Pilgrims in Ladakh

Now I understand better. A holy place is the interface between us and our experience, whatever it may be.

Pilgrims are, “Travelers come from afar to a holy place.”

I came across a photo taken of my family walking a ridgeline in the Himalayas, towards a sacred Buddhist site called Phokar Dzong. We had slept in a tent camp the night before and rose before dawn to begin our trek of many hours to a small high mountain temple with caves used for meditation nearby.

In the photo, Andy is leading. It was less than a year after brain surgery had stopped his worst symptoms from Parkinson’s and movement was possible for him again. He walks with hiking poles and our son, Brendan, is behind him with a gentle hand on his back. I am third in the line and Alana brings up the rear. We are all leaning forward and have almost arrived.

Indeed, we were “Travelers come from afar to a holy place.”

We rested at the foot of the temple, surrounded by some of the tallest craggiest mountains in the world. We watched for snow leopards, who are native to the area. We ate the food we’d carried before we each found a spot to meditate.

Two questions came to my mind.

Are we all pilgrims? Is every place holy?

I’ve come to understand that every person’s life is a pilgrimage and we are all pilgrims, in that sense. Some of us explore our inner worlds in depth but stay in one place. Others travel to sacred sites all over the world but miss some of our own inner magic. We all fall into some part of the spectrum of these different conditions. As we live and grow into the lives we’ve been given, our status as “Travelers coming to a holy place” seems to increase.

Are all places holy?

Holy comes from the word “whole” and means “dedicated to God or sacred.”

As a teenager, I remember walking in downtown San Francisco with some friends who attended theater school with me. It was hot and loud as traffic whizzed by us on Geary Street. Gedde Watanabe, one of our group, said, “I hear music in these sounds. The wheels of the buses are singing.” At the time, his words were incomprehensible and I covered my ears from the racket.

Now I understand better. A holy place is the interface between us and our experience, whatever it may be.

Mother Theresa famously said she was tending to God in all His many disguises, as she cared for the dying homeless in the Calcutta streets.

Every place can be holy.

If we are all travelers, or pilgrims, on the journey of life, how can we live so that every place, every experience, every interaction is holy?

Can I approach living with my husband and his disease that never stops, with the same wonder and awe as our day walking the long trail to Phokar Dzong in Ladakh, India?

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