The day you start out is not the time to start one’s preparations. – Nigerian folk saying
It’s not uncommon, especially when I am embarking on a special journey, to experience a heightened desire for my basic needs while traveling to be set. In the early stages of preparation it can feel as if there is something more I need that I don’t currently have – an example of the inner nature of pilgrimage playing out in the external world.
Once the location and mode of transport are set, my initial preparation for a journey takes on the form of shopping. Whether it’s the right type of walking shoe, the perfect suitcase or an appropriate jacket that can be worn in any situation, I seem to spend a good bit of time several weeks before my departure focused on “things.” As I get closer to departure time, I usually find that I already had exactly what I needed and go on a round of returning things to the stores where I bought them. I don’t know what makes me think I will dress differently on the road than I do at home. Other than seasonal adjustments to accommodate a different climate, most trips don’t require special gear unless you’re on some kind of expedition. What may seem like spinning my wheels is really part of my inner process to arrive at the realization that I already have everything I need.
It is tradition for pilgrims to leave with their affairs in order. Many of us find ourselves in a rushed stated of getting things done before we leave. Some of us (ahem…) feel the need to resurrect and complete projects that have been lying dormant for ages. It’s all part of our process. Clearing our minds and hearts of distractions is a good thing. Clearing the decks in anticipation of departure allows the freedom to focus on our inner work. It also gives us precious time for integration if we don’t have to rush back to responsibilities as soon as we return home.
The inner preparation for pilgrimage is especially important and calls for a different type of preparation. It has a slower pace and rhythm. It helps to be kind and compassionate with ourselves as we enter the unknown.
In addition, here are some practices I find useful in preparing my inner explorer to venture into new territory:
Slow down. Spend some time in solitude. Sit and reflect before you leave. The pacing of the inner journey is medium to slow. It can take some time to settle into a contemplative rhythm.
Pay attention. Look for signs that are sneak previews and listen for guidance from the invisible realms. Notice animals that come your way. They are your helping allies, serving as important teachers if you call on them. A chance conversation with a stranger, random passages from a book, and images that come to us in our dreams, are just a few of the vehicles through which the mystery speaks to us.
Keep it simple. Do we attend to our basic needs or plan for every contingency when packing for the journey? What will allow us to have the experience we long for? What agreements and arrangements do we make with loved ones about our availability while away? This is an exercise in trusting the Mystery to provide all that we need and to trust others to take care of things until our return.
Set a sacred intention. What is your intention for this journey? What conversation has already started within you? What is your heart longing for at this time? What is the healing work you come to do on behalf of yourself and your ancestors? What do you want to explore in your own nature?
Ask for blessings. It was considered inconceivable to leave on a pilgrimage without asking for a blessing. The blessing can come from a higher power, nature, ancestor, mentor, friend, or family member. It is empowering to be witnessed and blessed for the journey we are about to undertake. Honor your departure by creating a private ritual of your own.
Chance, fortune, and synchronicity all favor the prepared. Angeles Arrien often taught – and brilliantly modeled – preparation in this way: Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Let go.