Tag Archives: pilgrimage

Beauty on the Right

There were two vans filled with 14 intrepid travelers from around the world. The first one of us to spot an exceptional view as we traveled in France, through Brittany, shouted “Beauty on the right!” There was “Beauty on the left,” of course. Our heads swiveled as we attempted to take in the views throughout our travels from one place to another. These four words became a constant refrain we each called out as we were so moved.

The seed for taking this pilgrimage to visit sacred sights in France was unknowingly planted a number of years ago when I read a book entitled, Secrets in the Fields: The Science and Mysticism of Crop Circles by Freddie Silva. It was fascinating and scholarly and I loved it! Little could I have imagined I would someday be traveling with the author whose work I so admired.

In 2012, I was talking with a childhood friend and mentioned reading the crop circle book. As synchronicity would have it, she had heard Freddy Silva speak in person and suggested I sign up on his website to receive information. Two years later, an email came inviting 12 people to join him on a tour of sacred sights in France in spring, 2015. We would walk amid, around and within standing stones, holy wells and Gothic Cathedrals. It was perfect timing and Tom and I were ready!

We arrived in Paris May 25 for a lovely two-day holiday prior to meeting our fellow travelers in Chartres. Arriving by train in Chartres, we took the 12-minute uphill walk with our luggage to Hotellerie St. Yves. Built on the site of an ancient monastery, this simple hotel in a 17th-century building is complete with carved archways and exposed beams.

That evening was a meet and greet with wine, homemade breads and tapenade. Sitting in a circle we met our beautiful, gentle guide, Marianne, who would also be leading us in optional yoga sessions every morning before breakfast. We then met Freddy Silva. I found his energetic presence larger than I anticipated. He exudes great warmth, mastery and passion.

Of the 12 people in our group, half of us were from the Midwest! Amazing! Other fellow travelers were from Oregon, Australia, and British Columbia. As we went around the circle introducing ourselves, it became apparent we would be a coherent and bonded group! It was an impressive beginning! And that energy of camaraderie, kindred spirits, and personal connection with sacred space continued to infuse our entire journey.

ChartOur hotellerie was a 3-minute walk from the 13th-century Chartres Cathedral, providing easy opportunity to meander there numerous times over the next several days and become familiar with the Cathedral, both inside and out. Chartres Cathedral marks the high point of French Gothic art. The vast nave, in pure ogival style, the porches adorned with fine sculptures from the middle of the 12th century, and the magnificent 12th- and 13th-century stained-glass windows combine to make it a masterpiece. The Chartres labyrinth was closed for construction, but we were able to spend our mornings, after yoga and breakfast, walking the hidden labyrinth behind our Hotellerie.

We dined leisurely in outdoor cafes and wandered in and out of little shops around Chartres; my favorite was a large candy store, filled with macaroons, glaced fruits, sugar-jellied candies and Metchnikoff, delicious pieces of chocolate made with a mixture of praline-noisette, chocolate, and butter and encased in a thin layer of Swiss meringue. In the evenings we sat outside watching the dazzling light show projected on the Cathedral walls as music played.

Our next destination was Giverny, located on the right bank of the River Seine.MonetGard It was our entry to the Neolithic Age, or the New Stone Age, beginning roughly about 10,200 BC and ending between 4,500 and 2,000 BC. Traditionally considered the last part of the Stone Age, the Neolithic commenced with the beginning of farming, which produced the “Neolithic Revolution“. It ended when metal tools became widespread, giving rise to the Copper Age or Bronze Age; or, in some geographical regions, in the Iron Age. Of course, that’s not what I was thinking, as I leisurely strolled through Monet’s home and gardens. Rather, I was thinking, “I’m walking inside a painting!”

StMFrom there, we traveled to our lovely Hotel Roche Torin, from where we would begin our journey to Mont St. Michel. Our hotel provided an amazing view of this Gothic-style Benedictine abbey, built between the 11th and 16th centuries and dedicated to the archangel St. Michael. Perched on a rocky islet in the midst of vast sandbanks, it is exposed to powerful tides between Normandy and Brittany.

Many in our group were dedicated to taking the 5-mile, almost two-hour, barefoot pilgrimage to Mont St. Michel, while dodging quicksand and the fastest-rising tides in Europe. At some points, there’s almost a 50-foot difference between the very highest and lowest tides. At low tide, the water’s edge recedes by nine miles or so from the coast. Unfortunately, because of my hip pain, I was forced to join several other of my travel companions and take the short version – a van across the causeway.

Visiting the Benedictine abbey and cloisters atop the mount has always been the main goal for pilgrims and tourists alike. We leisurely climbed the steep winding steps through the village streets lined with busy shops, restaurants, little passages, alleys and hidden gardens to get to the abbey. The walk along the walls provides splendid views of the Bay and the twice-daily tides. It was an extraordinary experience and I understood why approximately 3.2 million visitors a year make Mont St. Michel France’s most popular site outside Paris. It is ‘improbably strange and beautiful’, as French author Guy de Maupassant wrote.

RiverWe stopped for lunch in the medieval town of Vitre; with its quaintness and fairytale castle, there was, indeed, beauty to the right and to the left!

For me, one of the most powerful sites was our next stop, the La Roche-aux-Fées, which means The Fairies’ Rock; its name comes from a legend claiming the stones were placed by fairies. Roche-aux-Fees is a Neolithic passage grave, or dolmen, thought to date from between 3000 and 2500 BC. This tomb is one the most Dolman02famous and largest Neolithic dolmens in Brittany, It consists of more than forty stones, forming a corridor four times longer than wide. The heaviest weighs about 45 tons – imagine fairy magic placing those stones! Its northwest-southeast axis, places the entrance in alignment with sunrise at the winter solstice. It was a formidable and magical place!

 MegaLith02We arrived late that afternoon at Talvern, an exquisite nineteenth century farmhouse that was to serve as our B&B for the next several nights, launching a three-day immersion in stones. We were engrossed in the two-mile long huge standing stone avenues of Carnac, a commune beside the Gulf of Morbihan on the south coast of Brittany in northwestern France. Carnac is renowned for being the site of one of the most extensive (10,000) Neolithic standing stones, known as menhirs, in the world.

We took a morning boat ride across the Golfe de Morbihan, a natural harbor in the south of Brittany, to view the half-submerged stone circles off the island of Er Lannic and enter the carved passage mound on the island of Gavrinis, The area around the gulf features an extraordinary range of megalithic monuments. There are passage dolmens, stepped pyramids with underground dolmen chambers, stone circles, and giant menhirs, among others. The passage grave of Gavrinis, on a small island in the Gulf, is one of the most important such sites in Europe. Some of the ruins have been dated to at least 3300 BC — 200 years older than England‘s Stonehenge. All sacred! All breathtaking!

We had entered the land of the great megaliths. Megalithism, a worldwide phenomenon consists in using large bocks of stones to build cultural structures. Megalithism is one of the main characteristics of Western Europe Stone Age. In the 19th century, it was believed that these rough-hewn stones, set up by man, dated from the days of the Celts. Modern archeology has shown they were erected by Stone Age people living between 4500 and 2000 B.C. These people were concerned mainly with farming and animal husbandry. They lived in communities that were already well organized, sufficiently so, in fact to be able to collaborate on major building projects. Barrows, Cairns, dolmens and menhirs bear witness to the art and architecture of these very ancient civilizations.

I stood beside, walked around and, sometimes, when so moved, hugged theMegaLith01 single tall, hand-erected, prehistoric standing stones called menhirs. They are either isolated or part of a whole. It is theorized that these menhirs can serve a variety of functions: as a mark to symbolize or sacralize the borders of a territory; to represent a grave stone commemorating a past event and helping to keep its memory alive or to denote an “axis mundi,” connecting heaven and earth. A single menhir may also serve as a monument, designating a particular place as sacred. When menhirs are found in a row, they can indicate a direction; and in a circle, they represent the limits of a sacred area in opposition to the pagan surroundings.

We climbed inside dolmens, prehistoric megalithic tombs consisting of a capstone supported by two or more upright stones, most having originally been covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow. We meditated, toned and, in our own timing, became one with each ancient site, absorbing the still and primordial energy.

Toward the end of our journey, we visited the Chapel of our Lady of Bequerel, an ancient worship place, which lent itself to the water healing properties for sore mouth from a fountain under the altar; it was a place of purification for pilgrims.

And then we were off to the medieval island of Saint-Cado, a former sardine port, to tour the Chapel of the Knights Templar.

B&BOur farewell dinner at Talvern was festive, as we prepared to return to Paris and, from there, resume our everyday lives. Two weeks before, 12 people came together to embark on a sacred journey; each came in anticipation of experiencing an intimate relationship with sacred spaces. We all agreed that expectation was met, and, while we might never see one another again, we would never forget the divineness and the beauty we shared.

“What do sacred sites do for us? And to us? For decades I’ve researched countless megalithic sites around the world. It soon became apparent that temples and standing stones speak. The spirit of place is aware of your presence and purpose at sacred sites. It scans your energy field. Should your PIN match, you engage in an intimate conversation, and your relationship with sacred space begins. – Freddy Silva


Travel and the Magic of Thin Places

I love to travel and am frequently asked, “Which place is your favorite?” It’s like asking what is my favorite flower? My favorite flower is whatever is in bloom. At that moment in time, it captivates me.  While a similar response would also be accurate with traveling, four especially memorable experiences come to mind.

Grapes Living for a week in a renovated traditional countryside cottage in Provence is one. Our cottage was located in a vineyard and it was there I soaked up the magical light of the region. Much to my surprise, the impressionists had NOT taken artistic license! I took hundreds of photos of the grapes just outside our front door, attempting to capture the transformation of their beauty as that incomparable light shifted every few minutes. To this day, I return to the memory of that place when I want to escape from everyday life and just breathe.

Then there was my first trip to China! I could have never imagined personally relating to this country, much less fall madly in love with it. The energy of the ancient melding with the energy of the modern was palpable and transformational for me.

Another unforgettable place is South Africa’s Cape Point, an hour’s drive from Cape Town. It wasOcean there I witnessed the magnificent force of the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans converging. And then
there was cruising the grandeur of the magnificent Fjords in Norway. I still consider both of these among the most intensely beautiful and powerful sights I’ve ever seen.These places, along with so many other poignant experiences and inspiring sights have filled me with awe and inspiration. Mostly, I anticipated they would. However, I began to relate to my travels in a different way after a friend shared a most compelling article:

“Where Heaven and Earth Kiss” written by Eric Weiner, references the term, “thin places.” A thin place has been defined by travel blogger Mindie Burgoyne as “a place that draws you into itself, and transports you into the presence of a world beyond this world. You are moved into the presence of a mysterious power. There, all things you perceive through your senses are charged, electrified, illuminated with the presence of that power.” Weiner elaborates on the concept by saying, “A thin place is where the sublime bends low.”

I can certainly relate to my senses being charged and illuminated in the presence of breathtaking beauty. However, the distinction is that “thin places” connect us to something beyond ourselves – or perhaps to something deep within ourselves. When in the presence of thin places, we “perceive intuitively or through some inexplicable perceptive powers, glimpses of the divine. . .” or what Weiner refers to as the “Infinite Whatever.” In these thin places, the distance between Heaven and Earth collapses.

Have I actually experienced “places where Heaven and Earth Kiss?” Two places instantly came to mind where I was deeply impacted by an unseen, unexpected energy that was transforming.

My first experience was in the early 80’s while traveling in Israel. Local friends took us to Jaffa, one of the world’s oldest cities. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, Jaffa’s harbor has been in use since the Bronze Age. Its history is filled with a series of conquests through the millennia.

OldCityWhile there, we visited our friend’s art studio in an ancient building overlooking the port of Jaffa. After our visit, I walked to the water’s edge. It was there I had an unusual experience. I felt the energy of this ancient place touch something deep inside of me that rang with familiarity. “I have lived here before,” was the message, which came through loud and clear. It was my first connection with the sense of a past life. It took me totally by surprise. The feeling was profound, yet I felt completely at ease. Of course, I mentioned it to no one at the time, lest they look askance and question my sanity. Today I would have no reluctance to share the experience in the moment. Nor, 30 years later, has that memory diminished!

“Thin places captivate our imagination; we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive.”  Eric Weiner

It wasn’t until 20 years after my trip to Jaffa that I had my next experience with a “thin place.” Literally as well as figuratively! In PrayFlag2002 I traveled to Tibet for the first time. Located on the “roof of the world,” Tibet has an average altitude of over 13,200 feet and is situated on a massive plateau between two Himalaya ridges. I was astonished by my response to this place. While there is breathtaking scenery, spiritual awareness, spectacular vistas, and huge tracts of emptiness, it is not an easy place in which to live or visit! The weather can be extreme, the terrain is severe and the air thin, requiring tourists to use oxygen to avoid altitude sickness. But the people are cheerful, devout and serene. The sounds of constantly twirling prayer wheels along with the hum of chanted mantras took up residence in my being. Tibet’s energy enveloped me. I could have stayed and knew I would have been happy and content making a life there! What was that about? At the time, I had no words for it. I still don’t.

“In truth, however, once you’ve been in a thin place and allowed your spirit to absorb that which transcends the senses, all need for definition ceases. Our spirits learn differently than our minds.” Mindie Burgoyne

Amazingly, I had the good fortune to return to Tibet four years later. This time Tom and I were married in this sacred place. Perhaps, in some mysterious, divine way, this culminating event, I could never have imagined, had been calling me long before.

“There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything.  I feel it, though I do not see it.  It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses.  It transcends the senses.” Mahatma Ghandi

While thin places, according to Weiner, are often sacred ones – St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul – they needn’t be, at least not conventionally so. For one dear friend who has traveled extensively, Minnesota’s North Shore is, hands down, her thin place. For another friend, it’s Denali, Alaska.

“A thin place is not necessarily a tranquil place, or a fun one, or even a beautiful one, though it may be all of those things. Thin places may relax us, but they also transform us – or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves.” – Weiner

Thin places captivate our imagination; we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive. “You don’t plan a trip to a thin place,” Weiner goes on to say. “You stumble upon one. To some extent, thinness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Travel to thin places doesn’t necessarily lead to anything as grandiose as a ‘spiritual breakthrough,’ whatever that means, but it does disorient. It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. Either way, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic of travel.”StM

Next month we are going on a pilgrimage to sacred sights in France. While I anticipate feeling awe in the presence of these ancient sites, I am also open to whatever messages are there for me. Stay tuned.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller