"I'm a pilgrim of life, so from that point of view, I'm on a pilgrimage every day. Once one lives as a pilgrim, one lives lightly on the earth, with both detachment and engagement. It's all a pilgrimage."
- Satish Kumar
Day 151 - Monday, November 20, 1995 - As far as I can determine while sitting in my office 1,500 miles away, the Sunbow walkers still have their base camp at Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and they are still walking toward Albuquerque. But I cannot be sure. They are incommunicado again.
Since the walk entered New Mexico, which styles itself as the Land of Enchantment, my links with the walk have been spotty, as if the walkers had somehow become enchanted with the landscape and were focusing solely on their steps and their prayers.
I’m flying out to Albuquerque at Thanksgiving to be with everyone. But for now, with no communication and only a few preparations to make, I have time to reflect on our great and humbling endeavor—this high-minded pilgrimage that we are on, and to consider also what we are learning about pilgrimage itself. I made some notes on my observations.
I’m struck by the realization that Grandfather William Commanda is a member of an Algonquin nation known as the Mamiwinini, the People Who Are Nomads. In ancestral times, the Mamiwinini were wayfarers who journeyed by birch bark canoe over the vast, interconnected waterways of Turtle Island. Grandfather, the spiritual sponsor of our walk, carries the journeying gene within him, as he strives to guide us forward.
A sacred traveler—a pilgrim—is someone who journeys for knowledge or blessings or particular spiritual intention. Epic pilgrimages are an ancient and universal theme, a theme that links Black, Red, Yellow, Brown and White peoples. All cultures have their pilgrims and their tales of a heroic journey. Pilgrimage is a metaphor also, for our journey on the road of life.
We Sunbow pilgrims have a particular intention: to help to heal the Earth and the people of the Earth by praying for all, and to strive to recover what was long ago left by the side of the trail.
In my view, only the willingly blind can fail to recognize the profoundly bad health of our Earth right now as manifest in her fouled waters, air, and soil, through her weakened forests, and through the ominously widening hole in her protective canopy of ozone. While we must correct these conditions through direct action such as reducing pollution, planting trees, and consuming less, we also need to act on a spiritual level.
Pilgrimage is a principal means through which human beings can take effective spiritual action to heal the Earth. Spiritual action can help to illumine the necessary temporal actions so that they are accomplished wisely, with the next seven generations of children in mind.
Sacred sites such as we have visited time and again on our long walk have powerful geo-magnetic fields; the membrane between the spiritual and earthly realms is perciptibly thinner in such paces. But one can only learn about this by going there and getting in touch with the Earth—by intelligently engaging the energies of the sacred places. Many native elders say pilgrimage to sacred sites is an essential part of healing the Earth now.
Human beings are typically under great stresses while traveling and working with intensely powerful spiritual forces. This reality is worthy of respect, otherwise burn out is a real possibility.
Pilgrims require a daily practice, whatever tradition may call the heart—prayer, meditation, mantra, or contemplative time in nature. A rhythm of spiritual practice helps to elevate and sustain a person and the vision the person is carrying, it likewise strengthens the group.
A group of people walking together with a clear intention creates a unified spiritual force field that is palpable. If you have ever stood on a ball field, and witnessed the arrival of an opposing team as they rushed together onto the field, ready to play and determined to win, then you can appreciate the reality of this observation. The players create a tangible force field. With a spiritual endeavor such as a pilgrimage, the same principle is at work but with a different energetic quality or character.
Pilgrims best be prepared for obstacles and obscurations to arise. They are typical on a journey, and they are also essential grist for the mill of the pilgrim soul. Only by acknowledging, and then overcoming or transcending these challenges, and not otherwise, does true advancement come about.
Sun setting on the road, heading west in New Mexico
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 152 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire