"Not all who wander are lost" - Tolkien
Pilgrimage is a source of inspiration and spirituality for many cultures around the world. Most of the great spiritual teachers throughout history spent time in retreat and traveling, sometimes performing miracles, and aspirants now walk in their footsteps either in honor of the teachers path, or in hope of achieving some bit of miracle for themselves.
Many pilgrimages are over 1000 years old, and Mount Kailash in Tibet has been a pilgrimage for over 15,000 years. Circling the mountain is said to erase ones sins, and with 108 rotations one may reach enlightenment. As I have found during my own pilgrimages, people often undertake pilgrimage in hopes of erasing some sin or even paying a debt to deceased love one, and many go on these walks hoping to cure an illness either for themselves or a family member.
"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." - T. S. Eliot
Whatever the reason, a pilgrimage can be life changing. It gives us a chance to leave behind our crazed, modern, completely connected world, and allows us to refocus, and pay attention to the simple things in life. The act of walking everyday, with no other concern, allows the mind and heart to work through old thoughts, and negative emotions, a moving detox. Pilgrimage can give one a glimpse at their true self, and a chance to hear their true inner voice.
Many pilgrimages involve visiting places where miracles occurred or where there is a long history of worship, and spiritual practice. These holy sites are said to be centers of pure and powerful energy where one can connect to God or the universe. Just being at a location with a long history or spiritual practice is calming, and centering.
While traveling to these holy spots is exciting and adventurous, you don't have to travel far to be on retreat, or pilgrimage. I know several teachers who have annual retreats in their own home. Turn off the phone, television, and internet, alert your friends and family that you will be spending some days in silent retreat, and find a suitable practice to work through. If you've got a special place in town or nearby, make it a place you visit on special occasions to help reconnect to your spiritual self. For me, when I can't travel, I visit the Daoist temple in Los Angeles' Chinatown. During the week it's very quiet, and reminds me of my time in China. I make sure to visit during the week of my birthday, and whenever I need some time to connect. But if you can, I highly recommend a long walk…
If you're at all interested in pilgrimage I highly recommend the following books:
Oliver Statler, Japanese Pilgrimage - a classic book detailing Statler's pilgrimage around Shikoku, a pilgrimage I made in 2009.
Craig McLachlan, Tales of A Summer Henro - a lighter read about the Shikoku pilgrimage