I had the great good fortune this spring to go on a pilgrimage to Ireland. It was a two-week trip with a small group of about nine people. I was invited by my college roommate, Sharlyn Hidalgo, a spiritual teacher and author who has written several books including “The Healing Power of Trees,” based on the Celtic tree calendar, and “Celtic Tree Rituals.”
When I read the description of the journey, entitled “Connecting with the Spirits of Ireland,” I was hooked. The leader, Charlene Ray, described it as “...a sacred and intimate journey to connect with the landscape and beauty of Ireland…focusing on moving mindfully and with great reverence as we spend time reflecting and becoming present to the wisdom of the land and the longings of our soul.”
At the time, I wouldn’t have been able to say for certain what I was hungering for that this trip spoke to me so powerfully, but I have learned not to deny this call. At so many junctures in my life--when perhaps it was time for a change, or when I had depleted my resources and needed rejuvenation, or when I haven’t known quite what to do next--following my heart’s calling has always proven to be the right action, no matter how unclear it might have seemed in the moment.
But this is not going to be a travelogue or a treatise on the history of Ireland, mystical or otherwise. Rather, I want to describe a few of my experiences, and talk about how such journeys, large or small, can open you up and prepare you for transformation.
In my case, I have been feeling a sort of restlessness for a while, a sense that something is shifting in my world, without any concrete ideas of what that might mean or look like in time and space. So, when I felt my heart leap after reading the description of this trip, I hesitated not a moment before saying Yes. I agreed to go even before consulting with my husband, which I would normally do about something that was as time consuming and costly as this. Initially, he was not thrilled because it meant that I would miss our annual Memorial Day ranch weekend with old and dear friends, something we have been a part of for over 25 years. He came around, however, when he realized how important it was to me, even if I couldn’t explain exactly why.
Just gazing at the landscape as we drove along was calming, and I hadn’t been outside Dublin more than a few minutes before I felt my inner being opening up in recognition that, indeed, I was in the right place at the right time.
As I would soon learn, everyone on our trip loved nature and was sensitive and open, so we were very compatible. Our very first stop after lunch was to visit St. Kevin’s Well at Glasnamullen and meet up with our guide, Rosaleen Durkin. Ireland, a cool and verdant island, is blessed with many, many natural wells fed by underground springs. These were places that were revered in Pagan times, sites where people would naturally congregate. Some of these wells later were on pilgrimage routes and thus these spots also held the hopes, sorrows, fears, dreams and prayers of many Christian pilgrims, who sought them out as holy places that could offer relief from their travails.
This poem by the late Irish Catholic priest and philosopher John O’Donohue was read alongside the first well. I invite anyone who feels the faint stirrings of some unidentifiable longing in their soul to drink deeply of these words:
In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time, it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And you stepped into new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dreams
A path of plentitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
Next: Morning practices and opening to Mother Earth