Every year for about four years, I’ve traveled with my sister-in-law to hike for 10 days or so in Northern Scotland, Pembroke coast of Wales, Dingle in Ireland and once in Portugal. These trips became my time of engaging in a deep way with nature and a sort of spiritual revival. The unique nature is much like my beloved childhood Bretagne. Self-guided hikes were also a time when I bonded more deeply with my sister-in-law. She enables me to continue to connect with the wonderful memories I hold in my heart of the early years of dating, marriage and raising children with my beloved, departed husband. She and I began our friendship in college where we met our future husbands, the Campbell brothers. We share many special memories.
Our hiking adventures included lush green valleys, rugged coastline; physically challenging, long daily hikes with frequent driving rainstorms, small villages, majestic mountains, hearty pub meals and, for me, a cherished Guinness at the end of the day. We had planned an adventurous trip to the Hebrides as our fifth trip. At 71-years-of-age, we thought perhaps we had one more challenging hike left in us. Then came the lockdown. The trip was cancelled.
In 2019 prior to lockdown, I had shared with my Pastor that I was feeling drawn to go on a spiritual retreat either prior to or following my Hebrides hike. I did some investigation into Iona, Findhorn and Corrymeela. Lockdown prevented me from going on this retreat, but another type of retreat was presented through the Findhorn Foundation’s Living the New Story: Myth, Magic and Miracles online learning journey and the move into my current home.
In October of 2019, prior to the lockdown, I moved about 13 miles south onto a 10-acre property which backed up to 80-acres of deeply wooded trails unused by anyone except me. The trails are an ideal safe training ground for my work raising service dog pups. From the moment I saw the property, I knew that this, for me, was a place where the veils are thin, as the Celts say. A sacred place overflowing with the quiet, but deep, energy only nature can offer – dense undisturbed forests and an abundance of wildlife. At a time of life when most of my friends were downsizing, I took on the care of a big property. Then lockdown.
The tension between being a single person overwhelmed as a caretaker of a large property and feeling God had called me to this place was intense. What is God asking of me? God offered directional guides through the Findhorn seminar, a knowledgeable young man eager to help me care for the property, an amazing spiritual director and a new friendship with Ballydidean Farm Sanctuary right here on the island. I no longer felt or feel alone on my pandemic pilgrimage. Unlike all my previous self-guided hikes in Europe, this pilgrimage came with guides. I have come to realise the value in trusting other like minded pilgrims on the journey.
Jumping to March of 2021, I’ve come to a place on my spiritual journey that has shifted from an external expression of faith to an internal contemplative faith. Discovering Centering Prayer and the writings of Thomas Keating have given me much food for thought on what is my ‘story’. The conversations and questions from my spiritual director have helped me define my life more clearly. The monthly Findhorn gatherings, presenters and guided questions have expanded and challenged my faith journey. The daily work around the property has kept my body and my soul energised.
Without the usual distractions of culture, church, family, politics etc., I’ve started a new journey building a different friendship with my God. It is a journey of daily silence and listening to God through nature and the discipline of contemplative prayer. My newly emerging large garden speaks to me daily as She tells me what do to. I expect I will make mistakes, but that’s okay. She has shown herself to be forgiving and resilient.
As Findhorn‘s 8-month seminar comes to a close, I will start my ongoing journey in April 2021 as a student at the Whidbey Organic Farm School. It’s a wonder that as the average student age is under thirty, My 71-year-old self was admitted! Very soon thirteen of us will gather daily on the Farm for nine months learning and farming. My own garden will soon have a cover crop planted that will nourish the soil and allow me time to farm at the Farm School this season. At the end of the term, I will have some skills to farm my own garden, which now includes six rescued hens from Ballydidean. I dream to offer healthy food for local food banks on the island. I will have developed new friendships and colleagues within the farming community here on the island with people who, like me, feel a deep connection to doing no harm to Creation. The property has a second building which had been a retreat yoga center prior to my moving here. It is now a place for several students from the Farm School to call home for the next nine months.
It looks as though the lockdown is lifting. People are traveling, family members are making plans to come visit, and churches are beginning to carefully gather again in person. While I look forward to re-engaging in the larger world, I do so with a stronger sense of myself, my unfolding ‘story’, my deepening friendship with the Creator and Creation itself. The Cosmic essence of my beliefs and faith is deeper, more clear. The lockdown and Findhorn’s seminar has been a time to turn inward, to empty myself of false beliefs and false myths or stories. I can’t really describe my new journey yet. It is just beginning to unfold. I can only say it is evolving through being guided by nature, the land and the trusted guides who come to prevent me from getting too lost.
Thank you Findhorn. Perhaps some day I may have an opportunity to visit in person, but until then know this: your seminar deeply enriched my ongoing life pilgrimage.
Featured Photo: Anni Campbell