(English version below, about the year-long preparation for the pilgrimage.)
It has been almost 2 weeks since departure on Feb 29th. The pre-departure experiences have increasingly become a blur. Now might be the best time to capture some reflections, before Time further smears the edges of memories :)
In the archetypal journey of the soul, the protagonist hears the call, prepares for the journey, descends into the unknown, and "returns home".
I heard the call in March 2015: go on a pilgrimage to China, in service of the awakening of our time. Right at that moment, my deeper awareness knew I had to follow it, and things would never be the same again. My shallower ego kicked and screamed and wallowed in denial for a few weeks. It took a year of preparation to get on the road, on the Leap Day of 2016, symbolizing a "leap of faith".
The majority of 2015 was spent on clarifying how to deliver the soul's calling in the physical world (short answer: bicycling around the world), and on closing the energetic and logistical loops of the old life (such as quitting the job), preparing for the "pupation".
End of year of 2015 was the "inner" phase, including a 25-day stay at Vipassana center to develop the faith and discipline to continue the daily meditation practice while on the road. As well as distilling the vows I would take, and where I fall on the rainbow spectrum of gift ecology.
With a foundation of inner clarity, the three weeks before Chinese New Year (on Feb 8th) was the "sharing" phase -- coming out of the closet of "mission". Hours of writing, editing, and publishing every day, to translate the gems and learnings from the past seven years into Chinese, and to create a web infrastructure for the pilgrimage. This process helped me to reflect on the "Journey to the West" thus far, as gratitude for all the learnings, and as farewell to that chapter. Sharing the heart's journey with family and friends in China helped to till the soil and contextualize what's to come.
The three weeks after we entered the Year of Monkey was the "physical preparedness" phase: building up stamina through swimming routine, and fixing up the bike.
One week before the departure, was the "farewell and blessings" phase, as I accepted invitations to be with dearest friends and communities, to receive their blessings for the journey. With each gathering, I felt ever more ready for the journey, knowing that I am never alone. I felt witnessed by the village, held by my friends, and blessed by the elders. The heart often overflowed with gratitude, realizing my sweet, eternal indebtedness to all.
Yes, between procrastination and insufficient planning, things were a bit rushed in the final days. I did not research my route until two days before departure, and did not pack up the bike and panniers until the morning of departure. Yes, I could have used a few more days, but I had a contract with Nature, with no exit clause. A departure date is a departure date :)
Everything worked out just fine, and exactly as it was supposed to happen -- including the final rush.
Shadows and Ironies
Throughout the months of preparation, "work" kept coming up, reminding me that a pilgrimage does not wait until the physical departure date to start. Some of the shadows are pinned here.
A main irony -- and source of guilt -- was that the preparations had taken me away from participating in the community life where I was actually living. I was busy preparing to visit and learn from other places, while not fully appreciating the many learning opportunities right in my then "home". Or, let me take a bit more personal responsibility here: I did not make it a priority to put in the work and serve where I was, but instead focused on "going away", "leaving home" to experience novelties. This is perhaps all too typical: sometimes it takes leaving home to actually see "home" for what it is.
Humility and Gratitude
A dear friend and mentor said that going on pilgrimages made her increasingly aware that "it's never me who make things happen, or provide for our lives. No such thing as self-made man." (Poor paraphrasing on my part.)
As told by another mentor, in the parable of a dog on Krishna's chariot,
"In the absence of humility, we forget the shoulders that we stand on, and foolishly begin to take singular credit for what we’re doing. I remember my mom telling me a parable from the Mahabharata. A dog is traveling on Krishna's chariot, and lo and behold, when the dog wagged its tail to the right, the chariot turned to the right. And when he wagged it left, the chariot turned to the left. It was an example of correlation, not causation, and it would have been nothing short of ludicrous for the dog to actually believe it was controlling the chariot with its tail. Yet, that is precisely how our arrogance deceives us. We forget that behind each one of us lies an invisible stream of conditions that supports our every move."
Throughout the preparation process, I am constantly humbled by just how much of a "dog" I am :)
Rev. Heng Sure wrote in his bowing pilgrimage journal (Day 12 entry), "Yesterday we received lunch offerings from the L.A. lay disciples and each time it is a humbling experience. We have no merit and virtue of our own. We are simply borrowing the Venerable Abbot's merit to receive the treatment we get."
When I first read these words about two years ago, it made a deep impression on me, but I was also confused. I protested inside, "How could the bowing pilgrims have no merit of their own? If they have no merit, then I must have negative merit!" Now, I am starting to understand. I feel the same way. I have no merit of my own. For so long, and certainly thus far on the journey, I am living on borrowed merit from people I do or do not know, or drawing down the past merit, and perhaps overdrafting the future merit.
Nature keeps unbiased count of all acts, words, and thoughts. Grateful to have the current moment, and the rest of the pilgrimage, to repent, pay my dues, and cultivate.
Deep bows to all.
A pilgrimage around the globe by bicycle, in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.