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Why We Pilgrimage

Updated: Jan 14, 2023

Standing at Finisterre, at the end of my Camino de Santiago, 2012.

“I am no longer a pilgrim,” I told myself. “Those days are finally behind me.”

It was summer 2019, and I had just completed the Kumano Kodo, a network of pilgrimage trails snaking through the southern Kansai region of Japan. Seven years earlier, in 2012, as a fresh-faced college graduate, I had completed the Camino Frances, a thirty-six-day walking pilgrimage across northern Spain.

Just as the seed for my 2012 Camino was planted after reading a book at fourteen years old (The Pilgrimage, and later The Alchemist, both by Paulo Coelho), the inspiration for my trip to Japan was planted by the seed of the Camino de Santiago seven years earlier.

It makes one think, what seeds are we planting today, and where will they lead us next?

Some of our greatest journeys in life begin as a whisper, as nothing more than the hint of an idea. “One day, I would like to do something like that,” we say. “One day.” That is the beginning of every wonderful adventure.

Because, make no mistake about it, the right moments in your life will appear. The question is whether you will be ready and willing to jump when they do. And if you do choose to jump, know that you are not only jumping into a new experience but into a new you.

Exhausted at Hongu Taisha after completing the Kumano Kodo, 2019.

In 2012, the Camino de Santiago changed me. For several years afterwards, I dreamt of experiencing more inner journeys of the human spirit and began to search for other pilgrimages around the world. It did not take long to come across the Kumano Kodo in Western Japan, the sister pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago. The two routes are the only two pilgrimages listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“One day, I would like to go to Japan and walk the Kumano Kodo,” I said. “One day.”

The seed had been planted. And so, in 2019, when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped in with both feet.

To compare the two walks would be like comparing two different rivers; it honors neither one and does an injustice to both. Whether my body was walking among Spanish countryside or through Japanese forests, I am sure that my soul was going to experience whatever lessons it needed most at the time.

Between 2012 and 2019, I worked six different jobs, changed careers three times, fell in love, experienced heartbreak, moved four times, wrote two books, and got my dream job.

Walking across the Pyrenees in a snowstorm, Day 1 of the Camino Frances, 2012.

For thousands of years, human beings have been called to pilgrimage. From Mecca to Jerusalem to Santiago de Compostela, our ancestors’ footsteps echo along the routes we walk today. And in a not-too-distant tomorrow, future humans will step into the river of pilgrimage that we embark on today. Such is the nature of pilgrimage. It is more about intention than beginnings or endings.

With each passing year, I am called to believe that our soul’s mission on Earth is to learn, to grow, and ultimately, to come home. What greater vehicle for learning and growing is there in life than embarking on pilgrimage? So, while today I may not be called to walk across Spain or through the forests of Japan, I am just as much a pilgrim as ever.

The physical path helps us find our way, but true pilgrimage starts in the heart, and only ends when you stop journeying forward along the path laid out in front of you.

I wish you courage and curiosity on your personal pilgrimage, and the conviction to continue moving forward, whichever route you choose, as well as on the routes that you do not choose, today and forever.

Holding the 'dual pilgrim' passport, certification for pilgrims who have walked both the Camino de Santiago and Kumano Kodo. Wakayama, Japan, 2019.

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