“Walk gently on Mother Earth. She is the only one we have. Thank you, Geoff, for reminding us to be reverent and caring for the environment.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

How fascinating is the idea that the path to joy does not lead us away from suffering and adversity, but through it. I’ve been revisiting my life and my world walk within this context and reframing some of my beliefs and perceptions.

Rewind to July 2011 and I took my first steps on a pilgrimage to raise awareness around climate change issues, vowing to listen to my inner prompts and to answer the call of my soul, even when the invitations were contrary to all that seemed safe and sensible.

I was 62 years old and thriving on a plant-based diet with plenty of exercise. I had faith in a benign universe and cherished a belief that nothing was impossible; or, put differently, whatever we can dream and imagine IS possible.

My life was outwardly blessed as I enjoyed the trappings of worldly success, although from my earliest childhood I’d been plagued by eco-grief and anxiety as I observed a pervasive mindset driving materialism, greed and often an insensitivity to the suffering of others, human and non-human. The world I knew and loved was changing and unravelling fast. I had to do something.

With the benefit of hindsight, my plan was as ego-driven as it was grandiose. I’d walk 40,075km, the equivalent of the circumference of the Earth, with climate change messages. I’d write about my experiences and embrace simplicity and minimalism as a spiritual practice. When you’re a walking pilgrim you can only carry so much.

The words of Peace Pilgrim, who walked tirelessly for 28 years without money or organisational support, often echoed in my awareness: “Unnecessary possessions become unnecessary burdens,” she cautioned. “You have to look after them.”

I came to celebrate Satish Kumar as a special mentor. “As a pilgrim I discover the mystery, the magic, the meaning and the magnificence of life in every step I take, in every sound I hear and in every sight I see.”  My walk was often exhilarating, empowering and inspiring.

On day one, my daughter Bonnie had insisted: “Dad you don’t have to suffer.”  But it was months before the message landed. My back hurt, my feet ached and my heels had great gaping holes in them where untreated blisters had morphed into something worse. Hardly surprising, I realise now. I was walking up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week and carrying more than 20kg. My message was about treading lightly and lovingly upon the Earth, but I had so many pains in my body. Did I not recognise the irony in that?

I saw this path as unavoidable and appreciate now how my life had prepared me for this. I’d always been tenacious and goal driven, my motorsport career having taught me never to give up. I used to joke: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re wasting space.”

Creature comforts seemed unimportant. In a quest to save weight, I didn’t carry a tent and confronted my claustrophobia nightly by wriggling into a bivvy bag that was reminiscent of the body bags we glimpse in crime and disaster scenes.

I didn’t carry a cooker because that would have added more weight and I went for weeks without a hot drink.

“Dad, you don’t have to suffer.” No, this is just what I do. And it feels right. For now. My daughter Bon had also suggested:“Dad you don’t have to do this alone.” I persisted with my solo mission, reassuring myself that I was never alone. I was One with the Divine and so it goes without saying that I kept great company.

Walking in nature I felt the interconnectedness of all life and was often awed and inspired by the beauty of the natural world, which I view as the outer face of Divinity. I imagined each step as a prayer and a blessing, given and received and once had powerful confirmational support from an aboriginal elder who’d observed me walking a beautiful Australian beach each day. “Thank you for blessing our Mother with your footsteps,” he said with gratitude.

Two years into my pilgrimage I agreed to ‘walk with wolves’ as an ambassador for the World Wilderness Congress, following a migration route through six European countries and four major mountain ranges. It turned out to be a 124-day, 2 500km trek between Geneva and the Spanish medieval city of Salamanca and midway I was joined by my South African adventure buddy, John Horler. By now I was supremely fit and when he initially became ill, we had to slow radically. Frustration turned to gratitude. My feet healed, we decided to walk fewer hours and take Sundays off as rest days. When my Australian friend, Amala, joined us for the last three weeks, it became even more relaxed and social. I remembered a Findhorn community credo:“If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable”.

A group of young people joined for the last 100km and, strolling into Salamanca, I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. It was fun and, importantly, it was inspiring to be in the presence of energetic young idealists who are the future. An Austrian teen, Lisa Klime and her dog, Jala, trekked even longer and further than we did. I was awed by her courage and determination. Appreciating that service to others is the rent we pay for our room here on Earth. I admired the bold gesture of her 3 000km walk and the symbiotic nature of her loving relationship with her plucky canine companion.

Within hours of reaching the Congress headquarters, English-born activist, Kate Bunney, asked out of the blue: “Geoff, would you like to keep walking?”

“Of course, this is my mission”.

Kate was inspired to initiate a source-to-sea pilgrimage in California to raise awareness around our broken relationship with water. It was a time of extreme drought and corporate and governmental disrespect for this life-giving ally. Water is life.

I had some private misgivings about becoming part of a group, although I quickly experienced the power and joy of a community of kindred spirits. I’d never been happier or more fulfilled. It had been decided that we would only undertake the gruelling Walking Water pilgrimage once we had the wholehearted blessing of the indigenous tribes who were the original inhabitants and had invariably been forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands. It took two long years to convince them of our sincerity.

Our route followed the waterways, offering challenges matched only by the magnificence of the landscapes. Our footsteps transported us from the snowcapped peaks of the high Sierras, where our water bottles froze one night, through desert adjoining Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth. I loved every step of it. Many from the tribes joined us and each evening we circled up and enjoyed authentic and profoundly moving sharings. This, I believe, is how we are meant to live, listening deeply to other voices without judgment and coming to respect indigenous wisdom.

It was the time of Standing Rock and we shared some of the agony of their cruel and violent victimisation by the authorities. Their inhumane treatment made us painfully aware of the many suffering injustices as they bravely and peacefully stood for their beliefs as protectors.

It’s easy to be disheartened and even to sink into despair, but all my wanderings over the past few years have opened my eyes to the beauty all around us, in the landscapes and the people who love and protect them. It fills me with hope and joy to witness the magnitude and intensity of this focus on spiritual values rather than rampant consumerism. It might not always grab news headlines, but together we are creating a more loving and caring world.

Once a friend called out to me that he’d found a dead hummingbird in the path. “Maybe it’s flown into something and is just stunned,” I suggested, praying I was right. With incredible gentleness he lifted it in his cupped hand and about 15 minutes later he suddenly announced: “It’s alive.” It sat up in that warm protective hand and before I could raise my smartphone to grab an image, it bulleted skyward, disappearing into the top of a towering redwood. I missed the photo but the moment is indelibly etched in my memory. That tiny bird’s flight to freedom felt like a miracle and my hope and optimism soared with it. I suddenly felt sure we can do whatever it takes, whatever is needed; especially if we work together.

www.earthpilgrimafrica.com

 

Geoff Dalglish

Geoff Dalglish

Odyssey's 'Pilgrim at Large'

Geoff Dalglish is a writer and spiritual and ecological activist dedicated to raising consciousness. He has walked more than 30 000km with climate change messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth. He is an ambassador for the Findhorn spiritual community and ecovillage and is Odyssey’s ‘Pilgrim at Large’.

To connect with Geoff email [email protected] or visit www.findhorn.org.

Geoff Dalglish

Geoff Dalglish is a writer and spiritual and ecological activist dedicated to raising consciousness. He has walked more than 30 000km with climate change messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth. He is an ambassador for the Findhorn spiritual community and ecovillage and is Odyssey’s ‘Pilgrim at Large’.