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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  173                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 158

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1149

Mother with Child

I am composing this posting as I sit in the memorial garden at my church on a beautiful sunny Sunday.  I would like to wish my mother (Rose Ann) a wonderful Mother’s Day; she is half the country away but will be spending it with one of my sisters.  As I have recently dealt with the transition of “letting go” of my eldest son as he enters the US Army I have often thought of my mother and the fact that she went through this six times!  I have such a deeper appreciation for what she must have gone through across a span of ten years. Thanks mom… I love you!

As I sit here wrapped in the beauty and inspiration of Mother Nature, I find myself thinking about the universality of the mother archetype.  She shows up in all cultures across all of recorded history.  Yesterday I came across an appropriate Indian saying: “All women in this world are forms of the Goddess.”

Migrant Mother

According to some belief systems motherhood is not the only or most important archetypical phase a women goes through in her lifetime.  Some authors within the Wiccan/Druid systems speak of three distinct female archetypes.  Not all women will experience all three over the course of their lifetime, some choose to halt the progressive unfolding of this archetypical journey, while others are blocked or forbidden to express them by their culture or society.

These are sometimes called the “Triple Goddesses:” 1) The Maiden or Virgin – an independent women who is enticing and filled with energy and passion; 2) The Mother – a women who embodies fertility and growth while displaying tenacity, protectiveness, and resourcefulness; 3) The Crone – the wise old women who embodies independence, resourcefulness, and life knowledge.

Rose Ann from Maiden to Mother

Some women move graciously from one phase to the next, while others struggle to hold back the future (cronyism), to hold onto the past (taking extreme physical measures to retain the Maidens allure), or try to recapture what was lost.  Clearly the society and culture a woman is embedded in can greatly help or hinder these transitions.  The business and marketing world clearly cherishes the young maiden physique which drive huge markets in cosmetics, diets and plastic surgery.  Some religious and political systems over emphasize the Mother phase and do not allow or support women being educated, taking part in decision making or amassing wealth.  I live in South Carolina.  The state has 50 state senators who draft our laws, how many women are part of this powerful body?   None… zero!  Which archetype is neither recognized or cherished “in these parts?”

Many societies create rituals to signify the transition between phases.  Marriage and weddings represent a transition from Maidenhood to Womanhood traditionally with children following close behind.  Traditionally women would give up their employment (independence) to become a full time mother.  It can be argued that menopause represents a physical transition to the Crone stage; sadly most modern societies do not have social rituals to signify this change. Although my partner Susan recently joined her friends at something called “Menopause the Musical!”  Perhaps as the mass of female Baby Boomers reach this phase we will see the development of some recognized transitions. I believe that we should celebrate and embrace all three archetypes.  We should have a Maiden’s Day and a Crones Day, not just Mother’s Day.

Even Avatars had Mothers

However, on this day we should give thanks for the loving and caring qualities of our mothers. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a living mother, making this day a sometimes difficult celebration.  For others it is the joy of being a mother that gives this day meaning and helps them project their future onward towards coming generations.  For others there is the joy of having a trusted intimate relationship with older women who assumes a “mother like” role in our lives.  I suspect that this form of relationship is a fulfilling manifestation of the Crone archetype.  Let us give thanks for all the biological mothers who raised us and for all the various wise old women who have and continue to help us through life!

As I sat in the church garden studying the memorial monument I recognize a number of names one stood out in my memories and warranted recognition on this special day.  I hope you enjoy this poem/musing:

Fern Evelyn Thompson Moss

I stand on flat smooth

   Stepping stones

      In the church memorial garden

I stand at the base

   Of a granite monument

      Baring names of the departed

I smile at the memory

   Of your small stooped stature

      Of your radiant smile

         Of your heartfelt greetings

From 1918 to 2008

   You walked among us

      Spreading joy and comfort

         Living your wisdom

We miss you Fern

You live on

   In our memories

      In a beautiful garden

         In wildflowers and grasses

You live on

   In our unfolding lives

      In the lives of those we touch

We miss you Fern

Don't forget mother nature!

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Greetings friends and fellow pilgrims.  I am still preparing for and adjusting to my son’s departure for Fort Lewis Washington.  As a going away gift I am having the book “365 Tao” bound as a hardback book.  He has read it in the past to the point of breaking the binding so I thought a hardback copy would serve him well,  I also had the book binder include several pages of my words of encouragement and what I call “Words of Wisdom.”  I thought my readers might enjoy see them, so here they are:

The following represents “Words of Wisdom” I have gleamed from my life experiences.  I hope that pondering them may help you recognize their possible relevance in your life.

 1)      “Shit happens” – our lives are a constant parade of events that we are required

                                             to adjust too,  how we adjust affects our level of happiness!

  TYPES OF SHIT:

a)      Just Happens” Shit – we have little or no choice in the event’s occurrence

  1. THROWNESS – conditions we are born with (gender, race, baldness, etc)
  2. “DROPPED OUT OF THE BLUE” Shit – largely unexpected or unforeseeable events and conditions (illness, accidents, acts of nature)

      Keys to adjustment for the “Just Happens Shit”:

  1. Acceptance and Accommodation – some people actually embrace the

            event as a way of adjusting (“bald is beautiful”)                                        

  1. Foster Coping Skills – prepare for the next “unexpected event”

            (buy insurance, build strong social support, foster spirituality, get training)

      Most Common Errors:

  1. “Fight the Shit” – this is the basis for many marketing efforts

                                   (hair loss treatments, diets, cosmetic surgery)

  1. “Fear the Shit” – worry about all the “what ifs” that could occur

 b)      Stepped in It” Shit – we have some responsibility for these events occurrence 

                                                       as they are influenced by our life choices

  1. CONSEQUENCES – conditions we create by our actions, they are not necessarily predictable, but likely outcomes of our actions (highly probable).  They may involve the consequences of ours and others people’s actions, we tend to not see these coming, although in “hind sight” we realize that they were highly probable. (cancer due to smoking)
  2. “SEE IT COMING” Shit – if you are observant and know how to recognize it, these are the situations/ relationships/ events that you can steer clear of/ avoid (getting in the car with a drunk, going out with a drug user, skipping classes, unprotected sex).

      Keys to adjustment for the “Stepped In It Shit”:

  1. Make Corrections – change the causal behaviors or attitudes that 

                                       lead to event (quit smoking, start exercising, 

                                       leave the relationship, training, etc.)            

     2. Learn From It – take a lesson away from the experience and then 

                                Implement changes to decrease the likelihood of   

                                future problems (choose relationships more wisely)

     3. “Fight It” – work to take control (now) over the things you still have

                         control over… manage the fallout! (apologize)

      Most Common Errors:

  1. Embracing the Shit – this “there is meaning in suffering” attitude 

                                        often leads to a lack of action (everyone dies!)

  1. Misinterpreting it – seeing it as “Just Happens Shit” and accepting it 

                                      as an unchangeable situation. (I said “I do!”)

      Note:  Situations often represent combinations of these categories.  An unwanted  

                pregnancy maybe experienced as a “Dropped out of the Blue” event, but in 

                hindsight it is a “See it Coming” Event.

“I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.” – Douglas Adams

 2)       “Be Happy”           

–    Life is all about attitude! Attitude represents a filter or lens (like a pair of glasses) that we  

           view the world through.  Like a dirty lens, we often assume that what we perceive

           (through the lens) is the world and not a filtered image (anger is a dirty lens)

–          always remember that your lens needs polishing and cleaning… check it frequently!

3)      “Never Say Never”

–          We can only make predictions about the future, none of us can know what it holds!

       This attitude helps keeps us from committing to inflexible positions… keeps us from

       having to “eat our words” in the future… helps us keep our options open!

“Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God.” – Diana Robinson

4)     

“Be Certain, But Humble”

–          Strive to be certain about your beliefs (in yourself and your worldview).  Strive to have your life experiences fit your life view, but be humble about your beliefs because they are yours and do not necessarily fit the life experiences of other people. 

–          This is particularly important with respect to political and religious beliefs.

 5)      “Change is Mandatory, Growth is Optional!”

–          perhaps one of the most important overriding points about life is that it is a process!

–          it is always in the process of becoming something (something more or something less, but surely something different) our control over this process is sometimes limited

–          like it or not, planned and unplanned changes (shit) happens, it is what we do with these changes (resist/ignore/adjust to them) that is of paramount importance

–          how we respond dictates the general course our life follows (do we consistently make mountains out of mole hills… or see mountains –obstacles- as just speed bumps)

–          wise choices do not always lead to success (a lack of failure) but they always lead to  growth (improving our happiness and chances for success in the future)

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” – Buddha

 6)      “Always strive for Balance”

–          Growth is a process of finding balance between our desires and needs (present and future) and the demands of life situations (rules and laws, other’s needs)

–          Buddha and the Taoists preached “the Middle Path” – don’t deny your needs but don’t give in to excesses – always treat others with compassion and care!

 7)      “Just because you can doesn’t mean that you have too or should!”

–          Life presents us with multiple possibilities and choices, we must choose wisely!

–          Not all choices are equal! Some choices represent unreasonable risks (You can see it coming shit) and     

            threaten to move us away from a balanced position.

–          Stupid people make stupid choices: 1) They couldn’t do what they tried to do (lacked skills to do it); 2) They

            didn’t see the potential risk (should not have done it); 3) They told themselves they “had to do it” (a dare,

            standing up to an insult, to look tough).

I hope that you found my words thought provoking and humorous… have a wonderful day!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  168                              Cumulative Days Blogging: 153

Today’s Mileage: 4                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 1124

I dictated this blog earlier in the day, as I walked along a river at a spot I have visited a dozen of times in the past.  I’ve conversed with nature, walked on the rocks, watched the geese and strolled past the other park visitors.  It is a beautiful spring day and I decided to enjoy it.  As a Taoist all I need is natural surroundings, the sounds of nature, open air, waters is always nice, whether its rain, a rushing river, or a calm pool.  This place has often inspired poetic words, and today was no different, but I will save those for a later day.

I had not planned on stopping here as I headed to the University this morning.  We are heading into that last sprint to the end of the semester.  In my Psychology of Religion class I spent too long on the Eastern Faiths so I will have to compress monotheism into a single lecture.  But then I prefer for my students to explore new territories and discover new ideas rather than review that which they already know. 

There is always two sides!

Earlier I had a break from my class and sat in the commons area.  On a rack next to one of the history professors door was a stack of magazines and journals. I opened one to an article entitled “Contested Histories.”  The author spoke of the challenge of understanding historical events that have different meaning for the opposite sides of the event.  Northerners (Yankees) have a very different take on the American Civil War than Southerners (Rebels).  Even in the south there are two “contested histories!”  If your distant relatives were slaves the war can be seen as a war of liberation and freedom, if your distant relatives fought for the confederacy it is often portrayed as a war for state’s rights or a war against northern aggression!  The historian in his article mentioned the date of 1915 and events that took place in eastern Turkey as the Ottoman Empire was engaged in a desperate struggle for its survival during World War 1.  A large proportion of the Armenian population died or was displaced from their homes. The Turkish perspective says this was the result of a civil war in which the Armenians were active participants; the Armenians perspective sees active government sponsored “genocide” to remove their culture and communities from eastern Anatolia.  Who is right and who is wrong?  Does one view win out over another?  Will both sides simply cling to their position, as “the truth” might represent a “blow” to their national identity or necessitate embracing a shared sense of guilt?

Peace after the civil conflict!

Ottoman Empire!

When I listen to talk radio or watch Tea Party activities on TV I wonder if it matters whether their positions hold any historical truth.  Wasn’t the original Tea party about taxations without representation?  Don’t we have representation?   Is the “real issue” the fact that some people just don’t agree with the votes and the laws that follow.  While they like to call themselves “true patriots” some might just call them “sour losers!” 

The author of the article on “Contested Histories” concluded by quoting another historian, Milan Kundera, that: “The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone.  The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy and repaint it.”  I could not disagree more! I believe the old proverb: The past is history, the future a mystery, the present is a gift!

We need to face what is right in front of us at this moment!  We need to face forward into a future of possibilities.  If we focus entirely to the “baggage” which humanity continues to drag along, arguing over “contested histories” our future will slip by and we will likely repeat the same old mistakes. The future will hold only ugly surprises and sadness at missed opportunities!

Compromise is always possible!

As therapists we know of the importance of the past in understanding the forces that shaped us, we know the power of the past when a patient (or community) carries it into the present.  However, the challenge of changing to meet current and present demands must be faced in the “here-and-now.”  It must be faced not by people long dead and gone, who fought old wars, but from those of us who draw breaths and look for meaning in the present.  The challenge is to find common ground and move forward, not to rehash “conflicting histories,” not to find that which divides us but that which brings us together. 

I challenge believers of all faiths to look to your sacred scriptures not for words of division and self-righteousness, but for words of healing and compassion.  Focusing on the past (e.g., old wars, old battle flags, old slogans) is more a part of our problem than part of our solution.  I suggest that after you search your sacred scriptures you look into the faces of children whose skin is not the color of your own.  Look into the eyes of the elderly who do not speak your language.  Look to the sky, the earth, and the waters at the tortured landscapes we have created.  In each of these four places look for that which connects us to one another instead of that which divides us. 

Don’t close your fists tightly about your possessions, open your hands and share with others.  Don’t draw some barrier line around your “place,” invite others into your space to stand at your side.  As President Obama has shown us, do not be afraid to make eye contact, to extend a hand, and speak in whispers to friend and foe alike.  For only then will we take the risk and step up to move forward toward the possibilities of the future!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  158                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 143

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1076

The Bastion System!

As I ride the bike today I have decided to speak to three pilgrimage sites in the St. Augustine Florida area.  All three represent historical and archeological site.  All three have a history tied to the politics between European powers in the 1600-1700s.  One speaks to the desire for freedom and a fight against oppression and one site speaks to the “dark side” of religion.

Perhaps the best known landmark in the St, Augustine area is the Castillo de San Marcos.  Construction of this fortification began in 1672.  Its architecture is distinctive and unique.  It is the oldest masonry and only intact 17th century fort in North America and represents an example of the “bastion system” of fortification.  It weathered hurricanes and repeated attacks over its active history.

The bastion system of forts was developed in the 15th century and had a distinct star shape structure.  This pattern was used to avoid a straight head-on shoot from cannons, and yet allowed plenty of wall space to mount guns for counter fire.  Adding to the distinctiveness of this fortress was its construction from the building material unique to the northeast coast of Florida.  Coquina, which is an aggregate of compressed sand and shells that is remarkable soft and porous, however once it has dried and aged its softness has unexpected benefits.  Cannon balls did not “explode” the material like stone, but were either embedded in it like a marble in Styrofoam or harmlessly glanced off of it.

The City Gates of St. Augustine

The fort went through numerous “changes in ownership.”  The history of the entire Atlantic coastline was one of constant struggle and warfare between the European powers.  Conflicts that often started on distant lands were carried to the shores and wilderness of North America.  The Castillo de San Marcos played a central role in the early Spanish control of the Southern coast of the New World.  It was an important point from which they projected the power up and down the coast and protected rich Spanish treasure fleets from pirates.  The fort withstood assaults from the French and the English, never falling to an attacking force.  As we heard in Mondays posting the fort did come under British control from 1763-1783 as a result of a peace treaty between Spain and England.  It was the British governor who offered the Greek survivors of the New Smyrna colony sanctuary in St. Augustine. Following the US Revolutionary War the fort and city returned to Spanish control until 1821 when the growing USA acquired the territory of Florida.

Fort Matanzas

The second pilgrimage site in the area, Fort Matanzas National Monument can be found some 14 miles south St. Augustine at the location where the Matanzas river empties into the ocean.  This river which flows past St. Augustine posed a risk as attackers might travel up the river to lay siege to the city.  Fort Matanzas was also built of Coquina like its older and much larger sister fort to the north.  The fort sits by itself on a flat marshy barrier island called Rattle shake Island.  What is hidden from the view of visitor, who must travel there by ferry, is the site’s tragic and unsettling history.   The early history of the northeast coast of Florida involved an epic struggle between the Catholic Spanish forces and Huguenot (Protestant) French forces.  In 1565 a French military expedition under the leadership of Jean Ribault sailed for the new Spanish settlement of St. Augustine from the French settlement of Fort Caroline to settle ownership of Florida in France’s favor.  However, tragedy struck in the form of a storm that stranded the French at the mouth of the River.  When the Spanish discovered the French on the beach, they ordered then to surrender, give up their Protestant faith, and accept Catholicism.  Having lost all of their food and weapons in the ship wrecks they did surrender, but refused to renounce their faith.  So the Spanish force massacred nearly 250 Frenchman as heretics near the inlet, which was then named “Matanzas,” the Spanish word of massacre. This tragic episode gave Spain undisputed control of Florida for the next 200 years.  It also points to the fact that the conflict between European forces was not just one of land grabs for economic benefits, but also mirrored the religious conflicts which had racked Europe since the advent of the Protestant reformation.  In addition, to the slaughter and destruction of native peoples, Christians were turning on Christian out of self-righteousness against what they labeled heresy.

Drawing of Fort Moses.

The same forces of conflict did at times play out in more positive ways, at least for some populations.  One such example of this can be found several miles north of the old city of St. Augustine.  The site is Fort Moses State Historical Park.  As English influence along the northern stretches of the American coast grew so did friction and conflict between the colonists of both powers.  The English colonies of the Carolinas and Georgia made extensive use of African slaves to man their large plantations.  The Spanish settlers and their Native American allies began to direct escaped English slaves south to St. Augustine, there by predating the later Northern “Underground Railroad” by more than a century.  The Spanish governor granted a plot of land for North America’s first “free black” settlement.  The inhabitants built a wood and mud “fort” wall, dug a moat, constructed homes and a wooden Catholic church to meet the spiritual needs of the recent converts.  These free blacks farmed the surrounding land and took up arms with the Spanish neighbors to fight off hostile Indians and their former English slave masters.  The settlement prospered until 1763 when the population of Fort Moses moved to Spanish Cuba in advance of the English forces who would take peaceful control of St. Augustine from the Spanish.  The inhabitants feared that their former slave masters might renew claims toward their “rightful property.”

Don't let this be the final word!

All three of these sites speak to the fact that the Europeans who came to the New World brought with them their conflicts, hatred and prejudices.  It is reminder that this country that we heralded as the “Land of the Free,” was won, conquered and tamed at sometimes tragic costs.  These include the destruction of native cultures, the slaughter of innocent people and the “enslavement” of a whole race.  We can be proud of what we have accomplished and what we stand for, but we should never forget the suffering of these people.  I would hope that these sites act as reminders and lead us to ask: “What are we doing now, as we interact with other cultures and faiths, as we look for “new frontiers,” as we live in a shrinking world.”  What lessons should we learn from the suffering of these people so we don’t repeat past mistakes?

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  158                          Consecutive Days Blogging: 142

 Today’s Mileage: 3                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1072

A frontier Greek!

As I ride the bike this morning I am thinking about the pilgrimage site we will visit today: St. Photios National Greek Shrine and Orthodox Chapel.  I’m assuming that many of my readers had the same reaction that I did when I first came across this site on the sunny shores of eastern Florida: How did a Greek Orthodox Shrine find its way to Florida?  I had become familiar with the Spanish history of this area, something we will explore more fully tomorrow.  The Greek presence was a surprise.  Studying the history of the St. Augustine area I found my answers and I discovered a story the likes of which have long inspired people with the message of hope, persistence and tenacity of the human spiritual.  St. Augustine represents the longest continuously occupied city in North America with the oldest port.  There were other settlements up and down the Florida coast, both French and Spanish, however this was the one that “stuck it out.”  The site has gone through numerous changes of flags and ownership.  I have alluded in an earlier posting to a sad example of religious strife and killing, I will reserve that discussion for the days to come for it portrays what some people would call the “ugly” side of religious thought and dogma. Back to the question of the Greeks!

It is clear that by the 1700s North America had stoked the fire and dreams of freedom and land ownership in many poor, impoverished and subjugated peoples around the world, particularly in Europe. Not only were the major European powers sprinkling the continent with their settlements but entrepreneurs were exploiting the wilderness for their potential riches. 

Andrew Turnbull

One such individual was Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician who in 1766 undertook to create a settlement called New Smyrna 75 miles on the coast south of St. Augustine.  By this time the city had changed hands was now under a British flag. He collected some 1400 people from Greece, Italy and the island of Minorca who agreed to sign on as indentured servants.  They would raise sugarcane, indigo and cotton for 7-8 years to earn a plot of acreage of their own.  However, the settlement was greeted from its inception with hardship including disease and starvation.  According to several reports matters were made worse by Dr. Turnbull harsh leadership.  After 10 years little success had been achieve and the settlers felt more like slaves than servants. 

Avero House

The settlement was eventually abandoned with the residents walking the shoreline all the way to St. Augustine.  At the city gates the 300 survivors of the settlement asked the British governor for protection.  The governor repealed their indentured status and granted them sanctuary within the city. They inhabited the Avero House a location that the Greek community has come to call their “Plymouth Rock.”  These new citizens prospered as shop owners and citizens.  Their offspring became the founders of some of the most venerated families of present day St. Augustine.  Significant among that groups were the first “colony” of Greeks in the New World.  Their presence in the history of the city answers our question about the existence of the Greek Orthodox shrine.

The shrine and chapel of Saint Photios are a testament the importance, although often overlooked, role that Greeks played in the developing drama of North America as laborers and business owners in city large and small.  The chapel is filled with icons (religious paintings) created in the traditional Byzantine style which expresses visually the theology of the Greek Orthodox Church.  One of the ceiling domes is adorned with a painting “the Hospitality of Abraham.”  The central dome hold the image of “Christ the Pantocrator (the all-embracing), and the third dome depicts the Archangel Michael. 

Central Dome

One of the wall frescos depicts St. Photios (the Patriarch of Constantinople) teaching his young nephews, later known as St. Cyril and St. Methodios, before he sent them off as missionaries who are  credited with spreading Christianity to the Slavic peoples.

This story of the colony of New Smyrna is one that is repeated innumerable times across North America as waves of people followed the promises of the new world and struggled to establish a foothold in America.  I came to recognize this as a youth on the windswept plains of the Dakotas.  There was Tabor, with its quaint Czechoslovakian homes, Ukrainian Orthodox churches standing alone on the prairie servicing far flung farmhouses and any number of small farming communities with German Catholics and Norwegian Lutherans clustered about their church.

A Guardian Angel

Some foots holds worked out and survived harsh climates, native attacks, cycles of starvation and poor planning.  Others like New Smyrna failed, but the people moved on to established settlements.  Some expeditions (like Jamestown) not only failed but disappeared leaving an abandoned site and no trace of the inhabitants.  Stories of these immigrants fill our history books with their tragedy, mysteries and success at overcoming adversity in the pursuit of prosperity, freedom, and the promise of land.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 148                                      Days Blogged: 132 

New Mileage: 8                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1031

As I ride the bike this evening I  think about my blog topics over the last several weeks.  It seems to me that a particular theme ribbon ran through several of the blogs.  From Taoist river stones that are shaped by thousands of year of river water, to Helen Wilmer-Post and the demise of her self-help healing empire at the hands of political intrigue.  We admired sunrises and the shifting drifting veils of clouds, and musings on death, cremation and a poem about spreading my ashes.  One of my blog followers noted: “your poem is beautiful! It’s haunting because it’s about death, but it’s still sweet because the “recipe” is filled with good things.”  I think this is a common reaction because we tend to perceive death as a negative and generally tragic event and thereby an “ugly” event. But it can also serve as an opportunity to celebrate a life well lived and to give thanks for life’s many gifts.

Mount Rushmore Monument

It seems to me that the thread is the issue of permanence, whether it be shifting and changing clouds or Taoist river stones shaped by the relentless river.  Being human we all desire a sense of permanence. Since ancient times, we have built monuments to mark our presence and to give a sense of permanence to our rulers and political institutions.  If you come back in the future, little of the glory and splendor of the site may be left intact. Eastern philosophy tells us that the permanence we grasp for is an illusion. Even mountains, given the time frame of nature, are weathered away becoming little more than sand on the shore and rich mud on the ocean floor.  Majestic lakes and seas fade away and dry up.

Backside of the Monument

I’m reminded of the statement: the only thing which does not change, is the process of change!”  No one can turn back the process of aging. Nor can we retain a young body.  Add as many initials as you like behind you name, achieve accolades and earn rewards, but in the end you will become nothing but dust.  Your name will become nothing more than an etching on a stone marker.  Someone might list you in a family tree, but you are little more than a name with dates.  What about all the years between the dates, the time period we call your life!

The second statement I like to quote is: “Change is mandatory, growth is optional.”  Nothing is permanent, everything changes.  The key to life is what we do with that change.  Do we roll with the punches; do we grow stronger and wiser, become more joyful?  Do we see the moments of life, the sunrises, the smile of a child, the touch of a lover for what they really are… gifts!  Do we embrace these and share them with others, our smile, our riches, and our touch?  Do we plant seeds of joy and happiness or do we spew forth anger and hatred.  Do we try to hold on to those things we can’t take with us? Do we commiserate over missed opportunities and past failures?  We enter the world naked and are given a first breath; we will exit the world with a final breath and leave everything, including a well dressed corpse behind. It’s what we do with the time and opportunities between the first and last breath that matters.

The third statement I embrace is: “It’s not about the outcome, winning the race, it’s about the process, and how you run the race!”

I hope you have enjoyed these “Words of Wisdom”.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 147                                      Days Blogged: 131 

New Mileage: 8                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1023

Bidding Farewell!

As I climbed on the bike this evening I did not have a blog topic in mind.  There are always ongoing world events and articles in the paper with spiritual themes.  Of course I could always return to the scene along the beach as we head up the coast. 

 I am amazed at how often topics appear as I go about my blog business on the internet.  I recently made Facebook friends with a young man from Bali Indonesia.  He is a Bali Hindu and I was intrigued to find that he had photos from a “Royal Bali Cremation Festival.”  This led me to research these festivals and discover some intriguing facts about the Bali Hindu cremation ritual.  It is like nothing I have come across in my studies and explorations. 

Parade of Gift Giver!

It seems that in Bali, like with many Hindu communities, cremation is the preferred form of interning deceased family members.  However, the ceremony appears to be complex and costly, as one source noted a family has to be quite rich to afford the ceremony.  So when someone dies they are temporary buried and then once every 5 years, at celestial auspicious times the departed are dug up, rewrapped and carried to a large communal funeral pyre.  It was noted that as many as 100 individuals may be cremated with each festival.  One author noted: “that strange as it seems, it is their cremation ceremonies that the Balinese have their greatest fun! “

Royal Bull and Tower!

A cremation is an occasion for gaiety and not for mourning, since it represents the accomplishment of a Hindu’s most sacred duty: the ceremonial burning of the corpses of the dead to liberate their souls so that they can thus attain the higher worlds and be free for reincarnation into better beings.  A large and choreographed ceremony is conducted.

First there is a parade of gifts for the families of the deceased.  In turn the family feeds everyone and entertains all with band music.  During this time a large bull statue is constructed out of bamboo and velvet along with a tall bamboo temple.

The bull and the tower are then carried to the cremation site.  The road is washed before them and all are sprinkled with holy water.  The path they travel is uneven causing the carriers to “shake” the bull and tower, as a means to “shake of evil spirits.”  Then the bodies are moved to the site and the cremation takes place.  The next morning the ashes are collected and carried to the ocean where they are cast into the water.

Carrying the Bull!

Several tourist guides noted these ceremonies as “must see” events!  I often tell my students that there is a great deal of variation on the surface or form level of funerals.  Cremations are less common in my culture as are joyful celebrations.  But the functions served by funerals in Bali or the USA are much the same: to bring together family and community, to share the memories of loved ones, and to release the loved one spirit.  It would appear to be similar to what you might find in New Orleans or an Irish wake.  The approach toward the event is one of joyful celebration instead of focusing on the “woe is us, how can we survive without them” attitude.  The focus is on the joy and the memory that they graced their lives.  I like that idea!  I guess I would like to think that when the time comes to have my ashes spread that people will not so much grieve at what is lost, but celebrate the seeds I have planted.  I wrote the following poem a number of years ago after attending a “spreading the ashes” ceremony at my church:

 

 

The Bull Burns!

Recipe for my Burial

Place my ashes

   In a large mixing bowl:

 Add one cup

     Of coffee beans

     Dark and oily

     Heavy with fragrance

          (Bavarian Chocolate would do nicely)

 Add one cup

     Of Flower Petals

     Assorted colors

     Soft hues

          (irises, daylilies, and roses too)

 Add a quarter cup

     Of Wild Flower Seed

          (any assortment will do)

 Add a half cup

     Of my Poetry

     Finely chopped

         (works as an odorless fertilizer)

 Add one pinch

Of Blackboard Chalk

 Add one heaping teaspoon

Of color pencil shavings

Ashes to the Sea!

Stir vigorously

With a wooden spoon.

 Find a sunny spot

     Which is easily seen,

     But not heavily trodden.

Apply mixture liberally

     To the dampened earth.

 Assist the rains

     With frequent watering.

 Think of me

   In every wild flower

      In the scent of coffee,

         In the fragrance of colorful blooms.

 Think of me

   In each poet’s word,

      In each artist’s vision.

 I hope you enjoyed the poem and that you will join me tomorrow as we near St. Augustine and several new pilgrimage sites.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 146                                      Days Blogged: 130 

New Mileage: 5                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1015

Unfiltered Knowledge!

As I rode the bike today I reflected on the scenes along our route as we moved north on a road bordered to the east by a thin ribbon of sand and the vast Atlantic Ocean.  One of the ways I scout for pilgrimage sites is to follow a detailed road map (on the internet) that includes photos of the scenery along the route. These scenes will at time point me in the direction of unexpected sites for us to visit or may simply inspire my creativity.  Today I decided to focus on sunrise scenes!

I am aware that sunrises are often seen as symbolic of renewal, rebirth, and spring.  I have always found myself attracted to sunrises and prefer an early morning walk as a great way to get my day started.  My youngest son recently noted that he enjoys sunrises more than sunsets, because a sunrise means “you got the whole day ahead of you!”

Highlighting the colors!

As I collected some of the photos of sunrises I noticed that the most striking and beautiful sunrises had less to do with the sun itself and more to do with the clouds that interacted with and affected the sunlight.  I began to realize that there is a great deal more symbolism and meaning in sunrises because of the clouds that often accompany them.

If sunlight is seen as being representative of knowledge, guidance and/or wisdom, then clouds must serve a function of shaping, blocking, filtering and focusing this “light” before it is received by the viewer/recipients.  While we may marvel at that spot of intense light as the sun first breaks the plane of the horizon, we cannot for long study its growing presence without turning away.  It is too bright and intense in its raw form, in a very real way we are unable to “handle it” in it pure form.  However, a covering or haze of clouds can afford us the opportunity to see the light’s source in it’s perfect round form and to realize that its size is not as large as its unfiltered corolla might leads us to believe.  Some would say this is representative of the intense “glory” of the divine, that we must turn our gaze away.  The clouds imperfect covering allows us to study and receives insights from the lights source that would be absent with an empty bare sky.

Studying the sunrise scenes lead me to realize that clouds not only filter and diminish the sun’s intensity but also shape and focus the light, whether that is through the creation of a halo, a bright highlighted edge on a cloud or a beam of sunlight.  We may become acutely aware of the multiple colors or qualities of the light because of the cloud’s effects.  While the wisdom and knowledge represented by the sunlight maybe intense and illuminating in its pure form, I believe it is the interaction with the clouds, with the contrasts and textures created by this dance between the shifting and impermanent cloud forms that gives the sunrise its awe inspiring “take your breath away” quality.

Blue Hues!

As a pluralist I often tell my sons and students that there is no “one way” to get from point A to point B, that different people may need very different paths.   Whether that end point is an understanding of the divine (as with a spiritual pilgrim), finding a career/job that fits for you, or finding the answer/cure to what ails you (as in the course of psychotherapy).  I look at these sunrises as representing in a graphic way this message.  Some people like their insights and wisdom pure and straight forward, some need it filtered and muted, others need to be awed and dazzled with dancing colors.  Throw in a sunrise over the sea and you get the added reflection and texture of the ocean’s surface.

What are these clouds that shape and change the light, the wisdom coming at us from its divine source?  They are made up of water, a part of the earth, and air. We as human being are made up in large parts of water.  Therefore, much of this blocking and filtering is perhaps part of our nature or a product of the process of being human.  I suspect these clouds are representative of a number of things: teachings and instructions from parents and church leaders; personal experiences (like mystical experiences); biases we embrace out of safety and/or ignorance; exercises and rituals (like prayer, meditation, reason and logic); negative and/or positive mood states; our egos and basic needs. 

Rays of Illumination!

Perhaps that is a topic for another blog!  I for one can just as easily get lost watching a cloud and its flowing, shifting dance across the sky as I can in a sunrise.

I hope you enjoyed today’s words and sunrise scenes!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 133                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 115

Today’s Mileage:  10                                             Total Trip Mileage: 938

On a sand pilgrimage!

 I am writing today’s blog as I sit in the lobby of the Carroll McDaniel Petrie School of Music.  My partner Susan is giving a faculty recital in a short time and I figured I might as well do something useful and stay out of the way.

Today we are going to ride through the Canaveral National Seashore just up the coast from the Kennedy Space Center.  I have included it on my list of Pilgrimage and Retreat sites as a Nature Site and a Historical Site.   A Nature Site is described as a location where nature’s beauty may leads to an experience of wonder and awe and a sense of connectedness with that which is greater than us all, the divine.  I reserve this distinction for locations like National Parks. 

Situated on a barrier island the Canaveral National Seashore features 24 miles of pristine, undeveloped beach and dunes.  The Atlantic Ocean pounds the eastern shore, while to the west is Mosquito Lagoon.  The Site includes historical buildings and a Historical Interpretive Park highlighting the history of the local Native Americans and the early encounters among the natives and European explorers.  In addition to the beautiful beach and stunning sunrises the area is home to abundant wildlife. 

Sacred Sands!

The title for today’s blog was taken from an article by Lynn Ross-Bryant in the Journal Religion and American Culture. The author makes the argument that the U.S. National Parks have played a central role in the unifying discourse of America since their inception after the Civil War.  She argues that the parks were able to serve this role because of the close alliance between nature and nation.  Nature “set apart” in the parks becomes the embodiment of an archetypal America, which was the ever-pristine source of greatness of the nation and people.  As such she argues that the parks serve as a sacred site and a unifying symbol of US culture.  She believes that by approaching the parks as pilgrimage sites, you can examine the American values that are embodied in them.

**** Time for the recital to begin****

I now sit in reflection, memories of sweet notes swirl about me like embers dancing about a blazing fire. As I listened to Susan sing I was particularly drawn to the words of one song entitled: Sweet Chance That Lead My Steps Abroad.  They read:

Sweet chance that lead my steps abroad

beyond the town where wild flowers grow.

A rainbow and a cuckoo,

Lord, how rich and great the times are now!

Know all ye sheep and cows

that keep staring that I stand so long

in grass that’s wet from heavy rain,

A rainbow and a cuckoo’s song

may never come together again,

may never come this side the tomb.

A rainbow and a cuckoo’s song

may never come together again.

These lyrics remind us that we can get lost in intellectual discussions about the symbolic meaning of national parks and nature, or we can get lost in the experience of nature.  The choice is ours, the experience of nature is usually only steps way!

 

Sacred light from the east!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 130                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 113

Today’s Mileage:  10                                             Total Trip Mileage: 923

How does he fit?

It’s a beautiful morning, finally a weekend without rain or snow!  I just returned from a walk in the woods and spent some time burning fallen branches and dead brush.  I’ve mentioned before the spiritual significance, for me, of creating a fire.  The flames, the heat, the dancing light add to a sense of burning away the old and preparing for the renewal of spring. It is a fulfilling and uplifting experience.

Before I begin talking about the pilgrimage site which we will be visiting today, I just wanted to share a joy with all my readers.  There are those points in our life where as a parent you feel a tremendous sense of pride in your children. My oldest son Max, who is in Army boot camp in Missouri,  wrote me with a sense of excitement that he had not only passed his rifle qualifications but he earned the expert rifleman ribbon and had the highest score in his unit 185 troops.  He noted in his letter: “I guess it must be in our blood,” for in my military training I had also earned the award.  This is a significant moment for my son, a young man who has started many things and seldom finished them (Boy Scouts, high school, football).  He seems to be finding himself, recognizing his abilities and seeing himself as part of a group, a team member.  All of these bodes well for his future and fuel s a tremendous sense of pride and joy in his father.

Apollo Capsule

Today we’re going to visit a pilgrimage site that I labeled as a Scientific Inspirational Site.  As I’ve mentioned before I do not limit pilgrimage sites to spiritual or religious locations.  I take a more general view of pilgrimages as journeys we undertake to find experiences that will give our lives meaning and help us to transcend our day-to-day needs and worries.  These journeys may help us see what we can aspire to be as an individual and as a people/community/nation.  Such pilgrimage sites can range from historic places that remind of us of our roots, art museums that fuel our creativity, or as today the Kennedy Space Center on the East Coast of Florida.  The center is where the dreams of the American people have reached into space.  From its Atlanta coast beaches the American space program launches vehicles into orbit, to the moon, the solar system and beyond.

Hubble: Our eye on the heavens!

I visited the space center years ago on my first visit to Florida, the shuttle program was just beginning, whereas now it’s about to end!  I was impressed with the sense of history, with the sense of mankind lifting itself up and reaching for the stars. The space center covers a considerable area and is comprised of numerous different subunits, different museums and launch pads, even a dock where you can visit one of the recovery ships.  A visit to the center’s webpage allows you to view a multitude of different photos many taken by visitors to the center.  I was particularly impressed with the shots of the shuttle launches, several of which I’ve used in today’s blog.

Sending our hopes skyward!

I don’t think I have to explain why I view this as an inspirational site. Life is a balancing act; there is that which is right in front of us, the positive aspects of relationships, and the beauty that you find on nature walks.  But there are also the stresses and strains the life demands that can bring us down and give us reasons to worry.  At times we need to think about where we are heading, we need to think of a future, with less stress and pain, one with more hope and excitement.   There will always be stressors but perhaps they could be less life-threatening (cures for diseases and climate change); perhaps they could be less about winning and losing (like partisan politics), perhaps life could be more balanced between the material and the spiritual. How to overcome diseases, how to decrease suffering, how to feed the masses, how to educate everyone.  Places like the Kennedy space Center make us look to the future as we look towards the heavens.  Technological advances such as the Hubble space telescope have done a lot to launch a man’s own dreams and aspirations.  It has widened the sense of mystery about the universe and deepened our sense of awe at the beauty to be found within the dance of galaxies and clouds of space dust.  We may set off on a pilgrimage journey to reconnect with something from our past, to reconnect with a deep sense of spiritual connection we have known, and sometimes will take pilgrimages that are meant to point us towards the mystery and awe to be found in nature and the cosmos.

Helix Nebula - the Eye of God

One last note, as I dictated this blog and thought about my visit some 20+ years ago to the Kennedy space Center, it’s humorous that the one thing that I most remember about my visit was something that I saw for the first time.  Something I’d heard about, I knew existed, but I had never seen before.  Driving into the Kennedy space Center in a ditch alongside the road was an armadillo. It slowly lumbers along the shoulder of the road searching for sustenance. I slowed down the car and marveled “they really do exist” I thought to myself.  Then I went on to look at man’s quest for the heavens, I’d already made a new discovery.  I wish you a good day and I hope that your day will be filled with at least one new discovery.

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