77 kms at 77 years, by Raphael Bate
This is a contemplative account by Raphael Bate of the fundraising walk he did to mark his 77th birthday. Raphael (from the UK) is a long-time friend of Susila Dharma and even spent some time volunteering at a project in India. As India is close to Raphael’s heart, the money raised from his walk will go towards Anisha’s Kitchen Garden Project.
The plan was to walk 77kms over 4 days, around Great Malvern due to lockdown and the limitations on how far one can travel for exercise.
The trails followed would be North on day 1, South day 2, West day 3 and East day 4. Approximately walking for 4 hours a day.
As with my previous long-distance cycles or walks I consider this a pilgrimage through my inner intention to make this a spiritual undertaking to explore the deeper way of being. Like a retreat on the move. A simplified environment solo, with an open mind intent on studying the present moment.
Day 1: Friday 5th February I set out to the North. It was cold and an icy blast into my face kept my head down as I pressed forward along the pavement. The pattern of broken paving slabs got my attention, each revealing a different way to break, a series of hurts and pains – problems of mine came to mind. I was only 400 yards from home!
On to Link Top and eventually to North Malvern and through ‘True’ Grit Lane to Worcester Road and Leigh Sinton
I turned left on Hereford Road and left into a Christmas tree plantation. I followed the fence line and was greeted by a sign warning me not to go into the plantation as it was coated in poisonous spray.
The way was soft and muddy with deep tractor ruts filled with water so I took a meandering trail through the old pine woods.
Out from the cover I entered Lake Land: fishing lakes where all was silent cool and clear, the wan sun reflecting on the dark smooth surfaces and two silent sweet swans danced in elegant circles, mirroring each other.
“I come into the presence of still water
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free”
Wendell Berry: The Peace of Wild Things
I returned to the road and passed Interfields, with its Tibetan prayer flag poles, which I always interpret as Interbeing.
Day 2: Saturday 6th February
Heading south, towards British Camp along from West Malvern on the path that skirts the lower slopes of the stretch between the Wyche and the Hereford Beacon.
It was very pleasant walking through pines with potentially great views had it not been for the heavy mist veiling the haunches of Pinnacle hill and the paps of Perseverance Hill.
Brief picnic lunch at British Camp carpark, with a return on a higher path north. The sun had climbed in the winter sky, filtered through the milky mists, turning the air, the space, into a sacred silver luminescence.
Thud, thud. To my left bearing down were two figures: an older man and a bigger youth emerging through the silvery glade, jogging. The older dapper guy was in his 6o’s, wearing a blue cap: “Hi Buddy, not a great view!” as he passed. I felt an explosion in my heart and tears came as I thought: “all is one, we are all connected.” it was a surprise: a realisation as opposed to a rationalisation. The Buddy (Buddha) in me meets the buddy (Buddha) in you.
My ‘open’ button has been switched on with this pilgrimage.
DAY 3 Sunday 7th February
“A long arduous journey on which we slowly become detached from our illusionary self and are opened up to allow a new self to arise.” (James Finley)
I put on five layers with leg warmers and corduroy trousers to guard against the freezing air.
Ascended West Malvern Road and met a young French man I know, and he was interested in my 77kms @ 77years and other pilgrimages and travel exploits.
Then I plunged down Croft Bank heading to Mathon. High hedged lanes through woods and fields, scooped and heaving hills, slithering through a muddy fudge down to the valley of farms and wet lanes.
The air was cold as iron. This side of the hills was a different land: bleak khaki, hummocky with secret paths. I heard the clacking gossip of the frozen bare branches in a birch copse as I passed into Mathon.
At Mathon Church I slipped through the studded oak door and was embraced by the shadows and glimmers from the stained-glass window. I stumbled into the deep silence and sat at a pew and let go. After all the movement of the two hours of walking, then to just sit and let go into the supercharged stillness and emptiness: here I am, this is it, what more?
On my way back I paused on a bench next to a post box and took an apple from my rucksack. It was very red just as was the post box. It seemed very significant. My senses went into over-drive with the letting go and allowing the bench to take my weight. I am ‘Just Sitting’, empty, open and all is as It is! It is! This Now.
My final lap took me down West Malvern Road, where the pavement is very narrow and cars parked along the road. An old couple walked out into the road to give me space to pass with the correct distance.
I called out to them: “Living dangerously?”
The old guy answers: “Yes. We do it for thee, brother”.”
This reply “Brother” blows me away and moves me to tears.
My heart opens and I know we are not separate
“Tat tvam assi”.
Day 4: Saturday 9th February
7.15 Madresfield Road, Pickersleigh Road, Barnards Green and East onto Guarlford Road: a very straight fast road with the low winter sun forcing me to squint and pull my beany down over my eyes. This was OK for the first section as there were wide stretches of grass allowing distance away from the traffic roar. Then this ran out and I was forced to walk balancing on the white line, trying to see if I should dive out of the way if a lorry seemed to be about to take my arm off.
I strolled through Guarlford, passed the church and on to the Rhydd junction of the Worcester – Upton road. I spied the river glinting through a tiny track opposite. At the river I found a contemplative picnic spot in a copse of ivy-clad trees, looking out onto the wan sun shimmering on flooded fields and the great Severn.
On my return I took the Hanley Swan direction. With the sun behind me all was perfection, visual acuity was 20/20, snow-capped Hills of Malvern, all colours radiating in the bluish crystal light, saying: ‘I’m here, I’m here. Revere, Revere!’ The path was very straight and long, and the rhythm of my steps became like prayer beads, a sacred tempo, no more trying to get anywhere or escaping from anything, just perfect as it is.
Question: Who is it that is walking?
Answer: There is no-one, there is only “Walkingness”
It was effortless, as though my feet were turning the earth under me and I was in one place. I was not in front and not behind. My heart was tenderised to it all, sentient beings and the whole earth itself. With each rhythmic step the Buddhist ‘Metta’ prayer for all the people I know and it expanded out to all peoples. For the next two days I was hypersensitive to the suffering of others, or simple acts of kindness would bring tears. I suppose that I might have been experiencing that:
“The heart was no longer shielded by the ego self’s view”.
Walking on the Inside
Even a local pilgrimage
tenderly opens my heart
tenderises my feet too
Seeing cracked pavers
I painfully recall all
My own ego postures
A misty day on the hill
In silver sacred light
A jogger thuds passed
Old couple walk on the road
You are living dangerously
We do it for thee brother.