June 11th, 2022
“A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.” – Tao Te Ching
“My turning point was my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It was then that I, who had dedicated most of my life to penetrate the ‘secrets’ of the universe, realized that there are no secrets. Life is and will always be a mystery.” ~ Paulo Coehlo
I know two people who are on a pilgrimage. They are both friends of mine, but they don’t know each other. They are walking along the “Camino de Santiago” in Spain. “The Way of St. James” is 475 miles long and ends up at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. One of my friends appears to be traveling the entire route all in one shot. He will be walking for well over a month, maybe two. The other person I know has been doing the pilgrimage in series of smaller segments, giving himself and his wife the opportunity to rest.
My wife, Karin, and I have often thought about hiking on the Camino. However, that seems to be beyond our capabilities. Karin, since she had COVID in 2020, gets out of breath easily. A walk around the neighborhood is usually all she can handle. I also had COVID, and I find that strenuous activities are sometimes overwhelming. for me. We could potentially walk a short stretch of the Camino, but that would be about it.
My wife and I became the legal guardians of our toddler grandson, Asher last week. This fact is a greater obstacle to the making a pilgrimage than our physical condition. B.A. (Before Asher), we used to travel extensively, sometimes being away from home for a month or more. This is no longer the case. Now, it is a major effort just to get across town with the little boy in tow. I cannot imagine Karin or I going to Spain until Asher is much older, but then of course we too will be much older.
Why go on a pilgrimage? A person who makes a pilgrimage is by definition a seeker. Some seekers have a clear idea of what they hope to find. Some just have an emptiness inside that has to be filled. They know that they need whatever is missing, but they may have no idea what it is. I guess a pilgrimage is a journey to find something, although that something is often difficult to describe. Maybe it is an attempt to find God, or peace, or meaning. Each person seeks something unique, something that they understand intuitively, but perhaps not rationally.
It seems that almost all religious traditions encourage some sort of pilgrimage. Hindus travel to Benares on the Ganges. Muslims are supposed to make a trip to Mecca at least once in their lives. Jews visit the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Catholics go to Rome.
I’ve been to Jerusalem. That was almost forty years ago. I went there as a tourist, not as a pilgrim. I found the city to be fascinating, but nothing there resonated with me. Other people were in Jerusalem as pilgrims, and that place meant everything to them. In physical terms, Jerusalem was the same for me as it was for the pilgrims. However, our experiences were radically different. The difference was a result of who we were when we visited that city, and why we were there.
A pilgrimage is symbolic of the journey of life. Some people focus intently on the final destination. Some pay attention to the day-to-day experiences. Chogyam Trungpa, the Buddhist teacher wrote a book called “The Path is the Goal”. The gist of the book is that the process is what matters. St Catherine of Siena once said that all the way to heaven is heaven. Some Christians obsess about getting to heaven, when perhaps in actuality heaven is already here.
In my experiences with Buddhists, I have heard the idea that all of us have an essential Buddha nature. We are already perfect, but we don’t realize it. This might mean that going on a pilgrimage is superfluous, because we already have whatever we seek. I’m not sure about that. Sometimes, a person needs to leave home to come home. Sometimes, we have to go through enormous struggles and travel great distances to understand we had it all from the very beginning.
Referring back to our grandson, Asher, it is obvious to me that he is embarked on a remarkable journey. Our toddler is on a pilgrimage. He may never leave this town. He might never go anywhere far away. It doesn’t matter. He is starting on a path that will lead him to new worlds. He is beginning something exciting and wonderful.
I don’t need to go to Santiago de Compostela. I don’t need to go to Rome or Tibet. I can go with Asher on his journey. It will be an excellent pilgrimage. Asher will show me things that I have never imagined.