The difference between a pilgrim and a tourist lies in his intention. The pilgrim wishes to go to the spiritual center of each place. Mere “sight-seeing” only give superficial results. Sightseeing is eye deep – pilgrimage has to be soul deep.
Just like an archer takes aim and then brings his arrow into the midst of the circle, the pilgrim has one purpose only. A purpose, which he follows without wasting time and attention with any distractions: He wants to contact the Lord, make an offering to Him and then ask a question.
When you go on the journey you have to decide what you will bring with you and what you will leave behind. Similarly when you go on a sacred journey – pilgrimage – you need to decide what goes into your travel bag and what you leave behind. What books will help you spiritually, what clothes are best suited for visiting the holy places, and most important how can you prepare while you are still in your old environment. Take what is helpful and leave what is unnecessary.
Often this exercise gives you a clue to distinguish between what is essential in life and what is not needed. It is certainly advisable to start already living more spiritually before the journey because you need to sharpen your spiritual sense of perception. The French scientist Louis Pasteur said: “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.” This also holds true for sacred pilgrimage.
In order to go with a peaceful mind on pilgrimage it is good if the pilgrim disconnects from his tasks and responsibilities at home by putting all in order. Otherwise the unresolved issues in his life will follow him on pilgrimage. Of course this can often only be done partially Some issues of one's life need to be “parked” before one goes on pilgrimage and be taken care of when one returns with hopefully a new perspective. But generally speaking, it is good if one breaks the rhythm of what one does at home otherwise one will be so encumbered by ones responsibilities and relationships that one may not be able to move ahead spiritually.
There is an old Hassidic advise for a pilgrim: “Carefully observe the way your heart pulls you and then choose that way with all your strength.”
A pilgrim has to cross a threshold to the unknown. A threshold usually is a stone slab in the main doorway that prevents water or mud flowing into the house. There is also a threshold, which separates the known world from the unknown. In the spiritual tradition of the Vedas this threshold is the separation between the material and the spiritual dimension. It can be crossed only if one elevates his consciousness from the apparent to the spiritual level.
Whether you go to a sacred island in the Pacific or in the Aegean Sea in Greece, whether you take one of the 6000 pilgrimage roads in Europe or go to one of the 8000 holy places of India, it is not so much what you do – it is all about the consciousness in which you do it. It is this consciousness, which determines whether your journey will be an external one or an inner one – a journey which takes you to the soul and God.
Because of our materialistic times we usually don’t look but overlook. We don’t hear but overhear. A pilgrimage is a chance to fine-tune our antennas and then receive a transmission of that spiritual reality which has the power to transform our lives and awaken our spiritual awareness. And for that finetuning to happen you need to free your consciousness by detaching yourself from the “Tyranny of the 1000 urgent things.”