I'm a little at a loss trying to describe why this "dharma yatra" walk in the south of France is so special for me, since I'm not quite sure myself. If I had any brains I'd leave it at that, but here's goes. "Dharma" is a word that refers to spiritual teachings in general, and it sometimes refers to Buddhism specifically. "Yatra" means pilgrimage. So the idea behind the dharma yatra is that we come together as a group to look deeply into life, in the spirit of a pilgrimage. About 110 of us walked together, in single file, for maybe three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, through stunning French countryside. Meals are simple: porridge for breakfast, cheese baguette sandwiches for lunch and some veggie something for dinner. We moved camp I think six times during the 10 days, which required volunteers to load the truck with our packs, moving the kitchen tent and meditation tent, along with digging ditches for the luxuriously-appointed latrines. It's a lot of work for a lot of people, but everyone on the walk volunteers in various ways.
I was lucky enough to one of the facilitators for the sharing groups that we did every other day, where we talked about what was happening for us, what was going well and not, and we tried to speak from the heart about our own experience, rather than from the head about theories or opinions. I told one group that in my former life (not so long ago) I would have run screaming if I had to be in a group like that. Now it feels like an honor to witness and encourage a deep sharing. There is something rare and beautiful about sharing the nature, the space and open-hearted attention with these beautiful souls, who are simultaneously just average people and a manifestation of the divine. (Same as you.)
I don't know what I'm talking about, so I'm giving up. I will say this: I'm about as happy on these 10-days yatras (I've been on five now) as I ever am in my entire life. That's pretty happy.
I hope you enjoy the photos.
Oh, news flash: I just bought a camper van in Munich, and I'm planning on driving in it to Turkey. Wacky!
Lovely Maya, the daughter of one of the teachers. Mom is also a fantastic musician.
Walking in single file, and in silence. The walking is slow - too slow for most people, and that's part of the practice. If adjusting your conditions had the ability to make you happy and fulfilled, you'd already be happy and fulfilled and wouldn't need this meditation nonsense!
Amber, my favorite photography model. She was so natural in front of the camera.
We carried around this giant stone to trap the kids when they got out of control. You can tell by Amber's expression that it's working. It's actually part of some old ruins on a hilltop.
Jyoti, who insists on doing everything herself, including shoes and buckles. Stubborn and beautiful.
Jyoti's older sister Leela. Her mom says this photo really captures her playful but fierce personality.
After a hard night of rain, both trucks got really stuck in the slippery clay soil. What you can't see are the 15 people inside the van rocking it back and forth for traction. Valiant, but unsuccessful. A farmer brought his huge tractor to pull us out, and everyone had to carry their own bags plus some kitchen gear up a long muddy road. Strangely enough, it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for a lot of people, and brought everyone together.
Since I'm never up at sunrise, this looks to be a sunset.
We rarely walked on roads, so the hike leaders spent a good amount of time with maps.
Gathering in a circle on one of the day-hikes, where we stopped for meditation. Or a snooze for the less disciplined. (Snore...)
This kid is so adorable. Mom's from the San Francisco area, living in France with her French husband, and translated some of the talks into Portguese for the few Brazilians on the walk. So many multi-lingual people on the walk. And at least one mono-lingual American, which is almost redundant.
This was a magnificent creature, and absolutely massive.
Nirmala, mother of Leela and Jyoti.
We didn't walk through too many villages, but a few.
I love the colors and contrasts of this photo.
This is Bugarach mountain, considered a sacred site by some, and the final point of our walk.
I love this pic - it was really lucky for the preying mantis to be so sharp.
The dining room..
Julian was the oldest walker on the yatra, at 70 or so years old. Here he's milking his old age for some massage action. I can't wait until I'm that old.
This is a reconstruction of a Roman bridge that had stood here for almost 2,000 years, and was washed away in floods in 1994. Other than the hole in the ozone, what are we creating that will last for 2,000 years?
Just next to the Roman bridge, this guy sprained his ankle. A bunch of kind-hearted souls leapt into action, and the next thing you know they're massaging his shoulders and giving him breathing exercises and holding their hands on his head while someone packed his ankle in wet clay. I couldn't tell if he was getting medical care or a spa treatment. I said, "Hey - if anyone has a nail file, I could give him a quick manicure/pedicure!" I almost blew milk out my nose I thought it was so funny. No one else laughed, cuz I didn't say it out loud. This is him being carried out of the valley and up to the road.
An evening talk towards the last day.
The yatra is over. The bus taking some of the walkers back to the train station. Smiling faces!
Many more photos are here: