Pilgrimage to the Past

Trout Lily, Spring 2020

Historically, pilgrimages were taken by people in all social, economic and cultural levels since sacred travel was about the call of the spirit to seek soul in the world. In our modern times, pilgrimages can seem to be for the privileged few that can afford the time, money of an exotic pilgrimage. Many have physical limitations that make a long pilgrimage impossible. I’ve always worried that my blog and book on pilgrimage have over emphasized international pilgrimages at the expense of the true nature of a spiritual journey.  As my tag line indicates—pilgrimage is about making every step of life sacred, a journey of the soul. Yes, pilgrimage is about physically going out into the world, discovering your inner world as you discover the world around you. But I also see pilgrimage as a perspective, a way of viewing life as a sacred journey.

Even as we are still early in 2020, our entire planet has been turned upside down as we pause life to tend to health and safety. Daily, even hourly, life is shifting with plans and routines which have disintegrated into the unknown. We are all on an untried path for a while before a new normal arrives. Although most of my family already work from home, Alexandra is here in Tennessee, a refugee from her micro-apartment in California.  My elderly mother is in quarantine in her retirement home–all appointments cancelled and no lunches out for the foreseeable future.  Our introvert natures are happy to be home with the cats and a stocked pantry.

Travel is going to be interrupted for quite awhile and maybe even make us rethink some of our far-flung vacations. It is unnerving when a much-anticipated trip is interrupted by the unexpected but that is part of a pilgrimage. Nine years ago, I was caught in the Egyptian Revolution and sequestered in a hotel before British Air sent an empty plane to rescue travelers. We expect our plans to go well—and most of the time they do—but part of the nature of a pilgrimage is a test of inner strength in the light of outer events.

Pilgrimage can always be part of our life no matter what the circumstances of the physical world. Thanks to the remarkable nature of our consciousness with the help of our five senses we can pilgrimage anytime and anyplace: past, present or future. Let’s start with pilgrimages to the past.

Our past experiences remain available to us through our memories.  Although memories are not usually perfect recordings of the event, our own imagination and the perspective of time can remake an experience in the past into a meaningful experience in the present.  For example, I bet you could walk around your childhood home in your mind or visit your grandparents house with a full sensory experience.

I can feel myself walk up my grandparent’s sidewalk on to their back porch and see the details of my grandfather’s shaving kit on the porch sink and hear the door slam shut behind me.  Now I can go into the tiny kitchen and smell the fried chicken and open the cupboard where my grandmother kept Juicy Fruit gum. I continue on into the living room where my grandmother sits in her pink velveteen chair and I sit down by her feet and watch the nightly news as my grandfather sleeps on his green couch beside us.  These memories are so vivid forty-five years later.  I can remember those ordinary moments of my childhood and re-imagine them as the cherished experiences of my personal story.  What childhood experience joyful or difficult are part of your personal history?  Can you pilgrimage to these sentinel moments and greet them, thank them for participating in your life?

Our senses make these memories come alive.  Our bodies remember our lives through the senses and we can use these memories to travel to the past and remember our lives in detail. Last year, I was at a concert listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and I was unexpectedly back in my childhood home with my family by the fire listening to this monumental music on a scratchy record.  I was surprised by the vividness of the memory and realized how this calm family experience was so important to my introverted soul.  In the summer, the smell of warm pine trees takes me back to a summer vacation in Estes Park Colorado. The taste of raspberries are the reminder happy moments of summertime in Minnesota.

As well as cherished memories of our childhood, think about pilgrimages you have taken in the past.  Think about how they have affected your life now many years later for we need a lifetime to process these profound moments.  During a conversation with a fellow plane passenger, I asked her if she had a special trip that she could now see was a pilgrimage.  She recounted going to Brazil with a friend, and as part the tour, the group held a ceremony by the ocean to honor her ancestors that had crossed the ocean on slave ships. She teared up thinking about how meaningful that moment was for her.  She now remembers that trip as a powerful and life-changing pilgrimage, not just a casual trip with a friend.  Sometimes our most powerful experiences come not from intention but from the unexpected.  Often, we can’t see this until many years or decades later.  Go back through your photos and find a trip that was meaningful and take the time to remember. Maybe make a photo album of that trip or get out mementos and build a little shrine to that experience that changed you.  While we experience this moment of “global time-out” we gain the space to experience time differently and meld past and present together.

 

 

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