Pilgrim’s Weekend – Oxford
25 – 26 April 2015
Satish Kumar – ‘The Way of the Pilgrim’
Satish Kumar joined Gatekeeper for this year’s Pilgrim’s Weekend, giving an inspiring talk, filled with insights, some parts of which are summarised here. He gave renewed direction to the Gatekeeper Trust and its role in helping us reclaim true connection with our sacred land.
Satish began by remembering his original pilgrimage from his home in India. He walked from India to London, taking no money and relying on trust in others on the way. Those close to him begged him not to go, as he would be walking through dangerous conflict zones, with no money or food. A close friend offered three packets of food which he thought about and politely declined. Those packets were not packets of food, but packets of fear and mistrust. He was prepared to trust – in himself, in the generosity of others, in the abundance of the land, in the universe.
From London he journeyed on to America and met with Martin Luther King who was curious to meet this peace pilgrim. He went on from there to Japan and Hiroshima to complete the pilgrimage, the full story of which is told in his book, ‘No Destination’.
What is it to be a pilgrim? It is about attitude. The pilgrim has an attitude of acceptance of what comes. This is different to being a tourist. A tourist has an attitude of expectation. It involves so much planning. The tourist goes zooming around in straight lines as quickly as possible and has expectations – of outcomes, of being served, of being fed, of having a good time, of having good weather and so on. Inevitably the tourist is disappointed.
The pilgrim is humble, with no expectations. The pilgrim learns to accept whatever comes and so is never disappointed. This means trusting in ourselves, in others, in the abundance of the earth and the universe.
Peace begins with trust. I will trust. I will trust because wars and conflict begin in fear. Trust in yourself, your resilience, your imagination, your love and compassion. These are the hallmarks of a pilgrim.
The pilgrim is like a tree that cannot only want sunshine, but has to accept storms, winds, freezing rains. The pilgrim welcomes what is given: I enjoy sunshine, I enjoy rain. When nobody will feed me, I thank them for helping me have a fast day. When there is nowhere to stay, I sleep under the stars, in my million star hotel!
Be like a river, which doesn’t go in straight lines, it meanders where it needs to go. Be like water, entirely flexible – put it in a bucket and it is bucket shaped, in a bottle, and it is bottle shaped. Water doesn’t fight rocks, it goes round them. Yet water never loses its identity and integrity – it is always water. So be flexible but don’t lose your identity.
Do not look for the fruits of your actions. We cannot know the outcome, all we can do is say what our plan is and the spirit of what we are doing. We cannot predict the outcome, it is not our business. Look for abundance, not convenience. There are convenience stores which have everything you could possibly want, 24 hours a day. Our lives are cossetted round with things that try to ensure our convenience and remove all risk. But this life of convenience is a prison – it is so boring!
Satish went on to share some insights from his new book: ‘Soil, Soul, Society’.
Soil is not a resource for the economy, or for our food. It is the very source of life. As the soul is for humans, so is the soil for life. We need to revere, respect and relate to the soil. Learn to love and understand the humus in soil, that essential part of our the soil that shares the same root as human and also humility.
Everything comes from the earth beneath our feet. Buddha’s son asked his father, “Where did you learn all this wisdom that you teach to all? Who is your teacher?” Buddha replied “My teacher is the soil”. Everybody can be a part-time gardner, every school and place of learning can have a garden. If we want a happy, healthy, sustainable future, we need to re-connect with the soil.
It is the job of organisations such as Gatekeeper Trust, Temenos Academy, Resurgence, Schumacher College to campaign to remind the world that the land and the soil are sacred. Albion is a sacred land. The role of Gatekeeper is to bring this vision of the sacred land of Albion, and share how we love and care for our sacred land.
It is the land which has kept us going – not Tesco’s or banks or politicians, not businesses or academics. They don’t talk about the land, the forests, the lakes and hills or the sacred places such as Lindisfarne or Iona. Land is not real estate for us to use and just build, build, build. The classical economy did not have money at the top – land and labour came before capital. The true capital is natural and human.
Is it more effective to walk in pilgrimage than to fight politicians? Transformation has many dimensions – both are necessary: to be the change and to campaign for change. We need to bring the spiritual and the material together. The great ones, like Mandela or Martin Luther King or Ghandi are servants. It is not about achievement. A pilgrim has no failure and is not afraid of difficulties – and even seeks them.
Acceptance – that is total freedom! This must come from our own courage. We are all endowed with divine power which has great courage and imagination. Think of Mandela – what sustained him, without rancour, for 27 years? Where did that energy come from? Each of us is endowed with this energy, but somehow it becomes dampened or dormant, buried, suppressed.
Pain is part of life, so do not be afraid of it. Welcome it and care for it. We are not seeking a cure, we are seeking to heal. Healing is a continuous process, and the sleeping and the caring is the healing process. Hunger is part of life and it is good that we have to cook, to chop, chop, chop onions every day. Embrace a life of simplicity and elegance, taking joy in yourself. Act all the time. Cooking and gardening are beautiful , they are the life process.
Life is a pilgrimage. So be a pilgrim, have humility and acceptance, not expectation. Don’t look for convenience, take risks and above all trust.
We were fortunate to have Sam Lee join us for the day. Satish invited him to open with a song, one which is not recorded so no copy for us to share. Sam is an innovative folk singer and Mercury Prize nominee, who is reviving the traditional English folk and Romany songs, interpreting them in new ways for a contemporary audience : www.samleesong.co.uk/about-sam/
Here he talks about the making of his latest album: www.youtu.be/fNHE7Sij4sE
His beautiful song opened the space for Satish to offer his inspirational talk.
We set out to walk in pilgrimage into Oxford city centre. Satish led us in a silent walking meditation beside the river. As we reached the edge of the city streets, we sat by the river to hear a story of dragons, Merlin and prophecy told by Eric Maddern. This story connects Oxford to Wales.
Eric is a gifted storyteller who spoke at the last conference and one key point he made was how powerful it is to tell the story of the place in that place. So we are especially grateful Eric travelled from Wales to join us to bring a story of Oxford. You can see more of his work at Cae Mabon, the centre he has built and runs.
On Sunday, Jeremy Naydler took us on a tour of old Oxford. He showed us the footprint of Medieval Oxford, with its city walls and gateways, based on the four directions. St Michael churches guard those entrances, north and south and St Martin stands at the centre. He explained how the academic city of Oxford grew from its base within the University Church of St Mary, moving from there to the Bodleian. He showed us many instances where the traces of the past can be clearly seen among the modern day city, especially when you know where to look.
We visited the castle mound which is an intriguing place we need to revisit and reaffirmed the connections with Wales that are strongly linked to this castle mound and to the adjacent church of St George. Jeremy chose to complete the tour with time spent at New College as the cloisters have an intrinsic peace and sublimity one rarely finds.
The real origins of the university go back much deeper than the Middle Ages, and it was not possible to take this further on the walk on Sunday. The general consensus was that we want to return to Oxford and start from the room in the University Church where the original university had its first library.
If you would like to be part of the group now forming to explore Oxford more fully, please be in touch.
We also enjoyed a variety of reports in the morning from Gatekeeper trustees and local contacts, sharing the various ways the Trust keeps on walking our sacred land and encircling the land with sacred dance.