The Importance of Pilgrimage in Today’s Fast-Paced World

Our Tour Leader Phil Cousineau recently sent us a copy of an interview he did with another of our Tour Leaders, Virginia Schenck, back in 2006. The interview is compelling reading, delving into the importance of pilgrimage in today’s fast-paced world and how critical it can be in the lives of the younger generation in particular. We’ve edited the original interview a little to make it easy to read in this blog format. Our thanks to both Phil and Virginia for sharing this insightful piece with us.

Virginia: What is it about a pilgrimage that calls out to us?

Phil: Traditionally, the call to pilgrimage came during either a spiritual crisis or an opportunity to fulfill a spiritual obligation. The long walk down what used to be called “the glory road” was meant to give a pilgrim ample time to contemplate deep issues that couldn’t be answered at home. Today, the call may even be more intense because life has become so frenetic that most of us claim not to have enough to think about spiritual issues on the traditional level, but also other deep concerns, such as failing marriages, job crises, or the general malaise. The cry for pilgrimage is an antidote to our over-amped lives.

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Phil Cousineau leading pilgrims on a recent journey in England

Virginia: [In your book] The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, you talk about pilgrimage as being a “powerful metaphor for any journey” and a “universal quest for the self”. Would you expand on this?

Phil: When I wrote that pilgrimage is a powerful metaphor for any journey I meant that virtually any journey, whether a family vacation or a business trip, has the potential to be deeper, more meaningful, more purposeful. When interviewed by CNN about the book they asked if the book could be used by people who travel for business and I immediately responded, Yes, if they turned it into a micro-pilgrimage. By this I mean, time is short. For people who take their lives seriously, as a gift, as numinous, there’s no such thing as a “throw-away” trip, no such as thing as small talk. Every person you encounter is an angel in disguise, as the Greeks used to say; every journey has the potential to reveal the divine in life. If, that is, you pay attention, have the intention.

Of course, sometimes we want to just relax. But the potential is always there.

And yes, pilgrimage as “universal quest for the self” is a reference to the mythic dimension of the sacred journey. For me, all art, drama, and myth reveal the various means human beings use on the search for the self. In that sense, pilgrimage provides a road map, the physical counterpart to the psychological search.

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Phil enjoying a local meal with fellow pilgrims on a recent journey to Greece

Virginia: Also in The Art of Pilgrimage you outline several ways to make the pilgrim’s way sacred, to practice “the art of seeing” such as choosing a theme, journaling, and drawing.  Do you have more to suggest for the young pilgrim?

Phil: Just because young people aren’t accustomed to writing or drawing doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Almost without exception, young people who are at least nudged will learn far more about themselves and the world if they learn to exercise these unused muscles. Otherwise, travel, even pilgrimage, for young people becomes little more than one more video game. Remember, the danger is passivity, for adults as well as youth. That’s the tourist-trap, not just rip-off joints. The trap is passivity, which is a nice way of saying voyeurism. So anything that turns us into active travelers helps move us toward pilgrimage.

However, the other track is ritual and ceremony. Ritualizing the entrance to a site. Walking in silence up the sacred way to Delphi; entering Notre Dame or a little shrine on the road to Santiago, puts us in what I like to think of as “the pilgrim mood,” which is one of respect, even reverence. Lighting a candle, singing songs, reading local poets, Neruda in Spain, Yeats in Ireland, etc. Reading sacred texts and discussing their merits, either alone or in a group also helps.

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Phil and our group discussing Greek art, literature and spirituality at Eleusis

Virginia: In your book, Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives, you devote an entire chapter to the importance of mentorship. You define a mentor as one who cares for the soul and seeks to draw out the best in his/her student. Is there more you could say about mentorship and the pilgrimage experience?

Phil: I ardently believe that pilgrimage is one of the greatest recommendations that a mentor can make. Traditionally, the shaman or elder recognized the transition moment from childhood to adulthood and announced to the child and the group that it was now time for the vision quest, the walkabout, the pilgrimage, the outer manifestation of the inner transformation. Today, for an adult spiritual counselor to take a youth on a pilgrimage is the very expression of saying, I want to help you more than tell you how to get a good job or get famous; I’m here to help you find yourself, “make up your own mind,” as the very meaning reveals. A youth recognizes the import of this: Wow, he or she is taking time out of their own lives to lead me on this journey!

Virginia: Once we’ve been on a pilgrimage, how do we carry that experience and newfound wisdom with us in our hearts, lives, and communities?

Phil: By keeping it alive. To do that you bring home real souvenirs, not fakes, by that I mean crafts, art, music, and especially something we’ve created out of it all. If our memories are in a shoebox under the bed or on a disc we’ll forget as surely as that dream that was never written down. Only by turning the journey into something new: a scrapbook, a journal, a story, poem, song or now what are called “soul boxes” then the trip will become – guaranteed – just one more hazy memory. If we don’t honour it, it, the memory, will fade, almost as if angry with us for not respecting it more. For millennia it was believed a returning voyager, adventurer, pilgrim, had an obligation to keep the story alive. That’s worth reviving.

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Our participant Lou Ann Granger showing her travel journal during a journey to Ireland with Phil Cousineau. Lou Ann subsequently published her journals as a book, With Love for the Journey

Virginia: In your 1987 film A Hero’s Journey, a biography of noted mythology expert, Joseph Campbell, Campbell states that there isn’t a myth that fits our global world and people often regress to old groups, familiar ways. [Thirty] years later, have we found a myth that fits? Have we created one? If not, how do you see us faring in the world today?

Phil: Oh, but Joe also said, in my companion book to the film, and elsewhere, that there was and is indeed an emerging myth: The Myth of the Planet. Joe saw this in the early ’80s and is being proved prophetic. And to my lights this phenomenon of pilgrimage is one of the most profound manifestations of this vision. To take an authentic pilgrimage is a gesture to our personal and collective souls that the future will be determined by whether or not we, as human beings, stop demonizing the Other. As idealistic as this is, I think it’s virtually impossible to do so without either deep travel or prodigious reading. Otherwise, it’s a fatuous and amorphous idea. We have to have a meal in another culture, dance to their dances, worship in their places of worship, have a conversation that reveals our common humanity. Pilgrimage exhorts us to do this. And it’s the greatest gift we can give our youth. It was in this sense that the greatest American writer of all, Mark Twain, said, “Travel is the death of prejudice.”

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Vocal artist, and our interviewer here, Virginia Schenck (in black hat), leading a group on a Singing pilgrimage to Ireland

If you’re inspired to take a journey of pilgrimage after reading this interview you can travel with Phil or Virginia in 2018 with Sacred Earth Journeys.

Phil is leading a wonderful spring-time journey to Paris to discover the literary, spiritual, cultural and epicurean heart of the City of Lights: Passion for Paris with Phil Cousineau. 

In the fall of 2018 Phil is also leading 2 fabulous pilgrimages to Greece: The Heart of Ancient Greece: An Odyssey with Phil Cousineau will transport you three thousand years back in time to the roots of classical Greece and forward to the modern Mediterranean of magnificent land and seascapes. The Hydra Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau is an all-new mythopoetic approach to crafting your story on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra.

If you’re looking for something a little more musical, Virginia Schenck is leading a Sacred Singing Journey to Ireland with special guest Nóirín Ní Riain, Ireland’s acclaimed spiritual singer, in October 2018.


Memories of Ireland: Photos, video, written reflections on two amazing journeys to Ireland

Our groups have recently returned from two adventures in Ireland: The Connemara Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau and The Wild West of Ireland with Phil Cousineau. From the day the invigorated travellers landed back on home soil, we’ve been receiving photos, written feedback, even a beautiful video about their journeys. As all these so perfectly capture the mood and spirit of time spent in Ireland we wanted to share them with you.

We’ve collated some of our favourites here. For more photos visit our Flickr albums: Photos from The Connemara Writer’s Retreat and Photos from The Wild West of Ireland. For more written thoughts about the journeys, visit our Testimonials page.

Many thanks to our wonderful participants who generously shared their photos and memories with us.

The Connemara Writer’s Retreat

“This has been a week full of wisdom, inspiration with all the elements of nature and spirits of Connemara aligned to bring clarity and purpose to our intention. I’m indeed grateful to have had this chance to be mentored by Phil who is both soulful and simpatico. The Connemara experience, my notes and Phil’s books will help sustain me to complete my manuscript. Then I can gift myself with a pilgrimage trip by Phil Cousineau.”

Linds Boughton, Manila, Phillippines

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Our group making themselves at home at the local Irish pub! (Photo: Elaine McCracken)
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Could there be any better place to write? (Photo: Sue Smith)
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Students reading at The Bardic Chair, Renvyle (Photo: Phil Cousineau)

“I anticipated Phil’s enthusiasm for story and myth, and looked forward to his style, which is intended to help one go deeper into the work. I expected to be inspired and embark on new adventures, while being stirred emotionally by the Irish landscape.

What I wasn’t expecting was the amplification of these Irish stirrings and emotional tenderness, how awake and enlivened I felt most days, getting by on three hours of sleep (highly unusual for me). Phil had instructed us from day one that Ireland itself is animated, and to pay attention to all of our experiences – the morning writing sessions, the three Irish plays, the visits to the ruins, the landscape, the conversations with locals and with one another. And most important, Phil said, was to connect these experiences, these precious moments, back to our writing. Thanks to this retreat, my story has taken on new depth and direction. I am grateful for Phil and the twelve Philgrims, for new friendships, and some unexpected healing.”

Elaine McCracken, Santa Barbara, CA

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Making friends with like-minded travellers and writers (Photo: Tohnia Alexander)
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Our trusty Retreat Leader and inspirational teacher, Phil Cousineau (Photo: Jeffrey Kiehl)
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Connemara – the perfect backdrop for a writer’s retreat (Photo: Thelma Sugay)
Learning from our writing instructor, Phil Cousineau (Photo: Linds Boughton)

“Once again, Phil Cousineau has used the perfect combination of Ireland’s landscape and culture to activate the senses and lead to unexpected writing breakthroughs. I came away exhausted but exhilarated and have been writing furiously in the days since my return. There is something special about being in the company of other committed creatives who have responded to the call to attend, who hold a safe space for each other, and many of whom have become friends. Phil utilizes his wide experience with many creative projects and knowledge of history and story-telling forms to open one’s eyes to many possibilities and to gather courage to explore them. Whether a writing workshop like this (or past ones in Ireland and Greece) or perhaps a tour (I’ve been privileged to travel on his recent Cuba and England tours), I consider a chance to explore new places with Phil and his groups of like-minded seekers to be an experience not to be missed.”

Lou Ann Granger, Valencia, CA

(Video by Richard Talbott)

The Wild West of Ireland

“A trip for the picky, utterly greedy traveller who seeks to fulfill in ten days a kind of satisfaction only a year’s worth of experiences in that other dimension could yield. The spirituality/ literature/ music focus promised was not hype to entice. Delivered were flesh and bone writers welcoming us with tea, homemade scones, and deep conversation in their homes. Phil as fearless, tireless leader exemplified unparalleled patience, knowledge, enthusiasm, and generosity. Thank you.”

Michael, Austin, TX

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Roundstone Harbour, Ireland (Photo: Phil Cousineau)
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Father Michael Rogers speaking to our group at Glendalough, Ireland (Photo: Phil Cousineau)
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Enjoying local Irish music at O’Donoghues pub in Dublin (Barrie Gibby)

“I found it profoundly rich, stimulating, deep, and personal. Phil had made unique connections with scholars, priests, writers, and authorities who gave us personalized tours, explanations, and insights into the history, culture, passion, and suffering of the Irish people. Phil was an encyclopedia of experiences, knowledge, insights, and opportunities that truly made this trip unusual and memorable. I had an A Plus experience. These people with whom Phil had a personal connection added so much richness and depth to our experience of truly understanding the culture and history of the Irish people. Thank you for making wonderful arrangements and helping to provide all of us with a memorable experience.”

Alan Gibby, Rockford, IL

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In Ireland fuchsia are known as Deora Dé – God’s Tears (Photo: Gretchen Wright)
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Sweny’s Pharmacy, as featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses (Photo: Barrie Gibby)
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Traditional Irish cottages on the Renvyle Peninsula, Connemara, Ireland (Photo: Phil Cousineau)

“This is my second trip with Phil to the Wild West of Ireland and I hope to do it again! As a leader, Phil is generous in sharing his knowledge, understanding, and deep love of Ireland on so many levels, making the journey a truly unique experience. It was a robust trip, packed with spiritual information, intellectual conversations with great Irish personalities, serene self-discoveries and, of course, poetry.”

Cornelia Eulert, San Diego, CA

The rugged Connemara landscape (Photo: Vickie Pettigrew)
For the luck of the Irish (Photo: Cornelia Eulert)
A contemplative Phil Cousineau (Photo: Barbara Lee)

For more about these journeys or to join us on a future pilgrimage visit Sacred Earth Journeys

Top 10 Things To Do & See in Paris: Discover its Literary, Cultural & Epicurean Soul

Looking for the best literary and cultural icons to visit in Paris? On the hunt for deliciously simple local food? We’ve rounded up 10 of the best things to do and see in Paris that will nourish your mind, body and soul.

1. Montmartre

For les flâneurs or those wanting to immerse themselves in the artistic and cultural ambiance of bygone Paris Montmartre is hard to beat. Here, you will find narrow lanes, winding hills, dazzling nightlife, and memories of the greatest artists, singers, writers and poets nostalgically embedded in the cobblestone. You can almost hear la môme Piaf’s gritty realism as you step out from the Abbesses metro into the heart of Montmartre with the glorious Sacré-Coeur Cathedral inviting you to pause, reflect and breathe in the magnificent views of the City of Lights. Wander down the rue du Chevalier de la Barre, used by Woody Allen in Midnight in Paris, and drop into Au Lapin Agile to hear accordion players whisk you back to the heyday of the la chanson française.

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Montmartre and its funicular circa 1900

2. Latin Quarter

Take a walking tour through the bohemian Latin Quarter, home to historic landmarks, medieval streets, riverside book sellers, universities as well as the enduring traces of some of France’s most important artistic and literary figures. Pause at the Beat Hotel, 9, rue Git-le-Coeur, where Kerouac and Ginsberg stayed, browse the quaint stores along Rue Mouffetard, then explore the impressive Panthéon where Voltaire and Victor Hugo, among others, are buried.

3. Shakespeare and Company

Within the Latin Quarter you will also find the iconic bookstore Shakespeare and Company. Founded by George Whitman in 1951, and originally called Le Mistral, it quickly became a meeting place for Anglophone writers and readers, and is now firmly considered a “Left Bank literary institution”. (1) In 2006, George posted a sign letting customers know that his daughter Sylvia would be taking the reigns: “Each monastery had a frère lampier whose duty was to light the lamps at nightfall. I have been doing this for fifty years. Now it is my daughter’s turn.” (1) No visit to Paris would be complete without a stop at this atmospheric bookstore.

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Founder George Whitman at Shakespeare and Company

4. Louvre

One of the most famous art galleries in the world, the Louvre is well worth a leisurely visit as there is always something new to appreciate here. Walk through the beautifully formal Tuileries gardens to arrive at the gallery. Visit the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, then wind your way through the permanent collections and touring exhibits, marvelling at the architecture of the late 12th century “grand palace” that houses the museum.

5. Père Lachaise Cemetery

Visit the resting place of Jim Morrison and quietly explore this 44-hectare Parisian cemetery that contains 70,000 burial plots. (2) Other famous literary and cultural figures laid to rest here include Oscar Wilde, Molière, Edith Piaf and Guillaume Apollinaire, and you will find a wide variety of architectural styles represented in the graves and burial chambers.

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Père Lachaise Cemetery – the resting place of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and many others

6. Alma Market

The bustling marché du Pont de l’Alma takes place on Wednesday and Saturday mornings and is a wonderful place to spot the best chefs in Paris as well as to pick up some delicious produce for a picnic lunch. As well as an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables you will also find perfectly crisp baguettes, a wide variety of cheese, fresh fish, olives, flowers and much more. Experience simple French food at its absolute best here.

7. Le Marais

The historic Marais district, once a marshland (hence its name) is renowned for its architectural heritage with landmarks such as Place de la Bastille, Place de la République and the Hôtel de Ville as well as the elegant Place des Vosges. (3) The Rue des Rosiers is also home to the Jewish quarter. On Sundays Le Marais is one of the busiest and most vibrant areas of Paris to explore, with its unique stores and array of delis, bakeries and delicious Jewish restaurants.

8. Sainte Chapelle

Take in a concert at the breathtaking Sainte Chapelle. Built in just 7 years, the Sainte Chapelle was intended to house precious Christian relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns. (4) Famous for its stained glass which spans 15 windows and depicts 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments, the Saint Chapelle now also offers unforgettable concerts on the weekends.

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The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral – only 1 of 3 remaining Labyrinths in France

9. Chartres Cathedral

Located outside of Paris, Chartres is well worth the train ride. An excellent example of French Gothic Art, the Cathedral is on the Unesco World Heritage List, and is well known for both its architecture and its Labyrinth – one of only 3 remaining Labyrinths in France. It’s a popular pilgrimage destination and sacred site that complements any journey to Paris.

10. Le 61

This bar and cultural meeting hub at 3, rue de l’Oise rarely makes the list of top tourist destinations in Paris, but is a fascinating place to visit for those interested in journalism and current affairs. Run by a former Le Monde journalist, it is the place to find the top war correspondents and journalists taking a break between assignments.

If you would like to visit these inspirational locations in Paris and become truly immersed in Parisian culture reserve your spot our 2018 journey: Passion for Paris with Phil Cousineau: An 8-Day Adventure in the City of Light and Lights with Special Guest Host Mort Rosenblum. This is an incredible opportunity to visit Paris with 2 prolific authors whose combined knowledge of the City of Lights is astonishing. The thoughtfully designed itinerary takes in all the above destinations and more! Not to be missed!

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Authors Phil Cousineau and Mort Rosenblum

~ Sacred Earth Journeys



A Conversation with Andrew Harvey: The Amazing Spiritual Power of South India

Helen Tomei recently had the opportunity to interview the author and spiritual teacher Andrew Harvey about his upcoming journey to South India: Shiva Dancing: Sacred South India with Andrew Harvey, In Search of Original Wisdom, February 16 – March 1, 2018. Their fascinating conversation that delves into Christian mysticism, revelations, and the best South Indian food is transcribed below. Enjoy!

Helen Tomei: You were born in South India. What are you most looking forward to on this journey returning there?

Andrew Harvey: I wasn’t only born in South India I was also formed mystically in South India over many, many years so I’ve come to think of South India as a kind of perpetual birthing ground, and I return to it as to a bath of fire to be renewed in and refreshed by. It’s my home, it’s my soul’s home. It’s the place where I met the sublime evolutionary philosophy of Aurobindo, where I first met my Hindu guru Meera, where I also went through many deep mystical experiences, where I met my great mystical teacher Bede Griffiths, the great Catholic mystic. South India has really been at the core of my whole journey, my whole life, and returning there is to be refreshed at the centre of my own journey, my own destiny.

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Spiritual teacher and author Andrew Harvey

Helen: You’ll be visiting some inspiring sacred sites on this itinerary. Are there any sites that you’re particularly looking forward to visiting?

Andrew Harvey: The whole journey is constructed as a sacred initiation into the central vision of South India, the vision of the sacred marriage as the sacred dance of the universe, the dance of opposites that makes the one. And this vision is at the core of everything that explodes and erupts from South India, so we begin our entry into this radioactive force field by visiting a place that is very sacred to me, Mahabalipuram, where great golden temples are carved out of golden stone and where you can read as if in a book the new world that is created out of the sacred marriage, a world of revelation and blessing and sexual and emotional health and profound harmony with the glory of nature. This is a revelation and it’s a revelation of the sensual divine and it keys you up for the whole of the rest of the journey because we’re going to plunge into Shaivite India, into the heart of the heart of the dance, which is the temple of Chidambaram. In the central, golden small, tiny temple at the core of the temple complex Shiva the eternal is worshipped by ancient lineage of priest called the Dikshitars and we go to them to experience with them the staggeringly intense pujas of the divine dancer. So we go to the core of the flame of initiation in the heart of that temple.

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The Descent of the Ganges at Mahabalipuram

Then, on this pilgrimage, because this is what it is, it’s a pilgrimage into the self, we go to a place where this vision lived in stone and lived in culture and in custom and lived in beauty and in handicrafts and silks, a place which incarnated this divine vision, Tanjore, the great capital of the Chola empire. We experience what this divine dancer vision is like when it builds the supreme temples as the temple of Tanjore and also when it creates the great Chola bronzes that are the most holy examples of the divine human ever given humanity, the ultimate revelation, the marriage between humanity and divinity in perfect bronze of such exquisite strength and delicacy and passion that it blinds you with its beauty.

On the way to Tanjore we go to Pondicherry to experience Aurobindo’s magical world, and on the way back from Tanjore we go to the holiest place in South India, the most potent and mysterious, the ultimate pilgrimage place, Arunachala in Tiruvannamalai where Sri Ramana Maharshi lived his glorious life in the twentieth century and Arunachala is alive with the presence of Shiva and the entire place is a mandala of blessing and at its centre is the presence, the process of Ramana that is still there, it will always be there, it’s extremely potent in its blessing, in its peace. And we consummate the whole pilgrimage by doing the circling of the great holy hill to Shiva and we do it at night and offer up our whole being for transformation.

Thirvanamalai Marashi





So that’s the pilgrimage that we’re on and during the pilgrimage what I would love to do is to share aspects of my relationship with the amazing power that is South India. Don’t let’s forget on this journey that we’ll also be visiting the Ashram of Bede Griffiths before we go to Tiruvannamalai, the Ashram of the man who changed my life completely and who also began a tremendous new understanding of Christian mysticism because he was living the central process, the central mystery of Christian mysticism, the transfiguration process, and living therefore the evolutionary impulse that had inspired Aurobindo, that also inspired him in his own unique way, the impulse of the dance, the dance of human evolution that lives in the golden soil of South India.

Helen: That’s wonderful as that leads into my next question about Bede Griffiths… What was it about the teachings of Bede Griffiths that most resonated with you and how did meeting with him in the early 90s transform your own world vision?

Andrew Harvey: I think grace brings people together at exactly the right moment and he was in his late 80s and I was in my early 40s. I’d just been through a vast awakening experience which was deeply shattering my life and he was at the end of this glorious life needing someone to communicate some of its secrets to and I was at the moment of my own evolution when I could truly sense the great radiance and humility of his presence and also knew enough to be able to receive the miracles of his evolution so it was a very holy and transforming meeting for me and what moved me most in his knowledge and understanding of the Christ was two things.

First that he truly understood that all the mystical traditions met in the mystery of the one that irrigated all of them. He really had achieved the universal mystical depth because he had seen the divine light and he’d understood and realized the nondual awakening. That was really wonderful because it released for me any shadow of Christianity as the magical and really baptized me in the vision of the Christ as the universal love force creating a new humanity and embodied divine humanity.

Bede Griffiths






And the second thing that really moved me tremendously about him was not only was he a great scholar and a great writer, a great explainer of magical and profound mystical truths, far more importantly he was living that with a tremendous intensity and obvious holiness and further simplicity and that was what was most astounding about him, his sanctity, his great sanctity and that was what penetrated my soul. The quality of that sanctity was so intense that it awoke me to the reality of the true Christ, that barely what was happening in the true transmission of the Christian tradition was not just the change of consciousness nor even the transformation of the heart but also a transformation of the body and a resurrection of the whole being in the one. He was living this subtle resurrection and communicating as far as he could what he could of its mystery to me and that changed everything that I had ever experienced because it enabled me to find a way to come back to my birthing tradition, Christianity, while being fed by all the other revelations that I had been instructed in, Hindu revelation, Sufi revelation, the revelation of the indigenous traditions, the Buddhist revelation.

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Andrew Harvey leading a group through South India

He showed me the way to do it by doing it, by showing it, by manifesting the extreme beauty and grace of such a transfiguration so I cannot describe deeply or intensely enough what it meant to me to meet him and what it has meant since I met him because although he has left his body he is not dead, there’s a continual pouring out of grace from him to me and to all who knew him and all who turned to him, all who truly understand through his grace the centrepiece of Christ’s transformation that he was on. He is one of the great pioneers of the new human that is trying to be born and that is why this trip is so sacred because in a way it is truly a pilgrimage into the vision of the new human as it was written in the great golden book of the temples of Mahabalipuram, it’s a plunging into the vision of Aurobindo that illuminates this new marriage of heaven and earth, and male and female, and body and soul that’s trying to take place. It dives into the core of the Shaivite understanding of the whole universe as a dance, an evolutionary dance which is the fundamental understanding that underlies all the evolutionary philosophies and it plunges into the beauty that is created, the beauty of Tanjore and it plunges into the revelation of the evolutionary passion of the Christ through Bede Griffiths and it ends in Tiruvannamalai and the absolute boundless, vicious awareness, that’s what this is really about.

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The experimental town of Auroville founded by Mother Mirra Richard in 1968 is a manifestation of Sri Aurobindo’s vision

Helen: It’s a beautiful pilgrimage. You’ve touched on this a little but maybe more specifically, on the journey you’re going to be sharing teachings and practices for people’s own internal transformation. How do you see that translating once they get back home and they’re into their daily lives in terms of sacred activism and the revolution of the divine human? How do you see this for each participant? How would you like to see that translating for them and for their lives back home?

Andrew Harvey: I’d love people to really practice the four main practices that I’ll be sharing. I’ll be sharing the great Shaivite mantra, Om Namah Shivaya, and truly helping people to say it with ecstatic humility in the heart so as to unite with the absolute. I’ll be sharing the great I AM practice that comes from the core of the Upanishads, the great practice that enables you to slowly sift out the difference between the false self, the ego, and the essential, always present, always calm, always peaceful and radiant, eternal self. I will be teaching the Sacred Heart practice from the core of the Christian mystical tradition but in a very simple way that will make it universal so as to enable people to experience the sacred ecstasy and heartbreak and rapture at the core of divine love, and I’ll be teaching a transfiguration exercise which is taken both from the Hindu tantric and from the Christian mystical tradition that will enable people to experience in their bodies the birthing power of the descending divine light, the light of the divine mother, the mother light that is birthing a new humanity, that Aurobindo knew and that Bede also experienced in his own unique theological framework.

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Be inspired by the teachings of Andrew Harvey on this pilgrimage to South India

And these four exercises will be tremendously useful to anyone whatever path they are on at the core of their lives because as the world starts to go through what is a very dangerous crisis, a tremendous exploding crisis, linking to the divine at the core of your life through simple but very powerful practice is the source of all resilience and all authentic survival. What will also happen I hope to people as they really experience the different intensities of these revelations on this very sacred earth is that they will be so filled with tremendous joy at the possibilities of being a human and the new birth and also with the real strength that comes from divine initiation, to return to their lives and see the depths of the crisis that is exploding and commit themselves in simple, humble ways to Sacred Activism, to truly helping in their local communities to see that justice is done and see that harmony is established and see that the waters and the lands are protected, and to stand up for the poor and stand up for those who are in radical oppression like the young Dukha people, the ones who have been threatened now with immigration. So for me the pilgrimage is a way of reconnecting so fundamentally with your own sacred essence and the sacred essence of reality that you return from it with real tools, sharpened vision and deeper embodied passion to do something with your life, to help the great birth of a new humanity through Sacred Activism.

Shiva as the cosmic ecstatic dancer – will you be joining us to explore Shiva’s dancing grounds in South India?

Helen: That’s exactly it, just that little spark, sometimes that’s all it takes to come back and to make even a small small step in that direction. It makes a huge difference. That would be my hope as well.

Andrew Harvey: Absolutely. And to do it from a place of inspiration and not guilt or shame, to do it because you suddenly realize how wonderful it is to serve this birth and how thrilling and how empowering.

Helen: Are there any prerequisites or knowledge that journey participants need to have already acquired?

Andrew Harvey: All that’s really required is sincerity and a commitment to the deepest receptivity. It would be wonderful if people could read say the Hindu Anthology, the teachings of the Hindu mystics that I did for Shambhala. It’s a very comprehensive short-ish anthology that’s got the greatest Hindu texts in it, and that will enable them to begin to expand their mind, soul and hearts as they come into the field of the dancer.

Helen: I’ve got that on the reading list so that’s perfect.

Andrew Harvey: I think that would be gist and also just before you come on the trip make sure that for the three weeks before you leave you deepen your meditation practice and ask the divine in whatever way is most convenient and simplest for you to expand your understanding of the universe and reveal to you your deeper spiritual destiny through this pilgrimage to Shiva and in Shiva’s dancing ground. So really prepare yourself by praying to the divine to tremendously expand your mind, heart and soul and understanding of the universe through this amazing pilgrimage that goes from revelation to revelation.

ashrams in India
The amenities at the Shantivanam Ashram are basic, but the experience is profound

Helen: You’ll be staying at the Ashram for two days. Why did you want to include a stay here as part of the journey? You’ve already talked beautifully about Bede Griffiths and the whole vision there but is there anything else you can say about the Ashram and the stay there?

Andrew Harvey: Yes! I feel it’s essential that people stay in an Ashram, an authentic Ashram, which is austere but comfortable and in sacred woods by the great sacred Kavery river because the visions of South India, the great sacred visions of South India, were incubated in places of such radical purity and simplicity. This Ashram is especially sacred to me because in it I met Father Bede Griffiths, and his presence and his grace can be felt immensely strongly in this Ashram and it also has a wonderful teaching mystic in the Ashram, John Martin, who is truly one of the clearest and holiest spirits I know who has a universal mystical vision, trained by Bede, and who is a wonderful speaker so this will be a place to meet a holy man who carries on the tradition of Bede in his own unique way, the place to taste the ancient simplicity of the life that created and sustained these visions and a place where I will speak too of the revelation of Christ’s consciousness that Bede gave me and that you can feel vibrant and alive in the hearts and in the trees and in the sounds from the river.

Helen: Last question… a light question… do you have any favourite Indian food or a meal that you’d like to recommend?

Andrew: Oh yes! South India vegetarian food is amazing so try the Dosas and try the Idlis and wash them down with mango juice.

Helen: We have a couple of South Indian restaurants here in Vancouver…

Andrew: Ah yes, they’ll have that! You’re eating the golden light when you’re eating South Indian food when it’s at its best.

Read the full Itinerary for this amazing journey to South India with Andrew Harvey and book your spot today!

Yoga and Ayurveda: A Perfect Partnership? An Interview with Insiya and Eoin Finn

In January 2018 Eoin Finn and Insiya Rasiwala-Finn will be leading a Blissology Yoga Retreat to Goa, India that also incorporates Ayurveda practices. This 7-night retreat on the shores of serene Morjim beach in Goa will help you find true health, balance, and profound healing. We asked the Retreat Leaders about Blissology and what draws them to both Goa and Ayurveda.

SEJ: What is Blissology yoga and how is it different from other yoga practices?

Eoin and Insiya: There is a still place within, a source of infinite joy, love and bliss. When we are in touch with this still place within, life ceases to be merely about us and we feel deeply connected to the well being of our body/mind, our personal relationships, our community and nature. Blissology is about deepening our awareness of this place so we can be a positive force in the world.

Blissology Eoin Finn
Blissology founder Eoin Finn with Insiya Rasiwala-Finn

Blissology was founded [by yogi, surfer and blissologist Eoin Finn] in 1999. It is a yoga system exploring strategies for bringing more joy, awe, love and bliss into our lives. Blissology is about mining for the source of love inside of all of us that is especially evident when we are quiet and present in Nature.

A Blissology Yoga class strikes the perfect balance between our ego drive and the infinitely kind and wise side of ourselves so that we treat our bodies, our communities and nature more sustainably and with more reverence.

We aim to make the world a better place by bringing more awe, joy and bliss into the world. Celebrating the interconnection of our minds, bodies, and hearts everywhere and asking what do we have to offer to Nature and Community and what does Nature and Community have to offer us.

Blissology retreats
Blissology yoga classes include time to meditate and connect

The type of yoga we practice is alignment based vinyasa yoga, which is about linking the asanas with our breath in an intelligent, sustainable way. We also adapt the practice to the seasons, the fitness level and needs of students and aim to tune in energetically to what we need in the yoga practice. Each Blissology class is a ritual with time to meditate and connect. In a nutshell you will feel alive, awake and relaxed after a Blissology practice. As Eoin often jokes: “Do not operate heavy machinery after class.” :-)

SEJ: Why did you want to offer a retreat in Goa, India – what makes Goa so perfect for this kind of retreat?

Eoin & Insiya: We have wanted to offer a retreat in India since some time and decided that Goa, where Insiya [Rasiwala-Finn – wife of Blissology Founder Eoin] spent many holidays while growing up in Bombay, would be an ideal landing spot in India. Goa, despite its popularity boasts relatively quiet beaches, a gentler landing to the chaos and bustle of India and the opportunity to practice yoga amidst the fresh breezes of the Arabian Sea. We also love Goa because it symbolizes the creative coalescing of so many aspects of Indian history with its Portuguese heritage blended in with the culture and spice of India. We are excited to visit local temples, the spice farms and experience a traditional puja or fire ceremony as well.

markets in Goa
The Saturday evening flea market in Goa, India

SEJ: What draws you to Ayurveda and how does it impact your own everyday lives?

Insiya: Ayurveda is a deeply holistic system of healing that is intelligent, intuitive and practical. I cannot imagine living life without following Ayurvedic principles as it offers insights that help us navigate all aspects of life, from the small to the large. To offer a specific example, when we live with Ayurvedic insights, we live more in rhythm with the natural cycles of nature, each day as well as every season. Some of us do this intuitively. E.g. we crave warm soups and stews in the winter, and raw greens and salads in the summer. This is a great example of eating what your body naturally craves according to a season. I personally follow specific Ayurvedic practices daily, which include waking up early in rhythm with the sunlight, taking the time to practice meditation or yoga in the early morning, to set a clear and focused tone for my day and not snacking all day, so I can give my stomach a rest between meal times.

SEJ: What benefits can people expect from learning more about Ayurveda and applying Ayurvedic principles to their lives?

Insiya: My goal from this retreat is to offer students a series of daily practices that they can begin to include into their everyday lives beyond the retreat. There is a rhythm to each day, says Ayurveda, and if we want to live a more balanced, vital and happy life, we must live in balance with these natural rhythms. An example includes eating our larger meal during midday, when our digestive fire is strongest (because the sun’s heat or fire is also at its peak). Every day, we will begin our days following some Ayurvedic cleansing rituals such as tongue scraping, jala neti to cleanse the nostrils and thus the brain; and abhyanga or oil massage.

Ayurvedic medicine and food
Ayurveda teaches to eat a larger meal around midday when the digestive fire is strongest

SEJ: How do Yoga and Ayurveda work together? What can participants expect from this combination of practices as well as the other proposes activities on this retreat?

Eoin & Insiya: Yoga is prescribed as daily medicine to live an Ayurvedic lifestyle; i.e. to live a life where you are attuned to nature. When we practice yoga with this awareness, it becomes a method by which we can find more balance, more relaxation, more stillness – whatever we really need opens up to us. We will also be sharing insights into understanding students’ unique constitutions on this retreat, so they can begin to practice with more of an understanding of how the yoga practice can best serve them.

paradise beach in goa
Aptly named Paradise Beach in Goa, India

With respect to the other activities offered on retreat, we will have a cleansing, healing ritual called a puja, where a priest will lead us through traditional Sanskrit chants and a fire ceremony to help us to experience more clarity and focus in our lives; we will also visit a local temple together and possibly visit some spice farms.

SEJ: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about this retreat?

Insiya: Only that both Eoin and I are continuously delighted by the incredible tribe of people our Blissology retreats attract from all over the world. 

If you’d like to join Eoin and Insiya on this Blissology Yoga Retreat you can read full retreat itinerary details and book your spot at Sacred Earth Journeys.