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The Pilgrimage of Self Healing

Author and soul-activist Francis Weller reflected, “people who work with the dying and grieving; they need to work with rituals that attend to those professional losses. You pick up tremendous amounts of grief in your bodies and if you don’t process that, your heart grows thick & dense. You lose the ability to feel into the moment; you don't enter into the moment of need. You need to be able to speak your truth and share your burden.”

You cannot hold space for, and companion your families/clients if you lose the capacity to serve with compassion, support, and a calming presence. Vicarious trauma, burnout and compassion fatigue are real. There is a dynamic inter-connectedness of everything and everyone; that affects and is affected by everyone else. As such, ask yourself what are you doing to process the trauma and/or emotional suffering of your clients that is being stored in your body and woven into your psyche?

Using a healing and transitional ritual such as a mini-pilgrimage is such a deep and transformative experience; allowing for release, evolution, and movement. So, what is a pilgrimage? It is a ritual journey with a purpose. Every step along the way has meaning and you create space for gifts and challenges to emerge. Your creation of this ritual provides the foundation for a transformational journey in which significant change can take place. You chose to open yourself up, so new insights are given and deeper understanding is attained. You lead with your heart and healing takes place.

Both the beginning and end of the journey have great significance. Upon returning from a mini-pilgrimage, life can be seen with different eyes. This ritual moves you from one' place' to the next in a safe container. It is an active ritual and asks much of you. It allows you to return to serving families/clients in a way that is grounded in nourishment, compassion, and the capacity to express your gifts through your work. This ritual alights the way for you to fully engage in the work that matters deeply to you and that gives something back to the world.

A mini pilgrimage requires intentional, mindful planning. You will need to choose a certain, but flexible time, that will be unencumbered by demands of daily life. You will need to choose a place that is accessible and holds the expectation for complete solitude so that you can experience the fullness of peace. Remember water, food, proper clothing, a blanket, pen & paper, safety considerations. The intentions for this ritual need to be set beforehand. Intention setting is so important; please don't skip this step. As soon as the intention is set; transformation begins.

Write it out or speak it aloud. How do you want this intention for your ritual to impact who & how you are in your life right now; and in the future? Explore what healing means to you. Making one’s self whole? Coming to terms with one’s fears & failures? Feeling safe? Soothing one’s discomfort? Lessening pain? Learning how to live with limitations and difficulties? Grasping what it means to love ourselves? Choose your ritual elements by imagining yourself in that space before you go. How can you include the natural elements into your ritual? How can you stimulate all your senses during your time in this healing and transitional space?

Remember every step of this mini-pilgrimage has meaning. As you step out along the trail you have chosen, mindfully feel the earth beneath your feet. Notice whether the earth is hard or soft. Listen to the sound of your feet beneath the earth. It makes you alert and perceptive. Feel into groundedness & stability that will touch all aspects of your life. Focus on each and every movement in your journey and take your time. Listen to your surroundings. Along the way, look for significant signs or found objects that speak to your heart; gifts for the soul. If they can be removed without damaging the natural surroundings, take the time to ask for permission and give thanks for the gifts. When you reach your stopping point; whether a place you planned or a place your intuition has guided you to, create an area of sacred space.

Begin with prayer, whatever that looks like for you. Arrange your brought and found items in an altar fashion; followed by contemplation, meditation, or breath work. Allow yourself to be free to connect through the natural elements, energy, heart space, or purposeful movement. Writing messages or reflections while in this sacred space is very useful for release & questioning. Focus on both the joy & sorrow of your work as a doula; allow it all to present. Take some for stillness. When you allow yourself to be in stillness, removed from thought, what does your heart reveal? There will be a right time for the ritual to end. Express gratitude for all aspects; positive or challenging.

Open your available senses and take in the pleasing details of the ritual you have created. Linger in the aspects of the experience & gently absorb this, especially noticing how it feels in your body. Honour yourself for engaging in ritual and express gratitude for this experience. Cleaning up & deconstructing should be done very mindfully in closure. In the act of returning, you must continue to do this slowly and thoughtfully. Contemplate change and shift; visualize what you are carrying back with you.

A few days after the min-pilgrimage, take time to explore your journey and what you brought back (objects, written reflections). Take a seat in a quiet space. Determine to reflect on your ritual experience with as much self-compassion & gentleness as possible. Think about the beauty & sacredness of your ritual. Know that whatever little things didn’t work out as you planned; it just wasn’t supposed to. Take out a pen and paper & on it write down the answers to these questions: What wounds are beginning to be healed by my ritual intention? What inner guidance do I need in order to move forward in my work with a healthy maintenance of my body, mind and spirit? How did I honor myself and the families I support? Take some time to journal more about what is coming up for you.

True healing and transformational rituals; ones that require mindful, intentional planning and execution, allow us to find deeper meaning in the events in our lives. Including a regular mini-pilgrimage ritual can keep you grounded, allow you to tap into your intuitive knowing, be present in each moment and create open space in your heart.

“I settle into my center and let myself soften. I become clear and open; expansive and connected. From here, I let life lead me into what is next.” @brigidsgrove


Kelly Hurley is a HHA graduate and has an Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula practice in British Columbia. You can learn more about her at

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