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Memoir: Pilgrimage to Arunachala

pilgrimagebradwetzler

Yoga is a journey, a pilgrimage.

When I took my first class twenty-five years ago, I had no idea it would become a journey that would take me here, to be lying on a thin rubber mat covering the earth-red floor in South India, scribbling these words. The journey began casually enough—yoga class two or three times a week. The classes helped me to be more flexible, fit, and a little more connected to a dormant sense of spirituality. But eventually yoga became a daily practice, and then it became a focus of my life, and now a way to try to live, a way to understand my life. Twenty-five years later, I’m a yoga instructor as well as an author and memoir writing coach.  I see the many ways yoga has helped me to grow, and I also see the many ways I am still the same. It’s brought me many wonderful friends and also helped me to realize that I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. I can say that it’s helped me be happy with who I am.

Today, I leave on a pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai. Tomorrow, I’ll walk the sacred eight-mile circuit around Arunachala, a mountain considered to be the embodiment of Shiva. I have no illusions that this walk will fix me. I don’t need fixing. And, at the same time, I have total faith that it will change everything. I ask for nothing less than total transformation in the way only Shiva can bestow. Total destruction of it all, and rebirth, as well. And I know that what I seek most is simple grace to allow me to accept myself a little more. A baby step in the direction of self-love. And maybe this is the point of all pilgrimage.

I know that I will return home in a week changed forever by India, and completely the same person I was when I left my house in Boulder. It’s just a two-week trip, right?

But I will ask the mountain to grant me the time and strength to continue with my self-acceptance practices. As Jack Kornfield says, self-acceptance is most, if not all, of spirituality. I suspect that’s what we all seek more than anything. And it’s not found in India any more than it’s found in your own home, reading the paper, cooking dinner, lying down to sleep.

And so this is where yoga has led me, at least for today.

Some of my friends don’t get this yoga thing. One guy I know tells me that he finds yoga practitioners to be too focused on themselves. Perhaps. But I believe that the best gift we can give ourselves and others is a deep connection with our inner-self. Only then, can we show up fully for family, friends, the world. We can share our spirit. We can make our lives a pilgrimage, a prayer. Photo by Brenda McMorrow

A former senior editor and contributing writer at Outside magazine, Brad Wetzler is an author, journalist, travel writer, and memoir writing coach. His book, Real Mosquitoes Don’t Eat Meat, was published by W.W. Norton. His nonfiction writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, GQ, Wired, Men’s Journal, National Geographic, George, Travel + Leisure, Thrive Global, and Outside. He coaches up-and-coming authors to write and successfully publish their books. For your free 30-minute phone consult, email Brad at brad@bradwetzler.com

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