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Spiritual Retreat as Pilgrimage – Slowing to the Pace of Our Ancestors


May 19, 2017 By Geoff Dalglish
Iona spiritual retreat

‘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’

-Satish Kumar, spiritual and ecological activist

 

How interesting it is that I’ve travelled many millions of miles flying, driving and sailing – and yet it is only while walking at the pace of our ancestors that I’ve slowed enough to appreciate the difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim.

 

Almost always it has been in wild nature that I’ve found my greatest inspiration and clarity, 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 for many pilgrims.

 

The Journey of Silence

Iona Spiritual Retreat

St. Columba’s Bay, Iona

Findhorn Foundation co-founder Eileen Caddy spoke of the ‘small, still voice within’ and encouraged each of us to take quiet time, as in spiritual retreat, to hear those whispers of inner knowing, while centuries ago Persian poet Rumi insisted: “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 from gifting ourselves with time away from everyday busyness to centre ourselves and be still.

 

Pivotal to my own growth and understanding has been meeting earth pilgrim Satish Kumar a few years ago and then attending a five-day workshop led by him entitled Exploring Inner and Outer Landscapes. The 80-year-old former monk guided a workshop that immersed us in the loving embrace of Mother Nature as we explored beautiful Scottish landscapes 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.

 

“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.”

 

I asked Satish if there was anything he could recommend that would make a difference in people’s everyday lives.

 

The Pilgrim’s Path

Walk in Nature, he urged, and preferably alone and in the early morning. I thought this was simply advice I’d offer to others, not realising then that it would become my core spiritual practice, connecting me to the Divine wherever I am in the world. For the kind of pilgrimage known as spiritual retreat, I find walking in nature indispensable. 

 

I try to embrace this practice every day, regardless of the weather, at Findhorn allowing myself time to walk through the woods to the beach, pausing to appreciate the trees around me, the sky above, and recently an amazing and prolonged encounter with a solitary dolphin.

 

A deep peace settles over me and often I feel the joy bubbling up within me as I connect with the magic and miracle of all life. What a gift Satish gave me with his wisdom and advice!

 

Traigh Bhan, spiritual retreat house on Iona

Traigh Bhan

Soon my South African friend Adelle Horler will join me at Findhorn for a few days followed by a fortnight on the Hebridean Isle of Iona where the Findhorn community has a cosy spiritual retreat house overlooking the sea called Traigh Bhan. 

 

We look forward to quiet time for introspection and gentle walks about the sacred island that has been a place of pilgrimage and spiritual retreat for many centuries.

 

Pilgrimage’s End

It was in 563 that Christian monk and missionary St Columba arrived here, bringing Christianity to Scotland and beyond and attracting thousands of pilgrims from around the world.

 

It’s hard to explain but something powerful and inexplicable draws me back to Iona again and again, and it was here that I began my world walk on 7 July 2011 in a bid to honour another source of inspiration. On that July day, exactly 30 years earlier, a woman known simply as Peace Pilgrim passed from this Earthly life.

 

She was a remarkable silver-haired woman who walked tirelessly for 28 years on a personal pilgrimage for peace, vowing to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter, and fasting until given food.”

 

A pilgrim’s job, she said, is to rouse people from apathy and to make them think.

 

She advocated a life of simplicity dedicated to humanity and all God’s creations, delivering her message with a characteristic warmth and cheerfulness.
“Love is the greatest power on Earth,” she insisted. “It conquers all things.”


Geoff and Adelle Horler will lead Way of the Pilgrim, a spiritual retreat on Iona, on June 17.  For other Iona Spiritual Retreat opportunities, see here.

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