt Cousineau’s advice, not just to any future travel, but to my everyday life journey. I aspire to be a Pilgrim, even if I never again leave Pennsylvania!
I realize how many times, simply walking through my days, is my curiosity aroused by some seemingly mundane encounter? An interesting painting in a shop window, a colorful assortment of flowers, a freshly baked loaf of bread, a puppy, even! Cousineau says that by engaging all my senses, by being curious, by not allowing the experience to simply pass by, by searching for and then finding the “soul” of the occurrence, even the ordinary can become sacred.
One final critical piece of wisdom from Cousineau. He calls upon Pilgrims to find their “secret rooms” – places, people, objects encountered along the way, perhaps serendipitously, that hold a secret message meant just for the traveler.
Everywhere you go there is a secret room…you must knock on walls…you must find your own, in a small chapel, a tiny café, a quiet park…the home of a new friend. As a pilgrim you must find it or you will never understand the hidden reasons why you really left home.”
So, being a Pilgrim means following that road that leads within – sacred travel is always an inward journey.
My wish for each of you is that you walk through your life, not as a tourist, but as a Pilgrim – and that your personal journey is a sacred one.
Bless you all!!