What is a pilgrimage and why do so many people continue to be drawn to this kind of epic walking experience?

Historically, a pilgrimage has been defined as a journey — often a long one — made to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion. Although some pilgrims, to be sure, have spent a life wandering without a destination, the majority walk long distances to visit a place of religious significance. This tradition has existed throughout history — from the ancient Greeks and Romans, Hindus and Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims, and among indigenous cultures.

But now that more and more of the world eschews traditional religion, why is pilgrimage still such a relevant and compelling idea? Many contemporary writers have explored this idea in books and memoirs — and certainly the ascendancy of the Camino de Santiago as a walking destination affirms that present-day travelers are still drawn to a pilgrimage.

Here are some quotes about what a pilgrimage means to those who have taken them, which will help us understand why this ancient walking tradition is still so relevant today.

Pilgrimage is a powerful metaphor for any journey with the purpose of finding
something that matters deeply to the traveler.
– Phil Cousineau

In the old days, people walked because they had to. Now that walking is thought of more as exercise and less as transportation, it does not have the same purpose. Lay this against a backdrop of a modern world where people feel less and less impelled by purpose, the idea of walking to reach a meaningful destination, walking to achieve a goal, walking with a purpose — may mean more than it ever has. This is why our EverWalk motto is “Walk with a Purpose.”

People may walk to get outside, to enjoy nature, to see neighbors, to take a break from working, to lose weight, to stay fit, to be with their dog, to raise money for a cause. These are all different purposes — but any purpose can give our walks more vitality and meaning. Even the act of rumination while walking can bring us new ideas and lead us to new endeavors. It can transform walking from what some call a mundane act of locomotion to a meaningful and joyful endeavor.

Walk with a purpose!

The paradox: there can be no pilgrimage without a destination,
but the destination is also not the real point of the endeavor.
Not the destination, but the willingness to wander in pursuit characterizes pilgrimage. Willingness: to hear the tales along the way, to make the casual choices of travel, to acquiesce even to boredom. That’s pilgrimage — a mind full of journey.
– Patricia Hampl

Memoirist Patricia Hampl captures the essential and glorious paradox of pilgrimage — which she calls a mind full of journey. Meaning — our feet merely facilitate our willingness to experience life more fully. In her books, Hampl often explores the paradox of what we remember against the supposed veracity of the actual event — showing us that what we retain in mind can never really be the “truth” of what happened, but rather our truth — a truth that often remains unresolved either because of trauma or lack of closure — or because the essence of the experience still resonates deeply. This is why, when you conflate walking with willingness you become a pilgrim — in pursuit of a life more meaningful, more resonant, and more engaged. That’s what EverWalk is all about.

As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world,
a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.
– C. Benson

Walking is seeing the world at three miles per hour. Walking allows us to deeply appreciate most of what we miss when we whoosh by in cars, trains, and certainly planes. To engage in the mystery of life happens every time we walk and see a butterfly choose a particular flower,
a squirrel leap ten feet to another tree, a rainbow form behind a clearing cloud. To see the mystery of life is essential to keep us in appreciation to this beautiful blue jewel of a planet — and walkers know this. To walk this way is to always be a pilgrim.

A pilgrimage is an admirable remedy for over-fastidiousness and sickly refinement.
– Henry Theodore Tuckerman

EverWalk began as a response to the realization that sitting is the new smoking. To encourage and support people to get up from the screens and get outside — supported by a worldwide walking community. The world we see on our screens seems easily manageable — allowing us to forget that to really experience the world, we have to embrace it — its bugs and mud and sudden downpours, its people and peculiarities — in order to fully appreciate its beauty and mystery and joy. We walkers have to be willing to get a little dirty in order to experience life fully! So get a little grubby and get out and walk!

A journey becomes a pilgrimage as we discover, day by day, that the
distance traveled is less important than the experience gained.
– Ernest Kurtz

At the end of the day, a pilgrimage — a purposeful walk with/toward meaning — always changes us. When one completes a pilgrimage, the distance covered is far less important than the friendships made, the lessons learned, the experiences and connections received.
This is why EverWalk embraces the epic spirit of walking — whether through our seven-day, 135-mile Epic Walks or our monthly epic challenges or crossing off The EverWalk Mile each day. We believe that walking shifts us out of the isolation engendered by sitting in front of screens and re-engages us with ourselves, one another, and our beautiful blue jewel of a planet.

So all you pilgrims out there, come join our supportive and enthusiastic worldwide walking community — and find  the power of walking with a purpose!

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