Step #2: Reason for Pilgrimage: The Importance of 'Why'

St John's Church in the Wilderness in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India. The English guy in the jeep had driven across Europe and through much of Central and Southwest Asia--his own kind of pilgrimage across boundaries.

What is your reason for pilgrimage? Your “why”? 

There are a lot of constants in pilgrimage planning. For instance, if you’re making a longer pilgrimage, it makes sense to build up physical endurance by walking every day for weeks or months ahead of time.

But pilgrimage is more than just a walk … more than just a big (or little) hike. 

It’s a transformative journey. A meaningful journey. A journey you undertake for a reason.  

And the reason for pilgrimage makes a difference not only in how you prepare yourself for the pilgrimage, but also what you decide to take with you on your quest.

For instance, if you’re going for one of a variety of religious reasons—faith deepening, searching for an answer to a prayer, listening for the voice of God—then there’s spiritual preparation. A special devotional or portion of scripture. Regular prayer. An intention toward mindfulness. 

The things you’re thinking about or listening for prior to the pilgrimage are things you’ll carry with you on your walk and think about more deeply than you can usually do amidst the ordinary busyness of life. 

I like to start working through a reading or devotional to contemplate while I'm doing my physical preparation for a pilgrimage at least. A month in advance is good, but any head start helps focus the character of my thoughts during the pilgrimage.

It also helps me to live more mindfully in my day-to-day strugglesto see and hear the people I encounter with more kindness and less tension. It reminds me of the things that really matter and raises thoughts I might not have had otherwise.

For some purposes, you may (or may not) decide that physical disciplines and denial of excess comforts will strengthen you in spirit or character and open you up to listening. 

Or maybe you see the pilgrimage as a chance to remove the clutter and find out how strong you are 

In that case, you may elect to walk exclusively (vs. taking some stages of the journey by train or car). To stay in only simple hostels or sleep outdoors. These would be aspects you’d then need to factor into your time (increased) and expense (decreased). 

If you’re going for healing or in remembrance of someone or some significant event, you may wish to think about or learn more about that individual or event. Perhaps plan to take with you some reading or souvenir related to that remembrance.

There are almost as many reasons as there are pilgrims. 

And sometimes people don’t know why they’re walking. They’re just walking to find their lives or because there’s something they’re living out that’s just not the right fit. Maybe they’re walking to know who they are or for the adventure of it all.

Regardless, we’re all on a journey. And when you set out on an unknown path, particularly one filled with difficulties as well as beauty, the journey is likely to change you.