Category Archives: Mysticism

Relax Inn, Virginia – Chapter 12

 

I arrive at the Relax Inn, a hiker hotel by the Atkins Truck Stop. The Relax Inn has not been upgraded for over 20 years. It serves hikers and truckers but gets low evaluations because the rooms are old.

I must decide if I can continue hiking in light of my equipment problems – my sleeping bag zipper is broken and my pack seems close to falling apart. I spend three nights here.

The first day, I walk south on the Appalachian Trail for an hour, considering future plans.

I consider the weather forecast – rain, wind, and cold on the day I plan to leave. Can I get a new sleeping bag?

The wind is cold. I realize that I cannot continue using the equipment that I have and that there is no place nearby to buy new equipment.

I think about buying warmer clothing. Where can I go? How can I get there?

I remember trying to sleep in the cold wind close to Buzzards Rock and the cold night afterward. If my clothes are dry, I might be okay.

I read Chapter 11 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell.

“Colors blind the eye.”

“Sounds deafen the ear.”

“Flavors numb the taste.”

I return to the truck stop and walk through a covered bridge that goes north.

“Thoughts weaken the mind.”

I walk north  on the Appalachian Trail, north of the Relax Inn. I will be going this way if I continue on the Appalachian Trail.

I pass a sign telling about the early settlers. The Davis Family established a home in 1748 that became a “neighborhood fort.” They had more than just wind and cold to ponder.

The trail goes under Route 81.

“Desires wither the heart.”

“The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.”

I visit the Davis cemetary, established by the early settlers. The graves date back to the 1800s but, on most, the inscriptions are unclear.

The Tao te Ching says, “He allows things to come and go.”

The tombstone reads, “I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.”

The tombstone reads, “Blessed are they that die in the Lord.”

The Tao te Ching chapter concludes, “His heart is as open as the sky.”

The Tao te Ching text describes a result of meditation – the awareness of emptiness. Bring all your awareness to the breath, the breathing in and out. Let go of all other perceptions and the mind becomes empty – no sight, sounds, taste, thoughts, only inner vision and even that is empty.

I have been to this hotel various times over the past 20 years  during my hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I stay at the Relax Inn each time I pass through and the owners recognise me.

I talk with the inn owners and their son. The inn owner’s son, age 34, has just returned from New Jersey where he has visited the Indian community there. He explains the family shrine. He is a follower of the Hindu diety Shiva (the toilet paper and credit card reader are not part of the shrine).

His father, age 72, elaborates – Hinduism began more than 10,000 years ago. He purchased this hotel 21 years ago.

This is the end of my hike this year.  I cannot continue this year without winter gear. I will start at this place and walk North in the spring. I have walked 544 miles from Springer Mountain Georgia, to Atkins, VA — not bad for a 70 year-old guy.

I call my wife, Karen, and ask her to come to Atkins.

She arrives the next day and we leave in the morning.

Damascus to Atkins – Chapter 11

I am walking from Damascus, VA, to Atkins (truck stop) on the Appalachian Trail. Atkins Truck Stop is the place where the trail crosses US 81.

 I start in Damascus, CA, leaving Crazy Larry’s place after breakfast.

The Appalachian Trail  joins the Virginia Creeper Trail (for bicycles). Afterward, it starts climbing.

I pass Lost Mountain Shelter. I watch the sunset from south of Buzzards Rock. A cold wind blows hard much of the night.

In the morning, I reach Buzzards Rock.

I read Chapter 11 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell.

“We join spokes together in a wheel,”

I pass the trail to the top of Mount Rogers. I get water from a spring fensed off to keep the wild ponies out.

“but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.”

Wild pony in the Greyson Highlands.

“We shape clay into a pot.”

I pet a wild pony.

“but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.”

“We hammer wood for a house,”

“but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.”

“We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.”

This chapter of the Tao te Ching talks about space and it’s use. By viewing our “inner” space” (the domain inside ourselves) we recognize this.

I pass a place called the Scales, where they used to weight cattle. Evening approaches. I do not realize it, but it will rain very hard during the night.

We explore inner space through meditation. Walking in the rain.

I  experience a long cold night, followed by a sunny morning.

Then it rains all day, sometimes very hard.

I walk all day in the rain and reach the Trimpi Shelter where I stay with two guys. They spent all day there to avoid the rain.

By morning, the rain stopped.

Water

My equipment is failing. The zipper on my sleeping bag is broken. My pack strap is close to breaking. I walk toward the Friendship Shelter and plan to spend the night closer to Atkins.

Meditation

I pass the Friendship Shelter and am about 10 miles from Atkins.

Walking

Magical place selected by a crow

Mountain hidden by clouds

Walking toward Atkins

I visit the old school house, along the trail, connected to the Settlers Museum.

I SEE MY DESTINATION. I will be staying at the Relax Inn, at Atkins, close to the truck stop. I must check the weather and evaluate my ability to continue in light of my equipment problems.

 

I arrive.

Oviedo Cathedral

We visit the Oviedo Cathedral — a remarkable place. This was a truly sacred place.

I read from chapter 41 of the Tao te Ching.

“When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.”

The main alter is the heart. It has with silver scenes from the life of Jesus. I walk to see it.

“When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.”

What do you know about Jesus?

The Christ child – taken to Egypt.
Center right  – crucifixion. Bottom left — healing (I think)

In the museum are two famous crosses

The victory cross, the symbol of Oviedo, was carryied into battle (against the Moor during a very difficult time) and brought victory.

 

This is the real thing — they fixed it up a bit and put some jewels on it but this is the battle cross.

This cross was brought by angels.

The cross of the angels — It dates back to the 800’s and they found it to be beautiful. The guy who made it disappeared so he must have been an angel.

 

 

 

There is more. They have the shroud that covered Jesus in the tomb.

 

What do you think?

 

There is more — so much. This pot held wine at the wedding in Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine — his first miracle.

 

 

St. James appeared in the sky and led the Christian army against the Moors. The historians say that this did not actually happen — that the battle is actually a myth — but many men during centuries afterward went into battle with this story in their minds and the battle cry “Santiago” on their lips.

More.

This is the way to the toilets.

“When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.”

 

“Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,”

 

 

“the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,”

 

“”true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest are seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.”

 

“The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.”

Cathedral of Ourense – Chapter 7

 

 

We walk toward Ourense  — following the Camino which leaves the industrial area and follows a rural route.

 

We walk past small farms and gardens.

 

 

We visit the Cathedral (dedicated to St. Martin of Tours).

 

 

St. Martin tore his cape in half and gave half to a poor man. Later, when he was a Bishop, he destroyed many pagan temples. Christians lived in the cities — people in the country-side still worshiped according to their ancient traditions but St. Martin could not tolerate that.

 

 

Inside, we observe the narthex (the entrance). It portrays saints, apostles, and figures (elders)  from the book of Revelation.

[Revelation 4:4 — “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.”]


 

The book of Revelation mentions Elders — but it is unclear exactly who these rulers were — we might assume they were apostles and saints but Jesus did not advocate ruling. Christianity, during the medieval era, had characteristics that were parallel to the feudal kingdoms of the time.

 

We see figures playing musical instruments — a heavenly host.

 

The vision of St. Paul on the road to Damascus (he see Jesus– everyone else falls on the ground). Paul never met Jesus except during this vision.

 

On the Day of Judgement, some go to heaven, others to hell.

 

 

I see a rare image of St James (Santiago), seated and holding a book and sword — typically, he is shown standing (a pilgrim) or on a horse (a warrior). I approach the altar — where I take a seat.

I read Chapter 7 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“The Tao is infinite, eternal.”

[Lao tsu’s Tao is like God in some respects.]

We visit a side chapel.

I meditate. Catholic cathedrals present images designed to transmit certain traditional stories — particularly events in the life of Jesus.

There are graves on medieval bishops and we see a crucifix of Jesus, the king (with crown and tranquil face).

Lao tsu writes:

“Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.”

[The Tao, as described by Lao tsu, is eternal, like God — but Christianity is filled with stories of human rulers — powerful and unequal — Lao tsu describes a humble “Master” who, like Jesus, is inwardly focused.]

It is possible to get close to the main altar. It portrays Biblical stories.

“Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.”

[Unlike the Jewish, Christian, Muslim concept of God, Lao tsu’s notion of the Tao lacks an ego. God, as portrayed in the sacred scriptures, wishes to be worshiped and wants his worshippers to believe certain stories described in the scriptures. Lao tsu’s Tao seems totally passive — not asking for anything]

 

 

In the museum, I look a relics of Mary Magdeline, the woman who was probably the lover of Jesus (she was the first one that he visited alter his death). Relics, such as these, were fabricated and sold during medieval times — but they resulted in many miracles.

 

We walk to the Plaza Mayor.

“The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.”

[Lao tsu portrays an ideal person, the Master, who has Tao-like traits — a reduced ego. Jesus also advocates humility but his story was modified by the Apostle Paul, making him equilivant to God — he attains an elevated, exalted position by “staying behind” — but Lao tsu’s Master is not a king]

 

We walked to the Church of Santa Eufemia.  We had wanted to see the Archiological Museum but we discovered that it was closed. Karen was disconcerted because it was raining — but we found the Church of Santa Eufemia. It was on the list of the best ten things to see in Ourense.

 

 

It is very dark inside. I approach the altar. We note that the altar looks like a slot machine — It you put a coin in it, would you get a chance to win the jackpot?

Religion has the characteristic of seeking “payment” from the believer and, in return, granting sporadic rewards.

 

The wise men bring presents.

Lao tsu describes something different — the Master does not seek. She is detached.

“She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.”

 

There is a nativity seen in the rear of the church.

“Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.”

[She is master of herself — not master of others.]

 

While I meditate, a priest tells me that he is going to lock up the church — he says I can stay for ten more minutes. Karen returns and we decide to leave.

We enter the exit passage but it it absolutely dark. We cannot figure out how to get the door unbolted or unlatched or how to turn on a light to see clearly.

We walk around until we find an official who lets us out. He seems extremely irritated by this situation.

I have encountered this quirky situation in many of the churches I have entered in Spain. We seem to be intruding into an unwelcome environment. Most churches are locked (unused) and, if we are able to get in, the people inside don’t want us to be there. The church serves only a declining group of elderly participants. Young people tell us that they don’t believe.

 

 

There is a reality — a spiritual realm that exists beyond belief. This realm is available to those that seek it. Most are unaware and only those exposed to suffering feel the need to delve into this domain. The ancient scriptures are relics of the past — but also signposts.

 

There is no evidence that St. James (Santiago) visited Spain. The stories of him leading troops into battle against the Moors do not pertain to an actual battle.

Much of what is presented within religion is not based on fact… but there is something that continues throughout all time.

 

There is power within this cathedral derived from realms beyond our understanding.

Modern people can can find the signposts within.

Vilar de Barrio – Chapter 4

We begin walking from Laza to Vilar de Barrio, where we will stay in an albergue.

 

 

I read Chapter 4 of the Tao te Ching by Lao Tsu.

“The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.”

 

We run into a Spanish pilgrim who we had met a few days  before.

“It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.”

 

I take a  picture.

 

We walk up the mountain.

“It is hidden but always present.”

 

 

We climb.

 

Karen is on top of the mountain.

 

 

Lao tsu writes,

“I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.”

 

We have coffee at a bar where the owner has all pilgrims write their names and country on a shell which he puts on display. The walls  and ceilings of many rooms are covered with shells.

 

We pose for a photo.

 

 

I have a shot of local home-made liquor as recommended in our guidebook.

 

The  top of the world

 

 

 

We  descend toward Vilar de Barrio. Lao tsu implies that one can “use” the Tao — how is this done?

 

 

We eat a typical snack – bread, cheese, sausage,  chocolate.

 

 

 

We walk to town on the road. If you practice regularly, you will be changed but there are things beyond explanation — beyond understanding. This is something you can discover.

Vilavella- Chapter 81

 

We walk to Vilavella, a hike that requires a major climb (over 1000 feet to reach an elevation of 3200 feet) — then a decent. We begin by passing the Sanctuario de la Tuiza.

The church was built in the 18 century. We descend through wet terrain.

I read Chapter 81 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“True words aren’t eloquent;
eloquent words aren’t true.”

 

The climb is strenuous. Steam comes off Karen’s shoulders in the crisp mountain air.

 

The bumble bee flies from flower to flower — never resting.

“Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.”

 

We continue climbing.

 

 

“The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others,
the happier he is.”

 

We enter Galicia.

“The more he gives to others,
the wealthier he is.”

 

 

We meet meet some Spanish hikers.

 

 

We are at the highest elevation of today’s hike. We are looking into Galicia, standing close to the boundary.

 

 

 

We look at the map (Vilavella is not on this map.) Tomorrow we plan to arrive in A Gudiña. We will take the northern route through Laza. Within the week, we will arrive in Ourense. We will be in Santiago in a few weeks.

“The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.”


We descend towards Vilavella.

Happiness is forgeting  yourself.

A Gudiña – Chapter 1

We leave Vilavella for A Gudiña.

 

Karen takes photos of cows.

 

 

I also take a photo. The sunshine creates a mysterious effect.

We climb to a high elevation.

I read chapter 1 of the Tao te Ching (translated by Steven Mitchell):

“The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.”

 

 

This famous first line of the Tao te Ching is ironic since Lao tsu begins an 81 chapter document. If Lao tsu wants to tell us about the Tao, why does he need so many chapters?

 

 

“The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.”

Lao tsu provides a kind of poetry — a guide for the Inner Way.

 

“The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.”

 

 

 

Lao tsu notes that the eternal cannot be named.  Those who devise a label — calling it “God,” for example — fool themselves into thinking they know something about it.  Lap tsu suggests that the naming of something is the origin of the concept — but ultimate reality is more than a concept — it cannot be conceived.

 

“Free from desire, you realize the mystery.”
“Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.”

 

Lao tsu implies that one should  “be free of desire” in order to see clearly — how can one attain this state?

Those believe what someone else has told them about ultimate reality are caught up in their desire to believe. They benefit but they see only the surface of things — the manifestations.

Lao tsu, and mystics all over the world, offer similar methods for gaining insight into an inner reality.

There is a mystery that surrounds reality  and although Lao tsu’s guidance is obscure, the path involves reality — the real world hidden within the mundane world.

“Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.”

 

 

We reach reach the road and see A Gudiña in the distance. The secret is to follow a path.

 

Two bicyclists pass us and shout “Bien Camino!” Then a truck passes us,

“Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.”

 

We reach the hotel where we hoped to stay but when we arrived they could not give us a room.

 

We walk through town and check into the Hotel Suizo. I make a video of the view from our room.

 

 

 

After the sun sets, we see the moon.

 

Lao tsu does not offer an ideology — specific doctrines — that can be accepted as true or false. His poems offer a glimpse of the Inner Way — the exploration of your self.

 

Lubián- Chapter 80

Although we rarely think about it, our lives are a journey — with a beginning, middle, and end.

We are walking to Lubián, a village in the mountains (elevation about 1000 meters – 3000 feet). The camino passes through a tunnel.

I read Chapter 80 from the Tao te Ching, written by Lao tsu (translated by Steven Mitchell):

“If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.”

 

 

“They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
labor-saving machines.”

[Lao tsu advocates extreme meditation – no labor saving technology.]


“Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.”

[Lao tsu seems to prefer people who lack imagination.]


“There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.”

 

 

“There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.”

 

 

“People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.”

 

 

“And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.”

 

 

[Lao tsu’s utopian society apparently has complete social equality or else some within it would venture forth, seeking a better life. There is no  addiction, crime, or social disorder in his society — or else people would seek new ways of thinking.]

 

 

Many people, living in these small Spanish villages, have left their homes, seeking a better life. Some villages are almost completely deserted. The stone houses remain.

In Lubián, I meditate in the church.

In the world that I live in, many people are not completely satisfied with the situation they encounter and they seek ways of improving their lot in life. Often, they have problems that are beyond solution. Religions have devised systems for dealing with this.

 

I invite you to join me. I look around and close my eyes.  Merely sit still and pay attention to your breath.

Throughout human history, people have tried the Inner Way — they focus their minds on a particular image or idea.

 

Those able to focus their minds, even partially,  are less troubled. They carry the image or idea inside wherever they go and the sadness, anxiety, or distress is pushed away. Of course, it comes back, but eventually you can find a new perspective.

 

 

Above the altar is Santiago (St. James), the patron Saint of our pilgrimage. I don’t worry about what people say — there is a hidden power in this. We walk each day on an inner voyage.

 

 

It does not matter what name you call this. All the names are one name. Focusing your mind regularly is beneficial.

 

If taking part in a social or religious movement helps you meet people and make friends, then it can be a good thing — but there are aspects beyond words. You can discover this for yourself.

Granja de Moreruela – Chapter 68

 

We leave Montamarta to walk to Granja de Moreruela.

We pass the church at Montamarta.

 

We pass some ruins, remains of a fortress.

I read Chapter 68 of the Tao te Ching ( translated by Steven Mitchell):

“The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.”

 

“The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.”

A police helicopter lands in front of us and asks some bicyclists to show their ID’s. The police say they do not want to see our ID’s and that everything is OK. The bicyclists are allowed to continue.

 

“The best businessman
serves the communal good.”

 

The police depart and a Karen waves goodbye.

“The best leader
follows the will of the people.”

We arrive in Granja and decide to spend a second day so that we can visit the Monesterio de Santa Maria de Moreruela, a Cistercian monastery built during the 12 century.

We walk about an hour to the monastery and find that there is a gate that seems locked. The site does not open until 10:00. We wait until 10:00 and no one comes to open the gate. I figure out a way to get in.

We encounter another locked gate but I am able to video the remains of the chapel.

“All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.”

 


“Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of competition.

 

We see some workers who are restoring the site, a man tells us that the site is closed on Monday and Tuesday. I apologize and we depart.

Karen is upset because she wanted to see all the ruins. I explain to her that we saw everything.

“In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.”

We walk back to our casa rural.

Steven Mitchell has translated Lao tsu’s text so that it has a modern quality — but Lao tsu was not advocating a political position with regard to capitalism. I suggest that the value of the Tao te Ching is in its capacity to stimulate innovative ways of thinking which can be useful for seeing things in a new way — a pathway to mental well-being.

 

Monks lived in this place — seeking a spiritual life. Our modern life is very different from their life — but the Inner Way is available to everyone.

 

 

In harmony with the Tao

 

 

In Granja, we take the Camino Santabrés, which goes northwest to Ourense – and on to Santiago. We are leaving the Via de la Plata which goes north to join the Camino Francés at Astoria.

Zamora Cathedral Chapter 65

We visit the Cathedral of Zamora.

 

 

I wish to show a story — an approach, an encounter, an experience, that changes you.

The main altar portrays the transfiguration of Jesus — a powerful experience, witnessed by his desciples. This is a story in the life of Jesus, described in the New Testiment.

I read Chapter 65 of the Tao te Ching:

“The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate the people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.”

We cannot explain religious experience — but it is at the heart of religions everywhere.

“When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.”

The scenes behind show the crucifixion of Jesus.

 

“When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.”

 

 

“If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.”

 

“The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.”

i include religious artwork – each image tells a story.

“Don’t touch me,” Jesus says to Mary Magdaline. She was probably his physical lover and she was the one to whom he appeared first after his death. He was an apparition — not completely physical. Her story of this encounter probably triggered similar experiences. Our thinking and traditions shape our experiences — but there are mysteries involved.

Jesus comforted by the angel. He was in the Garden of Gethsemane — the evening before his crucifixion and death.

Head of John the Baptist. John was arrested and killed for advocating innovative religious ideas.

“If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.”

Saint Anthony’s vision — Meditators finds that our brains continually bring forth ideas, thoughts, emotions. Some seem to come from outside — but the process is a mystery.

Ancient images of Jesus and his disciples

Christianity, as shaped by the apostle Paul,  fit the needs of the people of its era — there is a series of levels within the religious structure — some above others, a complexity similar to everyday life.

The flood associated with Noah’s ark.


Jesus baptized by John the Baptist.

The apostles of Jesus — no one knows how they actually looked, but patterns emerged so that medieval artists provided consistent portrayals of each apostle.

“If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.”

 

 

A tapestry showing a story from Jesus — the workers receive equal pay no matter how many hours they worked.  Many of Jesus’ teachings advocate ideas that are in conflict with modern Capitalism. Even in its early forms, Christianity deviated from the teachings of Jesus.

 

Saint Christopher carries the infant Jesus across a river. Saint Christopher is no longer on the official calendar of saints.

The position of images indicates relationships. If future people, who had no knowledge of Christianity, encountered Christian relics from this cathedral, they would probably conclude that those who came to the cathedral worshiped many human gods – some more important than others.

This image of Jesus on his throne in heaven shows the saintly women on his right and saintly men on his left. Those closest to him, his Mother Mary,  Mary Magdalene, and Saint John, the Apostle, Saint Peter, Saint Paul were regarded as most important.

The stories hold people’s attention and gave shape to their religious ideologies.

I am interested in your particular story, the one that gives shape to your live and your way of thinking.

You can grasp that story and change it because it unfolds before you.