Three amazing months have passed since walking the legendary Camino pilgrimage across Spain and in the intervening weeks I temporarily curtailed my long-distance walking while being joyfully immersed in community life in northern Scotland.
It has provided some important lessons about service, contribution, commitment and patience.
I’ve also enjoyed an astonishingly gentle Scottish winter that has allowed me to walk before sunrise each day while devoting much of my time to helping with preparations for the Findhorn Foundation community’s 50th birthday celebrations. I’ve written a number of features that will be published by leading magazines like Kindred Spirit, Resurgence and Odyssey.
On November 17, 2012 the Findhorn community commemorates a half century as a force for positive change in the world, looking back on a history of magic and miracles that nobody could have predicted in their wildest imaginings.
Writing my book Petrolhead to Pilgrim has also been an incredible and liberating personal journey that has taken me from early childhood in South Africa through all manner of adventures to my most recent experiences at Findhorn. Only the final chapter needs to be written which will chronicle the beginnings of my walk in California next month.
It will be a journey from the Utopia of my teens to fresh perspectives of today, taking me from the concrete and materialism of Los Angeles, Hollywood and Whittier College (where I was a very wayward student) to the loving embrace of nature and the majesty of some of the world’s tallest and oldest trees. My planned route includes Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks.
I’ve just started studying the maps and see that my route could pass near Big Pine, headquarters of the School of Lost Borders, which has been teaching rites of passage from the Native American tradition for the past 35 years. Founded by Steven Foster and Meredith Little who co-authored The Book of the Vision Quest, the school has also served as an inspiration for nearly two decades of Vision Quests facilitated in South Africa by my friends Judy Bekker and Valerie Morris.
I’ve participated in three of their quests in recent years and each has been profound, deepening my connection with the natural world and clarifying my wider purpose in life. It’s a symbolic death of the old and rebirth into the new. For many the Vision Quest process helps deal with a career change, a health challenge or the beginning or end of a relationship.
Judy Bekker explains: “The need for deep reflection time is increasingly evident in our corporate societies and our communities. The Vision Quest is a personal transformation process that is part of an ancient tradition with wilderness playing a significant role in the quest for a new direction in life.”
It normally takes the form of an 11-day programme tailored for small groups of individuals seeking quiet time to review their lives, formulate new plans or simply ritualise a turning point like the transition from youth to adulthood, or perhaps to elderhood in the case of a person retiring or celebrating a 60th or 70th birthday.
The concept is certainly not new. History abounds with stories of inspirational leaders who withdrew from society for a period to fast alone in the wilds and seek a new vision, obvious examples being Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed.
Pivotal to the programme is solo time in the wilderness, usually consisting of four days and nights alone in the wilds without food or formal shelter, although there are structures in place to ensure participants remain safe with help a walk or whistle-blow away.
Many believe that the womb of wilderness and the healing balm of nature hold the key to humanity’s search for inner peace, joy and a real sense of purpose, also enabling us to escape the pressures of modern life and re-establish a connection with the land and ourselves. It is a place to go within and access the very core of our being.
While I feel I’ve found purpose in life as a pilgrim walking with a message about living simply and treading lightly upon the Earth, I often still feel a deep need to answer the call of the wilds. Once again I long for the ‘fix’ of some solo time where I can leave the trappings of modern civilisation behind and allow myself to be steered by intuition rather than technology.
Hopefully it will be one of the great gifts that my Californian walk will bestow and I can feel the excitement building at the very idea of exploring new inner and outer landscapes. What freedom to adjust the straps of my rucksack and begin walking towards new horizons…