About theperpetualpilgrim

Come and share my past journeys and join me in my future adventures both in my mind and heart and in the world.

Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff

photo by panoramia.com     Rachmaninoff Statue, Knoxville TN

This month I have combined and updated two blog posts from 2013.

Knoxville Tennnessee doesn’t have many claims to fame but it does have a few notable events in its history, the 1982 World’s Fair, the moonshine running roots of Nascar, the home town of a few celebrities and authors. There is one event that has always been important to me, the great Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff played his final concert at the University of Tennessee Alumni Gym 76 years ago. He died a few weeks later in California.

I helped my friend Jane, a fellow music lover, organize a concert to commemorate this great composer on the same stage and date of his final concert. February 17, Evgheny Brakhman an award-winning pianist from Russia played an all Rachmaninoff concert in the Cox Auditorium. I went to the 50th anniversary concert in 1993 before the new auditorium was built. In the audience were a dozen or so people who had attended that final concert 50 years before.

Rachmaninoff and his beautiful music have been a part of my life since I was a little girl. My piano teacher saw Rachmaninoff play in Chattanooga and would tell me stories of that experience. When I got accomplished enough I was required to learn the famous Prelude in C# minor, a devilishly difficult piece that took months to learn and required my long fingers to play large, complicated chords. I can still play the first few measures by memory.

The Friday after 9/11 I had symphony tickets to hear Rachmaninoff’s masterpiece the 2nd Piano Concerto. The Russian pianist Alexander Toradze drove down to play the concert since there were no planes allowed to fly. It was a somber audience that night. The orchestra first played Barber’s Adagio for Strings in memory of the tragedy. During the spectacularly beautiful second movement of the 2nd piano concerto I felt my personal sorrow healed. I will never forget that evening and the healing music gifted to me by the great composer and pianist.

It is popular to say in spiritual circles “we all are intuitive”. Yes, that is true, but that is like saying we can all play the piano. Everyone can play chopsticks, some can play hymns, others can play sonatas but only a very few gifted individuals can play Rachmaninoff. When you come across the teachers and intuitives who are “Rachmaninoffs” your world is changed forever by the mastery and beauty they bring to your life.

The concert to mark the 70th anniversary of his final concert was an outstanding success. The auditorium which holds 1000 was overflowing and many had to stand in the back. The excitement of this historic event was palpable and the pianist, Evgeny Brakhman, played with enormous talent and deep love and understanding of his idol’s music. The room was electric with the immense beauty and appreciation for art at its highest level.

My father-in-law, John, was a patron of the concert, but unfortunately he died the day before the concert from pneumonia after emergency surgery. At the concert he was honored and it made the evening all the more poignant for his family and friends. Once again Rachmaninoff’s music brought healing and solace for me during this sad time.

Beauty was everywhere in John’s life. Raised on a small farm in southern Mississippi during the depression, survival was what life was about, but education was important to the family and he worked hard and went to Medical school. He was a typical Taurus and loved land and home. Although he had a wonderful career, his home and farm were his deepest love. He nurtured his place on earth for 60 years, restoring his home and tending the land. He said to me just last fall, “I can’t believe I get to live in a place this beautiful.”

John and my mother-in-law Dusty had a deep appreciation for all things beautiful, fine books, well made clothes, beautiful music and wonderful food. They lived a beautiful life and they passed this love to all who were part of their lives, introducing them to fine art and music and gracious southern living.

Dusty can no longer remember her beautiful life after many years of dementia but her family is making sure the she still lives with the grace of a “Southern Belle”. A coal-miner’s daughter from Kentucky, she also improved her station in life through education and an appreciation of beauty. She was very social and found an outlet for her enthusiasm at the Knoxville Opera and it is through her influence that I have become a great opera lover. Dusty brought beauty into the lives of her granddaughters by gifting them violin and ballet lessons.

Beauty is the greatest way to raise your vibration and level of spiritual development. The great composers, artists, architects, writers and poets knew how to touch the Divine and bring it to the human level. The beauty of our planet is stunning; mountains, oceans, lakes, trees, flowers and animals. Beauty is all around. Everyday find something of beauty and let it bring you closer to “Heaven on Earth”.

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Joseph Campbell

Pacifica

Joseph Campbell Library, Pacifica

Just a short pilgrimage to a neighboring state changed the course of my life. After I wrote this post three years ago, I decided to get a masters at Pacifica Graduate Institute. I really didn’t want to go back to school but the call to new adventure was too powerful to resist. Now I just have two weeks of school until I’m finished. I had no idea that day in Alabama how my life would change. I’m so glad I heard the call.

 

I was 26 and a new mother when I decided I wanted to be an Episcopalian. I liked the local parish so I had a meeting with the priest to talk about joining the church. We talked about my childhood church and it’s very literal interpretation of the Bible. The priest then said something I will never forget that rocked my world. “You know the Bible is a myth.” Holy Cow! What? Everything stopped in that instant as the foundation of my world view cracked wide open. I barely knew what a myth was, in my narrow world novels, fairy tales, myths and Santa were lies and not allowed. The priest told me to read Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. I read the book but didn’t understand it much, I had no context for the stories or concepts but I knew it was important. It took me an entire year to just wrap my mind around the idea that the Bible was not literal. The stories began touching my heart instead of baffling my brain.

I kept going to church and joined a book club and slowly, stone by stone, dismantled the cosmology of my childhood. When my world view lay in pieces all around me I started to rebuild with the good from my old life but now with the new materials. I read more mythology, Jung and archetypes, and novels. Each new book lead to the next and I spent all my spare time building a new and expanded paradigm that was much more open with plenty of room to grow.

I kept reading Joseph Campbell and watched The Power of Myth. I listen to interviews and kept a copy of Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion in the side pocket of my car. When I had a few minutes waiting in the school pick-up line or for ballet to finish, I would read the wise words. The book was tattered and coffee stained, underlined and loved. The myths, gods and goddesses became an important part of my life. When I went to Egypt for the first time, I knew little of the history but a great deal of the cosmology, I went to live the myths and stand before the gods. I was on the heroine’s journey.

Joseph Campbell was a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and wrote about universal themes of mythologies in all cultures. His book The Hero with a Thousand Faces has been very influential in our modern culture and the ideas helped create new myths for our time. Luke Skywalker is a classic mythological hero that bravely journeyed to the unknown to recover his lost self and bring back the wisdom for his society.

In mid-March I was traveling home from Alabama listening to some tapes of Michael Toms’ 1979 interview of Joseph Campbell. I had those tapes for many years and was going to listen to them one more time. I nearly had to pull over, on those tapes where exactly the validation I was needing about some materials I was working on about alchemy. Alchemy is not a subject usually associated with Joseph Campbell but there it was, an interview from nearly 40 years ago, perfect in that moment. The timeless quality of Joseph Campbell’s work is an indication of the deep universal Truths he was able to convey to the world. His work become new again as I grew and could hear it on a new level.

Two weeks later I was in southern California and had a day free to “follow my bliss” as Joseph Campbell so famously taught. I headed up the coast to just below Santa Barbara to Pacifica Graduate Institute and the Joseph Campbell Library. Nestled in a beautiful garden of a campus was a small library that holds all of Joseph Campbell’s personal books. Usually only accessible a few hours a week, the archivist happened to be free so he ushered me into a small dark room with bookshelves from floor to ceiling and a few display cases in the middle. I started to ask questions about alchemy and the librarian got on an old wooden ladder and pulled down a book. It was Carl Jung’s book on alchemy, Mysterium Conjunctionis. In it was Joseph Campbell’s prolific and very tidy underlining and notes. In front of me, under my fingertips was the meeting of two great minds. I turned the pages and read passages and notes and breathed in the magic of those two men who together restored the mythical journey to our modern world. Their work has restored the magic and mystery to my barren, literal life.

I spent a blissful hour and a half in that library, looking at the books that influenced such a great mind. There was an entire shelf of books on the Grail legend, some of them hundreds of years old. I saw his personal copy of his first book and a copy of The Joseph Campbell Companion with its familiar cover. In the display case were some of his favorite artifacts of ancient deity and a small metal ruler he used for underlining. Joseph was once asked if he meditated, he replied “no I underline.”

The Joseph Campbell Foundation   http://www.jcf.org

Pacifica Graduate Institute  www.pacifica.edu

PacificaIMG_3167

California Poppys,  Pacifica

A Fawn

fawn

This is one of my favorite stories from five years ago. My wild friends make me so happy.

Hamilton was on his second attempt to bush-hog the field across the street.   The first time he was interrupted by a mighty thunderstorm.   He hadn’t gone but a few times round the field when he saw an animal out of the corner of his eye.   He first thought it was a rabbit but then on closer inspection saw that it was a new fawn.   The mother had hidden the little guy in some tall grass and it was too young to walk around on his own.

He called me and I came to see what could be done.   I called the local vet school and talked to a wild life specialist.   She said it was too young for them to take so we agreed that I move him out of the 90 degree heat to the shade and hope the mother returns.   I carefully wrapped him in a towel so I wouldn’t touch him and moved him about 20 feet to the shade.  Only the size of a long legged Chihuahua, he was delicate and beautiful. I couldn’t believe I was picking up such a tiny baby.    We left the area in hopes mom would come back soon.   I did some internet research and was reassured that we did the best thing for his survival.

It is rare to see such a tiny one since the mom usually has them well hidden.   Hamilton went back a few hours later and was distressed to see him still there but on my way to check on him we were lucky enough to see the mom bounding around nearby.   We left the area with hopes that mom would find him and he would live to be a magnificent buck.

I sent Alexandra a picture of the little guy and this is her return text. “TOO MUCH TOO MUCH IT HURTS OMG OMG PLEASE BABY DEER DON’T DIE”.   When I told her the plan she sent this text “Okay good. Keep in mind; I am willing and able to raise him as my own.”    A kind offer but unfortunately illegal so we left him to his mother’s care and took the tractor out of the field so we could give him time to grow.

A week later Hamilton went to finish the field and saw the little guy up and around and able to run out of his hiding place and saw the mom in the creek bottom, a happy ending to the story.

In the language of animal totems, deer means gentleness and a new innocence being born in you.   I like to be reminded of gentleness, we all need to be gentle with ourselves and each other.   There is far too much harshness in this world.    The doe keeps her baby hidden and nurtured until he is strong enough to be in the world.   We too need to keep our deepest experiences, new insights and joys hidden and nurtured, away from the harshness of criticism and ignorance until they are strong.  Alexandra doesn’t want to talk about her Camino experience with her friends, she wants to keep it her private joy, safe and nurtured.    So try a little gentle love on your spiritual journey so your heart can have the space to be safe and grow into something magnificent.

 

Essential books for your spiritual library:

Animal –Speak and Animal-Wise by Ted Andrews

Animal Wisdom by Susie Green

 

St James of the Field of Stars (Santiago de Compostela)

 

photo81

This month is the 5th anniversary of my Camino walk. The Camino was life changing and I miss it often.  Enjoy this lovely memory with me.  My daily posts on the Camino can be found in the archives in May and June 2014.

My book Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide was inspired by my walk on the Camino and many other pilgrimages around the world and close to home.  The e-book is now priced at $5.99.  Check it out at Amazon. 

First Published June 2104

It wasn’t until the last week on the Camino that I could even think about Santiago, yet that was always the goal.   Every day I concentrated on the next 20 km or talked about the next big town, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon.   After Astorga, Santiago started to come into focus.   There were rumors about a celebration in Santiago about the time I planned to get there.  That was when I realized that if I arrived one day early I would be in Santiago for Pentecost, a holy day and a guaranteed Botafumeiro, the mammoth swinging incense censer in the nave of the Cathedral.   See a video of the Botafumeiro here.

Pentecost is the graduation day for the Apostles, including St. James, after Christ’s Ascension.   The Holy Spirit came to them in the Upper Room and sent tongues of fire to anoint them to go preach the Gospel.   No more perfect day to finish my pilgrimage and graduate to the next stage of my life.

While Alexandra slept I spent Pentecost with St. James.  I first listened to the beautiful chant of the Rosary.   Next the Botafumeiro made its mighty journey through the Cathedral to the sounds of the organ and choir.  I dreamed of this moment along with the centuries of pilgrims who had dreamed that same dream.   I went to a chapel to celebrate Mass in English with an Irish priest.  He read the story of Pentecost and we sang songs and lit a candle for all of the continents and peoples.     I joined the main Mass where the Archbishop presided over Confirmation.   I was having my graduation ceremony.  I had completed my task.

I didn’t realize how much I was going to need those extra days in Santiago to process my experience.   I saw pilgrim friends I hadn’t seen in weeks and we hugged and congratulated each other on a job well done.   It was special to be at Pilgrim’s Mass with my fellow travelers, a shared experience to the end.    I saw everyone I had hoped to see again and exchanged contact information.

I went to dinner with my friends and we talked about our favorite and least favorite Albergues, tales of the food, injuries and blisters and things we learned.  One pilgrim was in tears because he finally forgave his father, others had come to terms with their past or had new hope for their future. We were all proud of our strong bodies and loose hiking pants.   I cherished every moment of the language of the pilgrim, I miss it so much.

The next day my friends arrived by car with clothes for me and to share my triumph.   It was hard to move out of the pilgrim world.   The first day I put on a new shirt.  The next day I put on different shoes but still wore my hiking pants.  I had to reenter the world gradually.   We went to Mass together and they were treated to the Botafumeiro, and I was glad to see it another time.   We went behind the altar to touch the statue of St. James and went below to the crypt where his bones are kept in a silver casket.

All of my pilgrim rituals where complete and it was time to go.   I left my worn out shoes and some clothes I couldn’t bear to wear again and a piece of my heart in Santiago.

photo 5

Worn out shoes

E-book

My Book:

Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide is now available in e-book at Amazon and currently featured as a selection on Kindle Unlimited.  I would love if you would leave a review, it helps others find my book.

My Blog:

This summer I’m finishing my last classes for my Masters in Depth Psychology and speaking at the Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies in Asheville this June. As I work on my last few papers, I’m going to take some time from writing new posts.  So please enjoy my favorite posts from the past and I will be back in October with new adventures.

 

Basho

Breaking the silence

of an ancient pond,

A frog jumped in to water —

A deep resonance.

This haiku by the poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is one of the most recognizable poems in Japan. Haiku is a short traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of seventeen syllables divided into three sections of five-seven-five. It was Basho who perfected the haiku form, but he also wrote beautiful prose in the form of a travel log with the haiku inspired by his experiences. The Narrow Road to the Deep North is his best-known work and read by almost every Japanese high school student and translated more than any other work of Japanese literature.

I first learned of Basho while researching pilgrimage. I was already familiar with the haiku form and its popularity in both Japan and the West but going deeper into Basho’s life and work expands my understanding of the form, but more importantly informs my own pilgrimages and soul journey. Although Basho spent a great deal of time traveling, it is this pilgrimage to the Deep North that called his soul. To wander in nature and discover the world was not a luxury for Basho but a necessity for his poetry and the calling of his soul.  On this journey, Basho developed a new form a writing called haibun, which alternates prose and haiku to describe his journey. The prose, equally as beautiful as the poems, explains the physical aspects of the journey where the haiku illuminates the internal images and experiences. He walked 1200 miles over five months with his disciple Sora and planned part of the route to include places described by other writers. Basho’s call to a pilgrimage was not a specific place but to experience whatever unfolded before him. “I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind–filled with a strong desire to wander”.

Basho’s words are beautiful in their simplicity and grace. He uses a lightness and gentleness to describe nature and life itself. Beauty becomes an essential element in the soul’s journey. Basho found beauty on his journey: in the change of seasons, fleeting moments of sun on dew, a hazy moon, the arch of the Milky Way. He found beauty in the smallest details of cherry blossoms, pine trees, wind and water. Life is fleeting and these details captured the ephemeral moment when life is perfect beauty. Basho took great delight and wonder in these moments that fed his soul’s path. It is in these brief moments that Basho experienced eternity and left a trace in his haiku.

Walking pilgrimages are inherently simple. Life is reduced to what you can carry on your back. Basho’s haiku perfectly alludes to the essentialness of his journey. Pleasure is found in the simple moment of a flower, the soft breeze, or sound of a cricket. Basho left behind the comforts of home and community to see the world in the simplest moments where the sacred is found. Basho doesn’t analyze or offer opinion on what he sees, rather he relates pure experiences as they happen in the moment and in his heart. Haiku becomes the way he expresses his journey. Although haiku is simple in form it is not simplistic for the subtly expressed by the image associations and verbal play enter in the depths of the human heart.

In the essence of his work, Basho is above all a nature poet. All his senses were tuned to the natural world and Basho misses none of the subtleties of the wind, seasons, smell and sound, often bringing him to tears in the moments of pure wonder and grace. His poetry and prose are words of praise and thanksgiving for life in all of its forms. The sea, rocks, stars, mountain, trees, flowers, all participated in Basho’s poems to the ineffable mystery of our world.

Although written almost 400 years ago, Basho’s story and poetry are timeless. His experiences and observations reflect his deep understanding of nature and his own interior life. Pilgrimage, as a time of solitude in nature, becomes a catalyst that opens an important soul space.  Basho heard the call of this soul space and left a beautiful account of what that interior pilgrimage looks like. His words are those of the mystic that sees the sacred in all things and in all places.

The title of Basho’s story, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, reflects the physical road and is a metaphor for the quality of the interior journey for the sacred does not come with broad highways and neon signs. The sacred is found with effort on a narrow path that takes time and sacrifice, suffering and joy. There is no easy and quick way to a lasting relationship with nature and the soul. Hard work and dedication are needed to find these numinous moments when the world becomes alive with wonder as we step out of time into the timeless.

Later this year I am going to Japan to see for myself what inspired Basho. I will be walking part of the 88 Temple trail on Shikoku island, a 1000-year-old spiritual pilgrimage and a sister pilgrimage to the Camino. Basho did not walk this particular trail, he walked north of what is today Tokyo, but the landscape and culture as well as the search for the heart and soul of nature aligns me with the spirit of Basho.  Basho wrote on many subjects that moved him to live in relationship with his soul and thus offers me language to seek the same beauty.

 

 

Amid mountains of high summer,

I bowed respectfully before

The tall clogs of a statue

Asking a blessing on my journey

 

To talk casually

About an iris flower

Is one of the pleasures

Of the wandering journey.

 

In the utter silence

Of a temple,

A cicada’s voice alone

Penetrates the rocks.

 

 

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Apalachicola

photos by G. Smith

For the last four winters, I have traveled to the Florida panhandle to the little out-of-the-way town of Apalachicola. Along this long expanse of white-sand beaches outlining the Gulf of Mexico is an almost forgotten land where time stands still, and Florida remains as it was before air-conditioners and high-rises. My aunts were looking for a place to find refuge from the arctic cold of northern Minnesota where they live most of the year. Apalachicola is just a bit north for warm weather in February, but it is still moderate, much more moderate than the icy north and just right for their winter retreat.

The first two years, I drove my mother the 9 hours to the coast to visit with her sisters. The last two years, I flew the two short flights to Tallahassee–and it is still another two-hour drive. This part of Florida is not on of normal tourist routes but that is its charm. These last two years, my aunts rented a home on St. George’s Island, a long drive across the bridge from the mainland. Family, food, chatter, movies and naps fill the day between my walks on the beach. I love the beach, any time and in any weather. I can’t get enough of water, sand and sky—this simple landscape that feeds my soul.  I love the salt air, breeze, sound of waves and gulls and water lapping at my ankles. I’m a beach girl to the core of my being.

But last year this almost desolate coast endured the ferocity of nature–Hurricane Michael. The third strongest hurricane on record, Michael hit the coastline on October 10, 2018. Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe were devastated. Apalachicola was damaged but not quite as severely and by the time I arrived in February much of the brush was cleaned up. But there was no turning away from the destruction. The roads are being rebuilt and I got a flat tire from the construction debris. Along the road were tall piles of rubble that was once someone’s beloved home. I drove down the streets of Mexico Beach, but I couldn’t really comprehend what all those empty lots meant for the residents of that small town. I was seeing the aftermath from an outsider’s perspective months later.  I know how much I love my home; how could I ever recover from having it destroyed. But the resilient human spirit seeks hope in the face of overwhelming adversity. Small campers now stand next to the rubble as homeowners work to rebuild a life.

Apalachicola has become a new refuge for my family, a place to be together. This new place has come from our own loss of land and home in Minnesota. So, we, too, have found our resilience, knowing that life and family do transcend place. It isn’t what we wanted, but we found a way to build new experiences that nurtures our bonds

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