Saturday, April 24, 2010


DHS 164

"The object of pilgrimage is not rest and recreation — to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life. Nothing matters now but this adventure. Travelers jostle each other to board the train where they crown together for a journey that may last several days. After that there is a stony road to climb on foot — a rough, wild path in a landscape where everything is new. The naked glitter of the sacred mountain stirs the imagination; the adventure of self-conquest has begun. Specifics may differ, but the substance is always the same.

"Travel brings a special kind of wisdom if one is open to it. At home or abroad, things of the world pull us toward them with such gravitational force that, if we are not alert our entire lives, we can be sucked into their outwardness. Attentive travel helps up to see this, because the continually changing outward scene helps us to see through the world's pretensions. With its phantasmagoric, kaleidoscopic character laid bare, we see it for what it truly is — perpetually perishing maya — and the world loses its wager. We can understand how perpetual wandering can be a spiritual vocation, as with dedicated pilgrims and sannyasins."

Huston Smith
In his Forward to
The Art of Pilgrimage:
The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred

Pilgrimage, for me, is different from ordinary travel in three respects, and Huston hits on two of those above, and implies, sort of, the third.

Pilgrimage is not just a vacation, it is an attempt at self-challenge: challenging yourself physically, challenging yourself mentally, challenging yourself spiritually, or some combination of all three. The purpose of pilgrimage is to figure out who you are, what you are, where your limits are, and whether or not you can push yourself past those limits into a more expansive life, a more expansive way of looking at life, a more all inclusive way of looking at everything in life. If your trip entails no measure of challenge, then you are not on a pilgrimage.

Huston is exactly correct when he says that for those who are open to it, a very special type of wisdom will make itself available to you if your trip is a true pilgrimage. The key is you have to open yourself to it, and this doesn't mean simply showing up for the show. Being open requires taking a knife to everything you thought you are, everything you thought made up that person who lives inside your skin, inside your head, and shred it to pieces — all so that the pilgrimage can rebuild you from the infinite wisdom that is Life.

But, this requires more than just arriving on the island. You have to arrive with a question, or questions. You can open yourself completely, but if you don't have any questions, you won't be ready for an answer that may appear. You have to show up with a question that is so intense that it is burning you up. You have to know what it is that you want, what it is you aren't seeing, what it is you need to get. You won't know the answer to the question, that is what Life will provide, that is the wisdom that will appear, but you have to have the question. Without that, you are wasting your time.

As Huston said, "To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life. Nothing matters now but this adventure." Nothing else matters. Nothing. The only thing that matters is asking the question, over and over, continuously, and opening yourself, turning yourself inside out, making yourself completely available to the answers that will, for the sincere, be offered.

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