How to Prepare for Transformational
by Robert Scheer
Modern transportation has made a huge difference in how people make
pilgrimages to sacred places. Before the automobile and the airplane, a
pilgrimage was something that took extensive preparation. It was a serious
commitment. Today, it's possible to stop off at a sacred site during an
otherwise ordinary vacation. Maybe that's why some people who visit places of
power come home disappointed that they didn't get more out of their experience.
The Stein Valley was a traditional vision quest site for the First Nations
living in southwestern British Columbia. When an adolescent boy or girl was
ready to come of age, he or she would have extensive study sessions with an
elder or shaman, in preparation for a vision quest. There were important rituals
to perform immediately before setting out into the canyon to receive a vision.
These might include bathing and other cleansing rites, prayer and fasting. The
neophyte might have to walk for several days to get to the powerful river, where
they hoped to receive visions of guidance for their lives.
It took my wife and me about three hours to drive to the Stein Valley from
Vancouver. When we arrived at the trailhead, we stopped at "Asking
Rock," where niches contained tobacco, sweet grass and other offerings left
by visitors who knew this is a traditional place to pray for a safe journey. We
stopped, respectfully, letting the rocks and the river know that we appreciated
them, but we did not perform any specific rituals. After several hours of
moderate hiking, we arrived at our destination, one of the single largest rock
writing sites in Canada. Over 160 images, painted in red ochre (most of which
are now very faded) are on a 50-foot long section of rock near a bend in the
Stein river. We could feel the energy of this powerful place, but we saw none of
the spirits that had inspired the rock paintings.
When I was in Machu Picchu, I met a Peruvian shaman who had a powerful vision
during his apprenticeship. He sat and meditated for six days, looking out at the
sacred mountain, Putu Cusi. It was toward the end of his sixth day that he saw a
glowing sphere rise up from the Urubamba River toward him. He was engulfed by
the sphere, which took him inside Putu Cusi, where he saw an incredibly
beautiful crystal city. I sat on the grass and looked out toward Putu Cusi for
several minutes. Not surprisingly, I saw no glowing spheres nor crystal cities.
I have heard stories about people who innocently traipsed into sacred places
and had powerful, extraordinary experiences there, but I don't believe such
events happen very often. I believe that, in most cases, the strength of an
experience you have at a sacred place is directly proportional to how much
energy you put into your visit.
Fasting, drumming, chanting and the use of hallucinogenic herbs are some of
the traditional ways that aboriginal people have made contact with the sprit
world, but these techniques may be difficult, dangerous, inappropriate, or even
illegal for today's pilgrims.
Openness is the attitude that Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen suggests will help
pilgrims benefit from the energy at sacred places. You should be humble and
cooperative, willing to "go with the flow" of whatever you may
encounter. Pilgrimages invite synchronicity, but they won't do you any good if
you don't take advantage of whatever opportunities may suddenly present
themselves to you.
Helene A. Shik, of Purple Mountain Tours, told me about one of the most
powerful and moving experiences ever to happen to her in fifteen years of
leading tours to sacred places. She was on the isle of Lewis in Scotland, where
she had been leading a group through the Callanish stone circle. It was getting
dark, and the group was loading onto the bus, but she stayed behind to stand and
thank the stones. She suddenly went into almost a trance, and it seemed as if
the stones came alive. She saw that each of the tall stones had a face with
human features, and she felt their guardian spirit energy. One of them spoke,
saying: "Thank you for coming and for walking all over the planet in the
ancient, sacred way," it told her. "I knew then," Helene told me,
"that this was the meaning of being a pilgrim and not just a tourist who
simply uses but doesn't give back respect."
The best technique I have yet to learn for getting in touch with sacred
places is what Martin Gray calls Planetary Acupuncture. It is an easy-to-learn
exercise in breathing and meditation, and I recommend it to everyone.
Of course, if you travel as part of an organized group
"pilgrimage", your tour leaders or guides will very likely give you
more specific information about how to prepare for the places you're going to
visit. If you get a reading list ahead of time, this is an excellent way to get
ready. Knowing some of the history and mythology about a place will greatly
enhance your appreciation when you go there in person.
Finally, if you visit a sacred place and experience a prophetic,
inspirational, visionary or other non-ordinary event, I would very much like to
hear about it. If you would like to share it with other visitors to
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