A tantra of Zógqen As a bee seeks nectar from all kinds of flowers, Seek teachings everywhere. Like a deer that finds a quiet place to graze, Seek seclusion to digest all you have gathered. Like a madman, beyond all limits, Go wherever you please. And live like a lion, Completely free of all fear.
We are all pilgrims, in a sense; of this journey we call life. But not all of us have the privilege to embody the reality of the word. Pilgrim. Peregrine. From a far away place. Wanderer. Traveler. Nomad. Walking along a particular route to a specific place. A holy or sacred place. I have walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostella twice already. The first time along the popular route in Northern Spain when I turned 40 and the second time – ten years later – from Porto in Portugal. On my first pilgrimage (800 km) I had too much baggage. Literally (what did I think?) and emotionally (my father was dying). An excerpt out of a story I wrote afterwards about this: I dream of my father’s house. Roses, thick blooming orange roses, grow lusciously out of the front door, the chimney and the roof. Something urged me to look back that morning and a heavenly sunrise greeted me. I hummed a long Sanskrit healing mantra the whole day for my dad. We (my friend René joined me in Pamplona) walked through oak mountain forests and decided at five o’clock in the afternoon to keep on walking. Two old oak trees stood all alone at a distance from the path. We need to walk between those two trees, I said, because Celtic legend says it is an opening to another dimension. The oak trees gave a present to my dad; it was full of colourful Buddhist prayer flags. And I knew we had to keep on walking, because that evening we slept across a church with a beautiful rose garden in full bloom and the next morning the whole world was covered in a thick fog. I carried a stone for my father, one for my son and one for myself all the way from a waterfall close to my hometown in South Africa. Just before Cruz de Ferro, where pilgrims traditionally leave stones, I picked up another six stones for friends of mine (this eventually had had me in tears because my backpack was too heavy and my feet were swollen and all three refugio’s in Rabanal del Camino were full. In the end I did get a mattress and a cold shower.) On top of the stone heap at Cruz de Ferro, where heaven meets earth, I stood alone with my father’s stone. I had placed all my stones randomly on a huge flat rock underneath the long wooden pole on which the iron cross is mounted. There was no more space left for my dad’s stone. And I realized with a shock I will never see him again. That afternoon we lost our way to Molinaseca. My mother texted me that an ambulance took my father to ICU at the hospital. I cried myself awake that night. The next day to Villafranca del Bierzo I saw for the first time three ambulances with screaming sirens, three police cars (in dreams police symbolize angels) and when I asked how long the candle will burn which I had lit for my dad in the Church of Forgiveness, the answer was three days. Today. Thursday. Friday. Thursday was a murderous climb to O’Cebreiro, high up in the mountains in the province of Galicia. I struggled with my emotions. Friday morning 8 o’clock I phoned him. He couldn’t talk anymore. I told him I am in heaven, looking down at the clouds below and I only had 150 kilometres left to go. I told him I love him. And I thanked him that he introduced a love for hiking to me and my sisters. And that now I was walking for him. And that death was just a door. We both cried. Promptly at noon my mom sent me a sms to let me know he passed away. That afternoon it rained heavily. And I got my first blister. The next morning just past San Xill I packed a shale stone cross for my dad underneath a huge old oak tree on top of a mountain overlooking green pastures with cows and sheep. I sadly said goodbye. Sunday morning in the thick fog I clearly heard my dad calling me. And I jumped with joy; my dad had come to walk with me. Ten years later Once again I found myself traveling with a backpack; this time walking the Camino with two friends and starting from Porto in Portugal. Right from the start it was clear I was walking to a different tune. Our baggage didn’t arrive at the airport! A great lesson in non-attachment. Not at all fussed, we explored the town of Porto, a welcome extra to our trip. In fact, traveling without baggage is a wonderful experience – you feel so FREE! In the end our bags did arrive at half past one in the early morning hours before we officially started our Camino and I realized although I took great care I STILL packed too much! We decided we were going to do this pilgrimage the easy way – having our baggage carted from one place to the next, only carrying our daypacks. So, it didn’t really matter that I packed too much, but it did brought home a thought: I want to travel light! I made a classical mistake on the first day. We were walking along the beach and I decided to walk in my sandals rather than my hiking shoes. The result? A HUGE blister underneath my left foot. On the second day a dog bit me. I kid you not. A small canine came running towards me on a deserted farm road and without any warning bit my left ankle. I was too surprised to scream even. The third day I got news that the husband of a labyrinth friend of mine had died suddenly. My best friend Cindy’s mom died as I was flying from South Africa six days earlier and another friend’s mom was in hospital for five months already after a bad car accident. So day number three I walked for the dead and the dying. The fourth day I woke up with such vertigo dizziness I couldn’t walk at all. What IS happening, I asked myself. The weather was miserable. Cold, wet and alone I waited in the next town at the local bar till the B&B room was ready. Douw arrived first. “I am FREE!” he shouted happily, drenched to the bone as he opened the door to our room. Susan, who walked much slower, had awe and wonder written all over her face when she eventually arrived. “I could feel the other pilgrim’s spirit animals as they walked past me!” Excitedly she told us about her experiences in the forest – a wolf, a jaguar and a bear walked past her. On my first Camino I entered each and every church to get a stamp and light a candle for my dad. On my second Camino I remember entering a church only once – and only because it was in the shape of a scallop shell. I didn’t care about the stamps and nature had become my church. On the first day of my first Camino I pushed myself so hard that I walked over the Pyrenees in 6 hours instead of the normal 8. With no food or snacks! I had arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port at 11 pm the previous night, just in time to get a Pilgrim’s passport before the shop closed for the night and left the next morning at 6 am before any shops were open. On the first day of my second Camino we took the bus to the promenade, walked a bit and then had a leisurely lunch with wine before we walked on. On my first Camino I was fascinated by mythical stories of the Knight’s Templars, the crusades and the octagonal churches. On the second I listened to real life stories of fellow pilgrims. How much I had changed in a decade! Two years ago Four years after my second Camino, I embarked on another pilgrimage: the Via Francigena to Rome. A whole 2000 kilometres! My friend Regine and I changed the original route and started walking from Frankfurt in Germany instead of from Canterbury in England. (That didn’t change the total kilometres.) We walked through the Black Forest past Freiburg to Switzerland and joined the original route at Lausanne. We hiked over the Great St. Bernard’s Pass, through Ivrea, Pavia, Fidenza, Lucca, San Gimignano, Sienna, Bolsena and Viterbo all the way to the Vatican City. One of the most important lessens we learnt on this beautiful way to Rome was to fully embrace the unknown. We always walked into towns not knowing where we would sleep for the night. Intuition led us every day to the perfect place. Sometimes straight to an albergo, sometimes a chance meeting with a local who directed us. ( The Via Francigena is not like the Camino in Spain where the refugios are aplenty on the road and it is first come first serve. Nope, here you have to phone the pellegrino accommodation ahead of time and book your bed. Coming from South Africa our cellphones were on roaming and we could not phone, only connect with the internet via WiFi.) So we had to trust. Once, after a particularly long day, we sneaked into a refugio and claimed two beds by quickly going to sleep! (We did have a shower first.) And we kept on believing. We found help in the most unlikely places. Antonio, who had lived in Harare for ten years and had been to Cape Town, gave us his apartment in Capranica because his hotel was full. Juliana, who overheard our plight in the local café/bar in Sutri – it was the August banking holiday long weekend – invited us to stay in her next-door apartment. We walked tall. Our huge wings were spread wide open. Two angels, unruffled by the human traffic whizzing past. Two angels on a mission. Blessing everything and everyone. Two angels. Spreading infinite timeless joy. On our second last day we took a wrong turn. But, very early on in our journey we had decided unanimously that we would NEVER walk back. No. Only forward. And, as always on this pilgrimage, the gods were on our side. At a small garage along the Via Formellese I asked a young man, who was busy refueling his car, where exactly we were. Turned out VERY far from where we were supposed to be. Fabiano, who got married on a beach in South Africa (how was that for serendipity!) gave us a lift and a flood of information. To keep us living-in-the-moment though, we were attacked by a swarm of sting-flies (when we took a shortcut…). And I learnt another valuable lesson. We tried running away, but they kept coming. We used and insect-repellant stick, but still they stung us. We – on advice from a passing cyclist – plucked some leafy twigs and used it like proper sangomas (medicine women) swishing the leaves to the left and the right sides of our heads. Still, they kept coming. Stinging left, right and center. Like fighter pilots. I swore. I shouted. I cried. Until I clicked. Everything is God. I stopped in my tracks. Filled my heart with love and gratitude. And blessed the sting-flies. Wham! In the blink of an eye they were all gone. Like one we started to sing our “marching onwards” song: Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. On days when it got difficult this uplifting tune kept us going. Keeping the rhythm with our walking sticks. Walking into Rome was one of the most difficult days of our pilgrimage. The roads were very busy and we didn’t know if we were on the right track as, for the first time, the familiar red and white Via Francigena stickers were few and far between. We nearly got lost in the Parco di Monte Mario were it not for two unlikely pilgrims (they didn’t carry any backpacks and looked like they were just on a stroll, not even sweating!) who came to our rescue with a GPS. Together we walked down the hill and the long straight Via Ottaviano through the Porta Angelica to the Vatican City. As so many days before (it had become our secret ritual) we were welcomed by the church bells striking 12 noon. We walked with joy in our hearts into the huge Basilica and, together with an aged Cardinal totally immersed in his contemplative prayers, attended our last Mass. (“It’s very easy to be an angel when you have nobody ruffling your feathers. You’ve got to get into the marketplace and BE there.” – Yusuf/Cat Stevens.)
Also called Paths to Peace, this article will inform those who don’t know what a labyrinth is. A labyrinth is a single, winding path that leads you from the entrance to the centre. It is an ancient pattern that has been found in almost all cultures all over the world. The history dates back more than 7000 years. A labyrinth offers one of the oldest contemplative tools known to humankind that is used for personal and spiritual growth. Walking a labyrinth helps to calm the mind, still the thoughts, get insights, receive guidance, solve problems and set goals. Like Saint Augustine said: “Solvitur ambulando.” It is solved by walking. Kulungiswa ngokuhamba. A labyrinth is different from a maze. A maze has twists and turns and blind alleys and one can get lost in the puzzle that must be solved. In a labyrinth one cannot get lost, as the way in is the way out. It does not matter how intricate the labyrinth pattern may be, there is only a single route to the centre. Thus the only choice with a labyrinth is whether to walk or not. A labyrinth offers a neutral meeting ground for people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. It is open to anyone at any stage, on any spiritual path and from any religious tradition. Why do people use labyrinths? People come to labyrinths for many reasons and in many different ways. It can be walked to connect with nature, to let go of the hectic modern life, to handle stress, to still the mind of thoughts, to answer specific questions, or to find inner peace. Whatever the reason to walk a labyrinth, it will start a process where powerful changes are possible. Research Research in America concluded that people walking the labyrinth are more relaxed, peaceful and calm afterwards. They are also less angry or frustrated and people get relief from emotional trauma and grief. Furthermore, people can focus and concentrate better, and their intuition, imagination and creativity are stimulated. Research done by the Harvard Medical School’s Mind/Body Medical Institute found that focused walking meditations are highly efficient at reducing anxiety. According to Dr Herbert Benson, who conducted the research, a labyrinth walk elicits the relaxation response. This has significant long term health benefits, including lower blood pressure, reduced incidents of chronic pain and a reduction of insomnia. According to Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, bestseller in management circles, we are moving from the information age to the conceptual age. “The purpose of life is the journey itself.” He strongly believes the labyrinth is the tool for the future. Benefits A labyrinth walk can help you to: · Come into balance, giving you a sense of wholeness, which is much needed in today’s chaotic world; · Become more relaxed, calm and peaceful; · Become less angry and frustrated; · Reconnect with your inner wisdom; · Find a meaningful way to reconciliation; · Be more present in your life; and · Live more consciously. Other benefits of a labyrinth walk are: · Improved concentration and focus; · Increased productivity; · Better stress management; · Enhanced memory; · Better handle and process trauma and grief; · Improved conflict resolution; · Enhanced creativity, intuition and imagination. Wellness A labyrinth offers a powerful way to help people relax, release, recharge and renew. A labyrinth can be used as a spiritual or psychological tool for basic self exploration. It can help with: – depression – anxiety – fear of change – self worth/ self confidence – addiction/co-dependency A labyrinth helps people to connect with nature, which in itself awakens peace and joy and happiness.
If you prefer smoke over fire then get up now and leave. For I do not intend to perfume your mind’s clothing with more sooty knowledge. No, I have something else in mind. Today I hold a flame in my left hand and a sword in my right. There will be no damage control today. For God is in a mood to plunder your riches and fling you nakedly into such breathtaking poverty that all that will be left of you will be a tendency to shine. So don’t just sit around this flame choking on your mind. For this is no campfire song to mindlessly mantra yourself to sleep with. Jump now into the space between thoughts and exit this dream before I burn the damn place down.
A poem. Orange-pink streaks of hope Electric blue shimmering possibilities Solid mountains of soul strength Flocks of freedom showing the way Red-pink-purple-blue skies of passion Golden light shining straight into my heart Ubuntu abundance Bella Mama Bella Mama You are my first love You are my beautiful Mother Orange-pink streaks of sadness Electric blue shimmering desolation Solid mountains of burning pain Flocks of rage showing the way Red-pink-purple-blue skies of suffering Golden light piercing my anxious heart Ubuntu depression Bella Mama Bella Mama You are my first love You are my dying Mother Orange-grey clouds of grief Black and blue shimmering decay Solid mountains of naked fear Flocks of birds dying in flight Bleak bullet-grey skies of gloom Dark shadows smothering my troubled heart Ubuntu despair Bella Mama Bella Mama You are my first love You are my dying Mother Orange-pink streaks of courage Electric blue shimmering opportunities Solid mountains of soul power Flocks of doves showing the way Red-pink-purple-blue skies of love Golden light embracing my joyous heart Bella Mama Bella Mama You are my first love You are my beautiful Mother Bella Mama Bella Mama You are my first love You are my only Mother