This past summer I went on a pilgrimage. I have a life-long love with monastic practices and my commitment to spiritual questing is most certainly my longest and most edifying relationship.
As a small child, much to my agnostic parents’ confusion, I would often put a pillow case on my head and pretend I was a nun. I find sitting in meditation to be a most delicious way to suspend time. I’m an introvert and am renewed by solitary activities. And I am undeniably drawn to contemplative people. After my HIV diagnosis I found solace in my discipline as an Anglican Third Order Franciscan and I don’t think anyone who knows me would be at all surprised if I took myself off to a convent for the rest of my days. I think about the cloistered life more and more these days.
I first heard about this particular pilgrimage more than a decade ago but it was never the time to do it. This year was the right time but it still cost me a lot and I’m not talking about money. Life is a series of transactions, isn’t it? There’s always something that must be ‘spent’ in order to acquire something else. Unfortunately, I ended up overdrawn on a dear relationship and my beloved stepped away from our union. That was the by far most painful of many costs and I’m still reconciling my expenses with the experiences of this pilgrimage. I’m not at all too sure what I have acquired yet I’m faithful that with the passage of time and in meditative exploration it will be revealed.
Not all those who wander are lost.
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Over the years of thinking about this pilgrimage it was always the spiritual discipline of the practice that kept me interested. Yet despite my interest I was still hesitant because I must admit I am a bit of a hobbit without the big hairy feet. I’m an unashamed homebody, I tend to eat two breakfasts a day, I’m short, I wear natural fabrics in earth tones, I enjoy a rousing song sung while swinging a mug (of tea in my case), I prefer my friends over my relations, and I’ve been known to spend time with a particularly powerful magician. Yet I still wanted to challenge myself on all levels. I wanted to leave comfort behind. Well, we can give that goal a great big check mark because this was without a doubt the most challenging and uncomfortable adventure I’ve conquered to date.
It was an amazing experience. I hit all those markers I think a pilgrimage should have: physical hardship, loneliness, dirty clothes, unpalatable food, breathtaking beauty, heartbreaking music, weird and wacky fellow pilgrims, and a destination. I had moments of soaring bliss and moments of crushing despair. But I did it! I put one foot in front of the other and walked my ass off (metaphorically – my ample caboose remains delightfully intact).
My days fell into a pleasing rhythm of sleeping, eating, walking, bathing, laundering, meditating, writing, and singing. Yes singing. I was most often on my own and one of my default activities is making up songs and singing them out loud. They are silly songs but they provide me with endless hours of amusement. So it was that I sang out a lot of internal business as I walked along. I found it very liberating.
There was one sunny day when I found myself on top of a mountain and as I looked out over the landscape I sang out all the horrible words/labels that had been placed on me. Actually I kind of shouted them out punk-rock style. I sat down afterwards and sobbed for a bit and then I got back up onto my feet and sang out in a more melodious style all the word/labels I use to describe myself. All in all it was a very loving alpine opera.
Other days were filled with soul crushing grief over being away from my home, my familiar routine, my loved ones, and one individual in particular. It was a VERY lonely journey and I believe it needed to be exactly that way. I cried a lot of tears on my pilgrimage. I’m still crying. I’m definitely tenderer but I’m also stronger. I’m just more. Does that make sense? I’ve been refined.
I’m not necessarily glad I did it but I can see the benefits of completing what I set out to do. I made it through despite daily challenges, and I made it through completely intact and richer. It’s good to know I have this internal fortitude. It’s good to know I can make it through discomfort. It’s good to know I can do it because I’m walking alone right now and I’ll keep walking until I find myself on that mountain top again.
This post was originally published by Positive Women’s Network.