At times, for many of us, the modern world and its population density, neon trappings and sonic surroundings can leave us cold- feeling empty, “drained,” or beaten down. Even for those who dwell in a rural or semi-rural environment, the stagnation of daily schedule and lack of movement can create and reinforce this same feeling. When we are in stasis, it can be difficult to break out of a static mindset and back into a place where creativity and strength flow from the deepest wells of spirit.
The cure for this is physical motion produced by a journey into the unknown.
These retreats into the wilderness are often necessary for the would-be man of power in this day and age- a medicine journey out on the perimeter of populace and consciousness.
Restoring the strength and energy that has been leeched from him in this world of hungry ghosts. To silence the constant noise of the day to day world around him- his responsibilities to tribe and training can at times overwhelm and require separation- and to disconnect for a while from the constant technological bombardment that assaults his senses and fragments his focus.
In his excellent latest work, “Entering the Desert,” author Craig Williams writes:
“Upon entering the desert, one does not have the luxury of possessions or excuses, the praxis must be efficient and sustained. The modern world prizes the “more,” the desert demands the minimal. The journey into the Soul is a pathway into the Sun, burning away all the dross and obfuscations of the temporary and mundane, in an alchemical combustion. The journey into the inner desert exposes the spiritual nomad to this radioactive black light and demands the abandonment of all except the elemental.”
Mr. Williams is speaking here about a metaphysical journey into the unknown realms of the internal, but his methodology and reason is applicable in the physical world as well. When we take a spiritual expedition in the "real world," our external actions combine with our internal intention and creates this alchemical process of change, both within and without, on a deeper and more connected level than when we choose one or the other.
It is my suggestion that the physical journey be combined with the metaphysical one in a modern day expression of pilgrimage. We choose our destination (or lack of one) with purpose, and experience each mile not as a simple a distance marker to be rushed through on the way to a definable “end of the trail,” but as a drop of blood in the sacrificial act of ritual motion.
As we move by foot, by motorcycle, vehicle or other means, our souls unshackle the weight of the mundane piece by piece- our daily lives left behind for a time in order to once again discover and feed the burning flames at the center of our being.
A holy wanderlust, a time in the desert, given over to silence and self-examination, punctuated by periods of the Dionysian ecstasy, a re-feeding of our joy to live as we taste from life’s hidden waters and turn it to wine with our will.
This pilgrimage can be done in many ways, but should perhaps follow a few essential rules:
It should be for longer than three days. The weekend camping trip can be enough to top off the energy stores and make one “feel better,” but for it to truly be a withdrawal and a reset, it needs to be longer than that.
One must allow the mind to fully decompress without thinking about the return journey, and embed itself in the present; a long enough timeframe to not think about its own termination. It also requires forethought and planning, a mapping out of both where one will go in this mundane realm, and where he will look to go in the frontiers of the spirit.
It should center around the natural world, or involve another kind of wilderness, that of the unknown. This can mean a new city, a never before visited country, or simply the green cathedral of the deep woods. I personally prefer a combination of both, and believe that motorcycle camping gives both time and space to effectively isolate the mind and spirit, not to mention the “vehicle zen” that comes from a long time spent on the back of a bike, feeling the strange connection between man and machine, mind and motor. Those who do not ride a motorcycle can just as easily go by vehicle, bicycle, or on foot- there is no one pilgrimage, and there is no one way to set out.
It can certainly be done with friends, fellow pilgrims on the road to salvation, but ideally only a very few, and those companions should be aware of the reasoning behind the journey, so they give enough space and silence especially in the evening to facilitate internal work, and walking the pathways within.
Technologies should be limited to certain times of the day, and otherwise kept off. The distraction produced by mindlessly surfing the internet or social media is anathema to exploring the massive vistas within. External chatter should be reduced and time given over by all pilgrims to reflection during the wayfaring.
Again, from Craig Williams:
“The mind and body are constantly bombarded by external stimuli, which, in the modern world are typically represented by artificiality: artificial light, artificial sound, artificial smell, artificial touch. All of these artificial stimuli feed into the visual cortex, brain and nervous system on a daily basis. This is one of the reasons mystics of the past sought to escape the so-called “civilized” to find solace in the forest or desert. Yet this was not to escape the “human experience,” but rather to enhance it!”
The spiritual pilgrimage will take you through the kaleidoscope of civilization and wilderness; from gas station to ghost town, inner city, open range, concrete chaos to campsite. The roar of the motor or the sound of the wind acts as a relentless mantra of emptiness and openness, driving out thoughts of the mundane and banal, or allowing them to arise and be destroyed by its single heavy note.
On the road, you will meet people and go places that you never would have a reason to otherwise- seeing all those strange lines and legends on the map come to life in the worn out face of a truck driver under the harsh light as you fill up your tank. Exchanging a glance and a look of understanding with another traveler who might be out here for the same reason as you, or having a beer at a nameless campground while you stare up into the stars and let the awe overwhelm you.
The inner terrain, too, will begin to open itself to you as time goes by in stillness and reflection, both during the movement and in the times between, where the engine or the rain can still be heard like a phantom echo. Memories will rise up out of the unconscious sharp and vivid while you rinse off in a mountain stream somewhere, a conversation long forgotten, suddenly remembered and brought back into the present.
At journey’s end, we may find ourselves looking into a dusty mirror and seeing a different set of eyes staring back at us than we are used to. Our long sojourn on the path to awakening never ends, and on the map that shows us the self within, there are no edges. I hope you find what you are looking for- just remember: in order to find it, you have to actually look.