How do you know when your soul is thirsty?
I’m talking about that deeper level of thirst, that you may not even recognise until it is satisfied.
At the end of February I received an invitation to meet with friends and stay in a simple tramper’s lodge on Mount Taranaki. A resounding ‘yes’ arose from inside and I made the necessary arrangements quickly, without debate.
This was the first sign of that deeper thirst, arising from inside.
It wasn’t just any mountain
It was the mountain of my childhood, that had watched over my first 14 years, beckoning, guarding and uplifting me whenever the struggles of life felt too much.
And now it was time for pilgrimage
A pilgrimage is not a tourist trip. Nor is it a nostalgia trip, with a focus on the past, or a revisiting of old sites of wounding. It is a sacred journey, undertaken with intention.
Pilgrimage in nature is made to that which is enduring, to the sacred source.
Pilgrimage takes you to a place of great purity, where the power of nature enters body, mind and soul, permeating you, cleansing and refreshing your purpose, and bringing through clear visions and great strength.
Pilgrimage may involve sacrifice. It certainly requires preparation and thoughtfulness.
For this pilgrimage, I prepared by forming two intentions.
The first intention
I decided to take with me the taonga (treasure) of greenstone that I’d been gifted on the mountain a decade earlier. At that time, my friend, a great leader and visionary, led a few chosen people to a hidden site. Together we walked in silence to the foot of a waterfall, sacred to Maori. After clambering up over boulders we reached a pool close to where the water powered down from the rocks above.
My friend stood statuesque on a flat stone. Time stretched out, as endless as the flow of the falls. Then he bent down and retrieved the pounamu (greenstone) from the pool where it had been charged by the waters over many days.
‘Take it’, he said, knowing I was about to write my childhood memoir. He stabbed at the air with the pendant. ‘It will help you to chisel words out of the air.’
And so it did.
Every time I worked on ‘Touching Snow’, the story of my childhood longing for the volcanic cone I was unable to reach, I wore the pendant. Memories came through, as pure as the rivers of that mountain which my father climbed as a young man and my grandfather scaled on many search and rescue missions.
Now as I prepare for new writing, a story that begins on the mountain, I knew it was time to re-charge the pounamu.
I held it in the white water that rushed down from the peak above. New vitality coursed through my body as the pounamu re-charged. Finally I laid it in a quiet pool to one side.
This was the first intention of the pilgrimage fulfilled.
The second intention
The second intention was to offer thanks.
Spiritual teachers emphasise that when opening to receive from Source, we must also come prepared to give. The banana in the basket, the coins in the bowl, or the scrubbing of pots in the kitchen: these are all ways of giving.
How do we give back to nature? Through our care and protection of what is precious; through donations to groups who do this work, and through sacred activism.
All this begins with gratitude, for gratitude opens the heart to receive.
Mine was expressed in a prayer of thanks, for all I’ve received from the presence of this great mountain in my early life. I sprinkled dried kawakawa leaves from my land at Te Henga, drifting them out over the surging waters, to be carried away with my prayers.
It was time to return. After making a pilgrimage we are not the same as we were before, and it’s likely that a testing event will occur, to call us into a new way of responding. Sure enough, it happened.
But first, the mountain taught me to become a watcher.
During my three days on the mountain I’d watched it constantly, waiting for the mist to clear.
The suddenly, for a short time, at night, right on new moon, the clouds parted.
And it almost appeared again on the last morning. For 45 minutes I watched as I went through my tai chi practice, offering it up to the mountain as I moved in the morning sun. It felt like my final act of homage.
Even though the mist didn’t lift entirely, the play of light on the slopes was magical, as was the sense of presence of this powerful cone, through mist and rain. As it always was.
A few hours later I sat in New Plymouth airport, hearing announcements of flights cancelled due to bad weather. The flight to Auckland thirty minutes earlier had just been abandoned. Mine was next. Would it fly, or would I be stranded, perhaps for days?
I watched the mist over the runway as intently as I’d watched it on the mountain.
Would the fog lift enough for a plane to land? If our plane could land, takeoff would not be a problem. How much lifting of the mist would be enough?
It’s not until after a pilgrimage to nature that the depth of the thirst is revealed.
Now I knew that my thirst was for a deeper stillness of being that holds strong in the face of challenges.
Once I would have prayed for things to go my way. But this time I simply sat and watched, at the crossroads of various possibilities.
I’d learned that the mountain is always there, whether seen or not. When watching the mist, on the mountain and at the airport, I found inside me a place beyond attachment — that the peak would show itself, that the plane would land. I sifted through the alternatives — a night bus ride of seven hours, not being able to get back even if I rebooked for the next day — and I discovered a profound stillness inside. I knew I could deal with whatever eventuated.
Suddenly the mist thinned a little, the incoming plane landed, people breathed a big sigh of relief, we quickly boarded and soon I was home in Auckland.
Whether seen or unseen, the mountain is always there. Whether a plane lands or not, the source is always there.
Pilgrimage is profound.
Some questions for you
Have you made a pilgrimage in nature?
If you were to make one now, where would you go? And with what intention?
What is the deeper thirst that your soul longs to slake?
Blessings on your quests,
There are outer mountains and inner mountains. . . . Perhaps the full teaching of a mountain is that you carry the whole mountain inside yourself, the outer one as well as the inner.
This post is an excerpt from my Seasons Newsletter. To receive the Newsletter, you may sign up on the home page of this website and receive a free audio meditation.