bee happy * bee well * bee positive

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pilgrimages: How to find the sacred in the everyday living.
passageway to a pilgrimage

    Have you ever wished that you could take a spiritual trip, say to see the pyramids in Egypt, to swim in the Dead Sea in Israel or to walk the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral. These classic spiritual journeys are the stuff pilgrimages are made of, but many of us may never find the time or resources to take a spiritual journey far from home. No matter- there are plenty of small pilgrimages that can be taken in your neighborhood, at nearby destinations or even in your own backyard.
    According to  the Free Dictionary: 
 pilgrimage is  1. a journey to a shrine or other sacred place  2. a journey or long search made for exalted or sentimental reasons.  Journey seems to be the main theme, but a journey may be physical, emotional, spiritual, even personal growth is a journey.
     The easiest journey of this type is the simple act of meditating. Taking the time to sit and experience the moment just as it is, is a journey of the spirit, moving inward away from the mundane and allowing yourself a respite from the demands of daily life.  Even without the focus of meditation as a refuge, time spent in nature can be a pilgrimage whether to the park, nearby woods or lake, or just as far as the lawn chair in your backyard. Allow yourself the time to sit and soak up the sights and sounds, turn off the phone and relax for a few moments. If your children are playing in the yard or park, observe them as though they were a rare life form (because that is what they are, kids today- parents tomorrow). If you do decide to journey to your lawn chair or farther, take a moment to ground yourself by placing your bare feet or hands on the lawn or even the concrete and allow the energy of the earth to move through you. The earth has electromagnetic energy that our human bodies were made to be in contact with on a daily basis. Today we live in insulated homes, wear insulated clothing and shoes and drive in insulated vehicles, so even when we are in nature it has a hard time interacting with us.  Some days the only nature I experience is the walk from the house to my car and the clouds I see as I drive to...where-ever, it is not enough.
     Another simple pilgrimage is a trip to your local museum, bio-park or historic venue. I once traveled to the east coast to visit my parents siblings (I was 11 or 12) and we went to see Fort McHenry where the Star Spangled Banner was written. My Aunt and Uncle had lived in the area for 30+ years and had never been there even though it was only a few miles away. What treasures are waiting for discovery in your neck of the woods? Transporting yourself to ancient cultures, pouring into visual playgrounds, or expanding your mind with science exhibits can be just the ticket to a journey of respite that will take you virtually anywhere your pilgrim self has a fancy to go.
     That is how I see it: it doesn't have to be a trip to Stonehenge, although you might enjoy that, it is more a mini-vacation that refreshes you and lifts your spirits. And while I think that a classic pilgrimage   is a wonderful experience, I don't think that it is the end all bee all for everyone. I firmly believe that small dedicated excursions, physical or psychological, are pilgrimages we can all make and greatly benefit from.
      Which brings me to my favorite pilgrimage of all, labyrinths. A labyrinth is a unicursal path. You walk in to the center, turn around and walk back out. It is not a maze which purposely has blind avenues and requires one to solve it's riddle. Depictions of labyrinths have been found from ancient Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, the British Isles and in the Native American US southwest. While it is impossible to know exactly what purpose an ancient or medieval labyrinth was created for, we can choose to create a space for pilgrimage when we encounter one new or old. The labyrinth represents a journey and since you can set an intention or question as you begin the journey, I feel it is sacred in it's essential nature.
       You may be able to locate a labyrinth in your local area to experience one first hand. There are several in my city. A good resource to find one near you is World Wide Labyrinth Locator or you can create one of your own. I have 2 in my small yard. The one picture here is painted, with sample size paint from the local hardware store, on my patio. It is about 6 feet across and has 3 circuits. The one pictured above and to the right is painted on my backyard fence and it is also has 3 circuits. There is one that I laid out with rocks years ago when I lived on my son's property in a pine forest (pictured on my blog of June 24, 2012) 7 circuits and I have drawn, used wire and beads,stamped and bought a few others including a 12 x12 inch wooden finger board.
      The simplest labyrinth is a simple spiral. Classical labyrinths usually turn in and out so that at times you seem to be heading for the center and at times away in the manner of a journey where the destinations is not always in sight. But a spiral has a simple unicursal path and is the prototype all labyrinths originated from.  You can easily draw a spiral  with childrens sidewalk chalk on your driveway or patio. Or you can go to to learn how to draw a classic 3or 7 circuit layout or a Chartres medieval labyrinth on paper to use with your finger or in your yard to walk. I have seen one in a front yard near my home. Which ever way you decide to go, simple spiral or trip to a Cathedral, handheld finger board or hiking a forest path in the mountains, the local museum or just to your lawn chair to watch the kids run through the sprinkler, a pilgrimage awaits you right there in your everyday life.

                                 Take a piece of 8x11 paper, computer or notebook paper is great or recycle a paper bag. Draw a spiral starting from the center, where your first loop is about1-2 inches to give you a resting place and continue to spiral out so that the paths between the lines are about 1/4 inch wide. Draw until it feels done or you run out of space on the paper. Place your finger (dominant if you want a comfortable journey or non-dominant if you want more stimulation) at the farthest edge of the spiral and begin to follow the path to the center. A choice here: you can ask a question, set an intention, dedicate your journey or just see what comes up. I have a little dedication I say and I ground for a moment before walking into my patio labyrinth. When you get to the center pause for a moment or 2 and when you are ready follow the path back to where you started.

      Did anything come up or was it just an experience of relaxed focus?  Last week as I walked my eyes kept bothering me and I ended up walking with my eyes closed for most of the time. Still I made it to the center and back and as I paused I realized it was a message. I am in a very transitional phase of my life and I am not sure exactly how I will get to where I am going. Just like my walk that day I am going "blindly" at times, but my spiral trip reminded me that if I just keep going I will get to where I need to go.
      In medieval times pilgrimages were taken by Europeans to the middle east as a form of Piety or religious devotion. Today I recommend pilgrimage as a type of meditation, a way to reconnect with what is whole and sacred or special in your life. It's a way to center ourselves in our daily life and enjoy the simple beauty that surrounds us, in a trip to the museum with our family, a hike on the beach or a few moments lounging under a tree in our yard. A pilgrimage is available to you anytime, now you just have to choose which journey you will take today.
                      blissings, amber

  PS: If you have time I would highly recommend that you find a walking labyrinth in your neighborhood or city to have the experience of one firsthand. The proprioceptive (the sense of where you are in space) quality of a 7 or cathedral circuit rocking you as you spiral in and out adds a dimension that cannot be duplicated with a finger labyrinth. And due to recent popularity they are popping up at hospitals, churches and events in most areas. Happy journey :) !

MENDs FYI tidbit:
    Walking is a great way to improve your health and unless you are under the age of 1 you already know how to do it. It's easy to start a walking program with minimal expense and time. You will need a comfortable pair of shoes, a water bottle and a way to time yourself. Start out slowly: 5-10 minutes of moderate strolling and work yourself up in 5 minute increments until you reach 30 to 45 minutes. According to the CDC 150 minutes of brisk walking a week ( that's 30 minutes 5 times a week) and a couple of days doing some muscle strenghtening exercise is enough to improve your health.
If you find that you can't walk for long periods of time they recommend that you break it up into 10 minute sessions. Ten minutes walking in place while you watch the evening weather report counts, that is what I do. Small hand weights or resistance bands cost very little so if you use them while you watch the rest of the news you will have met both requirements. Especially if you watch the news twice a day as I do and every day (20 minutes x 7 = 140 minutes). I love this because it is very hot in the summer and snows in the winter here, but I can stay active year round. Walking is natural and has many health benefits. It's easy to fit into even the busiest schedule and most of us already know how to do it. Be sure to check with your Doctor to ask if you are healthy enough to use walking as exercise and I am pretty sure a big smile will light up her face because you did. A few steps is all it takes.

see you soon...