Monday, November 23, 2015

Mission Statement

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As you will already know if you have been following this blog on the ‘updates’ page, I began a cross-country walking pilgrimage in the spring of 2015, with the parallel intentions of:  paying respect to the earth, engaging in conversation about climate/environment with people I was meeting along the way, and as a healing meditation for (as I put it) my intermittently misanthropic heart.  I offer a bit about my history and motivation below.

After three spring/summer seasons of walking I arrived at my targeted East Coast destination (Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware) in late July of last year.  In 2015 I had made it from Avila Beach, CA as far as Ft. Morgan, Colorado, where I was forced to suspend the trek due to an intervening medical event, brought about by excessive heat and dehydration.  The condition was caught early and treated, but it also required a bit of recuperation.  I made the decision to do this recuperating at home in San Francisco, and to set out again the following year. 2016's walk between Ft. Morgan and Crown Point, Indiana brought me another third of the way, before I took a nosedive on Route 30 (caught on a piece of wire road trash), and fractured my jaw.  Again, I went home to recuperate.  That recovery process involved some disagreeable medical intervention, and follow-up dentistry(!)  I arrived back in Indiana in late April of last year determined to accomplish the rest of the distance. Somehow, after another three months on the road it feels quite unreal to think that I have!  No more gear or route research necessary, at least for the time being. 

During the months of walking I benefitted from many types of support from a generous network of friends from home, and people (‘road angels’!) along the way.   My walk days varied considerably; on ‘good’ days I was able to make between 20 and 25 miles, and there were also some 8-10 mile days.  The entire project took about nine months, including time spent waiting out risky weather, visiting with people, and some touring. And although I took rides under various extreme weather and other circumstances, I estimate having walked between 2500 and 2750 of the 3000+ miles of my coast to coast route, and am gratified to have crossed the Rocky Mountains entirely on foot!

And what did I learn along the way?  Perhaps what stands out the most (as mentioned occasionally in blogs posts) is that all sorts of people care about the environment!  And that the vast majority of people, political affiliation, social/economic status notwithstanding, are kind, generous and open to interacting with a complete stranger.  I don't know if I 'raised anyone's awareness' about climate/environment, but this adventure was certainly mind-expanding for me!

History / inspiration (from original 2015 Mission Statement)

The idea of walking the continent has been a regularly recurring theme for me for most of my adult life, although the inspiration/motivation has changed many times. As much of my sporadic political and social activism has come from a negative place (anger, outrage), similarly, this idea has often sprung from depression and despair in the last decades, over constant environmental degradation and abuse, Iraq wars, drone killings (!), gun-mania, and who the hell are we ‘amerikans’, anyhow?

Between 1992 and 2003 I lived in a Buddhist community and in 1998 was ordained as a priest, though I am not currently in formal practice. Throughout this time I continued to think about pilgrimage as a practice. More recently I took the idea of walking practice on the road, on a Spanish pilgrimage via the Camino Santiago de Compostela in 2012, and found the experience to be intensely transformative, as well as being a form of ‘moving meditation’. My route took me from the Spanish Pyrenees near the French border, to the city of Santiago de Compostela, near the west coast – a distance of about 800 kilometers. So, as one can see I am a ‘seasoned’ long-distance walker, if only lightly seasoned! (In the 80’s I had experienced distance walking in England, on some of the numerous footpaths that crisscross the country.)

It must also be said that I have become more intentional about personal fitness and health after undergoing cancer treatment from 2008 - 2010. This period was transformative, too, in particular ways, especially in regard to life choices and priorities, and the clear imperative I feel to listen to, and honor internal guidance. The decisions I have taken since then have had the flavor of celebration and gratitude for this phase of my life.

Although I have been quite happy, personally, during the past few years in semi-retirement (having no pension I cannot retire fully!), there is no way to ignore the deeply disturbing, continuing global trends of environmental destruction and waste, acceleration of weapons production and distribution, public apathy (or paralyzing polarization), and the unbridled corporate greed that seems to be underpinning a culture of ruthless global exploitation. What to do? One without deep pockets can volunteer and rally, and sign/distribute petitions. Make phone calls to elected officials. And watch small gains in social justice all but swept away by large losses…

Meanwhile, in contrast with the part of me that enjoys my varied and busy life these days, it also seems that I have not been ‘cured’ of the pilgrimage bug so much as motivated to continue. The most recent incarnation of this walking plan, and I think the 'truest' way to express what inspires it comes down to the simple (though by no means easy!) act of paying respect, through walking and meditation, to the planet that we humans are so effectively suffocating. I will not deny feeling a certain element of despair and skepticism that humans can turn the tide of such massive pollution and plunder committed on relatively small planet upon which we depend absolutely. But, as well as the (one might say) ‘karmic imperative’ driving this need to express respect for the environment by walking, it seems important to make the acquaintance of Americans across the country (upon whom I will also depend along the way), and to see where conversations about climate might lead. Yes -- it would be possible to do this by car, or bicycle for that matter. But a person on foot has a better chance of actually ‘being where s/he is’, and connecting with others. And walking is a ‘statement’ I feel able to make.  

Pilgrimage as a practice -- public and personal

Those who have followed along on this blog-journey may have noticed the disappearance of a Paypal donation button on the 'updates' page. There may be cause to reinstall it in the future, as I can foresee that the imperative to 'get about on foot' to talk about and plan for serious cultural shifts, will only become more acute in the months and years to come!  So who knows? There may be more walking in my future on that basis alone.  And as I have also discovered repeatedly, this practice has been of incomparable value to me in the ongoing intention to live mindfully.  As always, and in the meantime, I’d like to urge people who feel so inspired, to make donations to the various groups doing vital environmental work in the U.S. and abroad, including: 350.orgThe Center for Biological DiversityReverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, Avaaz, among others.

For any updates check out blog posts here.

Setsurin Melissa McCarthy
(last Mission Statement update -- 9/3/2017)