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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  126                                              Days Blogged: 108

New Mileage: 5                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 895

As I climb on the bike this morning we are preparing to visit our fourth pilgrimage site in four days!  Those of you who have been following my progress know that I go through a kind of a feast versus famine experience with respect to pilgrimage site visits. At times there are long stretches where either few sites exist along our virtual path or I may for various reasons simply ride and go “off map.” However for the next week there’ll be a number of pilgrimage/retreat sites that we will visit as we leave the Orlando area and head east toward the coast.

Dazzling Blossums

In an earlier posting I talked about how I classify retreat sites based on the degree to which they offer nature as part of their experience. Retreat sites range from “indoor” sites, to ones that feature Gardens, to those that offer what I call “nature tranquility” where there may be walking paths and extensive botanical Gardens and then what I call “nature sites.”  Nature Sites are typically places like national parks where there may be little man make development and the awe inspiring aspects of nature predominate.

 I came across an article, from which I took today’s blog title, in which a researcher from the University of Rochester in New York talked about the impact of nature on humans. The researcher noted that numerous studies point to the positive physical and mental benefits of immersing oneself in natural phenomenon.  In the researcher’s newest study he found that the effects of nature which they call a “naturally nice” effect, does not hinge upon immersing yourself in nature on a daily basis but it’s more important to pay attention to the natural elements that we encounter each day.  As the researcher notes: “it’s about stopping and smelling the roses as opposed to passing them by as you think about  your next meeting”.  The researchers found that in fact this “nice effect” can be stimulated by simply having a nature scene as your computer screensaver. This is significant, especially for individuals living in the northern climates, for sometimes winter weather can limit our opportunities to go outdoors.  I guess we could say that these results provide scientific evidence for the importance that nature plays in the retreat experience.  These results would also lend support to the construction of an indoor winter altar featuring nature scenes and artwork.

Yellow Swallowtail

Today we’re stopping by a pilgrimage retreat site in Orlando just up the road from the theme park we visited yesterday. This site is run by the city of Orlando and is entitled the Harry P. Leu Gardens. The site includes: America’s largest camellia collection outside of California; the largest formal rose garden in Florida; a house/museum dating from the 1880s; acres of tropical spring gardens, butterfly gardens and assorted other specialty gardens.  It’s clear why I have classified this location a “nature tranquility” site as it offers ample opportunities for visitors to find solitude and/or to get lost in the beauty of the flowers and joyful fluttering of colorful insects.

Welcomed Garden Visitor!

 Also of note on the history of the garden which ties into our visit to the Monument of States two days ago.  At that site I highlighted the importance of finding meaning in our life and the fact that for many people taking on a “special project” can provide them with a sense of well-being and at the same time serve a greater purpose with their community and nation. Harry Leu’s story represents another example of this search for meaning and the consequences it can have for a community.  Mr. Leu was a hard-working dedicated local boy who worked his way up within a local manufacturing company. He started as a lowly worker, became the “go to trouble shooter” and eventually the owner.

Skipper Butterfly

He and his loving wife traveled the world collecting exotic plants which they carried back to Orlando for their expanding garden.  He was called “the Johnny Appleseed of Central Florida” as he would propagate his plants and then give away seedlings to his neighbors and friends.  He opened his estate and the Gardens to visitors, sharing the beauty and the joy he found in the flowers and butterflies.  After his retirement he and his spouse made the decision to leave their estate including the home and the expansive gardens for future generations.  The property was willed over to the city of Orlando with the agreement that the city was forbidden to sell it or change its “not-for-profit” status.

He found meaning in a life of hard work, he found meaning in a life of exploration, he found meaning in the diversity and beauty of nature, and he found meaning in sharing that joy with generations to come.  He can serve as an inspiration to all of us! I, for one, send out a heartfelt thank you to the universe that people like Mr. Leu inhabited and continue to inhabit this planet we call home.

I hope you have enjoyed this are pilgrimage site visit. Tomorrow we will visit the last of our Orlando sites it brings together artwork, nature’s beauty and light!  Have a wonderful day!

If you have enjoyed the blog please sign up for stationarypilgrim’s e-mail subscription by going to the upper right corner of this page For more information about the Gardens please visit the Pilgrimage Site tab at the top of this page.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  117                                              Days Blogged: 101

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 853

As I climb on the bike this morning I am pondering the fact that it’s been almost 4 months since we started the stationarypilgrim’s journey.  In fact we have now passed the 100th blog threshold.  I believe this is a good time to share with my readers a few of my insights, especially with respect to choosing and finding a pilgrimage sites and retreats.

Solitary Contemplation!

 So far we have  visited 14 specific sites across Florida.  We are nearing the Orlando area and will visit four more sites before we head for the East Coast and then turn north toward St. Augustine. In addition to the specific sites we have visited, I have also been busy uncovering potential sites further down the road within Florida and beyond.  The list of sites (over 100 and growing daily) can be found on my webpage (go to the Pilgrimage Sites tab at the top of this page and follow the link). It includes entries from nearby states  as far away  as California and in New York.

Boston Sufi House - Retreat Site

As often happens on such journeys,  you start off with a sense of where you’re heading and what you’re doing but the process of the journey combined with the unexpected sites and scene on your path to help you clarify and refine your goals.  I knew that a Spiritual Retreat is often defined as any kind of solitude experience where you remove yourself from the usual environment in order to immerse yourself in either in a particular subject matter or a particular experience.  Retreats may be as simple as sitting quietly in a secluded portion of your yard, or as complex as a weeklong trip to a monastery where no speaking is allowed.  Spiritual retreats are often times for reflection prayer, meditation, and rest.  They  allow time for “taking stock” of one’s life and/or  a re-commitment to connecting with the spiritual aspects of life. They may be undertaken alone, as a couple or as part of a larger group.

On my journey to uncover pilgrimage and retreat sites I have found that most retreat centers offer settings that promote solitude and reflection.  In my classification of Retreat Sites I place them along a continuum with respect to the use of nature (a natural setting) to promote this solitude. 

Charleston's Gateway Garden Walk - Garden Retreat Site

On one end are Simple Retreat Sites that include little or no contact with nature, these may be residential settings where solitude is provide behind the closed door to your room, or sitting silently in a chapel.  As you might expect these sites are often found in larger cities where natural surrounds are limited by development.

Further along the continuum are Garden Retreat Sites, where nature makes an appearance in the form of an enclosed garden space (such as a Zen garden) or a flower garden like you may find surrounding churches.  These sites usually provide shaded benches, fountains and/or paved walkways and are often found in cities and more populated areas.

Charleston's Middleton Place - Nature Tranquility Site

Next on my classification continuum are Nature Tranquility Retreat Sites.  These sites typically include large grassy and wooded areas for walking, praying and meditating. They often include water features in the form of beaches, lakes, rivers or streams.  They may offer more extensive gardens, including grottos, shrines, labyrinths, and statues.   These Nature Tranquility Sites may feature distinctly Spiritual/Religious connections, such as monasteries, convents, church camps.  However, other sites may be represented by secular local or state parks.  While it is not my intention to list all state and local parks, I do include a number of these sites, especially if the natural features of the site, like undeveloped beach front, old growth forests are a prominent feature.

The Grand Canyon - Nature Site

My classification continuum ends with what I call Nature Sites.  These are composed primarily of National Parks which present us with  stunning and awe inspiring experiences of the vastness, the beauty, the diversity of nature.   They do more than offer us a moment a tranquility or an escape from our daily struggles, they very often hold our attention captive and offer us an opportunity to transcend the mundane and approach the spiritual plane.

Those of us blessed to receive Nature Mystical experiences may describe these Nature Sites as “our cathedrals.”  Other people may visit these sites and praise the divine for the beauty of “God’s creation,” either way these are very special sites.  Most of us are not lucky enough to live within commuting distance of these locations so they most often represent “special retreat trips” or vacations.  For some people they may represent the destination of a personal pilgrimage.

                              Retreat Site Classification Continuum

Retreat Site — Garden Retreat Site — Nature Tranquility Site  — Nature Site

What is the difference between a Retreat Site and a Pilgrimage Site?  While we most often undertake a retreat to “get away” and enjoy some solitude, a pilgrimage journey is often directed toward a location/place which has some special significance.  It may offer the pilgrim significant historical insights into their faith or culture.  It may present the pilgrim with an example of spiritual diversity.  It may lead the pilgrim to answer a specific question or present them with a new realm of possibilities. They may marvel at man’s artistic achievements or ponder the mysteries of a weeping icon or healing springs.

 How do I make sense of and classify the dizzying array of Pilgrimage Sites?  That will be the topic of my next blog.  Have a wonderful weekend!

If you like the blog please consider joining the stationarypilgrim’s e-mail list by visiting the subscribe button on the top right corner of this page.  Have a wonderful day!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  101                                                 Days Blogged: 94

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 773

Finding a shared sense of meaning and joy!

As I ride the bike this morning I am reminded of the scene from the movie Peaceful Warrior  in which the young man followed his newly discovered mentor/teacher on a three hour hike to see “something special .”  As they neared the top of the hill, the young man, who was obviously excited and joyful, notes that he hopes they are close to arriving at their location.  His mentor notes they have arrived, to which the young man asked: “what’s the special thing we’ve come to see?”  The old man points at a rock at the young man’s feet. The young man grows puzzled and frustrated at this proclamation until he comes to the sudden realization that the special thing was “the journey “to that place. It reminds us that the destination does not matter as much as how we journey.  Ultimately, we all  end up as nothing more than a cold granite tombstone, a plaque on a memorial garden wall, or a wisp of ashes dancing on the breeze.  It’s what we do with our lives, with every day and every moment on this journey toward our final breath.

Buddha leads by example!

 My progress as a stationary pilgrim on a virtual search for pilgrimage sites across  Florida, the nation, and eventually the world, has helped me to clarify the nature of my trip. I have recently posted the connection to a new website at www.pilgrimagesite.com. You can find it by clicking on the pilgrimage site tab at the top of this page.  This site allows me to record the presence of retreat centers and potential pilgrimage sites that I find in my internet search.  This webpage contains no pictures or extensive descriptions, just a classification of with respect to its potential interest as a site and a webpage address.  This allows my fellow pilgrims to look at a site and decide on its personal significance to them.  Sites that might hold special significance in my journey, prompting questions and answers for me, might mean little or nothing to other pilgrims.  Even if we share an excitement about a particular site, you might be drawn to the spiritual significance of “the grotto” while I get lost in the spiritual significance of a nature trail.

Natures beauty invites reflection and awareness!

This search for potential sites has led me to questions concerning how to differentiate and classify these potential sites.  A pilgrimage has been defined typically in religious or spiritual terms as a journey or search of some great moral or spiritual significance. All of the world’s major religions have specific pilgrimage sites. Typically they are found in the lands where the faith originated.  For example within Buddhism there are four major pilgrimage sites these are associated with Buddha’s birth place, the site where he attained enlightenment, the site where he preached for the first time, and the site at which he slipped away from his material body. But a pilgrimage sites need not attain that level of significance to function as a journey destination, it need only have some level of spiritual significance for a group or an individual.  Many people make personal pilgrimages to honor their “fallen” ancestors on Memorial Day.  Other people may journey to the site of a special relic or the “first church” of their faith in the New World; I would call this an historically significant site. I have created a classification system whereby I identify sites as having potential significance on various dimensions: Artistic, Architectural, Historical, Scientific, Educational, Religious, and Natural (Nature).  

Retreat site on a hill top!

It seems that a pilgrimage journey is often undertaken when we seek an answer to some spiritual question or reconnection with some aspect of our faith.  Retreats on the other hand, seem to represent more of a temporary change or break from our normal daily routines, a chance to have some “down time” to seek silence and solitude.  This can be a time for prayer, a time to let go of pain, negative emotions, stress and reconnect with the things that are significant to us personally. Retreat centers, which there are many, seem to have as a principal feature the feelings of solitude and tranquility. I  find that retreat sites offer differing degrees of nature based solitude as a primary component.  As such retreat sites will range from what I call a Nature Site such as the Everglades National Park or at the Grand Canyon where an immersion in nature’s awe inspiring beauty is the sites primary offering. In fact if you are lucky such site will offer at least a port-a-potty to service your non-spiritual needs!  More common for the retreat sites I have previewed is what I would call Nature Tranquility which features things like a walking trail through the woods, a bench beside a tranquil river or a vista over a quiet valley.  Somewhat less significance with respect to nature are those sites that offer small but beautiful gardens, often next to a church or on the surrounding grounds.  There are also retreat sites that offer solitude but within an enclosed structure like you are what you might find in a large metropolitan area or in inner-city Zen temple with a simple garden and meditation rooms.

An unforseen spiritual crisis?

 Now that I have my pilgrimage site and retreat center webpage up and running, I’ll find it easier to navigate on my virtual journey.  When I come across sites that we will not visit, perhaps they’re too far out of the way or in some cases I’ve already traveled past the site’s location, I can simply post it for my fellow pilgrims to preview and perhaps visit on the own either virtually or in person. This serves to free my search as I can simply post all potential sites whether we may or may not visit in the future them as part of our virtual journey.   

On Saturday we will visit a Monastery on the outskirts of Tampa, I have found that monasteries and convents, which dot the countryside of our nation in larger numbers then you might think, make for popular retreat centers.  Remember that each breath, each step, each day is as important on our journey as making it to a specific destination!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 43                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 44

Today’s Mileage:  10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 365

 

Elusive target

Riding the bike today I struggle to choose a Blog topic.  I am reminded of a time with my two sons. We were wading along, knee deep in the water of a slow moving mountain creek.  We spoke little as each lost himself in the exploration of the water and the shoreline. Suddenly, my oldest son began to splash about, slapping the water in a vain attempt to catch one of the small, black water bugs that darted about the streams surface.  They were too elusive.  He would focus on one, miss his mark and then another would come along. It made for a humorous display as his efforts came up empty.  I am reminded of those efforts as I struggle to find a Blog topic. Each time I think I’ve captured one, I open my fingers and it’s gone!  Then I see another idea out of the corner of my eye.

Taiami trail

When this kind of frustration happens with a client, student or friend I always tell them to step back and look at “the bigger picture.”  When I do this I realize that among the swirl of topics are patterns.  Many of the topics are cued by ongoing world events, conflicts of a religious and/or political nature.  Some topics involve situations of personal relevance arising from my interactions with colleagues, family and friends.  Other topics involve my professional responsibilities as a teacher and a scientist.  When I step back from the swirl of darting ideas,  I see  unifying topics. The question is where do I focus my attention, my questions, my explanation and answers?  When talking about spirituality and religion, one can focus on the forms (content) of these beliefs. These varied forms include types of prayers, conceptualizations of God and the divine, religious ritual expressions and symbols, to name only a few.  One might also focus attention on the function (process) of religious and spiritual belief systems. 

Belief systems can appear very different in form and content while serving the same personal and group function and process, providing a sense of security, group cohesion during adversity and shared meaning.  There are those who ask the questions: What is the true name of God? What is the proper way to pray? Which are the valid sacred scriptures?  They seek the proper form. 

Palm trees along the trail.

I personally marvel at the diversity of religious beliefs in form and content.  I am dazzled by the colorful and mysterious displays of dancing and chanting, colorful vestments, burial ceremonies and symbols of ancient times.  Like walking through a garden, the last thing I would wish is to have all the flowers the same, all the trees bare the same colored leafs or pathways of only one type of stone. Those who seek to plant only one flower in our shared human garden, to eradicate all others by labeling them as weeds or intrusive foreign invaders, set themselves and all humanity upon a path of conflict and self-righteousness.  I will not engage you in an argument of which belief system has the true or proper form, but I will engage in a discussion of how belief systems may function against a unification of our human endeavors to grow, cooperate and survive!

If I may return for a moment to the story of my son and the water bugs.  After several failed attempts and a growing frustration, the capture attempts ceased.  My youngest son moved over from the shoreline and joined us. “What are you doing?” he asked.  “Trying to catch a water bug, it’s impossible!” exclaimed my oldest son.  The youngest looked down as he noticing for the first time the insects boaters, his arm darted forward barely disturbing the surface.  “You mean one of these!” he opened his hand to reveal a water bug paddling about in his palm!  Sometimes a clear mind and simple focus yields the rewards we seek.

 A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside. The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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