An act of pilgrimage

What does it mean to suffer voluntarily? Why do some of us have a drive to seek out suffering in our lives? Those people who, when everything seems to be going ok have a gathering desire to turn away from these things and look towards making life difficult again. It might be a manifestation of the unconscious mind,  boredom,  the desire for a challenge or none or all of the above. Some people never get this urge, or maybe they do and they’re able to suppress it, perhaps it’s so buried within the pillowy softness of the comfort zone that it never surfaces…..suffocating under marshmallowy sadness and contentment.

Naturally we tend to avoid suffering where possible, that just makes sense. We suffer by choice for things that are worth it, outcomes, selfish or selfless (if altruism exists that is) So it seems a little crazy that intelligent individuals (and not so intelligent, you know the ones who have their headtorch permanently on, we’re in an aid station mate, stop blinding me) put themselves through terribly physically and mentally challenging events such as ultra marathons for no apparent reason.

Maybe there is a reason,  does ‘planned suffering’ help us to take control of the negative things in our lives that we cannot control?

But it isn’t quite as simple as that. I’ve just been listening a talk about pilgrimage for the past 30 minutes. The act of pilgrimage is described as one of devotion, prayer and suffering. A time taken out of daily life for God, leaving everything behind. The reasons? Spiritual growth, healing, penance. Not all pilgrimages are the same, some are to far away places, some in ‘our own environment’ (as it was phrased). It’s not all about the destination, it’s the time, the effort, the journey.

I haven’t been on a pilgrimage, I’ve been to special places, holy places, sure, but not anything that might be understood as an organised pilgrimage.  But then I thought about it a little more. I thought about the hours I’ve spent on foot, physically suffering. I thought about the constant prayers I’ve said, to be able to keep going, I thought about the times when I’ve been running and thinking about the mistakes I’ve made in my life. Ultras have a habit of getting right into the core of your being, when it gets tough, you’re either on your own, or with God.

Afterwards, your body feels broken, you’re emotionally spent, sometimes for days afterwards. But you also feel a sense of renewal. Can an ultra marathon be an act of devotion? Yes, it is self-serving, but you could consider a pilgrimage to Lourdes for healing to be self-serving. Is it religious? Well, like pilgrimage- it’s what you make of it, you can journey to a holy place without having any beliefs, just because you journeyed there, doesn’t make it a pilgrimage.

‘Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit’ 1 Corinthians 6:19– this is a common concept within many faiths, and none- the idea that we have what it takes within us doesn’t have to be a religious one, but it is one that can be explored with, or without faith, through the act of ultra running.


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