Preparing for your first pilgrimage starts when you set the intention to journey. As a holistic practice, it involves preparing your mind, body, and spirit for what’s coming. While each pilgrim and pilgrimage is different, I will share some tips to help you make the most of your first pilgrimage.
Get Clear On Your Intention
What’s the point of your first pilgrimage? Is it to find clarity? Get closer to God? Atone? Do you need healing? Forgiveness? Do you want to feel more connected?
Your intention impacts everything from where to go on your pilgrimage to how you do it. If every choice you make flows harmoniously with your intention, you will feel more satisfied at the end.
Pick Terrain That is Suitable to Your Level of Fitness
There are pilgrimage routes that are thousands of miles through very tough terrain. Wind, rain, or scorching sun will add to the grueling nature of long distance walking.
While all pilgrimages expose you to the weather, bugs, and other potential challenges, you don’t want to make every day a grind. Set yourself up for success. You don’t want to break your ankle or hobble around in pain because you have to “make good time.” It’s not about the time. It’s about the process.
Training for the Walk
Think of your first pilgrimage as an endurance event. Don’t worry about speed. Slow and steady wins the race. Slowly build your mileage up so that you feel confident when you start out. Walk regularly. Do long walks on weekends to build your muscles and confidence.
Walk with the gear you plan to take with you. Never bring anything that is not tried and tested. Remember that you are going to be walking day after day. Doing trial runs with all your gear will help you to figure out what is really necessary.
Eat a high-carb diet that will give you the energy you need to keep going and help with hydration.
Keep rest breaks short, or just slow down rather than stop. The body easily stiffens up once you stop, so it’s better to keep up the momentum.
Training is also a way for you to figure out what works for you to prevent and treat blisters. Blisters are caused by friction and moisture. Getting well-fitting shoes and socks helps a lot. There are some lubricants that can help as well. Toughening your feet by training ahead of time helps tremendously.
What To Do While Walking
You may wonder if you’re just supposed to walk. You could. Do what you feel called to do. To make it more intentional and special, you could sing along the way. You could pray. If the going gets tough, you could chant a mantra to take your mind off the tough parts and keep going. If you pass holy spots, light a candle, lay down on the grass and connect to nature, or think about what makes this place special.
If you are bogged down with worries or sadness, allow it to seep out. Feel your feelings. Let nature witness it as the wind blows it away. You may be amazed at how healing it is and how much lighter you will feel at the end of each day.
Make sure to switch between an inner directed focus and an outer one so you don’t miss the beauty of either one.
When I did our short pilgrimage to the Holy Island, I thought about all the thousands of pilgrims who came this way before me. It helped to connect me to the practice, the earth, the land, the water, the gods, and my humanity. Pilgrimage is a practice that has existed for thousands of years in many religions. It’s a sacred act.
Plan to Go Slowly
If you want to savor the landscape and the experience, plan for around eight to twelve miles of walking every day so you can linger, contemplate, and engage with your feelings, other travelers, and the land itself. Give yourself time to feel.
Leave space for exploration. If you pass a tiny church in the distance and want to indulge your curiosity, having a flexible schedule gives you the freedom to do that. If you stop for tea and the local company is superb, you won’t feel that you have to rush off.
Even if you have a courier service dropping your bags off where you are sleeping, pack light. A big jug of water gets heavy after just a few minutes. So carry only the necessities.
Some “necessities” are: sunglasses, water purifier, well broken in footwear, a sun hat, food for 2 days, water, a navigational device, biodegradable wipes for pit stops and “showering.” Obviously, this list will vary depending upon the time of year and how you are traveling. If you have each stop planned and the path is wide and well marked, the going will be lots easier.
Need I say that this is a great opportunity for you to discover just how much baggage you are carrying?
Digest Each Day
Your days are spent in meditation. If you’re like me, you could lose the gems that you uncovered if you don’t write them down. This is a way to process what came up and capture it for later use.
When you get to the last step of the last day, celebrate. You completed your first pilgrimage. That is hard! You sacrificed to get here. You have arrived at the place of your choosing a different person than you set out. Contemplate what you left behind and what you gained. Embrace it. Share it.
Ready to try a baby pilgrimage for your first pilgrimage? Come with me!