As readers, we live vicariously through the adventurers of our generation. We read the chronicles of those who left the comforts of home to strike out into the untamed and unknown, and through absorbing their experiences we are emboldened to heed our own yearnings for new landscapes. Society seems to have subconsciously adopted this notion that in leaving behind all that we have ever known, we will find ourselves—that there, at the ends of the earth, each of us can define the edges of ourself. I think this is an unrealistic ideal.
Our imagination is sparked by those travelers who set off with reckless abandon. Yet for so many of us there is a reality gap between the life of those we follow on the page and the life we ourselves must lead. The 9-5 job hardly supports our basic survival let alone the heights of our dreams. We work from the time we rise to the time we go to sleep just to support the basic needs of our body, all the while having to neglect the needs of our soul.
People speak of long pilgrimages as a rite of passage. The path through the Holy Land, the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Appalachian Trail and so on. I have never followed a map from one side of a country to another, but I have made my journey. Four pairs of leather boots worn through and 10,000 miles later, I have endured the long path.
For the majority of my life I have been hard-pressed to keep food on the table, leaving the possibility of traveling abroad ever a dream. Not all of us are able to set foot upon the far-off lands that call to us. While the number of destinations I dream of one day going to number into the dozens, my bank statement does not support the breadth of my aspirations. Do not think I am using lack of money as an excuse to stay in my comfort zone; I am not. Rather I am facing a hard truth of circumstance: Not all of us have the means to pick up and travel to different countries while heeding that desire to find ourselves. In these hard financial times, the majority of us must find ourselves while sticking relatively close to home. Leading me to ask: Must we go to the ends of the earth to gather the strands of our identity?
The purpose of a pilgrimage is about setting aside a long period of time in which the only focus is to be the matters of the soul. Many believe a pilgrimage is about going away but it isn’t; it is about coming home. Those who choose to go on pilgrimage have already ventured away from themselves; they go on pilgrimage as a means to journey back to who they are.
Many a time we believe we must go away from all that is familiar if we are to focus on our inner-wellbeing because we feel it is the only way to escape all that drains and distracts us so that we can turn inward and tend to what ails us.
For personal reasons, I could not go to foreign lands when I felt the need to make a pilgrimage unto myself. So instead, I walked the same roads I had since I was a child and arranged my life itself as a period of time in which the only focus is to be the matters of the soul. All that was detrimental that could be left behind, was. I broke ties with everything and everyone that insulted or confined my soul, allowing me to go forward and find my path into a healthier way of being.
If I could pass along one wish to you—heed you to do one thing—it would be: Make your life the pilgrimage—make your life the time of contemplation, of growth, and of returning to that place of authenticity and innocence, wherever it may be.
Unable to go outward, I went inward. The radius of my physical world so limited by circumstance, I spent many years walking the internal landscapes. When at last I was able to “loosen the belt” a bit and stretch the legs of my stiffened dreams, I found myself exploring, not foreign countries, but the rich country of New England, of which I am a native daughter.
No matter where I am situated on this earth I think I will always be a bit of a homebody, and happily so. This is not to say I spend my days cooped up away from the sunlight; rather, that I appreciate my home as a sanctuary that I am able to create and enjoy. I find peace in simple things. Having endured periods of homelessness during my childhood, I have come to appreciate my small apartment along the Connecticut coastline more than anything.
Of course, in spite of my contentment at home, I do indeed have times of restlessness. The wanderlust strikes and I feel the need to enter an inviting new surround. Working within my means, I cannot pick up and backpack through Europe when these feelings strike. For several years I felt denied life-defining experiences by my meager income. But like so many things in this life, it is all a matter of perspective. There is a difference between not being able to go on a fantastical, far-off trip to find one’s self and not needing to do so.
We do not need to go to the edges of the earth to learn who we are, only the edges of ourself. Nature aids us in turning within yet it need not be a foreign landscape.
Travel freshens the senses. A feng shui of the horizon, when we leave behind the familiar our renewed curiosity widens our eyes and we take in all the little details of our new environment. We each seek change but there are times when our life does not allow us to see to our inner-wellbeing.
In these times, when I cannot simply pick up and go, I make do with a walk about my hometown. When in the confines of our local community, we must work a little harder to feel a sense of wonder; for sadly, when we see a thing daily, its beauty fades into the background and become mundane. Nevertheless, rediscovering the beauty of what has become ordinary has its own sweetness. Seeing anew the beauty of what we have gazed upon each day, which has become tired to us—this is a revelation.
After all, what was Walden Pond before Thoreau chose it as the place for his introspection? When he chose to go off on his own into the wild and reflect, he did what was within his means. He lived off a small plot of land owned by Emerson, along the banks of a pond just outside Concord—his hometown.
*Winner of the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (Best Regional Non-fiction).
Feature blog image: Sunset hiking back to camp by Jeff Pang