My Facebook feed is flooded today with pictures of the first day of school–kids beside the bus, carrying signs declaring ages and stages, and, my personal favorite, standing at the doorstep of home. I photographed my own two children separately, as their departures are an hour apart. The older is increasingly aware of life’s audience, so she tolerated a picture only after forbidding me to post it; the younger willingly smiled beside the dog and even stood next to the school sign with a friend. I’m sharing here one of many “first day” pictures of my sister and me–the start of kindergarten and second grade, I would guess. I imagine you can pick out which of us grew up to be the elementary school teacher and which of us is now gazing out the window reflectively, trying to draw wisdom from this first day experience.
First days–of school, or of anything–embody a complementary pair of intention and mystery, purposeful direction and possibility. I am experiencing my own “first” today, the first day in twenty-four years when I have not been on a college or university campus at the start of the academic year. So after waving off my daughter and walking my son to his school, I took some time to walk the streets of our village and really notice this moment. Perhaps it was because I was on foot, or perhaps it’s all those first day pictures taken literally on the threshold of home, but I began to think of this new start for all of us as a pilgrimage.
I associate the word “pilgrimage” with religious traditions, though I am assured by a quick internet search that there are secular versions as well. While I have taken many a pilgrimage in my life, I gave my first careful consideration to the word during a retreat a year ago. One of our leaders took us on a walk to a sacred spot on the property, using this short journey to illustrate the elements of pilgrimage. The step or stage that stands out most in my memory is crossing the threshold–that literal moment of departing the place you have known and beginning the journey to what is ultimately unknown.
On our walk we crossed the threshold twice–departing and returning–and we identified an intention as we set out and then a gift or blessing we were carrying back with us. While the weeklong retreat was filled with meaningful experiences, this one is prominent in my memory because I had to stand, look someone in the eye, and share aloud my intention and my gift. There is something profound about speaking aloud such truths; the words and the hearing create an immediate sense of accountability. This is part of why I love the coaching process–you name where you hope to go, and we always end with thanks for where you have arrived.
As I walked my sweet dog around the village this morning, I started a short list of my own guiding principles for pilgrimage that I plan to share here in the coming weeks, but for today, this first day, let me offer this to those of you who are in the midst of your own transitions, whether chosen by you or chosen for you: Stand and notice yourself on the threshold. Honor where you are starting from and this familiar place you are departing–there is much wisdom you have drawn here, and every new start builds upon every journey before it. Look someone you trust in the eye, and share with them what you intend for this time of change. There will be much that you cannot predict; this is true of every journey. But your life is worth living with intention, regardless of whether you stay on the actual path you set or veer off to something even better.
And if you’re willing, whether you are wearing a new outfit and carrying a backpack or not, take a picture of yourself at the start of this change journey. Send it to me–I’d love to see you and the place from which you are setting out. Happy first day to you and yours!
(If you’d like to invite a coach along as you make a change, book by September 1st and receive the multi-session discount for any number of sessions….see “Coaching Sessions” for more details.)
© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.