I have prepared for vacation trips before that require some planning. There are reservations to be made, reviews of hotels and motels, and, of course, all the details to wrap up at home in order to leave with a clear conscience. This pilgrimage has all that and more. Because it is a ten-week trip it certainly has required more home-based issues to take care of before leaving. But, this preparation is different than what I have experienced in the past.
I am experiencing emotional waves–sometimes a great feeling of relief to get out into the country side away from the constant tug and pull of modern life, sometimes a feeling of excitement and anticipation of embarking on what feels like a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and often waves of anxiety that catch me by surprise.
I was reading a book, The Art of Pilgrimage, and it mentioned that the anxiety prior to embarking on a pilgrimage is normal. It is just part of the process. I am not sure I like this, but I am somehow comforted by the fact that these waves of anxiety are part of the “pilgrimage package.”
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. From the very beginning the irrestible pull to take this journey was steeped in a sense that I was letting go of a life that had served me well for a time, but had run its course. This pilgrimage has felt like an invitation to finally bury old expectations and dreams without knowing for sure what new life would be waiting for me on the other side.
It’s strange, but I feel like I am moving through a birth canal. The anxiety is the contractions during labor that are intense and move me along a little further toward a new life. Then I settle back in for a time (usually a few days) in this new normal only to be caught off guard by another contraction, another wave of anxiety.
I think the difference between a vacation and a pilgrimage is this: Vacations are meant to ease the stress and anxiety of life. Pilgrimages actually invite us into waves of anxiety–an anxiety that propels us into new birth and new life. This is hard work!