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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  128                                              Days Blogged: 110

New Mileage: 5                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 904

A Journey of Discovery!

Yesterday my blog was about light, stained glass windows and memories.  It was inspired by the visit to the Morse Museum and the Tiffany stained glass, but also by my interaction with the morning sunlight on my commute to the University.  One of the aspects of my pilgrimage journey that I find so enjoyable is the process of discovery, whether it be searching for pilgrimage sites and discovering places like St. Leo’s Abby, or a Buddhist temple with numerous shrines.  In addition I enjoy the opportunity to meet so many new people from diverse and different places all over the world.  At times I will let myself wander among the faces of my widening friendship circle on Facebook, like I wander a flower garden or museum.  I marvel at what I find around the corner, at my feet or hanging on the wall!

 On numerous occasions I have discovered stunning photographs and inspiring artwork by my Facebook friends.  I see this as one of those gifts that life offers, like taking a walk and listening to beautiful bird songs or seeing an unexpectedly stunning blossom, or being blessed with a sudden insight.

Decision Looms Ahead!

Today I wanted to share the artwork of one of my Facebook friends.  Her name is Jill, she lives in the upstate of South Carolina and among her photos was a “collection” of her recent paintings.  I have never met Jill, but I recognize in her paintings qualities of my own outlook on the world, I recognize the signs of a fellow traveler, a pilgrim on a spiritual journey of discovery.  I found myself spending time simply taking in the colors and the contrast, and finding what was for me profound meaning with respect to life’s journey.  

In one of my earlier postings, (Dec. 2, 2009) I noted the symbolic significance of Bridges, Paths, and Portals.  When I see Jill’s artwork I’m reminded again of analogy of life as a path.  We walk down this path; sometimes we’re alone, sometimes with others.  Sometimes the path is well trodden, like an interstate highway, at other times it’s barely a recognizable trail, like the deer paths I find in the woods on my hikes.  As with any journey there are decision points or places where the path will fork and we have to decide do we turn right or left?  Sometimes the path to the right maybe a steep upward climb, while to the left lays a fast downward track.  Sometimes the path seems to widen, giving one space to roam, other times the path disappears around a bend or behind some trees.

Roads or Rivers... Both are paths!

When I study Jill’s artwork I think of these decisions.  I also think of the fact, as was mentioned in my blog the other day, (Feb. 15 – Looking at Nature Makes You Nicer) that it’s best to stop and smell the roses when you have the opportunity.  It’s best to be aware of nature’s gifts with every step, along the journey.  The decisions, the forks in the road, will greet us but we shouldn’t worry about what’s around the next bend.  As long as we’re prepared to respond, as long as we’re aware of our surroundings and ourselves, when we turn that corner we will face whatever is there.

 I am thankful for artwork like Jill’s I find it to be comforting and familiar.  It captures the “feel good” qualities of nature at the same time it inspires the viewer to look a little closer at their surroundings, to be aware of what’s around us and to take in the big scene at times.  Part of the process of life is finding a balance between looking down, so as to not trip over things, and looking up so we don’t miss the panoramic views.  Life as a journey is not without its dangers (e.g., stumbling stones, potholes, mud on the path) but it is a path lined with a bountiful harvest of gifts (e.g., flowers, artwork, sunlight, and the smiles of friends).  Look up… look down… and enjoy both views!  How many gifts have you found and enjoyed today?

Thank you Jill for letting me share your gifts with our widening circle and keep up the good work!

I vote to follow the flowers around the bend!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  127                                              Days Blogged: 109

New Mileage: 4                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 899

I’m writing today’s blog as I commute to the University. The rising sun heats the left side of my face.  The blazing orb combines with the tall pine trees along the roadside to create cold blue streaks across the gray asphalt.  Yellow ribbons of sunlight set between the streaks flash before my car. 

Spirals of Light - Upward!

Light has long been a source of inspiration for man.  It’s easy to understand why with the predictable systematic rise and fall of its sky bound source.  Its significance is also seen in dancing flames of candles, lanterns that push back darkness and blazing fires that provide a sense of warmth and safety.  If you look at the symbolism of the world’s religions the importance of light is readily apparent whether it’s the halos around saints and saviors, in the spark of divinity within all living things, or in the rainbow of chakra colors running from the base of the spine to the top of our head.

Tiffany Panel

Today we’re visiting a pilgrimage site, an art museum, where light plays a special significance.  We are visiting The Charles Hosmer Morris Museum of American Art in Winter Park Florida.  This museum is described as being home to one of the most comprehensive collections of Louis Comfort Tiffany glass artwork.  Tiffany has been described as the American artist most associated with the Art Nouveau and Aesthetic art movements. He started as a painter but is best known for his work with glass.  He designed stained glass windows, lamps, blown glass, jewelry and ceramics.  Much of the collection was housed for years at a small Florida college until the completion of its current museum building. Perhaps the heart of the collection is the Tiffany’s chapel interior he designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  The chapel now occupies an entire wing of the museum building. In addition to Tiffany’s work the museum also a major collection of American art pottery and late-19th and erly-20th century American paintings.

Tiffany Chapel

I have always been drawn to Tiffany’s windows and artwork.  Perhaps it speaks to my religious roots.  Having been raised as a Roman Catholic I grew up enraptured as sunlight streams through the colored glass windows of the various churches I attended.  My interest was not centered on the image within the window whether a specific saint, Mary or Christ.  My attraction toward the windows was about the intensity, vibrancy and contrast of the colors. Long after I had moved on to a different spiritual path, I still found myself drawn to stained glass windows.   And I still enjoy an occasional visit to Catholic and Episcopal churches to see the stained glass offerings. 

Tiffany Tree of Life!

I understand the significance these windows played in the early church when the vast majority of the parishioners were illiterate. The experience of the church building must have been particularly impressive for these simple folk.  Imagine being welcomed into the darkened chambers by the echoes of chanting monks or the angelic voices of the choir filling the expansive domed rafters as light from the stained glass windows streaming down in colored majesty.  All of this must have given these sites a profound sense of being a special sacred place, a place touched by the divine.

I hope you enjoyed today’s site visit as we prepare to head toward the coast.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  99                                        Days Blogged: 93 

New Mileage: 12                                                         Total Trip Mileage: 763

As I climb on the bike this morning I am I thinking about the pilgrimage site we will be visiting today; The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg Florida.  It represents the first time we have visited what I call an Artistic Site.  You might ask how artwork or an entire art museum can represent a spiritual destination.  One way in which artwork might meet this distinction would be if the art in question was of a religious nature, such as an exhibition of medieval church art or African tribal masks. The second way is that the site might display artwork that represents an artist’s spiritual journey.  It might highlight transitions or changes in the artist’s work as they grappled with spiritual questions.

Dali: A work of Art!

Columbus Discovers the New World

Today’s site represents this second approach as it highlights aspects of Dali’s unfolding spirituality.  Dali is certainly an intriguing character and first gained fame prior to war II as a representative of the Surrealism movement in art.  Surrealism is defining as a literary and artistic movement influenced by writer and poet Andre Breton and his interpretation of Sigmund Freud’s work on dreams and the unconscious mind. Surrealistic artists, like Dali, attempted to paint the ‘reality’ of their dreams, which they saw as more ‘real’ than the reality of the everyday world.  He is most famous for his works featuring melting time pieces and figures.  A review of a Dali’s biography indicates that his artwork went through a number of shifts and changes.  He started with the Impressionist and Cubist styles then joined the Surrealist movement.  He had a falling out with Breton and other surrealist painters before moving to the United States from Europe to avoid World War II.  It was at this time that he entered what would be called his “classical period.”   He began a series of 19 large canvases, many of them focused on scientific, historical or religious themes. Shortly after returning to Europe in the late 1940s he announced his conversion to Catholicism and promised: “My paintings in the future will be an amalgam of my Surrealist experience and the classicism of the Pre-Raphaelites and Renaissance.” 

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

I was unable to find specific references to the reason for this transformation in his personal life, however,  I suspect that he, like many artists and writers, struggled to “make sense” of the world after World War II. The devastation of Europe and the Holocaust had a profound effect on many people. Questions about the meaning of life lead some people to even question whether God existed or was in fact “dead.”  Others return to their church roots and/or became fascinated with the proliferation of new scientific discoveries. One biographer noted that that Dali showed a particular interest in the area of nuclear physics, perhaps struck by the power of the atom and the nuclear bombs that fell upon Japan. His interest in science is evidenced by his painting honoring Crick and Watson, the founders of DNA.  His shift to religious themes is evidenced by his paintings: “Temptations of St. Anthony,” or “Christ of Saint John of the Cross,” or the “Last Supper.”  There was some evidence of religious conflict as seen in his drawing: “Sometimes I Spit for Pleasure on the Portrait of my Mother,” where he painted the words over an outline of the Christ of the Sacred Heart.

 Like many artists and writers I get questions from people about the creative process, where it comes from and what role it can play in our life.  I see the creative process as a powerful spiritual process.  Our creative efforts can be a representation of what we already believe, where our beliefs guide the process of choosing and creating symbols.  At other times the process of discovery guides the unfolding artwork and the artist can be just as shocked and awed, as any viewer, at the symbolic outcome.  I’ve had people look at my artwork and excitedly proclaim what they see; I often smile and thank them for their observation, because now I see more complexity and more meaning in the work myself.

Christ of St. John of the Cross

 I suspect that Salvador Dali’s work falls into both of these categories.  Some are likely reflections of his conversion to Catholicism, while others reflect his personal process of discovery and may act as a mirror for the viewer to conduct their own personal exploration. I suspect that really good art does both.  You may see what you already know and feel comfortable with, or you may see new things that raise questions and open doors onto a new reality.  The creative process, like any pilgrimage or journey, has the potential to inspire and clarify as well as the potential to raise disquieting questions and undermine our belief system.  If all life is a journey, we have no choice but to live it, to continue our process of discovery!

Sometimes I spit on my MotherPlease click on the pilgrimage site tab to find in webpage information concerning the Salvador Dali Museum webpage.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  87                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 88 

Today’s Mileage: 6                                              Total Trip Mileage: 711

I believe that an ability to laugh at yourself and your life circumstances is a key to a long and happy life.  As I ride the bike this evening I found myself chuckling at the comments of several friends.  They were speaking of my decision to scale back on the daily blog postings to only three a week to free up time for work and other interests.  I continue to ride the bike daily, and search for pilgrimage sites. These individuals all stated some variation of “well it’s about time!”

This is not the first time in my life that I’ve made a decision and then had family or friends announce that they had silently been “hoping and praying” that I would change course. When I asked them why they waited till then they noted: “because you were not ready!” How often I have personally used that same phrase with clients and friends.  We all undertake activities with some goal in mind, and become immersed in the process and dance of the activity, diving in deeper and spinning faster.  Others watch, sometimes with amazement and or concern, wondering how long you can keep up the pace or the depth of commitment.

 Life is a process and our goals must constantly be tweaked and sometimes may demand significant shifts in direction and intensity.  I have met alot of wonderful people in my expanding circle of blog readers, and I look forward to continuing to reach out to join with other sincere spiritual seekers and pilgrims. My youngest son commented the other day” “Dad you are pretty serious about this blog.”  I laughed and told him that I hoped there would be a day, somewhere in the future, when he might sit down and read my thoughts.  That he might gain some insights into his father and perhaps some insights into himself. 

This got me thinking about an issue that is important to anyone who creates.  I mentioned in one of my first postings that if you are a writer, artist or poet the most common form of feedback you get is no feedback at all!  You must have faith that your efforts will bear fruit and that it will bring insights, recognition, accolades, or whatever it is that you seek. Hopefully these efforts will have a positive impact on your own journey and dance, and perhaps the journey and dance of others.  I wrote a poem several years ago as I returned from a nature walk in which I pondered how my efforts would be greeting upon my return home to my family.

Can you blame them?

It’s the Donuts

Heading home

   Another walk ended.

Images on film,

   Words on tape.

Does it matter

   To anyone?

No not really!

Well perhaps

   The geese

      Whom I disturbed.

It’s the donuts,

   Bagged and resting

      On my car seat,

Which will be

   Remembered by those

      At home.

Maybe later,

   Days or years

      Into the future,

The images and words

   Of my passage

      Will inspire and delight.

But for now

   It’s the donuts,

      With glossy sweet surfaces,

         That will satisfy their hunger.

Protective parents are easily disturbed!

I never really lamented the fact that my creative efforts were not embraced by my two young sons or a wife preoccupied with the demands of motherhood. I had faith that a time and circumstance would arise, in my lifetime or afterwards, when these efforts would “touch and reverberate” with others. In addition to having faith that your creative efforts will somehow matter, you also have to “set the bar” with respect to how you will judge success.  Is it fame, or fortune, or seeing your work on a museum wall or bound in a book that will signify success? The following poem written on a nature walk in 1997 summarizes my thoughts on the matter:

 If I created a work of art, a poem, or a story

That touched a multitude of souls,

That became a timeless classic,

That would be nice.

 

If I created a work of art, a poem, or a story

That touched crowds of people,

That brought standing ovations and fame,

That would be great.

 

If I created a work of art, a poem, or a story

That touched a handful of people,

That connected them with each other

   And the natural world,

That would be tremendous.

 

If I created a work of art, a poem, or a story

That touched a single soul,

That helped them through their day

   And added meaning to their life,

Then all my efforts have been worth it.

I trust that most of you will recognize that with this posting and the presentation of these poems, my faith has been justified.  I hope you the reader find the images and words of my passage to be inspiring and delightful.  If it touched you then my efforts have been worthwhile!  Have a wonderful day… I’ll be back on Saturday.

The most important audience for our future... the children!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  81                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 82

Today’s Mileage: 6                                              Total Trip Mileage: 677

I’m not riding my stationary bike as I dictate today’s posting. I will climb on it later. As I noted yesterday, some days I feel the need to walk. Today I felt the need to start a fire to burn off some of the dead branches and trees I thinned out over the summer.  I’m walking in the woods along the river thinking about yesterday and my visit to the High Art Museum in Atlanta. I enjoyed the smorgasbord of artistic images.  We started our visit in the European wing of the building.  The show featured a number of Renaissance era paintings and as might be expected, most of them had religious themes.  The Madonna and Christ child were popular topics.

Contemplating Nothingness!

This got me thinking about the connection between art and spirituality.  Art historians and anthropologists might argue that the two have always gone hand in hand.  The prehistoric cave painting and objects found in early burial sites clearly had spiritual meaning and significance to members of ancient communities and cultures.  These early artists were as much “craftsman” as they were what we would now call artists.  Huston Smith in his book The World’s Religion, notes that in the early primal or earth based tradition such as the American Indians: “there is no word for art, because to Indians everything is art.  Equally, everything is, in its way religious.”  There was no distinction between secular and sacred objects. A cave painting, a weapon, a bowl or spoon; all had spiritual significance for there was no dualistic division of the spiritual world from the mundane world. When the world and its objects all contained the divine and were interconnected, there were no distinctions between object, function and creator. All were intertwined.

Does it Bite?

Prior to the Renaissance in Western Europe, all art was tied to spiritual themes such as the old and new testaments or the ancient myths of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.  This was to be expected because the church was the primary consumer of art with its need for icons and symbolism to present beliefs and teachings to an uneducated mass of followers.  The church, meaning the Catholic Church, dictated what was defined as art and what was defined as heresy. With the arrival of the rich mercantile and powerful aristocratic classes art work broke free of religious oversight and control.  Art became eventually what we know it to be today, both functional art and art for “art’s sake” (i.e. the artist’s needs and desires). 

Hurry get a Nail!

Turn on the TV or open a magazine and you will see functional art used for the purpose of commerce.  Watch a political rally, like the recent tea bag events, and you will see art used as an emotional “call to arms” (e.g. Obama drawn with a Hitler mustache; or a cartoon of Mohammad as a mad bomber) to inflame emotions or steel a group’s resolve.

Where do you want this?

Art has also come to serve an individual purpose for the artist and/or the viewer.  It becomes a means for the artist to explore their beliefs and attitudes and  to make a statement about their view of reality.  As such, it may convey a sense of connection if that is what the artist “knows,” or a sense of anger and disconnect, if that is what they are experiencing.

The denial of saint Peter

One of the religious paintings I studied for some time, scribbling my thoughts into my pocket notebook was Nicholas Tournier: The Denial of Saint Peter, painted in 1630.  The painting presents the story of Peter’s denial of his relationship to Christ. The size and lighting of the figures makes it an imposing and powerful image. I was struck at how this painting points to a simple fact of human nature. Understanding is always embedded in the current world view!  The painting is populated by Peter, a pair of accusers, and a group of disinterested Roman soldiers playing dice.  I read the description twice to make sure they were noted as Roman soldiers.  I smiled and shook my head because the soldiers bore no Roman style uniforms or weapons!  Several wore armor that was common during the European middle ages.  Obviously the artist used images and items that the viewers of his time could identify with!  However, it was interesting to note that only the figure of Peter wears facial hair and a garment close to what might have been worn in Christ’s time.  Why would the artist make it easy for the viewer to identify with the accusers and uninterested soldiers and not the Apostle Peter?  I’m sure some religious historian would have a lot to say to that question.

It ain't heavy its artwork!

Why bring this up you might ask?  Because what fits for artwork, it’s “rootedness” in a particular time and place, also fits for literature, even for sacred scriptures.  Academic careers can be based on the study of the meaning of a particular symbol, word or phrase, especially if the words have gone through repeated translations or the symbol survives an illiterate “lost” culture. Some individuals and faith communities, recognizing this fact, have abandoned sacred scriptures and ancient myths.  They embrace the revelations of the present, the mystical experience arising moment-to-moment. More traditional approaches embrace the words and symbol of the sacred stories and the idea that the meaning will be revealed through study and contemplation. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses and both use art in different ways.

Who ordered the large slice?

What did I enjoy most about my visit to the museum?  What I enjoyed most was interacting with the art! The images were thought provoking and I appreciated their beauty. I apologized to the museum guards who looked puzzled, and to the young art history major who looked askew at my irreverent actions and attitude.  I took the art and made it a part of “the moment,” we had a relationship and became a larger work of art!  My partner laughed and the art said nothing.  I carried images of this interaction with me when I left, the images I now share with you.

I didn't do it, nobody saw me, you can't prove anything!

My suggestion to my readers: create art if you are so inclined.  Appreciate and study art when you are given the opportunity.  Find a way to have a relationship with art.  For whether it is inspired by some celestial deity, or a product of some divine creative process which is God, it is always a gift!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  80                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 81

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 671

Do you ever have one of those mornings when you wake early and feel the need to take a walk to help clear you mind, still the swirl of voices, the struggle of feelings?  I had one of those this morning. 

I got up, threw on my jacket and gloves and retrieved my Dictaphone from the car.  As I walked up the street I found the swirling struggle of thoughts and feelings did not diminish!  The Dictaphone would not record and produced only a loud whine.  I pocketed it, deciding that perhaps I was meant to walk and just “be with” nature.  While the stars twinkled overhead, a biting north wind chilled me to the bone.  I chastised myself, as someone who had survived delivering papers in Dakota winters, the howling Alaskan winds and Antarctic storms, I could certainly put up with a chilly breeze. This idea of a walk, was just not working!  I turned around, picked up my pace and a short time later I had returned to the warmth of my studio.

Nine Eleven Taoist Walking Stick

As I ride the bike this morning I have no clear idea of what to blog about.  Yesterday I spoke about the need to sometimes just “be” in the moment.  I can do “just being” quite well when I’m surrounded by nature, standing in front of a fire, or walking in the woods.  I have heard the call of nature as it is the source of much of my creativity (e.g. my nature poems, wall hangings, and artwork) and provides a calming and peaceful respite.  It is a pull that can become so strong it leads people to becoming hermits and mountain men to retreat from human contact.

The Webfooted Taoist Walking Stick

I have heard the call and pull toward relationships with other people.  I have found great joy and pride as a parent watching their child explore, grow and become their own person.  I have felt the intense passion shared by lovers, felt the intense need to seek out friends for conversation during both moments of great joy and deep despair.  I have felt the joy and satisfaction of guiding and mentoring others through “rough times.”  I have also seen and felt the costs of relationships with others.  I have experienced the heart wrenching pain of a parent watching a child “crash and burn.”  I felt frustration as I watched friends and patients make poor choices that destroyed and damaged their lives, their health, and the lives of their loved ones. I have looked into pained and pleading eyes with little to offer.

I have heard the call of the divine, experienced its presence in the world around me, in the people I meet and deep within my being. I have met people who live their faith in positive life affirming ways and act as models for the rest of us.  I have met people who appear to have no relationship with the divine but find meaning in their possessions and accomplishments. I have known people whose relationship with the divine fed their sense of importance and self-righteousness but acted as a wedge between them and others. 

"Bare to the Bones" Taoist Walking Stick

I truly believe for me, the best route is the middle way, a balance between the moment-to-moment gifts of nature and the sometimes joyful dance and often frustrating struggle with human relationships. I have come to realize that relationships should never be easy or at least not all the time.  Good relationships (e.g. child, parent, teacher, lover, and friend) should challenge us to grow.  Growth should be the underlying process, such that good parents should grow with their parenting, good teachers should grow with their teaching, good bloggers should grow with their blogging.

The "Waterstick" Taoist Walking Stick

As we approach the New Year, it is customary to take stock of the outgoing year, to congratulate ourselves for our accomplishments, and resolve to work on our short comings. It is a good time to think about growth!  I will in the coming week steer my bike back onto our virtual path across Florida. I will be unveiling a “retooled” pilgrimage site page and map for my blog.  I look forward to our continuing journey into 2010 and the growth it offers!

The Taoist Walking Sticks are wall hangings I construct out of material and items I find on my nature hikes.  The examples shown included: stick, roots, feathers, deer bones, turtle bones and shell fragments, and remenants of a tattered flag.

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Pilgrimage Statistics  

Consecutive Days Riding:  79                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 80  

Today’s Mileage: 6                                              Total Trip Mileage: 667  

I don’t know what it is today but I find it difficult to do anything but simple tasks.  Ride the bike, build a fire and take a nap.  Perhaps the fact that we are only three days away from a new year, the ending of one cycle and the beginning of a new weights on me.  Perhaps like old man time I am feeling the effects of an eventful year.  Perhaps the fact that in nine days I will be sending my oldest son, a young man of eighteen, off to the military and very likely war weights on me. Perhaps the fact that I spent part of the morning speaking to a youth concerned for a friend’s life or death struggles and I could, even with all my training, offer little advice or direction.  Perhaps I need to let myself just experience, just feel, “just be” in the moment.   

As I searched on Christmas Eve for family photos I came across a piece I wrote a number of years ago.  Perhaps now is a good time to share it:  

Just Is  

The sage’s measured pace came to a halt  

He bent slowly at the waist  

Till his fingers touched the flower petals  

Softly so as to not disturb  

The blossom’s beauty  

He smiled  

And stood erect  

His eyes moved skyward  

Towards the haphazard pattern of blue sky  

Silhouetted by the dark pine branches  

Drawing a deep breath  

He moved slowly forward  

As if each step  

Was measured and noted  

Drawing of a young teen!

The young girl  

An early teen  

Stood watching the sage  

She turned towards the approaching stranger  

He bore a puzzled look and asked  

“Is that the sage I hear so much about?”  

“Yap!” The girl exclaimed with a smile.  

The stranger stared for a long moment  

As the sage’s movement stopped  

As he studied something at his feet  

Among the clutter of dried oak leaves  

Pine needles and human trash  

“What is he doing?”  

“Probably nothing!” stated the girl with a quizzical look.  

“Where is he going?”  

“Probably nowhere!” she noted.  

The sage raised his head  

As he gazed off  

At the horizon  

At the wall of trees  

And flowering azalea bushes  

“What is he like,” asked the stranger?  

The young girl looked puzzled  

And then smiled  

As if she suddenly realized  

She knew a secret  

“He just is!”  

She giggled and bolted forward  

Reaching the sage  

She circled about him with a laugh  

Took his hand and skipped  

As they continued down the path  

The stranger watched for a long moment  

Before he checked his watch  

And moved towards the parking lot  

Towards his plans, his schedules  

His responsibilities, his meaningful life!  

****  

I hope you enjoyed todays posting, a break from the usual fare.  Tomorrow we return to the journey as we near several new pilgrimage sites!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  74                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 75

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 640

We are such ritual creatures, or at least I’m speaking for myself.  I love my morning coffee, like a Zen monk cherishes his “tea ritual.”  I savor the warmth of the cup, the aromatic steam rising above the rim, and the pungent favor of the first sip. Even before the caffeine has a chance to enter my system I already feel the invigorating effects of the ritual.  What has also become a common component of my routine is for Susan to ask me: “So what are you going to blog about today?”  I sometimes feel that she is asking in the hope that I will report it is already done, “in the can” as they use to say when making movies. My most common response is: “don’t know yet!” 

Andy Goldsworthy's Maple Leaves Arrangement

Andy Goldsworthy's Ice Spiral

I would like to feel that I have joined a very prestigious circle of artists, poets and writers, who simply open themselves to the creative process and watch with amazement as the gifts- the ideas, images, words, topics- stream pass  like a smorgasbord. I am reminded of a scene from a documentary called, Rivers and Tides: Working with Time, which chronicled one day in the life of Scottish Land Artist Andy Goldsworthy.  He creates wonderful images using natural materials he finds on his walks along the Scottish countryside and streams.  In one scene he prepares to leave the house when his wife asks: “What are you working on today?”  He responds that he doesn’t know!  He never does. He lets the gifts he finds in nature such as dandelion blossoms, sticks and stones, colorful leafs and icicles guide the process of creating his artwork. You might label these as gifts from the creative muse, or from nature, or from the divine.  To me it doesn’t matter where they come from, what matters is how you honor these gifts and what you do with them!  I am blessed to benefit from this same process of receiving gifts, whether the medium I am working with is artistic images, poetic words, or blog topics.

“For me looking, touching, material, place and form are all inseparable from the resulting work. It is difficult to say where one stops and another begins. Place is found by walking, direction determined by weather and season. I take the opportunity each day offers: if it is snowing, I work in snow, at leaf-fall it will be leaves; a blown over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches.” Andy Goldsworthy

Yesterday I challenged Dr. Krauthammer, the nationally syndicated political columnist to exercise self-reflection more than once every 25 years. I have decided to hold up the mirror of self-reflection on myself today, in particular on the source of my blog topics.  After a mental review of the 75 blogs I have so far produced, I propose to place them into four groups based on the source that stimulated their creation.  You could even call this the beginnings of a Mandala of my Pilgrimage Journey.  A Mandala is a visual meditative and teaching devise used in many of the eastern faiths.  Its basic structure is a circle divided into four quadrants. But more about that in a future blog!

Andy Goldsworthy's Stone Creation

The first group would include those blogs stimulated by the images I retrieve off the internet, representing what we would see if we were actually riding our journey’s  meandering route.  We started in Key West and today we ride near Tampa Florida.  These images included wildlife, nature scenes and incredible beach sunsets.  The second group includes ideas cued from news reports of current local and world events.  Sometimes they have a clear spiritual significance, like the changes in Americans religious beliefs and practices, other times it might be a tragic event that calls for our prayers. The third group is comprised of topics stimulated by comments from friends, students, and visitors to my blog as well as well as memories of my childhood.  Several of my recent blogs including the Christmas Branch story fits into this group. The fourth group would include my reactions to the specific pilgrimage sites we visit on our journey.  I carry the images of the Holocaust Memorial of Miami with me every day.  I flash back to these  whenever I see or hear of suffering in my immediate circle of friends, or of strangers in my community, across the nation or in the world.

I am blessed to receive many gifts on a daily basis, not the least of which are these sources of inspiration.  A friend recently asked me: “Why do you do this?”  I’m not sure if they meant why do I blog, or why do I reach out to others as a therapist, teacher, parent and friend.

Andy Goldsworthy's Cracked Rock Spiral

In a simple way I desire to have an effect on the world. I hope to leave the world a better place than I found it.  I hope to add my little ripple, my passions for peace and connectedness to the fabric of life.  I desire to add my ripple to the ripples of others creating a wider circle, a larger wave, a force for positive change.  Perhaps we will ultimately dash ourselves against the impenetrable stone fortress of anger, hatred, bigotry, despair and diverseness.  None of us know what the future holds!  But at least we will have tried and I will have left a model for my sons and students of involvement in fighting the good fight and of caring enough to try.

To view more of Andy Goldsworthy’s work and read about his philosophy please visit: http://www.rwc.uc.edu/artcomm/web/w2005_2006/maria_Goldsworthy/TEST/index.html.  Have a wonderful day, stay warm!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  57                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 58

Today’s Mileage:   10                                          Total Trip Mileage: 512

Today we are heading up Fort Myers beach and will soon turn inland toward our next pilgrimage site. Tomorrow is a special religious day for the Buddhists and a celebration of an important Christian doctrine, the Immaculate Conception.  The following day will represent our two month anniversary on the Pilgrimage journey!

Fallen Giant with exposed roots

As I ride, a specific image hovers in my mind.  Yesterday we strolled along the beach at Lovers Key celebrating the shoreline and the beauty of nature.  One photo displayed a line of dead trees. I called it “Shoreline Sentinels.”  What I did not post was a photo of a tree that had been uprooted.  This scene got me thinking about trees and their spiritual significance. 

Symbolic for many faiths.

Trees have been used as symbols for individuals, communities, and churches.  The roots are the anchor, embedded deep in whatever substrate (dogma) the church holds as truth (sacred scripture and/or sacred experiences). Trees without strong roots might not thrive being prone to fall over in times of  stress in life.  The trunk of the tree must be strong and sturdy, like the structure of a church (leadership, buildings,mission).  A thin or rotten trunk may give way and split in the face of life’s storms. The branches and leaves provide protection from the heat and rain. They capture the light of the divine, transforming it into life giving sustenance (fruit). A sick or diseased tree will not provide fruit or shade and may become little more than a skeleton.  It is easy to see why some of the early earth based wisdom traditions actually worshiped trees. Trees provided shade, shelter and sustenance and were recognized as central to their lives.  Many faiths see in the tree a symbol for the wisdom needed to survive in challenging times.

Shaped by stone and flexability.

 Once a mighty tree falls over, whether at the hands of nature or of man, we are afforded a rare opportunity to see signs of a monumental struggle which all too often goes unnoticed! I became aware of this struggle years ago as I would hike around the “clear cut” areas of southern rural forest land.  In forming their lumbering roads the large metal monster machines would push aside trees stumps exposing the hidden root structures.  I learned to come back a year or two later, after the rains had done their job and the delicate roots lay exposed, the thin root bark peeling away. 

Bonsai Roots!

Swirl and flow.

When the soil was rocky the roots took on the quality of water!  Like a stream or river, rocks did not stop the roots but instead diverted the root’s “flow.”  Roots would become stunted and twisted, sometimes forming a bulb or a disk.  If you pulled away the loose bark you might find swirls and eddies etched into the wood, like fossilized patterns of flowing water. We tend to take it for granted that the tree’s struggle is with the elements above the ground, the wind, fire, lack of rain, insects like the pine beetle and crowding of neighbors. From the moment the seed sends out its first root, the struggle between life and the inanimate world begins and continues till the inanimate world wins!

Old man with tablet!

Several years ago in a shop featuring items from China, I came upon a piece of artwork.  Into a tree root had been carved the figure of an old Chinese man.  It was one of several different root carvings in the store.  However, this one was special, for embedded deep within the wood protruded a square rock, like a book or tablet.  The natural curve of the wood, like the old man’s arm, cradled this inanimate object like it was a sacred text.  I purchased it on the spot!

Recently when I visited the store they remembered me as the guy “who bought the carving with the stone.” It’s a powerful image and symbol!

It makes a statement about the constant, even if unseen struggles of life.  It speaks to the need for persistence and flexibility in meeting life’s challenges.  Obstacles can strength us, impediments can be incorporated into our structure, even in death we can be a source of wisdom about the process of life. This is the “wisdom of the wood.”

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 48                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 49

Today’s Mileage:  10                                        Total Trip Mileage: 419

 

Holidays and Holy Days on November 26:

Waqf al ArafaIslamic observance day during Hajj when pilgrims pray for forgiveness and mercy.

Day of the CovenantBaha’i celebration of the covenant given in the last will and testament of Baha’u’llah

Holidays and Holy Days on November 27:

Eid al-AdhaIslamic Feast of Sacrifice. The most important feast of Islam. It concludes the Hajj and is a three-day festival recalling Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to Allah.

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I hope that everyone has recovered from the Thanksgiving Day feasting!  I would like to start off by apologizing to my Muslim and Baha’i friends for failing to note the significant Holy Days associated with yesterday.  I was preoccupied with getting my posting up so my mother could see it as she visited my sister’s gathering.  I would also like to ask everyone to hold the Hajj pilgrims in your prayers. There has been severe flooding in Saudi Arabia and a many pilgrims have died.

As I ride the bike today and note the mileage and calorie count climb, I am reminded of the simple truth about journeys. One might take a break to replenish supplies and energy, but then you have to get back on the road or risk being overwhelmed with the urge to sit “just a little while longer.”  It felt good to indulge in a feast of celebration but it feels good to return to my bike and the pilgrimage.

I decided to use today’s posting to address an issue I left unfinished from the beginning of this journey.  What the meaning and significance of my Pilgrim Symbol?  During this holiday season I am sure there have been a number of shocked and puzzled individuals who have goggled the term” Pilgrim” expecting to see hats with buckles and the Mayflower.  Instead they found this strange, reclined humanlike figure surrounded by a multitude of foreign symbols. I know this is the case as this aspect of my Blog site is the most consistently reviewed by outside searches! Perhaps it’s time I reveal the meaning of the symbols I used to create the image. 

The Human Form:

1)      Reclining human form – this is representative of the stationary aspect of my journey and the fact that my bike is one you recline into rather than sit perched on the seat.

2)      The contrasting halves to the human form – this is representative of the dualistic experience we often have of our physical body.  It is the source of pleasure (light) and pain (dark), we often celebrate it as the vehicle on our journey but then curse it for the desires associated with it.  The whole mind/body or physical/spirit dilemma is wrapped up in this dualism.

3)      The Yin Yang symbol – this is the Chinese symbol pointing to the illusion of dualism, that they are forces locked into an eternal spinning dance.  In addition, within each region is the seed of the other.  If you look close enough at Life you will find that Death often prepared the way for it. The purpose of this symbol is to pull the viewer out of this illusion to see both as part of a process. Reality is about the dance between life and death, between good and evil, it transcends these dualities. This insight represents an important part of my intellectual philosophy which is why it comprises the figures’ head.

The Wheel: literally represents the wheel of my bike, but is full of symbolic meaning. 

4)      Ouroboros: The snake grasping it’s tail – is a symbol in many early faiths for the cyclical nature of things; the eternal return as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end, like a day or the seasons. The importance of seeing our journey as a series of cycles embedded within each other represents a personal insight that helps me to “keep things in perspective.”

5)      The Zen Circle – represents the entire universe in a single, perfect stroke.  Although simple, it is difficult to paint successfully and thus must be done with a clear mind focused on the task. This reminds me to always strive for mindfulness!

6)      The Buddhist Eight Spoked Wheel – one of the early symbols of Buddhism, it represents the Eight Fold Path, the path towards Enlightment.  Each spoke represents one of the “right” forms of wisdom, ethical conduct and moral development. My youngest son was quick to point out to me that some of the spokes do not touch the outer part of the wheel.  I noted that this indicates that I fall short of following the dictates of all of the spokes.

7)      The Compass Points – are represented by the horizontal and vertical spokes embedded within the circle. A reminder to always check our “bearings,” to look up from our path to ensure that we still on the desired path and not lost.

8)      The Quadrants of a Mandala – the horizontal and vertical spokes also divide the circle into quarters. The teaching Mandala of the eastern faiths (i.e. The Buddhist Wheel of Life) typically has as a structure of a circle divided into four components. This reminds me that parts of the cycles of life may look and feel significantly different, but if you step back, you will see them as part of the whole.

      The Staff: my actual staff is not nearly so straight, but sturdy and bent like the back of an old man.

9)      The Walking Stick – pilgrims throughout the world are often seen with a staff as they prod along on their journey.  As a hiker I can attest to the usefulness of a walking stick; to test the ground before us, to lean on and to anchor us as we climb up and down the ridges and peak along the path.  One of my artist endeavors are Taoist Walking Sticks, wall hangings made from sticks, roots, bones, seeds and feathers.  I find these things on my hikes and nature walks.

A Taoist Wlaking Stick by StationaryPilgrim

A Taoist Walking Stick by StationayPilgrim

10)  Grasping the Staff – the reclining figure holds the staff as a reminder that we can’t make this journey alone, we need support at times, whether that be in the form of words of guidance, encouragement or just a hug to lighten the emotional load.

11)  The Cross – the universal symbol of Christianity.  A symbol of sacrificial love and redemption, a reminder of the “devotional” path to the divine.  For me personally it is also a reminder of my Christian roots, the years of Catholic education continue to form a part of my supportive foundations.

12)  The Prayer Flag Banner – I have talked before about the use of prayer flags in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.  This is a reminder that we carry with us the needs and struggles of those we love know and meet along our path; that every step we take, all of our actions serve to “flutter” the prayer flag, sending these offerings of praise and prayers of request to “the heavens.” Whether in good or difficult times, we should remember those we carry with us.

       The Top of the Staff: The source of illumination and direction

13)  The Chalice and Flame – the symbol for my Unitarian Universalist faith.  Holding high the light of pluralism, love, understanding and acceptance. For me this represents the shared communal knowledge that helps to light my way.

14)  The Godhead – one of the most sacred symbols of Hinduism is the Sacred Om.  It represents not only the sacred sound (mantra), but is a visual symbol of the various states of consciousness (waking, sleeping, dreaming and God consciousness).  In the upper part of the symbol is a small point (consciousness of God) that is separated from the other forms of consciousness.  The consciousness of God is not found outside of us, although it maybe perceived as being outside, but deep within us.  However, our realization of this fact is blocked by or identification with our body and ego. Placed at the top of the staff, it is a reminder of the mystical knowledge and experience that continues to fuel my journey and provide an inner source of light.

15)  Neptune’s Trident or Hindu Trihsula – one viewer noted that the upper portion of the staff appeared to be a trident; a water symbol and representative of creativity.  I hadn’t seen this till she pointed it out, highlighting that symbolic images are always interpreted through the viewers’ eyes and experiences.  In the Hindu faith, this is symbolic of the irresistible force of transcendental reality and of the three powers: Will, Action and Wisdom.  I cannot look at the image now without seeing the trident, representative perhaps of my Zodiac water sign (Pisces) and my expanding creativity.

       Background Features: I did not include these features initially but added them as I began the Pilgrimage recognizing them as important to the process of the journey.

16)  The Disappearing Tracks – the tire and staff tracks; we should travel through life aware of the marks we leave of our passage.  I believe the most important traces are not great monuments, but are how we touch others, hopefully in positive loving ways. Also, I think it goes without saying, we should not leave any road kill (victims) along our path!

17)  The Sky, Mountains, and Water – one of the defining features of Taoism is its use of nature to illustrate the lessons and process of life. An openness and admiration of nature (the growth/beauty and death/ugliness) allows the messages and insights to come to us, and promote the possibility of Nature Mystical Experience.

18)   The Road or Pathway – we are all on a path, heading somewhere.  Some people like a populated path, other prefer one “less travelled.” Some people want a mapped out path, others prefer to make their own. Some people choose the smoothest they can find, others like to “mountain bike” it.  Existentialists believe that we must find our own meaning or purpose in life, that meaning defines our path.  Being a teacher, parent, artist, lover, blogger gives my life meaning. Our meaning has to conform to life’s challenges, like growing old, but it is largely a matter of choice! We choose our path and we can always choose to change it!

One last note before I leave this discussion, concerning the difference between signs and symbols.  Generally speaking signs are denotive, they represent an object or direction. Like a wheelchair figure on the handicap sign or the “danger” message of the skull and cross bones.  Where as symbols are more connotive, they are meant to arouse emotions and maybe representative of something else. Like a swastika, which is a Hindu sign of peace that now evokes a sense of “evil” in the western world. Some signs and symbols have a universal quality and have meaning easily recognized by different cultures, others are unique and a person must “learn” the meaning of the sign or the appropriate emotions and ideas associated with a symbol.

My Pilgrim’s Symbol is meant to be connotive and arouse emotions and thoughts in the viewer.  You may see what I had intended, or as represented by the trident example, you might see things I had not intended.  Are you wrong and I’m right?  No!  I believe that useful symbols allow a person to see what they need to see, present them with some lesson/thought for them to process.  I would only ask the viewer to take an open approach to the experience of the symbol.  If you see more meanings then I noted these are potentially useful personal insights!  If you pull back in horror or out of rejection, these are potentially insightful personal reactions!

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