Your journey, the physical trek you take to a specific site, is as significant as the site itself and a vital component in making your ultimate destination more impactful and meaningful. Think of some of the most famous stories ever told; the journey there made the story: Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, over the rainbow following the yellow brick road to Emerald City, climbing up the beanstalk to the castle, tumbling down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.
The pains and pleasures of the path toward your destination make for great rising actions to the eventual “we made it” climax of your story. What I am most interested in are the factors that shape the experience of your path to your destination and how you can utilize these factors when putting together your own ritual or pilgrimage for yourself or others.
And now, three quick stories about paths:
1. I traveled to the Grand Canyon this past March. A five-hour road trip from Phoenix, Arizona where I was staying during my spring break from work. The ride proved arduous, hot and sometimes uncomfortable but my crew and I made the most of our time together and shared many laughs. Along the way we saw massive mountains and deep ravines, rest stops promoting Canyon souvenirs and tour packages, and road signs with the distance to our site. Excitement grew and grew as we made our way closer.
2. That same week in Phoenix my fiancé and I took a short drive to Papago Park. Its massive, otherworldly sandstone buttes set Papago Park apart, even in a city and state filled with world-class natural attractions. We hiked one vein of its extensive trail network. We walked a long and winding desert labyrinth of cacti, boulders and tumble weeds in the blazing sun to a mountain locals call, Hole in the Wall.
3. In 2011 I directed Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island, at a local middle school. From the moment the spectators arrived the show began. We transformed the parking lot into Black Hill Cove, the setting our story. Broken wooden signs burned with crude writing, “PERFORMANCE THIS WAY,” stray actors in costume drinking from leather bottles, meandering the premises and playing games, live bagpipe players and drummers blaring their music.
So how do all three of these stories connect? In a word: Priming. Priming is when exposure to some thing influences the behavior of an individual later on without that individual being aware that the first thing is guiding their behavior to a certain extent. Think about my three examples. Some paths had obstacles, some were context-heavy, some were silly, but all them were building something up inside us along the way, preparing us emotionally for the site. Whether the path is pre-made or invented from scratch, you get to choose what elements you want to include on it, what might you want to bring about. Let us take a more in depth look at some of the other factors that prime us for our journey:
1: Your intention. The reason you have for wanting to visit the site. Are you looking to communicate with a lost loved one by taking peyote in the jungle with a shaman? Are you trying to push yourself physically and emotionally, finding your limits as you climb the highest point of a snowy mountain? Are you looking for an ancient city to quiet your mind in, to release the stress of your busy life and reflect on your future? Your reason for getting ‘there’ will inform your trek, possibly changing the way you feel, move, and think about it.
2. The context of the site. What is the origin of your site? What of its history and lore? The age of a place adds an intellectual weight to it. The activities a place was or is used for will contribute to how you perceive it in your imagination, the real or imagined energy it gives off, the level of mysticism or awe it produces in you.
3. The geology or aesthetics. What is the size or specific features of your site? Is it the biggest of its kind? Materials? A natural phenomenon or a manmade wonder?
4. Destination means and timing. How long does it take to get there? Assuming the place you are trying to arrive at is worth the blood, sweat and tears you put in to get there, the longer the trek is the more virtuous and sweet the arrival may be. What mode of transportation are you using to get there? Walking? Boat, train, car, horseback?
5. Group size. Are you embarking on a solo trek or do you have a group? The amount of people traveling with you will impact your mental and emotional status. Being alone with your thoughts versus sharing your laughter, fears, and lessons with others who are going through it with you.
6. Dress code and materials. What you wear (or don’t wear) can affect you physically or emotionally. A robe or a cloak feels magical, holy or ceremonious. Tribal feathers feel earthy and primitive. Sweatpants make you feel athletic or lazy.
7. Weather and temperature. Snowy or sunny? Rainy or windy? Hot or cold?
8. Time of day. Morning, day or night?
9. Information: You don’t have control over what people do when they leave their house, but you do have control over the types of information that they receive prior to the ritual. For example, if there is a nightclub event going on, the advertisements can affect how you go into the event thinking and feeling. You must be careful because you want to make sure the information complements the vibe of your happening and is not greater or weaker than what you want the experience itself to be. You must be selective in the amount of information that you give.
There is a sort of tension build-up and release that comes with travel. The more dramatic the factors your journey has the bigger the emotional build. Use the factors mentioned in this blog to build your own special event or ritual and remember to consider everything.