A spiritual pilgrimage is different than a retreat.
I’ve had the pleasure of going on a number of silent meditation retreats, including a month-long one.
Though a meditation retreat requires logistics and planning, it is also a time of intentional slowing down and withdrawal from people, places, and stimuli.
A spiritual pilgrimage, a journey from one place to another, is quite different. Whereas retreat is about stepping away from day-to-day life, a spiritual pilgrimage requires us to not only leave our daily life behind for a period of time but to do so in an active way.
I’m writing this article from a sleeping bag at a small guest house in rural Nepal. I’m a day away from no internet for a month. I’m days away from climbing a 23,000-foot mountain that hasn’t been summited in a good number of years and has never been summited by an American. It’s a mountaineering expedition, but it’s also a deeply spiritual quest for me.
I started this journey 18 months ago. Early aspects have included dark morning runs in subzero temperatures, changing my diet to build muscle, and taking cold showers to change my relationship to the cold.
Before arriving in this small town, I flew through 12 time zones, navigated Kathmandu traffic and smog, and drove on winding bumpy roads for days. Along the way, I experienced absolute bliss, fear, frustration, pain, joy, and more. A pilgrimage is anything but a stepping away from life; rather, it is a radical leaning into life and finding meaning all along the way.
Mountaineering, which I picked up in middle age, has taught me many things. One of its most surprising gifts has been how it has created the perfect container for epic personal and spiritual growth.
I’ve found three specific components make this possible:
1. Learning to trust ourselves. There will be challenges before the adventure begins and that’s how we know that something remarkable is on the other side waiting. We have to be prepared for obstacles to arise that will feel insurmountable. The magic comes in trusting ourselves. By trusting ourselves, we create a container to expand beyond our comfort zone—where growth happens!
2. Creating powerful intentions. Intentions rewire the way we experience our world. They create the fertile ground for planting and nurturing what we want and what we need to weed and leave behind.
3. Presence. Being present with whatever arises by enjoying every moment along the journey. Whether it’s experiencing a remarkably different culture or experiencing something so beautiful we’re moved to tears, presence allows us to have a direct experience.
A final bonus to taking a spiritual pilgrimage is that it invites curiosity. When we step outside the familiarity of our day-to-day life, many things arise that are completely unknown. Like a child learning new things in their early days, on a pilgrimage we are nearly forced to invoke curiosity in order not to shutdown but rather to expand.
I hope you’ll join me in taking a spiritual pilgrimage at least once in your life. I’ll let you know how mine goes when I return in six weeks from the Himalayas.