The way of the pilgrim
sm grn pilgrim


What is a pilgrimage?  A pilgrimage originally was a journey to a sacred or vitalizing center (the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Spain is a classic example).  The journey was almost always done on foot and typically spanned a great distance over terrain that was completely unfamiliar and subsequently unpredictable to the traveler.  It was natural to encounter all types of great challenges and obstacles along the route (referred to as “ordeals”) but these ordeals were not interpreted as being ruinous to the trip, for the purpose of a pilgrimage is never for entertainment (like a vacation).  The objective of pilgrimage rather is engagement; a deeper connection to life.  As Phil Cousineau states in The Art of Pilgrimage, “Always, it is a journey of risk and renewal.”  The decision to embark on a pilgrimage was ultimately a decision to embrace the foreign and unpredictable and to let go of attempts to control.  This process of letting go of our rigid attachments to what we think we know drops us into a state of openness that allows for new perspectives and insights to be seen and integrated.  This is a metaphor for learning in its purest and highest form.


Pilgrimage is the informing principle for how we run our organization, how we identify and hire teachers, how we work with clients, and how our teachers ultimately work with their students.  Ultimately the journey of learning itself is a pilgrimage.  Anything new we learn has the components of a pilgrimage.  The subject is a territory that is unfamiliar and unpredictable to us, laden with potential obstacles.  A destination (i.e.- an objective like reaching a certain level of competency with a language) is chosen and we embark on the journey into this unfamiliar territory where we encounter ordeals; ordeals that can either be an opportunity to shift our perspective or to give up on the journey entirely.  By choosing to forge ahead in the face of ordeals, we cross important thresholds that unlock previously hidden abilities and resources within ourselves that expand us.  The destination we ultimately arrive at is often not what we conceived of when we started.  It’s often much greater than we had imagined.  


In the ancient days of pilgrimage, the lantern was an important tool for guidance in the dark.  For us, knowledge is symbolized by the flame of the lantern.  Like the proverbial attraction the moth has to a flame, so are we intrinsically attracted to knowledge.  We have an innate desire to learn; to participate in the process of creation.  The pursuit of knowledge is how we continually create ourselves anew.  This is why the flame of knowledge is the center of our logo, to serve as a constant reminder to us that our jobs are to be good stewards of the flame.  On the macro level, it is the light that guides our organization and on the micro-level, it is the same light we always find burning in the lanterns of our teachers who are guiding our students.  


Our primary focus with our clients is to create engaging learning experiences and no single factor is more influential to that end than the teacher.  We have a simple mantra, “Great teachers cultivate great learning experiences.”  If knowledge is the light, the teacher is the keeper of its flame; for tending to the flame to sustain it is just as important as the flame itself.  A great teacher is the keeper of two flames really; the flame within himself and the flame within the student.  In this way, the teacher is both guide and pilgrim.  Often, the student comes to the teacher with an inner flame that may have become so diminished that it is scarcely perceptible.  The great teacher has a way of awakening that dormant flame within the student and strengthening it until such time the student is able to maintain it himself.  Most of us, if we have been lucky, have had teachers in our lives that have stoked the flame within us and ignited a renewed hunger for learning. 


It would be easy to simply assume that in terms of roles, clearly the teacher is the “guide” while the student is the “pilgrim” who is following but that interpretation would be a little too simplistic.  The reality is that a great teacher has just as much of a pilgrim spirit as any earnest student possesses.  Great teachers approach working with each student as an unfamiliar territory that must be explored; navigating the obstacles and challenges unique to each student.  Great teachers tend to their inner flame by having the humility to recognize and embrace their own limitations.  Humility is the vital ingredient that cultivates curiosity and there is no better fuel for nurturing our inner flame than curiosity.  

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no "brief candle" for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.