“The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world—we’ve actually been on the way for quite awhile. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and to each other.” Joanna Macy
Seeing this pain and feeling its effects in the world around us, how can we listen to nature and allow its subtle yet direct voice to guide us as we take our next delicate steps as a species? What are the ways in which we can bring mindfulness into our lives, into our relationships with others, and into our relationship with the earth?
The Peace Vase Pilgrimage has been born and woven in the midst of these threads, and is a direct exploration of the nature of the sacred in the midst of desecration and alienation. It acknowledges that the conditions of this time invite us to wake up and remember who we really are.
Sacredness is the abiding nature of all things. Sacredness is what has always been the case, and reveals itself when we release our concepts about what is and is not. Sacredness is revealed in pure presence, in communion, and in giving back to our world. This threefold nature shines forth in the recognition of our own mind’s essence, in the intimacy of our relationships with others, and in our relationship with the Earth. Desecration is also threefold, and is the process through which we forget our true nature and become alienated from ourselves, from others, and from the environment around us.
This desecration and its resulting alienation is a form of exile, a state in which there is a perpetual knowing of the home that we have lost, and a longing to regain it. We long to reconnect with the home in the midst of our hearts, in our belonging to one another, and our belonging to the planet.
Pilgrimage is the practice of coming home. On one level, it is a way of providing a map and sacred context for our wandering, and on another level, it is the practice of remembering the sacred here and now, at every moment. We are always on the road, but a pilgrim is one who recognizes the journey as the goal, and is continually walking the line between exile and realization, between the illusion of separation and the recognition of being always and already home.
In a similar way, as we bear witness to the desecration that is continually happening within, between, and around us, we must also recognize the stainless sacredness that is always beyond any attempt to distort or pollute it. In each moment that we take a sacred pause, we remember and unite with the illusive and pristine purity of what is. The painful and disheartening road of exile must be travelled with the intention, clarity, and open heartedness necessary to traverse it and transform it. But this journey can never be fulfilled without the wisdom that recognizes that the burden of exile is ultimately self-imposed, and that the true nature of our mind and the world is forever beyond any attempts to distort or pollute it.
The Earth Vase Pilgrimage is a journey to transform the alienation and desecration we know all too well, and a path to remember and familiarize ourselves with the immediate sacredness inherent in our own mind, our relationships, and in the natural world. This path of practice is framed within the view of natural meditation, in this case from the Zen tradition brought by Eden Tull, and the Mahāmudrā tradition of Lama Karma. In this light, the Earth Vase Pilgrimage is a journey to an ever-present goal, an exploration of the inseparability of origin, journey and destination, uncovering the innate purity in the midst of the most grievous desecration.
While remaining in this view, pilgrims will also walk the trail, discovering and creating sacred places along the journey. The path is complemented by a variety of methods and practices to transform and enliven one’s awareness, relationships, and environment. The primary framework for the 2017 Pilgrimage will be the Johanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects, and will be facilitated by Deborah Eden Tull, a student of Johanna Macy and an expert in the Work.
The Work That Reconnects is an individual and group process that was born out of the convergence of nondualistic spirituality, systems theory, ecology, and relational practice. Through various individual and group practices, participants are led through a four-step spiraling process that integrates a fearless courage to experience the fullness of our personal, collective, and ecological pain with the radical freedom that understands all manifestation as the interconnected yet illusory play of the mind.
The process begins with gratitude, an opening of the heart that allows practitioners to reconnect with basic goodness, confidence, and empathy. This prepares the way for a full and honest acknowledgment of the pain that each of us carry for the world. With this acknowledgment, empathy matures into compassion, the ability to fully feel the suffering of others. The space of compassion opens to the recognition of the interconnectedness of all living things: in honoring our private pain with presence, we become present to all that lives, intimately connected in the tender intimacy of our own vulnerability. This intimacy allows us to see with new eyes, unlocking a sense of our own ability to affect the whole, liberating our limitations into a broader context of compassionate activity. We become connected to past and future generations and share their gifts, support, and the duty to honor them. Finally, we go forth into the world, expressing this activity in ways that draw on the uniqueness of our personal gifts and circumstances, investing our new-found sense of empowerment into the world around us.
In addition to The Work That Reconnects, the journey will also incorporate elements from the Tibetan Vajrayāna tradition, including the ritual practices of fire offerings and Earth Vases. These practices have been adapted to be approachable and practiced by individuals from any or no spiritual tradition. Rituals such as these are potent medicine for reconnecting with the sacred. Ritual can be difficult for many of us to connect with, but it is important to recognize that this difficulty is symptomatic of an underlying disconnect in the way modern individuals relate with themselves, with others, and with the environment.
In various ways, modernity has developed dis-eases of alienation that are the result of broken relationships. Relationships break down when reciprocity is not honored. What is given must be re-given, what is received must be given back in kind. Ritual is the language of reciprocity, and the modern refusal to speak this language is symptomatic of the underlying alienation and dis-ease in our relationships with ourselves, others, and the environment. Becoming fluent in the language of ritual is therefore a direct method for restoring the sacredness of exchange.
From the relative point of view, desecration is the result of failing to honor one’s responsibility and care for one’s self, for others, and for one’s environment. These relationships are a constant flow of mutual exchange and care, and when they are not honored, imbalance and dis-ease develop. When these relationships are honored in a reciprocal exchange, they operate in a system of mutual awakening and exhalation. When the cycle of reciprocity is compromised or ignored, imbalances in one’s own mind, in one’s relationships, and in one’s environment occur.
Over the past three years, over twenty Earth Healing Vases have been planted in the Smoky Mountain and Blue Ridge Mountain region of Tennessee and North Carolina. These installations have created a network of pilgrimage places in the region, tied together with the journeys and narratives of the many pilgrims who have participated. The sites were chosen based on their sacred importance to the indigenous traditions, and through the conscious participation of the pilgrims through exploration and intuitive resonance with a sense of place. The practice of pilgrimage develops this intuition, and the interconnected pathways and vases create contexts for the practice of future pilgrims. As this activity increases and spreads, it will develop a sense of the sacred throughout the region. Similar projects have been initiated worldwide, intentionally serving communities and landscapes that have been desecrated by pollution or torn by warfare and human suffering.
The ritual of planting an Earth Vase follows a text written by Karma Chagme, a Tibetan master from the 17th century. The ritual opens with the recollection of the environment as a pure realm, and the sacred maṇḍala of the Bodhisattva "Essence of Earth” (Skt. Kṣitigarbha) is developed within the vase. This Bodhisattva is famous for making the aspiration “May I never be enlightened until all sentient beings are enlightened,” and practitioners connect with this altruistic motivation by cultivating the heart wish to bring all beings to the recognition of their own sacred and innate goodness.
All of the rituals practiced on the pilgrimage remain transparent to the sense of the sacred in this way. This is not achieved through superimposing an idea of sacredness onto the ritual, but it emerges through the recognition that the one who offers, the recipients of the offering, and the act of offering are all free from conceptual stains and limitations. Reciprocity can never be fully achieved through substantial acts and conceptual contrivances, but only in the midst of the liberation that is celebrated when concepts of subject, object, and action are offered and released.
In its essence, ritual is to simply sit, walk, or remain in natural presence, free of dualistic fixation. This is natural reciprocity, a gift of natural meditation in the midst of nature, wisdom celebrating itself. In its more elaborate forms, ritual restores balance and enlivens the elements of an environment as one offers all concepts of subject, object, and action into the space of the sky, the depths of the earth, the radiance of fire, the purity of water, and the dynamic vitality of wind.
This year’s journey will also cross the path of a full solar eclipse. In the context of the symbolism of the Vajrayāna, the eclipse is the expression of Rāhula, the mythical figure who devours the sun and moon, symbolizing the dissolution of all the elements and dualistic concepts into the innately blissful, clear, and nonconceptual nature of mind. This day will be a focal point of the journey, and will be used to point out the various themes of the practices we will be exploring.
Through The Work That Reconnects, the view of natural meditation in the Zen and Mahāmudrā traditions, and through aspects of Vajrayāna ritual, the Earth Vase Pilgrimage offers a powerfully transformative journey of practice and environmental action. We will explore many paths toward reclaiming the sacred in the midst of desecration, and celebrate the inalienable goodness of our own nature, our connections with others, and our personal and collective relationship with the Earth.
To join an Earth Vase Pilgrimage is to relate with sacredness and reciprocity in these many dimensions. We connect with the basic goodness of our own nature, resting in its natural simplicity, expressing its effulgent radiance. We build our relationships with the present group, with the paths, stories, and artefacts of past pilgrims, and with those who will benefit from and follow our paths in the future. We develop the sense of the sacred in the reflexively transparent act of giving back to the Earth, and we can feel how this act ripples out and rebounds throughout the world at large.
The practice of pilgrimage carries itself into the lives of everyone who walks with us, and we invite you to join us in this journey. Join us in forging and following these paths as they diverge and merge, telling the sacred story of the world we know as home, yet to which we are always trying to return.