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Sacred Travel
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Phil Cousineau

      . . . is an international award-winning documentary filmmaker. He has written almost a dozen books and contributed to that many more. He is a traveler, photographer, independent scholar and former house painter. Widely known for "The Hero's Journey," his biographical film and book on Joseph Campbell, Cousineau offers readers a path by which to make travel sacred in The Art of Pilgrimage. Phil lives in San Francisco with his partner, Jo, and their son, whom they named for Jack Kerouac.

Excerpts2:36 secs

      Traveling more and enjoying it less? Turn your next trip into a pilgrimage, suggests filmmaker, author, independent scholar and traveler Phil Cousineau. Combine an inner journey with outward travel. If you choose to be a pilgrim, you can shake off the ordinary, before you find yourself in Belgium on a Tuesday -- numb.

      As far back as we can look, humans have been a peripatetic species. If anthropologists are right, we can trace our wanderlust back perhaps as far as 3.7 million years. Real travel, according to Cosineau, stretches the imagination, stretches our spirituality, stretches us physically, emotionally, in every sense.

      But a pilgrimage is a little more. It fulfills a deep yearning in the soul to go to a place you or your people consider sacred, a place that holds out an answer for a deep burning question. And there's no assurance about what you'll find at the other end. The pilgrim's journey is a search for meaning itself. The point is to have a real encounter with yourself, to search for answers to questions that burn in your own heart.

      Any journey -- a dream journey, a hero journey, a soul journey or a business trip -- can take on the deeper meaning gleaned by a pilgrim. Paradoxically, all those things that a good tour guide keeps at bay may be just those things that would make the trip worthwhile. Cousineau has found that a money-back guarantee of "no problems" may also defeat any possibility of satisfying the very hunger which prompted the journey in the first place.

      There are no formulas for a pilgrimage. And nothing quite to compare. Go with a big question in your heart. Then be open to adventure. A proper pilgrimage takes us down into the unknown. It forces us to face fear. Confront obstacles. And overcome them. A mature hero -- as distinct from the pale imitations offered by today's popular culture figures -- is then prepared is return home with the stories of what she or he has learned.

      Whether the pilgrimage is religious, cultural, geographic, literary or to a pop culture center like baseballs Cooperstown, N.Y., they all draw on the same longing that drew people to the ancient Oracle at Delphi. If we have the courage to keep going, the tenacity to get to the sacred destination, there is the promise of an encounter with oneself. That encounter, ultimately, allows us to return home to those who await us, renewed and ready to share the wisdom reserved for the pilgrims of the world.

[This program was recorded November 13, 1998, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.]

Conversation 1

Phil Cousineau offers Paula Gordon and Bill Russell a glimpse of just how restless humans are, describing pathways all over the world which we‚ve followed for millennia, from Tanzania to North America to the Mayan Yucatan.

Conversation 2

Reminding us that the word "journey" is rooted in the distance one can travel in a day, Phil describes ordinary travel and compares it to pilgrimages. He describes the rituals which traditional pilgrims observed, noting that the root of "travel" is related to travail and the medieval word for the torture rack. Phil tells us why he has a sense that every pilgrimage site, from Chartres to Cooperstown, N.Y., shares the sense of approaching an oracle with a Big Question. The true pilgrimage, he proposes, is always an inner journey and gives examples of how to restore meaning to travel, recounting the brief history of travel's pale reflection, tourism. Phil retells how George Lucas credited Joseph Campbell with leading Lucas through the trials and tribulations -- the pilgrimage -- of creating "Star Wars." Phil shares advice born of experience for dealing with travel's day-to-day challenges.

Conversation 3

Phil Cousineau gives examples of how pilgrimage is one of the major metaphors of all cultures. He suggests that when traveling, a person make an effort to learn one new thing every day. He explains how a pilgrimage can restore our faith when life's humdrum has made us jaded. He extols the virtues of practicing mindfulness both at home and when traveling, urging us to find sacredness in The Other. He explains why he thinks a pilgrimage is heroic, urging us to be watchful of the shadow side of the hero, becoming holier-than-thou. Phil explains what he means by "a pilgrimage is a trip that you can't can't take," when numbness puts in motion the rhythm of moving from our everyday lives to a challenging journey.

Conversation 4

A veteran of book tours, Phil describes how he practices what he preaches about pilgrimages. He describes the process which begins with researching, then writing a book, then how he moves the book out into the universe to compete with the 80,000 others published every year. He compares immature popular culture heroes (who fail to offer wisdom to the community) to mature heroes (from whose stories we all learn.) He gives examples from around the world.Offering his perspective on why the myth of the Old West is so powerful in America, Phil shows how that myth had both powerful positive and negative effects, beginning in Europe and ending up in Silicon Valley.

Conversation 5

Phil suggests political and psychological explanations for why most American cities are built on grids, with no center. He gives examples of how lacking a center steals the soul of a city. He recalls Joseph Campbell being asked how we can straighten out the mess in today's world. Answer: Tourism! ("Go out into the world and learn about The Other.") Phil gives examples of ways to do this when traveling, reserving a special place for reading a people's poetry and fiction. Phil tells us what question he would ask the Delphic Oracle and explains her significance in the ancient world.

Conversation 6

Phil describes his deep sense of connection to one of the world's great travelers, Jack Kerouac. Phil tells how his life partner beguiles him back home, relating his own experience to an in-depth reading of the ancient story of the great adventurer, Odysseus, and Odysseus' faithful wife, Penelope. In this context, Phil offers his explanation for the power of pilgrimage -- in the process of our own pilgrimages, we learn something which allows us to have deeper, more authentic relationships on returning home. Phil celebrates the poetry of the world encountered in a pilgrimage which finally opens us to the beauty of being vulnerable.

Related Links:
The Art of Pilgrimage is published by Conari Press.
For information about Phil‚s recent award-winning film Ecological Design: Inventing the Future and its companion book Design Outlaws on the Ecological Frontier, visit The Knossus Project.

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