So retracing my steps along this meta-physical road, from my start in 1991 with seeking a place that may never have existed (Camelot) to one that definitely has and does to this day (Canterbury), has left me wondering about what makes or made either road appealing – and especially to some attaching a special significance to one, the road to Canterbury, such that it is known to this very day in the UK as The Pilgrim’s Way.
The other, alternative road – interestingly enough – has no name, and so I shall just call it “The Alternative Way“.
Ironically, it was the latter I took in 1991 as it seemed more interesting at the time with the mystery of the Arthurian legend as well as the younger and more alternative people on it – but then maybe I did not look closely enough at the other path to see that there was perhaps more to it than met the eye? Still, I did not really know much about Chaucer back then and feel any real connection with that road – unlike now.
So, in considering to take what looked to be the well-worn path – and so daring to understand more about pilgrims and pilgrimages, this Sunday past I met with a film-maker who has recently made a pilgrimage to Tibet – and made a film about it, of course!
By the way, I guess an interesting part of this meeting is that I did not actively seek her out – I sort of just bumped into her in the street through the acquaintance of a mutual friend and recognised the coincidence of the pilgrimage theme that we have in common. This chance crossing of paths with people who had chosen to travel down the Alternative Way was typical for me back in 1991, and helped prove to me that I was on the right track to whatever it was that I hoped to find – although often that was never totally clear either. Still, it was my fellow travellers’ stories that often led me on to finding interesting places and interesting people…
Now, with deciding I am definitely ready to follow the Chaucerian road to Canterbury, I am starting to meet a lot of those others whose paths seem relevant and who have equally interesting stories to share (and share I/we shall! 🙂 ). For some reason, I did not meet any of the Canterbury road people when I tried to work out where to go in 2006 – but, happeninstance is that now, I am finding people who not only know the road but are seeking to make a pilgrimage all or part of the way to find something in themselves from it.
It’s just these people are not necessarily found in the literal places that you’d expect to find them. Although it does not help that many of the literary places, t’auld coaching inns, no longer exist!
So, to get on now with the Film-maker’s Pilgrim Tale
(and, yes, by now you will realise that I never tell the others’ full story myself – but instead allow you to surf your way to wherever links in here, or Google, lead you – and eventually on to my book about it, of course! lol)
More or less the first thing that she said was that her next journey is to find her way back to a temple high up in the Himalayan mountains that she never got to see inside, yet which she knows instinctively there is something special inside for her.
How she will get in there she does not yet know – but it will not just be her experience alone in doing that, as she is seeking a few fellow pilgrims to join her.
She is wearing a very stylish summer dress and bangles, as she recounts her most recent experiences that have led to her decision to take this next journey (and yet another pilgrimage).
With the curious tattoo on her left shoulder – that I cannot see properly, I get the feeling that I am meeting someone more like “Lara Croft” – and an adventurer or explorer – rather than someone suited to an internal journey of self-discovery and a respecter of the sanctity of other culture’s holy places.
However I dismiss such silly schoolboy notions from my mind about what she might really be seeking – and try to make sure that I am focused on spiritual riches, rather than material or physical ones.
So I ask her what a pilgrimage is for her. She tells me that she takes it from meaning of the Sanskrit word “yatra“, which she states as being a word derived from two parts:
ya – a journey, or travel and moving
tra – protection
Put those two together and it refers to travel outside of one’s familiar environment to encounter a moment of “purification”.
Once that purification happens then one can have an experience of “heaven” or, to put it more metaphysically and agnostically, a pure experience beyond one’s self that cannot be explained.
The end-result has been often described traditionally in one of two ways: spiritually or personally. The first, as she explains it to me, is “connecting with one’s soul” and t’other as more simply “coming into one’s self“.
Interlude / Intermission
Either explanation seems fair enough to me – but perhaps I am a little biased from having had experiences like the one I had on Aghadoe Heights in 1991 above the shores of Lake Killarney in Co. Derry, Ireland.
Even now, I still question what I felt on that misty morning in May – and on other, similar moments in time that I have had earlier and later in life (and not just on my own, but with others too).
Did the Killarney one come from something outside of me, that brought me to tears for no apparent reason at all (at all), or was it simply from a previously untapped inside of me that wanted to leap out like a little gleeful and beguiling leprechaun and take away my self-control so that I would happily jump the brown log fence, run madly across the luscious green grass of the field – with the two chestnut horses nose-to-nose in it – and, down the mountainside through the fresh morning dew, to dive – perfectly mind you – into the placid and mirror-like waters of the grey, green lake. All safely explained afterwards by a sudden desire to catch those darned water nymphs who have beckoned me there with their keening call and their beautiful, green, intelligent and glowing – yet fish-like – eyes.
To be sure, that brief moment felt like being drunk – but without having had anything to drink!
Not that I am saying that I mind having an inner leprechaun, mind you – as I do like to believe in something more than just me and thee, as well as in helping others’ wishes come true. Just don’t try yer luck too often wi’ me, laddies and lassies, OK? 😉
Seriously though, that personal experience of bewonderment at all and everything you have been allowed to see in that one glorious moment is truly exhilarating, no matter how you want to explain it. It is something that I feel no one should go through life without once feeling – or perhaps “touching” (if that is the right word).
End of Interlude / Intermission
So, following my little reverie (which she has kindly allowed me to have), she then asks me whether I meditate. Sort of, I reply, and give a rather sheepish account of what I do, occasionally, to shut the rest of the world out and bring the rest – as in peace and quiet – into me.
“Om“, I also say – to which she gives a textbook explanation, that catches me by surprise, about it being the Alpha and the Omega in Sanskrit – the beginning and the end – and a key thing to say when getting oneself into meditational state.
“Ah“, I reply hesitantly – and unwittingly – not realising that that has a special significance in Sanskrit as well, as she duly explains. So perhaps I am an accidental meditator as much as being an accidental pilgrim?
Certainly, as we then discuss (although I must admit to feeling nervous now), it is great to feel that one has gone beyond the plain, ordinary level of being, to being outside the everyday self.
To achieve a good meditational state is like suddenly there is a better feeling, she advises. To go beyond that, to the state of purification that one feels at the end of a pilgrimage, is better than to simply “be alive” – it results in one feeling an ultimate joy, if not closer to God.
“Others, from different backgrounds and cultures, might call it something else”, I state, to put things in perspective, “but I believe that nothing should be taken away from them for feeling that, as there is still something ‘universal’ about it for me”. That’s the best that I can call it without starting to sound too much like I, myself, am preaching (and without even knowing what I am really preaching about!).
My film-maker friend calls it “eternal“. We both agree that it is a feeling of something that connects all of us, and especially with those who have felt it, and that it is something that deserves to be shared with people from all cultures and anywhere – including with those who have never experienced it, but are still happy to chat about it.
Of course, when you are high up in The Himalayas then it could just be a result of being starved of oxygen! Then again, trying to figure things out scientifically is what can be part of the issue in trying to understand that feeling you’ve experienced from finding what you have travelled for, sought and found, or otherwise achieved from simply making the journey. So perhaps, Lhasa or somewhere in Nepal, here I come?
As we come back down to Earth from this sharing of amazing feelings we have each had, and experiences of diverse places that had them in, we come to a mutual agreement that we want to help others with daring to consider going down that path to find and have just one of these moments at some stage in their life – as the beauty of it all, we agree, is that it is something in the end that you want for others too. It is something to be shared, even if the experience is so personal that it cannot be fully explained.
So, at this point in the conversation with the good lady, I am reminded once again (but don’t ask me how or why – lol!) about Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken“, which is from a collection of poems he compiled – perhaps poignantly given setting of The Pilgrim – under the title “Mountain Interval“.
It sums up decisions in taking the road that one did not take, and a lot of what Matt’s Tale (this blog) is now perhaps daring to become more and more about:
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
For me, Robert Frost is aptly describing the difficulty of making the decision to take EITHER path (hence TWO, is deliberately in capitals, at the start), and not just progress down a more well-worn route that others have clearly trod.
The look of those two roads will be different for everyone, based on their own culture, conditioning and upbringing – as will be what they experience at the end of either, but how many will ever return to take the other road in one lifetime if ever? ‘Twill be with a sigh…
To start with in comparing journeys for myself alone, I am looking to learn more about what the difference is with Jonquil’s journey from other journeys I’ve taken and to this one that I am now taking (but just not as far). This will be done through seeing either one of the screenings of her film, either on Sunday, 8th May in Camden bookable online through Alchemy The Centre, or on Sunday 15th May in South Kensington bookable online through Evolve Wellness Centre.
The movie is called The Pilgrim – click on this link to get an idea for yourself from a promo clip. Leave a comment if interested to come along and what day you’d be heading there.
That is one of my fav poems! Yes, it aptly pictures what each of us dace at least once in our lives, often more! Many times my roads have “diverged” and a choice must be made. Ha! I haven’t always made the “right” choice, either, but I’m still here … still walking … still enjoying the view!
That’s good – but then how many return to the road that they did not take to see what they missed? I think that that is what Robert Frost may have been trying to say.
It is also a matter of the period, time and view as to which is the road that is not so well trod, or so I’ve discovered. Back in 1991, the road that appeared popular was the mystical one – which may have led to Camelot, or may not, and was more of a holy grail trail than anything else.
I am now beginning to realise, by contrast with my romantic idealism of the nineties, that perhaps the road not taken, or less travelled, was the one taken by Chaucer’s pilgrims – where the truth is told by one’s fellow travellers that one meets along the way, and not necessarily revealed from seeing the bones of the saint that one has set out to see. No Damascus Road for me, just simply gathering sense from who I meet and what I see (sorry!).
At least, that is what I like to believe Chaucer may have been trying to convey, and especially by using the new popular language of the day (English) rather than Latin or French as would have been used at court.
There is more to tell in one of the blogs I have yet to write, in between snatches and snippets of the insights and wisdom of my fellow travellers that I meet along this way along the road to Canterbury.
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