My sojourn in Switzerland was just what I needed. Cecile and I walked for 4 days, a small section of the Jacob’s Way pilgrimage. We had not sinned, nor are we religious, nor are we pilgrims (in the most traditional sense of the word). But we walked the way of the pilgrim. For absolution? Absolutely not- formal release from obligation, guilt or punishment was not really our bag.
We walked for the simple joy in starting at one point and ending at another; for the peace of being in nature; to use only our feet to cover ground and mountains; to slow down from our worlds that can often seem so fast. I began to question on Day 1…perhaps I was looking for absolution. I wanted to absolve myself from busyness. It was not a religious quest and there was nothing formal about the absolution. I wanted to feel the stripped back joy and quietude of nature and footsteps. If this was the way a modern girl with no religion could create a pilgrimage that worked for her, a crusade of sorts, then pilgrimage? I was all for it. Absolution? Absolutely.
We attached shells to our rucksacks given to us at our first hostel. They are intended to show people that we were on the Jacob’s Way Pilgrim trail. We wore them and were proud. We were unsure of the symbolism of this shell, and in our last hostel (that was somewhat overbearing with their religious doctrine and wishes), we would find out. However, for the time being we had been pleased to show that we were on the trail, even if it was us walking for ourselves and not a God. We talked a little of religion…As Cecile pointed out, some paid for absolution with a piece of paper that guaranteed their place in heaven. For those with little money and a choice of imprisonment or pilgrimage would have been one to weigh up. The choice of walking for months without the luxuries we had of great food, warm reception (both from farm animals and the country folk) and hostels to stay would have been very different experience than ours. I would guess, incredibly self-reflective and confronting. Absolution? Possibly. Likely. Maybe. And walking,just one foot in front of the other, whatever your reason, religious or not, can be quite a spiritual journey, whatever that may mean to the individual.
My walk was self-reflective and a little confronting initially. I thought I wanted to make my mind be less rushed and vowed to meditate on my footsteps or breathing or blades of grass. Nothing worked. I was a little disappointed. I thought I might be able to latch onto something. I let my mind go to a teacher I trust with all my heart. I thought of Jambo…
I wondered why I was battling with myself to be better or stronger, clearer in my thinking. Believing that this was what I needed, believing that this was what I was here for and would be healing. So, I decided to just see what happened as I walked. Leaving the studio behind was hard and it took a day to accept there was just a little I could do here and there when I had wifi. I soon shed the focus of all things Wild Wolf’s and when I began to let the judgements of myself go. I relaxed. My mind did all sorts of things I have not let it. It told stories and I got lost in them like fantasies that made me feel warm and made my quietly smile. I remembered things, people, experiences that made me happy and relived them in my mind, embellished them and let them trail into new stories. I allowed myself to dream big and my world felt vast, beautiful and full of love and hope. This thinking was good for the soul. And battling with my mind and imprisoning my thoughts was not the one for me this time!
When Cecile and I did converse, it was often simple things to share- the shape of a mountain, the expression of a cow, the smell of a field, the kindness of a person we had met and of course deeper things too. But what was apparent that these little things were poignant. They always had been and are, but our absolution was absolutely working. We lingered to look at leaves, to share apples by a tree, to sleep in the grass.
I fell into a simple prayer each day. A prayer that felt good to voice and words to no God or no one. It was ‘Thank you’. This is how I started each day when I travelled a few years ago and it continued into my less nomadic life up in the North of England too. Somewhere along the line this simple act of gratitude to start teach of my days got lost.
I fell into my steps and fell into my stories and felt perfectly lost in it all.
When Cecile and I had discussed what may or may not come up from walking was unimportant and important. It was interesting and maybe surprising or not. You do work through some stuff. The way I was battling with myself could never be a good thing. And when I realised clarity and feeling good inside would arrive in the form of dreams and stories and I did not have to battle and push these things away, I ended what I realised was an unnecessary battle.
So, I remembered Jambo and another of my teachers. A teacher that bestowed all his Yin students with a pearl at the end of the training- and now many of us wear the pearl around our necks. It seemed right as we wore our shells like badges on our backpacks as we journeyed through the Swiss landscapes. We would later learn about the religious meanings of the pearl but the meaning for me became something different and I love my shell back home in my room, pictured here:
We made our own interpretation and took from the walk the things that felt right for us, respecting the way all different walks of life and faiths would hold the shell and meaning in their hearts.
‘Natural Pearls form when an irritant – usually a parasite and not the proverbial grain of sand – works its way into an oyster, mussel, or clam. As a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, called ‘nacre’, is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.’
Something perfectly unique and perfectly formed. And although we were not into the words and sentiments of our last pilgrimage hostel were we were told all sorts about God and the pearl, I did share with Cecile my teacher’s words when he gifted us with a pearl…’All pearls are unique and representative of a journey we take, who we become and who we are, layer upon layer…. we all are different and so is our journeys and stories. And being perfectly unique is absolutely perfect.’
Absolution? Well it depends.
I am all about ending the war inside (thank you dear Jambo for helping so many to walk this path…). And the worse person walking through my mind with dirty feet, were my own. I could do myself the most harm.
And when I absolved myself of my battle and judgements (for they were no one else’s I was confronted with…)?
Peacefulness and some moments of true, true happy. The storybook kind.