Lessons Learned on Life’s Unfolding Journey
by Shinay Tredeau
A tourist can be spotted in a large crowd. Without saying a word, they boast loud cries of, “Look out world, I’m comin’!” A tourist travels with the intention to shop, eat, sleep late and see the world through a camera lens, or shielded behind dark sunglass shades.
A pilgrim comes humbly barefoot in search of answers to questions much bigger than their personal affairs. A pilgrim’s intention for travelling is to give back to the place that has birthed life, their own or the world’s. A pilgrim seeks refuge in the mundane: their heart is set on the other, not themselves. The pilgrim must lose everything before they can return “home.” A pilgrim is not swayed by the weather, the amount of money or food they have in their pockets; they maintain their journey because ultimately they understand that their journey is selfless. A pilgrim takes nothing in return for their efforts and offer continuous gestures of prayer and praise.
Travelling as a pilgrim requires taking only what is given and not concealing those elements (external or internal) which evoke change. This quality of commitment forces a reliance on God; pulls each of us, in our own unique way, to trust and have deeper faith; allows us to relax into what is, as-it-is, here and now. I become a “pilgrim,” feeling the pull of devotion; my forehead resting on the ground in front of Greatness (no matter how filthy) because I know that what is beneath my brow is worth more than any picture. I take the ultimate position of humbleness — my body bowed and my eyes closed — a statement of surrender and trust.
I don’t want to be a tourist any more, living life in a climate-controlled condition, seeing the world through panes of glass and tour guide lectures. I’m choosing to live life as a pilgrim — barefoot, with nothing to hide, meeting the unexpected wrapped in six yards of fabric, standing waist deep in a sacred river in Indian performing a bathing ritual. No more take, take, take and treading on soil with thick soles on my feet. I’m attempting to live my life with intention. I aim to give back, making my way carefully through life, noticing instead of trampling carelessly, mindlessly on this earth, aiming only for self-gratification. My intention is to learn something about myself and the world in which I reside; and also not to judge what I find.
I’m realizing that creating balance in my life may not be about finding a perfect medium between happy and sad. I’m finding that balance is not about having consistency all the time. I’m recognizing more and more that this reference of “being in balance” may feel more like extreme periods of discomfort, feeling ungrounded, uprooted, heavily emotional, and the weight of continuous pressure from varying sources. I’m discovering that “balance” might not be the most optimal state to find oneself, because in seeking such “balance” I may never be satisfied. I’m realizing that balance may simply be finding room to breathe in the midst of life’s continuous fluctuation.
Resilience builds adaptability.
In India, where the power goes out unexpectedly often for very long periods of time, several times a day, and there seems to be no consistency of any kind except that of constant noise, life there keeps going. In order to find any sort of balance in the midst of chaos, it is imperative we cultivate qualities of flexibility. Having a sense of humor also assists us in bending without breaking.
Life as Pilgrimage
Life as Pilgrimage is about learning to have attention through all things great and small. It is imperative to know ourselves fully.
Observation is how. A sense of humor is helpful. Refraining from judgment is key. Looking at our whole selves, the joyous and the ugly, is all part of it.
Any physicist will tell you that the mere act of observing something changes it, and my wish is to observe myself in order to change: to become less mean, complain less, worry less, and learn what it takes to cultivate more compassion.
I am on a constant journey of discovering additional facets of myself all the time. I am under no illusion that I must “Go somewhere else in order to find myself,” because I am sitting right here looking out onto the street through the window of a café in downtown Eugene. But there’s something that inevitably happens to my mind and my body when I travel to a new place, something a little like cooking an egg — removed from the carton, broken open, and cracked into the frying pan.
If I were to live my life as pilgrimage I would worry less about what I’m “supposed to do.” I’d trust more. I’d be more kind to strangers because I’d consider that they’re there in my life, in this moment to teach me something. I would spend less time being afraid of the unknown.
I don’t believe this journey of self-inquiry will ever be finished. However, there are definite periods of closure and redirection. There is a natural cycle that includes periods of movement and stillness. Ebbing and flowing constantly.
Don’t expect that the second (or ninth) time will be the same as the first. I made this mistake. I assumed that my second pilgrimage to India would be like the first, and boy, was I wrong! I figured that my fifth trip to France to visit my best friend would be similar to the other four, nope, incorrect again! I thought that because I’ve been away and come home so many times, that this time would be like all the rest — don’t count on it!
Circumstances change. We change. But somehow I expected to feel the same. What I found instead was that the absurd became familiar, the improbable happened, and it was in the mundane where I found divinity: Eating corn on the cob near the sea in Mumbai; sharing a bottle of Coke with my friend at a random bus stop on the side of the road; resting my forehead at the feet of the great bronze statue of Yogi Ramsuratkumar at his ashram in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu; lying in the sun on the railway platform waiting for our train to arrive; and washing my hands and feet after along day of travel with half a Wet Wipe.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of growing pains, steep learning curves that have required great adjustments on my part. What I know now is that I just have to be there (here): sitting with the discomfort, the awkwardness, and the tears. Not judging what arises.
What I understand now is that I have to relate to each pilgrimage as a completely new circumstance. It’s a new deal, a new adventure, and a new experience. The key is to RELAX, allow, be gentle with myself and others around me, everyone has their own degree of suffering to endure. I’ve come to the realization that it’s okay to change my beliefs, thought systems, and opinions about a place, others, and myself in the moment.
As a result of returning to the same place again and again, I find myself sinking more deeply in. Like lying in warm sand, my body makes the initial imprint (thanks to gravity), but as I adjust making room for my shoulders to lie flat I fine-tune in order to receive and embrace each experience more fully. I fine-tune my emotional being and try to be less annoying and needy. And I learn to see myself in others as well.
Shinay Tredeau is a recent graduate from Prescott College with a BA in Humanities. She utilized her time at the college to go beyond conventional classroom learning and undertake an in-depth, hands-on education. This has led to traveling the world (France, India, Canada, and all over the United States) on an intentional life pilgrimage.