A chance encounter with a gentle prophet
It’s the unscripted encounters we never see coming that can inspire us on our journey. One brief moment in the vast expanse of time is all it takes to elevate us to a space we may not have known before. We can never quite see what awaits around each new bend until we make the turn. Celestial light rises through broken rays along a shaded path. Faint strains descend from afar as if to guide us on our way. Sometimes we just need that gentle nudge to where we need to be on the Camino of life. We cannot always do it on our own.
The hermit Pelayo could see the magic in the ordinary as he took those first steps towards the burial place of St. James over 1,000 years ago. Just one solitary man drawn to a holy shrine that awaited his discovery. Telepathic waves of light and sound pierced through veiled skies to lead him to the sacred vault. And so began the first pilgrim journey to Santiago. Visionaries, prophets, poets and hermits alike, speak of this same mystical life force there to guide us all on our way. Stillness is the gateway to this deeper realm. The key we need to enter lies within.
The pathway we are destined for is shaped as we walk. The pace we move at can often leave us with little time to pause, breathe and recalibrate. And so the patterns we slip into as we pursue our elusive goals soon take hold and we can easily lose sight of the small things that make life worth living. The people by our side often see it before we do. Sometimes, the universe lets us know that there’s more to our journey than the narrowed spheres we walk through. Unexpected encounters of a loving kind have the power to lead us to a new place. It is then we solitary pilgrims realise we are not alone.
Picture the scene; Elaine and I waiting in the car outside the Arrivals Terminal in Dublin Airport to collect the guest speaker for a pilgrim tourism gathering in Enniscorthy. Our plan was to leave the airport by 9.30pm and have him nicely ensconced in the Riverside Park Hotel just after 11pm in time for a good night’s sleep before his keynote address at the ‘Symposium’ to launch the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way the next morning. Our mystery guest, known to us as Satish, emailed to say his flight from Bristol was delayed. We braced ourselves for the wait on this cold, frosty evening happy to rest and chat after a busy week. The hours ticked by with interminable ease. We’d no choice but to sit still and wait. 1.15am the plane lands.
Satish was not as young as we expected. He smiled as he made his way into Arrivals; this small, diminutive figure whose steady steps spoke of a man who knew how to navigate his way in the world. Just himself, a folder and a small bag. This 86 year old had learned to travel light. We made our way to Enniscorthy captivated as much by his presence as by his story. The journey down the N11 was punctuated by tales from exotic lands until his eyes grew weary and he nodded off to sleep. We knew we were the privileged ones. This man had a mystique and kindness that lingered long into the night. He was refreshed and raring to go when we met him the next morning. We’d soon discover this resilience had been years in the making.
Peace-pilgrim, life-long activist and former monk, Satish Kumar has been inspiring global change for over 50 years. Aged 9, Satish renounced the world and became a wandering Jain monk. Inspired by Gandhi, he decided at 18 that he could achieve more back in the world, campaigning to turn Gandhi’s vision of a peaceful future into reality. Satish soon discovered that happiness is possible only when we are kind to others and contented within. The force and the strength for peace will come from people. And that will happen when people start to realize that all the diversity and differences we see of nationalities, of religions, of cultures, of languages, are all beautiful diversities, for they are only on the surface. And deep down we share the same humanity, the global humanity.
In his early 20s, Satish was inspired by the British peace activist, Bertrand Russell, who was arrested aged 89 at an anti-nuclear demonstration. This prompted Satish’s peace pilgrimage from India to Moscow, London, Paris, and America. Walking with no money and depending on the kindness and hospitality of strangers, Satish delivered a humble packet of ‘peace tea’ to the leaders of the four capitals of the nuclear world. Now in his 80s, he has devoted his life to campaigning for ecological regeneration, social justice, and spiritual fulfilment. 8 thousand miles over 2.5 years… this is a man with a story to tell. He spoke with such nonchalant ease, you knew his story and his message were one. I’ve rarely seen anyone command the room so effortlessly. He stirred something in us all!
Satish found his higher purpose from an early age. His simple song urges us to find ours. His gentle steps reflect his reverence for the land beneath his feet. This kind, humble man has a strength of conviction that belies his placid demeanour. His simple, unadorned truth ripples outwards from a deep place. Something intangible hovered in the room, a fleeting yet timeless brush with the divine, as his message of love was laid bare before our eyes. The prophet spoke in quiet hushed tones and led us to a new place. I took a few notes from my time with Satish, merging my own insights with his, to guide me on my journey. Deep down, Elaine and I both knew his wisdom would stay with us long after we parted at the airport the next day…
Do not rush the journey. Make time for the mystery and the magic in all you pass along the way.
Sometimes I come across a tree which seems like Buddha or Jesus: loving, compassionate, still, unambitious, enlightened, in eternal meditation, giving pleasure to a pilgrim, shade to a cow, berries to a bird, beauty to its surroundings, health to its neighbours, branches for the fire, leaves for the soil, asking nothing in return, in total harmony with the wind and the rain. How much can I learn from a tree? The tree is my church, the tree is my temple, the tree is my mantra, the tree is my poem and my prayer.
In a world that moves at pace, dare to find your own rhythm. Just be you.
Modern life can draw us away from our better selves. A conveyor belt of distractions pass before our eyes daily to entice us beyond all that really matters; iPhone, laptops, Netflix, PlayStation… whilst they can be good in themselves, if they take a hold we lose our grip on our own lives. We end up cloning into different versions of each other. Evolution favours diversity. Dare to be yourself and take a path few have chosen. Here, beyond the glare of the passer by, you will find happiness. “Pursuit of happiness” implies that we’re running after happiness and happiness is running away from us. Happiness is not out there, it is within us. Move beyond where the world leads and you will find a peace that gives life its meaning.
Be slow to impose your own expectations on others. Give them the space to map their own course.
Your children are not your children. They are lives longing for itself. They come here with their own destiny. Give them your love. They will find their own way.
Never stop believing in yourself no matter what the world may tell you. Any mistakes you have made, learn from them and hand them back to the universe with love. Find the character to rise again.
We all make mistakes. We all fall in life. The key is to summons as much energy as possible to pick ourselves up. Channel your pain to help others carry theirs. Rise above the ridicule of those who judge you from the wings without ever knowing your truth. Your slip ups do not define you. They’re the stepping stone to you finding your place in the universe. To be a pilgrim drop your expectations. Walk humbly with your God. Your experience of pain and persecution can open your pores to the pain of others. When you give in service to others, you walk to a new beat.
Make time to connect to your inner world. Here you’ll find the creative spark that changes everything.
We human beings are spiritual beings. We have soul. We have spirit. We have mind. We have consciousness. We want fulfilment, we want happiness, we want satisfaction, we want joy. We want imagination. We want art, culture, music. Quality and perfection are achieved with time. You do not create a perfect painting or a perfect poem by hurrying. Time is always coming.
Satish. Thank you for the gift of your wisdom which you carry with such courage and dignity. You blaze a trail for us to follow. You have reminded us that nothing really ever happens by chance. Your energy inspires us to find ours. Farewell fellow traveller until we meet again.
Dr Phil and Elaine are looking forward to rolling out our Celtic Ways Series in 2023 aimed at connecting iconic pilgrim walks and trails in Southern Ireland with the Way of St. David along the Welsh coastline. Our Camino tour offerings are inclusive of coach transfers, ferry crossing, accommodation, guest guides, packed lunches, evening meals, pilgrim passports, memorable cultural experiences. We tailor everything to suit you. For further information, check out www.waterfordcamino.com or email Phil and Elaine directly on firstname.lastname@example.org