Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pilgrimage to the Heart of Australia

‘Be Safe and Well
Peace, Love, Courage’ – Egyptian blessing for those leaving on a pilgrimage.

Many spiritual traditions throughout the world link meditation and pilgrimage. For over a thousand years, Tibetan Buddhists have tried to make at least one pilgrimage to the Johkang Temple in Lhasa, often on foot, in a journey that can take many months.

There are Christian pilgrimage paths throughout Europe, some of which, like the Camino de Santiago in Spain have become more widely popular in recent years. And of course there is the largest pilgrimage in the world, the annual Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim strives to make.

Individuals also make their own pilgrimages to places of personal significance to support their spiritual and meditational practices.

The goal of meditation and of pilgrimage is the same. As in deep meditation, the intention to undertake a journey as a pilgrim can bring us to a state of transformation in which the old self is stripped away and we can approach liberation through a new sense of unity.

The Dalai Lama said that the purpose of a pilgrimage is to engage in transformation; if we come home the same as we left, it was not worth the time or money.

The most powerful pilgrimage destinations combine unusual or beautiful natural features and the devotional energy of people who have meditated or prayed in that place, often over centuries. The journey itself can be an extended meditation and those that involve walking the land with reverence bring the energy and patterns of love back to the Earth.

For the last few years, it’s been my practice to take an annual pilgrimage. These have been journeys of the heart, to places such as Tibet, India, Orkney and Peru. This year I went to Uluru, the heart of Australia.

In the ancient tradition of pilgrimage, the journey of spiritually inspired travel is as important as the destination. They’ve all offered me challenges, difficulties, insights and ‘opportunities for growth’.

The path to Uluru
On my journey in September 2012, there were daily challenges of camping in weather that varied from below freezing to +37 degrees, a blown tyre, damaged shock absorber as well as coming across a serious road accident that closed the highway for hours.

All these things led us to our first glimpse of Uluru, which the explorer Ernest Giles, the first European to see it, called ‘ancient and sublime’.

It is a place of mystery, story and ceremony for the traditional custodians, the Yankuntjatjara  and Pitjantjatjara people, known collectively as Anangu – simply ‘people’.

‘The Rock’, a massive sandstone inselberg, is believed to extend six kilometers into the earth, surrounded by low sandhills covered in spinifex and mulga, is a breathtaking presence that draws you close and invites meditation. No matter whether you are walking under it’s huge curves and channels or gazing from a distance, its energy demands your attention and contemplation.

The pilgrimage is a metaphor for life and when we hold the attitude of a pilgrim, we learn that the way we approach the challenges and joys of the journey tells us a great deal about the way we live our lives.

Uluru invites every Australian to come to the harsh desert centre and experience living in this country in a different way.

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