Earlier this month I read Joan Anderson’s book “A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman”. This is the story of a woman searching for herself, attempting to connect again to her deepest knowings. She leaves her husband and settles in their cottage in the Cape along the Atlantic Ocean and moves steadfastly and deeply into her confusion and inner despair. By the end of the year she’s carved out a space of independence and connection. She’s swam with seals. She’s celebrating her “unfinished” nature, the way that life will keep unfolding and spiralling through her. She’s put some of the jigsaw pieces of herself back together. It was a sacred year of pilgrimage.
Kind of reminded me of the book “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Anyone who reads this book is struck by the possibility of moving away from the everyday world into nature and allowing something larger than the everyday self to lead the way. The cycles of the seasons teach us how to better connect with our innermost selves. Both Anne and Joan emerged from their pilgrimages with a deeper connection to spirit, to the earth, to others, to life.
Reading stories like these have spurred me on to carving spaces in my life to dive deeper into myself. I have truly worked to make these spaces priorities amidst the busyness, the ordinary days, the hours of glassy-eyed staring at the computer or in work-related tasks. Whether in the garden or by the lake, in the woodstove-heated basement or sitting on a lawn chair on the deck, I have dedicated hours to silence, to returning to center, to seeking the inner jewel which gleams in colors of peace, freedom and joy.
I have been wondering if most women and men consciously do this. Find alone places. Find places where “doing nothing” is more important than “doing something.” Places where being shines more brightly than our actions.
It feels, to me, like one of the most positive contributions we can make to the planet. To seek for the places inside which are already whole, which don’t care about appearances as much as essence. To find the center inside where we shine brightly from our completeness rather than our fragmented shards of personality and accomplishment.
This morning I hopped in the car for a mini-pilgrimage to the Mouth of the Huron. This is a long stretch of sandy beach open to the public at the edge of Baraga and Marquette counties. People camp out here on the sand; smoky fires dot the horizon in the morning and evening and the sound of laughter echoes across the water. You can see the Huron Islands offshore about five miles, beacons for travelers in boat and kayak and canoe. It is an amazingly isolated area with incredible natural beauty.
Before departing I posted my Facebook status: Heading out for a solo pilgrimage to the Mouth of the Huron…just a few hours sitting by the lake…thinking, dreaming…seeing if there are any wild blueberries left. (All good pilgrimages should involve something good to eat, right? However, be forewarned. Most of the berries which remained were dark huckleberries with pithy seeds. Although I later found a handful of blueberries closer to the ground.)
Here are some possible guideposts for a pilgrimage:
1) It will probably take you a while to relax. Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours, minimum. More if possible. The first hour will be spent unwinding from daily cares.
2) For better relaxation: breathe deeply deeply deeply for that first hour. Breathe into any aches and pains. When the mind starts thinking about planning, figuring out, yesterday’s dinner, what so-and-so meant by the last thing she said…gently but firmly bring your attention back to the present moment. Maybe keep your attention on your feet if it wanders outside the present moment.
3) Spend some time sitting. Even if it’s dewy and your jeans get wet! Let your eyes travel across the horizon and up close. Let your ears hear the seagulls. Your nose smell the pine needles on the path to the beach. Your fingers linger on the tree bark. Taste a blueberry, if you’re lucky enough to find one. Engage all your senses.
4) Let spontaneity determine what you should do, if anything. I recommend diving into the blue waters if you’re brave. Don’t let thoughts of cold stop you. The thoughts are wrong–especially this summer!
Doesn’t sound too hard, does it? Have any of you been on a pilgrimage recently? In the past day? Week? Month? Year? If not, what thoughts try to convince you not to go?
One of my friends said recently she really really really needed a break. But she couldn’t go, couldn’t leave her family. I suggested, hey, how about four hours at the beach? Four hours alone? Can you arrange for a babysitter for those few hours?
Her eyes opened in amazement. Her face lit up. Yes, yes, yes! She could do this.
Why is it that we don’t give ourselves a pilgrimage every week? Once a month, at the minimum. Unless we care deeply for ourselves, unless we fill the well of ourselves with sustenance, we’ll run dry without having any leftover to share with the ones we love…