During a recent lively conversation with a close friend regarding spiritual seeking and well being, we started discussing the inspiring work of Paulo Coehlo, the author of The Alchemist and several other important books. My dear friend drew my attention to an interview where the author examines the rich experience of pilgrimage. Most of the time, people associate pilgrimage with the notion of a very specifically designated journey that has exceptional significance and symbolism. It is something people do to engage more deeply with our lives, to cultivate a greater sense of connection and to foster a sense of renewal and (inspiration). Very often, pilgrimage involves traveling to a distant place to embark on a ritual path or road. It exists in many minds as this experience that is on a pedestal of sorts: it is in a domain outside of our realm of day‐to‐day experience.
Mr. Coehlo brilliantly observes in the interview that this notion of pilgrimage as separate from our “routine lives” diminishes our capacity to embrace its inherent possibilities on a daily basis. “We have the possibility of doing pilgrimage every single day. Because a pilgrimage implies in meeting different people, in talking to strangers, in paying attention to the omens, and basically being open to life. And, we leave our home to go to work, to go to school, and we have every single day this possibility, this chance of discovering something new. So, the pilgrimage is not for the privileged one who can go to Spain and to France, and walk this 500 miles, but to people who are open to life.”
These beautiful observations brought to mind the valuable role of meditation practice in realizing a sense of being engaged with living more fully. We can have this possibility of seeing our daily commute, our path to and from work and school, as something full of awakened moments. And yet, we can become so mired in a daily “routine” of going to and from our regular destinations that we forget to be open to all the possibility that these experiences offer.
What makes a pilgrimage so exceptional for people is really the mindset that they bring to the journey. There is this quality of paying attention to all of the aspects of the experience, of listening, looking for signs, hearing others’ stories. It is all about the perception that everything is significant, that each moment on a pilgrimage is precious.
A good meditation practice—which in and of itself is often referred to in terms of a path or journey—can bring us closer to this possibility of discovering the “routine moments” in our daily lives as precious, as full of wonder and meaning. By helping to stabilize the mind and generate tranquility, meditation practice can awaken the quality of perception. It can help us to discover habits of thinking which can be so limiting. We can develop more spaciousness in our experience—more openness to the seeing and feeling more richly.
Pema Chodron observes in her discussion on Awakened Mind that, “Throughout our day we can take a pause, take a break from our usual thoughts, and wake up to the magic and vastness of the world around us.” Pema explains that by giving us some space from our discursive thoughts—all the busy, worried, obsessive, habitual patterns of thinking that so often carry us throughout the day—meditation practice can help us discover the sacredness of our surroundings. We can become more open to all the wonder that surrounds us because we are more receptive to the possibility of being alive. “Awakened mind exists in our surroundings—in the air and the wind, in the sea, in the land, in the animals—but how often are we actually touching in with it? Are we poking our heads out of our cocoons long enough to actually taste it, experience it, let it shift something in us, let it penetrate our conventional way of looking at things?”
In much the same way, Mr. Coehlo invites us to be more open to the wonder of each moment, each day, each experience. Ultimately he offers the possibility of seeing life as a continuous journey of discovery: “What makes life interesting is the unknown. It is the risks that we take every single moment of our day.”
*You can find the interview with Paulo Coehlo on The Alchemy of Pilgrimage at: http://www.onbeing.org/program/paulo-coelho-the-alchemy-of-pilgrimage/6639/audio?embed=1
And Pema Chodron’s discussion on Awakened Mind is available at:
March 12th 2015, written by Gabriel Woodhouse for bodono.
Gabriel Woodhouse is one of the teachers at Three Jewels which offers free meditation classes every weekday morning and on Friday evenings. Three Jewels functions as a Meditation, Yoga, Dharma, and Outreach Center for the community. More info at: http://threejewels.org/