I like this short definition of ’pilgrimage’ taken from The British Pilgrimage Trust website,
Pilgrimage (n.): A journey with purpose on foot to holy/wholesome/special places.
Of pilgrimage, the site goes on to say,
To turn a walk into a pilgrimage, at the beginning set your private ‘intention’ – dedicate your journey to something that you want help with, or for which you want to give thanks.
Early summer this year was a time for travel. Family travel. Across the continental US to a family wedding and then across the Atlantic to visit with my parents. From there I turned around and headed back West to meet my wife on the US West Coast for a couple of days of r’n’r in West Marin, before finally crossing the Pacific again back to Maui.
I’ve mused on my micro.blog website that despite all of my travels when I was younger, I feel that of late I have turned into more of a homebody. It seems harder to get me out of the house to travel. Once I am out on the road I am fine. I enjoy seeing and experiencing new places and cultures, but that initial push seems to take more of an effort these days.
Once out on the road and moving across the world I am moving from one place to another. With those moves come changes in rhythm, changes in the feel of a place. I have come to recognize that on arrival somewhere there is silent need in me for a settling in time. Why ‘silent’? Because it is not something that I overtly speak to. It is not a need that I demand by shouting out that, “I want my settling in time!" But as I have come to understand myself better, it is a need that I have noticed within me. I see how I feel more complete within myself if I allow myself to gently take in the new environment.
During my years living in South Wales, initially in a Buddhist community and then next door to that community, I came to experience the world around me in a way that was new to me. I had stopped after three years of travel. Distractions were less. Life was set up in the Retreat Centre to encourage awareness - self-awareness and awareness of the space that one was inhabiting. I started to notice and become aware of my surroundings in a subtler way, noticing the rhythms and pulse of where I was living. Even within one area of land, the perception of one corner might be quite different to another. I would come away from those experiences with a sense of intimacy with place and with that came a sense of wholeness and being grounded.
A need for that intimacy has stayed with me.
Even when I went on travels with my Buddhist Teacher, there was time spent moving into the new place. The trips might at times have been demanding and busy but within, because of this importance put on awareness, there was still quietness and space available to feel my way into our new home.
Feeling my way
As I have developed an awareness and understanding of who I am, I’ve put this need to feel and sense my way into a new space down to my highly sensitive nature.
Put simply, I don’t necessarily settle in quickly - though most everyone will be unaware of this going on in me. Unless I’m on total burnout, I do not give any external display to this need. So I function as would be expected of me. If it is busy, like at the East Coast wedding, I move into doing what needs to be done, socializing, unpacking, catching up with people. But amongst those those expected activities, I adopt an almost ninja like attitude. I look to find some time amidst the noise of activity to just be with the new environment. That can either be sneaking off for a moment, or being alone with myself in the middle of the busyness.
Where the struggle can set in for me is finding myself in a situation where I am being given a running commentary of what I am looking out on. Exclamations such as, “Isn’t this so beautiful?” “Just look at that.” And ironically, “Isn’t this so peaceful.” For me the conversation in that moment kills the peacefulness. I can feel my head dealing with a dustbowl of noise - the noise being spoken to me, and the noise in my head wishing that it was quieter - I spoke about dealing with such situations here, but I did not say that it was always easy!
When I am struggling to deal with this noise, I find myself in a conundrum. I don’t want to hurt another’s feelings by appearing standoffish. But the struggle is real. The overwhelm and exhaustion that comes with the noise is tangible. I can really feel as though I am fighting to keep my head above water, while wanting to keep my host or traveling companion happy.
At the end of the day, I do my best. I’ll find time to be alone when I can - a quick unneeded run to the toilet, turn in for the night a little earlier or later (as the case may be), head out for a short solitary walk if the situation allows.
A learning reflection
There is one thing that I do know - in time I will settle into the place. Time spent in an environment is time spent deepening the relationship. The intimacy will strengthen. There are times when the quietness that I so much enjoy won’t be available to me, and experience has taught me to be OK with that - if I can’t change it, complaining certainly won’t help - but self care is also important and so when I need some quiet time, I look to take it.
But overall, just knowing and acknowledging my needs is a release. Living in ignorance of what I am struggling with is difficult. Without an understanding of my temperament, I have no perspective other than judging myself against others and how I have been told I should be in the world. Educating myself on other possible ways of being in the world allows me to give myself permission - permission to say to myself, “you are OK. You are doing your best, and each time that you find yourself floundering can be a learning experience on how better to handle the situation next time."
Patrick Rhone recently shared a photograph with a quote in it, on his blog. The quote spoke to me of the meaning behind the title of this website, Crossing The Threshold.
The quote reads,
Books and doors are the same thing. You open them and go through to another world. ~ Jeanette Winterson
We Cross a Threshold with intention, with purpose. We open a book, climb over a gate, step out of our front door, walk into a new job, land in a new country. Or we might with more ceremony lay a stick on the ground, quietly (or loudly) speak a short invocation of intention, and head off on a walk for a few hours, a day, a week, longer, perhaps choosing to fast along the way, searching for a vision, insight, guidance.
In all cases with mindfulness of intention we are opening the door, ourselves, to new possibilities, new learnings. Be vigilant, watch, listen. Be intentional. Be open. See the world that you are entering as liminal, the doorway to something new. We all experience the world in different ways, so there are no rules as to how you view the world around you (apart from, I would say, no harming).
So pick up your books, open those doors, step into another world and return with lessons learnt.
A little under two weeks ago I wrote about the Medicine Walk that I was planning to embark on. The time that I went out on the walk coincided with a week when family were all away. Because of that I returned to an empty, quiet house. It was an ideal environment to sit and reflect on the experience in the wilderness of Haleakala crater. I’ll with you share some of those reflections here.
With an empty house, I had more time than usual to sit, reflect and journal about the walk. I found myself spending some time writing or reading and then going off to do something else. I didn’t force the reflections, with a pen in my hand I just allowed what came up to flow onto the pages. A few days into this process I asked myself if I was being indulgent? Was this the introvert in me who spends time in his head and is perhaps over thinking things now? I answered myself with a “no.” The words were flowing and I would let them keep coming until I felt complete. As I write this, I am unsure how far I will take my sharing of experiences of the walk. This is nothing against you, the reader, but perhaps it will emerge that some experiences are better kept for those with whom I can have a face to face conversation?
Rites of Passage
In an earlier post I mentioned that rites of passage work consists of three stages - Severance, Threshold, and Incorporation. For the purpose of this discussion I would like to add an additional stage to precede these three - Preparation. I’ll speak about my Medicine Walk in the context of these four stages. As you read about these four stages within the context of my walk, look for parallels for them in aspects of your life. There is no substitute for going on on your own solo, whether as a Medicine Walk or a longer wilderness trip. However, being able to hold aspects of your life within this framework can help to give them structure and direction when it feels as though these are missing, or when you are struggling to find purpose and a way forward.
Preparation really started when the idea for the walk was planted in me. I was musing over how solo wilderness work might look in working alongside Introverts and HSPs. What might it offer? An email to a trusted teacher and friend who works within this field and with whom I shared some of my musings, sowed the seed for the Medicine Walk.
As the day approached I could feel the anxiety build in me. It was one thing to speak about the walk, another to go on it. I was excited to set off, but also as I looked at my daily routine I realized that for one day that would be broken in a very different and real way.
I checked out maps of the area that I would be walking through. I looked into anything special that I should know about Haleakala National Park - weather conditions, walking conditions, facilities available. I arranged with a couple of people that I would contact them when I returned from the walk. The day before I ran through an equipment list and lay everything out for the next morning. This did not include a camera. I was there just to be and experience, not to try and capture.
I set the alarm and went to bed.
Severance happens as you leave your home and drive to the trailhead. It is a small death, a leaving behind what is familiar and giving up of yourself to what lies ahead.
I wasn’t sure how to take this, but my alarm did not go off that morning. Thankfully my mind appeared to be in anticipation of what was happening and I woke up around the time it was meant to sound. I got up, did a last run through of what I needed and in the early morning hours headed up the mountain.
At the summit I walked to the trailhead which I took as my Threshold. A rainbow formed near to me in the early morning mist. I said some short prayers to request guidance for the walk ahead and gave thanks to those who were supporting me in this endeavor.
And with that I set off.
Threshold is that space between the old, that which is no longer relevant in your life, and the new, that which is to be born. It is crossing of a Threshold from that which is familiar to you, to a dream place, a place of possibility and meaning. Like exploring a dream, we just have to be open to what might be present, to what might show up.
This is the part in which I will be more quiet in what I share as I explore and process the experience. Save to say here that I set off in a cooler atmosphere than I had left at sea level. The cool air was welcomed for clarity of thought, though the solar radiation was strong as I was now at 2 miles in elevation. The early morning mist burnt off to reveal extraordinary vistas.
The descent into the moonscape of the crater was mesmerizing - for the silence (so quiet that all that you could hear was the ringing in your ears), for the crunch, crunch, crunch of boots on the cinder sand (though it is amazing how even in that environment, a head full of thoughts can drown out external noises!), the scale of what I was walking through (it was really very difficult to take it all in), the aliveness of the barren landscape even though I was walking through a dormant volcano (the petrified rocks breathed with the life force that threw them up from the bowels of the earth, the frozen paths of lava flows capturing time in space).
And in all of this nothingness there was a current life clinging on to what nourishment was offered - some plant life (including a threatened species, the Silversword), a few birds, and I saw a beetle - though barrenness prevailed.
My way back to the Threshold took me through an area that was more lush. Although lava was visible, vegetation had taken hold and started to break down the sharpness of the landscape. The clouds came in and as I climbed the long and tiring switch backs out of the crater, rain fell intermittently and views were obscured. I was transported back to the landscapes of South Wales, my home for 17 years.
I crossed back over the Threshold and gave thanks again to those who had guided and supported me through this experience. I walked back to the car to rest, contact those who were waiting to hear from me, and eat before driving back down the mountain.
I fell asleep early that night.
With the walk complete, I returned to my everyday life. This is a time to reflect on what lessons have been brought back from the walk and to see how they might be brought into your everyday life. “What has been born? What is new? What has been left behind? What gifts do you have to share?”
It can also be a time of “coming down to earth with a bump”. The high of the experience is replaced by the mundaneness of everyday life. Share your experiences with trusted confidants. Tread carefully for a day or so. Perhaps you have brought something back from the walk. Perhaps an image reminds you of your experience. For me the omnipresence of Haleakala on this island, whether visible or shrouded in cloud, takes me back to where I was on that day.
I will continue to explore the outcome of the walk, and am continually grateful to those who have kept this form alive.
The Four Stages in Daily Life
How do you see Preparation, Severance, Threshold and Incorporation manifesting in the activities of your day to day life? As I alluded to earlier, at a fundamental level these four are a play of change that is never far away in the continually evolving nature of our lives. Being able to hold change, which at times can be scary or appear to lack meaning and context, within a framework can give us strength and courage to carry on our way. It gives us permission to let go of the old and embrace the new as our lives move on and we grow.
This coming Monday, June 15, I will be spending the day on a Medicine walk. I am taking the time now to share this with you as witnesses to my intention for that day. I will set off at dawn into the crater of Haleakala, the large dormant volcano here on Maui and walk until sunset, fasting though drinking. I share here some some thoughts behind the Medicine Walk and why I am choosing to spend my day in this way.
Walking to clear our head, a day’s hike, a prolonged back country trip - perspective, clarity, a change of scenery. We step out of our front door to take a walk for so much more than to fulfill tasks. For centuries human’s have set off on foot in order to seek guidance in some aspect of their lives. Nowadays we might just think of that in terms of being stuck in a problem at work and wanting to clear our head. However, since we have been able to wonder at who we are and where we fit into this world and universe, we have sort out ways to help ourselves gain greater clarity and understanding. Walking has played a major part in this as has solitary time in nature.
Walking - Solitude in Nature
Gautama Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, Jesus fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, the Aboriginals of Australia going on walkabout, the Native Americans on a vision quest, rites of passage of traditional peoples where time is spent alone in nature. These are times when people leave the familiarity of home to step out into the unknown of nature, taking with them nothing but the essentials and their own wits, in order to seek wisdom and guidance.
These practices are based in our fundamental link with the natural world. We are not separate from it, but are a part of it. We are not broken but are a part of a larger whole that is intrinsically good. The air that is around us courses through our body as our breath in the same way that it passes through others. The food that we eat is born from the soil and made up of the goodness, or otherwise of that soil. As Gary Snyder said in his essay, The Etiquette of Freedom,
To acknowledge that each of us at the table will eventually be part of the meal is not just being “realistic.” It is allowing the sacred to enter and accepting the sacramental aspect of our shaky temporary personal being.”
Our intimacy with the natural world, something that so many of us are alienated from in the “safe” cocooned world that we live in, allows learning to take place. We just need to rekindle and rebuild that bond, break from our comfort zones and open ourselves to the possibilities that time with our natural kin might be able to offer us.
Life is a process of change. Change is happening to us and around us all of the time. Yes, we wake up to a familiar environment and see the same people in the same places each day, but we know deep down that nothing around us is here forever. With the recognition and acceptance of change comes growth, but that acceptance is not always easy. Indeed we have probably all experienced times when we feel change happening around us or within us, but have resisted that change. Perhaps we are not even quite sure where the change in coming from, but we just know that we are outgrowing our clothes. But for all of that, we end up choosing to stay with the situation that we know rather than break free of the chains that we are wrapping around us.
Change can be frightening. We are stepping into an unfamiliar world. However, we also know from our own experience that for every time that we have crossed that threshold of change we have felt freer, our world seems larger and we grow in who we are as a person.
I have spoken here about rites of passage work and thresholds, all related to the Medicine walk. In this section I shall get more specific about a Medicine walk.
Before sharing the ritual of the walk, there are the practicalities. Let someone know what you are doing, when you are setting off and that you will be in touch with them when you return, whether by phone or calling in on them - this is for your safety. Make this someone who you trust and who shares in your belief of the efficacy of the walk. Choose a place that is safe to walk and take all necessary clothing for eventualities of weather. Leave electronic gadgets behind, expect perhaps a cell phone left in your car should you need it on your return. Take a journal for writing, thoughts, musings, reflections. Take plenty of water and leave some in your car for your return. The suggestion is to fast, it allows us to concentrate more on just being and gives us a clarity of mind, but if food is necessitated for medical reasons, that is fine. Carrying an energy bar or two is probably a good idea just in case of emergencies.
The Practice - Practicalities - The Walk
The Medicine walk calls on us to walk with no set destination. Big, grand goals or mountain peaks are not for today, but more aimless wandering. We start with threshold that we cross. Perhaps it is when we step out of the car, when we get to the trailhead, or an arbitrary spot that we choose and mark with a stick or a line drawn in the dirt. Before setting off we might say a prayer asking for guidance, read a poem, put down an object that means something to us that we pick up again at the end…a small ritual that means something to us and sets us on our way.
Take your time out walking as like a dream. You cross your threshold and enter a dream time. In the same way that you dream at night and wonder the next morning about the meaning of the dream, allow yourself to have experiences framed by the intention that you set yourself when you set off, and allow yourself to be open to what might manifest. While you are out look for natural objects that call you and draw your attention. Spend sometime reflecting. Spend sometime walking. There is no goal except to return at the end.
Sunrise to sunset frames the walk conveniently and lets us share in nature’s rhythms more intimately, but a walk of a few hours, or even a stroll round the block done with intention can serve a purpose.
On returning from your walk take care of yourself. You might be raw and vulnerable. You also might be elated. Give yourself the time that you need to reflect and absorb your experiences. Be careful with whom you share the details of your walk. Someone who is unsympathetic to what you have done can crush your experience, even if unintentionally.
Some people will return from their walk with something immediately learnt and gained. Others will have nothing clear. Indeed some folks might find themselves quite bored and yearning for the day to end. Do not force insights. Spend sometime journaling your experiences. Talk with a confidant. Allow the experience to sit in your day to day life, marinating with the intention that you took with you. Watch your dreams. Allow time. Trust the process…
And what am I taking with me? I am going out on Monday asking “what is next with my business?” “What am I being called to bring to my business?”
At anytime that we feel as though we want clarity in our lives, whatever the issue maybe, a Medicine Walk is available to us. The form is there to adapt to the circumstances that you find yourself in. There is no fixed way, though there is the spirit of the guidelines.
What might your intention be on your Medicine Walk?
The URL to this website is made up of the words “Crossing The Threshold.” While it informs my work, I have until now made no reference to its meaning. A friend and colleague recent asked me to what what I was referring. That question, along with a new logo and header on this site (and some more changes to come), has prompted this post. With the New Year only a couple of weeks away this feels like an opportune time.
Birth and Death
In ancient times traditional peoples recognized passages in their lives by leaving behind the familiar and heading out alone to spend time in wild nature - both the external and internal. While away they would fast and engage in ritual, to return with a vision and task. These traditional vision quests have been incorporated into more contemporary rites of passage through organizations such as The School of Lost Borders and The Animas Institute.
All rites of passage are made up of a death followed by a birth. To be born into something new, to grow and move forward in our lives we have to give up the old before taking birth in our new incarnation. We are born with new strength, belief and ability. This is not woo, woo, but what we find happens to us as we let go of our old limitations and in doing so make room for what was hidden within us.
Within in the scope of these rites, this process of death and birth is made up of three aspects:
The Three Aspects of the Rites
Severance is our psychological death, our giving up of the old so that we can make room for the birth of the new within us. It is normally preceded by a period of time in preparation. Time spent in the physical preparation for the journey along with reflection on what it is we are setting out to explore. What is it that you are looking to let go of? What self-images are no longer serving you and need to be jettisoned?
Threshold is your time out alone. We are alone in that we do not have the company of others, though our journey is held by friends and guides who sit at home awaiting our return. Their company from afar held consciously, helps to hold us when the small death feels as though it leaves little for us to stand on.
We also have the company of the wild nature and what we bring to our experience of being alone within it. As we enter more deeply into the fast, perhaps for three or four days, our senses become more attuned with the wildness within and without of ourselves. A sense of intimacy arises. Coupled with any ritual, meditation, reflection, or praying that we engage in, we set the ground for our birth into what we are being called to do.
Incorporation is our return to the world. We return leaving behind the old self and bringing with us the new. For some there will be a clear illumination of direction, for others the sense will be less clear. So on our return the support of friends, family and guides is important. Like the butterfly freshly emerged from its pupae, spreading its wings in the sunlight to dry, until those wings have dried the young insect is vulnerable and susceptible to attack and a killing of its new life.
So take care of yourself and be careful of company kept in those days that you emerge from your fast. You also are vulnerable. Use caution in who you tell your story and experiences to. Told to the wrong person the power of your experience can be crushed in a short time. With the right support and guidance your experiences can be given the helpful perspective of the earned wisdom from elders, to nurture your learnings into further growth, helping you see what you have learnt and how it can be taken out into your life and the service of others.
Crossing The Threshold
So Crossing The Threshold emerged out of the recognition that as we go through changes in our lives, we are being called to cross thresholds into something larger, different, to grow and learn more about what it available to us within ourselves. We are leaving behind the familiarity of the old and entering into the unknown that a death and its subsequent birth brings. That transition in our life becomes so much easier and manageable through the support of others. The work is always yours, the guidance and support is to help you on your way.
The change does not have to come about through a wilderness fast. That is one modality. But as we search to step into something new in our lives, our work, thresholds are crossed, the old is left behind as the new emerges.
What Thresholds do you want to cross as we enter into 2015?