Last night marked the eighth night of my pilgrimage. It has already been simultaneously much more challenging physically than I expected and much more profound spiritually.
I haven’t been camping alone since about the year 2000, and that was at the height of the summer in the great deserts of the Southwest. I understood traveling and camping in unbelievable heat, but clearly I wasn’t prepared for the cold 40-something degree nights I would find at 7000′ up the side of a mountain. The physical discomfort has been worth it thus far however, because the spiritual benefits have been notable. I really didn’t expect to already being feeling such a difference.
When I first heard the call to begin this journey, I guessed that maybe I was supposed to do x, y, and z. But what I’m discovering is it truly isn’t about the doing. Pilgrimage is both an inner and an outer journey, and the inner journey is the more profound part. Inner journeys require long hours of being. They require being quiet, watching, listening, reflecting, and praying. And this pilgrimage is giving me the space to do this — this not doing thing.
What makes this journey already so profound is the realization that a lot is happening below the surface. I sense that as I settle into a slower and deeper way of life, I am learning, healing, and growing into the soulful me that I am meant to be. Also, as I open myself to guidance — at even a very subtle level — fascinating things transpire. Casual conversations that I initiate with someone walking down the road or taking photos on top of the mountain, quickly verge into deeper discourse about personal heartbreak or connections with the cosmos. It’s like the superficial is beginning to fall away and only what is real to the heart and soul remain.
In spiritual preparation for the beginning of my physical journey, I’ve spent five nights camping on beautiful Mt. Shasta. In my particular spot in the midst of the mountain’s forest, I’ve felt the omnipresence of the trees and the bees. I feel enormous gratitude for these two vastly different but equally significant pieces of the great interconnected creation puzzle. Both the tree and the bee give more to the planet on a daily basis than most humans do in a month or a year. The benefits of the oxygen that the great trees exhale with every breath, the moisture they impart, the shade they give, the animal and insect life they harbor, and the great green beauty that they radiate are all so important. But even deeper than that, I get that they are much wiser and more conscious beings than I’d ever fully appreciated before.
The trees in a forest are not an aggregate of thousands of individuals; rather they are one great community. They are interconnected on so many levels, the entanglement of their roots being only one.
Those human beings who like things neat and orderly might be a bit uncomfortable with the “mess” of an old forest. Amidst all the tall and majestic pines and firs is a litter of fallen twigs and branches as well as the great fallen bodies of their dead comrades and relatives. People tend to have a horror of death; they want to keep it hidden. But here in the forest, death is on display everywhere, totally intermingled with life. Huge giants lay sprawled all cattywampus everywhere. Some look freshly fallen while others are in active disintegration. Some are only visible by the neat line of mulch they’ve left behind.
I have the strong feeling that this display of death and decay disturbs the living trees not in the least. In their great wisdom they know that those fallen bodies nourish the soil, quite literally creating fertile ground for the next several generations of trees.
What lessons we can learn from nature.
So, on this pilgrimage sometimes I am physically journeying, and sometimes I am still. Sometimes I am in the midst of nature’s grandeur, and sometimes I’m in the midst of fast-moving traffic as I drive a new friend to Sacramento because his rental car died and he has a plane to catch. Sometimes I’m resting in my tent or sitting on a fallen log, and sometimes I’m “in civilization” writing in a cafe. Sometimes I’m washing my pots and pans, and sometimes I’m gazing at the unbelievably gorgeous Milky Way spread gloriously across the sky. When I worried about those times I was away from nature, my friend Tahir wisely said, “It’s all about the intention.”
One thing is sure, gradually the superficial is starting to fall away as the deeper Spirit-led life unfolds. I can feel the difference down in the depth of my being.
My prayer is that I live this way even when the pilgrimage is complete.