As millions of Muslims from around the world set out for pilgrimage in Mecca, one of the largest communal acts of worship in the world, it is important to remember what this journey means and how it can help us reflect on our own journey on this earth.
Setting out on a path involves several key elements. The first thing is to know where you want to go, i.e., your final destination. The second is to prepare for it: you have to know how to get there and what kind of gear you will need to complete your journey. Each journey is an act of solitude but also sharing at the same time. Therefore you have to choose your fellow travelers carefully. They should be the kind of people who will help rather than hinder your journey. They should be our "companions" in the true sense of the term: the trusted ones who will be with you all the way to the end.
All of this requires a number of intellectual and spiritual qualities without which no journey can be complete. We have to have a clear mind and conscience to be on the right path. Intelligence, wisdom and virtue are our guiding principles in wayfaring. Without a sense of intellectual and moral direction, no journey can take us to a better place. Faith, patience and trust are equally essential as they prepare us for the difficulties of the path. Yes, we have to prepare for both the joys and trials of the path. No one can promise a journey without bumps along the way. They are part of the trade and help us keep ourselves in check at all times.
Whether we travel to different parts of the world, visit our village or go to the moon, all journeys are attempts to discover our inner selves. In spiritual wayfaring, all external roads turn inward and show us who we are and what we are doing in this world. This is like a journey within journey: life is a journey but seeking to discover its meaning is also a journey. How successful we are on this path of self-discovery depends on the choices we make along the way.
While journeying, it is important to keep your pace at the right speed. Going too slow and spending too much time in secondary places could be wasting your precious time. After all, life is short and we have to make the best of its every moment. Going too fast is also a bad choice because you may miss out on the blessings along the path. If you run in a garden, you cannot see the lovely flowers that come your way. You have to walk comfortably, speed up when necessary and then stop briefly to enjoy the beautiful things that present themselves to you.
Journeying is a process of soul-searching but also a response to the external realities that surround us. We should never forget that there will be rain and sunshine, cold and warmth, storm and breeze on our path. Times of difficulty and despair will be succeeded by periods of ease and hope. No single moment, good or bad, on the journey should be taken as an absolute in itself. It will pass and the path will grant us with new opportunities. Our minds and hearts have to work in tandem with the rhythm and tapestry of the path on which we take our steps. Sun will set only to rise the next morning.
The ultimate goal of all journeys is to attain the meaning beyond the form. It is to reach the essential, enduring reality over and above the fleeting images and desires of this ephemeral world. Whether we face a steep uphill, a cliff or a heart-warming oasis, we have to keep our connection strongest with the truth that saturates our wayfaring with meaning and purpose. It is only then that we will be not be distracted or saddened by the unpleasant surprises of the path and its temptations.
Being on the path teaches us to go beyond the "self" and open ourselves up to the "other." It is to acknowledge that though we as individuals are responsible for our actions, we are not alone in this world. There are fellow travelers who walk toward the same destination. We can partner with them, talk to them, learn from them, help them so that we end up helping ourselves in our acts of kindness. By reaching out to the "other," we enrich ourselves.
Journeying, however, is not just a two-way street between the self and the other. It is also an exercise in realizing the presence of the 'beyond' that sustains the relationship between the self and the other. This 'beyond' is the reality behind all realities. It is that which gives us the sense of wonder to see life as a gift. It is that which makes us grateful for everything that we have. As Shabistari has put it, "the journey of the pilgrim is two steps and no more. One is transcending beyond selfhood and the other is toward nearness with the Friend."
The Quran sums this up in a beautiful prayer: "And to You is the end of all journeys." (al-Baqara 285). The journey that we take with our minds and hearts is one that is also filled with wonder, grace and prayer.
What a wonderful gift it is to be on a journey to discover the amazing blessings of the path, who we are and where we should be going.