Storytelling as pilgrimage

Storytelling as pilgrimage

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A traditional pilgrim began their journey believing that the destination was the reason. Today many modern pilgrims understand that the destination is the completion of a journey. Or that the journey is as important as the destination.

Of course, the connection between pilgrimage and story is long established. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote Canterbury Tales around 1390 and linked stories with pilgrimage. A story about a storytelling competition within a pilgrimage.

This is the point. I’ll make it short and plain.
Each one of you shall help to make things slip
By telling two stories on the outward trip
To Canterbury, that’s what I intend,
And, on the homeward way to journey’s end
Another two, tales from the days of old;
And then the man whose story is best told,
That is to say who gives the fullest measure
Of good morality and general pleasure,
He shall be given a supper, paid by all”

The Canterbury Tales
Poem by Geoffrey Chaucer Translated by Nevill Coghill


The question for me; is can we take this a step further, to see the story as a journey which replaces the physical journey of pilgrimage? Can a story, become a journey, which becomes a pilgrimage?
One might say that for each of us life is a pilgrimage, a journey towards understanding. That in an absurd world it is our human experience that helps brings meaning and understanding. If we consider our human experience as a journey made up of memories. As we recall the people, places, and events in our life we create stories, narratives that illuminate our experience.
If storytelling is the narration of our human experience. Then storytelling enables us to share our journey with other humans so that we can all share the same pilgrimage and the same understanding.
Sometimes our life experience is difficult to understand, it becomes abstract, conceptual and systematic; we separate thought and life, emotion and action. In our day to day life, a gap opens between reality and perception, a gap that can be closed by stories. Our lives are stories and, in a sense, any good story is about us. We are drawn to the story because with a little effort we can place ourselves in the midst of the drama. Stories about the shared experiences of life resonate with all of us.
As a type of language, stories help us see, help us understand even when we are resistant to acknowledging our own truths. It is through parable, proverbs, and stories that many great mystics and teachers revealed the misconceptions of others, and taught the truth of our actions.

Today many people choose to walk a labyrinth as a symbolic or imaginary pilgrimage. Some even claim that this is part of the historical role of large church labyrinth, such as Chartres Cathedral in France. A symbolic walking meditation, a succinct journey, focussed on the inner self.
If walking a labyrinth can be a pilgrimage, then telling a story can also be a pilgrimage. A journey, a meditation, a growing awareness of our true self. Telling our own stories to each other is much more than entertainment, it is an act of community and self-awareness. It is pilgrimage shared and enhanced. Our stories do not need to be complex, simply a retelling or our experience, even mundane events can have cosmic significance. Some of these stories will be involuntary and others will be voluntary. They may include such things as, getting married, the loss of a loved one, winning a raffle, having a baby, getting divorced, immigrating, buying a house, being diagnosed with a terminal illness, learning to ride a bike, scoring the winning goal, losing an argument, being bullied, cooking your first festival dinner.
In our daily lives, in our workplaces, we are all pilgrims on a journey. What better way to learn from each other than to share our pilgrimage through the medium of story.


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