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A Book for the Traveler's Soul

Book Review

by Cay A. Gibson

"The Art of Pilgrimage"

"The Seekers Guide to Making Travel Sacred"

by Phil Cousineau

No other book has made me realize the spiritual impact of travel in my life as "The Art of Pilgrimage" by Phil Cousineau has. This book came at a time in my life when travel had become more of a burden than a joy. The logistics of traveling with five children, an ailing grandparent, and a collection of family pets had made the very thought of travel a stressful burden in the least and a nightmarish "labyrinth" at the most. The autumn I selected this audio book from the library was the season following a summer that cried "ESCAPE!".

The first day of summer 2003, we traveled to Houston, Texas, to be at the bedside of my dying mother-in-law. We hurried home to pack off my oldest teenaged son on a two-week vacation with his other grandparents to the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde. Our two middle children trekked to a beach resort with their uncle and cousins for a weekend. During this time, my husband and I made the move to the larger family home to care for my father-in-law who had the early stages of Alzheimers.

These "travels/vacations/treks/moves/trips/journeys" were never viewed as anything other than time-consuming, larger-than-life changes to our whole family structure. Shortly before the start of the new school year, we made one final attempt to "escape" the world at large. Tentative plans were made to take our family to a local water resort. Hopes and excitement were high. Arrangements were made for my father-in-law to stay with one of the other sons, sitters were found to feed and water the pets, and hotel reservations were pre-made. Not for a moment did I ponder on how any of this excursion could be considered beneficial or spiritual. Certainly the term "pilgrimage" never entered my mind. I found the preparations and planning burdensome and unfruitful.

The day before our weekend vacation the cumbersome summertime took an unexpected twist of fate. My oldest daughter slipped and broke her tibia bone along the growth plate. Family came to the rescue wanting to take both niece and Grandpa into their home so the rest of us could still make our water park extravaganza. But dedicated parents do not disappoint their children easily...especially when the disappointment has been classified a "family vacation/trip". The sight of our daughter sitting on a chair in tears with her wrapped leg iced down and elevated...not to mention, the exhausting day-long trip to the emergency room and orthopedic doctor's office...made the final decision a no-brainer. The verdict was clear...there would be no family trip that year. My husband and I went nowhere that summer...no place of escape or relaxation or rest or pilgrimage. Comfort and meditation was not ours to be had that summer. That summer came to an uneventful, abrupt halt. The weekend was spent quietly at home and the only trip I took that weekend was a trip to my local library.

Upon discovering and listening to "The Art of Pilgrimage" (book on tape) written by Phil Cousineau, I received a meditation and "pilgrimage" of a different kind. It was so inspiring of a read that I bought the book from Amazon.com as soon as I could. In this way I could go back through the book with the visual words to highlight points and meditate on different quotes and ideas and thoughts.

The book itself is a pilgrimage...especially if the reader is in a season of his life when he is incapable of making a pilgrimage, such as I was this summer. Cousineau's book speaks in an ageless, smooth-flowing manner that beckons the reader to follow him to unknown lands abroad. It takes "the traveler's lamp" down "the roads of longing" mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" to "the sacred call", "the call of destiny" and "the knock" that all pilgrims hear. It bides you to fulfill "the pilgrim's tasks" for "the glorious journey" and takes you through "the preparation" and "the blessing" while "packing the satchel" to cross "the threshold" of "the sacred circle". Cousineau shows you "the pilgrim's way" which includes: "the way of the sacred", "the way of seeing", "the art of walking", "the way of faith", "the way of serendipity", "the secret of soulful travel" as well as "road rituals" and "the odd-ysseys". The "labyrinth" takes you down "the tortuous path" into "the shadowside" and guides "the reluctant pilgrim" past "the dragons of disappointment" to the "want of surprises" with a "guiding force". After "considering the marvel", "the windy walls of Troy", "the presence of place" and "circling the sacred center", Cousineau shows "the literary pilgrim" "the thread back" by "the way of the ancestors". He assists you in "the art of waking up" and allows you to "consider the marvel" of your pilgrimage in life. He encourages you to leave "the offering" and leads you "back to the beginning" by "celebrate me home".

This is a wonderful book for getting your mind into a new mode of thinking about travel. This book takes the physical side of travel...whether a family vacation, a trip to a church, a shrine, or a new country...and shows you how to make it a spiritual journey. It is "The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred"...whether you are a "seeker" searching for meaning in your own life, seeking the roots of your family's history or seeking for newfound knowledge of your own home country. Cousineau even mentions a "pilgrimage" by a fan to Elvis' home Graceland who said that "Presley's songs takes him back to a precious time in his life". Cousineau mentions wayfarers who search out their soul's enjoyment at the Portico de la Gloria and other places of interests, tourists who visit Mark Twain's home in Missouri to make a connection with the past and a famous mind, and wanderers who search for and make their own pilgrim's progress to old cemeteries and caverns and other haunts of interest around their hometown.

There are a few things I feel worth mentioning to the wary Christian. Cousineau does mention his "partner" expecting their child while he's on pilgrimage and he seems to include Catholic customs and religious symbols in the same breath he speaks of Budda idols, Roman gods, superstitious talisman, and even the meaning behind yarrow sticks in Cambodia. But the book, as a travel guide showing the pilgrim how to find the spiritual and holy in our yearly vacations, weekend escapades, and trips to the annual family reunion is worth reading and certainly worth your personal meditation time. Any of these objects that may be against your religious beliefs and value system should not hinder the amazing "pilgrimage" and "guidance" that this book offers your spirit. It is worth the journey of reading. As he adds at the end of his introduction,

"Traveler, there is no path

paths are made by walking."

---by Spanish poet Antonio Machado

And this book is a beautiful companion showing you how to walk the path of life...whether it be a physical journey, mental retreat, or spiritual lifelong pursuit to find your inner worth. It teaches you how to view your whole life as a pilgrimage and how every path your feet trod upon can become a marvelous journey to the divine and inspirational.

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