Ultimately, we choose the way of the pilgrim’s path to get somewhere. We aren’t electing to be sojourners forever. We prefer the pilgrimage because of its archetypal stages: Longing, Arrival, and eventually, returning Home. The Arrival stage is especially poignant as this is the location and/or place toward which our heart has been bent the whole while. It is the place that strengthens our resolve when the going gets rough, or the road seems too dark and dismal. We cast our eyes upward and outward towards this place for which we have longed and to which we have attributed purpose and answered prayers.
The required posture on the Pilgrim’s Path has prepared you for your arrival; you have practiced the necessary way of seeing and listening to the surrounding greater community of things. So it is that when you arrive to your sacred destination, you are equipped to receive that which is for you.
When you arrive, do not be quick to take. Imagine you are a guest and take the time to introduce yourself before any action of harvest is taken. While this may seem silly at first, there is a profound shift in our posture when we verbally acquaint ourselves with our surrounding. Greet your place. Speak your name and your desire. Ask the deep question of your heart. Ask permission to be there and to receive. This shows respect for the personhood of a place, and slows the eager taking to a broader awareness of is there enough and what needs to be left?
Be prepared to offer something. As you approach your sacred site and your heart leaps with the proximity of answered prayers, posture yourself in such a way so to give something back to this place. A pilgrim decidedly journeys not to pick up souvenirs and trinkets along the way, but to look for circumstances to see others’ souls, and give out smiles and kindnesses for nothing in return. I challenge my retreat participants to bring along a physical item on their journey that represents their reason(s) for making the pilgrimage. The idea is that this item can be placed on the altar, or given to someone at the place of arrival as means of engaging the offering. For we know that it is only when we give that we truly receive.
Your posture is submissive and your soul is surrendered. May what has been silenced in you for far too long, begin to sing!
For the last six years, every first Saturday in December the forest restoration group I help guide hosts a Candy Cane & Clementine Hunt in the our neighborhood woods. This sweet treasure hunt is intended for the young children in the neighborhood as a way to introduce them to the natural world and light up their imagination for the magic that is within this urban forest. We intentionally hide the candy canes and clementine oranges a bit off trail so to develop the sense of proprioception (the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself), and they are always purposely nestled within native plants and at the base of native trees for implicit learning and knowing. It is a morning filled with wonder and delight as children rush around the Hazelnut Loop discovering and taking! The forest gives us much this day, as it does every day of our lives; what is it that we can give in return? What can we offer that shows we understand a gift has been given and that one should be left in its place?
We put up a table in the woods at the base of a century old Big Leaf Maple tree. Here, banjo music plays, submitting a song as a gift to the natural world. On the table are wild-crafting items, materials where children can create nature ornaments and natural garland that we hang in a tree in the woods. This practice is one of giving back, a posture of mutual agreement that acknowledges with gratitude the gifts given by the forest that day. The children then not only experience the delight in the taking, but also experience the joy in the giving, and the birds all love this seasonal display of appreciation and honor!
The Honorable Harvest is an indigenous mindset and harvesting practice that asks us to give back, in reciprocity, for what we have been given. Robin Wall Kimmerer, enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2013), offers this deep wisdom to our rapaciously consumptive Western culture. This ethos demands an account for how humans sow, farm, gather, and consume. And it is also an invitation to the practicing pilgrim. Through mutual exchange there is an assurance that there will always be something left for others who come after you. Kimmerer says this, "Reciprocity helps resolve the moral tension of taking a life by giving in return something of value that sustains the ones who sustain us. One of our responsibilities as human people is to find ways to enter into reciprocity with the more-than-human world. We can do it through gratitude, through ceremony, through land stewardship, science, art, and in everyday acts of practical reverence" (Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 190). Our local forest is a sacred site, as much as Iona or any other holy place.
We go to these places to receive much. And what is it that we can offer to ensure that our taking isn't the upending of the precious life that is there?
Kimmerer graciously shares an attempt at a written form of the guidelines of the Honorable Harvest (Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 183). I am in complete gratitude for this wise text; it has guided me in how I forage in our neighborhood forest, our own homescape, my own Monthly Mandala practice, and how we are trying to teach our children to move through the world.
How can we learn from this wisdom, taking it into the folds of our daily lives as well as using this mindset as we journey the pilgrim's path?
Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the now who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.