As part of my preparation for my six-day pilgrimage on The Pilgrims’ Way from Southwark Cathedral, London to Canterbury Cathedral, I wrote down this list of questions and things to consider. I printed it out and stuck it in the front of my journal. Although I didn’t answer every question, every day, it helped to frame the journey as an inner quest as well as an outer pilgrimage.
I recommend The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cousineau as a way to prompt the questions that might help you.
- What am I escaping from?
- What am I curious about?
- What do I notice in the world around me? All physical senses – see, hear, smell, taste, touch – and also with my very being – how do I feel inside? what resonates?
- What is my challenge today? What is difficult? What did I need to overcome? What am I afraid of? What is the ‘gift in the disturbance’?
- What did I expect? What surprised me? What delighted me? What brought me joy?
- How did serendipity creep into my plan? How can I leave room for it?
- With the eyes of a stranger to this country, what is interesting? Novelty, wonder, beginner’s mind
- Look for plot in the world – what comes next? characters? settings?
- What is the history of a place and how does that resonate in modern times? ancient vs modern
- What is the real truth behind the monuments? What is the alternate history?
- Look for ghost landscapes/ruins/ghost signs — the transience of life
- What do I take for granted?
- What do I need to reinvent?
- How do I feel physically? Emotionally? Spiritually?
- What is nagging at me? What do I need to sort out?
- What things can I let go of? What can I release? How can I live more simply?
- What is a pilgrim in modern secular times?
- Look up … and then further up
- I don’t want to get lost — but what if we’re meant to get lost? What are the benefits of being lost sometimes?
- Watch for transience or memento mori images along the way
- What should be for just me? What do I need to share? Beware the addiction to being witnessed and feeling validated by an audience. What can I keep secret?
- What is sacred? How can something be made sacred? What rituals can I introduce?
- “Stranger, pass by that which you do not love.” Old pilgrimage saying. What should I pass by?
- How do I want to live? How can I serve others while doing that?
- What is faith to me? What do I believe in? What makes this a pilgrimage?
- What is the shadow and the darkness here? What is the ‘under-glimmer’? (Basho) How can I go deeper?
- What is the transformation of this journey?
- How am I a pilgrim? a wanderer? A curious soul who crosses boundaries?
Your questions will be different to mine, and your answers certainly will be! But it’s good to go with some questions in mind and you may find the answers surprise you. They may also come later than the walk itself. I’m writing this a few months later and only now am I able to answer some of them.
My book, Pilgrimage, Lessons Learned from Solo Walking Three Ancient Ways, is out now.