Planning Your Next Pilgrimage

For twenty years I was a school nurse. Though I’ve been retired from that position for over five years, I still find myself following the rhythm of the school year. By this time, with the holiday stretch from Thanksgiving through the MLK Holiday weekend, the reality of winter and the long road to Spring break would be sinking in. That’s typically been a time of increasing restlessness and wanting to plan something to look forward to. For many years, this is the time I’d start daydreaming about my next Solo Journey.

I’ve used different strategies for figuring out where to go. The first has been to throw out a question, a prayer for direction by asking, “God, where should I go this year? I’d move forward looking for signs of places that were calling me, paying more attention to things that came up randomly that could be my answer. One year those clues led me to Michigan. I’d heard my principal and a social studies teacher, both Michiganians, talking about their state. My curiosity was piqued by their description of Lake Michigan’s turquoise waters. In looking at the map, I saw that to get to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, I’d be driving near Toledo, Ohio; my cousin lives there. I’d been feeling the sadness of losing family members, one of the hard things about growing older. I could visit her and discover Michigan. Once those two ideas came together, the plan fell into place and proved to be a very good trip.

Some years, practicality formed my decision. In 2015, I took the Amtrak train from Durham to New York City and then on to White River Junction (WRJ), New Hampshire. I’d read about Hostelling International having rooms within a train hotel–The Hotel Coolidge in WRJ. Since I’d stayed at other hostels in their network, I felt comfortable booking a room there. The reason I needed to go ahead and make that trip is my younger son lived in Manhattan and had talked about moving within the next year. My plan was to stop off in NYC and stay a few days with him and then continue north. I had a meaningful time with my son in the city and then ventured into the rural countryside of New Hampshire and Vermont.

These first two ways of making a plan were very logical and familiar to me. But a new way emerged when I took my Life Coaching Course, Linda Bark’s Wisdom of the Whole Academy. Dr. Bark’s program was Holistic and incorporated both Eastern and Western Medicine. Emphasis was placed on looking at our personal energy when making decisions– to follow what your body was telling you. For example, if you were considering several options, for any situation, how did each option make you feel initially, before you edited your response? Did your muscles feel heavy? Posture slump? Heart quicken? Smile spread across your face? Stomach feel like lead?

I discovered that I’d never really used that method of making a decision. My mind would quickly move to the pragmatic, logical and at first, I felt this was a bit of folly. But over time, I saw the value in starting with this way of making a decision about my destination for my journeys. A couple of examples come to mind.

In February of 2008, we were socked in, for North Carolina, with snow and I was watching the movie, “Snow Falling on Cedars” with my husband. While the white-covered beauty of the movie setting in the Pacific Northwest, the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State, was perfectly matched with my setting, what was different were the HUGE trees. They were the focus for me as I’ve always loved trees and had a great playhouse in one during my childhood. I’d never been to that part of the States and felt immediately mesmerized by that area. I made a half-hearted comment to my husband, thinking this initial idea was maybe “foolish”–that critical voice inside so quickly coming up.

“I’d like to go there some day,” I said, not expecting any response since we were following the storyline, not at a place for interruption.

“You should,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation. It wasn’t made in an attempt to get me not to talk during the movie. It was sincere and came out of years of validating my need to take my “yearly pilgrimage” all by myself.

That trip the following July was one of the best, most picturesque and interesting I’ve ever taken.

Another year, in 2011, I was weighed down by the load of caregiving. With seven-hundred middle school students I served in the school each day and my mother–who was declining with dementia, it felt like my life was very constricted. That year, my body wisdom and my ‘inner knowing’ which you could call intuition, said I needed to go to a wider vista. Since childhood I’d had a dream of going out west to the Teton National Park in Wyoming. There were wide-open spaces that would be an antidote for the tamped down life of caregiving. By that time, I’d learned to be confident in my own wisdom about what I needed. That was reinforced when I rode a horse in a flower-covered Teton meadow and took a hike up the mountain in the evergreen-oxygenated air.

I don’t have a plan for a Solo Journey in 2023; I haven’t felt any pull yet. Since my trip was an involved one to Scotland and Ireland last September, maybe I’ll stay closer to home–to my new home that I’m just starting to enjoy. What I’ve learned from reading my guidebook, Phil Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage is that any trip–even if it’s just in your community, can be a journey of discovery with the right eyes. There’s lots for me to discover in my new community, my new town– Apex.

I can use the same kind of strategies for figuring out what places I should go, what paths I should take. On any day, I can throw out the question, “God, where should I go today? Then I can wait and see what comes up. Will I pass a sign for a park I’ve never visited and feel the urge to turn in? Will one of those quaint downtown Apex stores call me and I’ll have a great encounter with a sales person?

Or maybe it’ll be practicality that leads the discovery that day. I need to find a local hardware store and on the way I realize the gym I’ve heard about is in the same shopping center.

And I can also use my personal energy to guide me. A week ago, I was excited that a Cajun band–The Cajammers were playing at Sophie’s Grill and Bar in Cary— the next town over. I know two of the band members and have dance friends who were likely to be there. While at first I got ready with enthusiasm, as the time came to leave, I felt a resistance to leaving–like I just didn’t have the energy to make the effort. This reminded me of how I am before leaving on a Solo Journey– that which Cousineau calls a resistance to “crossing the threshold.” The safety of staying at home, of being in the familiar is easier than crossing into the unknown. While I know the band, maybe some dancers that would show up, I’d only been to Sophie’s one other time. I would be going by myself without anyone to share a table with. I’ve learned to ask the hostess for a place at the bar–the place for the spares!

I had to give myself a pep talk and say it would be worth the effort. I would go through discomfort during the transition into the unfamiliar place, not knowing for sure there would be someone to dance with, not knowing who’d be sitting next to me at the bar.

Like my solo journeys, the risk paid off. It wasn’t a perfect night, there were some challenges, but overall— I had fun and made some new friends and new dance partners.

On this foggy Sunday night, after the chilly rain, I’m wondering if you’re thinking about your days ahead– when it’s sunny and warm and you have some time for yourself. Are you planning a Solo Journey? Are you developing your family’s vacation plans or maybe your childrens’ summer camps? Could you be feeling the pull to put on your coat and discover your community with new eyes on one of these gray winter days?

I hope whatever’s your desire, that you’ll use your different ways of knowing– the logical, or intuitive, or bodily wisdom to help you develop a plan that enriches your life– whether you go near or far.

Blessings to you,


Photo by Krivec Ales on

2 thoughts on “Planning Your Next Pilgrimage

  1. Thank you for this one. Each time you take your Solo Journey, the chronicle is extremely entertaining and full of Life. But, to your advantage, everything you write is a joy to follow. Please continue with your Life Accounts, and I will read, learn, and enjoy. Love and Blessings to you.


    • Thanks so much, John. I’m glad my writings about my journeys are entertaining. I want my readers to go on that journey with me—and further, to imagine and then take their own.
      Blessings to you as well,


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