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DIY Creative Pilgrimage: How to Turn a Walk into a New World


Black and white photo of an old stone bench by a windowsill. Shadows over the bench cast the reflection of the windowsill onto the stone.


Creativity as Sacred Practice


As some of you may know, our very first event here at The Girlhood Guild was something we like to call a ‘Creative Pilgrimage’. Most commonly, a pilgrimage is a meditative process of journeying from a start point to a destination with the explicit intention of enriching the spirit, not just by arriving at the end goal, but by partaking in the journey itself. Many faiths around the world still include pilgrimages to holy destinations as sacred rites built into the religious lives of their followers. 


Personally, the act of creating (particularly writing), is what makes me feel most in touch with a sense of divinity. When I enter a creative flow state, I feel like I am very briefly touching something beyond myself, and working with it to bring something new into being. In the early(ish) stages of her pregnancy, my partner’s sister described feeling her child move around in the womb as the gentlest swish of a fish’s fin. That is kind of how I experience creative inspiration, too. A hint at the sides of my vision, the smallest glint of a winged thing, a flashing image or sentence, and then I interpret the visit as best I can and the result is a poem or a story or whatever I’ve made that day.


Sometimes it also feels like there is a different voice inside my head, offering new combinations of language to get at the exact idea I am trying to convey (That voice also has favorite words, currently shatter, and gilded). All of this feels sacred to me, so time spent at my notebook or writing desk is time spent honoring whatever energetic force drives us forward. 


A Creative Pilgrimage is therefore a meditative journey through space, but rather than drawing on particular holy locations, you are instead connecting with the sacred site of your creativity, interfacing with it at different points along the way and seeing what might be waiting for you there. 



Why Activities like These Matter 


Crucially, this isn’t some frivolous activity that has no bearing on the real world. Your creativity has every bearing on the real world, and paying attention to it is an opportunity to imagine alternatives. To give you a concrete example, our first TGG Creative Pilgrimage was at Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh. We were blessed with unseasonably beautiful weather, and the day resulted in stories and poetry that will also be appearing on this blog in the coming weeks. Yet, these poems and stories weren’t disconnected, ungrounded takes rooted in a long-gone past. Instead, a common theme that emerged across much of the writing was justice. Fiametta Falchi wrote a beautiful fairytale rewriting the witch as a benevolent character. She also shared a poem drawing on issues like shared custodianship over nature and universality. I got a short story about unwanted pregnancy, and the fragility of women’s solidarity with one another. All of these are prescient themes in growing conversations, and our contributions wouldn’t have existed had we not sat with ourselves in the ancient banquet hall of a 14th century castle. 


All of this is to say that you don’t have to sign up to a group event, or be in a specific place to have an equally rewarding creative pilgrimage of your own. You also don’t have to be a writer, as you can use any creative medium you prefer. What follows is a small guide and to help you turn any walk (whether indoors or outdoors) into a sacred engagement with your creative self! I have also included a sample 1-hour guided pilgrimage, with writing prompts for your checkpoints. 



DIY Creative Pilgrimage: How-To 


The basic elements of a creative pilgrimage are: 1. Movement though space, and 2. Stopping to engage in some form of creation at regular(ish) intervals of time. 



Step 1: Decide on a Time and Route


A creative pilgrimage can honestly be as long or short as you like, as long as it involves some kind of creation and a sense of journey. Start by deciding how much time you have for your pilgrimage, and be realistic. Walking and creating for three hours  is wonderful if you can manage it, but I know that I personally can only really hold my concentration for about 90 minutes at most. On days when you are tired or stressed, be even more reserved. 5 minutes is always way better than nothing at all! 


Next, pick a time interval. This interval will determine the amount of time you spend walking in between bouts of creation, AND the amount of time you spend creating between bouts of walking. This way, you will end the pilgrimage having moved and created in about equal amounts. What works best for me is usually a 10/10 interval. So, walk for 10 minutes, then find the nearest place to comfortably sit or prop myself up, and create for 10 minutes. I find that in 10 minutes I can just about get from the beginning to the end of an idea, and still have the energy to get up repeat the process a few more times afterwards. If you enjoy going deeper into each idea, you might benefit from 15-20 minute intervals instead. You can even get creative with the intervals and make it so that the amount of time spent walking and creating aren’t even. If you don’t want to walk very much but want to get a lot of creating done, you could go for a 5 min walking/10 min writing interval, for example. The guided pilgrimage at the end of this post follows this 5/10 min interval structure.


Finally, decide on a route or a start location. Personally, I like being surprised on my creative pilgrimages, so I will usually just pick a starting point and walk in any direction I feel like from there. However, your route can be circular, so that you know you’ll be back at the start point by the end, or you can decide on a specific path. If you do choose to walk more randomly, make sure you are broadly familiar with your environment so you don’t get lost. 

 


Step 2: Gather Materials 


Before you set off, make sure you have the materials you need to create effectively and comfortably. For me, this looks like a notebook, pens/pencils, my glasses, and a water bottle or flask of tea. For you, it might be a paint set, a sketchpad, and a sunhat. Just make sure you have the tools you need. 


If you are going to be quite disciplined with time intervals, I also recommend bringing any device that will allow you to keep track of time and notify you when a specific interval is up. For me this is usually just the timer on my phone. 



Step 3: Start! 


Once you have decided on the logistics and gathered the materials for your pilgrimage, head to your start location and get going! Try not to overthink the process too much, there really is no way to mess this up (aside from not paying attention to traffic if you’re outside. Please stay safe.) The one thing I would recommend is that you aren’t distracted during your walking intervals. Try not to look at your phone or walk while listening to music or podcasts, as experiencing the walk with all your senses can really help you get into the meditative, creative space that we are looking for. If you really want to listen to music while you walk, try going with an option that has no lyrics.



Other Non time-based Creative Pilgrimage Options 


If you’d like to make your creative pilgrimage a bit more free-form and less time-based, you can absolutely do that too. Instead of having time intervals to guide your creativity, let the environment you are walking through determine when you stop to write. For example, if your pilgrimage is a loop around your local park, you might be inspired to stop and create by a particularly interesting tree, or at a bench across from a duck pond, or by the dog park or patch of flowers. Use the landmarks around you as waypoints.


You could also choose to conduct your pilgrimage in a specific enclosed space of cultural or historical interest. This is what we did at Craigmillar Castle. Instead of having time-based intervals, we had checkpoints encouraging people to stop and create around different interesting parts of the castle. Rather than setting a timer, our intervals were dictated by our arrival at the castle courtyard, a spiral staircase, an old banquet hall, and an ornate stained-glass window. 


Ultimately, your creative pilgrimage is a personal experience tailored to you. At each of your creative checkpoints, you can either create freely or use prompts to inspire you. Below, you’ll find a 60-minute guided pilgrimage with a prompt  for each of your creative intervals. 



Black and white image of a sketchbook featuring a rough sketch of a building. A hand holding a pencil is holding the sketchbook page open.
The results of a 10-min creative interval during my own personal creative pilgrimage in the Meadows, Edinburgh.

Guided DIY Creative Pilgrimage


Duration: 1 hour

Starting Point: Any location or route of your choice. 


1.1 Walk: 5 minutes


1.2 Create: 10 minutes 


Prompt 1: Beauty Everywhere


Let’s begin with the assumption that beauty in some form can be found almost anywhere. The key to noticing it is to experience it with all of your senses. What in the landscape around you is beautiful right now, and why? Sink into your body: What does beautiful look like, sound like, smell like, taste like, and feel like to you, right now? 


Further instructions for photographers: Narrow your focus to a single beautiful thing in the landscape around you. Capture this thread as opposed to the whole tapestry. Can you express how the whole landscape made you feel through this single element? 



2.1 Walk: 5 minutes


2.2 Create: 10 minutes


Prompt 2: Scavenging for Stories


Stone Tape Theory suggests that, like a tape recorder, the iron atoms in stones can actually record and store an event if it has enough emotional charge. These memories can then be played back to you, when you least expect them, or when the circumstances (weather, time of day) match those surrounding the initial event. 


Look for something in your environment that is made of stone, metal, or another solid substance. Focus on it, pay attention. What story is being told to you? What happened here? 


Further instructions for photographers: Solid objects usually cast interesting shadows. By taking a photo of the interplay between light and shadow, or taking photos of shadows themselves, can you tell a story about what happened here?



Congratulations! This is the halfway mark. If you’re doing a circular loop walk, turn back now. 



3.1 Walk: 5 minutes 


3.2 Create: 10 minutes 


Prompt 3: Investigating Safety


Somewhere in your immediate vicinity, two best friends have hidden to have a secret conversation out of earshot of everyone else. What location did they choose?  What have they come here to talk about? What about this place makes them feel safe enough to talk? Could you describe how the conversation they have feels, and what that emotion looks like? 


Further instructions for photographers: Can you showcase a feeling of sanctuary and trust in a single photo taken nearby? 



4.1 Walk: 5 minutes


4.2 Create: 10 minutes


Prompt 4: Landscapes as Psyches 


At some point, over the course of your walk, you have mysteriously stumbled into your own mind. If the landscape around you is an ever-changing reflection of your inner life, what is it telling you about you? How are you feeling? How is your health? What elements of yourself are precious and needing preservation, and what elements would you want to change? How do you imagine this landscape shifting in the next month? Will anything look different? 


Further instructions for photographers: Try to find a way to capture yourself in the landscape around you. What specific elements, areas, or compositions speak to you as being ‘you’?



Aaaaaaaand that’s a wrap! You’re finished. By the end of this one hour, you will have done 20 minutes of walking, and another 40 of creating, which is a phenomenal achievement. 


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Overall, just remember that this process is about coming into a deeper relationship with your creative life. There should be no extreme pressure, or expectations about how things should go or how you should feel at the end of it. Anything that comes up for you is perfectly normal. 


I hope that these tips and prompts inspire you to design and go on your own creative pilgrimages. If you do go on one, I would love to hear how it went and how you felt, so don’t hesitate to message the TGG email or Instagram with your thoughts. 


Happy journeying! 


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