How remarkable it is that I’ve covered many millions of miles driving, sailing and flying – and yet it is only while walking at the time-honoured pace of our ancestors that I’ve experienced the difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim.
There is a voice that doesn't use words. Listen.
Almost always it has been in wild Nature that I’ve felt the interconnectedness of all life and found my greatest clarity and inspiration, although occasionally I’ve known that peace and serenity as my spirits have soared in cathedrals, temples, mosques or meditation sanctuaries.
Most often those magic moments have happened while walking or sitting alone in a place of natural beauty, usually at daybreak while celebrating the luminosity of first light. That’s definitely a treasured time of day for many pilgrims.
Findhorn Foundation co-founder Eileen Caddy spoke passionately of the ‘small, still voice within’ and encouraged us to take quiet time for inner work, while centuries ago celebrated Persian poet Rumi said: “Silence is the language of God; all else is poor translation.” There seems to be widespread agreement that whatever our faith, or lack of it, we benefit enormously from gifting ourselves with time away from our everyday routines to centre ourselves and be still.Pivotal to my growth and understanding has been meeting spiritual and ecological activist Satish Kumar and then attending a five-day workshop led by him entitled Exploring Inner and Outer Landscapes. The 79-year-old former monk and editor of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine guided a programme that immersed us in the loving embrace of Mother Nature as we navigated beautiful Scottish landscapes in and around Findhorn, often walking meditatively in silence.
Life, he insists, is a sacred journey and the Earth 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,” he 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.”
I try to do that each and every day, regardless of the weather, allowing myself time to walk through the woods to Findhorn Beach, pausing to appreciate the trees around me, the sky above, the quick movements of a deer or rabbit, and on rare occasions the gift of a glimpse of the inshore bottlenose dolphins that patrol the Moray coast.
Soon I’ll have a week away from my usual routines on the Hebridean Isle of Iona where the Findhorn Foundation has a retreat house called Traigh Bhan that is used by community members during the winter and offered for guest retreats, mostly during the summer months. A proviso is that all guests have completed Experience Week or a programme that immerses them in the community’s core values of inner listening, co-creation with the intelligence of Nature and the experience of work – or service – as love in action.
And on 28 May I’ll be back at Traigh Bhan to hold a guest retreat called The Art of Pilgrimage.It is an invitation for a small group of no more than six guests to join me on the island that has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries since the arrival of Christian monk and missionary St Columba in 563. It is also the place where I began walking with messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth.
This retreat will combine the opportunity for gently guided walks, reconnection with the beauty and healing powers of Nature and time to relax and enjoy the simplicity of island life.