I am going through some rough times at the moment.
Sometimes it is simply too much and it seems like I cannot even feel myself anymore or hear myself thinking. These are the times when it is best to take a step back to observe things from a distance. My impuls was to desperately want to run away. So that`s exactly what I have done this morning, just for the day. I got up, packed my backpack and simply walked off to what feels like the face of the earth now.
My destination was the Holy Ghost Church at the border between Austria and Slovenia, at the highest vantage point of the region. A place I had always wanted to visit, but have never managed so far. It not only has stunning views, but is also a really old spiritual place dating far back into the depth of human history, much older than the catholic church now towering over everything. From our house it is a three and a half hour hike constantly uphill, along the panoramic route close to the border with amazing views far into Styria and Slovenia. It also is an ancient pilgrimage, especially for women.
I have never been on a hike just by myself before, either. I was very much aware of the quiet right from the moment I entered the forest. Countless creatures observing me from a safe distance. A concert of bird music and a serene feeling of anticipation and calm joy greeted me.
The further I got the more I became aware of the generosity of nature: delicious red wild strawberries, an unbelievable variety of wild herbs, flowers in all shapes and colors, surprisingly many big edible mushrooms (I admit not being able to walk past them without picking them for tomorrow`s dinner!) and so much more. Nature`s abundance wherever I looked made me feel like my worries where nothing compared to this miracle.
After the plants it seemed like all animals wanted to show me that everything is okay, that I am just a tiny particle of a perfect universe. It started with a black foal galopping towards me (yes, I was a little anxious then…). She let me pat her briefly, then turned around and continued her journey to give me time to relax until I encountered a couple of ducks, a lot of colorful roosters, cats, dogs, sheep, cows and goats. All of them greeted me by coming close, most of them let me touch them to bide my farewells.
After entering a really dark wood and passing through various gates (manmade and natural) I met deer, mice, bugs, birds of prey, salamanders, colorful big slugs. I took my shoes off and walked barefoot for a while, feeling the soft, wet grounds, reconnecting with the Earth itself. By now I had left the street to walk on small paths, still steadily uphill.
I was suddenly aware of the time again and wanted to make my way to the church before the bells ringing at noon. By now I felt thursty, a little tired, it was pretty humid and hot and it looked like another thunderstorm was brewing. When I thought I had reached almost the top of the mountain I was disappointed to see a sign saying it was another 40 minutes to the top. I was sweaty and frustrated.
Yet another sign said “Most southern point of Styria” and I took a little detour to get there to take a picture. There was a serious looking sign saying I had reached it, with a decorative millstone-like sculpture. In small writing it said that marker stone 314 was the most southern point of Styria. Looking around I could not see that one. Not wanting to lose more time (remember: the bells!) I kept on walking when I almost stumbled over stone number 314 a few hundred meters away from the historic site with a hand painted (and not at all official looking) sign stating that this was in fact the spot.
Smiling I had to shake my head in bewildernment at the human race. Was the exact spot on the path not convenient enough for tourists to reach so that they built an official landmark somewhere closer to the road or did they not know which spot was in fact the most southern? And what did it matter anyway, since the whole trail was zooming in and out of the two countries and what difference does a border make but on maps and in stubborn heads?
Still mulling over borders and people I got out of the forest to see a military tent and a building that in former days has served as border crossing and now houses a small museum. It was five to twelve and I could catch my first glimpse of the church. But how different to what I had imagined it! Instead of a lone building in nowhereland it was indeed surrounded by many houses, a graveyard, restaurants, a park, a school…Just when I passed by the traditional decorated tree people around here erect for the first of May the bells started to chime like they wanted to cheer me up, welcome me to this place out of time.
Climbing up hundreds of stairs I finally reached the platform on which the church stands, almost not daring to enter the place. I had encountered three people on the whole hike and was relieved to find the place empty. I am not religious in a traditional way at all, but houses of god always put me in awe. I sat down on the left side of the aisle and had a look around.
Clearly this place was all about worshipping Mary and her child. I looked up at the statues of Baby Jesus held by the forgiving, loving mother and tears started to run down my cheeks. I clasped my hands and prayed for the first time in decades, like a small girl. I asked for peace and strength for me and my family and chanted AUM three times (a tradition I copied from Fred, Franziska!). I felt foolish and calm at the same time.
I went to the front, kneeled down and thanked Mary or however you would like to call the divine feminine. I still don´t understand what has gotten into me and how all this is connected to the Holy Spirit, but I left the church feeling lighter and clearer.
Outside was a mother with two small children, a boy and a girl. They asked my name and started chatting with me. We exchanged some pleasantries and invitations for visits, but I was eager to complete my journey by finding a good spot to be alone for writing. I had taken my new notebook our last Hofmate Sean had given to me with me, sat down behind a small chapel (of Mary, of course!) overlooking the valley and started to compile a list of what I wish for in my life. Trying to be honest with myself it was hard at first, but I soon had filled a whole page.
Looking up I realized the weather had turned. The sky was black, there was a cold wind and it looked like it would start to rain any second. Pulling my son`s raincoat out of my backpack (thanks for lending it!) I hurried down the stairs in search for a good place to have lunch. With the first drops of rain I reached a Slovene tavern which was completely deserted. Looking for the owners I met a young woman with her dog who was looking for a decent meal, too. Just when we were ready to give up we found the man of the house, he switched the light and the music on for us and we sat down at a big table.
We introduced each other, picked out the food, ordered and started chatting like we knew each other for years. Turns out we know a lot of the same people and she loves ceramics – so another invitation to the H.O.F. was in order. After finishing our most generously filled plates we said goodbye like old friends. By now the rain had stopped again so I could start my descend down the mountain over meadows heading towards the most beautiful natural creek “Heiligengeistklamm”, the Holy Ghost creek.
It was drizzling a little, but I thoroughly enjoyed the rain, humming and singing my way down the slopes. Fearing for the first time since my little adventure had begun to be lost I finally found the entrance to the creek and was instantly enchanted. I have been hiking through that creek before, but always in good weather, with company and never downhill. Now I followed the natural course of the water, being the only human being in this magical place.
Crisscrossing the water jumping over rocks, climbing down steep steps formed by the roots of the trees, ducking under fallen trees, smelling the moss, fern and hearing the sound of the falling waters drowning out all other noise. At my favorite spot, where the water has formed the rock to something looking like a playground slide I stopped to enjoy a drink of the crystal clear liquid. I washed my face, my hands and contemplated taking my shoes off again to wade through the pools when my phone rang with Niko on the other end wanting to know when and where to pick me up.
Instantly my thoughts came back to reality. My pilgrimage was about to end and it was okay. I was ready to face my husband, my family and my life again. A few minutes later at the entrance to the creek I turned around, looking back up, giving thanks to everything and everybody I encountered, real and otherwise. But most importantly I thanked myself for allowing all this to happen, forgiving myself. Striving to take the awareness of little wonders back home with me:
Everything is connected.