Pilgrimage: Stepping Into the Blessed Unknown

Pilgrimage - Stepping Into the Blessed Unknown

25th January 2016

By Jack Adam Weber

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

“Pilgrims are persons in motion passing through territories not their own, seeking something called completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass point’s the way.” ~ H. Richard Niebuhr

Life is a pilgrimage, whose heart is experience. Yet, some sojourns are especially poignant and change our lives forever. That’s why the most meaningful experiences and rites of passage require our courage, patience, and our passion. They also require our intuition, to determine where our spirit’s compass is pointing, so we know what direction to take, even moment-to-moment.

In the moment to moment experience of feeling into and following our gut sense — approved by our right yet daring mind — is our innocence, our newness, our ability to encounter the world as freshly as we humans might be ever be able, given the cargo of our pasts we bring to the present.

If your journey is to attract the attention and affections of others, or for status, surely this is not a soulful pilgrimage. Don’t be fooled by appearances, or the way the path has been traversed before you, or what your journey looks like. It need not seem grand or holy. Its worth, its depth, its potency, is heartfelt to you alone. It need only feel life-changing, heart-transforming, and right to you, however daunting.

Your path may take you to Everest, or down into the deepest crater on Earth, Vredefort crater in South Africa. On that snowy mountain, you will experience the pit in your belly, and at Vredefort the heights of awe and amaze. Pilgrimage might mean stepping up to the plate to take care of your dying parents, diving into a new relationship, career, or your own creativity. It might involve leaving, or staying put and digging deeper right where you are. It might mean trekking miles a day or taking not a step.

For many of life’s toughest decisions, we need the sacred space of pilgrimage to sort through all that is churning inside and calling us.

So many times we wonder the right decision, which can change day-to-day. We might entertain a thousand choices an hour! And, sometimes what we think is a calling is nothing more than a fleeting desire. This is why it’s helpful to sit with our callings, to see how long they stay with us, to discern their genuineness and indelibility, their necessity for our soul.

In our deep body, in the center of our deep knowing, we know the answer for the next moment, the nature of which is also shaped as we breathe into the moment after that. The path to discovery are not linear, at all. they require an evolution, a revolution back to who we are, a comprehensive unraveling of our knots, defenses, and perceptions to reveal and shape a clearer picture. At the same time, this journey, the path itself, is the making and expression of who we are, whether or not we ever arrive at the final realization or “answer.” Life is both complete in the moment, and ever-taking new shape.

The archetypal heroic journey is not a move from point A to point B as in football, wherein the purpose is to go from the line of scrimmage to the goal. It is a movement from point A to point A to the thousandth power, as in baseball, where the point is to go from home to home with a point made — that is, something to show for the journey. ~ Dave Richo (from the book ‘How to Be an Adult in Relationships‘.)

Sometimes we don’t get to the truth but in hindsight. This is why it’s not as much about the end, but the process. For, if we don’t embody the process today and let ourselves be chosen by new frontiers, we can miss the stepping stones before our very eyes. Whether or not we complete our original aim or intuition, if we have stayed heartfelt, open, and embodied in our experience along the way, we will have something to show for the journey. We will have arrived at a new plateau, whatever it is, reshaped along the way. Our hearts, our gut, will know.

Our fear often keeps us guessing. We seem to have to go through the crazy gymnastics of our mind — its worry, anxiety, and even anguish — to get to some peace. But if we take all these feelings literally and stay away from what bothers and disturbs us, we might not get to the buried treasure on the other side of the bridge that scares us to cross over.

Pilgrimage is paradoxical and often the way we most fear. More often, our trying to make logical sense of such callings exhausts us. At that point we can either collapse, or put on our big boy and girl boots and march into what seems like the dragon’s lair based only on our intuition that something juicy is in store for us, that beckons us invisibly, yet palpably. So often our old fears prevent us from new experiences; we must be mindful and keen to notice when our old fears and hurts impinge on the present if we want to grow. So, if you feel terrified, anguished, and destroyed, take pause, take deep breaths and feel if something a little deeper inside you is saying yes. It’s easy to miss that voice when the volume of fear and chaos is so loud. See how you can walk forward now while feeling the fear of past conditioning.

Sometimes we can get so bogged down in details we miss the forest for the trees. Perspective and a temporary letting go of our controlling thoughts can help us gain overarching perspective, such as what we experience in a meditation session. With an overarching yes, we can untie our lifeboat from its moorings and set sail, even if we do so bloody-knuckled and wobbly-kneed. Our deep yes is often pregnant with the inner resources to deal with all the journey entails, resources we often forget we have. Perhaps this helps us trust a little more the unknown road before us. Again, this road can be one out into the world beyond us, or a retreat into the world inside us. Often it is both.

Callings seem to drag us into a new life. Sometimes we need the satisfaction to know we tried to choose, had control, tried to figure it out, and couldn’t — so that when we finally surrender, we gain a little more assurance it was the right-est choice. This can give us the boost in confidence we need for unknown waters. The pushing and pulling give us perspective. The trick, perhaps, is to know when to fight, when to pause, and when to surrender along the way. Each has its place. Our body and right mind know how to proceed, moment to moment.

In the end, which is each step of the way, we have to follow our gut and risk the seemingly impossible. In truth, we may never have had a choice, or not a less painful choice, anyway. For when we say no to what is really a yes, we can miss the boat that carries us across the great divide — fear’s feigned duality — into our greater destiny, a life more fully lived. At the same time, we don’t have to be kamikaze about all this; we can invite grace into the most daunting moments. Breathing deeply and frequently is sometimes the only antidote for some moments, and certainly helpful for any!

Timing is everything. We can procrastinate for what needs action now and at the same time act too quickly. Find the timing, the pace, the steps on the path that work for you — a wise and self-loving balance between pause and progress. Do this to the best of your ability and appropriateness as you surrender to the flow that feels right moment to moment.

Pilgrimage is not often glitzy, and sometimes it’s not even what we want to do. Pilgrimage is thus a soulful activity, full of both pain and pleasure, and each journey has a unique design. Don’t miss the call because you think it has to look a certain way. Outer landscapes, and the challenges of journeying through them, are metaphors and vehicles for the inner journey, all you need to grow … and then some.

Pilgrimage - Stepping Into the Blessed Unknown

Certainly, there will be strife, and that pain carves of you a life that could never have been imagined within the limits of your fear and without the turbulence and vision of your callings — all that draws you unbidden to a passionate life. Our bodies, our desires, after all, are like the wild forces of nature — the chilling depths of deep ocean, the windswept deserts of longing, the uncontrollable rapids of a raging river that deliver to unknown places, the comforting warmth of sunlight on a perfect day, the synchronous kiss and caress of waves on rugged shoreline, or the dazzling awe of a cardinal on a snowy branch. All outline and decorate the way.

Don’t get too obsessed or scared of the finish line, the result, for the means to reach it might be granted to you along the way. Sometimes all we need is a yes for that first step. And the plot might change once you step onto the path wholeheartedly. More likely, the result — whatever it turns out to be — will be nothing you can imagine now, and that end will be but the beginning of what was even more impossible for you to know before setting out. So, follow one step in front of the other, for there may be a beautiful detour that you will miss if you judge from the outset what you think is the end. This is why callings aren’t so much about answers as mysteries to step into. The unknown evokes fear in us, but this is no reason not to enter what won’t literally kill us.

Everything we’ve learned tells us not to go there, into the dark. To do so requires we unlearn our usual bearings and follow the counter-intuitive pull of excitement buried in the contraction of our fear. Because our fear represents what is forbidden or foreboding, it offers us something beyond our habits and conditioned responses. This way, our fear harbors something new for us, the possibility to experience what we have been to afraid to fear, as well as what the fading of fear births in us. Therefore, within fear lies our innocence, however buried and minute, which we can nurture and grow into. This way we heal and live more courageously and exuberantly.

Sometimes we need only live into these questions while enduring what offers no immediate answer — the practice of waiting while loosening bit by bit our clinging to expectation and predetermination. Breathing deeply and often helps.

“Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

To practice living into the answer, you might take some time off from the daily grind. Set off on a mountain trail, go camping, (where I am now) or writing in your journal, following nothing but the guidance of your own invisible rhythm in synch with your surrounds. Try following one scary, or exciting, yes to the next, guided by the compass of your gut and intuition — even if you go trembling, knock-kneed and heart-pounding. At least you have risked, and set sail.

In the end, we are the only ones who can gauge and intuit the meaning of our life, its worth, its trajectory. What is meaningful to one person, is meaningless for another. Life is full of decisions. And then, life is full of callings, events, and experiences that seem to choose us. In this we find the greatest paradox, the greatest breaking of our mind and heart, because we are called away from our control, from our plans, away from what we know, from safety, and even sanity. And in the insanity of what seems to make no sense, sometimes we find the sanity we could never have found being sane, without stepping into the blessed unknown.

Pilgrimage might seem to destroy us. It can undo and consume us. It’s up to us to intuit whether we are walking into an oven from which we won’t return somehow better, or into a forge that will transform us. This is to discern literal death from symbolic death, stupid fearlessness from wise surrender. Sometimes we are able to say no and live with ourselves. And sometimes we have no choice but to enter. And each event is usually full of both.

None of this easy. But in the difficulty, in the storm of our own callings, we may find something more rewarding and fulfilling than all the appearances, ideas, and trappings of the rational mind stuck in a limited vision from the starting line. Pilgrimage is to leave what we know behind while applying its wisdom to what’s before us, and not get in the way of being transformed. And let’s be mindful not waste too much energy bargaining and worrying — for remember, storms do have eyes of their own.

Questions to Consider:

1) In what direction does your spirit’s compass point now?

2) Does your pilgrimage seem like an oven that will cook you to a crisp, or a sacred fire to transform you?

3) What’s your answer to what calls you to the frontier of your life, to the edge or the depths of your beautiful soul?

4) If the departure and letting go are all too scary, what initial steps can you take to learn a little more?

The Nourish Practice

Jack Adam Weber - The Nourish Practice

Jack Adam Weber’s “The Nourish Practice” is an easy, guided meditation-Qi Gong practice in radical gratitude and self-love. It is an Earth-based, body-centered practice — at once physiological and mythological — that is deeply relaxing and replenishing, especially for modern-day burn-out syndrome, and requires little physical effort. “The Nourish Practice” resets your nervous system and fosters a rich inner life.

Jack Adam Weber - Emotional Transformation Series - Healing From Heartbreak

You can purchase The Nourish Practice as a CD or Digital Download here.

PLUS: The first installment in Jack Adam Weber’s new “Emotional Transformation” series, entitled Healing from Heartbreak, is available now!

Previous articles by Jack Adam Weber:

About the author:

Jack-Weber-150x150Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac. is a Chinese medicine physician, author, celebrated poet, organic farmer, and activist for body-centered spirituality. He is also the creator of The Nourish Practice, an Earth-based rejuvenation meditation. Weber is available by phone for medical consultations and life-coaching.

You can connect with Jack at:


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