Hannah Mello, MEd
Active Listening: Pilgrimage
"When do you get back from vacation," asked my dear friend's sweet 12 year old. She wants to swim in the pool at my house, and I look forward to swimming with her and her brother this summer upon return. "By the way," I texted, "I'm not on vacation. I'm on a pilgrimage. I'm even working while I'm away." She replied with a "Oooooh cool" as a 12 year old does.
One of the lost arts: pilgrimage.
Sure, there are some structures or institutionalized itineraries we think of when we hear the word "pilgrimage"--roads by which or destinations to which people journey individually and/or together. (Hajj, Camino de Santiago, and others)
That's not quite the type of which I'm speaking, though one might approach those same itineraries with this pilgrimage spirit I'm sharing from here.
A pilgrimage is an active listening practice.
What is the listening that I'm referring to?
Listening is contextual. Rooted in place, embodiment, context of people-places-things, stories, past-present-future. Listening is holistic. All six senses are involved in active listening. Sure, the biological five senses and the sixth sense of intuition or the body's very physical connection to the metaphysical--what's beyond the body, beyond the mind. Listening is ecological. We are not alone or disconnected from all that is--people, the natural world, societies, languages and cultures. We listen in and with and from all of those aspects of being.
What makes listening active?
Active listening is an exercise, just like physical exercise, of engaging listening intentionally, kinetically, and purposefully. Your whole self is engaged, and listening is the dominant driver and focus of your attention. There's curiosity, play, movement.
"The object of a pilgrimage is not rest and recreation—to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life. …There are many ways that individuals and cultures can, and do, lose their souls. To our peril, we forget that the gold is at hand; we forget that there is a hidden door, a secret room in all our lives. The force behind myths, fairytales, parables, and soulful travel stories reveals the myriad ways the sacred breaks through the resistance and shines forth into our world. Pilgrimage holds out the promise of personal contact with that sacred force.”
Those words come from The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousinesu. My first morning in the Scotland leg of my 40 Day Pilgrimage, I was drawn to look at the books on the shelf in the magical Green Shed (formerly the hostel, remodeled and reconfigured to be private quarters during COVID).
And this book!
It aligns exactly with #themello4040 pilgrimage I am currently on (40 days in advance of my 40th birthday). And the book helps me succinctly share the nuances of pilgrimage that are distinct from other types of experiences. I have many books at home I might reference, but they're far from this Isle of Iona seafront at the moment. Some of these works are around rites of passage and initiation.
You can begin the art of pilgrimage in just one day in your hometown. Cultivating the art of active listening.
A pilgrimage can be a weekend or a week or a month or 40 days or an entire year.
The duration is not as important as the intentionality.
I grew up with the idea of pilgrimage. At a very young age, reading allegories and heroes journey tales, and watching films with an epic arch. Among them "The Pilgrim's Progress," an allegory written in 1678, much like many myths and tales throughout human history--especially those no longer carried forward from indigenous cultures and spiritualities.
What makes a pilgrimage distinct is a cycle of journeying: 1) The longing, 2) The call, 3) Departure, 4) The pilgrim's way, 5) The labyrinth, 6) Arrival, 7) Bringing back the boon.
The biggest force of healing, calm, insight, connectivity and purpose has been that of pilgrimage in my life--and other active listening practices (more posts to follow).
Is there a longing within you?
Are you sensing a call to journey, to listen?
Cheering you on in whatever pilgrimage is yours for the beginning. (As I am on my own now. Today is day 17 of 40.)
A few more select passages from "The Art of Pilgrimage" worth clicking for a quick and powerful read: