We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
It is an uncomfortable place to be, not knowing “what am I going to do in life.”
To have the leisure of pondering this question, is already a privilege that one can not take lightly. To have options, none of them a bad one, is an even more precious gift -- and a first world problem.Over the past year, I have been answering this question in the negative, through a process of elimination. “I don’t want to do this.” “No, not that one, either.” And on and on.
But, there’s only that many negative answers one can give, and only that many months of inaction one can endure, before the obvious ultimatum arrives: so, what exactly do you want to do?
There has been inspirations, for sure. There are people whose lives are their messages, people who made me say to myself, “Wow, I want to have what she/he is having.” Here are some qualities that those people have in common.
They have dedicated their life to something greater than the self. Their work is a service to others, and is never about aggrandizing or profiting themselves. They are unintentional leaders because they enable others to manifest their potential and purpose in life.
They combine inner transformation with social actions. They understand that the inner and outer revolutions are one, mutually reinforcing.
They are addressing humanity’s challenges at the root and systemic level. They go to the uneasy depth and the unfathomable scale of the problems, and do not compromise with band-aid solutions.
Their work is personal and interpersonal. They keep the big picture in mind, while being fully present to each small being-to-being interactions as the ultimate work itself.
They are not attached to the outcomes of their effort, even though they do the work with utmost faith and diligence. They know the significance and difficulty in the challenge they have taken on, but they do not take themselves too seriously.
I feel so fortunate to have started to realize that such people exists (and have always existed), and that so many more are on a path of cultivation toward it. It will take me lifetimes of purification to arrive at these qualities, but they serve as the North Star in figuring out “what to do in life.”
So, one step at a time. What’s the next step? Or, is that the wrong question?
I can’t recall when exactly the intuition came to me. It was around mid-March. The idea is to get back on the road, to go on a pilgrimage across borders, to visit wholesome and holy people and places, to remove inner poisons and cultivate inner peace, and to share the learnings and inspirations from the journey as catalysts for collective awakening. The gut sense is that this journey might take 2-3 years.
In particular, I have China (not the national identity, but the general region) in mind. I sense that the country is at the verge of a spiritual and ecological awakening, and could use as many catalysts as it can get.
The idea is still vague, still taking shape. But when the intuition first struck me two months ago, I almost cried, because it felt true, felt right. The idea was a great relief, because it ended almost a year of searching for “what’s next”.
But I also avoided thinking further about the whole matter for as long as I could bear. Out of inertia and procrastination, I sat on the idea for all these weeks without taking much action -- physical or mental, except for thinking out loud with two or three dear mentors, seeking their wisdom and guidance.
The avoidance stemmed from an inner groan that said, “Oh no, it is getting real now. No more fooling around.” I knew that, in order to go on this pilgrimage, I would need to take vows -- to take the practice of my values to the next level of rigor and sincerity. I wasn’t sure if I was ready. In the meantime, life on the old track provides many distractions and excuses in favor of status quo.
If no one else is going to force you…
There’s a Chinese saying, “天予弗取, 反受其咎.” Which means roughly, “If heaven gives you something, and you refuse to accept it, there will be condemnation.”
I feel that condemnation every moment when I am not following the true calling, the gift of heaven. The weight of wasted time and possibilities grows heavier by the day. The false safety afforded by escape and distraction wears thinner and thinner. I know it is time to put myself in a new orbit, because nobody else will -- or could -- force me onto my true mission.
Hence, these writings… Writing is a powerful way to arrive at clarity and insights. Sharing them in public-sphere is another forcing function to hold myself accountable, and to not give myself too much hiding space. It is a great cure for someone with no external “urgency” or “pressure” to act, but knows that he must act.
So why a pilgrimage? What are the underlying intention for this journey?
After the initial intuition, it took some time to pin down and articulate the intentions for this project. It is still forming and changing by the day, but here is a current draft.
On a personal level, the intention is to reduce my inner poisons of craving, aversion and ignorance, to cultivate peace and love, to broaden my horizon and heart, to experience more of this world -- the relative reality as a doorway to ultimate truth.
On a national level, the intention is to serve as a small bridge between China and the rest of the world, to introduce different (such as cultural, spiritual and ecological) dimensions of the globe to a new generation of Chinese, and vice versa. The reason behind this intention is twofold: 1) China and other countries are increasingly interdependent, and would benefit from deeper mutual understanding, and 2) China is at the verge of spiritual and ecological awakening, and would benefit from inspirations from around the world.
(A footnote is necessary here, as emotions run high when it comes to “nations.” I do not intend to be a flag-waving patriot promoting certain doctrines or get into divisive debates, waging a proxy war of egos. My intention is to get to the bottom of our universal human experience, and to celebrate the diverse ways we cross the river of life. My choice of “China” as my fulcrum is because I owe my heritage and upbringing to that land, and because China is an important piece of the puzzle in reinventing human civilization. I am better positioned to be of service working with China, as an eventual service to the world.)
On a universal level, the intention is to let one more human truly come alive, to discover and amplify the wholesome people (and the wholeness and divine in each of us), projects, and principles, at a time of planetary crises/revival.
These intentions will certainly evolve as time goes by.
Fleshing out the idea
With these intentions, here is a first draft of the pilgrimage: the pilgrim will ride a bicycle from Western Europe back to China, visiting people and places of cultural, spiritual and ecological significance -- places that have birthed the civilization we live today, projects that contain kernels of “the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible”, and people who are living their truth now.
The pilgrim will string together a few ancient pilgrimages, such as the Camino de Santiago, the Silk Road, Mecca, etc.
The pilgrimage will culminate in a deeper journey through China, finding and amplifying the promising signs of awakening, connecting the dots, creating space and permission for more people to reflect on the many ways to be alive in this world, at our time. (Here is a saying that reflects the current survival mentality in China: "If you are one out of a million in China, then there are 1,300 just like you, if not better.")
The pilgrim will take vows yet to be distilled, such as remaining vegetarian along the way, maintaining daily meditation practice, and not using money to get lodging.
The pilgrim will bring a smartphone, and perhaps a laptop, to record interviews, produce videos, take photo journals, and share them widely leveraging the internet.
The pilgrim will listen to/read books that illuminate the subjects or regions at hand.
The pilgrim chooses bicycle as the means of transport, because I wish to use human-powered mobility as a form of cultivation in and of itself. And the youthful haste finds walking a bit too slow :)
As I put the hazy ideas into typed letters, I feel a sense of hesitation because these words somehow sound more grandiose than I intended them to be. I know that this will be a deeply humbling journey. The bragging rights of the adventures are not the goal; the egoic “conquests” and badge-gathering are pitfalls to be avoided. This is truly a pilgrimage, doing subtraction, purification, and service.
Depart again, in order to return home
T.S. Eliot famously said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” So in a sense, the coming pilgrimage will be a re-familiarization with what we have all known since the beginning of time.
There’s great value in reminding myself -- and us all -- of what we already know. As they say, “All the important things have been said, but since nobody listens, we will say it again anyway.”
In the coming months, the pilgrim will continue to meditate on these threads, do more inner work, and also start the detailed planning of the trek. As a tool, I will continue to write in order to think and feel. In the process, I would oblige this blog -- and the universe -- into hearing to my flow of (un)consciousness.
With reverence and gratitude, the pilgrim departs once again, in order to return home. Closer, at least.