|We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. --Proust|
The Winter Pilgrim: An Interview with Ann Sieben--by Awakin Call Transcript, syndicated from awakin.org, Oct 26, 2016
Xiao: Today our special guest speaker is none other than Ann Sieben, someone who really embodies today's theme, "From Nuclear Engineer to Adventure Pilgrim to Spiritual Pilgrim to Servant Pilgrim." Thanks again for joining today's call. Let us start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves.
(Minute of silence)
Guri: In 2007 Ann who is a native of Denver Colorado and a nuclear engineer by profession, was waiting for a work permit in Spain and that never came through. Instead of looking for other work, she decided to walk on foot along an ancient pilgrimage path from Leon, Spain to Santiago which is known as the Camino de Santiago. In December of that same year, she began a longer pilgrimage, from Canterbury to Rome, Italy and ended up walking over 2100 kilometers. The following winter, she decided to do it again, this time from Germany (Aachen) to the Camino de Santiago in Spain ending in Finisterre. In 2009 -- you guessed it -- she walked again on another pilgrimage, over 4400 kilometers, from Ukraine (Kiev) to Patras, Greece, and by this time she was known as the “Winter Pilgrim.” She was being asked to give talks and share about her experiences with many different groups. One of the things that saddened her was sort of a slightly cynical comment where people would always tell her that, "You know, sure, you can do something like this in Europe but not in the US. It's not in our culture. No one would open their door to a pilgrim." And to demonstrate that North Americans are just as kind, she set out on her next pilgrimage from Denver, Colorado and walked down to Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City and, lo and behold, she was right. She learned that Americans and Mexicans are just as friendly. In 2011, she walked again and this is during the Arab Spring. She walked 6300 kilometers from Santiago, Spain through the North African road to Jerusalem in Israel. In 2012, she went out to South America and started in Argentina and walked up along the eastern coast crossing Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua -- all the Central American countries and ended in Mexico City. That 1300-kilometer journey took her almost the full year and, as you can guess, there's no chance of her slowing down. The following year she walked from Helsinki to Rome, then from Denver to Quebec, spanning 44 countries over the nine years. This 52-year old has walked close to, it sounds like, about 40,000 kilometers from my calculations and that's about 25,000 miles. As she walks, she doesn't carry any money, cell phone or camera. In fact, she's calling us right now from a friend's cell phone, Nicole, who is a part of the Awakin-Call team. Ann, we are really fortunate to catch you in between your pilgrimages. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Ann: Well you're welcome. I'm happy to be here.
Guri: Thanks so much. I'm glad you are able to make it. I know you were walking on foot to Nicole's house this morning.
Ann: Yes. Of course.
Guri: You cannot take the pilgrim out of regular life.
Guri: I want to start with the obvious: Why pilgrimage? What makes you leave the comfort of your home at the height of winter almost all the time and motivates you to walk thousands of miles?
Ann: You know, walking in winter, I'll just dispel that now, so much better than walking in summer or walking in the cold than walking in the heat because the colder it is, the more clothing I wear, the less I have to carry in my backpack, so I'm really at the bottom a lazy pilgrim. I don't want to carry much. The colder it is, also, the faster I walk, so you know the days are usually very short in winter so I get to where I'm going quicker and then I have more time to speak with people. Additionally, the lakes are frozen and I can walk right across them. Everything is very clean. It's not muddy or dirty dusty in the air. The vegetation is down, the leaves off the trees, the grasses are done, I can see so much further. There are no mosquitoes. There are no snakes. Bears are hibernating and people are very open. People are very friendly in winter because they're not so busy. They're bored. "Come in, sit down. Let's talk." Where in summer everyone is out, busy, preoccupied with all sorts of things. So really the winter is the better time to walk. If it's hot in the summer, I really just want to sit in the shade and drink a cold beer and not go and walk 40 kilometers. So, I like winter. To each his own. Okay, I accept it.
Guri: Yes, I forget about the part that people have more time to just interact because there's nothing else to do.
Ann: Right! So it's a monotony breaker. Pilgrimage is a monotony breaker for the host communities, wherever -- a family or a church or wherever I end up staying. But for me also, I go always to -- I always must go to a shrine or a pilgrim destination. That's the distinction between a pilgrim and a vagabond. A pilgrim has a specific destination that the pilgrim wants to get to, so there's always something like a magnetic pull drawing ever closer. I go to places I've not been before, so each and every step is somewhere new. What's around the next bend? That's also something magnetic, you know? It also keeps me drawing closer. I haven't seen this next view, so I want to go and see it. Every person I meet is somebody new for me. So these add elements of sort of intrigue and excitement and the unknown and curiosity. It's never boring. Never.
Guri: How would you -- obviously you're walking from one place and you're walking to a sacred site -- how would you define a pilgrimage? What does a pilgrimage mean to you?
Ann: Well, as I say, a pilgrim must have a destination, so first and foremost, it is the destination. It's really -- at the end of the day -- it's not about the journey as is so often said. It is about the destination because if you don't have that desire to get to the destination, then by human nature, by anyone's kind of discipline or self control, you can become very distracted and say, "Oh this is a really nice mountain valley. It's beautiful here. I think I'll stay a month or a year." Many places where I go, people offer me this -- "Please stay with us a month" and in the Arabic language going across North Africa, the month and the moon is sort of the same concept: "Stay with us for a cycle of the moon. We have so much to learn from you and you have so much to learn from us. This is great." But I can't because I'm a pilgrim and I want to always continue closer to my destination. Also I generally have some visa restrictions. I have to stay in one country no more than usually 90 days, or it could vary, but you know, having that destination is a very important part of the pilgrimage. So it's not just a wandering journey. I'm not the wanderer or a sojourner. I'm specifically a pilgrim going to a sacred destination. So for me, I'm a roaming Catholic, so I choose the destination to be sacred in a Christian sense, but that's not the whole of pilgrimage. All of the major religions and so many cultures of the world have pilgrimage in their heritage, in their historical culture. So just for me -- I'm not saying this is how to be a pilgrim, go to a Catholic shrine -- but I happen to go to a Catholic shrine.
Guri: I was really touched that someone would say, "Stay here until the next moon." I was reading in one of the newspaper articles and I quote here. It said, "She started relying on humanity every night on her third pilgrimage as she walked from Kiev to Patras, Greece she had to ask for a place to stay at night and she always found a church of a farm house, something..." What changed in the third pilgrimage where you started to rely on humanity?
Ann: Well, the first two -- I don't consider the first mini-pilgrimage from Leon to Santiago, that spur-of-the-moment one, I don't consider that in my repertoire of my big pilgrimages. That was just my little taste at the beginning to get me into it. So my first one, Canterbury to Rome and then followed the following year by Aachen Germany, the tomb of Charlemagne, to Santiago, these are both areas really steeped in pilgrim heritage going back to Charlemagne. That's why I started there. So it goes back to the eighth century that pilgrims have been in this western European area. And those two destinations, two of the three big pilgrim destinations in the Middle Ages at the height of European Christian pilgrimage. So it's inculcated in the culture that pilgrimage exists and pilgrim are to be helped and its in the world. Plus, Western Europe, these areas are far more densely populated, so there are towns and villages and these towns and villages in part because of the long heritage of pilgrimage, they have hostels, they have places where pilgrims know to go and stay, plus -- for more pampered pilgrims or "posture pilgrims" -- they have hotels, pensiones, you know, everything on the economic strata. But my third pilgrimage, because at that time I could not as an American with a US passport, I could not walk from Europe to Jerusalem, the third of the major, pilgrim destinations. I could not walk by land either through Syria or through Libia, so I needed to pick a new, cool, intriguing pilgrim destination, and I chose the route of the apostle Saint Andrew, the brother of Saint Peter whose tomb is in Rome. So I started a Kiev, Ukraine, because that was as far north as they say he went, and I walked everywhere he went. Everywhere I could research and find that he went, I went, to his tomb in Patras, Greece. But this part of Eastern Europe, this behind the former Iron Curtain if you will, this part of Europe never had or hasn't had in memory any kind of pilgrim culture. And the villages are spread further apart, very small. They have no hostels for pilgrims. They have nothing in their infrastructure to accommodate pilgrims. Also by that time I was by and large out of money so I couldn't just fund my way going specifically to the bigger towns and cities that had public accommodations like this. So I just really -- that's when I became a pilgrim of faith. I really just with faith stepped out of Kiev in the snow late November and I walked to the first village and talked with the people there in really halting Russian or Ukrainian, like kind of mixed them up, the words that I had learned, and said, "I'm a pilgrim going to the tomb of Saint Andrew. I need a place to sleep tonight." And boy I was uncertain at all -- just absolute no idea what the reaction, what the reception would be, and it was glorious. They were so accommodating, so wonderful and I just, that first week every day got more and more confident that "Yes, this will work. Yes, people are good." People are very happy to help even though it's quite an impoverished area, this part of Eastern Ukraine that's now been occupied or whatever the political situation is with Russia. But I could not do this pilgrimage today because of the situation, but at the time, you know, this is an impoverished agricultural area. They have very little, but what they had, share some of the floor space and the blankets because family sleeps on the floor on little mats. One more person only adds warmth to the party, so, I could just lie down next to them and sleep just where they did, share the borscht, the vegetable soup, that's always on the stove without being a burden on them, yet their reception, that opportunity to help a stranger -- it was equally felt by me to be helped and by them to have the opportunity to help somebody. It was beautiful. It was the most beautiful experience of human interaction in the unknown. Now I have years of experience doing that, but those first days and weeks out of Kiev, there was like a kind of a thrill accompanied by something of anxiety but when I got more accustomed to it, it was so beautiful.
Guri: Yeah. Wow. It sounds pretty incredible, and that happened along the whole route.
Ann: Yes because it was similar Crimea then I went into Moldova a little bit, Romania, Bulgaria, the north of Turkey and then all through the mainland of Greece and it was the same thing. Everywhere I went, people -- not having the experience of pilgrims -- saying things like, "We haven't heard of a pilgrim since the time of our grandfather's grandfather. And in the time of our grandfather's grandfather, no outsider has visited our village, so thank you for coming." You know. They were just so welcoming because who else would go there but a pilgrim?
Guri: Wow. I'm sure along the way you went through rural areas as well as urban areas. Did you find any difference in traveling through the two?
Ann: Well, mostly I stay in rural areas. I don't like to walk alongside of a road for my own safety. I mean, not only the vehicular traffic safety issues, but just to be a target, to be clearly not from around there because I'm walking not dressed the way they dress and with a small backpack and clearly alone. So you know I don't want to be so visibly seen by cars going or trucks going very fast, you know that kind of transient mentality. But in the rural areas on the country roads, then the only people who are going to be on that road are the people who live there, the local population, so I feel much safer there and then it's more of a curiosity thing. So for my own safety and if I listen to those cars going by so fast, that's not the natural pace of life. But if I'm on a rural country road and I'm walking and maybe there's a horse and a cart, these sounds are the natural pace of life. This is very harmonious, very stress free. It's really a wonderful thing. This is, in my opinion, why a pilgrimage really is so much better to do on foot. Forget bicycle pilgrims. I mean, if you go to Santiago, these are okay but to walk at the natural pace, what the human body was meant to do, these three miles an hour, five kilometers an hour, this allows you to see all sorts of things, to taste the herbs that you step on, and you taste them in the air immediately, or smell the very different scents -- not just the farmland. You smell the individual flowers. And to listen, not to the cacophony of animal sounds but different birds individually. So all of these kind of sensual elements of pilgrimage come by walking, no other way. Not on a bicycle, not on a horse. This is from walking. So if I'm going to walk, I want to walk either on a footpath or in the open countryside, just cross-country, or on a small, quiet rural road. So I do tend to avoid the bigger cities, and this is all over, wherever I go, except if in a bigger city there is some particular shrine or beautiful cathedral or something of unique, historical interest, then I'll go there. But I don't linger, I just touch and go. I continue on every day. Every day I walk.
Guri: That's great. I feel like one of the really unique things about your past nine years is that you generally do a pilgrimage in the winter and then you're kind of back to "regular life." So I feel like our world is so fast-paced right now and to move from that to, as you would say, three-miles-an-hour pace -- how do you fit back in? And what do you feel like you're lacking in regular life, if anything?
Ann: Well, the reentry, those weeks and months after the pilgrimage, is always a very difficult transitional time. It's much easier to dive into a pilgrimage than to kind of come out of it. The first four pilgrimages, or really the three pilgrimages to Rome, to Santiago, then to Patras Greece -- those three -- each time I thought, "That's it. Just finish this pilgrimage, have the adventure and go back to real life. Go back to working." I was working in Europe for a long time. So go back to that normal life. But I couldn't. For whatever reason, I was really drawn not to go back to that life not quite yet. And after the fourth pilgrimage, Denver to Mexico City, I had to sort of run away from the world to have a good think. I went as far away as the Shetland Islands way north of Scotland with WiFi available to me and a computer available, and I say for two months there kind of figuring out what is the right path of my life because I really enjoy the pilgrim life and after Mexico, that transition back into normalcy really kind of hit me hard. The materialism, the commercialism, the noise, the noise, the noise, constantly. And the being in one place, not having that new view around the next corner. That was just too much, and after just even just two months back in Denver which was my base at that time, I went off to the Shetland Islands for two months to think about this. Am I a pilgrim? Or am I an engineer? Or is there some way I can make both happen? That's when tragically the Arab Spring broke out. It was very bad, all wars are, but it allowed me the opportunity, maybe I can get to Jerusalem by land, by foot. So I took that chance and I succeeded. It was not easy walking North Africa during their civil wars. It wasn't without obstacles or difficulties, but I made it, and when I arrived in Jerusalem, I just knew: I am a pilgrim for the rest of my life. And I also understood this to be, I am a pilgrim, a mendicant pilgrim. This is a kind of pilgrim without carrying any material things of value. It's really my small backpack with a blanket, some clothes, some toiletries, sandals, really bare minimum. Nothing, no money, no jewelry, no cell phone, no computer, no camera, nothing anyone would want to steal from me. This is my principle -- this is how it evolved into this. And then, so in one part when I was in Jerusalem, I realized I am to be a pilgrim but also to help other pilgrims, through whatever their pilgrim style might be, through even just encouraging them or helping them plan a pilgrim route or leading them on a pilgrimage. Part of my life is to help other pilgrims and to speak about it, to share about the pilgrim life to sort of armchair-pilgrim audiences or something like this. So I kind of go into a rhythm where I have my pilgrim season and, you know, whether it's a pilgrimage of three or four or five months, seven eight months or divided in a year or all at one go, but more than half the year I am a pilgrim in my solo way. But then the off-season is when I'm helping other pilgrims and preparing myself for my next pilgrimage. So when I'm not on pilgrimage based here in Denver I do have the opportunity to continue the pilgrim life even though I'm not moving and walking every day. I realized on my sixth pilgrimage, from Buenos Aires to Mexico City, 11 months, 13,000 kilometers, is too much for me. Everything, my clothing was falling apart, my boots were falling apart, my backpack was falling apart. I had every night virtually I was there sewing some repair. I became very meager. It really took a lot out of my body. I just couldn't, you know if I'm burning in the high Andes 5,000 calories a day, I'm a tiny woman. I can't eat that. I just can't, even if it were available, it's just too much. So I would lose a lot of weight. So I always fatten up before the pilgrimage and lose my weight during the pilgrimage and so I can't just be on pilgrimage around the calendar. So I do have to have a pilgrim season and an off-season. During the off-season, I miss the rhythm of walking all the time every day and getting up and moving every day, but I do have the opportunity to help other pilgrims with planning or leading them or, you know, just encouraging them, and this is kind of an important part to kind of continue the pilgrim experience even when I'm not actually on pilgrimage. This has definitely helped my transition, my re-entry after the pilgrimage.
Guri: That's great. One of the things that I find really phenomenal is that you walk without any money and, as you were sharing, you know of course if you're out there for almost a year, it's not just food and shelter but your clothes start to fall apart. How do you -- 1: How did you decide that; and 2: How do you take care of any sort of basic needs like toiletries, toothpaste or any medical emergencies. Can you share a little bit about what your experience has been walking without money in that sense?
Ann: Yes, and I'll answer your two parts in reverse order. How do I get things like the silly little toiletries or whatever? People ask me all the time -- perhaps not every day but nearly every day -- "Pilgrim, how can I help you? What do you need? Is there anything I can do?" And honestly, if I need toothpaste, I say, "Oh, I need toothpaste." And they will invariably reach into their medicine cabinet and hand me a half a tube of toothpaste and say, "Please take it." And I'm happy to take it. So generally this little toiletries, these small things, they just come. Whatever little things I need. I wear contact lenses. I need contact solution so often. I can go into any town of size, small city. If I go to an optometrist anywhere in the world and say, "I use this kind of contact-lens solution..." they give me the bottles of the trial size all the time. It's not an issue whatsoever. They're happy to help me out. And I don't feel that it's a burden for them. It's just, I ask and -- hey - I receive, just like it says in the Bible. So these sorts of consumable supplies I suppose. And the same does go with food. People always want to send me off in the day with enough food to feed the tribe for a week, and I'm like, "No, no, no, no. Just what I can eat today. That's all I want. My backpack becomes something of a pantry at times but I just try to only accept what I need. You know, this old adage "Beggars can't be choosers" is wrong. Beggars must be choosers because when you have things that you don't need, they become a burden and why would I want to be burdened by such things?" So if somebody would say to me, "Okay Pilgrim, you have to have some food for the day, but I don't really have anything, so here is the equivalent of $5 in whatever the currency is. So sometimes I decline. Sometimes I can't. They just make it impossible for me to say no. But now I'm burdened with that $5, but most importantly, and this is the first part of your question, money is really a danger. Not only is it a burden having to decide, "Well how am I going to spend my $5? Shall I get something with more protein or something with more calories or something that I can eat frozen?" I'm usually outside in the winter. So I have to make a decision now. If someone handed me a ham sandwich, I would accept the ham sandwich without a second thought. But now I have to think about, "Do I want ham, or do I want tuna fish?" It's a decision. But the other thing is, even if all I have is that equivalent to $5, if I go to a coffee shop and someone sees me with this money or two kids see me with this money, I'm really a small woman. I can't protect that. They'll think if I have that $5, clearly I'm a traveler then I must have more. I try to announce everywhere I go, "Hello, I'm a pilgrim. I have no money." But that doesn't work if I'm standing there holding the $5. So they'll think, some disreputable people out there might have bad thoughts and try to rob me because I'm easy pickin's, because I'm just small and I'm wearing clunky big hiking boots. I can't run. I can't really seed this. I can't protect myself in this way. So it's better to have nothing, and if someone says, "How can I help you? I don't have any food really for you to take but take this $5" I would be more inclined to say, "Thank you, no. I'll be fine" and then if I go out somewhere and if it turns out that I am hungry, and I usually am never hungry during the day, I'm busy walking. But I might get thirsty and in the winter I might just want to go into a little village shop and get warm, I'll sit there sparking the conversation. They'll say, "Hey stranger." I'll say, "Yes, I'm a pilgrim. I'm going to (whatever) shrine." They'll pour me a cup of coffee or tea. They'll offer me a biscuit or a sandwich. I don't ask. I don't really want it all the time, but I have to accept their generosity because I don't want to hurt their feelings. I want to allow them to help me on my pilgrimage, to participate in my pilgrimage in that way. So this is why the money thing, it's sort of foolish, and I learned on my third pilgrimage when I went from Kiev to Patras -- I went through six different countries with six different currencies, so I'd be having to change money all the time. Again, that's another burden and another safety issue for me. You can't change the coins and all of this. So it's better without. Again, I transitioned into this, I didn't think it all out ahead of time and say, "Now I will act." It just sort of evolved in saying, "Yes, now I have no money on me and I'm happy and I'm relieved and I have no stress." So it's better this way. The same with the jewelry. I used to wear a ring my grandmother had given to me and someone once said, "You know you can stay here but you ought to pay me something." I said, "Well I have nothing," and she said, "You have a gold ring." Not worth a lot, but, I was like "No. It's from my grandmother." So I kept my ring, but at the end of that pilgrimage I gave it to one of my nieces. It still maintains that sentimental value, but I understood. If I bring something into a community, whether it's money or jewelry, and somebody's even tempted to steal, the sin is mine. I should not have these things if I don't need them. I remember my grandmother whether I'm wearing her ring or not. There's no sense to it. That's how it became that way.
Guri: That's so beautiful. I feel like it's so empowering to think of money in that way. I also wonder, to have that sort of mindset where you're okay with whatever is given to you. I feel like there needs to be a certain sense of detachment where when you want a cup of coffee, you might not get it. You might get what you need but you don't get what you want.
Ann: That's right.
Guri: What are your thoughts on that? Have you struggled with that as you walk?
Ann: Well I definitely prefer a properly made cup of coffee than Nescafe, but if somebody offers me Nescafe, I will accept it and I'll remember, Well, this is what this person has to offer and I'm really happy. I'm really delighted this person's willing to share. So it's kind of a shameful thing for me to even think about having a higher standard in coffee or tea or something like this. I'm just so happy that I can be there, present in the moment with these people from such diverse cultures. I don't give it a second thought. I might give it a first thought: Oh, I was hoping for good cup of coffee, and I got Nescafe again. But it's just what I'm accustomed to. I had worked in Europe for so long. I had worked all around the US. I had never had such an attachment to like a family home or homesickness or any of those things. I had already a 20-year career that sort of buffered me and separated me from those sorts of things, so I don't know that I've the most common attitude towards this, if I have that, but I don't worry about - I'm not brand loyal. You can give me Crest toothpaste or Colgate toothpaste. I'm happy.
Guri: Not that brand loyalty or deep preferences, but what if you don't get any food? Have you had times where you're -- obviously you're walking so much throughout the day, so you're starving by the end of it I'm sure. What happens if nothing is offered?
Ann: Firstly, it rarely happens. It rarely happens that nothing is offered. It occasionally does. But I'm not sure about physiology and metabolism and all of these dynamics, but I can say if I'm walking all day long, I'll try to have a good sized but not a heavy breakfast in the morning and then just some pocket food during the day which would be whatever some nuts or dried fruit or a piece of fruit or something small that I literally keep in the pocket of my jacket. Just little food during the day. Then in the evening have a meal. But I'm never (literally) starving. It's not like a blood-sugar fluctuation. I have such a steady rhythm, steady output of energy, but not bursts of energy. I think that's one of the factors. So there are times when I'm just like, "Yeah. If you put food in front of me, I'll be happy to eat it, but if you don't, I'm kind of too tired to eat anyway. It'll be fine. I'll eat tomorrow."
Guri: I'll survive.
Ann: Yeah. If I skip a meal, really, it's gonna be fine. Maybe I'll eat my last bit of granola that I'm carrying with me because someone two days prior has given it to me, or I generally carry a few teabags with me or some ground coffee or -- it just depends where I am. If I have some sort of kind of reserve food, that'll be enough. A little snack. It'll be fine.
Guri: Great mental freedom.
Ann: Yeah, and I just don't worry about it. I think young men are different. Young men must eat. Older women, we just want to be sure we have a safe place to sleep and everything else will just work out. So I don't worry but really, people do want to help people. The easiest thing people can do to help another person is to offer food. So, like I said earlier, it's more often the case I'm trying to push people away. "No, I can't take that kilo of kielbasi you just smoked in the barn. It's too much." They'll still give it to me. Usually I'm pushing food away. It's rare (I go without) and it's rare that someone would not offer me something to eat.
Guri: That's beautiful. Simple.
Ann: Never been a problem.
Guri: Ann, you said that your journey started as a touristic pilgrim and slowly evolved to a spiritual pilgrim and ultimately progressed to a servant pilgrim. Can you share a little bit about what that means to you, especially -- the touristic I can understand -- then spiritual pilgrim and then progressing to servant pilgrim?
Ann: I can say the first two pilgrimages, the one to Rome and the one Santiago finished there, in Western Europe, every one there is some level of a touristic pilgrim because of all of the communities along the way. There are guide books. I didn't use a guide book, but there are guide books that kind of demarcate the trail and the accommodations available and all of these sort of touristic things. Just functionally, it's touristic.
Guri: The yellow arrows, I remember.
Ann: (laughs) And in Italy they're giant white arrows, so you can't help but kind of fall into the pathways of expectations, and I never carried a camera but people are all over with cameras and everything. These are touristic elements. But the third pilgrimage, as I mentioned earlier too, it really became more of a spiritual thing. It was, "Forget these touristic things. Forget the expectations both on my side and the host community side. They don't know what a pilgrim is the way any family in Spain will a pilgrim is and what a pilgrim needs and how to accommodate them or how to direct them." In Ukraine, it was not that way. So it really was far more inter-human experience, very much more a spiritual element, and I was staying more in Orthodox, there's Russian Orthodox and then Romanian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, these different kinds of monasteries, if they were around, so it was more philosophical and thought provoking for me. So these together might be the seeking part inherent in any pilgrimage. But once I had gotten to Jerusalem by the end of the fifth pilgrimage, I went to South American then across the US then back to Eastern Europe but from Helsinki down through the Balkans and ending in Rome, these areas also -- no common pilgrim tradition in modern times. It really was, I was understanding that it's almost more important for the pilgrim to arrive in whatever the community is at the end of the day, it's more important for those people to see the pilgrim, than it is for the pilgrim to see the people. The pilgrim needs a place to sleep, yes. But, the interaction between people, between cultures, it was just very remarkable. How many places in South America high in the Andes or in the Atacama Desert or the jungles -- so many places I went, so far off the beaten track was I, that I was the first white person anyone had seen. This was in North Africa too. I was in the tribal areas with the Berbers and Bedouins, the various Bedouin tribes. They had never seen a white person and to allow them to touch my skin and say, "It's okay. You can touch." And they'd never seen blue eyes and they say "Wow you must have so much light in your soul." It's beautiful. Or light, fluffy hair. They're just. I can see they're tempted, even the little boys, they're tempted to touch. (I say) "Go ahead, you can touch my hair too," because they've never seen anything like it. And how powerful that is for them, and so it is something of this service to go out in the world, with the attempt, making the effort to meet the neighbors of the world. All of the religions have "Love your neighbor as yourself." But someone's got to make the effort to go out and meet the neighbor, to be the other. When they say, "We've never seen a white person. We've never seen blue eyes. We've never seen light, fluffy hair...." Some places, "We've never seen an American. We thought you'd be bigger." (I'd say,) "No I'm very small but others are bigger. I'm not as big as most of them." To be the other that they might have heard about or had ideas about but now here they are sitting in their own hut. So that's a very empowering thing, but it is a service to say, "Yep. I'm just a person just like you and I do need a safe place to sleep tonight and I need some protection and I need some water and I need something to eat, just like you." So it really kind of reduces the bubble that we all want to have around ourselves. We're just people. We're just people. As a service, then.
Guri: Beautiful. Well after having walked through 44 countries meeting so many different people, cultures, religions, do you feel that there's something universally true across all people no matter where they live?
Ann: Oh yeah, for sure. With small children who just reach out and they just -- people are just people. And within the culture, people, like I say, everywhere, they want to offer food. They want to make sure I'm protected. This is a big thing too distinguishing what I do as a servant pilgrim going out. I do it alone. I mean, when I'm helping other pilgrims, that's a different thing. I'm sort of empowering them and helping them become future pilgrims on their own. But it's really important to be solo. But of course being a solo pilgrim, there's a greater sense of vulnerability. Well there's greater vulnerability. It's not only a sense of it, it is. There's a greater vulnerability. But I think people universally see, there's somebody vulnerable, and if I can dispel almost immediately any kind of threat - easy to do, a small woman -- if I can dispel a sense of threat, then it suddenly builds that trust, and trust is the foundation of peace and this is really the bottom line of it. Peace is universal. So I don't go with this mindset of going out into the world to build peace because you can quickly go into the arguments forever, "Well what is peace? Is it the absence of war? Is the absence of violence? Is it an internal serenity? Is it an obedience to God? What is peace?" We can discuss it forever. But trust is trust, and trust is between individual people. It's not between cultures. It's between people. So if I can build the trust, trust is the foundation of peace. Peace is universal. It cuts across every kind of culture or lifestyle or economic strata or educational strata. Peace is peace. So this is an important part of it, and I think if I'm alone, especially being so clearly vulnerable, in the winter if it's 40 below or in the jungle if the vegetation is growing as quickly as you look at it, people lean in toward me and kind of scoop me up, making a gesture to scoop (saying), "Come with us. Come where it's safe. Come where we can sit by the fire and have some warmth. Come toward us." If I were there with another person, whether it's a man or a woman, and we're speaking in a common language to ourselves but that's different than the community, that's immediate distrust. That's immediate suspicion. People would physically retract their shoulders back and point and say, "What do you think they're saying? Where do you think they're from? What do you think they're doing?" Instantly it's distrust that will have to be overcome. But I'm alone and I'm vulnerable, and so it just really greases the skids of trust very quickly.
Guri: I was thinking about -- it seems like most of the time things go well, but you've had your share of challenges. I remember reading an article that mentioned that you found yourself facing drug dealers in Mexico City I think it was. And I was thinking also about some of these places that you have traveled, just the trip from Buenos Aires to Mexico City, traveling through the Colombian jungles and through the Darién Gapin in Panama which no one -- you know, it's not for the feint of heart -- can you share a little bit about how you've gone through that. Does fear ever come up? Do you ever feel like, "What have I gotten myself into?"
Ann: No, I've never felt that. But I can say this, unequivocally, this is not bravado. Truly I have never felt afraid for my life. I've never had that sort of frozen heart sensation or that moment of fear. I've never had that on pilgrimage. Never. The two greatest challenges of course are the wilderness -- the terrain, the wildlife, these are inherent dangers, so control them. And the other major danger out there in the world, men with guns. Just bottom line, men with guns, be they soldiers or outlaws. It sort of doesn't matter. Men with guns are men with guns. The first story you alluded to was not in Mexico City, it was in the Chihuahua Desert just south of the US/Mexican border. In the desert, it's a vast desert, a vegetated desert -- lots of cactus and rock formations, not the kind of desert that you can see great distances. So I was far from the only one highway, the Panamerican Highway. I was far away from that, alluding to the safety -- stay away from the sight of the through-going traffic. So, just in the desert quickly, before I even, I couldn't see it coming, but a giant king-cab pickup truck with giant tires made for the desert sands with four mounted weapons in the back of the pickup truck, four men stationed there, four men -- they came up so fast. Four men go out, all of the men armed with automatic weapons like, I don't know, high-powered rifles with sights right at me, surrounding me, but also with pistols and the bandoliers. I mean they really looked the part. Eight men surrounded me so quickly in the desert. Couldn't run anywhere. Couldn't hide anywhere. But to me, there was no fear. The absurdity of it really me laugh. I mean, really? Eight men with guns? Really? For one woman? There's no one macho here.
Guri: What did you do? What was your response?
Ann: My response, without even thinking about it ahead of time. I didn't plan out that response because it happened too quickly, I just really -- I relaxed my shoulders. I smiled. I pushed the closest gun that was right in front of me, I mean, they were all literally pointing their guns at my head, I pushed the one away and I looked at the guy and I smiled and just said, "Really?" Because it really was over-the-top absurd. The four men on the ground and the four men in the pickup, all pointing their guns at me. "Really? Is that what you think it takes?" That was it, "Really?" And I smiled and I was calm. And we had a conversation and I was only learning Spanish then and so it was in Spanish but I was saying -- you know, they were saying, "Who are you? Where are you going?" Blah blah blah. (I responded) "I'm a pilgrim. I'm going to the shrine Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City." And they said, "That's too far. You can't get there." And I said, "Well I've already come from Denver. I'm almost at the halfway point." And they're like "Who else are you with? Where are all these people?" I said "No. I walk with the angels and the saints." They said, "That can't be." They were so incredulous about the whole thing that they themselves kind of relaxed. They put their weapons down and we were all sort of relaxed. And they were trying to aggressive saying, "Why aren't you afraid? Are you crazy?" Like literally, "Are you crazy?" I said, "No I'm not crazy. I'm a pilgrim." And they said - and this was the key -- they said, "Well, why aren't you afraid of us. We have weapons." And I said, "Look, I'm a pilgrim. My pilgrimage is either going to end at the Basilica of Guadalupe or it's going to end in Heaven. Either way, it's okay." And these narcotrafficantes were so rugged and aggressive and no doubt with sordid pasts. The chief among them just said, "Really? Okay. Hey Pilgrim, would you pray for us?" And I said, "Yeah sure, I have a little booklet to write the prayer intentions." And I did. all the way from Denver, and there were already 100 of them, more, prayer intentions written in Spanish in my little booklet. They passed that booklet around and they all wrote their prayer intentions, and they were beautiful things like "Pray for my little son Jose. I don't want him going into this life." This is what these narcotrafficantes were saying because they encountered a true pilgrim. If that were a fabrication, if I did not believe equally -- either my pilgrimage ends at Guadalupe or my pilgrimage ends in Heaven and either way, I'm okay with it -- then it would have fallen apart. But since then, with other men with guns I've encountered, certainly I have learned the savvy of it all. It's easy. If I try -- that's aggression. If I try to respond to aggression with aggression, oh come on. I'll lose. I'm 5-feet tall. I'll lose. No way. If I try to respond to aggression with defiance, well that will just irritate whoever the man with the gun is and, that's it. I'm dead. This is not going to work. Defiance won't work. If I respond to the aggression with fear, oh that's going to be worse. If they know that they have this sense of fear over me, they're holding me in fear, that's just going to feed their egos and feed their, whatever. It's going to be bad for me. The only real way to respond to aggression with success is to be relaxed and calm and smile and gentle and try to talk. And I do realize, if I can initiate the conversation before they can speak, if I can hold that conversation, start it, direct it, it's much better. And many times I've encountered other men with guns and difficult, dangerous situations and, again, I start the conversation and generally it's with a smile saying, "Hi. How are you doing? Hey do you have any water?" If I'm in a desert, I'm going to ask for water. If I kind of give them a task, you know, "Please get me some water, be my host," they'll do it and then they'll feel like they're contribution for the pilgrimage.
Ann: So, controlling the conversation, maintaining calm, but I can do that only because it is a true belief that either the pilgrimage ends at the Shrine or whatever or the pilgrimage ends in Heaven and, you know, it's a good place to end a pilgrimage too.
Guri: It is. You have to be really not, not be afraid of death.
Guri: Do you feel, when you have thoughts where it seems like you've been kind of facing it so many times, I can't imagine the stories you have from your pilgrimage. Have you ever felt like, "Okay this is, you know, if I was to go right now, this is not the time?"
Ann: Well, the only thing along those lines is if, some places where I've been and facing dangers, well "Today's a good a day to die as any other day, but I'm so far away from ...no one knows I'm here. I'm so remote. No one will know the story. No one will know how I met my end. They just will know I didn't make it to the end." I try to communicate through my blog or emails every couple of weeks, but there have been places where I've realized that if I were to fall off that cliff, or if I were to get shot by those bad guys in jungle, no one would find the body. No one would know. Sad, but I can't control that. That's just part and parcel to the adventure-pilgrim's life. It's not going to make me go only in safe areas with a little note or breadcrumbs, you know, "Here's how I met the end." But I have a strong faith, and I have a great devotion to the Catholic saints, so to me it's sort of like a party on the other side and they've all been watching me, and we'll have a great entry. That's a bit of an unknown for me, but it's not one that I'm afraid of going toward.
Xiao: Thank you so much Ann and Guri for sharing the stories. Sorry I had to interrupt. It's ten o'clock and I want to remind the listeners on the line, if you have any questions or reflections, please hit "*6" on your phone or you can email us: Ask@ServiceSpace.org and we can continue the conversation.
Guri: Thank you so much Xiao. Of course, I have tons of questions still but, but any time anybody needs to jump in Xiao, please feel free to let me know. You had spoken about faith Ann. I know you're a Catholic, but where does really your faith come from? Do you have a practice? What is it that keeps you so grounded through all these times. Every day is an unknown.
Ann: Every day is an unknown, yeah.
Guri: It's totally unknown and it's so obvious when you're on a pilgrimage. When you're not, you're fooled by life. You think every day is the same, but it's not. And I wonder, where does your faith really come from?
Ann: I've come to realize, without being instructed this way, but I've come to realize that I think faith is something like a muscle. The more I walk, the more I use the muscles of my legs, the stronger they become. And I'm out there every day in the unknown, every day, with some dangers, with uncertainty, but the faith part of it, like a muscle, gets stronger every day. If you use it, every day truly use it every day -- faith should not be something for an hour on Sunday morning -- nd when you use it every day, it's just always there. The strength of it is without question. There's no point of thought, "Oh I've got to pull on my faith now, I really need it now." No. It's there all the time and it's as strong as I need it to be and I'm confident about it, so it's built up over the pilgrimage. Before my pilgrim life, I was a Catholic, but you know, if mass were convenient, because I was living in Europe and traveling all around all the time for my job, I didn't have a strong parish (tie) - I wasn't centered in my parish. I was always making sure I got to mass on Sunday, generally, but it was a different kind of practice. Now I'm definitely strengthened in my Catholic faith, questioning it, but able to go into orthodox monasteries, or Catholic ones or even the Muslim centers when I was in North Africa, and sit and have an intellectual discussion about theology, like applied theology, because that's what I do. Though I have no background in the theory of theology, I've got a lot of practical application. So the faith comes from using it and recognizing it as an element. I can't go without it. The knowledge of the Catholic saints, knowing that these were people too who lived some time before, and their faith got them through, so I get it. Using them as an example, it strengthens my faith. Using my faith every day, knocking on a door and not knowing what it's going to be like on the other side of that door, but just having the confidence and serenity, the calmness, I'll deal with whatever happens. It'll be fine. It'll be adventurous. So, I'm okay.
Guri: That's beautiful. One area that I really wanted to know about out of my own curiosity is how you traveled through the Darién Gap in Panama. You know, as I said, that's not for the faint of heart. I was reading that there was an international jogger that ran through that area and he had six bodyguards running with him, and then I was trying to imagine you going through that. What was your experience like?
Ann: Well I would not have six bodyguards. That would just slow me down. And I would not recommend it. I don't want to say, "I did it. Everyone come on in, the water's fine." It was difficult. It could not be done from Panama into Colombia but (must be done) going from Colombia into Panama. I kept asking along the way, "I'm a pilgrim. I'm going to Mexico City. I want to keep heading north..." and I was asking priests, police, the military at points in Colombia, the officials, and they just kept directing me across some river, "...here, get in this mango boat, a canoe. They'll take you across the river, then you can continue on your way." And so I was being kind of directed and funneled upward until the last village of Colombia, rough area, and -- military checkpoint and he's just like "Good luck to you Pilgrim." And that was it. I was like, "Shouldn't you find, stamp my passport, that I'm leaving Colombia?" "No, no no..." Just waving me through. "No, no." And I got hooked up, with some as it turns out, human traffickers. I didn't really know that, but they were taking others through and so they did not encourage me to go alone. In fact, with the guns, they told me I could not. And I realized afterwards too that it's because it's really not all that difficult to head north. Just go north, you'll eventually hit Panama, but the Darién Gap I should say is something like 160 kilometers of no roads or no pathways or no official law or anything between Colombia and Panama. So, going through there, there were tribal people. The, I think, Kuna tribes on their houses there and they're visited periodically by Catholic missionaries, and there are these communities of, down there it's termed the "Afro-Colombianos." (Their ancestors were) runaway slaves from 300 years ago and they sort of just made these enclaves living in the jungle where no one will sort of bother them. The primary surface industry is mango. They collect the mangoes and mahogany wood, but then there's a lot of various drug trafficking, human trafficking, there's some paramilitary. There's all sorts of nefarious things happening there. But because I'm a pilgrim...
Guri: Back to that wildlife, right? Where were you staying?
Ann: In the tribal communities, first the Afro-Colombiano communities, so they're little assembles of huts on stilts. There are, in addition to the general snakes and poisonous frogs and piranhas in the water, because a lot of times it's just walking through water. They've inundated streams. But there's also some tigers. You hear them roar. I never saw one. "Tigra" I think they're panthers in English. But the monkeys were the most destructive and they're just irritating. But it was the men with guns that was the problem. But I did make it through and eventually left the little group that, these guys are just crazy. "What are you going to do? You'd shoot an American?" Sometimes I do get a little defiant. So I did say to this guy after the second day with them, "Go ahead. Shoot an American in the back and see how your life changes." And I walked away. And he didn't shoot me. But I was very close to the Panamanian side. I did get down to the Panamanian side, so I was deep in the jungle for many hours on my own without really knowing where I was going except heading north. There's really no pathway because it grows over so quickly, so it's just sort of an idea. "Now, is it a pathway of the human traffickers or is it a pathway from animals, it's hard to know." Just heading north. Then I did find a big river, crossed that river and encountered a Panamanian military encampment, asked where I was from. I said, "I'm a US citizen, I'd like a stamp on my passport." It's the first thing I did. They took my passport and kind of imprisoned me for several days. I had a lot of adventures. I did blog about this, so this is on my blog site. It's nothing anyone should do. I was detained for a total of 20 days. It did cost some money to get out, to be released finally from the final detention facility. The US Embassy had to get involved, but I was able in the detention to fatten up a bit. I had gotten very thin. So I fattened up a bit, made friends with some of the other inmates. It is nothing I recommend. Don't do it. Take a boat and go around. Really, it is not worth the bragging rights of having gone through the Darién Gap.
Guri: I have like a hundred questions to ask about that, but I think we've got several questions in the queue. So for now I'm going to hand it over to Xiao. Xiao, if you at any time run out of questions, please feel free to send Ann back over to me.
Xiao: Yes, Guri. Thank you. Let's go to the next listener online. Hello?
Nicole: Hi there, it's Nicole. I'm in the other room with Ann. I'm just so excited that other people get to hear the stories that I get to hear when Ann and I are hanging out when she's in Denver. One of the stories, or one of the perspectives that I really enjoy talking about with Ann is talking about when people say to you Ann, often I've heard you say especially in Latin America too that, "My life is a pilgrimage." I would love to hear your response to that, like what being a pilgrim, when people say, "My life is a pilgrimage" how do you respond to that? What are your thoughts on that?
Ann: Okay so that is quite a common question I get. It's not so much even a question, it's just a comeback, a response when they hear about what I do and then I can see the "wow" factor on their faces, but then they go, "Oh! Oh! No. My life a pilgrimage. Life is a pilgrimage in general and we're all on a journey together." And I kind of at first would think, Well that's very nice -- kind of fluffy, feel-good words to say. But I hear it a lot so I gave it more thought. What does that really mean? And I'm good. It's clear. Okay, if life is a pilgrimage, you have to know you're a pilgrim. And if you know you're a pilgrim, you have to know you're going to a destination and you have to want to get there. So if you have all those boxes checked instead of the kind of self-gratuitous "Yeah life is a pilgrimage and I'm a pilgrim." Know you're a pilgrim, know where your destination is, want to get there, and know what it takes to get in there. So if you are a Christian and you say you're on a pilgrimage of life and your destination is Heaven, okay. Figure out what it takes to get to Heaven, and it's pretty clear in the Book, a rich person doesn't get to Heaven. So if you're a pilgrimage and you're on pilgrimage and you want to get to your pilgrim destination and you interpret that to be Heaven, you better live you life so that you can get there or you're really not, you're making a farce of it all. If you're a pilgrim and you're going to Santiago it's because you want to get to Santiago. Do you know it takes to get there? Well you know it. You have your "credentiales" and you get a certificate at the end. Okay. There's the requirement. So alright, life is a journey. Life is a pilgrimage but then accept that you are a pilgrim. Define what that means for you and then know what it takes. Know where your destination is, how to get there and what it takes to get in. Then we're having a conversation. But none of the self-gratuitous "Oh yeah yeah yeah" that's not with thought. You know? You have to think about it.
Xiao. Thank you.
Nicole. Thank you. If there's time at the end, I'd love to hear the story of the Stone Soup that's connected that we were talking about yesterday. I know other people have questions. Thanks Ann.
Xiao: Thank you, Nicole. Let's go to the next caller.
Audrey: Hi Ann. My name is Audrey and I'm calling in from California. Thank you so much. It's been such a gift to hear all your stories. I kind of have two questions or maybe a two-part question. So feel free to answer one or both or whatever there's time for. One question was, when you're on a pilgrimage, I feel like you have so many hours to just be with yourself and, amidst all the incredible stories you've shared, I feel like there might be so many mundane moments or so many just long, drawn-out moments, so I'm curious. How do you process those moments? Or have you ever had the kind of question of you know, "Why am I doing this?" or "What am I doing?" How do you process kind of those mundane moments?
Ann: Well (to answer) the first question, I rarely have a mundane moment. I can't even really think of too many. I've had so many experiences in life. I mean, we all have. I'm 52 now. I've had 52 years of experiences that I can reflect on, draw on, re-contemplate, just life experiences that are always with me. Always. As an engineer, I think, and a creative engineer, I'm a non-lineal thinker, a non-sequential thinker. My brain can hold many thoughts in parallel and does all the time. My head is full of thousands of thoughts all the time and I let them all think. One part of my brain always must be concerned about navigation and topography. Where am I going? Am I going in the right direction? One part of my brain is always focused -- always focused -- on personal safety. Where are the men with guns? Where are the wild animals? Where is the edge of the cliff? So navigation always, safety always, security always, but then in the mornings my ritual is in the morning to read the Psalms of the day two or three Psalms, so there's always something in there that I can sort of extract and look at with fresh eyes every morning, just some little snippet of an expression that seems pertinent at that moment, that day, so I'm always sort of contemplating the Psalms on a spiritual level. Then, always parallel in my head, are the thoughts of the people I had maybe just left that morning or maybe had met the previous week or something and there's something about their story or their lives that really touched me and really require greater and more continued thoughts. So at any given time I'm thinking of lots of different things. So what someone may consider mundane I see as a great opportunity to allow my mind to think of things that are not exactly pertinent to that moment. If I am crossing the sand dunes of a desert, the view does not change for the entire day or even days, so I don't have that sort of visual distraction or input, but it allows my brain the freedom to go deeper into kind of existing thoughts. So I don't have mundane thoughts. I never get bored. I'm comfortable with my own thoughts, comfortable with my own experience, so I don't get bored. I don't need external distractions to keep my focus.
Audrey: Thank you. I have a second question, but Xiao, if there's other callers in the queue I'll let you go ahead.
Xiao: Audrey thank you and you can call back in again. Okay let's go to next caller.
Nipun: Hi Ann, this is Nipun. I'm calling from California also. Thank you for a really inspiring call. So many of your stories touch on so many wonderful themes. The question I have -- early on I think you mentioned -- it's actually a two-part question. Earlier on you mentioned armchair pilgrims and different kinds of pilgrims, touristic pilgrims and then spiritual pilgrims. Do you think it's a progression, or do you think they all kind of have their values at different points in your own personal journeys; and, what advice would you have for people who feel a calling to leave their current state of life and become a pilgrim? And coupled with that I suppose, one thing you have mentioned is that you consider it part of your calling to share this message with other people and perhaps you do that in your off six months. But the question I had was, how do you survive in those other six months when you're not on a pilgrimage? Do you have a job? Do you do other things? Or is it just kind of the same lifestyle but in a stationary context. So those are a couple of questions boxed into one.
Ann: Okay. I would say firstly, I found such great comfort and resonance with the kind of pilgrim life I've sort of created or evolved into. It's suitable for me. I don't feel though that I'm an expert in pilgrim life and can sort of dictate how people ought to be a pilgrim or rank different kinds of pilgrimage. You know, each for his own. But people should do what they're inspired to do. If they are called to be a pilgrim, they should kind of dial in again and find out what kind of pilgrim they're being called to be. There's nothing wrong with bus pilgrims or posh pilgrims, you know, the kind on Santiago who put their backpacks in the taxi and meet up with them at the end of the day. That's not the way I would do it, but I wouldn't say that's wrong. It's just not for me. So I think there's lots of room, a huge spectrum, very very broad spectrum, for the different kinds of pilgrims. You know, people should go through their life with thought and intent rather than just drifting, but it could be that it takes a pilgrimage to figure that out. So let everyone evolve at their own kind of pace. I'm very comfortable being a servant pilgrim, but for me it was a progression from something of a touristic pilgrim to a spiritual pilgrim,a pilgrim of faith, and now, definitely I'm a Catholic pilgrim. I don't think every pilgrim needs to be Catholic, but if I'm Catholic, I'm going to be Catholic. I'm not going to just sort of reserve it for something, an hour on Sunday morning. I'm fully a Catholic pilgrim. So, it's what works for me. People should do it however they want. Any advice I would give is to say something that everyone has heard forever: "Don't be afraid. Commit." The worse that can happen, you can just readjust your schedule or readjust your path if things just aren't working out. So just go for it, I would say. Don't be afraid. Take a chance and dive right in and be prudent but don't be bound to somebody else's way of doing things. I kind of get irritated when I'm taking people on pilgrimage and they say things like, "What am I supposed to do?" It's like, "You're supposed to do what only you want to do. If you're supposing to do something, you're trying to get on somebody else's path. There's no more room on my path. Get on your own path." So you know everyone should have their own way of doing it and not be afraid to go out and find their own expression of it and I encourage people to do it, especially people I run into, or people come to me. They're sort of in the mid-life range of things. They've been in their career for 20 years or something and they're feeling like they're on that hamster wheel and they've done everything right, but all they're doing is going around. This is how I became the pilgrim. I loved my job. I was very good at my job, but it was something of a hamster wheel. I made it a very exciting hamster wheel by working and living in Europe and traveling all over, but still it was a hamster wheel and I found this life, it works for me. Everyone's got to go and figure out their own way of doing things. I don't think my lifestyle is suitable for very many people because I don't have a family. You couldn't do this if you have a family. You can't say, "Honey, I love you. I'm going away for six months. I'm not going to call but good luck." That's not a family life. Same with the kids. You know, "Don't forget to take the dog out and bye." That's not a family life. So what I do is not for families. And then I have so many skills with regard to things like orienteering and navigation and competence in many different languages and not being concerned. If I'm in an absolute state of confusion, which I often am, I don't let it get me down. I can survive very comfortably in a confusing atmosphere. I just get on with my own thing. I don't get distracted by these things. And the men with guns, really instead of frightening me, they just annoy me. So I'm not afraid to say to young soldiers of the world who are conscripted soldiers, 19-years old, patrolling through the forest, they're not trained in "What do you do when you see a little woman coming with a backpack through the forest unexpectedly." They're not trained in me, but I know this and I have enough experience in life, enough savvy, to stand there in front of them, hands on hips, wagging my finger in front of them, "Young man, you will point that gun in another direction. I won't have this. There's no threat to you here. No behave yourself. You, call your commanding officer, we're going go see him. You, take my bag. Let's go." And they say, "Yes ma'am." If you don't have the savvy or the confidence, the strength of character to scold a young soldier the way he should be scolded like his mother -- for a woman you have to be at least as old as the soldiers' mothers or you won't succeed as a pilgrim, but you also have to have sort of the cockiness to get up to someone and say things like that. It's not for everyone. What I do, how I interpret pilgrimage, is for a very small margin of people I think. But it's not to say only my character person can be a pilgrim. You have to figure out your own. Do it. Don't be afraid.
Nipun: And in the off six months, what do you do? How do you survive when you're not on a pilgrimage like this?
Ann: In general it's not been a problem. I accept donations. People give me small donations. In the Denver area I do know a lot of people and people will say, "Oh do you want to house-sit for three weeks as we go off on vacation?" And small donations just for food. People would give me a gift card to Whole Foods or something like this, just a small one, just something that I need and that is consumable now. It's just these little things. I can't even say that there's anything regular or routine. But part of my pilgrim life and coming up the week after next coming up, I'm flying to Europe, to Rome, to meet four young men who are discerning religious life, and I will lead them on pilgrimage to Krakow. So in this way, it's sort of an off-season thing for me. It is a pilgrimage, but for me, I'm the guide of these other pilgrims. So, they've paid for my plane ticket to get over there, and we'll all be mendicants on the way, and they'll pay for my transportation back to the US. So that's taken care of, so little things like this. And my bar is so low, I really don't make many demands and then I get what I need. And I don't need much, so it just works out. But I don't work. Really I have made a personal decision to denounce material possession. I don't own a house. I don't own a car. I don't own a bicycle. I own my pilgrim clothes and some extra pilgrim clothes. Everyone who knows me now, I wear a high-visibility green top and a dirt-hiding black skirt. So I always wear the same kinds of clothes. I don't worry about it. I can go off on pilgrimage at any time. I never have to get up in the morning and think, "Oh, what do I want to wear today?" I am myself in discerning religious life, I've already discerned it. Now we're in the process of forming a Catholic Association of Pilgrims, service pilgrims, and I'm in the process of being consecrated in the Catholic faith as a pilgrim which hasn't been done before. So it's a little bit ground-breaking, and so we're in that process. It's going to take the amount of time it's going to take. So no material possessions; poverty, chastity, obedience -- the standard Catholic consecrated person's vows.
Nipun: Thank you. Thank you. It's a very inspiring life. I think it inspires all of us to kind of take a deeper look at our own lives, so I appreciate that. Thank you.
Xiao. Thank you Ann for taking us on this pilgrimage through your words of wisdom this morning. And there are lots of online comments that we don't have time to (share) but they are so inspired by listening to your words and inspired for their own lives. So we usually ask our guests the last question: How can Service Space, the larger community, serve you on your mission? How can we be of service of you?
Ann: Well, we do with the help of Nicole and some others locally here in Denver, we have developed the Society of Servant Pilgrims website. It's in development. We'll try to build it up. It developed this past winter while I was mostly away on pilgrimage, but now I'm taking some time to populate that. So there will be newsletters and updates. So as things develop, as needs arise, just as our pathway becomes more clear, it will be kind of captured there. http://www.societyofservantpilgrims.com/
Xiao: Thank you so much Ann. Thank you so much for taking us on a journey to vulnerability, trust and peace, and the peace as you said is universal. Thank you for those words.
Ann: You're welcome.
This article is a transcript of an Awakin Call conversation. It is community of listeners, who start with the idea that by changing ourselves, we change the world.
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