A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Walk On!

The urge to undertake a pilgrimage is both ancient and universal. The Egyptians made their way to Sekket's shrine at Bubastis; the Greeks sought counsel from Apollo at Delphi and the cures of Asclepius at Epidaurus. Quetzal, Cuzco and Titicaca were all sacred precincts in pre-Columbian America. Christian tradition draws the faithful primarily to the Holy Land, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, Fatima, Lourdes, and more recently, to Medjugorje, Bosnia, where the Virgin Mary is purported to appear daily to a group of village seers. In the Islamic world, the pilgrim's obligatory journey or hajj to Mecca is one of the Five Pillars of Faith. Buddhists venture to Bodh Gaya where the Buddha attained enlightenment; Jews bow in prayer before the Western Wall of the Temple; and Hindus bathe in the ash-filled waters of the sacred Ganges. Every religion possesses its prescribed rites and rituals, but pilgrimage, in particular, seems to appeal to an instinctive movement of the human heart. The Latin phrase ambulare pro Deo, 'to walk for God', is as valid for a Christian pilgrim setting out for Santiago de Compostela as for a Muslim drawn to the Ka'ba shrine at Mecca, or a Buddhist circumambulating a stupa . . .

. . . The notion that God or the Absolute can be approached while journeying, I discovered, is all but universal. It is telling, for example, that Yahweh means the 'God of the Way'; or that in Arabic Il-Rah, originally used to signify a migration path, was later appropriated by the Sufi mystics to describe 'the Way to God'. Christ and his Apostles walked the hills and valleys of Palestine. The quest for Zen is also referred to as angya, or 'going on foot'. Early Buddhists were 'wandering alms-seekers'; and their master's last words to his followers were, appropriately enough, 'Walk on!' The potential pilgrim is unlikely to find two better words of advice . . .

. . . Had either the Buddha or Christ chosen a secluded, stationary life, there would be no footsteps to follow. As it was, they both exalted the peripatetic condition, and they both showed us a Path; that one leads to Nirvana, and the other to salvation and eternal life, are two very different spiritual prospects, but in both cases it is the pilgrim, the soul seeking enlightenment, who must set off on the journey. As the Buddha lay on his deathbed, he offered his followers a simple, if telling, imperative: 'Walk on!'

NICHOLAS SHRADY Sacred Roads: Adventures from the Pilgrimage Trail

Ultreia! or Ultreya! is a word deriving from the ancient Galician language (and originally from the Latin word ultra) which is difficult to translate exactly, but means something like 'Walk further!', 'Walk higher!', 'Onward!' or 'Walk on!'. Camino pilgrims often come across this word scrawled graffiti-like in underpasses, on walls and alongside the ubiquitous yellow arrows which point the Way.

Ultra means 'further', 'extreme', 'radical', 'beyond the norm'. The true end of the Spanish Camino is Fistera, Finisterre, Finis Terra, The End of the Earth, the Furthest Point West in Spain, indeed the Furthest Point West in Europe. The romance and promise of the West pervades much folklore, mythology and many spiritual and quasi-spiritual beliefs (eg there's the story of the lost kingdom of Atlantis).

As I approached Toulouse by the Canal du Midi this September, a cyclist on the opposite bank called out to me 'Ultreia!', in recognition, greeting, encouragement and blessing, with one arm held high in the air, the fingers of her hand pointing skywards.


George said...

Great post, Robert. After all the reading, reflection, and intellectual acrobatics, it may be that the only true wisdom is simply to "walk on." Perhaps that is why pilgrimage has always been a universal attraction.

am said...

“But for us the road unfurls itself, we don't stop walking, we know there is far to go. ”
― Denise Levertov

Reading your post, this came to mind, too:


The tempest may howl and the loud thunder roar
And gathering storms may arise
But calm is my feeling, at rest is my soul
The tears are all wiped from my eyes

and then I found this:


Thank you for this post. I have not been walking enough, not even in my dreams. Maybe I have been resting and regaining my strength at an albergue.

Amanda Summer said...

Love that "Ultreia!"

One can walk on, or sail on, as Homer notes when Odysseus negotiates the clashing rocks. The idea is to keep moving forward, regardless of the terrain.

The Solitary Walker said...

George — Ultreia!


'What attracts me to the song is how the lunacy of trying to fool the self is set aside at some given point. Salvation & the needs of mankind are prominent & hegemony takes a breathing spell.'

'If you try to be anyone but yourself, you will fail; if you are not true to your own heart, you will fail.'

Good words by Bob about the song 'Lone Pilgrim', Am.

There's a time to walk, there's a time to rest and there's a time to dream.


Thanks for this, Amanda.

'I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees . . .
. . . Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die . . .'

From TENNYSON's 'Ulysses'

Wendy said...

Ah, sadly I now live in a town that actively makes me NOT want to walk. Unattractive, too-broad roads with too many cars, uninteresting yards (lawn, lawn, a tree in a lawn)… and here and there parks of lawn with some standard landscaping trees for shade indicate the truth: there isn't even anywhere pretty to have as a goal toward which to walk.

Nowhere is there the wildness that can be instilled in the heart in even those relatively domesticated landscapes-done-right by keeping something out of view, having a bend to entice you onward, by creating an environment in which humans can feel immersed and involved - related in beauty.

Were I to leave town, the regimented and monotonous fields would not meet this criteria either.

The straight path, while perhaps efficient, is a disappointment.

I'll have to just walk in my imagination and wait for the times when I can get out of town.

The Solitary Walker said...

Oh dear. That sounds bad, Wendy! But walking in the imagination is good too.