The Art of Pilgrimage

ireland ruins seaThe difference between a journey and a pilgrimage is that on a pilgrimage every step counts. – Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

Ever since I first felt the pull of my Irish ancestors, my trips to Ireland have always had the quality of a pilgrimage where I let my heart and intuition lead me to visit the places and meet the people that have the ability to expand my sense of myself and my place in the world.

I don’t think we have to travel half way around the world for this experience. I do think we need to slow down and pay closer attention to the world around us and our own inner yearnings and callings. You could do this on a day trip to somewhere you’ve never been before or to a favorite place, while holding the intention of seeing it through new eyes and having new experiences. Our souls love newness and change. It’s why simply going away for the weekend can leave us feeling restored.

Writing, or any practice of creative expression, can be it’s own sort of pilgrimage where we are surprised along the way as we explore our creative imagination and inner realms. I always love it when in my writing something pops out of my pen and I think “wow, that’s really interesting, I didn’t know I thought that.”

I’ve found in writing¬†and traveling it’s best to view the journey itself as it’s own reward and be open to what the world has to say to you through the people you meet, the inspired thoughts you have, and intuitions on where to go and what to do.

Reading a great poem can also provide a sense of pilgrimage as we pay attention to what is invoked in our inner landscape. The following poem by Nobel Prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney, which is one of my all time favorites, captures the quality of how an ordinary experience can become extraordinary by looking more carefully at the world and letting our imaginations play.


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open

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