Pilgrimage: Connecting with Self, Others and Spirit

Pilgrimage is said to often involve “communitas,” the experience of bonding with fellow travelers. The notion is that as part of a “flow,” the individual self becomes less important.

Sari Pitaloka, 46, of Jakarta had such an experience while making the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj.

mecca“It shows us in real time, real experience that we as human beings are all the same and equal–men, women, rich, poor, black, white, yellow, red. We are all one, brothers and sisters, all created by and belonging to one and the same God,” said Pitaloka. “During the Hajj, we learn so much, receive so many signals, taps on the shoulder, hints and we look in a mirror. We realize we see ourselves as a reflection of the world and people around us.”

Aaron Zucker, a student at the University of Alabama, traveled to Jerusalem as part of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, which organizes educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults. Despite somewhat shaky initial footing, he too soon fell in step with his fellow pilgrims.

“The group of people on my trip was ideal for me,” said Zucker. “At first, my two fraternity brothers that I went with and I were nervous, confused, and annoyed by most of the other people on our trip. Geography was the main reason for these original feelings. Out of 40 college students, there were the three of us from down south, and pretty much everyone else went to school around the large cities up north.”

“But after spending almost all hours of the day together, and having religion as a common ground, we grew to love each other,” he continued. “It seems crazy that you can say you love someone after ten days, but think about this… Let’s say you hang out with someone for one hour a day for a month. You would feel like you know that person pretty well right? We accomplished that feat of being around each other by the second or third day out of ten.”

Tom Nowakowski 40, of Palm Springs, California, felt this magic while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile trek from Mexico to Canada.

Tom Nowakowski“When we go on a long trek like the PCT, we quickly realize that if we let go of our expectations and pre-conceived notions of how things are supposed to happen, they generally happen on their own, fulfilling most of our needs and often exceeding our wildest dreams,” said Nowakowski. “It is such a frequent occurrence that the trail community has coined a term for this phenomenon, ‘trail magic.’ Everybody has stories about wonderful interactions with total strangers somewhere along the trail. It is very common to be invited to spend a night with the family giving us a ride to the closest town. Many people–‘trail angels’–go out of their ways to help and accommodate hikers on their long adventure.”

Amanda Pressner, 32, made contact with a few angels over the course of her year-long, four-continent journey. She also found her connection deepen with the two friends with whom she was traveling.

“I don’t think we felt it day-to-day so much but the trip indelibly changed our relationships with one another,” she said. “I think it was a sum total of all the little things–getting stranded together in the Peruvian desert with no water–and consequently getting rescued by a priest in a minivan. Having to go to the hospital as a trio to get tested for parasite, encouraging each other up and over Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail.”

Hendrik Stagehuis, 37, of Jakarta recalled an experience he felt conveyed the spirit and nature of his Hajj pilgrimage. The tahallul is one of the rituals of the Hajj in which participants undergo a haircut, which symbolizes freedom or release.

“I was with my group of around 10 guys and we all dived in to get our haircut,” he remembered. “I had never done it before and it was like being at the sheep shaver, handled very quickly and efficiently, hair flying around everywhere in the crowded barber factory and within two minutes I lost my wealthy hairdo.”

Bald man in prayer“We were watching each other getting shaved and it was hilarious, at the same time a great experience of joy, relief, feeling purified, freed, clean like a newborn baby!” he continued. “And the next thing we did was butt heads for a photo. It’s difficult to describe the true feeling of brotherhood, connection, friendship, power, energy, happiness and total freedom I and all of us felt, no doubt one of the greatest experiences of my life. That’s what a simple head shave can do for you!”

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One thought on “Pilgrimage: Connecting with Self, Others and Spirit”

  1. Oh, part three is beautiful. Loved it all. The pictures, the stories, all so well done. Especially loved the owl showing the way. Very very nice, Meg.

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