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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.

Santiago de Compostela – Chapter 13

We begin walking the final 8 miles to Santiago. We look towards the north, but the city is not in view (we had been told we might see it but the haze was too thick).

 

I read Chapter 13 of the Tao te Ching:

“Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.”

“What does it mean that success is a dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
you position is shaky.”

 

“When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.”

 

We continue walking toward the city — ahead are scattered houses, not the actual city.

 

We climb a hill, look back at some other pilgrims who are climbing, and look at a construction site.

“What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.”

 

We walk on, entering the urban area.

“When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?”

 

The marker shows that we have 2.26 kilometers to go before we reach the cathedral.

“See the world as your self.”

 

 

“Have faith in the way things are.”

 

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

 

 

We cross a bridge.

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

We reach the Cathedral of Santiago — the door associated with those coming from Portugal and Southern Spain.

 

 

We go to the Pilgrims office and stand in line. We will show the official our pilgrim credential with stamps that we received during our 1000 kilometer walk on the Via de la Plata.

 

 

I show my credentials with stamps for each location I have visited on this pilgrimage — beginning at Sevilla and now ending at Santiago.  Our hike was so long that we filled every space in the standard pilgrimage document so we used a blank page to display all later stamps.

 

I receive my Pilgrimage certificate  — I have walked 1007 kilometers. Next, we will go to the Pilgrim’s Mass at the cathedral.

We return to the cathedral.

 

The main altar — Santiago (St. James)

There is mystery involved in completing this pilgrimage and there is much to see regarding this cathedral. I will show many photographs and videos of these marvelous things and you will take another step toward your karmic destiny as a result of hearing about these things.

“Have faith in the way things are,” Lao tsu says. “Love the world as your self.”

 

 

A Laxe- Chapter 10

 

 

We walk from Castro Dozón to A Laxe.

We pass a house with sculptures — Santiago (St. James), a crucifix, gate ornaments.

I read Chapter 10 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?”

 

“Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?”

 

 

“Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?”

 

 

“Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?”

During recent weeks we have seen few fellow pilgrims but today we have encountered Spanish pilgrims who started off recently and are walking the final 100 kilometers to Santiago.

There are many bugs in this area.

“Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?”

 

We enter a deep hedgerow-road cut.

“Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?”

 

We see a mole, who seems anxious — he probably prefers to be underground.

“Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.”

 

We walk in the hot sun. It is unpleasant to walk in the heat.

Lao tsu asks if you can do things that are difficult to do — having no expectations — not trying to control — not imposing your will. I don’t think that many people can do these things.

Follow your own Inner Way. Practice without concern regarding how well you are doing. The Inner Way is not a contest. Realize that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do. Everything will fall into place.

 

 

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.

Throw away holiness and wisdom

We walk on a roadway in the Great Dismal Swamp (Southeast Virginia).

I read Chapter 19 of the Tao te Ching by Lao tsu (trans. By Steven Mitchell):

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

Lao tsu implies that letting go of “holiness and wisdom” brings happiness. Should you let go of holiness and wisdom?

Let’s think about this. We are walking in a place that is somewhat featureless — a good area for thinking.

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There is no scientific evidence indicating that non-religious or non-wise people are happier than religious or wise people. Some studies find that religious people are happier than non-religious people.

Here is what I say: Lao tsu’s text can best be understood within the framework of meditation — the pathway to the Tao.

Meditators focuses on the breath. When thoughts of holiness or wisdom arise, they let these thoughts go. This meditation is a path to happiness.

We do not need to accept Lao tsu’s word literally. He may not even have existed. Some scholars believe his text is merely a transcription of Chinese folk traditions during the 3-5th century BCE.

Be skeptical.

I am interested in the Tao te Ching because it captures universal features associated with shamanic traditions and because it is useful for mindfulness therapy. A growing body of research indicates that meditation based on mindfulness can help people.

Lao tsu writes:

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

There is no sociological evidence indicating that “throwing away morality and justice” will reduce the crime rate — but sociological theories point out that crime and laws have a symbiotic relationship. Without labeling crime, there would be no crime. Morality and the justice system label crime.

These verses are best understood within the framework of meditation. The person meditating “throws away morality and justice” (along with all other thoughts) when they arise. An empty mind allows “doing the right thing.”

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The Tao te Ching is not suitable as a guide for social change. It is a guide for meditators.

Karen and I look at an exibition: an alcohol still. People made their own alcohol in the swamp.

Like meditation, alcohol affects the brain — but alcohol has unwanted side effects.

About 10% of those reading these words have a drinking problem. Drinking affects their relationships with others. I believe that most people accept, on some level, the Buddhist notion that life is suffering. They feel suffering inside themselves. Something does not feel right, at times, and alcohol can cover that feeling. Street drugs also prove useful for blotting out the feeling.

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We look at the still.

As a result of the “life is suffering” situation, alcohol or drugs can be addicting. They are a way of dealing with suffering — except that they bring more suffering — they have cumulative physiological side effects and hence the need for recovery programs.

Meditation can help with this because the meditator is forced to face that inner suffering. There is a cycle — You sit meditating…Focus on the breath — but the suffering comes up — return to focusing on the breath — the suffering comes up — return to focusing on the breath — the suffering come up.

This is the case for many people. Anxiety, depression, fear, loneliness — come up.

With practice, you recognize the suffering and see how it changes over time. You come to terms with it. The Buddhist “noble truths” set forth a path toward enlightenment — but I am mainly concerned with how you are doing — can you accept that feeling inside yourself without drinking too much alcohol? Can you sit in stillness until the sadness goes away and you are left with only the silence?

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We see an exhibit for a canal boat – taking lumber down the canal in the 1800s.

Lao tsu writes:

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

If we look at this literally, it seems flawed. There are thieves in areas that lack industry and profit. But on the individual level, the meditator who gives up thinking about industry or profit also gives up the need to acquire material goods. No industry, no profit, no thieves, no alcohol, no thought, no suffering.

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Canal boat — used to transport material down the canal.

To say that industry leads to crime is simplistic — but let us not worry about this. Return your awareness to the breath.

Here is what I say: Some people say the glass is half full. Some say the glass is half empty. I say, “Drink up!”

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

Practice sitting still. Stay in the center of the circle.

I watch the birds.

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We walk down the road.
“What a deep subject,” Karen says.
“Foolishness,” I reply.

When the Tao is forgotten

Each day, I walk down the railroad tracks behind my house.

Today, I read Chapter 18 of the Tao te Ching by Lao tsu:

“When the Great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.
When the body’s intelligence declines,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.

Lao tsu mentions goodness, piety, cleverness, and knowledge, generally thought to be positive things. He connects these things with forgetting the Tao.

What is the Tao?

The Tao is the unknowable source and guiding principle of reality. Westerners think of it as like God but God judges and is jealous. God is often considered separate from reality — king of reality. The Tao does not judge. The Tao is silent. The Tao is both reality and the principles governing reality.

The Tao cannot be understood. It cannot be grasped. The Tao is sometimes translated as “The Way” — and the way is meditation, looking at the inner universe, the universe inside.

If you meditate, you will find that sometimes there are no thoughts — no good or bad, no piety or lack of piety — no cleverness, no knowledge. But if you lose this state and thoughts return, you can find good, piety, cleverness, knowledge. They emerge from forgetting the Tao.

Here is the rest of chapter 18:

When there is no peace in the family
filial piety begins.
When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.”

If there is peace — inner stillness — there is no need for filial piety or patriotism.

Judging, jealousy, strife, chaos — all connected with forgetting the Tao. Focusing on good, piety, politics, patriotism, you forget the Tao — and all manner of problems emerge.


You can’t grasp the Tao. You can’t see the Tao.

But you can be the Tao — breathing in — breathing out.
When no thoughts come….

It is natural to forget the Tao — it is beyond our grasp and you struggle to get what you want.

But it always present, waiting, silent. Offering a secret place at the heart of everything.

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Travelers! Take the inner journey!

Here is what I say: This is too nebulous.

There is a place inside your heart that will help you make the change you need to make. I want the best for you — find that place!

It can happen at any moment — but you will not see the end.

Appalachian Trail — Arriving at Harpers Ferry

In Chapter 16 of the Tao te Ching, Lao tsu discusses the Master (a hypothetical Taoist leader), other leaders, and followers.

Here is my suggestion: Think of these individuals as elements inside yourself. You are the Master, other leaders, and followers, young and old — they are all inside of you. The pathway to seeing this is through meditation.

Lao tsu writes (chapter 17):

“When the Master governs, the people

are hardly aware that he exists.

Next best is the leader who is loved.

Next, one who is feared.

The worst is one who is despised.

If you don’t trust the people

You make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.

When his work is done,

the people say, ‘Amazing;

we did it all by ourselves!”

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I hike with the ghosts of soldiers. I think about the American Civil War and my memories of the Vietnam War.

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Each night, I sleep in a hammock under a tarp.

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It is fall — winter comes.
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Lao tsu writes:

“If you don’t trust the people

You make them untrustworthy.”

I say: You can trust yourself by forgetting your self.

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Lao tsu says:

“The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.”

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Many decades ago, I did a meditation exercise where I visualized meeting an older version of myself and asking for advice. I spoke with an older me while walking in the woods.

Try this yourself. Imagine walking through the woods and talking with an older, wiser version of yourself.

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I watch the sunset — Many decades have gone by and I have become the one I hoped to speak with when I was young.

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I cook supper.

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Lao tsu writes:

“When his work is done,

the people say, ‘Amazing;

we did it all by ourselves!'”

Join me — we are hiking.

I walk up the mountain.

You tell me about your problems. I listen closely.

We reach a switch-back — turn left. The trail grows steeper.

There is no need anymore for talking.

While cooking supper, I walk down the trail to see the sunset — then look at my tarp. Afterward, there is much time for meditation.

I hike in the morning chill and watch the sunrise over the ridge. The sun brings warmth.

I watch the leaves fall.

Decades ago, I returned from the Vietnam War. I did the visualization exercise and sought advice from the older version of myself. He recommended meditation.

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Today I meditate and see my younger self seeking advice. I embrace my younger self and smile.

I do not say anything. There is no need for words.

I embrace you. If you cry, I will cry also but there is no need for tears. You can laugh.

Lao tsu writes:

“The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.

When his work is done,

the people say, “Amazing;

we did it all by ourselves!”

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I am at the train station in Harpers Ferry — the hike is over.

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In the train station, I look at an exhibit about John Brown. He led a raid in Harpers Ferry in 1859. He and 18 men seized the Federal arsenal with the goal of establishing a center for run-away slaves with the weapons. He was surrounded and captured by federal troops.
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John Brown was tried and hung. This event polarized America and the Civil War began two years later. The Civil War was the most horrendous event in American history.

Slavery, Civil War, and wars during each generation – so much suffering. People tell me about child abuse, marital abuse, PTSD, rape, workplace stress, money problems, health problems, psychosis, depression, anxiety, basic mental and spiritual problems — and the things you told me while we are hiking.

Breathing in — be aware of the breathing in.
Breathing out — be aware of the breathing out.

When thoughts emerge, return your awareness to the breath.

By doing this, you let these thoughts go and, over time, develop the skills required for tranquility.

I catch the train in Harpers Ferry — it’s time to go home.

Appalachian Trail – Walking to Front Royal

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I look at the moon.

I am walking toward Front Royal, on my way to Harpers Ferry.
I read Chapter 16 of the Tao te Ching, written by Lao tsu (translated by Steven Mitchell):

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

Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

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

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

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

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

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Sunrise

I get water from the spring.

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

Your mind generates thoughts, emotions, sensations — Acknowledge what comes up and let it go. There is no need to be upset when you find that your heart is troubled — by focusing, you become more peaceful. Peace is a process, not a goal.

Peace is within, waiting.

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I am in the northern part of the Shanandoah National Park.

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

You can observe your inner turmoil and become aware that it changes over time. By watching, you come to see — more clearly.

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

All of us are returning to the source — but this is not something to discuss. This is something to experience.

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

I have stumbled and fallen many times — the secret is: Get up!

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

If you come to my house, I will make cookies for you!

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

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

Campfire at sunset

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Sunset

Appalachian Trail – Shenandoah

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I hitchhike from Waynesboro to get back to the trail. I start walking again — on my way to Harper’s Ferry, eventually — my next town-stop is Elkton — then Front Royal.
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I read Chapter 15 from the Tao te Ching by Lao tsu:

“The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.”

People tend to regard “ancient masters” as better than modern ones — the modern ones seem inadequate. It seems that this was the case even in Lao tsu’s era! (perhaps 6th century BC)

“They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.”

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Careful, alert, courteous, fluid, shapable, receptive, clear — you might think that by seeking these qualities, you will become like those ancient masters but it doesn’t work like that. Lao tsu advocates non-doing rather than doing. Non-seeking, rather than seeking.
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Non-doing is meditation — the inner way. Just being.

People suspect that the ancient masters had more time available for transformation than most modern people — but the difficulties that the ancient masters encountered differ from those that you and I encounter.

Here is what I say: You do not need to emulate the ancient masters. I want you to become the one you truly are. Each of us is unique. The meditation process can help you become your true self — someone living in the modern era.

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Lao tsu, the ancient master, asks:

“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?”

I will be showing only a few scenes during this section of my hike because I encountered heavy wind and rain — I feared that my iPad would be destroyed by the water. I struggled to make it through the storm.

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

These verses do not emphasize seeking — the master is merely present. Meditation does not mean struggling to control your thoughts — it involves merely being aware — seeing a thought come and letting it go — returning your focus to the breath.


I reach Black Rock Mountain.

Not seeking. Not expecting.

She can welcome all things — hard to do sometimes when difficulties arise.

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In Elkton, the Country Store has a bear on the roof.

The theme of this blog — this particular hiking section, is struggle — due to the weather. I hike through heavy rain, hard wind.
A hurricane — now a tropical storm — has come up from Mexico.

Heavy rain and wind — more than I wanted. Hard to sleep at night.
Okay — it happens, keep walking.

I have fallen behind my schedule — and I find that almost all the rooms in the only place in Front Royal have been taken — I have to make a reservation if I want to get a room (and I really, really needed a room to dry out and recover!) and so now I’m walking down Skyline Drive (parallel to the Appalachian Trail). I am hitch-hiking because I need to be in Front Royal in two days.

Sometimes, you have to go with the flow. I’ll spend one more night out and then walk into Front Royal.

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A view from the road — eventually I get a ride to place where I can get back on the Appalachian Trail — six miles down the road — and I’m back on my schedule. Of course Lao tsu doesn’t advocate schedules but he was not out in the hurricane, was he?

I am climbing what I regard as a sacred mountain — South Marshall Mountain.

Here is the message: part of the inner journey involves struggle. What to do in the face of difficulty? Be present — eyes open. The secret is being present in the moment.

This is a magical place — the sacred mountain

During your life, you have faced difficulties — you can expect more in the future and your reaction will determine your overall happiness.

Soon I will be in Front Royal, Virginia.
There are various Eastern meditation traditions which describe the mind as like a glass filled with muddy, swirling water. If you do not disturb the water, the mud settles and the water becomes clear.
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Your mind is filled with swirling thoughts. Be still and allow your mind to settle.