Transformation by walking

9 April 2010

Spiritual and ecological activist Satish Kumar insists that becoming a pilgrim and walking with gratitude and a sense of wonder is a starting point in the transformational journey of life.

Walking in nature is a key to appreciating the interconnectedness of all life forms on Gaia Earth, according to the 73-year-old champion of the green movement, well known editor of Resurgence magazine, narrator of BBC2’s Earth Pilgrim programme and a Fellow of the Findhorn Foundation.

“Transformation is a way of life”, he told the Inspired Action conference, using the birth of the Findhorn Community as a vivid illustration of how the pioneering ecovillage was born out of the actions of three people who set up home in a caravan nearly half a century ago.

His own transformation was no less dramatic – also beginning in 1962 – when he and a friend were sipping coffee in a Bangalore café and read that elderly philosopher and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell had been arrested in an anti-nuclear demonstration in London.

“Here is a man of 90 committing civil disobedience and going to jail. What are we doing?” the two young Indian men asked themselves.

What followed was a remarkable feat of courage, endurance and faith as they undertook a 8,000 mile peace pilgrimage from New Delhi through deserts, mountains, storms and snow to Moscow, Paris, London and Washington – and did so without money or provisions on the recommendation of their guru.

During their two-and-a-half year quest to deliver packets of ‘peace tea’ to the leaders of the four nuclear powers of the day, they also experienced the generosity of the human spirit as people everywhere opened their hearts and their homes to these extraordinary pilgrims.

A friend seeing them off at the India border with Pakistan, at a time when there was bitter conflict between the two countries, offered them food parcels to take with into ‘enemy’ terrain. They refused, arguing that they weren’t packets of food but “packets of mistrust”, showing a lack of faith in the people they’d meet along the way. Their first miracle happened minutes later when, crossing the border, they were immediately welcomed by a Pakistani who’d heard of their pilgrimage and been inspired to await their arrival.

It was important not to see themselves as Jain monks, Indians, Hindus or even followers of Gandhi, but simply as human beings meeting other human beings.

Satish said it was vital to move away from small, ego-driven perceptions of individuals as separate from each other and the Earth, instead developing a global and cosmic consciousness. “We need to think like a mountain, or a planet, and see the interconnectedness of all life; with our home as the vast universe.” Examining issues like global warming and looming environmental catastrophes, he said these were symptoms and consequences of humanity’s narrow separatist and ego-based perceptions. “We have confused money with the real wealth of forests, rivers, communities and relationships. If you want transformation it is about embracing spirituality in every moment of your thoughts, words and actions.

“Great things can happen with small actions” he said, quoting the example of African American activist Rosa Parks who became known as the mother of the modern civil rights movement after she had refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in 1955. Her actions inspired Martin Luther King Jr who might not have lived to see his dreams become reality, but just over 40 years after his death President Barack Obama was installed in the White House.

“We need humour and humility” he added.

Geoff Dalglish

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