Journalist Geoff Dalglish signs up for a Findhorn College workshop and experiences pilgrimage as a transformational way of life.
Life is a pilgrimage, according to spiritual and ecological activist Satish Kumar, who sees life as a sacred journey and the Earth as our sacred home.
“Either we can act as tourists and look at the Earth as a source of goods and services for our personal use, or we can become Earth Pilgrims and treat the planet with reverence and gratitude,” the 73-year-old editor of Resurgence magazine and narrator of BBC2’s Earth Pilgrim programme says. “Tourists value the Earth and all her natural riches only in terms of their usefulness to themselves, while pilgrims perceive the planet as sacred and recognise the intrinsic value of all life.”
He adds that life is to be lived in every moment. “As a pilgrim I discover the mystery, the magic, the meaning and the magnificence of life in every step I take, in every sound I hear and in every sight I see.”
It is the final day of Findhorn College’s recent five-day workshop entitled ‘A Journey through Inner and Outer Landscapes’ and we are walking reverentially along a section of the Dava Way, near the town of Forres in the beautiful Moray countryside.
We are 14 happy pilgrims of widely differing levels of physical fitness from all corners of the globe, who are enjoying the gentle guidance, wisdom and humour of focalisers Satish, Daniel Wahl, the academic director of Findhorn College, and colleague Yvan Rytz who’s playing a dynamic support role.
Daniel and Yvan have prepared the way for Satish’s arrival with a variety of exercises, meditations and the recital of poems that often inspire and delight us. I especially appreciate the lines from Adyashanti’s Praise this Day:
So if you are ready to stop denying yourself
your own beauty
you have come to the right place.
Wake up now and praise this day
when you realise that God's eyes
are the ones you are looking out of, and into.
Often we walk in total silence as we explore inner and outer landscapes, even experiencing our beautiful Findhorn environment with eyes closed, while being guided through an exercise in trust that amplifies the images we receive through the other senses.
The programme includes walks with Satish through the Findhorn Dunes, along the beach at Culbin Sands and through the ancient woods at Cawdor Castle, where I have a powerful feeling of religious awe such as I’ve only occasionally known when entering a great cathedral, temple or mosque. At a very early age I realised that it was in Nature that I felt most connected to my Creator and I suspect that each of us in the group has similar feelings of nurturing, renewal and inspiration.
For me it is also an opportunity to discuss an idea about initiating a pilgrimage to Findhorn in 2012, our community’s 50th birthday celebration — and who better to bounce ideas off than the author of Earth Pilgrim and No Destination, the remarkable story of Satish and a friend’s 13,000km peace walk as young men from New Delhi, India, to the nuclear capitals of Moscow, Paris, London and Washington DC.
Satish says he became a pilgrim at the age of four, when he walked with his mother to the farm, she insisting that walking there was a pilgrimage, whereas if they travelled on horseback or in a camel cart then they were just interested in getting there.
“My mother would say that when you touch the Earth, you are touching sacred space – a divine space – and God is present in the Earth. And everything upon this Earth is a manifestation of the divine spirit in physical form. You have to imagine that this flower you are looking at is not just a physical flower; it is an embodiment of divine spirit. The flower is an intelligent and animate being.”
Inevitably the themes of simplicity, humility, healthy relationships and sustainability are interwoven in Satish’s teachings: “Modern lifestyle is destroying the fundamentals of relationships. The consequence of a materialistic, acquisitive, fashionable, consumerist lifestyle is gross unhappiness. And that gross unhappiness is the price we are paying on a personal level.”
We are also paying a high price on the social level with the injustice of fabulous wealth alongside dreadful slums and shanty towns in many cities.
“Then there are the environmental consequences,” Satish cautions. “Everything we are producing and consuming is based on one source of energy: oil, which we consume at the rate of millions of barrels each day. One consequence is global warming and another is global wars. So a fundamental change in our collective way of life is a personal, social and environmental imperative.
“These systems on which modern life is based were built by humans, and can be changed by humans. If our systems are damaging personal, social and environmental coherence, then we need to redesign them and such redesigning requires a new ecological and spiritual consciousness. When people see this and make the connection between their own lifestyle and the negative consequences that result when it is reproduced on a global scale, then I think they will welcome a redesigning of the world and a lifestyle which is elegant, simple, comfortable, beautiful, joyful and happy. If we can do this we will not need three or four or more planets and can live happily on our one planet.
“We talk of human rights but we need to recognise the rights of Nature.”
A major source of inspiration remains the simple life of Mahatma Gandhi who said so eloquently: “There is enough in the world for everybody's need, but not enough for anybody's greed.”