Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia and Sudan
Early in my year of pilgrimage in Latin America, I began to experience a keen interest in the region and religion of Islam. In a bookstore in Mexico City I bought four books about Islam and its history. Interspersed with all the research readings of pre-Colombian archaeology that I was doing while traveling, I read each of these books as well as additional titles I found in other South American bookstores. While physically present in the western hemisphere a growing part of my mental attention was in the Middle East and North Africa. I was fascinated by the region, magnetically drawn there. Months before completing my travels in Latin America I knew with a certainty that I would soon begin exploring the Islamic world.
Back in the states, I went to stay with some friends in Sedona, Arizona. During a ten month period, to make a bit of money, I taught a four month series of Nomadics classes, did several slide shows around the states, and focused intently on studying Islam, reading more than 60 books in the process. Then, beginning in Malta, I made a half-year journey through Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, and Sudan to visit and photograph more sacred sites for my global documentary project. Mostly my steps lead to Islamic pilgrimage sites as that is the dominant religion of the region and I also visited several pre-Islamic, native African holy places and the old Christian sanctuaries of Ethiopia.
From the beginning these travels were a study in contrasts. Arriving in Malta I got a bad head cold, which progressively worsened as I moved through north Africa; in Timbuktu, Mali I was beaten by the local police and thrown in a filthy jail; and in Ethiopia I came down with my third case of amoebic dysentery. At the same time I was treated with the greatest courtesy by the hundreds and hundreds of Islamic villagers, shopkeepers, bus drivers and other people I contacted along the way. With a desire to study Islam from the inside I had completed a formal conversion process to that religion in Rabat, Morocco. Next I had spent three weeks living and studying with a strict Islamic family in Fez, Morocco in order to learn the proper method of prayer to be used inside of the mosques. This personal familiarity with Islamic religious practices alongside my ever growing knowledge of Islamic history, culture and society opened many doors to me that would otherwise have been firmly closed. Everywhere I traveled I was treated with the greatest respect. I feel quite comfortable in asserting that the religion of Islam produces at the street level and in the villages a person as kind and hospitable as can be found anywhere on the earth. This may come as quite a shock to western people conditioned by the Judeo-Christian media apparatus to misunderstand Islamic culture.
Upon my return from Africa, I spent several months organizing, promoting and presenting my eighth slide show tour, which visited the Texas cities of Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Dallas. The title of the tour was Power Places, Movement Meditations and the Evolution of Consciousness. In addition to my usual program of showing hundreds of slides of sacred sites around the world, I began each evening with a short demonstration, discussion and audience participation of the Nomadics exercises. I also gave half-day Nomadics workshops in each of the cities. Following the Texas tour, I gave similar presentations in Arizona, Ohio and Indiana. Throughout these travels around the United States I carried a lap top computer with which I added more information to my web sites sacredsites.com and nomadics.net. These web sites, like the slide shows and Nomadics workshops, have as their fundamental concern the evolution of consciousness.
The idea of including the Nomadics material along with the sacred sites information during my evening presentations had been developing in my mind for several years but I had been unsure of how to combine the two subjects in a way that would make sense to my audiences. During the long months of my solitary travels in Africa I often reflected on this matter. It was clear that a common denominator of both the sacred sites and Nomadics material was their relation to the central concern of my life, which is the awakening and evolution of human consciousness. Throughout thirty years of movement studies and twenty years of visiting power places around the world I had been seeking methods for purposely and consciously accelerating the rate of evolution or the speed of development of my own consciousness. Over these years, as I grew from a young boy to my late forties, there had been several different ways I had articulated the goal of that search – I was intensively involved in the search for that mysterious thing called spiritual awakening, enlightenment, nirvana, satori, nirvakalpa samadhi, moksha, the realization of god, and divine illumination.
During my time in Africa it became clear to me that I had gathered enough knowledge and experience in the methods of these attainments, and that it was time for me to start offering this knowledge to the people of the world. Therefore the slide shows and the Nomadics classes, in addition to presenting the particular subject matters with which they are associated, became vehicles, or platforms, for me to begin to express the primary concern of my life and studies and work. This concern - for me it is really an absolute obsession - is how can we individual human beings awaken and super-charge our spiritual consciousness, attain freedom from egoic identification, and recognize our non-separation from the essence of the universe. It is my personal experience that we may attain these goals by visiting power places and by doing the types of movement meditations contained in the Nomadics system.
Nearing the end of my long pilgrimage: the Middle East, the Caucasus, Iran, Russia, the Baltic states and Scandinavia
After several months of giving slide shows and Nomadics classes around the United States, I got back on the pilgrim’s trail. Flying across the Atlantic, I began nine months of travel to the power places of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and Poland. This journey, the twelfth of my long pilgrimages, had two regional and thereby religional focuses. The first half of the travels, through the Middle East, the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia, would allow me to continue my studies of the sacred places of Islam. The second half of the journey would round out my research of the Christian tradition with the inclusion of Russian Orthodox, Baltic and Scandinavian holy places.
Beginning in Jordan, I visited the Nabataean ruins of Petra and the Islamic shrines of Jebel Haroun and Jebel Musa. Then, after giving a slide show and Nomadics class in Jerusalem, I spent a week in and around Damascus, Syria. The Great Mosque of Damascus is one of the most significant sacred sites in the world in terms of the variety of different religious cultures that have used it over the ages. Long ago there was a Aramaean temple of the God Hadad and the Goddess Atargites. Upon the foundations of these Aramaean sanctuaries the Romans built a massive temple of the god Jupiter. Centuries later the early Christians erected a church of St. Thomas directly upon the Roman temple of Jupiter. And finally the Moslems built the Great Mosque in the exact same location, incorporating elements of the three previous structures. Great numbers of people have come on pilgrimage to these different shrines and the psychic energetic imprint of their presence is still potent at the site.
From Syria I entered Lebanon in order to visit and photograph the ancient site of Baalbek and then made my way to Turkey for more than a month. During this my second journey to Turkey I did not visit Istanbul but kept to the more remote mountains of the central and eastern regions. Again I made pilgrimages to both pre-Islamic and Islamic sacred sites. I went to ancient sacred mountains, healing springs, Hittite sanctuaries, Roman temples of Aphrodite, Sufi shrines, and the burial place of the ecstatic poet Rumi. Along the way I gave several slide shows in larger cities. Traveling extensively by local transportation around different parts of Turkey and throughout the Islamic world I continued to notice distinct cultural personality traits from country to country. Given this planet-spanning view of the so-called ‘Islamic world’ I understood the impossibility of hoping to include all of that multi-cultural phenomena under one convenient label. From Indonesia to the Middle East to West Africa I have experienced the rich variety of Islamic people and cultures. It is a religion that includes certainly as great a collection of different peoples as Christianity. And equal to that diversity of people is the beauty of their spirit. Similar to my months of traveling in Islamic Africa the year before, I found hospitality, generosity and openness wherever I went.
Departing from Turkey I flew further east to the Balkans for two months of travel in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. In each of these three quite different countries with distinctly different languages I visited a mix of archaic, Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic holy places. It is a region little visited by western travelers and it retains a fascinating degree of exoticness. The food is delicious, the vodka powerful, the dance exciting, and the scenery beautiful. I could write a hundred page book about the kindness of the people and the many favors they did for me. But there was difficulty too. One night in Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, I was attacked and brutally beaten by three muggers in the night. They knocked me unconscious with multiple head impacts and damaged my ribs by kicking them repeatedly. For the next three weeks my face was swollen and purple, which made for some interesting stares as I continued my travels.
Exiting from Azerbaijan into northern Iran I began five weeks of pilgrimage in that enchanted country. Years earlier I had been to Iran but had only stayed in the capital city Tehran. This time, with an English speaking guide and the permission of the government, I explored the far reaches of the mountainous country and gained access to Shiite Islamic shrines rarely visited by westerners. Some of the Islamic sites were Imamzadis, or shrines of the relatives of the Shiite Imams, while others were mausoleums of Sufi saints. In addition to the Islamic sites I also photographed several sanctuaries of ancient Zoroastrianism. While traveling in Iran and visiting its Islamic shrines I read several books on the Shiite sect of Islam, which is different from the Sunni sect practiced in most of the rest of the Islamic world. On another part of my web site I have written extensively of Shiite Islam and its particular pilgrimage traditions. Departing Iran, I flew to Uzbekistan for three weeks of exploring and photographing both pre-Islamic and Islamic holy places.
From Uzbekistan I flew to Amsterdam to begin a study of sacred sites and power places across Scandinavia, through western Russia, and into the Baltic countries and Poland. The writings and photographs from these travels are fully available on the sacredsites.com web site. While traveling in these regions I focused even more intently than I normally do on daily sessions of meditation practice and, especially, on an all-through-the-day focus of self-inquiry. Riding on slow buses, spending time at the shrines, or sitting at local restaurants, I gave hours and hours to observation of my mental phenomena. Thoughts, emotions, moods - with a relentless and laser-like focus; I examined their birth, life, and death in my mind. Upon the arising of such mental activity, I would ask myself the following series of questions:
Where did this thought come from?
Where does it actually exist in my bodymind?
Where will it go when it is gone?
Who is this me that is bothered by this thought?
Who is asking these questions?
Who is watching this whole process?
The trick with this meditative technique is to inquire into these questions over and over again, each time the mental phenomena arise in the mind. This is not simply a matter of occasionally wondering about the source of mental dramas. It is a much more concentrated introspection than that. It is purposely using the minute to minute arising of individual thoughts as objects for the examination of our mental terrain. By doing this we will slowly but truly come to see that we are not these thoughts or moods, we will stop identifying with them, and we will find a pre-existing freedom within our being. Something bothering you mentally, such as a thought or a mood, will vanish when it no longer has power of influence over you. This will occur only when you have finally penetrated to the depths of your being where the tendency of mental bother issues from. It is not a matter of trying to stop the arising of disturbing mental phenomena but of finding freedom from being influenced or tricked by them. Locate and intimately know the source of the mental tendencies in your mind. Anger, meanness, dishonesty, arrogance, selfishness; go to the source of each of these in your being and you will then be free of them.