My Pilgrimage Year so far…
I know that being able to take this year off is precious, and perhaps even enviable, but I have to tell you, being home with no defined occupation is hard. I’m not usually a structured person, and in fact I think that I sometimes drive people crazy with my lack of structure, but even I am struggling with this open-endedness. I wake up most mornings with the same anxiety knot I used to have when I was working hard. I thought it’s the work I found unbearable, but no, that’s not it. This anxiety (what’s going to happen?) is mixed in with big amounts of guilt (why am I not doing anything?), both forming a really intractable emotion I find hard to sit with. It is affecting so many areas of my life that I find it impossible to take in the beauty and bounty of whatever is around me. I am not present. Most days I float in no-space, that condition that is not in the past, not in the here and now, and certainly not in the unformed future. I find myself constantly fast forwarding to the end of the year, asking myself impossible questions about what will happen then. This brings me fear, which has me wondering if I should just go back to work. Just forget about this mad thing I’m doing. What is this that I’m doing, anyway?
Whatever it is though, it is exactly what I’d asked for, and yet I’m still not happy. Maybe I am just afraid of being happy? As a result of all this, I move to being emotionally flat, and ingest huge amounts of television and food and wine in order to fill this hole. In fact this is how my days look: I wake up usually anything between 3 to 5 in the morning, meditate for half an hour, then go back to sleep until 7. When I wake up second time I read A Course In Miracles for a bit, and then go for a run (not always though). When I get back from my run I rummage in the fridge for food, and may spend the entire day grazing non-stop in front of the television. At some point though I run an aromatherapy bath and soak with a book for a really long time. When the time comes, I pour myself a bottle of red wine and at that point I may go sit in the garden at sunset with a book or my thoughts. Emotionally I move from flat non-emotion, to guilt and then regret with speed and ease. I regret my non-action and call it laziness. I see my days as wasted time, and regret every moment even as I am going through it, and worry that this wastage is not advancing me at all toward my goal for the year. All this renders me immobile, although I know I must read ACIM, and create my blog and journal, but I read as little as possible (A Course in Miracles does not make for easy reading), and I keep telling myself that I don’t know how to create a blog spot. This makes me feel bad about myself, and a big voice within reprimands me constantly. It doesn’t escape me how I never reprimanded myself for working too hard without taking proper breaks, and how now I can hardly give myself proper rest without feeling bad.
But a still, small voice within reminds me that this experience here is precisely what I had asked for last year. This is it. Embrace it. It is a gift, therefore accept it and give thanks for it. Remember how the verdant waves assured me that all is well? And it is true- I am fortunate to be able to wake up in the dark and meditate, to be able to go running at 8 in the morning at Silvermine National Park, or on that beautifully wide and white Longbeach from Kommetjie to Noordhoek. I am lucky to be able to picnic right there after my run, basking in the sun with my Kindle, or take long contemplative walks, or sit in the wild that is my indigenous garden in the early morning, welcoming the day. It is all a gift, for sure. So now I am learning to listen to that still, small voice instead, and take time to look around me and take it all in, and repeat a thank you mantra all the time. I don’t really know how people undertake a spiritual journey, or what outward processes I’m supposed to be engaged in to signify the path, but inwardly I remind myself to pay attention to my thoughts, as well as to my interactions with myself and others. Am I giving love or judgment in this moment? Am I being kind or hateful? How else could I deal with this irritating moment/person, and still express love and not condemnation, even if I would much rather klap someone? What am I doing that’s working to advance me spiritually, and what is holding me back, or even ensuring my regression?
When I was in Bali a few years ago I had the words Tat Tvam Asi tattooed on my left shoulder. Thou Art That. Divinity is within you. Your nature is Divine. This transcendental phrase is one of four contained in the Upanishads, which establishes the oneness of the individual with Divinity. You and God are One. Is it possible for me to hold this as my lens, as my guiding principle in my interactions with others, particularly those that I judge and condemn? Who would I be, if I were to allow myself to be an instrument of Love, no matter what…?
About three weeks ago I went to Cavendish Square to buy an outfit for a friend’s 50th birthday party, and happened to pop into a tattoo shop next door. I was fortunate enough to find an artist to tattoo another of the Upanishad phrases on my right arm- Aham Brahmasmi– Divinity is within me.
I am an expression of Divinity. Of God. I reel from this responsibility.
Regardless, I have dedicated this entire year, and as I see now, my entire life, to knowing this phrase as Absolute Truth.
So no, I have not taken the year off to find myself, but rather to find a way of removing the blocks to my experience of this truth, or more specifically, of God, within me.
Some (lots of) fear remains, for sure. I do recognise that I’m deeply afraid of committing to this pilgrimage year fully, because of some expectations I hold. What if, come the end of the year, I haven’t found what I’m looking for? The ultimate abandonment, it will be.
The other day I read that it’s not so much the past that plagues us, but rather the unbearable thought that the future will be exactly as the present.
And so it is that I am getting off this treadmill by embarking on a pilgrimage year. I’m not trying to be fancy in thinking about this as a pilgrimage. In fact, the phrase very nicely captures my year. It is a purposeful journey within, a path to my heart, and even though I’m not much of an adventure spirit, I’ve decided to add a few physical activities into the mix, perhaps to be true to the word pilgrimage. So as you know, I started it with a ten day (Vipasanna) silent retreat at the beginning of the year. Hm. I will email my reflections on this.
The next scheduled activity is my hike up two mountains in Tanzania- Mt Meru and Kilimanjaro. The decision to hike these two mountains was made quite randomly whilst visiting friends (a couple) in Uganda, and discovered that the fiancé part of the couple runs a Safari Tour outfit, and takes people on wild excursions into exciting parts of our continent, including hikes up mountains. Now hiking Kili (as she is fondly known, probably also because she can kill), had been on my ‘bucket list’ years ago but had fallen off when it looked improbable that it would ever happen. Well, my Uganda visit put it back on the list, and so it is that next week this time (I leave for Tanzania on the 26th) I will be on Mt Meru, acclimatising to the high altitude in preparation for summiting Kilimanjaro. In fact I plan to summit Kili on my birthday, the 6th of March. Yes, I am afraid. I’m not fit enough, and I don’t really know what to expect, and deep down I’m a homebody and don’t really like travel all that much. Last week Tuesday when I got my packing list for Kilimanjaro (essentials to bring), it, The Packing List, freaked me out. All night long I am buzzing, and cannot fall asleep. That I am freaked out doesn’t make any sense since I had already purchased, or had been gifted some of the items on the list, so I know about this trip. And besides, my Hike Tanzania itinerary had been finalised in January already. So what is going on? Deep down though I know this anxiety isn’t about Kili and Mt Meru. I don’t know what I will find, if anything at all up on those mountains, but please, let me be open to whatever shows up. Let me be open.
I leave Tanzania on the 8th of March, and will be back home in Cape Town late that evening. On the afternoon of the 9th I go into hospital for preparation for a small procedure to take place on the 10th. Let me explain- early one morning during my Vipasanna retreat at the beginning of the year, I was woken up BEFORE the 4am wake-up gong, by a loud and very clear thought that I should have my boobs done. A Mastopexy. A boob lift. I know, you don’t think I need it, but in truth, I do. And have all my life. When my breasts first came out at the age of 12 or 13, they both looked at each other and screamed: “race you to the feet”! And both won. They have been doing a lap dance all my life, and it’s enough now. I’m finally going to do something about it.
After having been woken up by this divine command, I felt supported in dedicating my entire meditation hours researching the full details of this procedure. In my mind. How much will it cost? Who do I know that’s had it done? How will I find a plastic surgeon? How long is the recovery period? What will I do with all my bras? What will I do with my new, assertive, look you in the eye boobs?! Oh My God! I don’t sleep once during meditation sessions due to the intensity and focus of this contemplation.
So, on the 10th of March, I go in for the lift. Yay!
I may still host my famous (but now very low-key) 40th birthday celebration after. Let’s see.
I leave for India on the 3rd of April for 6 weeks for a yoga teacher training course. So far I have taken one yoga class this year. I’m sure I will be more focused when I return from Kili. My friend Sara reminds me to get to it soonest so as not to spend 5 of my 6 weeks trying to gain flexibility, thus losing out on the fundamentals of the teachings. True that.
I am especially happy about this Ashram since their training incorporates a healthy dose of teachings on philosophy and spirituality. This will help feed my pilgrimage.
I had planned on flying directly from India straight to France to commence my Camino de Compostela, but I got myself so stressed out by the thought of applying for that Schengen visa that I decided to be kind to myself and swop my route from the French Camino (because it starts in France- most of it is in Spain anyway), and rather walk the entire Camino in Spain, from the south of Spain all the way to Finister, near Portugal, I think. I will need only one visa, since I will be staying within one country. So much better. This essentially takes me off the 800 plus kilometre walk, to a 1000 plus kilometre one. But I prefer this actually. This route is less crowded (which actually may not always be such a good thing, since the villages and towns along the route may not necessarily be all geared up to host pilgrims, but never mind), and will give me space for solitude and proper pilgriming. The Camino, being a true pilgrimage, well, I don’t even know what to say I want from it. In fact I wonder if I need to set intentions for all these trips- the Hike Tanzania, yoga teacher training as well as this Camino? I don’t know. I fall silent at the thought of them all.
I had said that I was going to stay at a Buddhist Monastery in Canada from July till October, but I’m changing my plans. I will be doing the Camino for 7 weeks or so from September to October, thus avoiding walking in the unforgiving Spanish mid summer conditions. I am open to offering my services at any similar spaces here in South Africa, or volunteering at a Hospice somewhere. If you have any ideas, please share. Most of my pilgrimage year will be about me giving to me, and I’d like to bring into it, some aspect of giving to others in service. Or else there’s also the option of going to Uganda again to learn African dance!
Look, I do find all this daunting, not least when I watch all of you go to work and make a living. I do question what I’m doing, and wonder if I’m crazy. I worry about next year. That big voice of doubt and fear and judgment is big and ubiquitous. I had my friend Liz read my tarot for my year, but also mostly because I’d had four life snake encounters in 4 weeks, four more than I’d ever had my entire life. In my space! Lulu says snakes signify transformation and renewal. The tarot reading corroborates this, but also offers one caution related to my doubting this journey. Or fearing it. Or judging, and then thwarting my own progress. Yes yes, I will be sure to trust this, and will be especially vigilant against using doubt to self-sabotage, I tell Liz. And immediately throw trust and faith out the window when faced with this voice. I side with it and think something about this feels indulgent. Perhaps that is the reason I’ve filled the year with physical activity, perhaps because there’s a part of me that believes that you can’t just sit in contemplation. You can’t just not do something. You have to be busy. This confuses me. What is the purpose of life in any case? How did the old mystics do it? How did they manage to be with this longing? Where did they find the answers? What is there to guide us, in these modern times, so we know where to look? How does one do this, and still be in the world?
This is only my second month into my pilgrimage year, and I wonder what progress I should be looking out for. How will I know that I’m growing? What are the markers along the way?
Please keep me in your thoughts.
With deep love