For instance, as I was making my way out of Taos, I noticed a line of about 20 people outside of a Catholic church, waiting patiently and sincerely to meet what they would meet inside. The truck in front of me helped bring this to my attention, the driver seeming to notice the line of people unexpectedly then determinedly and somewhat abruptly pulling to the side of the road so the travelers within could go take their place in line. In that action and in the faces of those waiting, there was a feeling of something important and powerful taking place.
Not long after this, as I was heading toward Questa, people in scattered groups of two or three over a distance of a couple of miles were walking southward along the roadside. It was raining and they were wearing colorful and not-so-colorful plastic ponchos, faces somewhat grim yet determined, that same sense of importance and power evident in their walking as they endured the journey. Amidst their solemnity and sincerity there was one man walking alone who waved and smiled as each vehicle passed by, sharing the joy he was finding in his walking. The whole thing was quite striking and had me wondering where they had come from, where they were going, just what was going on. It felt like something significant and I wished I was part of it - in a way I was.
Several miles after crossing the New Mexico-Colorado line, there was a group of wild horses grazing near the highway. The car in front of me had been ambling along slowly and I was getting ready to pass it, but then two horses stepped up close to the road, making as if to cross, so we both slowed down to a near stop, gently rolling by. Looking in the rearview mirror I noticed the horses returning to graze where they had been before, not having stepped onto the road at all. Perhaps all their actions were saying was: "Hello. Slow down. Notice."
There were also a few actual pilgrimage sites along my route: a Tibetan Buddhist stupa a few miles north of Questa, to which I pointed as I was driving by, it pointing back via sunlight shining off its golden spire; the Stations of the Cross Shrine in San Luis, standing out against the orange and yellow of autumn in the background; a roadside shrine in a set of rocks near La Veta that I hadn't seen before, noticing it this time due to several cars pulled over nearby and people out walking among it.
I had also been looking forward to a personal pilgrimage sight - the southern mountains of the Sangre de Cristo range looming captivatingly in my gaze as I rolled from San Luis to Fort Garland. Today, however, they were shrouded in clouds that scattered and spread from horizon to horizon, marbleizing the landscape with light and shadow. There was something perfect and poignant about that, and just as captivating.
As I journeyed along throughout all of this, I was recalling a talk I gave some time ago about having a mind of pilgrimage. It occurred to me then and still seems the case now that sites of pilgrimage need to be seen as much as pilgrims need to see them. In that meeting there is a mutual seeing that happens, an exchange that takes place between the one who leaves things behind and journeys and the one who is stationary, waiting and welcoming all who come. The qualities and actions of both are needed to make the pilgrimage possible, and through both run the same currents of humility and simplicity, determination and sincerity. In the end, it's in the relationship between the journeyer and the journeyed to that the actual pilgrimage takes place: the relationship made up of the journeying and the waiting, of the meeting, of the seeing and being seen.
There's something to this mind of pilgrimage, I find, and it needn't be limited to a certain time or place or season. It can be a way of meeting life itself, a continual offering of seeing and being seen. It loosens and shifts the locus of attention from a single point (whether it be inner or outer), spreading it evenly across the terrain. The dichotomies of this vs. that, me vs. you, here vs. there and the like fade and transform, the mutuality of being and experience emerging more fully and saying wholly, completely: just this, just this, just this - pointing to the lively territory throughout which the ten thousand things are endlessly meeting and mixing and mingling.
In this there is a simplicity, a humility, an intimacy that need not be reserved for or relegated to special occasions or deserving people or worthy endeavors; it can be allowed to unfold and flow forth naturally, effortlessly, moment by moment, regardless of circumstance. Then that mind of pilgrimage is free to appear and abide anywhere, everywhere, nowhere: driving in appropriately cool weather while heading homeward, finding itself in the midst of an unnecessarily hot first day of autumn back on the front range, returning home to find a dishwasher full of clean dishes waiting to be unloaded, having a child ready to be picked up from school, reading emails that await responses, sitting down to update a highly-neglected blog...
Meeting things in such a way, I notice the stories I have about myself or others or the situation - This is happening to me; This is happening for me; What should have happened is...; What needs to happen is...; This is getting in the way and keeping me from...; This isn't as important as that, therefore... - all those stories get quieter, drop away, or don't even arise, allowing me to be more directly with what is happening, with what is. And it is a starting point to contributing to and/or doing something about what is happening, with fewer obstacles and barriers in the way, less energy tied up in those should have, would have, could have beens.
I also notice coming to mind Bodhidharma's response to Emperor Wu when asked about holy teachings: "Vast emptiness, nothing holy." It levels the field, pointing to the arbitrary distinctions we make about and value we place on certain things over others; it's not necessarily saying not to do this (though that is advice to consider), but to realize the provisional and subjective nature of these distinctions we make and values we assign. One could just as easily say "Vast emptiness, everything holy" or "Vast holiness, everything empty" and the message remains intact: nothing more or less holy than any other thing. This dismantles the definition of "holy", releases it from the bounds of the container in which it has been placed, freeing it to show up as it is, without constrain - another invitation to set aside our stories and ideas and meet things just as they are, connecting with their individual, inherent qualities and value.
A koan relating to this mind of pilgrimage comes up as well:
Dizang asked Fayan, "Where are you going from here?"
Fayan said, "I'm on pilgrimage."
"What sort of thing is pilgrimage?"
"I don't know."
"Not knowing is most intimate."
I love this "I don't know" and how it relates to my experience of pilgrimage. For one, it's to say I don't have a story about what it is or should be, I'm not expecting or hoping for anything in particular; I'm finding out as I go, discovering what it is as it happens; and I'm not making a story about what it is based on these experiences but just continuing along, intimate with the journey and curious, curious. Another thing about this "I don't know" is that it speaks to the question of how to have a mind of pilgrimage. To say "this is how to do it" would be to have a story about it, which would simply get in the way. There is something more organic about the experience, that mind of pilgrimage arising naturally, of its own accord, when the usual ways of being with and relating to things don't interfere with or impede it. At most I can notice what gets in the way, notice what leads me to feel out of sorts, disconnected, distant. Or perhaps I can best be a pilgrim through the landscape of life by simply showing up again and again, without agenda, not tied to my stories, loosely holding my ideas about people and things, meeting them directly, intimately, with deep curiosity amidst the rising, falling and unfolding of it all.
I don't know, and it is intimate indeed.