THOUGHTS ON PILGRIMAGE

By Justine Epstein and Kate Bunney

Humans have the capacity for generosity and destruction. What do we humans ideally want for ourselves, each other and our shared planet? How might generosity be encouraged and the capacity for destruction be acknowledged as part of our collective healing? 

We are in the midst of an unprecedented moment of collapse — from social to ecological, the systems that have supported life are being brought to bear from the results of  the forces of industrialized capitalism, extraction, white supremacy and colonization. From raging wildfires to hurricanes to floods to droughts, our earth is in the throes of a transformation beyond our capacity to imagine. Yes, we are being asked to rise for and commit to protect, mitigate and regenerate what we can. And we are also being initiated into grief for what has been lost and will not be recovered, and into adaptation for a kind of world we might scarcely recognize. 

That which so many of us knew, called Home, relied upon, and in some cases took for granted, is no longer guaranteed. Be it displacement through war, economic instability, scarcity of water, or environmental degradation, many — disproportionately poor and BIPOC communities — are forced to migrate in search of safety and survival. With climate collapse in motion, we are very much becoming “a migratory species” as Walking Water guardian Gigi Coyle often says … or maybe we are returning to this way out of necessity and acknowledgment that the “stable” system that has been constructed around us is unstable at its core. We are invited to remember what was, in order to be shown what might be. 

As Weaving Earth Associate Director, Sam Edmonson writes in Collapsing into the Future’s Arms: Ideological Migration and the Work of Weaving Earth, “a migration of staggering proportions is underway. Ecologies are changing… Societies are changing…Collapse is happening. The threats are real. And yet within this crisis, there is also the opportunity for a species-level ideological migration: from separation and domination to interdependence and belonging.” 

What are we choosing to pay attention to? To listen to or to deny? To fight or to collaborate and find cohesive solutions to reconcile and heal our past? 

While the context of climate collapse is new, migration is not. Many cultures across the world found home in migration, following the sustenance of seasons, of the animals and plants who offered nourishment, medicine, and invited the intelligence of motion, transition, shift. It is in our bones. As Gopal Dayaneni of Movement Generation states: “migration is an earth right.” So how do we embrace this invitation into ideological migration that this moment of collapse offers us? How do we bring justice, rights and equity into the times ahead when justice surely means to dismantle and break down the borders – physical, mental, cultural? What ways will inspire a sense of merging, of being with past, present, future right now to support us to transmute what no longer serves into something that heals and regenerates life? 

For Walking Water, our response is prayer and action and Pilgrimage is one of our ways. It is just one of many ways to move on the earth in body, heart, mind and soul. A pilgrimage is a journey, often to an unknown place, where one or many go in search of new or expanded meaning through experience. It is often a moral or spiritual quest, an embodied metaphor of the soul’s journey mirrored through the body. With the intersecting crises of our times, we are calling upon this ancestral praxis to enter the big collective unknown of our times and be willing to be transformed through experiencing it on every level of who we are. Many of the major religions, belief systems and Indigenous cultures from around the world have turned to the way of Pilgrimage as a means to come closer to the divine, god, spirit, earth – to ask why we are here –  to seek the meaning of life. Some examples of pilgrimage are journeys to Mount Kailash, Mecca, El Camino de Santiago, Machu Picchu and the Five Great Mountains, Kumano Kodō… to name a few.

We intentionally choose “Pilgrimage” as the language for our form of migration in acknowledgement, first and foremost, that our project was birthed and continues to be carried by people of European descent. While we are honored to have partnered and allied with Indigenous and BIPOC leaders and communities over the years, our core team and leadership continue to be predominantly white, and some also connected to the early “pilgrim” colonizers of Turtle Island. Acknowledging that Pilgrimage has many meanings in many cultures, it is important for us to work within a form that is ancestrally relevant as we face the intersecting crises of our times and seek a healing response. We see part of our task is to contribute to the transformation of the legacy, word and action that is Pilgrim/age in our particular ancestral lineage: to acknowledge and grieve for the ways many of our ancestors committed such atrocities to Indigenous tribes and communities of culture. We also see to support, initiate and be part of ways that strengthen the presence and impact of Indigenous ways and practices in collaboration and guidance with the local Black and Indigenous communities and our international partners.

We believe practicing Pilgrimage by being with its complexity and the complexity of our own identities, histories, ancestries and legacies can support us to take a next step towards wholeness. And perhaps towards the healing required for an ideological migration from the systems of separation and domination embodied by at least some of our ancestors to a culture of interdependence, belonging and repair.

The intention of our relations shifts when in Pilgrimage – from being against or for – to instead being with. Each step is right here, in this immediate place and time, and then the next step represents a new location and experience … each transient moment embodied. And it is perhaps through building this capacity to be with, to accompany ourselves into the unknown, that more of us might allow ourselves to be remembered and guided by the earth-sea-sky , walking gently again, towards right relationship. This is our prayer. 

Note: we hope this will be the first in a series of essays in which we explore and share about how we understand our work within the constellation of movements for water, healing, decolonization, and justice. We welcome your thoughts, feedback and questions to support us to deepen our work.