Pilgrims from the New World

In search of meaning

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In recent years there has been a real craze for pilgrimages, and more generally for spiritual pilgrimages. Those who go on them set out in search of themselves to find themselves, to find meaning and to try to reconnect with the divine, whatever their name, religion or denomination. The essential thing is to set out towards oneself and discover oneself, or rediscover oneself and bring out a meaning to one's life.

Over the last fifteen years or so, a new type of walk has appeared that could be likened to a pilgrimage; it involves travelling the world over a part or a piece of France, preferably on foot, or even by bicycle or boat, in fairly Spartan conditions in order to defend a societal, ecological or humanitarian cause. The movement has intensified following the publication of the book 80 men to change the world.

What needs does it meet?

It is a question of giving oneself to bring out meaning, of putting oneself to the test (renewal of Christian sacrifice) in order to offer it to others (caritas), the desire to move forward in order to recover slowness, to commune with natural rhythms, to truly meet people, to recreate links, to weave communities of values, to experience a happy sobriety that allows one to cut oneself off from consumer society in order to make a break with it, to raise awareness in the media in order to make visible the causes on which to mobilise.

More than ever, changes are driven by citizens, stars take too expensive pills to defend causes, the media relay them as they wish or if it allows for profitable scoops, and in the meantime, the problems on the ground are legion. So citizens roll up their sleeves to solve them themselves, with the state doing its job less and less often, too locked up in political games and caught up by pressure from lobbies. They use social networks to share information, mobilize and co-finance themselves, increasingly outside traditional institutions.

A new exploration of "meaning"

These walks and journeys also revive the polysemy of the word "meaning".
It is first of all a question of sensoriality, since the societal pilgrim rides a bicycle or puts on walking shoes to cover tens, even hundreds when it is not thousands of kilometres, whatever the country and the means of locomotion, putting his body to the test. This is another way of feeling alive again, vibrant, in communion with one's body and the surrounding nature; a way of becoming part of nature again, after having wanted to tame it and thus having cut oneself off from it almost completely in the cities.

After sensoriality, even sensuality and the return to listening to one's body, it is about meaning.
As we have just discussed in the previous paragraph, these "round-the-world or France tours" are about taking actions that make sense for oneself and others and getting collectives to mobilize for societal causes, since the consumer society no longer provides many answers when the aspiration of self-realization is too strong.
Commitment by example is then a recipe for mobilization and vocations.

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Finally, making a societal pilgrimage leads to seeking and then finding what is essential, what makes sense for oneself. It is the return of the spiritual dimension. In the quest for transcendence, these societal pilgrims reach a dimension that goes beyond them to offer the best of themselves to others, to causes that restore balances broken by our deregulated liberal society.

A new business model to follow?

Thus, the business model of the societal pilgrim is as follows: seeking co-financing to start, solidarity on the way, sharing accommodation thanks to information on social networks, testing, meetings, achieving the goal, media coverage along the way and obtaining increased visibility to encourage funding, a book and/or a film can close the process to make the commitment more visible.
The societal pilgrim then carries out a committed, militant storytelling using his notoriety (sometimes nascent and growing through social networks), as well as his narcissistic need for recognition in the service of a societal cause.

A few examples

Here are some inspiring examples.
At the age of twenty, Amandine Roche set off in the footsteps ofElla Maillart that fascinated her. She wanted to repeat the expedition of this Swiss woman through Central Asia. She travelled 6,000 kilometres through a multitude of countries in France, passing through Central Asia and ending up in Siberia. She wanted to appreciate if 70 years later things had changed; she met people, discovered spirituality and made her blossom who she has become. She wrote a magnificent book Nomad on the way to Ella Maillart (Arthaud- Payot) in which she has recounted his extraordinary adventure. Since then, she has devoted her career to humanitarian work and has been involved in missions as an observer for the UN; she is committed to peace and has created a foundation to teach meditation to Afghans and especially to soldiers .

Aurélie Derreumaux and Laurent Granier undertook a tour of France in 2011/12 to achieve several objectives: 6,000 kilometres to meet the border populations and participate in the discovery of the natural heritage of sea and mountains, and also to offer this walk to Handicap International by selling each kilometre for the benefit of the NGO. This walk was also an opportunity for other people to join them and walk alongside them, sharing a multitude of experiences, through steps taken in parallel with each other.

Aurélie and Laurent did a book and a film of their human, individual and couple adventures put at the service of several societal causes (3). 6000 km to meet the border populations and a sea heritage and Frédéric Bosqué, after having created Humanist Alternatives with the aim of restoring financial autonomy to local economic actors, became involved in alternative currencies and contributed to the circulation of the Soil Violet in Toulouse. Since then, he has committed himself to the Minimum Existence Income. In order to mobilize people and consciences, Frédéric undertook a 4,000 kilometre tour of France on his electric bicycle in which he put himself to the test, met dozens of people who hosted him and with whom he exchanged ideas, which enabled him to increase the visibility of the concept to facilitate its implementation and generalization. He allowed his readers to follow his progress thanks to his Facebook diaryThe story of his journey was told almost daily on the radio and in the press.

These courageous travellers, adventurers of new worlds, thirsty for life, seekers of meaning and clear horizons, pioneers of resourcing alternatives open up unexplored territories and make us dream. Perhaps they have inspired you? So, now who's next?

Christine Marsan, Psycho-sociologist 

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