Pilgrimage in Nature: 10 Experiences on the Meaningful Journey

Pilgrimage in Nature: 10 Experiences on the Meaningful Journey

Often at different turning points in life, the need arises to deal with the situation and focus on one's own thoughts. A pilgrimage in nature offers a peaceful place to ponder questions about one's own existence, meaning and place in the world.

‘Pilgrimage’ means a journey to a sacred place. It can also refer to some kind of spiritual or mindful walk in special natural or cultural sites. Pilgrimage is an ancient tradition found in all world religions. During the past decades, pilgrimage has gained new popularity with the discovery of pilgrimage routes such as Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Today, pilgrimage is not necessarily related to religion, but spirituality is usually present in some way. Spirituality can be the depth of the journey, searching for meanings and consciously being mindful for finding a new insight.

How long is a pilgrimage?

Pilgrimage easily brings to mind the hard hikes of hundreds of kilometers, but the length of the journey does not define the pilgrimage. It can last from a short day walk to weeks or even months of wandering. Pilgrimages or experiences cannot be rated or ranked either.

Every pilgrimage in nature is unique, because every pilgrimage is a personal experience. Things and events experienced during the pilgrimage can be shared with others, but you can also keep them completely to yourself.

A pilgrimage in nature is a holistic experience that gives small or huge insights to the traveler. The most important thing in a nature pilgrimage is being in nature.

Why go on a pilgrimage?

Why should you go on a pilgrimage to nature? For example, CaminoWays has studied the motivation of hikers to set out on the Santiago de Compostela route. The biggest reasons for the pilgrimage have been:

  • looking for new challenges,
  • religious or spiritual reasons,
  • the search for nature connection as well as
  • detachment from everyday life and working life.

Often at different turning points in life, the need arises to deal with the situation and focus on one's own thoughts. A pilgrimage in nature offers a peaceful place to ponder questions about one's own existence, meaning and place in the world.

A more physically demanding pilgrimage in nature serves as an exercise. The beauty of nature and landscapes give aesthetic experiences. Traveling through historical places offers cultural experiences.

Nature also provides a therapy space. On a pilgrimage, you can deal with traumas, and oppressed feelings and thoughts. You can detach from the past with the help of a new perspective.

At the beginning of the journey, you can take on a theme that you want to deal with. You can also set off with as empty a mind as possible and see what happens.

Basic elements of a pilgrimage in nature

  • Silence. Silence in nature means, above all, getting away from distractions and being present. You can speak or stay still. You can talk while walking alone, and you can be quiet on a group hike.
  • No need to rush. A pilgrimage in nature is not an accomplishment, and the mind cannot calm down in a hurry. However, hurry is an internal state of mind and is not directly related to the length or speed of steps. You can move at a snail's pace but still have a busy mind. On the other hand, you can run, but be fully present. For example, the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route is also popular by bike, and the water pilgrim routes can be paddled.
  • Freedom from demands. You can be completely yourself. If you have played a role in working life for years that is in conflict with yourself, both your mind and your body will tire. On a pilgrimage in nature you can be just yourself.
  • Simplicity. Pilgrimage does not require any special skills or rituals. If you want, you can carry some small (meaningful) object with you, such as a stone, shell, jewelry or a book, but you can do without.

What happens on a pilgrimage?

What pilgrims experience during their journey? The spiritual journey in nature may lead to several experiences and personal growth, but all experiences vary from person to person.

  1. Experience of belonging to something, a connection. You may feel a connection with humanity, or you can feel that you are part of the nature in which you walk. You can also experience yourself as a small part of the universe.
  2. Seeing details and changing perspective. In a mindful presence, you can focus on small details and the wonders of nature. You can admire the bubbling of a forest stream, the shape of a birch leaf, or immerse yourself in the hum of the wind in an ancient fell landscape. Your worries may take a new perspective and seem smaller than before.
  3. Acceptance of incompleteness. If you are used to accomplishing and striving for perfection in everything, it is liberating to be imperfect and unfinished as a person.
  4. Understanding and appreciating simplicity. When you live in abundance, you become numb to matter and the fact that everything is available all the time. Even a couple of days of extreme asceticism makes you happy with running water and sleep on a soft mattress.
  5. Challenges and coping with them make you appreciate life in a new way. The physically demanding pilgrimages in particular feel like personal accomplishments—because they are personal accomplishments.
  6. It may be easier to reach deeper feelings alone. When you are alone, your sense of achievement is often greater than when traveling in a group. The feeling of surviving on your own can further strengthen the experience of a physically tough hike.
  7. Change and spiritual growth. Conscious presence and meditation lead to a change in thinking, attitude and being.
  8. Personal peace and quiet. Only in the silence of nature and on the distraction-free hike you realize just how noisy and busy world you are living in. You can experience peace very deeply.
  9. Finding meaning. Meaningfulness usually refers to how meaningful we consider life and how we understand our own life. The pieces that build meaning are, among other things, feelings of importance, purpose and satisfaction.
  10. Gratitude and joy. Experiences of gratitude and joy arise from noticing and appreciating small things. On a pilgrimage, you can pay attention to small and simple things, and express your gratitude both in your own mind and by saying a small thank you out loud.

The sacred is a mystery, the unexplainable can unfold on the way or remain a secret.

Well-known pilgrimage destinations in Europe

The most famous pilgrimage route in Europe is the Camino de Santiago, which leads to the city and cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
St. Olavsleden, or St. Olav's road, is the Scandinavian Camino, which runs from Sundsvall in Sweden to the Atlantic Ocean to Trondheim in Norway.
There are several different pilgrimage routes and quiet paths in Finland. The oldest is the Saint Henrik’s road from Turku to Kokemäki. Other pilgrimage routes include e.g.

  • St. Olav's sea route from Turku to Trondheim, Norway
  • Jaakontie – the last link of the roads leading to Santiago de Compostela, starting from Häme
  • River Oulujoki pilgrimage – Finland's northernmost long pilgrimage route
  • Ulriikka's path in Utsjoki in the cultural nature landscape
  • In Helsinki, e.g., small pilgrimage trails in Uutela, Seurasaari, Mustasaari and Lauttasaari.

A pilgrimage in nature does not require a special sacred route. You can find a suitable place for quieting down and finding yourself at any natural site that is special or meaningful to you. I made a nature pilgrimage by hiking the Hetta-Pallas hiking trail during autumn colors. For some it may be a forest, for another it may be fells or mountains. An unusual destination or a journey that requires some physical effort can make insight easier.

You can make a pilgrimage in nature in peace from your own starting point. Regardless of the motivation, a pilgrimage in nature makes a personal journey richer by opening up new perspectives on life.

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