Category Archives: Travel

Nantahala Gorge to Fontana Dam – Chapter 4

I leave the gorge early in the morning and read Chapter4 of the Tao te Ching (translated by Steven Mitchell):

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

I pass a monument to a firefighter who lost his life to a wildfire. I am climbing to Cheoah Bald (5000 feet elevation),

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

I met Barefoot Dan (who walks without shoes) and another hiker, close to the “jump up” before Swim Bald.

The girls are walking to Damascus, Virginia.

“It is hidden but always present.”

“I don’t know who gave birth to it.”

“It is older than God.”

This huge toad is not afraid.

Hard hiking.

This terrain was some of the hardest on the Appalachian Trail. I spent the night partway up Jacobs Ladder.

High up.

I pass a small stream and the Cable Gap Shelter. The day finishes with a 2000 foot descent – hard on the knees. I must recover before going into the Great Smoky Mountains.

Springer Mountain -Chapter 1

I fly to Atlanta to begin my adventure. I will walk on the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia to central Virginia.

Landing in Atlanta.

I read Chapter 1 of the Tao te Ching:

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

The next day, I take a shuttle to the trail – Springer Mountain, GA. It rains.

The beginning of the Appalachian Trail. I continue reading from the Tao te Ching (translated by Steven Mitchell).

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

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

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

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

I walk for three days toward Neals Gap. It is Labor Day weekend — many people are out for the day.

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

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

 

 

Blood Mountain Shelter – close to Neals Gap.

Inside the Blood Mountain Shelter.

 

My hammock – the hostile was not open due to drainage problems.

“The unnamable is the eternally real.”

Sunrise- I walk on toward Dicks Creek Gap.

“Naming is the origin
of all particular things.”

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

“Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.”

“This source is called darkness.”

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

 

Protective posture

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

Barry and Becky from central Pennsylvania

Three Indian guys

Rattlesnake

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

Rattlesnake

 

Walking toward Dicks Creek Gap

I saw many Korean people.

I make coffee.

The gateway to all understanding.

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.”

Oviedo Museum – Chapter 20

Actually we are back in the USA but I am going to publish some final blogs from our trip to Spain in July.

We took a bus to Ovieda and are in the Archialogical Museum close to the cathedral.

Here is a video showing Roman burial practices in Spain (first century, approximately).

Here are some stone grave markers.

I read Chapter 20 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?”

We look at the Paleolithic (Stone Age) exhibits.

 

A Neanderthal

“Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!”

I am interested in the cave art — Northern Spain has many, many caves. The cave art dates from, around 30,000 years ago.

We see enlargements of sections though to be particularly worthy — much of the work has been “drawn over” — as if the “doing” of the art was more important than looking at it.


“Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.”

 

Tomb of Medieval king

Above is an important family tree — specific men defeated the Moors and this area became a center of resistance and of re-conquest.

“I alone don’t care,
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.”

 

“Other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.”

“I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharper;
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose;
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.”

“I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.”

Gijón – Chapter 19

We took the train to Ribadeo where we ride bicycles around the town.

Something unusual.

Our lodging was on the Camino Norte pilgrim route (the coastal route to Santiago which turns inland at Ribadeo). We follow, on foot, the shell markings for a while. We see a sign advertising our lodging.

The next day, we take the train to Gijón. The route runs along the coast, an area with tidal rivers and views of the ocean.

We pass through the town of  Luarca.

I read chapter 19 of the Tso te Ching:

“Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.”

[Lao tsu does not advocate religious belief or specialized expertise. He suggests paying attention to reality and the present moment.]

We arrive in Gijón and walk on the route by the ocean.

“Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.”

[Lao tsu urges total simplicity — and sometimes he offers advice to political officials. I suggest thinking of his text as pertaining to self-direction with regard to meditation. Let go of concerns about right and wrong and focus on your breath. People often hold stories about someone doing something wrong or harmful and this becomes a theme in their life. These thoughts can rob you of your happiness.  Let go of such stories by practicing meditation.]

“Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.”

[I offer no suggestions about politics, religious doctrines, or economic theory.  The Inner Way involves meditation. By meditating, you can let go of your thoughts and experience the result.]

We see the famous monument.

“If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.”

We visit the art museum.


Most people are powerfully affected by those around them.

 

You were affected by the stories you were told you when you were young.

We harbor attitudes toward technology — technological change has unforeseen impacts and people’s occupations are affected.

The painting is a Medieval portrayal of a demon causing the plague. People create stories to explain their experiences.

Joseph and the Christ child. Many people’s self-stories involve their childhood. What did Mary and Joseph tell Jesus about his parentage? There was a powerful stigma regarding illegitimacy.

Adam and Eve — a story thought to explain sin. God prohibited eating the fruit of knowledge regarding good and evil and Adam and Eve violated this prohibition. If they had no understanding of good and evil, why was their behavior regarded as wrong? Why did God lack empathy?

Cain and Abel preparing their sacrificial fires. Cain’s fire is not burning that well — his sacrifice was not considered as good as Abel’s sacrifice.  Of course, this resulted in bad feelings — and ultimately, Cain killed Able — so things did not work out for either of them. The sacrificial fire method of worship did not work very well.  You need to figure out what methods will work for you.

Famous artwork — copper — people at the fish market.

A wide variety of people — many fish.

All are at this place because of the fish.

We walk by the beach.

Lao tsu suggests giving up holiness/wisdom, morality/justice, industry/profits. Are these things enough for you?

You don’t have to become a weird hermit who dwells continually within the shadow world of spirits and ghosts. You can become happier by meditating each day — letting go of the dysfunctional stories you devised to cope with your difficulties. Then you can perceive the peaceful center within.

A Coruña – Chapter 17

 

We took the train to A Coruña and are in a hotel close to the ocean (Eurostars Cuidad de la Coruña).

This is the view from our fifth floor window– you have to pay extra for the view but we just completed our 1000 kilometer walk so we are rewarding ourselves.)

We walk on a trail behind our hotel and look back at where we are staying.

We pass by sculptures and artwork.

We walk toward the Tower of Hercules — the old Roman lighthouse refurbished and currently  in operation.

The view from the top.

I read Chapter 17 of the Tao te Ching:

“When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.”

[This is another of Lao tsu’s “political” chapters — we will consider how his discussion might be useful on a psychological level.]

Views from our our hotel window — always changing but, like your self-concept, always similar.

We are in the Plaza Maria Pita. In 1589, Maria Pita was assisting her husband, a captain defending the city from English attack. He was killed by a crossbow bolt as the English assaulted the city walls. Maria Pita then killed an English soldier at the highest part of the wall. “Whoever has honor, follow me!” she shouted. The English assault was then repelled and the English abandoned their siege and returned to their ships.

“If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.”

[Can you trust yourself? People with addictions cannot trust themselves. People with negative, recurring patterns of behavior should seek to change themselves.]

We follow a procession past the Church of Santiago.

We look inside the church. I pray that you come into harmony with your inner self.

We watch the procession pass.

“The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.”

[If you are facing sadness, anxiety, depression, PTSD — think about what you need to do besides focusing on the problem. Figure out a self-help plan.]

The next day, we walk on the trail past the lighthouse. We are going to the Finnisterre Aquarium.

“When his work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

We watch the fish.

We see a shark.

[Lao tsu’s concept of “doing nothing” is held up as a logical method for rulers — but within nature, the big fish eat the little fish. If you are a little fish, you must watch out — your anxiety may not be completely useful but awareness of reality is required. Put together a plan that involves self understanding.]

We visit the military museum and see a diagram of the forces arrayed for the battle between French and British troops on January 16, 1809. The Peninsular War (1807-1814) involved Napoleon’s Empire and Spain, Britain, and Portugal. France destroyed the ability of Spain to fight and, in 1809, British Lt. Gen. John Moore sought to withdraw his troops and return to England.

The ships sent to aid him did not arrive in time and the French attacked. The soldiers lined up and fired on each other (about 20,000 French vs. 15,000 British). After hundreds were killed, the French attack was repelled, allowing the British to escape and board their ships.  General Moore was mortally wounded but lived to be informed that his battle plan had been successful.

It is strange to think about the hundreds who died on this day. This was not a particularly meaningful event — if the French had not attacked, the British would have withdrawn without a battle. This battle was similar to some I experienced in Vietnam — meaningless events — outcomes without resolution.  What is the use of it?

Traumatic events are harmful psychologically but recovery is possible through meditation.

We see a portrayal of the Roman lighthouse before it was repaired in the 1700s. When left alone, the light house deteriorated.

These flowers are called Angels Trumpets.

A different color

 

The museum contains a medieval boat — very different from those in the harbor.

Lao tsu did not advocate technological change since “progress” is not always psychologically healthy.

Be aware of this possibility — playing with your iPads and cell phones may not lead to happiness.

People who want to come into harmony with themselves must ponder self-change.

“Doing nothing” can be a symptom of depression. Lao tsu’s prescription of “doing nothing” refers to a special state of mind. Don’t be lazy. Seek the Inner Way.

The Inner Way involves meditation, a focusing of the mind. If you wish to develop this skill — which can lead to inner peace and happiness — you need to apply yourself. Practice!

Santiago Cathedral – Chapter 15

 

We attend the Pilgrim’s Mass at Santiago Cathedral.

After the mass is complete, the officials swing the Botafumeiro (incence burner) from the central nave. The largest Botafumeiro in the world remains idle but the regular-sized one is used for everyday services.

The Botafumeiro is launched. It’s original function was to carry the prayers of the faithful to heaven while masking the smell of the unwashed pilgrims who had walked in from all over Europe.

After the song is complete, the Botafumeiro is brought to rest.

It is secured above the cathedral floor.

We return in the evening to attend a second mass, standing in position to watch the Botameiro as it swings side to side (this video takes 3.5 minutes).

I read Chapter 15 of the Tao te Ching:

“The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.”

The Baroque Main Altar dates from the 17th century. St. James, the Pilgrim, on it peak, holds a staff in his right hand, with King Alfonso II and King Ramiro III at his sides. Below is a statue of St. James sitting. Pilgrims are permitted to walk through a passage behind the altar and reach around and hug him!

Karen hugs the Saint.

We visit the saint’s relics — stored in a passageway under the cathedral.

During a less busy time, I approach the altar to meditate.

The altar

In front, hangs the largest Botafumeiro  in the world. It weights 80 kg and has come crashing down on three occasions (without fatalities).

 

Angels on the altar

We walk counter-clockwise around the cathedral, capturing images .

I read from chapter 15:

“There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.”

“They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.”

Tomb, altar, ceiling

“Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.”

“Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.”

St. James holds a scroll which states “I was sent by God” [to bring the Gospel to España].

“Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.”

 

“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?”

“Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?”

 

“The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.”

There is a dark side to the legend of St. James in Spain.  Within the Spanish tradition, St. James was an apostle of Jesus, a pilgrim who brought Christianity to Spain — but he later came as a vision in the sky to assist in conquering and driving out the Moors. He was thought to have appeared as an apparition during a battle and rallied the Christian troops to victory.

 

I will discuss the legend of St. James more fully when we visit the Cathedral museum and the Pilgrim’s Museum.

“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?”

Museo of Pilgrimage and Santiago – Chapter 16

We visit the Cathedral Museum ( Museo Cathedral de Santiago).

It is time to think about the history of the St. James story that led to building his Cathedral in Santiago.

I read Chapter 16 of the Tao te Ching.

“Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.”

 

 

In the Cathedral Museum, we see a video which shows the Portico de la Gloria – the main entrance to the cathedral (currently closed for repairs). The video portrays the need for restoration. The video briefly shows the 24 elders of the Apocalyse — which include the 12 apostles of Jesus.  There are also images of St. James (Santiago).

In the Museum of Pilgrimage and Santiago, we learn about Santiago the (1) Apostle, (2) Pilgrim, (3) Moor-slayer.  Above, St. James, in orange, is show in his typical position at the last supper – seated close to Jesus.

James was present at the “transfiguration” of Jesus (a powerful spiritual experience). He was also among the select group with Jesus during the night in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night of prayer before Jesus was crucified.

This medieval painting shows the Apostle James holding a book and staff, accompanied by the Apostle John. The three most important apostles were Peter (the Rock upon which the church was founded), John (the one Jesus loved), and James — whose actions after the crucifixion are not well-documented. James and John, both fishermen, were brothers.

“Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.”

St. James (right bottom) was thought to have a special role regarding a dying person’s soul. Mother Mary could intercede through her connection with Jesus and God — thwarting the Devil. Mary could be influenced by saints and priests. James conveyed insight to a person about future possible outcomes, something that would allow the person to take action before death. That could make all the difference regarding heaven and hell.

By by the end of the 6th century, stories developed describing  St. James as a missionary to Spain. He was said to have gone to the “End of the World” (Finis Terrae), in what is now Northwest Spain. He was thought to have returned to Palestine. The Book of Acts (12:2) states that he was put to death by sword — on orders by Herod Agrippa.

St. James became the first apostle to be martyred in the year 44.

According to one story, his disciples took the body on a small boat back to Spain — the boat was magically carried by the currents — and the body was buried in a secret place. Another story describes angels transporting the body to Spain on a stone boat. In 730, the ancient historian Bede mentioned the transport of the body. There is no evidence of James’ Spanish visit previous to 9th century traditions.

“Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.”

In (perhaps), 830, a hermit, Pelayo, heard music and saw mysterious lights which led him to a place — the “field of the star” (which became known as Compostela). Bishop Teodomiro heard about Pelayo’s experience and the Bishop, after fasting and prayer, discovered Christian tombs — three bodies — which fit the idea that this was St. James and his two disciples.

“If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.”

King Alphonso II accepted the idea that this was the tomb of St. James. He built a small chapel at the site in 834 and declared St. James his patron saint. It was common for authorities to encourage worship at local shrines and to support region-specific cults. The chapel became a pilgrimage destination.

“When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.”

Later, King Charlemagne had a dream in which St. James told him to open up pilgrimage routes to the tomb by liberating Moor-held lands. The Moors were a major problem — in 997, Abn Abi Aamir (known as al-Mansur) captured and destroyed the Compostela church but the saint’s relics were not disturbed.

“Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.”

News of the destruction of St. James Shrine spread throughout Christiandom and powerful rich supporters provided money to build the cathedral and support pilgrimage routes.

St. James, the Apostle, acquired the characteristics of St. James, the Pilgrim.

In 1236, with the recapture of Córdoba by Fernando III, the bells of the cathedral were returned to the rebuilt cathedral. This began the golden age of Pilgrimage — with Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago the three main destinations.

 

Pilgrims devised special songs which were accompanied by the instruments of the era.

 

A story developed regarding the Battle of Clavijo, in which an image of St. James appeared in the sky and led Christian troops to victory against their Muslim foes. Although no such battle occurred, St. James became Santiago Metamores, St. James, the Moor-slayer. Appeals to him were part of a common battle cry, used by Christians in battle. The Knights of the Order of St. James of Compostela were founded in 1170 to re-conquer Muslim-held areas. The Order became wealthy and powerful.

 

I listen to the pilgrim music with these people. I do not know which country they come from but they look like pilgrims — they are dressed like pilgrims.

 

Karen and I walked from Sevilla to Santiago de Compostela, a distance of over 1000 kilometers. We have a sense of unity with other pilgrims. We feel that Europe is far better off being united rather than fighting wars. People benefit when they overlook their differences. Travel helps people understand this.

In the museum, I saw a piece of an ancient Roman wheel, portraying the wheel of fate. St. James became an apostle, pilgrim, and Moor-Slayer — but today he is a unifying element for a secular pilgrimage that hundreds of thousands of Europeans, Australians, and some Americans (north and south) undertake together. I understand that the wheel of fate turns and that sometimes evil, foolish leaders take over.

I know what war is like. The Inner Way is a means for adjusting to this. When a thought emerges, take note, and let it go.

“Immersed in the Tao, you can deal with what life brings.”

 

In the morning, we take the train to A Coruña.

The practice of meditation may stimulate religious experiences but you should realize that our minds are like a house of mirrors. We bring up visions which can be used for selfish ends and it is difficult to see the difference between light and shadow. The Inner Way involves letting go of all thoughts.

 

Many blissful experiences are delusional.  When the idea for a battle cry arises, let it go. It is best to remain silent.

 

 

 

Santiago Cathedral – Chapter 14

The image above shows the Santiago Cathedral before it was covered with scaffolding. During each of my three visits (2011, 2014, and now  2017), the cathedral has been “under repair” and this time, the main masterpiece, the Pórtico de la Gloria, is covered over — not available to tourists. It, and the main towers, are being restored.

 

Most pilgrims arrive from the north, taking what is known as the French Camino. They pass through the Praza da Immaculada.  The  cathedral has the form of a cross and this is the top, northern part. Above the double doors is a statue of  the Pilgrim Santiago with Kings Alfonso II of Asturias and Ordoño II of León, praying to him.

I read Chapter 14 of Lao tsu’s Tao te Ching (translated by Steven Mitchell):

“Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.”

[Lao tsu portrays the Tao as beyond imagination; Christianity includes many, many images — which can be seen, heard, grasped.]

Below Santiago are four figures and a blindfolded statue representing faith.

“Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.”

[There are elements within faith that are parallel to the Tao — faith has a hidden quality.]

Our experience during this visit was characterized by construction and repair work. These doors were open for the French pilgrims but there is major construction work going on.

“Seamless, unnamable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.”

[Christainity is filled with symbols — many names, ideas, images.]

Walking to the east, clockwise, we come to the Holy Door. Typically, it is closed. Above the door is a statue of St. James and his two disciples (Teodoro and Atanasio). To the left and right of the door are 24 carved figures of saints, apostles, and important religious figures (some of whom appear Asian). The Holy Door is open only on years when St. James’ Day, July 25th falls on Sunday. The exact identity of many of the images is unclear — specific objects have become connected to certain apostles and saints. St. James, for example, is often shown holding a pilgrim’s staff — reflecting his journey to Spain  (not historically documented but accepted by believers). St. James stands above the door and is not among the 24 figures.

On each side of the Holy Door are carvings by Maestro Mateo of saints, apostles, prophets, and Asian guys.

 

Walking to the south, we come to the Plaza das Praterias (Praterias are silversmiths, who used to have their shops here). This is the entrance for pilgrims, like us, who come from the south. There were also shops selling provisions for pilgrims.

“Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.”

[Lao tsu portrays the Tao as something that cannot be seen, heard, grasped, named — beyond conception. The cathedral functions as a kind of teaching tool — bringing the Christian stories into your awareness — but some elements have become obscure for modern listeners]

This plaza is often crowded — there are many tour groups visiting the cathedral.

“See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.”

The cathedral doors in this plaza are surrounded by intricate artwork. On the left, are carvings showing the temptation of Jesus in the desert (note the monsters), on the rights is the “passion of Christ” (but I have not completely figured the exact meaning of many of these images)

 

“Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.”

 

 

Obscure images

 

 

We walk to the west and view the Praza do Obradoiro — the famous image on the 1, 2, and 5 cent Spanish coins — but, much is covered by scaffolding. I play with the sun.

 

 

We visited many times — sometimes walking from the north. We pass a beggar and listen to bagpipes.

 

When we visited the Museum, we looked down on the Plaza from a balcony passage.

 

The camera concludes by looking toward the Plaza de Praterias.

 

During the many times we walked through this Plaza, we saw many pilgrims arriving. Over 200,000 pilgrims walk the French Camino each year.

 

 

We leave the Plaza do Obradoiro,  walking south toward the Plaza das Praterias.

We enter — it is time for the Pilgrim’s Mass. You must come early if you want a seat.