The Morning Commute as Pilgrimage

Images along the way
Images along the way

Today started like a normal Monday. I woke up at 6:45 am and stumbled to my altar for 30 minutes of silent mediation and prayer. I made two eggs and some coffee. I gathered my things and headed for the front door of my East Vancouver home. Dreading the hour-long commute by rickety bus, I thought to myself, what if I walked? I looked up the directions on Google: 14 km (8.6 miles), an estimated 2 hours 55 minutes. That is a long walk. But my mind was made up. So I walked out the door, started my timer, took a swig of water and began walking. I felt a burst of energy and excitement.

Google recommended walking along mostly busy streets, but I decided to take parallel Avenues zigzagging North from 22nd Ave. to 10th over about three quarters of the distance.

I tried to make eye contact with people, say good morning, and notice my surroundings. I saw dozens of crows, one with a tattered rat carcass in its mouth, many shapes and sizes of dogs and their walkers, a few cats, a few squirrels, pigeons, and high flying gulls. I passed hundreds of houses, some in various stages of demolition to make way for high rises. I traversed gorgeous tree-lined avenues with closed canopies and pollarded branches to make way for power lines. I passed schools and shops and parks and hospitals and police stations.

As my feet took steady steps westward, my mind wandered along crooked paths of past, present, future; of hopes, dreams, excitements; through relationships and places I have been, with plenty of return trips to my dissertation research and writing.

I said silent prayers for friends and family, for myself and my past lovers. Syncing my left and right foot, as symbols of my will and of God’s. My walking felt less and less like leisure and more like pilgrimage. I was offering up my meandering path, my sweat and my stiff legs to God. I was between two places, one of rest and one of work. It is no wonder that many of the sages and mystics and monks were wanderers. It is no surprise that God asked the Israelites to wander the desert for 40 years before settling down.

In many ways my own life has been a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage. Basically from 2001, I have been away from my childhood home in Southern California. I have lived in the Dominican Republic, Utah, Oregon, Connecticut, Utah again, and British Columbia. While I have been in BC I took six months to travel Western US to interview monks for my dissertation. Pilgrimage within Pilgrimage.

I arrived at school in just under two hours and forty minutes. It was a blessed experience to move through a familiar city by unfamiliar routes on foot. Maybe I will do it again some time.

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