Day 11, in Healdsburg, CA.
Yesterday, biked 40 miles in four hours, almost non-stop, down 2,000ft and up 1,000ft, in chilling El Nino rain, through the coastal hills and then the Sonoma wine country. The experience of the rain and the cold alternated between mystical and miserable -- depending on whether my awareness is on duty.
I now am sitting in a warm and dry apartment in Healdsburg, CA, above the company office where I used to work. Former boss and still dear friend has extended to me the "employee benefit" of staying here.
As an El Nino "refugee", I will be staying put until next Monday, to wait out the rain and wind. Precious time to catch up on reading and writings from the first 10 days of the Journey, as well as the pre-departure backlog.
Here are some reflections from the past days.
Soulcraft: Journeying into the Underworld
From Mar 5-9th, I participated in a Soulcraft Intensive with 30 other millennials, as part of the Millennial Quest, led by the guides from Animas Valley Institute. To quote the official blurb, the Intensive is a "five-day experiential plunge into the wild depths of Soulcraft; a synergistic set of nature-based practices designed to evoke the life-shifting experience of soul encounter. Your soul is your true self, those qualities that most deeply define and express who you are and the unique gift that you were born to bring to the world, a world so much in need of the socially transforming contributions of initiated, actively engaged adults. To encounter the soul is to discover the mystical image you were born with, which reveals the path to your greatest personal fulfillment as well as the essence of your true service to society (the cross-cultural wisdom traditions say these are one and the same)."
Bill Plotkin offers this worldview as context. There are three worlds: the upper world is that of the spirit -- the transcendental, unifying oneness; the middle world is what we conventionally think of as the "real world" -- the day-to-day experiences; the underworld is that of the soul -- unique to each individual, a mytho-poetic hero's journey.
I joined the Quest because my intuition knows that the Journey to the Underworld (shadow work, soul work) is lacking in my overall practices, and will be essential at some point in the near future. Here's some of what I learned from the Intensive.
1. Dreams are not to be interpreted, but to let the dreams do their work on us. Describe the dream in the present tense, as if it is happening. The dream world is just as real -- if not more -- as the waking world.
2. Everything in the world is aware of us.
3. The non-human beings (and inanimate objects) are not here on Earth for our purposes. They have their own souls.
4. "Shadow" is a sub-personality of ours that's unconscious or repressed, and something that we will vehemently deny if pointed out.
5. Once we have received our soul's calling, we will need to translate our soul work into a "delivery system" in the material world. For example, Bill Plotkin's soul work (mytho-poetic identity) is a "cocoon weaver"; his delivery systems include writing, speaking, leading soul initiations and wilderness journeys.
6. "If the Earth is indeed conscious, what would she be doing now?" "She would be sending us big dreams."
7. "We are never fully healed. And there's more to life than healing."
8. Our greatest power and gifts dwell within our core wounds.
In general, I can say that in these five days, "nothing happened for me". And that's exactly what needed to happen. Here’s why. Almost exactly a year ago, I have already received my soul's calling -- go on a pilgrimage back to China. The Universe has shown up and done its part. Now, I just need to show up and do my part. Put in the work. Revisiting the questions of "what's my calling" is begging for disaster, as if asking God to give me another sign or assurance.
Remembering the Purpose
It is shocking -- and embarrassing, that less than a week into the pilgrimage, I frequently catch myself wondering, and struggling to recall, why am I on this journey? What was I doing again?
The weeks of busy preparation, the hard days of physical exertion, the tired nights of skipping the daily meditation -- all these forces are trying to wash away the imprint of the purpose of this pilgrimage.
I realized that a pilgrimage is swimming against strong current: unless I consciously remind myself daily (or hourly) of the purpose of the journey, and unless I pay my dues (through meditation and service), I will quickly forget my purpose, and turn from a pilgrim into a lost wanderer.
Good to know, especially at the beginning :)
Cancer and Healing
During the first 10 days if the journey, almost every day, the family or groups I stay with all have direct encounters with cancer: being sick themselves, or have dear ones in their life experiencing cancer.
Meg Hirshberg, my host on Day 1 of the pilgrimage, has healed from cancer twice, and has dedicated the past few years of her life in supporting an anti-cancer lifestyle, as preventative of this modern curse. She noted that when recovered cancer patient ask their doctors what they can do now, the doctors just say, "Come back for your scan in 6 months."
In a system dominated by medical-industrial complex, "prevention" is rarely talked about. The leading cancer support organizations receive much of their funding from big polluters, and shy away from engaging in any deeper changes that could undermine corporate profits.
The root cause of cancer lies in our lifestyle, or heart-and-mind-style. To truly heal from -- and prevent -- cancer would call for nothing short of a total revolution. Many seeds are being planted in the cracks.
Below are the posts from earlier days, originally appeared on the Facebook Page.
Day 1, 2016/2/29
This morning, before departure, as I sat down for the morning hour of meditation at Casa de Paz at Canticle Farm, tears flowed unstoppably for half an hour -- tears of gratitude and repentance. I felt enveloped in strong and tender metta, as I saw faces of many loved ones passing in front of the mind's eye, as if in a slide show.
However, even as the tears streamed down, part of the mind was already writing a "blog post" about these tears, putting on quite a show for myself and others to see. Such is the mind I carry now :)
Beautiful Day 1. A passenger in a car rolled down her window, shouting out "good job!" with a big smile. I waved back, riding a little higher on my Earth-flag-adorned "horse". Right then, right there, my seat sank. I struggled to the side of the road -- the seat post broke (see photos)! The one-inch thick metal rod broke in half, on Day 1 of the pilgrimage. I looked up, there's a bike shop right in front of my eyes. It took less than 15 minutes to replace a new one.
Was it "lucky" or "unlucky", that the seat post -- not something that really breaks -- broke on Day 1, but right in front of a bike shop, and not when I was cruising downhill at 20 mph just a few minutes prior? Good reminder to not ride too high on the horse, otherwise the seat will break!
Sending much gratitude and love to all!
Day 3, 2016/3/1
Pt. Reyes Station to Bodega Bay. In the mini town of Tomales, I noticed that my handlebar had come loose on the steerer. As I approached a group of biker to borrow a wrench, and we chatted, they told me they were just speaking to a young woman who's on her first day of walking across the US! I met Angela outside of the deli (pictured here), who is walking by herself across the US "from California to Maryland to help raise awareness about PTSD and to gather stories of our veterans and what they endured during their time of war", on a pilgrim named Unite the Journey.
As a veteran herself, and coming from a family of veterans, she said, radiant with conviction and joy, that she felt blessed to have found her life's calling at this moment. I can totally relate. We both felt this encounter is meant to be, that the two pilgrimages come to support each other at these early days. We were even wearing the exactly same model of Buffs, to emphasize the synchronicity.
On this end, I biked for most of the day in a cold early-March drizzle. Finished listening to The World Peace Diet, and started to listen to Seat of the Soul. As the cold rain soak through the rain jacket and sucked out the body heat, I started to knock on doors of strangers in this little fishing town. Many houses are empty, being vacation homes for San Franciscans.
After about half a dozen knocks to no avail, I was ready to head toward a camp site, in desperation for shelter from rain. Then, came upon an open door, said hello, and was welcomed in by a most hospitable couple, who invited me to stay inside, prepared a hot bath with sea salt (first immersion bath I've had in seven years), cooked a high-carb dinner, and we all enjoyed it while watching "The Martian"... I hope I am not cashing out the good karma all at once :) Very grateful for my first "stranger-host" of the pilgrimage, on this first rainy day.
The host is a scuba diver, and related stories of dying reefs all over the world due to ocean acidification.
On Day 1, while at the home of Gary Hirshberg, I asked this dear friend/mentor and fellow Hampshire College alum of his "pulse check" on the state of the world. He said, "We are not a very wise species. We seem to need to learn from pain. I sense we are in a phase of increasing pain. Hope we would learn what we need to learn in time." Having been a driving force behind the GMO-labeling initiative, Just Label It, Gary said he has learned more about the US political system in the past two years than the previous 50+ years combined. When asked to sum up the character of the system in three words, he half-joked, "prone to manipulation", or "up for sale".
The first three days has been a series of mini-miracles, deep blessings, and humbling beginnings. Bowing to the forces and all the teachers.
Day 4, 2016/3/3, Golden Rabbit Ranch.
Google Maps said it was only 24 miles, so I thought it would be an easy day. It turned out to be one of the most challenging riding days, even compared to the cross-country trip 2 years ago.
Cold, rainy, and over 3,000 ft of elevation gain in 3 hours, with a fully loaded bike. I walked and pushed most of the 18%-grade uphills. The single long sleeve shirt I had on got wet and dry a few times, alternating between getting soaked by the mist, and being steam-dried by my body heat when the rain relented.
Throughout the day, I tried to remind myself of the motto from Hampshire College OPRA, "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional." Be aware of the sensations; don't make them into mental afflictions. Wish I had some training in meditation before I biked across the country 2.5 years ago -- would have made much better use of the many unavoidable pains :)
Anticipating a steep climb, I got rid of (mailed home) two of the four pannier bags I was carrying, essentially cutting my storage capacity by half. No more front panniers, gave away my front rack -- how liberating! It is freeing to know that I can cut my "stuff" or "usable room" by half overnight, and still be fine. From now on, the White Dragon Horse will journey around the world with just two rear panniers.
Also decided that it is a blessing that my bike computer stopped functioning. I didn't really need to know my precise speed, maximum speed, distance traveled, or ambient temperature. They are only mental comforts and attachments, or bragging rights. And, the more sensory functions I outsource to gadgets, the less I am aware through the body's intuitive wisdom. Part of the pilgrimage, is to see how much stuff I can let go of, within the limit of physical safety, pushing the boundary of mental safety.
In the little town of Jenner (photo here, whose town population and elevation are both prime numbers...), met two motorcyclist at a gas station. Upon hearing their German accent, I started to chat with them in German, and learned that the couple have been travelling the world on motorcycles -- BMW bikes, no less :) By now, I am starting to get used to the daily encounters with pilgrims or world travelers. Once I enter that pace, I seem to meet fellow pilgrims everywhere.
Arrived at Golden Rabbit Ranch, cold and exhausted, right when their sheep walk is starting. Starhawk waved and invited me to join them for the walk. My body was very ready for a warm shower, but my spirit lifted me up for the walk. Feel blessed to be on this sacred land -- all sacred land.
Cooked and shared dinner with the lovely small community here on the ranch. At night, rolled out my sleeping bag in a half-finished barn (it has two of the four walls), above a few dozens of goats and sheep. Fell asleep with the symphony of sheep butting heads, goats peeing, and baby lamb making baby lamb sounds.
Struggled up in the middle of the night out of the sleeping bag, as I realized that both legs were about to have serious cramps. Got up in the cold mist to stretch the legs. Felt like a dream. A good one.
The physical demands have been so high, that I felt stretched to maintain mindfulness in other realms. Kept asking myself: how is this journey different from the cross-county trip I did last time? What makes this one a pilgrimage, instead of just another trip?
For the next five days, will be participating in The Millennial Quest, and mostly offline. Thank you for all your blessings and support! Happy dreaming, friends!
A pilgrimage around the globe by bicycle, in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.