As I looked at the ruins, climbed upon the stones, and touched the headstones of the graves, I felt like a part of something larger. As I looked out at the Irish seaside, my world righted. This was the connection I was craving. I felt like I had found myself in a way I didn’t know I had been looking for.
I had not heard of sacred travel when I went to Ireland for the first time in 2011. Though, this was a land that I had desired to see since I was a child. Before I could comprehend the world map, Ireland was something I longed for. But I had no idea how drastically this trip would alter my life.
After seeing Eat, Pray, Love, I wanted my own amazing adventure of world travel. Who didn’t? I wasn’t exactly looking for the same thing as Liz Gilbert. I wasn’t leaving a marriage. I wasn’t looking to learn ways to meditate. But I wanted something; something I couldn’t name and didn’t quite know was even possible.
I wanted travel.
I wanted adventure.
So I set about creating a study abroad experience for students and landed on Ireland in a completely practical manner. Not at all remembering that little girl dream of her homeland’s call to her soul.
After arriving in Ireland, I was hit from all sides by the concept of pilgrimage. This came from movies like The Way, book recommendations such as The Songlines and The Pilgrimage, and seeing the markers and backpackers along the countryside. I loved the idea of pilgrimage and it seemed like something I could do one day when I was more spiritual.
While on holiday from teaching in Dublin, I had a heart-awakening experience that shifted my life, travel, and understanding of spirituality. In many ways, it is hard to put into words what happened that early June day. As we drove to an abbey, I was immediately mesmerized in a way I do not remember ever happening to me, at least as an adult. It was like a little piece of me had been waiting for that location to awaken it. I have been to more beautiful, well-tended, and exciting ruins, but few places stir my soul like the Timoleague Abbey. A few short hours later, I stepped into the stone circle at Drombeg and came home. Not just to the place, the land my soul wanted, but to myself. As I stood amidst the stones, I felt the internal landscape inside me begin to shift and resettle.
I am still processing information that my soul activated on that day. It was then I realized that I was already on pilgrimage; that my engagement with sacred travel had begun. Since 2011, sacred travel and sacred retreats are an integral part of my life. Each travel experience brings me closer to me. Through these experiences, I have been forever changed. If you desire connecting to you soul, sacred travel is the way.
If you desire connecting to you soul, sacred travel is the way, and here are some ways it changed my life:
1. The events and experiences of my life began to grow me – not just build my resume.
For so long I had been solely focused on building my resume. My entire life had become a “thing” to be listed on my vitae. I was waiting until my professional credentials were all I thought they should be, and THEN I would begin to really live. Stumbling into sacred travel connected me to my deeper reasons for living, a greater life experiment to be involved in, and a way to truly find my purpose. My numb feelings began to come back online. I began to see in color and experience my life instead of managing it.
2. I began to understand how to bring my “vacation self” into real life.
I always thought, “Why can’t I be this vacation version of myself in my real life?” Through sacred travel, I realized what I truly meant by “vacation self.” I began to understand whom I was craving to show up as in my daily life. Vacation me looks at the sky, notices the beauty of the landscape, the architecture, and the quirks of people around her. Vacation me tries new things, doesn’t armor up before engaging with people, and she knows how to have fun. She laughs, acts silly, and doesn’t worry about what other people think. Ultimately, vacation me was my true essence outside of the stress and triggers I had built into life. Learning to live daily as vacation me, has been empowering and freeing.
3. I began to see the messages everywhere, as my guideposts, showing me the way.
Before my life as a sacred traveler, I was missing all the signs. Stuck in victim mode, I could not allow them to penetrate. If all I needed was around me, then there was no reason to stay in the suffering. When I was ready to step out of the victim, and into change, I realized that there were so many messages everywhere. My soul was feeding me and leading me with breadcrumbs. The moment I said YES to the messages, the synchronicities began to unfold, and the path became clear. The pilgrim marker is one of the signposts that speaks deeply to my heart.
4. I understood the process isn’t always straightforward.
Something I had to really confront and get over on my third trip to Ireland was: just because it was “sacred” didn’t mean it wasn’t hard or confusing. From being lost, to messed up reservations, to almost dying from a severe asthma attack on a trail in Maumeen, I had to accept that sometimes the path isn’t easy. Just because you are doing the “right” thing, it doesn’t mean struggle goes away. Through the process of continually surrendering what I thought it should be by laying down my expectations, I was creating my reality to be what I needed to heal or learn from – and that, sometimes, I learn best in the struggle.
5. I began to see every day and everything as sacred.
After the first few trips, I would lose the sacred high after being home for awhile. In 2015, I realized a major key component to keeping the sacred travel mindset and living a fulfilled life every day (not just on the road). EVERYTHING is sacred. Rental cars, fields full of sheep and weeds, 5th century abbeys, stone circles, and my basement office in Central PA – all of it is sacred, including ME. I felt a bit dense at first for not seeing this sooner, but I gave myself a pass. I realized that this truth was something I had craved my whole life. It all mattered. It took engaging in sacred travel to embody the lesson. By seeing all aspects of life as perfect, divine, and integral, I was free to bring forward so much gratitude for what had once been unremarkable or irritating travel details, whether on beautiful trips to sacred sites or on the way to the grocery store.