"Pilgrimage to the place of the wise is to find escape from the flame of separateness." - Rumi
Day 76 - Wednesday, September 6, 1995 - During the day the Sunbow pilgrims bid farewell to Alabama and to Hawkwind. They moved back to Chattanooga where they spent a final day sitting in council with Grandfather Commanda.
VaLaine Lighty has been walking since Day One on Cape Cod. She reports that in her view the circles of the last few days have been worth the time and effort.
During a phone conversation, VaLaine told me that the circles gave the group a chance to pull back from the daily stresses of walking and setting up camp, and fully to air a range of issues.
"What is the walk really about? That's something we needed to go into pretty deeply. As I understand it, and I've been with it since the start, the walk is about bringing together women and men, and all the races to learn to respect each others' beliefs and spirituality, and to turn our attention together to the real problems of poison water, poison air, dying forests, and all the rest of it. But we have to do more than talk about it; we have to live it, and to be it. So we needed to get into all that pretty deeply with each other. It was wonderful having Grandfather here with us; he brings so much understanding and love with him.
"One of the things that I thought, and also talked about in the council, is how awesome this walk really is. Sometimes it's difficult to accept all that is happening, all the signs and miracles. But it is happening, and we need to accept them and to expect more. It happens all the time.
"Before the walk began I had no knowledge of Native spirituality. I never even knew what the plant sage was, or why someone might burn it in a smudging ceremony. But a couple of weeks ago when we were up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Cragie Falls, I was walking alone one afternoon. We had not smudged with the sage for a couple of days. But I was praying out loud as I walked, and then something happened. I smelled sage -- really strongly. It lasted for four steps, and it was very definite, very sweet.
"So, it happens: we see things, we hear things, and we even smell things of spirit. It might sound pretty wild to someone who has not been with us, not been with the walk, but these things happen again and again,” VaLaine said. “We are being supported and guided."
In the evening the walkers settled in to the Tamarisk Center near Chattanooga, where Jim and Barbara McNew opened the facilities up to them. With anticipation, they all eyed a chance to stretch out and sleep on plush carpeting for the night.
But before the walkers slept, about 40 people from the general region came on short notice to listen to Tom Dostou and Grandfather Commanda speak about the walk.
Grandfather told the people of his early life, and how he encountered prejudice and learned about hatred and racism first hand, and how he had taken some of that poison into his own life.
"At the time," Grandfather told the people," I was a big strapping, young man of 205 pounds. But then I fell ill. I suffered so much and was so sick that after a while I weighed only 90 pounds. I prayed to Creator to take me, and to end my suffering -- or if there was something for me to do, some purpose to my life, to save me and make me well.
A symbol for the concept
of Ahimsa: non-violence
"That’s when I got better. That’s when I learned about forgiveness and love. That is when I learned to conquer racism in my mind, and overcame all the things that happened in the past," he said. "You cannot forget, but you can forgive. That is when I learned to do what I am doing now with my life and with this walk: trying to help the people understand."
When Tom Dostou spoke he addressed a similar theme. He asserted that his life had turned around from one of anger and agitation, to walking a peaceful road. "It's the only road we can all walk together," he said.
Tom once again advanced the idea of ahimsa -- a Hindu precept denoting complete non-violence of thought, word, and action. Tom said it was his core philosophy, and that it should be the core philosophy for our walk.
In light of what other walkers have so often reported about Tom -- that he is frequently given to rageful outbursts and bullying -- his passionate and eloquent speeches about ahimsa struck some listeners as hollow.
For me at this juncture of the walk, Tom's stance summons to mind the character known as "The Pardoner" in Geoffrey Chaucer's classic tale of pilgrimage, Canterbury Tales.
As the Canterbury journey unfolds, the Pardoner is especially keen on sermonizing about the evils of greed. He has discovered that such denouncements are highly effective in loosening the purse strings of the other pilgrims as they purchase from him papers, endorsed by the Pope, granting official pardon for sundry sins: lechery, false witness, gluttony, and -- prominently -- the sin of greed. The more vociferously the Pardoner rails against greed, the richer the treasure he collects from the other pilgrims as they purchase the paper indulgences.
The Pardoner never offers justification for his behavior, and is often irritating to others, yet his role in the pilgrimage is essential. It is through him that all the pilgrims on the road to Canterbury are forced into circumstances that reveal their true character.
Tom, likewise, has emerged as the principal focus for drama, tension, and conflict on our walk. All of us are forced to respond to him, his role as "head man," and his mighty charisms.
In the just-concluded Sunbow circles at Hawkwind, some of walkers spoke directly about the ahimsa philosophy Tom has been advancing, challenging him to live up to it.
|Pilgrims on the road - A troupe of actors in Sunderland, England portrays the characters in Canterbury Tales. The Pardoner holds out his hand for payment as he sells indulgences -- at a premium -- to sinners.
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 77 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire