For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, summer is nearly here!
I know, I know—you didn’t get that pilgrimage on the calendar that you were hoping for, but you do have that family trip to the beach scheduled, or perhaps that annual camping trip with your college friends. Maybe you’re stay-cationing this year and want your week to be filled with more than binge-watching on Netflix this time around.
Whatever the journey, you can still make it meaningful with some intentionality. Here are 5 ways to turn your ordinary trip into a pilgrimage:
1. CHOOSE A THEME FOR YOUR JOURNEY
The theme of the pilgrim’s journey is the entry point for transformation, and can vary from pilgrim to pilgrim and from journey to journey. However, one thing is certain: the search of the pilgrim is ultimately to know more of the self and more of God.
As Phil Cousineau says in The Art of Pilgrimage: “Questions tune the soul. The purpose behind questions is to initiate the quest.” When figuring out a theme for your trip-turned-pilgrimage, consider what questions you have that you would like to devote time to exploring. Or perhaps your trip is the perfect time to work through some things that you have been neglecting in the day to day, like grief over a lost relationship or a loved one.
Whatever the theme, choose one and stick to it. That means only reading things that have to do with your theme (save those magazines for another time!), devoting your spiritual practices to your theme, and going deeper with your theme through daily journaling (more on that below).
Here are some ideas for themes and some reading suggestions to go along with them:
- pilgrimage (might as well start at square one!): The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau or The Soul of a Pilgrim by Christine Valters Paintner
- contemplative spirituality: The Naked Now by Richard Rohr or The Big Book of Christian Mysticism by Carl McColman
- self discovery: The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte or The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
- vocation and direction: To Be Told by Dan Allender or Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
- waiting and transformation: When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd or Yearnings by Irwin Kula
- creativity: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron or The Artist’s Rule by Christine Valters Paintner (both longer commitments that can carry on past your journey)
Whatever theme you decide, make sure that it isn’t about knowing more, but rather going deeper. When you choose a theme that is essential in nature, you risk more, are challenged more, and are more deeply impacted.
2. FOLLOW A MORNING ROUTINE
As you might have gathered by now, spiritual practices are essential to the pilgrim. While the pilgrim can’t be certain where the journey might lead, she at least knows that she can find stability in the spiritual practices she returns to each day.
Try incorporating spiritual practices into your trip-turned-pilgrimage through a morning routine. Start each day rooted in your spirituality and your search with the same spiritual practices.
Here are some ideas:
- Take morning walks along the same route
- Pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit outside, and simply listen for 20 minutes or more
- Practice lectio divina with texts centered on your theme
- Spend time creating—doodling, painting, singing—whatever calls you
- Greet the day with sun salutations
- Devote time to inspirational reading
- Practice centering prayer or meditation for 20 minutes
I suggest taking some of the above practices, adding some of your own, and creating a morning routine that fits you and your theme best. When planning, consider the practices in which you feel most connected to the Sacred, but also remember that trying something new and challenging can bring about growth.
3. TAKE TIME FOR REFLECTION
Reflection is important to the pilgrim in every stage of the journey. Prior to departure, the pilgrim spends time reflecting on his desires and search. During the journey, the pilgrim reflects on both the trials and surprises he faces, pondering their significance. Upon return, the pilgrim looks back on the journey as a whole, from its initiation to its twists, turns, and close, and begins to put the pieces together, naming themes and honoring areas of transformation.
Even though your journey might be slightly different than the pilgrim, you can still experience transformation through intentional engagement, and reflecting on your journey will give you the eyes to see the transformation at hand.
I suggest you do this by journaling regularly, specifically during the following times:
- When you choose your theme. Perhaps the journaling will even help you come to the theme you should explore. Remember what Phil Cousineau says? The questions initiate the quest…
- Before your departure. How are you feeling as you set off on your journey? What are your hopes? Your fears?
- Each night of your journey. I suggest doing this at night rather than as a part of your morning routine because I think it’s easier to examine the day that way. If you don’t know where to start, begin by exploring the high and low points of your day and then consider where your theme might fit in. Often, the high and low points in our day occur when we are vulnerable, and are thus indicators of our true selves. When you look at these moments with your theme in mind, you might learn more about your own personal journey.
- Upon return. Reflect back on your experience as a whole and write about it. You might want to write about it right away, which is good, but I also suggest returning to your experience after a few weeks of settling back into your normal routine. Then you’ll be able to start seeing your journey’s lasting impact. If you feel distant from your journey and are unsure of its impact a few weeks out, that’s a good thing to explore, too—just like our questions can indicate our quest, our current state can tell us about what’s going on internally.
4. SHARE YOUR JOURNEY
It’s likely that you’ll be traveling with family and friends, and if you’ve given your journey a theme, followed a morning routine, and taken time in the evenings to reflect, they’ll probably know something’s up. At the end of the week, invite someone to join you in your journey. After all, with pilgrimage, the hope is that the pilgrim returns with wisdom and insight that can be shared with all.
Here are a few ways to share your journey with others:
- Share your theme with them and perhaps some quotes or insights from a book that has brought you inspiration
- Invite them to participate in an aspect of your morning routine. You could invite them to share one of their practices with you as well.
- Spend time reflecting together in the evening by a fire, on the beach, or lingering over dinner with a glass of wine.
- Share where your journey has taken you, and invite your collaborator to reflect on their experience of your trip as well.
5. BRING SOMETHING HOME
These are souvenirs, pilgrim-style. My hope is that with your intentional engagement, this time away will be a significant time for you. Once you return home, it will be important to be reminded of your journey and the truth you discovered about the Divine and your self while there.
Just as the pilgrim returning from the Camino brings home a scallop shell (a specific symbol for that pilgrimage), I suggest you bring home an item or two that resonates with you and will help call you back to your journey and theme once you return home.
Whether found or purchased, here are some ideas to get you started:
- Gather natural objects from your walks or hikes
- Bring home a small container of sand or water from your beach vacation
- Press a flower between the pages of a book and frame it when you get home
- Purchase a piece of jewelry that you can wear regularly in honor of your time
- Take photos or draw sketches and create a collage or book when you return home
What trips are you taking that you could turn into a pilgrimage with a little intention?
Click the image below to download a pocket guide of this post to take with you on your next journey (PDF):
This post was first published in June of 2013. While the pocket guide remains the same, some suggested resources have been updated in this post. Find even more resources here.