Pilgrimage: A State of Mind
Pilgrimage – an intentional journey; a search for a physical location; an inward exploration of the intangible; a path toward spiritual growth; a mission. I’ve been in the midst of a pilgrim journey, begun in the hope of combining all of its definitions. I’m just back from intentionally traveling to a physical location while at the same time using that journey as a mission to explore and enrich the inner me.
Three friends and I walked a portion of The Way of St James (the Camino), a famous, well-traveled Pilgrim’s pathway leading from different places in Spain, France and Portugal to its single-point end, Santiago de Compostela. Santiago, located in northwestern Spain, holds a famous cathedral where tradition maintains the remains of the apostle, Saint James the Great, are buried. I’m recalling our last walking day of the incredible Portuguese Camino when our physical destination lay the final miles ahead.
A fellow pilgrim and I have reached a fork in the road and we stop to wait for our friends. The sun and clouds play together above us; the air is humid and a little cool; it’s a perfect day to walk. But my thoughts focus on things smaller and less important than my pilgrimage intentions. Lately, there have been constant reminders of this journey’s difficult physical realities and I’ve let frustration and discomfort color some of my walking hours. Gratefully, I have found a stone bench under a tree to sit briefly, and begin to loosen my shoelaces as we wait. I’ve resorted to speaking to my toes, begging them to hang in a few more miles . . . to endure being a shoe captive . . . promising them respite soon. Our conversations have not been pleasant.
I realize I’m not at my best – not always drinking in the incredible blessings all around me. I’ve already fulfilled my 100-mile walking goal and been treated to some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever encountered. “I should be happily awestruck,” I admonish myself. Detach from what you can’t change; leave your discomfort and self-criticism behind. Just be present, in this amazing place, now.” And then I notice her, just ahead, beginning to meander toward my side of the walking path.
Any Pilgrim’s journey asks the traveler to set personal, focused intentions – to adopt a receptive state of mind, a framework for a mission into new places, both external and internal. Extraneous worries and constant analyses only muddle the pathway’s purpose. Seeing her walk my way sparks that reminder and the insignificance of things I’ve let cloud my pilgrim path quickly jump to my mind. I believe pilgrimages don’t have to be physically challenging, but to do their best work, to be their most authentic, they do ask us to travel them within a mindset of trust, with the assurance that their pathways hold a key to another of life’s significant doorways, just waiting to be noticed and opened.
I call out to her gently, asking her to come over and meet me. She takes her time, not from fear, I think, but more with a purpose to explore as she goes. I notice she has delicate black striping on her grey coat and that she’s lost part of her tail. She begins to talk as she travels, her meow high and sure. She finally reaches my bench and turns her big, yellow eyes up to me; we stare for a moment at each other. Then she turns and begins to use the bench leg as a rubbing post, continuing to talk to me, her newest pilgrim. Soon she lets me reach down to rub her ears and pet her small head and before I expect it, she jumps up to join me on the bench, finding her way into my lap. So tiny, almost fragile, I feel her ribs as I stroke her coat and tell her how much I appreciate her courageous visit. She simply lays her head in my hand, trusting that I have more love to give. And I’m overcome with gratitude – that at this time in my pilgrimage I’ve been given a reminder in the form of a skinny, loving gift: wherever I land, no matter the physical, emotional or spiritual state I’m in, I can trust there will be grace-filled surprises waiting for me to not only notice, but also to call to my side.