Pilgrimage | Boundaries in Avignon
Bringing shame out of the shadows is a deeply healing undertaking, a journey that we must take, sooner or later, if we are to truly live. — Robert Augustus Masters, Spiritual Bypassing
Half way through the trip, we toured AVIGNON—the stop I most anticipated. This walled city is enclosed in solid 10-foot ramparts dating from the 14th century. Avignon was home to seven popes from 1309-1377 CE who lived in the world’s largest gothic fortress called the Palace of the Popes.
In 1309 Pope Clement refused to move to Rome, feeling it was politically unsafe, so he instead moved his enclave to Avignon. This transition created the Western Schism—or split—within the Catholic church. This was a time of much political maneuvering and misunderstandings until 1376, when Catherine of Siena, a Dominican mystic, came to Avignon and begged the Pope to return to Rome to unify the church.
During our tour of the Pope’s Palace, I could feel the history in the cavernous rooms. In the Grand Tinel (banquet hall), the tour guide explained how meals would go on for hours and how side halls would be created (and later paved over) to accommodate the huge number of dining guests. In the courtyard, I felt an odd energy enter my body and I became a little nauseated. Before leaving on this trip, my guides had only one request: go through the Pope’s Palace. I wondered if picking up this energy served a purpose, if clearing some of the energy of this palace could be a force for transformation!
That day’s contemplative photography assignment was to recognize patterns. My favorite patterns were the gothic arches on all the palace ceilings and the vining etched on the walls in the pope’s bedroom. Amidst the vines were open bird cages. Birds were perched on the top branches, free to sing and look out at the pope. I’d want this bedroom, if I were him! I imagined the birds offered a sense of freedom and peace for the See.
My experience in Avignon is a perfect segue for the next ordinal on my compass: BOUNDARIES. Boundaries are the cornerstone of my personal and professional work. The crux of this work revolves around the reflection question, What do I feel? Feelings are met through the body and evolve as one revisits the drama and trauma of their past. This discernment involves looking at patterns that are so deeply woven into our mindset, we may view situations that arise as blocks (no’s) as opposed to opportunities for growth.
In Phil Cousineau’s book The Art of Pilgrimage, he discusses the derivation of the word sacred (to “cut up”) and suggests that in order to go on a sacred journey, one should sacrifice or give up something. While riding the bus, a day or two before I arrived in Avignon, I considered: What am I giving up for this pilgrimage? My reaction was immediate: I need to give up my sense of unworthiness. It’s provided me a safe story that I’ve outgrown. I jotted a sloppy note in the book, then shut my eyes and said this intention to myself: I am worthy, resilient and powerful. I am creating my life in the manner I choose.
The night after our papal tour, I felt something festering in my body as I was going to bed. I meditated and began to pray. My inner vision was especially dark, and as if I was in a giant crucible. I was frightened. I told the Love Universe (my word for all-that-is) how grateful I was to be on this journey, and that I recognized how much guidance I’d received. As I prayed into the darkness, I began to fall. With tears streaming down my face, I felt unworthiness, even though I knew I must be worthy. My head wasn’t reconciling with my heart. I was falling into my shame! The more I faced this feeling, the faster I fell. I felt like a tiny grain of sand falling in a vast, black hourglass and I was afraid I was going to crash into the neck, but instead I passed through it. I let go into a free fall and heard a loud, resolute voice say, “You are healed. You are whole.” My skin broke into a sweat and my tears gave way to a deeper level of healing.
I don’t remember falling asleep. I awoke the next morning with a start, remembering what happened. My face salty, I outstretched my arms and looked at Mike. I told him, “I feel completely different today.” And I did. I’d broken through the threshold of my shame, with the help of Spirit, and had returned, renewed. I’d made it to the center of my labyrinth!
What is the feeling you have most these days?
Where in your body do you most feel this feeling?
When you close you eyes and feel into this spot, does a particular experience or age come to mind?