How to Be a Pilgrim
Air travel is like
ancient pilgrims walking on their
knees, flight delays and narrow seats
offer their own kind of penance.
You jettison excess baggage,
leaving behind the heavy makeup case,
knowing the rain will
wash you free of artifice.
Books you wanted to carry left too,
no more outside words needed,
then go old beliefs which keep
you taut and twisted inside.
Blistered feet stumble over rocky
fields covered with wildflowers and you
realize this is your life,
full of sharp stones and color.
Red-breasted robins call forth
the song already inside,
a hundred griefs break open under
dark clouds and downpour.
Rise and fall of elation and exhaustion,
the tides a calendar of unfolding,
a bright star rises and you remember
a loved one waiting miles away.
A new hunger is kindled by the sight of
cows nursing calves in a field,
spying a spotted pony, you forget
the weight and seriousness of things.
Salmon swim across the Atlantic,
up the River Corrib’s rapids to the
wide lake, and you wonder if you have
also been called here for death and birth.
This is why we journey:
to retrieve our lost intimacy with the world,
every creature a herald of poems
that sleep in streams and stones.
“Missing you” scrawled on a postcard sent home,
but you don’t follow with
“wish you were here.”
This is a voyage best made alone.
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks and artists,
We have been leading pilgrimages to the wild edges of Ireland for four years now, and the gifts and privileges it brings continue to multiply. We love standing in those sacred sites with our gathered community of kindred souls, spending time in silence listening to the wind and sea and stones, engaging in rituals to sing the places back to life again, the ways our pilgrims bond with one another so quickly and easily, seeing this beautiful land through new eyes again and again.
We have dates posted now for 2018 which includes three pilgrimage dates in Ireland, out of Galway, and one pilgrimage in Germany to follow in the footsteps of St. Hildegard. You can view these on our Calendar page.
To help you discern if this might be the right season to join us, I share with you a meditation from my book Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within. This meditation is also appropriate for those of you preparing for a time of inner pilgrimage, in the sanctuary of your home space.
Begin by allowing a few moments to sink into the stillness. Deepen your breath and bring it down into your belly so that you feel your belly expanding with each inhale. Then allow the exhale to be long and slow. Imagine as you breathe in that you are receiving the gift of life which sustains you moment by moment even when you are completely unaware of it. As you exhale, imagine that you are releasing, letting go of whatever is not needed for this time, anything that might be keeping you from being fully present.
Become aware of your body and notice if there are any places of tightness or holding and bring your breath to those places and see if you can soften and release.
See if you can draw your awareness with your breath from your head down to your heart center, placing a hand on your heart to make a physical connection. Rest there a moment and just notice what you are experiencing, without trying to change it. See if you can be with your feelings without judgment, bringing compassion to wherever you find yourself right now. Remember what the mystics across traditions have told us about the infinite source of compassion which dwells in our hearts. Breathe in that compassion.
In your imagination, see yourself at a doorway. Spend some time being with the door and noticing its qualities. What are the colors and textures? Is it old or new? Is it worn with time or shiny? Is it closed or slightly ajar? See if you can be with whatever image comes to mind without trying to change it.
Imagine yourself pausing here, knowing that as you cross this threshold you enter into a liminal kind of time, kairos time as the ancients called it. This is time outside of time, where you will encounter both challenges and grace along the way. In threshold space you are in between, you are invited to rest into unknowing – about what the journey will bring, about even where you are going exactly.
Notice what you are carrying with you and see if there is anything you can set aside before you begin this journey. What you are carrying might be objects and possessions, but they might also be beliefs or attitudes about yourself or life or about God. What could you set down on the ground and leave for this time? And what are the essentials that you want to have with you? What feels important to carry?
When you feel ready open the door and step across the threshold. Pause there on the other side. What do you see? Taste? Smell? Feel? Hear? Allow yourself some time to just be with whatever felt experience arises.
Stand here for a while, taking in the full spectrum of what you are feeling. Welcome in joy, excitement, fear, trepidation, anxiety, and whatever else is arising with an open heart. Call on that compassion once again.
Offer a prayer here, at the threshold, for whatever your heart’s desire is for this time ahead. Speak from your heart about whatever it is you long for most. Make a commitment to continue showing up to the practice and to return ever so gently when you fall away.
Remember this place, knowing that you will be journeying forward from here into unknown territory, knowing that you have everything you need to navigate this time ahead and a community of fellow pilgrims as guides and companions.
When you feel ready gently deepen your breathing once again and bring your awareness from this inner space to the world around you once again. Allow some time for journaling and reflection on your experience. Name the images that arose for you.
What did you discover on this inner journey?
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner