Yippee… I’ve completed the first tentative and wobbly baby steps of my pilgrimage to walk the world with a message about treading lightly upon the Earth.
The clip-on pedometer on my waistband tells a small part of the story: 540,847 steps, 421.5 km (261.8 miles) and 12 non-stop days of walking. A bit like the Johnnie Walker cinema ad, but sadly without a drop of Scotland’s finest.
The journey, involving around 10 hours of stepping it out daily, has taken me from the Hebridean islands of Erraid and Iona to the international Findhorn community and ecovillage.
At the beginning I was waved off by my daughters Bonnie and Tammy and handed a note I read later with a lump in my throat. “What you are doing is incredible and fantastic,” they assured. “Selfishly we’d like you closer to home and more accessible to us, but we will be wishing you good health, a comfy place to sleep at night, interesting scenery and meetings along the way. What you are doing brings knowledge, love and light to a great cause, the beloved Earth.
“Have fun, be brave and remember that you don’t have to suffer, freeze or go hungry to spread your message. Spread your message in true happiness.”
My concessions to technology – pedometer, smart phone and 10-megapixel pocket camera – capture data and images but tell nothing of the sense of freedom or exhilaration at exploring vast landscapes at a pace our ancestors understood. Or of the wonderful boost I receive with each message of encouragement – I’m not doing this alone.
The digital readouts don’t reveal anything of the moments of intense clarity when we understand why things are the way they are. Nor do they tell of the pain, tiredness and occasional longing for the familiar old life and its numbing commitment to speed and comfort. Hey, change is never easy.
I’ve marvelled at where and how far my feet have taken me each day. What a privilege to be doing this.
On foot we move towards distant horizons in a gentle rhythm that connects, instead of severing us from the natural world. I treasure that and realise I now love walking even more than driving, and fast cars were once the epicentre of my world. There’s a sense of the interconnectedness of all life. It is the timeless way of the pilgrim that most people can relate to, even if they choose instead to view their world through windows, windscreens and rear-view mirrors. “I hate walking,” one dear friend confided.
My Iona-Findhorn Pilgrimage pays homage to a place that has inspired me; and to the fellow travellers that seek a raised state of consciousness where love, joy, peace and truth prevail. It’s not airy-fairy and I experience it at Findhorn. Why settle for anything less?
“Do you really believe that you can make a difference,” I was asked? Absolutely!
And don’t I believe that all this talk of climate change is absolute nonsense? Yes, and the world is flat, although I had great fun debating the point with a tourist in his large luxury motorised camper. We didn’t agree but got on famously, exchanged email addresses and parted as pals.
The issues of religion and spirituality were also raised by someone who professed not to believe in God but was clearly in love with life and acknowledged the healing power of nature. Isn’t that the same thing? Does it matter what you call divinity?
This journey has been fun and has helped consolidate the transformation from the Geoffrey of old to Geoff-free. From the tourist who ticks things off to the pilgrim who sees and celebrates the sacred all around. Climbing Ben Nevis was just such a choice – do you take the fast and easier tourist route favoured by most or the more daunting and inspiring ascent via Carn Mor Dearg with views of crags, buttresses and spires described by one writer as ‘loveless, loveliness’?
A tourist brochure instructs visitors to keep to the main route. Dare I suggest you get out of your comfort zone and suck the juice out of life, but be mindful of your experience level and understand that there is no margin for recklessness on this great mountain.
What have the highlights been? Wow, so many really but mostly those moments of breathtaking beauty and clarity, be they spiritual revelations or simply the colours of first light on a mirror-smooth loch, the calls of an eagle or the music of water cascading over rocks in a clear stream. There can be no going back to my former life. Behind me is a plastic throw-away culture of materialism, greed and self-interest; ahead a pact with the natural world and a commitment to a life of contribution. I’m so lucky to be walking this path.
I’ve mostly been alone these 12 days but never lonely; my contact with strangers confirming my highest hopes for humanity and bestowing the precious gifts of companionship and conversation. Walking in nature has provided the healing balm of peace and gratitude.
The transition from petrolhead to pilgrim has been easier than many might imagine, although not without challenge. I’ve walked until my body was crying out for rest and the pain in my feet and back has sometimes been excruciating. Once I began falling asleep while walking in a busy and dangerous single-track road.
When I had niggling doubts about my ability to manage a big push on the final day, I silently asked for help. I felt my load lighten and fresh energy course through body, mind and soul. I was reminded that with faith all our needs are met.
I have laughed often these past few days, especially at my predicament when sodden and sore, or attempting to get comfy in the waterproof bivvy body-bag that keeps midges out, my sleeping bag dry and me grumpily awake. Yeah, I’m claustrophobic.
Only Scotland’s notorious blood-guzzling midges have threatened a total sense of humour failure, although I have yet to make the ultimate West Coast fashion statement of wearing a midge-net over my head… if Australians can have hats with dangling corks to chase off the flies, why not the mesh nets sported by some?
I’ve thought fondly of my friend Inga back home who has taught me to laugh at life. “You were so serious when I first me you,” she once admonished. She’d be delighted to know my last few kilometres to Findhorn were about fun and friendship. Walking the 38km (24 mile) Dava Way between Granton-on-Spey and Forres I saw a lone figure striding towards me in the far distance, it eventually morphing into my hiking pal John Willoner. He’d come to greet me a few hours from the end and was laden with tasty snacks including a fresh fix for this chocoholic.
It had been a long day, my trusty pedometer reflecting 10 hours and 36 minutes of walking that traversed 47km and nearly 30 miles of beautiful Moray countryside. I felt great.
And the bonus was the auspicious dates of my pilgrimage, starting on the 30th anniversary of Peace Pilgrim’s passing; and finishing on Mandela Day in celebration of the 93rd birthday of the former South African president and world icon. Happy birthday Madiba!