Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pilgrimage and Altered Mindset

Andrew Watermountain here...

In all religious and spiritual traditions, there are places of pilgrimage and great teaching. Medieval Europe learned to work with stone in order to build cathedrals as housings for relics from the life of Christ and the major saints, and both the Church and ordinary seekers designated pilgrimage routes to reach them, highways of transit for those on a journey to purify the soul. Islam, of course, has the Hajj, the annual journey to Mecca and the sevenfold circuit of the Kaabah. Buddhism has the stupas of India and Indonesia and certain Tibetan lamaseries in the high Himalayas. Hinduism has the shores of the Ganges in the city of Benares, Shinto has the Ise shrine, Native Americans have their sacred spots; even American patriots have Gettysburg, the Lincoln Memorial, and Monticello.

When I go to SpiritFire, I leave my little New England town by back roads that wind and twist past old stone walls, the public library of a neighboring town, and a thin but deep lake in a steep-walled valley. If I have time, I cross the highway rather than go onto it, and continue across the lake in Holland, MA, past the windmill there, and through the broad valley around Brimfield, MA on US-20. In Palmer, I can pick up the MASSPike, or continue west on blue highways past milltowns and the reservoir, sleepy Congregational churches on town commons, and all manner of gas stations and forests. like taking this back way home; it gives me time to reflect on what I've learned, to stop and meet people who went to SpiritFire too, or who didn't go but wanted to. We have coffee, we eat meals, we deal with the lack of sleep and the altered perceptions.

If I don't have time, and I go by the highway, there are other landmarks: the insurance towers of Hartford, the hall of fame in Springfield, the interchange to the MassPike, the steep cliffs of the Berkshires, the walkover for the Appalachian Trail, the shopping malls of Lenox and Lee, the rest areas on the highway for coffee and danish and bathrooms.

None of these landmarks are 'sacred' to me. I don't view them as anything more than wayposts or signs that point out where I'm going, or how I get there. But I find that my perceptions of my journeys to other places are affected. When I go to Hartford, I've caught myself thinking, "a right turn here and I'd be on my way to SpiritFire. Only a few months to go." I'll be going to some event or another, and I'll see Berkshire cliffs covered in snow, and think of them green and warm in June, July and August. People, too, function as wayposts... seeing SpiritFire people in other contexts is always nice, but there's that shared secret smile, that understanding: we have danced under moonlight to the drums on the mountain together.

What are the inner, and outer, wayposts of your journey to and from SpiritFire? Are there specific landmarks or specific portals that you notice as you travel? What makes the journey to, or from, SpiritFire special to you?


Lisa B said...

I suddenly see the "portals" you refer to in so many places and faces since you've made this post, Andrew. One of the newest for me is facebook. At first this online network just seemed another way to have my precious time siphoned, but with so many familiar faces, profiles, comments and other bits of information, I feel connected with my fire family on a daily basis in a way that never existed before. I am only beginning to understand the potential of this amazing medium in which I thought only high school kids "wasted" their time.

Josselyne said...

Thank you Andrew....

Our journey to the mountain takes us down Rt. 22, a back-woods road that goes through many small upstate New York towns until we hit New Lebanon. While there are visual markers that tell me "I'm getting closer", it's the temporal markers that supply a feeling of progress. We just had our first staff meeting, and that always feels like a boost - the momentum has been achieved - and from now on, I mark the journey to SpiritFire via dates. When do I really "Arrive"? ... my landing always comes on Thursday night, watching the silent candlelight procession arrive from the pavilion. I get goosebumps, and know that I'm home.