Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation’s minister Wayne Walder and UU Beverly Carr lead journeys for UUs and their friends to various parts of the world – journeys with a difference. These trips raise funds for Neighbourhood and at the same time they provide an opportunity for UUs to travel together to learn about and experience different cultures and traditions and to gain insights to take back home.
Our 2019 Mindful Journey will be to Northern Vietnam and Angkor Wat! See below tab for information.
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Have you ever gone to the “womb of the earth” in the highlands of Peru, or to the poet Rumi’s magical tomb? Have you ever taken a boat ride on the Ganges at dawn? Each year we travel to unusual places to experience these special events with up to 24 people. We go on Pilgrimage.
Part of the process of becoming a pilgrim is the travel. There are preparations to make, airplanes to take, cabs, and buses, sometimes even boats to journey on. Going to an exotic spiritual place usually takes a long time. The emotional preparations can begin long before we leave our homes.
For example, when we traveled to Dharmsala, India, for a private audience with the Dalai Lama, many of us speculated about how we might experience a meeting with one of the world’s most spiritual people. The three days it took us to get there “invited” us to become a little more open, a little more humble and maybe a little more patient. Traveling so far and for so long helped us make a modest discovery about who we were. After the journey we were ready for our meeting. The Dalai Lama greeted each of us before we had a conversation about how to communicate insight. It was a delightful conversation. Meeting him was wonderful, yet it was the combination of the journey and the meeting that touched us so deeply.
We have gone to Cappadocia in Turkey to dance with Sufis, and to experience the colourful and magical tomb of the teacher and poet Jelaluddin Rumi. Seeing pilgrims from many countries at a tomb helped us realize all people are the same, no matter what their religion. One day, just outside the mosque, a Muslim woman introduced herself to one of our pilgrims and began to weep. The black-garbed woman reached up and touched the face of one of our travelers. She said, “We are so happy to see you here, please … do not think we are all crazy.” We were deeply moved by her openness.
Later in that trip, a farmer wondered what we were doing in an ancient and closed church that had become a mosque, so he questioned us. When he heard we had come to meditate and experience the silence of his ancestors, he took my hand and said, “Our fingers are like the separate religions, one for Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism … but they are all connected in our palm, where we are one.” That is when I started to tear up. It is one thing to hear this multi-faith message in a liberal church or synagogue; it is another thing entirely to hear it from a farmer who has to be coaxed to let you see his earth-stained fingers.
In Machu Picchu, we stayed on the mountain for three days, which gave us time to relax in a magical landscape. Our shaman guide from the little town of Aqua Caliente asked us to imagine how all of life moved, “like the river and the mountains.” During a Pachamama ritual on the side of the mountain, the roar of the river and the moving mist become a powerful backdrop. Imagine a ritual where the sounds of the river and the mist in the air become part of a water blessing. When it was over the shaman offered kindly Catchwa healings; they have been given to pilgrims over centuries. He never asked for compensation.
When we travel like this, seeking depth as well as beauty, the places we visit can inspire us. Michael Crichton writes, Sometimes I need to travel to a distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am. There is no mystery about why this should be so. Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines … you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience.
Michael is right, we travel to these mystical and obscure places for more than the nice views. We go to places of historic spirituality to learn about culture and religion and to have spiritual experiences we can remember. This was always the function of a Pilgrimage. As early as 1,500 B.C.E. there is evidence that people traveled to Stonehenge for a pilgrimage. They came to be healed and to be part of a deeper stream of life. Sometimes they died and their bodies remain in the depth of the earth. Pilgrimage means to “draw back” from the day-to-day cares of our world so we can see it anew.
We go on pilgrimage, away from our day-to-day lives, so we can experiment with how we see the world. Journeying gives us a chance to look more closely at people and things. We can let our attention linger on one interest and then another. In Mayan catacombs we might realize how gross injustice was inflicted on native peoples whose corpses lie before us. There is time to look and wonder about the people who sacrificed for their gods. We might wonder what place sacrifice has in our life.
When we walk through some of the most beautiful expanses of nature on the planet, we can allow the beauty to heal us. When we attend unusual ceremonies or hear surprising stories, we can remember to take unfamiliar cultures seriously. As Wade Davis wrote, “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”
One of the most inspiring pilgrimage stories occurred when we were visiting the tomb of Nizamuddin Awlia, a Sufi saint, in Delhi. We did it on Friday when people were everywhere. As we began walking down the street to the tomb and mosque, there were so many people that we got lost among them. It made many of us uncomfortable because of the expansive crowd, and the differing culture. At the entrance of the mosque, we were asked to remove our shoes, and when one of our travelers asked how they would be kept, the shoe keep said, “Madam, I will bind all the shoes in twine.” He showed us balls of shoes, 20 or 30 deep, that were the size of basketballs.
When we entered the tomb the women were not allowed to go into the darga, or tomb, of Nizam. It annoyed the feminists among us. The moving crowd caused many of us to feel uneasy. People eyed us suspiciously. It began to feel unsafe. Fortunately the Imam came by and asked us why we were there. I told him we were there to pray. “Oh,” he said, “that makes all the difference.”
He led us into the mosque, making space for us to sit. He said, “You can pray your Christian prayers here.” He was being kind as he cleared space for foreign visitors on the busiest day of his week. We told him that we wanted to pray dzikr, a holy prayer of the Sufis. “Oh,” he said, then he paused, “we will pray with you.” People came to us and sat down. As soon as we finished praying they engaged us in conversation. They asked about Western politics, about how we justified our wealth when many of them were poor. They asked if we hated them. Their questions opened our hearts. They offered us the kindest hospitality and made us feel safe.
We left the mosque listening to Quali music and moving through whirling dancers. The Imam said, “Would the women among you like to see the tomb of Rumi’s daughter? Only women can see this tomb.” We smiled, remembering how the women were not allowed into the men’s tomb when we came in.
As people left the courtyard mosque they found their shoes safely balled in twine. Later, as people passed by me in the courtyard, many of them leaned over and whispered, “That was one of the most moving experiences of my life.”
Pilgrimage stretches our comfort zone. It stretches our understanding and exposes our indulgent habits. This is so necessary in order for us to learn. And when we learn, as author Thomas Moore writes, “we are able to fall back in love with life.” It is a hidden secret that pilgrimages have always offered.
Taking a mindful journey is about being alive in the moment, being wide-awake, being present to what is on our path. When we become mindful travellers, we are always open to new opportunities. This is the essence of a mindful journey – observation and participation. Because the journey unfolds moment by moment and as it unfolds, we try to remain fully present. This can lead to acute observation of both our selves and others. We see each experience in a new way.
Instead of rushing through the Taj Mahal, we arrived at the break of dawn before the mass of tourists, and spent the morning walking the grounds, seeing every detail of the gemstones and carvings, finding interesting vantage points for photographs, meditating on the beauty, and sharing insights with others.
We put spaces in the itinerary and try not to over-schedule. We leave room for the inevitable changes that are often the most memorable moments of a trip.
We stop looking around the corner to see what is next, and experience the experience we are experiencing, and treasure the current moment, a “now.”
The people we meet along the way often have much more to teach us about a place and culture than a museum or architecture does.
In Turkey, our guide led us through farmers’ fields to a small chapel carved in the hillside rocks. Just sitting there listening to Wayne play the flute and then the tiny town’s Muslim call to prayer echoing around us was an experience never to forget. Then as we walked back through the fields a farmer stopped us and said he enjoyed hearing the flute. He then went on to hold up his hand, saying each finger was representative of different religions, and he said “we are all one.”
Transformation is subtle. It usually does not come from a magic chant or a holy place. It likely does not come from a new piece of information or a clever adaptation of what we already know. Transformation comes from what we do not know. Travelling mindfully can reveal that. It can remind us that life and creativity and knowledge are a lot bigger than we ever imagined.
None of us is perfectly mindful. Making progress along the journey is what’s important, and that is our goal.
From Wayne: Our perceptions will be different when we travel. We will be away from our day to day lives and we can experiment with how we see the world. We will have a chance to look a little more closely at people and things. We can let our attention move easily from one interest to another. We may become interested in something and we can hold that interest longer than we might here at home. Being aware of how we see things is a wonderful practice.
About Wayne: He is the minister of the Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist Congregation (Neighbourhood) in Toronto. Wayne has led retreats and pilgrimages in some of the most wonderful places in the world. He has loved religion and spirituality since he was a child. After helping to build the Neighbourhood congregation, he realized there wasn’t a liberal and respectful practice of going deeper into culture and religion. So he teamed up with Beverly Carr to create retreats and pilgrimages to exotic places.
He has a Master Degree in religion from the University of Toronto, loves religious anthropology, and will often play the native American flute in caves and in the echoing buildings of every faith. He has met and worked with many spiritual teachers, including Pir Vilayat, Carlos Nakai, Yogi Bahjan, Swami Rama, David Mcbride, Thomas Moore, Fool’s Crow, the Dalai Lama, Sharon Saltzberg, and Walter Bruggeman.
Wayne teaches meditation with a combination of humor, reason, and respect for religious traditions. He understands meditation is only a tool, useful to help us become more aware of a personal human life and to develop the courage required to live it with others.
In 1996, I began organizing trips for Unitarian Universalists and their friends. The first 4 trips focused on meeting Unitarians in Europe. In 2006, I joined with Wayne for a meditation trip to India, where we met the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala.
We continued with one trip a year – Santa Fe, Peru, Belize, South India, Turkey, and in 2012 we met with Unitarians in Transylvania and Hungary, and learned our history. In 2013 we returned to India and experienced the Golden Temple in the Punjab, and the Camel Fair in Rajasthan. Our amazing 2014 journey was to Jordan and Jerusalem, and in 2015 to hill towns of Italy, and 2017 to Portugal and Northern Spain. The dynamics of taking a journey with ‘fellow travellers’ adds a special something to the experience. Unitarians are typically ‘go with the flow’ individuals and relaxed travellers. They like surprises and are lots of fun to travel with. I would be happy to talk to you about these journeys, which promise to be exhilarating, with good company, enchanting moments and visual treats. firstname.lastname@example.org
On this trip we immerse ourselves in the scenery, history, and traditions of northern Vietnam and Cambodia. We visit monasteries to meditate at an eclectic collection of temples, learn about Zen and Theravada practices from monks and novices, hike in the outstanding natural environment of the Sapa highlands, and marvel at the ethereal beauty of Halong Bay.
At Angkor Wat, we spend time at the abode of ancient gods. If you have a little more time available, consider extending your stay in Luang Prabang replete with timeless architecture, gilded temples, and saffron-clad monks.
Email Joan Walder email@example.com to register or for more information.
Annual Meditation & Mindfulness: Silent Retreat with Rev. Wayne Walder
Come and experience an amazing weekend and emerge feeling renewed.
* Silence, except for reflections and after-meditation questions
* A comfortable private bedroom
* Guided Mindful practices 3 times daily
* Walks in the gardens or on the labyrinth
* Meditations focusing on breathing, poetry, music
The gifts you take home
We get together throughout the day as Reverend Wayne Walder guides us in meditations designed to help us let go of our busyness. He will also guide us in mindfulness using different practices throughout the weekend.
… how to be peaceful, how to stop worrying, how to stay with a practice, how to work with your inner dialogue. Look behind your thoughts.
Our 2019 Silent Retreat began Fri November 29 (at 7 pm with significant snack) and ended Sun December 1 at noon. We sojourned at St. John’s Convent in Willowdale. $295 included two nights accommodation plus six meals … plus all of the above benefits! We’ll announce the next planned retreat sometime in 2020.