Pilgrimage isn’t just about covering ground. Sometimes the inner journey is just as important as the outer one.
I’m gearing up for a walk on my own, thinking about what I need to take with me. Ultralight tent, bedding, some solid walking shoes, etc. … This won’t be the kind of pilgrimage we had in Europe, with hostels and inns and Airbnb along the way.
My husband gives me a look, wondering why it is I want to journey alone for my birthday, but I think it’s a great time to walk into history. To reflect on life and my place in the world before coming together again.
But there are also some things I need to leave behind—not just for this little pilgrimage, but in order to live a better life. To renew my focus.
Life has been known to throw me curve balls. I’m not always good at hitting them on the first swing. I struggle against the pitch, wanting it to be different—for it to be the one I would choose.
Life isn’t like that.
I need to lean into my life and let it be what it is. To accept that where I am is where I’m meant to love and to give (and love is about giving). To stop struggling against the lesson my life is teaching me.
But I also need to keep moving forward toward my future.
Walking untangles my mind and helps me see things better.
I read in The Art of Pilgrimage that poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who was serving Rodin as his secretary, went through a time when he could no longer write. Rodin told him it was because he’d stopped seeing and gave him a job: to go to the Paris zoo and look every day at the same animal until he’d learned to see it.
His eyes opened, resulting in 72 poems about the panther. Here’s one, vivid. He truly sees the creature in front of him:
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
Sometimes I need to walk to be present where I am … to look. To see. I’ll bring that back with me to my life and the ones I love.