At times life can wear us out even when it’s just the day to day hum of caring for others, getting things done, staying connected and existing in a complex world. Time – out and renewal come in many forms and we’ll be looking at this idea over the next few weeks in our articles here at Viva. Kath Walters recently went on a “Little Pilgrimage” led by Di Percy, an inspirational woman who has been helping people live engaged and vital lives for many years. Here’s Kath’s account of a day spent with Di in the forests outside Melbourne. It’s a beautiful, eloquent story of healing and renewal…….
Early on a Sunday 14 April, I rose and set the GPS for Dudley’s café in Olinda, a village in the low mountains east of Melbourne. There, at 8.30am, I met Di Percy and seven others who had signed up for, as Di describes it, a Little Pilgrimage.
Di is the founder of Little Pilgrimages Australia, a venture born out of loss: Di’s partner, Martin, passed away last year. Since then, she has redesigned the way she works. “As you can imagine”, she wrote in her email invitation to me, “it’s been a big transformation, including closing our corporate mentoring business and the farm enterprise.” A re-emergence.
Di’s offer to join the Little Pilgrimage felt right to me at the time. As we sat at a quiet back table of Dudley’s, sipping coffee, engaging in introductions and first exchanges, I felt a surge of anxiety. I had been caught in an episode of anxiety and depression for a couple of weeks before the event that had felt crippling. I found it hard to speak even to friends, let alone strangers. The cloud of gloom in my mind seemed palpable, which made me self-conscious. Still, I knew these inner stories were unlikely to be true. Real for me, but not true. We shared muffins and a ham-cheese croissant.
We carpooled, and arrived at Sherbrooke Forest carpark, gathering around a picnic table for Di to instruct us on how to approach our Pilgrimage. We were to walk through the forest in silence, slowly, taking photos or stopping to take notes if we felt like it, as we reflected. “This is not a bush walk,” Di said. “It is an opportunity to focus on your inner voice and innate wisdom. In silence, we do not have to worry about social niceties.” My soul sighed with relief. Words, which are my life, had failed me at this junction of my life. My heart and soul thirsted for the companionable silence on offer.
Di read a quote from Irish Poet and Hegelian philosopher, John O’Donahue, to set the mood. With simplicity, Di had attended to the practicalities. We stopped at every junction, so no-one was left behind. One participant, Geoff, stayed in position as “tail-end Charlie”. We couldn’t be lost.
With phones on flight mode and conversation fading, we set forth. I prefer the (much-maligned) Wikipedia definition of pilgrimage as “a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance” than that of Britannica.com: “a journey undertaken for a religious motive.” There was no religion here; simply a journey to reunite a sense of outer beauty with inner beauty.
The forest began its work on me instantly. The morning light was divine (allusion intended). Light and shade in a parade. Crunching feet on a layer of stringy bark shards. Peeps from birds. Screeching cockatoos. The draw to gaze up to the treetops, and then explore their hollows and lumps. Someone had created bark sculptures along the way. One was a tree stump, wrapped around.
I remembered gratitude. I began a gratitude meditation: for trees, for feet, for healing, for sounds, for light, for companions, for silence. I had struck pay dirt, a bubbling well of gratitude. I had to stop walking and sit on a bench. We’d taken a detour from our destination, and I needed to rest. Alone, I ate some nuts mixed with chocolate sultanas, drank water, and made notes. I heard traffic, and felt compassion for all our busy lives, rushing through until we suddenly strike the end.
Before we arrived at our destination, Di prepared us for its modesty. Sherbrooke Falls, at this time of year, is little more than a bubble of water smoothing rocks and pooling humbly before sliding back to hide in the forest floor. Humble, Di informed us, is a word from the Latin root, humus, meaning ground. I didn’t know, but felt its significance: lowly, but also rich and fertile. Formed by layers of dying leaves, decaying, and then offering itself as a bed for young plants to grow upon.
Back at the car-park picnic bench, we shared coffee, choc-chip cookies and insights. I still struggled to speak, but eventually managed, “Did anyone notice the bark sculptures?” They had. I mentioned the gratitude meditation, and how long it was before I remembered to do it. That got a laugh. Everyone was warm and generous in exchanging their inner worlds.
The others went back to share a pizza lunch back at Dudley’s, but this was a step too far for me that day. I needed to be home, in the quiet, to savour my Little Pilgrimage. The healing had begun.
Click the link to find out more about Di Percy and her Little Pilgrimages.
Di’s definition of pilgrimage: A pilgrimage is a passage of spiritual significance and a private journey into your inner world through the outer world