It’s a story we know well from our favorite books and films.
An unsettled heroine or hero embarks upon a journey—planned or unbidden—that brings them to their edges, filled with trials, adventure, and new revelations. In the end, there must always be something that is surmounted—the game won, the dragon slayed, the challenge faced—but through this encounter, something is gained that has the power to change life entirely. In mythologist Joseph Campbell’s study on the monomyth or hero’s journey, this is called the “boon,” and it is not just a gift for the seeker—it is an offering to the world.
There is wisdom to be found in the encounters we experience on pilgrimage, whether we are traveling abroad or journeying with intention in everyday life, which means there is also a boon to be shared. Just as a labyrinth—so often used as a metaphor for pilgrimage—guides us on a journey into the center and back out to the world, pilgrimage, too, is not just about the journey inward, it also includes the outward journey. This journey of return back into the world is one of action, a counter to the act of contemplation and an invitation to not hoard the riches of the journey, but to share them with those who need them most.
Contemplation and action are Journey Companions; the journey in and the journey out go hand in hand. Just as our places of wounding and desire are invitations to seek out transformation, so, too, is our transformation an invitation to contribute to others’ formation. Our own healing can contribute to the healing of others, and, in time, to the healing of the world. As theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
The world needs your pilgrimage because it needs the “boon” you will discover and share. It needs you to journey with intention—whether abroad or in everyday life—because it’s desperate for the wisdom offered and the witness borne by a soul that is fully alive.
Did you ever consider when beginning your quest that the question that led you on your journey might not be yours alone, but the question of others, too? And that the quest you followed might have been on behalf of those not so different from yourself? This is why the Seeker’s journey is not a vacation, but a pilgrimage, the question not a sign of doubt, but the first whispers of a calling. Like the prophets calling out in the wilderness, all callings speak to Divine intervention—those places where the Sacred breaks through in the most unexpected of places, bringing forth transformation. And this intervention isn’t exclusive; whenever the Sacred shows up, it’s always on behalf of us all.
What did you learn on your journey that you can pass on to others? What for you was once a deep wound that your pilgrimage has transformed into a place of collective healing? What is the “boon” received on your pilgrimage, and what, in turn, is your offering to the world? This is the ultimate purpose of pilgrimage.
When you are on a journey that is coming to a close, reflect on the following questions as you consider how your pilgrimage experience might, in turn, be an offering to the world:
- Were truths uncovered on my pilgrimage that leave me feeling more deeply connected to all of humanity?
- What trials were faced or suffering experienced that expanded my capacity for empathy?
- Where was I softened by humility?
- What action do I feel called to take in my community as a result of my pilgrimage?
- How do I now feel invited to engage more fully with others?
- When, on my journey, was I most fully alive? How can that life-light continue to shine?
- How has my pilgrimage experience shifted my perspective toward openness, love, and hope?
Which of your current acts of service to others were sparked by meaningful journeys? Trace them back to their origins to discover the questions and quest that led you to where you are today.