Each pilgrimage has some. You feel full of joy. Everything just seems right; the sun, the flowers, the wind, the feel of the path, the cultural exposure, the animals you meet, the person who smiled, the grass you sat on…. Today had some of these things (beautiful varied paths, interesting places, lovely spot for lunch, a hare, a fox with her cub – my heart melted – friendly greetings…) The last couple of hours were really hard, but that happens when you break the 20km barrier.
I did spend some time immersed in the landscape of September 1914, wondering how war could fit into this idyll I was experiencing. I passed a farm that had been occupied by the Germans ->
I also passed a Nécropole nationale on top of the hill above Étrépilly, with a monument on the very spot of the harshest fighting. It was super small because most of the bodies were in ossuaries – the habit of individual graves had not yet started. The monument was erected in time for the one year anniversary in 1915 when the war wasn’t over, but the front line was elsewhere. I found it hard to contemplate how this history, which is both close and faraway, happened within walking distance of where I live.
The contrast with my impression of the landscape created such cognitive dissonance that it was hard to dwell on it much.
One reason why today had a sense of elation, was that I found space and time to ‘meditate’ as I walked. A buddhist teacher I heard from Plum Village talks about the arrival of each step; feeling as if you have arrived as your foot reaches the ground, that sense of this moment being the only moment, and being a perfect wonderful moment. I decided to explore breathing whilst counting my steps. Seems to work best if I concentrate on the floor (see my reflection post for today) although then I worry about not being present to more of my surroundings. I found myself thinking about something I read in Evelyn Underhill’s book Practical Mysticism. She talks about how an aim of taking the path of mysticism is to experience the world not through the prism of thought, and mentions Keats ardently wishing to escape from thought, to have just sensations:
He felt—as all the poets have felt with him—that another, lovelier world, tinted with unimaginable wonders, alive with ultimate music, awaited those who could free themselves from the fetters of the mind, lay down the shuttle and the weaver’s comb, and reach out beyond the conceptual image to intuitive contact with the Thing.Evelyn Underhill Practical Mysticism, Chapter two
I’ve found in the past that I can even end up in a trance-like state. It can be fleeting or more prolonged. For example, when I’ve faced difficulty or pain, it becomes necessary to have some kind of mantra to be able to carry on. If I still have a long long way to go, and the uphill is never ending, then the only way to get to the end of the journey for the day is to lose myself in focus on a repeating object of concentration. I’m really keen to explore this more deeply in the coming days, though perhaps without the intensity of the pain and difficulty!