25 July 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: On Pilgimage

 “A pilgrim is one who makes a certain kind of journey, not one who arrives at a certain destination.”

Pilgrims the world over have found journeying to places and to people of spiritual power a fulfilling external metaphor for the inner journey. Often arduous, and involving travel to strange and exotic lands, pilgrimages are a traditional way of seeking deep natural peace and a heightened sense of meaning in life.

The concept of pilgrimage is found in all the great religious traditions. In this modern day when people have the potential and resources to travel more freely, widely and quickly than ever before in history, pilgrimage provides a reason for travel that goes way beyond the mundane. As the pilgrim travels across the landscape, journeying often to a land of their dreams, an inner process inevitably unfolds, commonly bringing a state of transformation and even transcendence.

Pilgrimage involves going to a place that is real enough, but also sacred. And through the inner process, one brings something home from a pilgrimage that is likely to be quite different from mundane travels. While some make "pilgrimages" to where Elvis lived, Jacko was born, or historical events took place; common tourism can seem to be like attempting to "see the world" but frequently involves returning exhausted, with lots of photos but without much in the way of real nourishment.

However, pilgrimage sites are often “out of this world”. The majesty of Westminster Abbey or St Peters in Rome, Bethlehem in Israel, the sacred peaks of the Himalayas, the teeming ghats of the river Ganges, the mysteries of Mecca, the cradle of Buddhism at Bodghaya, the great copper-coloured mountain that is Uluru (or Ayer’s Rock); all places where the earth meets the spirit, all places where for ages past pilgrims have journeyed. These are places of peace and tranquility, whose spiritual presence is tangible to even the most hardened soul.

How then does one decide upon a pilgrimage? I suspect the answer is you just know when the time has come, along with where you will go and when. Of course, these days there are likely to be all sorts of rational arguments against going – work, family, financial pressures. But when this time comes, it is important to listen to your heart, make the leap, commit, plan and set off.

A great example in current time is provided by John Bettens. In April 2011 John commenced a walk from Rome to Santiago de Compostela in the north-west of Spain, a pilgrim’s walk of about 3,000 kms. John has been walking the Camino as it is popularly known; or to give it its full title, the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James). This is one part of a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.

Remarkably, John has completed most of his epic alone while dealing with two types of cancer - prostate and follicular lymphoma, and will have walked around 2500kms when he finishes in Santiago on the 5th August. The route has taken him up the west coast of Italy to Genoa. From there he headed west across the breadth of France, and upon reaching Spain, John took the northern way which follows the coastline along the Bay of Biscay.

He has also aimed to raise money to support the work of the Gawler Foundation (it is easy to donate via his website – see the link below) and to raise awareness about holistic healing for those experiencing cancer, and the benefits of integrated care which values nutrition, meditation and belief in the path you choose.

Maybe you would like to catch up on his progress and support him by sending a message– see the link below. Maybe you feel inspired to embark upon your own pilgrimage. Or, if you have been on a pilgrimage already, maybe you would care to share something of the experience in the comment section below.


John Bettens’ blog

Walking the Camino


Retreat and go forward


1. BOOKS:  Anyone looking for translations of my books that are out of print or translated into foreign languages; or second hand books generally, might find what they are looking for at abebooks.com

2. CANCER GROUP IN DARWIN:  Sue Brownlee is leading a Living Well – Cancer Healing & Wellbeing Program in Darwin from 1st October 2011.  Sue is a long term Darwin resident, with a background in counselling, community education, and non-profit organisation management.  Additionally, she is a Zen Shiatsu therapist and meditation teacher.  Sue is trained and approved by the Gawler Foundation to deliver this Program and it will be an excellent follow-up for those who atended my recent workshops in Darwin.

The Program will be held at Carers NT, 59 Bayview Boulevard, Bayview from 10am–1pm on Saturdays.  Sue is happy to talk with you, and can be contacted on 0439498636, at mindfulpractice@gmail.com, or more information can be found at naturaltherapypages.com.au/therapist/susanbrownlee/30485.


  1. I chose as my main online handle "pilgrim" because I have come to feel that all of life is a pilgrimage. But it is often hard to appreciate this in all the noise and haste. A "real" pilgrimage with time and space and walking I feel can reveal the underling truth. I just need to find the time for it ...

  2. Dear Ian and fellow readers,
    Thank you Ian for your enjoyable blog and continual generosity of sharing and teaching. After recovering from illness in late 2009 I finally walked a pilgrimage I had wanted to go on since teenage years. It is a Buddhist pilgrimage, a trail between 88 temples on the island of Shikoku in Japan. The distance was 1400 kms and it took 2 months. A wonderful and life changing experience indeed. The physical, mental and emotional challenge was second to none, especially in the initial few weeks. This changed to such a feeling of freedom as I continued and aside from 10 nights I slept outdoors throughout the duration and interestingly by the end of the journey I felt as if I would like to sleep out in nature for the rest of my life! The generosity of the local Japanese people was unforgettable as were the stories and bonds made with other pilgrims I met along the way. I wish John well on his journey and his kindness in supprting the foundation.
    metta to all,

  3. Thanks again for an informative blog.

    Thanks again for an interesting blog.