After a momentous meeting on a pilgrimage to Peru, Dani blew me away with this wonderful blog on pilgrimage! Enjoy!
Intense. Potent. Game-changing.
How to engage in the ancient art of pilgrimage in modern life
The term ‘pilgrimage’ can perhaps invoke ideas of ancient quests or religious obligation, even fanaticism; however ‘pilgrimage’ simply means a journey of spiritual significance; a search for meaning or deeper wisdom. This can be a physical journey, usually to sacred sites of significance to the pilgrim’s faith or the human story generally, or it can be a metaphysical journey into one’s own beliefs. What makes a pilgrimage is the pilgrim’s clarity of intent that they bring to the journey and the active choice to experience it. In this context any conscious exploration of the spiritual-self is a pilgrimage. Joining a meditation circle, engaging in a fast, adopting a mantra, returning to a childhood place or indeed walking across sacred ground, are all pilgrimages when the pilgrim holds the intent for healing, transformation and expansion of spirit.
I am a pilgrim and I am a well, happy, modern woman walking a spiritual path and I am not alone. Over the years I have met hundreds of modern pilgrims. They’re not broken, or weird, religious fanatics, nor ‘woo-woo’. They are quite ordinary people, raising families, working and studying, living well, yet they have learnt that pilgrimage is one of the most potent accelerants to spiritual growth available to us in modern life. As an avid explorer of Spirit through walking across sacred ground, and a space-holder for regular pilgrimages in Asia, I have come to understand that regardless of where or how one chooses to experience pilgrimage, there are some common factors that occur each and every time. When the pilgrim is aware and ready for them, it allows for a much deeper engagement in the process. As intense, awe-inspiring and sometimes unsettling as a pilgrimage can be, when we understand the dynamics of pilgrimage, we always return changed forever, expanded, and able to view our lives anew. Pilgrimage seeds us with wisdom and creates an energetic uplift in ways that no other spiritual practice does, but you need to strap-in. Pilgrimage is not for the faint-hearted.
Sometimes I travel to known pilgrimage sites like the Sacred Valley of Peru, sections of Il Camino through the Pyrenees, the trail of the Magdalene in Southern France, the stone circles of the British Isles and the forests of Assisi for example. Sacred Sites that have been engaged with and visited for spiritual purpose through history hold a particularly high resonance for personal transformation. Walking across these sites and meditating in certain hot spots allows the pilgrim to engage with the energy of the land, geometry of the structures and the undeniable field created by the many pilgrims who have walked there before. Sacred sites enable pilgrimages on steroids. And at the end of every year I disappear into the wilderness alone, a kind of wild pilgrimage, to acknowledge the learning and shifts of the year passed and clarify intent and direction for the year to come. The wilderness enables direct communion with the Universal Field, a shift into nothingness and surrender and that’s where all the good stuff lies. In between I enter many spiritual processes in my day-to-day life, with clear intent. You could say I’m a professional pilgrim.
From my experiences and sharing with other pilgrims around the world, it is clear, that the greater the preparation into gaining clarity of intent beforehand, the more amplified the experience and shifts. I have recently returned to Singapore after my main pilgrimage for this year, to the Peruvian Andes hosted by Quechuan and Nakoda Shaman. For eight months prior to leaving for Peru I honed my intent and honoured the process with disciplined preparation. I fasted regularly and meditated daily. I journaled and reached for clarity of intent constantly. As soon as the choice and commitment is made to experience pilgrimage the themes of highest intent start to emerge into consciousness, usually well before the experience commences. I have returned changed. I know my state of consciousness and the lens through which I see my life have changed, because everything once familiar, appears different to me – my home, my children’s faces, their voices, my city, the jungle where I run, the way I teach and write, sounds, smells, tastes, relationships even colours appear anew. And my body has changed, even my skin and my energy field has risen. I am strong and my heart is full of joy. I see beauty everywhere.
Pilgrimage descales the senses and reboots the spirit. There are so many aspects to this year’s experience that I will write about in coming articles and there are many hidden, intensely beautiful moments and insights that cannot be adequately expressed in clunky words or concepts. What has come to me in stunning clarity is the archetypal, dazzling living art of pilgrimage itself.
Dawn Meditation at Borobudur Temple – Creative Spirit Retreat
(Thank you to my retreat partner Anna Layard for capturing this image. I was deep in communion and had no idea it was taken, but so grateful to have it.)
So what are the dynamics of pilgrimage as a living art? What happens when we consciously choose to explore the spiritual-self through pilgrimage and our perception and engagement with ordinary reality vastly changes upon our return?
Firstly, engaging in pilgrimage creates a dynamic that blends out inner and outer realities – a sacred ‘third space’. Within this sacred space, this vortex, our ordinary, on-the-ground activities, become charged with spiritual energy and dynamics. Nothing that happens on pilgrimage is outside the living expression of the intent, nothing. Every aspect of the experience is conscious, active and enabling the intent held in the pilgrim’s heart. In this sacred third-space the pilgrim experiences direct contact with spiritual dynamics that could be described by the onlooker as distinctly ‘super-natural’. To open to these incredible dynamics, the pilgrim must adopt, first and foremost, a trust in the pilgrimage process and ability to view all experiences, from triggers to dreams, to natural elements and coincidences and synchronicities mindfully; that is, to remain out of the reactive zone, and maintain a state of open acceptance. When this state of open acceptance is gently held, then the pilgrimage process comes alive, has room to move around us and through us and delivers on our intent, always in sublimely beautiful ways.
At the start of each pilgrimage I will often receive triggers, through people and relationships or potential obstacles to taking the journey for example. These triggers allow a clearing of any restricting mindset, expectation or energy I am holding that must be released for me to go deeply into the experience. Obstacles are perhaps the greatest blessings, as they provide the opportunity to choose and re-choose the intent for spiritual exploration and they raise the desire for it, which are powerful spiritual forces. On my way to Peru this year my flight took me through London and then Miami onto Lima. I hadn’t realized that I needed a US visa to enter a US airport, even though I was staying airside for a connecting flight and not entering the US officially. I wasn’t alone at the check-in counter. Several other travellers, some business travellers, others tourists, were losing their load on the poor staff, as the visa process can take up to seventy-two hours for approval and comes at a cost. Amidst all the reactive noise, I calmly applied online for the visa and asked the staff to check my bags through to London. I was on the move and I knew that refraining from reaction or fear would vastly affect the outcome. I chose pilgrimage. The check-in lady questioned me several times, “But if it’s not through by the time you land in London you’ll be stranded there and unable to take all your connecting flights…” “I’ll go anyway!” I said with a smile and off I went. Despite receiving a message upon boarding that my visa would take the full seventy-two hours to process, it was sitting in my inbox when I arrived in Heathrow thirteen hours later.
Maintaining open acceptance and diving into the sacred third-space of pilgrimage requires inner practice, for me this is meditation, meditative ritual and journaling. By rotating our awareness inward and engaging in beautiful spiritual practices, we embody pilgrimage; that is, we also blend our inner ordinary day-to-day reality with the world of Spirit. In this way we not only observe the experience as it unfolds, but we also feel it. Our energy body is raised and sensitive to the movement of Spirit. Exchanges with other pilgrims are always key channels for learning and when we are embodying the dynamics of pilgrimage we absolutely know when the exchange, conversation, or simply the presence of the fellow pilgrim or experience is significant to our own journey, because the entire energy body hums. It is also very common for fellow pilgrims to receive refractions of the same insights, shared dreams and encounters with the wilderness when on pilgrimage. Sharing these when ‘the hum’ is on provides delicious affirmations that you are steeped deeply in the process and also helps build the wisdom out to its fullest picture.
Simple Connection Ritual with the Divine
Mother Mountain of Machu Picchu – Huayna Picchu
Bounty collected from the forest in preparation for gratitude ritual on annual Wild Pilgrimage
A practice that I engage in at the start of every pilgrimage is a simple initiation ritual that acknowledges the intent and every aspect of the experience to come. It commits myself and my groups to the process, bonds the circle in intent, awareness and trust and it activates the spirit of the pilgrimage itself. This ‘spirit of the pilgrimage’ is a living vortex of energy, woven through each of us, the place, the atoms and electrons, the process, the elements, our bodies and energy structures, our DNA, our sense of expectation and the promise of what is to come.
Imogiri, Meditation Site on Creative Spirit Retreats, Java Indonesia
Solar Practice on Neolithic Fire Altar at Qenko, one of the many pre-Inca sacred sites surrounding Cusco, Peru. (Thank you to Trudi Bannister for capturing this image. I was deep in communion and had no idea it was taken, but so grateful to have it.)
The process of pilgrimage is not always comfortable. Any authentic spiritual process requires a shakedown of old paradigms, beliefs and long-held denser energies, in other words, a clearing. A common experience of pilgrimage is clearing the energy body and this can get pretty intense. Clearing can take many forms. In its milder iterations it can occur through the emotional body, perceived as high sensitivity to triggers, unexplained anger or feelings of sadness and almost always expresses through tears. With deeper clearing of long-held limiting beliefs and energy it almost always manifests physically and usually through a temporary experience of cold, flu, fever, skin irritation and interestingly for women, through heavier than usual mensa bleed, or onset of the moon blood outside of regular cycles. In a fascinating recent example, one of the women I was sharing with in Peru, who had been through menopause and hadn’t experienced a physical bleed for nearly a year, had a distinct feeling of her bleed coming on at a highly resonant site call Amaru in the Sacred Valley. She was convinced that her body had released another unexpected bleed as part of her clearing. When she returned to the hotel that afternon she was totally surprised not to see any evidence of this when she took a shower. And then as she hand-washed her underwear in the bathroom sink, the water turned red. Her system had manifested a clearing of an etheric bleed that moved into the physical when the element of water was engaged. I haven’t heard of this before, but I totally get it.
Group Condor & Eagle ceremony at Aramu Muru’s Doorway, Peru. This highly resonant site triggered many individual experiences of revelation , clearing and healing for pilgrims. At the end of the ceremony both a Condor and an Eagle circled overhead – signaling the ceremony was blessed.