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.

Noticing

A couple of weeks ago, Alexandra was ready to have a trip to town.  Since she was working from home she had not been anywhere in a couple of weeks and was hungry for a Dairy Queen vanilla cone. I needed some plumbing parts from Home Depot to fix a leaky faucet.  The ice cream was just what she wanted and we headed home through the countryside to our small rural town.  About halfway home she saw some cows in a field, including several calves. I promise, she has seen baby cows before, but even though she is closing in on 30, any baby animal brings a delight usually reserved for toddlers.  She made me turn around so she could admire the babies. We found a driveway to pull in to and had a perfect view of a mama giving her baby a bath.  The little one stood patiently as mama’s rough tongue cleaned under its chin, each lick making the baby lift up a bit, yet the bath happily continued for several minutes.  It was a mini-magical moment for Alexandra and me.  In the background, were the purple silhouettes of the Great Smokey Mountains. The rolling spring-green field contrasted with the dark angular bodies of the Black Angus cows. It was a simple, bucolic moment but yet one of perfect contentment for the mama and baby and me and my sweet girl.  At that moment, all was right with the world because Alexandra had noticed.  She noticed the simple beauty of babies in a field and wanted to savor that moment.

Noticing. This is how we pilgrimage to the present. This isn’t remembering the past or anticipating the future but finding those little moments of everyday life as special and beautiful. Currently our physical worlds are reduced in size as we tend to the business of life and health. But our internal world is infinite when we take time to notice the beauty of life. It is in connecting with nature and the amazingly creative human mind and spirit that we find those timeless moments that feed our soul.  It is so easy to get caught in the negative and the difficult and forget to see, to notice the abundance all around, the opportunities to enrich our minds and souls.  I’ve enjoyed the operas, ballets, gardens and museums that are online for us to enjoy in a way I haven’t before.  I’ve had time to read and tend my house, cook and take a daily walk to enjoy the spring flowers and budding trees.

My sweet friend Becky was reading a passage in my book about pilgrimages to your own back yard. She took that idea to heart and noticed that her own backyard needed some tending and decided to build a “pretty little garden” where she could put her hands in the dirt and find refuge from her busy “on-line” life. Every day she would pilgrimage a few short steps to her little place on earth and found healing and peace.  She shared her special space on Instagram.  It is up to each of us to find and nurture that space of time and place to pilgrimage; we just have to stop and notice.

 

Noticing, observing– brings gratitude for the details of your surroundings, the little things that are often ignored but actually hold the essence of life.  Notice the taste of simple food, the earthy smell of a cat, the softness of worn sheets, the heaviness of a hardbound book, the tattered edges of a warm rug, the brilliant purple of the tiny violets in the grass. Notice the bird songs in the early morning, the whipporwill’s call at dusk, the croaking frogs after a rain.  Each of these things and an infinite amount of other little things in our world become a moment of pilgrimage to our life as we live right here, right now.

My dear cosmic mother Rachael passed away last month. She was in very poor health, the perfect target for Covid-19.  As I mourn her loss, I think about something she would often say, “we are in the glory now”.   By noticing, we experience Now in each glorious moment.

Rachael Salley   1942-2020

Pilgrimage to the Past

Trout Lily, Spring 2020

Historically, pilgrimages were taken by people in all social, economic and cultural levels since sacred travel was about the call of the spirit to seek soul in the world. In our modern times, pilgrimages can seem to be for the privileged few that can afford the time, money of an exotic pilgrimage. Many have physical limitations that make a long pilgrimage impossible. I’ve always worried that my blog and book on pilgrimage have over emphasized international pilgrimages at the expense of the true nature of a spiritual journey.  As my tag line indicates—pilgrimage is about making every step of life sacred, a journey of the soul. Yes, pilgrimage is about physically going out into the world, discovering your inner world as you discover the world around you. But I also see pilgrimage as a perspective, a way of viewing life as a sacred journey.

Even as we are still early in 2020, our entire planet has been turned upside down as we pause life to tend to health and safety. Daily, even hourly, life is shifting with plans and routines which have disintegrated into the unknown. We are all on an untried path for a while before a new normal arrives. Although most of my family already work from home, Alexandra is here in Tennessee, a refugee from her micro-apartment in California.  My elderly mother is in quarantine in her retirement home–all appointments cancelled and no lunches out for the foreseeable future.  Our introvert natures are happy to be home with the cats and a stocked pantry.

Travel is going to be interrupted for quite awhile and maybe even make us rethink some of our far-flung vacations. It is unnerving when a much-anticipated trip is interrupted by the unexpected but that is part of a pilgrimage. Nine years ago, I was caught in the Egyptian Revolution and sequestered in a hotel before British Air sent an empty plane to rescue travelers. We expect our plans to go well—and most of the time they do—but part of the nature of a pilgrimage is a test of inner strength in the light of outer events.

Pilgrimage can always be part of our life no matter what the circumstances of the physical world. Thanks to the remarkable nature of our consciousness with the help of our five senses we can pilgrimage anytime and anyplace: past, present or future. Let’s start with pilgrimages to the past.

Our past experiences remain available to us through our memories.  Although memories are not usually perfect recordings of the event, our own imagination and the perspective of time can remake an experience in the past into a meaningful experience in the present.  For example, I bet you could walk around your childhood home in your mind or visit your grandparents house with a full sensory experience.

I can feel myself walk up my grandparent’s sidewalk on to their back porch and see the details of my grandfather’s shaving kit on the porch sink and hear the door slam shut behind me.  Now I can go into the tiny kitchen and smell the fried chicken and open the cupboard where my grandmother kept Juicy Fruit gum. I continue on into the living room where my grandmother sits in her pink velveteen chair and I sit down by her feet and watch the nightly news as my grandfather sleeps on his green couch beside us.  These memories are so vivid forty-five years later.  I can remember those ordinary moments of my childhood and re-imagine them as the cherished experiences of my personal story.  What childhood experience joyful or difficult are part of your personal history?  Can you pilgrimage to these sentinel moments and greet them, thank them for participating in your life?

Our senses make these memories come alive.  Our bodies remember our lives through the senses and we can use these memories to travel to the past and remember our lives in detail. Last year, I was at a concert listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and I was unexpectedly back in my childhood home with my family by the fire listening to this monumental music on a scratchy record.  I was surprised by the vividness of the memory and realized how this calm family experience was so important to my introverted soul.  In the summer, the smell of warm pine trees takes me back to a summer vacation in Estes Park Colorado. The taste of raspberries are the reminder happy moments of summertime in Minnesota.

As well as cherished memories of our childhood, think about pilgrimages you have taken in the past.  Think about how they have affected your life now many years later for we need a lifetime to process these profound moments.  During a conversation with a fellow plane passenger, I asked her if she had a special trip that she could now see was a pilgrimage.  She recounted going to Brazil with a friend, and as part the tour, the group held a ceremony by the ocean to honor her ancestors that had crossed the ocean on slave ships. She teared up thinking about how meaningful that moment was for her.  She now remembers that trip as a powerful and life-changing pilgrimage, not just a casual trip with a friend.  Sometimes our most powerful experiences come not from intention but from the unexpected.  Often, we can’t see this until many years or decades later.  Go back through your photos and find a trip that was meaningful and take the time to remember. Maybe make a photo album of that trip or get out mementos and build a little shrine to that experience that changed you.  While we experience this moment of “global time-out” we gain the space to experience time differently and meld past and present together.

 

 

Teotihuacan

One of the wonderful things about having grown children is how they expand my life through their adventures and accomplishments.  It almost makes up for them leaving me with an empty nest-not quite but almost. In 2018 Alexandra and a friend climbed the tallest mountain in Mexico, Pico de Orizaba (18,491 ft). She finished out her vacation at Teotihuacan, a place that had been calling me for over ten years. Since she didn’t summit the first time, she wanted another attempt, I wanted to meet her in Teotihuacan so we made plans for the whole family to go to Mexico City for Thanksgiving.

Teotihuacan is just 25 or so miles northeast of Mexico City and at the top of my must-see list. This enormous archeological site has three main pyramids along with dozens of smaller structures all along the 1.5-mile Avenue of the Dead. This enormous Mesoamerican city was constructed over 2000 years ago but not much is known about the original builders. The Aztecs later moved in and named it Teotihuacan, “place where gods are born”.  The Pyramid of the Sun is the third tallest pyramid in the world and the equally impressive Pyramid of the Moon is surrounded by platforms and smaller pyramids.  At the far end of the Avenue of the Dead is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. We stayed in a charming hotel that was on the archaeological site where The Pyramid of the Sun was my constant reminder I was on sacred ground.

The first morning we rose early to have our first full experience of Teotihuacan, floating gently, silently over the pyramids in a hot air balloon bathed in the early morning light. The terrain and gentle steady winds make it an ideal place for hot-air balloons. I can’t think of a more magical way to experience this magnificent place. This was my first balloon ride and I was ready for the adventure. Over the course of about a half hour, twenty colorful balloons launched into the pink haze of sunrise to drifted over the Pyramid of the Sun.  Silently, the balloon’s shadow crossed over the ancient stones and down the Avenue of the Dead.  This eagle-eye’s view of the entire site, well before the day’s visitors, was a gift from the gods. There I was, floating above this ancient world that was still so powerful that the awe of the gods was palpable.  We continued to float over the town for another hour, past the churches and schools, until we were expertly landed in a nearby field. After a traditional champagne toast and hearty buffet breakfast we had a nap before heading to climb the pyramids.

I planned two full days at Teotihuacan and was glad not to be rushed by just a day trip. After lunch, we set out from our hotel for the 15-minute walk to the main entrance. I suggested we walk all the way to the Pyramid of the Moon and then slowly make our way back. The Avenue of the Dead goes up and down stairs, in and out of what remains of the glories of this impressive city. We took our time to enjoy the walk while avoiding the endless sellers of puma calls and woven blankets.  Lots of school groups were easily absorbed in the vastness of the complex and we felt we had the place mostly to ourselves.  A climb to the top of the platform of the Pyramid of the Moon was first on the agenda.  It wasn’t a long or hard climb, but the altitude (7000 ft) made me a bit winded but the view was worth the effort. Hot and thirsty, we wandered back to the hotel to sit by the pool and were surprised by Alexandra’s early arrival.  She realized she was not up to the intensity of the summit and so just enjoyed the climb and extra time with her family.

After breakfast the next day, all four of us headed to the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. We wanted to beat the heat and visit what we saved from the day before.  Hamilton climbed the Pyramid of the Sun while I sat nearby listening to music and soaking in the sun on Thanksgiving Day. I was so thankful to be with my family and visit this remarkable and sacred place. Hamilton and I visited the museum and were impressed by the pottery and sculptures that had once decorated the pyramids.  In the heat of the afternoon, Hamilton read, and the ladies indulged in massages but our time a Teotihuacan had one more delight.

The glories of the ancient world collided with the wonders of the modern world with a Sound and Light show on the Pyramid of the Sun. As we walked into the darkened site we were treated to the crescent moon and sparkling Venus, a celestial light show.  The show first started with a walk up the Avenue of the Dead toward the Pyramid of the Moon beautifully illuminated with changing colors. Without the distractions in the daylight, I became part of the site and felt transported by the experience. We each had a smartphone that gave a detailed history and showed what the site looked like throughout history.  Next, we sat on cushions in front of the Pyramid to the Sun. Thanks to virtual reality I was able to glimpse into a probable past of the history of Teotihuacan. For a brief time, this great pyramid was once again decorated with color and sculptures to the great gods. All too soon, the lights faded, and the pyramids receded back to their stony silence. But, even though the ages have taken their toll and our view of the gods have evolved, this magnificent place still holds the power to transform and remains a place where “man became gods”.

Pyramid of the Moon

 

 

 

Frost Flowers and Books

Frost Flower January 21, 2020

January in Tennessee is chilly, wet, and calm after the delights of the holiday season. The decorations are put back in the basement, rooms are tidied, and I turn my attention to some neglected projects around the house. I hate to see the glitter of Christmas fade but I also enjoy the stillness of January and a return to quiet mornings and simple food.  Tennessee winters are wet and gray with the occasional “shirt-sleeve” day alternating with a cold snap that might bring a dusting of snow. Last year, on her daily walk, Caroline noticed some Styrofoam peanuts on the ground but on closer investigation it turned out to be frost flowers. This phenomenon happens in very specific winter weather conditions where freezing air and warm wet ground forces sap to expand rapidly and extrude out of thin cracks on the stems of specific plants (ironweed). This sap freezes on contact with the air and forms beautiful swirls around the stem. The latest deep freeze produced a “super bloom” of frost flowers along the dirt road on the farm.  We bundled up to enjoy dozens of these beautiful flowers as they don’t last long once the air gets above freezing. I’m always amazed at the beauty every season offers.

January is also a great time to talk, think and write about books. Recently I was at the post office getting yet another book delivery. When the postman commented on the number of book shaped packages in our mail, I had to confess that we have a book problem in our house. We don’t just have one library but “his” and “her” libraries that dominate several rooms and overflow into every other room of the house. It is a problem that we have no intention of fixing. So, I wanted to talk about a few books I really loved this past year.

I didn’t finish school until September of last year so much of my reading was academic and often difficult but I grew a new vocabulary that has opened my reading world.  I enjoyed Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story by Jody Gentian Bower. This lovely and very readable book looks at the heroine’s journey in classic literature as a template for women’s empowerment and how it is very different from the classic male hero’s journey. Women’s lives aren’t just a version of men’s but fundamentally different in their needs for finding authentic and fulfilled lives. This book is based on Jungian psychology but fully explains the ideas in a way that is understandable and helpful.

After two years of academic writing I needed to mentally shift back to my more personal style.  I took several months off any kind of writing to take a big break and just settle into life without deadlines and word counts. The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo was exactly the right book at the right time. I savored every chapter by slowly reading two of the short chapters every day. Louise gently guided me though the difficulties and joys of the writing life. I needed her encouragement to let me know I’m not alone in the solitary act of writing.

Because I can’t house all the books I want to read and I like a variety of books when I travel, I keep my Kindle app full of easy reading material and take advantage of the free Amazon Prime e-books and magazines. I particularly liked Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne D. LeClaire.  This was another book in which I slowly savored every word.  For many years, Anne would take two days a month to be in silence.  She chronicles the difficulties, joys and changes from her silence practice. I also enjoy a lot of silence and although I don’t have specific parameters, I try to spend time with just the bird songs and rustle of trees as often as I can.  Silence is soothing in our noisy, overstimulated world and this book quiets the over-connected soul.

August 2019 was a difficult confluence of final exams and health challenges for my elderly mother. I was constantly stressed about one or the other which, of course, gave me a terrible flare-up of TMJ (jaw pain), something I have had trouble with for several years.  The pain is cyclical but, when I’m in the middle of an episode, it is miserable and exhausting.  I do seek treatment but I needed to really get to the root of my particular problem so I ordered every book on the subject I could find. Help came from Taking Control of TMJ by Robert O. Uppgaard. I literally had forgotten the correct placement of my jaws because I was compensating for the pain and grimacing.  Just the simple readjustment of my position- plus being aware I was clinching from stress- helped me relax and start to find some relief.  It has taken several months but I’m much better now.  Thank-you Dr. Uppgarrd.

For some reason, I’m just not a novel reader. I wish I was, but I just can’t keep characters straight. Fortunately, I enjoy listening to novels which helps me overcome my name deficiency problems. During a drive to Florida, putting up Christmas trees and making dinner, I listened to Circe by Madeline Miller. This beautiful re-imagining of the story of the Greek goddess Circe brings the Greek myths to life in a new and fresh version. I just love Greek mythology  (or any mythology for that matter).

Other books I’ve really enjoyed:

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole

Betty Crocker’s Lost Recipes (vintage recipes I loved as a child, yum!)

Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter

How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch

Digital Minimalism and Deep Work by Cal Newport

Bonus:  Three books for book lovers.

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel.  Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Nancy Goldstone. Howard’s End in on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home by Susan Hill

 

 

More Gifts

Snuggling by the fire with Persy and Tim

In this season of giving, I want to remind you of three precious gifts every pilgrim needs. Last year, I wrote about music, silence and joy.  This year, I have three gifts that are essential to my holiday joy.  For me, these three gifts not only are a part of pilgrimage but also represent the cozy happiness of Christmas and the Winter Solstice, for sitting by a crackling fire with a good book and my dear family is the essence of life here on the farm.  So, light a candle with me, gather a stack of books and cherish the precious people in your life and say a heartfelt thank-you to the people that have shown kindness to you this year.

 

People:   Unless you go to the wilderness, other people will be part of your experience.  Fellow travelers are the people we share our journey with and give us companionship; they are called to the same experience and give you new perspectives on the way.   It is the unexpected person we meet that can be one of the most important parts of the pilgrimage experience.   We meet to give each other the information, care and encouragement that become your teacher on the path.   We meet to take care of the needs of each other.  But most of all, we get to see every person as an expression of divinity.   I have shared hotel rooms with stranded travelers, given shoes to someone who’s shoes were broken.   I was given a much-needed ride to my destination and encouragement when I was tired.  My fellow travelers had information and insights that I desperately needed.   Most of all, they were companions to share my joy.

 

Books:  Choose carefully your reading material for the journey.   You might want to have something easy to read for the plane but, on the journey, I recommend something that can inspire you and enhance your experience.   A book of poetry, spiritual stories or inspiration or holy text are important companions.   Some people prefer to not read at all and just keep the moment pure.   I love to read and find that a well-chosen book can guide me on the path.   My daughter has a book with a poem a day.  She reads it for inspiration and then makes notes in the margin as a mini diary of that day.    I took a book of modern Zen stories to Spain and one of the lessons became the theme of my journey.   Choose what works best for you and let the spirit of the journey and your heart guide you and it will be perfect.

 

Fire:  Candles in a cathedral, sitting around a campfire, warming by a fireplace: these are the primordial acts that connect us with life-giving fire.   In our modern lives, we don’t need an open flame for life, to cook or keep warm but, in our spiritual life, fire and flame focus us on the mysteries.   Our ancestors sat around the fire at night telling the stories of our stars.   Devotees for millennia lit candles at holy sites to focus their prayers with a flame.    We use incense as a symbol of our devotion as the smoke surrounds us and brings the holiness to all our senses.   Shamans use smudge, sage and sweet grass burning together to cleanse the energy to create sacred space.   Give thanks for the fire that burns in us all to connect to our world and be a part of life.

 

 

Yoga

My Yoga Space

I live in a decidedly non-yoga town. Oh, it is much better than it used to be. At least there are yoga studios now even in my small town but compared to the choices in Alexandra’s Southern California town, it is still pretty sparse.  Alexandra goes to a studio, one of many, that has three classes every hour of the day with an array of styles and levels. Here in East Tennessee, you might get a few types of classes a week.   When I first got interested in yoga in the 90’s, there was literally nothing except one woman who taught a disorganized class and thought it was a good idea to start with headstands—I only lasted one class.  Or I could do a video tape. But who wants to do the same thing every time.  Then of course there was the cultural disdain for yoga. There was an incident many years ago where someone came into a yoga class to announce that the participants were devil worshiping. Many people in my community still struggle with the spiritual origins and so most classes focus on the physical benefits and even sometimes use Christian theology overlay to make it more acceptable.

Finally, about 8 years ago, I found a teacher, Lisa, who taught one night a week and was starting a beginner’s class.  I have to admit the first few months were pretty much torture. But since I don’t start things unless I plan on finishing, I kept with my once a week class with Lisa for many years.  Not only was I late to start yoga, I have several obstacles that have made yoga a challenge.  I will never be able to go to one of Alexandra’s classes and do a full routine—it just isn’t possible.  I have my own accommodations that I have learned because over 30 years ago I permanently injured my left elbow in a fall and can no longer put much weight on it. Therefore, I can do no downward facing dog, plank or table.  Try doing a regular yoga class without those very common poses—it is a challenge.

Lisa stopped teaching a couple of years ago and I was busy with school, so I started to do yoga in my family room with the help of Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube. The price is right, no long commute from my rural home and the level is just right for my decidedly Paralympic yoga accommodations.  I’m quite happy with where my yoga has evolved. It will always be a gentle practice and advanced poses will never be achieved but I’m really OK with that.  There is always a place for everyone and every level, even those of us who have physical limitations. There are still great benefits to finding what works and keeping with it even when it isn’t easy.

I’ve learned to accept my limitations. It would be nice if I could embrace them, but acceptance is good. I’ve accepted my limitations in other areas of my life too. I will never be a great pianist or a star academic. I’m not a best-selling novelist and I can’t draw at all. But I’m know that working with my limitations is part of life and I can enjoy these things even if I’m not stellar at them.  They serve my life.  I will continue my gentle yoga and take leisurely walks in the woods or around the lake, enjoying my life without the stress of a goal.  My effort is enough to keep me healthy, body and soul.

Shaker Village

shaker1

You don’t have to go to the ends of the earth for a pilgrimage to change you. Some of the loveliest places can be close to home. Pilgrimage is a perspective as well as an experience. Pilgrimage is seeing the divinity that is all around. Next month I will be back with new content but today enjoy a happy journey from a few years ago.

For most people visions of heaven include pearly gates, streets of gold and jewel encrusted mansions but not in my world. All I have to do is go to Kentucky to find my version of nirvana and it is called Shaker Village. After my lovely time at the Serpent Mound, and fortified with a latte, I retraced my path back to Lexington for the night. I had one more essential pilgrimage stop to make the next day. I needed a Shaker Village fix.

These days I live in my in-law’s home which is decorated in a style I would call High Ostentation but in my heart I prefer a style more like Early Convent. My Taurus/Virgo soul longs for a tidy house with white walls and simple furniture. The Shakers perfected this style and brought it to a high art.

shaker3

So who were the Shakers? They were a branch of the Quakers who came to America looking for religious freedom. Lead by Mother Ann Lee, the first communities were started in the late 1700’s and formed around 20 utopian centers with 6000 members at the peak of popularity. These communities were founded on principles of equality for the sexes and races, celibacy and pacifism. Men and women lived separately but worked together and the congregations grew by recruitment since procreation wasn’t allowed. In the early 1900’s the communities stopped taking members and were eventually closed

Spiritually they believe God was both male and female and the imminent second coming of Christ. They worshiped in stark meeting rooms with narrow benches and no pulpit. The service consisted of singing, dancing and ecstatic states of shaking and shouting thus they got the name “Shakers”. They wrote many songs for their worship and the most popular tune is Simple Gifts, immortalized in Aaron Copeland’s work Appalachian Spring.

shaker4

The communities were self-sustaining farms and invented many new labor-saving devises. The Kentucky Shakers were know for their brooms and high-quality seeds as well as furniture and weaving. Hard work was important to them so all the communities thrived. They believed that beautifully made simple furniture was an act of prayer. Each building and room was perfectly planned for simplicity, practicality and order and ideal which has had a lasting influence on American design.

Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, is like stepping back in time. On this perfect September day the buildings glowed in the sun with a back drop of purple/blue sky. Pumpkins and corn stocks decorate the stack stone fences and there is just a hint of color in the trees that line the lane; translation—-pure joy. I wandered the buildings looking at the magnificent worn furniture, craft demonstrations, amazing circular staircases and stark perfection. I wandered into the dinning room for corn pudding and buttermilk pie, headed down to the old barn to see the friendly ram and horses and felt the gentle grace of this place frozen in time. During a past visit I sang Simple Gifts in the meeting hall where that song has reverberated thousands of times and I’m thrilled to sing it for myself.

After having my joy quotient filled by two beautiful days in Kentucky. I headed back to Tennessee. I didn’t have far to go and on the way home I listened to John O’Donohue talk about beauty. I have been bathed in beauty and sacred vibration for two days which has left my heart singing and spirit cheerful. My quick pilgrimage had all the joys of any exotic journey with no jet lag or expensive tickets. So this Fall find a place to pilgrimage close to home and bring beauty and joy to your soul.

http://www.shakervillageky.org

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