Life as a Pilgrimage

“I’ve read them all, these old-way wanderers, and often I’ve encountered versions of the same beguiling idea: that walking such paths might lead you–in Hudson’s phrase–to “slip back out of this modern world.” Repeatedly, these wanderers spoke of the tingle of connection, of walking as séance, of voices heard along the way. Bashō is said to have told a student that while wandering north he often spoke with long-dead poets of the past, including his twelfth-century forbear Saigyo: he therefore came to imagine his travels as conversations between “a ghost and a ghost-to-be.” Robert MacFarlane.

 My spiritual wanderings and practices have always been devotional. This is the golden thread that links all my studies and spirituality. My hunger and thirst for the Divine is my driving force. When I attempt to structure this energy—confine it, force it into a system or follow someone else’s path, my soul becomes inflamed. Something within me withers and I lose the connection to myself and to The Divine. Sand replaces moisture.

A few years ago I took a writing class offered by Rebecca Brown on Basho. She brought Basho to life. I was drawn to his connection to nature—his need to wander and how much he could say in just a few words. This class stayed with me. Basho stayed with me.

The clouds come and go,

providing a rest for all

the moon viewers


The whole family

all with white hair and canes

visiting graves

I’ve always been fascinated by the wandering poets-the mendicants and the poet-seers. My own life has been one of wandering, travel—moving—a nomadic lifestyle. I am finally learning to embrace my nomadic tendencies.  One of my fantasies growing up was to travel the globe with a backpack and a deck of tarot cards. I wanted to “read” for my supper. Now that I’m older I would add an ATM card and an IPad to my backpack.

I’m learning to be comfortable with my love of  wandering and with how I experience the Divine. I am acknowledging what inspires me. I haven’t found inspiration in the marketplace. I get overwhelmed by the wares—the teachers—the messages. Mostly the clamoring overshadows my own truth.

My spirituality is hard to define or label. So is my writing. Both are a hybrid. I have walked in many places. My Eastern and Western practices often clash. I’m learning to sit with the questions and the discrepancies. I have accepted the fact that I can’t put a tourniquet on my Eastern leanings. I can’t  stop the blood flow or contain my desire to run after the Gods like one of  Khrisna’s Gopis.

Along with Basho I feel connected to the Bhakti poets—especially the women poets.

The following was taken from here.

“Women Bhaktas wrote of the obstacles of home, family tensions, the absent husband, meaningless household chores, and restrictions of married life, including their status as married women. In many cases, they rejected traditional women’s roles and societal norms by leaving husbands and homes altogether, choosing to become wandering bhaktas; in some instances they formed communities with other poet-saints. Their new focus was utter devotion and worship of their Divine Husbands.”

“The imagery of bhakti poetry is grounded in the everyday, familiar language of ordinary people. Women bhaktas were simply individuals attempting to lead lives of devotion.”

“In the following poem, Janabai, a 13th century poet from a low-caste surda family, presents herself as shrugging off social conventions enshrining women’s honor (covering her body) and taking up musical instruments (cymbals and the veena) to go sing and dance in the marketplace. Janabai, though a low-caste woman, was brought up in the household of Namdev, a popular poet-saint, and thus treated with a certain amount of respect in light of the egalitarian ethos of Namdev’s message. Nonetheless, she is still well aware of her “place” in society; she is a servant, one who is perhaps more aware of social conventions because of her associations with Namdev, and is here apparently flaunting these very conventions, imagining herself as a woman who is utterly outside the bounds of respectability. Shedding these bonds of respectability, she is left with nothing. In essence, there is nothing standing between herself and her Beloved Vithoba, another name for Krishna, incarnation of the god Vishnu in human form.”

“Cast off all shame,

and sell yourself
 in the marketplace;

then alone 
can you hope

to reach the Lord.

Cymbals in hand,

a veena upon my shoulder,

I go about;
 who dares to stop me?

The pallav of my sari

falls away (A scandal!);

yet will I enter

the crowded marketplace

without a thought.

Jani says, My Lord

I have become a slut

to reach your home.

”Source: “Cast off all shame.” In Women Writing in India, 600 BC to the Present. Vol. 1. Edited by Susie Tharu and K. Lalita. New York: The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 1991.

 Mahadeviyakkha or Mahadevi lived in the 12th Century in the south of India.

From an early age she was initiated into the worship of Shiva. She considered this initiation to be the most important moment of her life and she became a devoted worshipper of Shiva. The form of Shiva she worshipped was known as Chennamallikarjuna., which translates as ” The Beautiful Lord, white as jasmine.” Much of Mahadeviyakkha’s poetry refers to her vivid descriptions of her beautiful Lord. And indeed she always signed her poems  O Lord White as Jasmine.

Her family were highly critical of her ‘unorthodox’ behaviour and this led Mahadevia to renounce her worldly life. Mahadevi left her marriage and place of birth to live the life of a wandering mendicant. Mahadevi is said to have worn only long tresses. She felt clothes were a needless adornment for one seeking the Lord. (The following poem is my favorite)

I Have Maya for Mother in Law

I have Maya for mother-in-law,

the world for father-in-law;

three brothers-in-law, like tigers;

and the husband’s thoughts

are full of laughing women;

no god, this man,

And I cannot cross the sister-in-law.

But I will

give this wench the slip

and go cuckold my husband with

Hara, my Lord.

My mind is my maid:

by her kindness, I join

my Lord,

my utterly beautiful Lord

from the mountain peaks,

my lord white as jasmine,

and I will make Him

my good husband


I am going to write and wander. A lot. And of course I will be divining the signs.









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