After York, we passed the ancient Roman Hadrian’s wall into the territory the Romans labeled “too barbarian for settlement” at the dawn of the first millennium. Scotland is actually an island which only recently (in geological time) crashed into England after starting millions of years ago at the South Pole before moving north past the equator and finally ending up in its current location in the North Sea. This travel transformed the land through ages of lush forests, arid deserts, and bubbling volcanoes. The resulting landscape is stunning. We started our tour of the country in the capital city of Edinburgh. The city’s namesake castle is nestled atop an extinct volcano while in the city proper narrow allies shoot down the streets offering endless exploration. We caught up on history at the wonderful Museum of Scotland and walked along the coastline to the tiny village of Cramond while staying on the seaside with our CS hosts Katey and Nick. We also hiked to the top of the city’s other extinct volcano, Arthur’s seat, for beautiful views of the surrounding area. Finally, we immersed ourselves in the Knights Templar and Christian paganism with a visit to Rosslyn Chapel, made uberfamous (and ubercrowded) by the Da Vinci Code novel and movie.
From Edinburgh we decided to relax on the constant planning and booked a 5 day tour of the highlands with a company called MacBackpackers. The tour was an amazingly in-depth experience with our guide Neil telling us wonderful stories of Scottish history and folklore while leading us on hikes throughout the highlands. Our first day saw us visiting the William Wallace monument before traveling through Glencoe, a beautiful mountainous region haunted by the massacre of the MacDonald Clan there over 300 years ago.
Sunset at Skye Bridge
From Glencoe, we headed to the “winged” Isle of Skye on the west coast of Scotland - one of the most beautiful islands in the world and origin of the Clan McLeod (a name I have loved since watching the Highlander Movies as a kid!). Here we heard stories of the Scottish Warrior Queen Scáthach and her enchanted creek, Cú Chulainn the Invincible and his always true spear, the Old Man of Storr and how he was tricked into dancing on a Sunday, and the Giants grand party at McLeod’s table which led to Arthur’s seat being thrown to Edinburgh. We also heard of the magical creatures in faire glen, and how they fled for better fortunes in distant lands as humans slowly stopped believing in them. All these myths were only bested by the landscape, which strikes awe into even the most cynical soul. High above the Quiraing in Skye, Neil showed us how to make a broken spector, a phenomenon where the sun’s rays shining behind you shoots your shadow onto the clouds below and shrouds your shadow in a glorious rainbow. Together we waved, basking in this brief ascent towards heaven.
This glimpse of our inner divinity got me thinking about the age old practice of confession. While today the word confession holds strong religious connotations that may turn off many, it is a concept that should not be lost to time like the fairies. Reb Anderson, one of the teachers in the Suzuki Zen Lineage who we studied with, reiterated the importance of confession as a way to unveil the blind spots of the ego that cause so much pain for ourselves and others. These blind spots are usually ingrained patterns that we don't notice easily, but that others do. If others bring them to your attention, they can be used as points of awareness in the future. Also, when you inevitably repeat the same mistakes (we are human after all), the act of confessing them to a friend, loved one, or a teacher, brings awareness to them and invites that person to help you bring awareness to these patterns. Bringing these habits out of the dark and into the light of awareness is the beginning of freedom and crucial to any spiritual practice.
At faire glen, there is an ancient spiral formation below the faire castle (see above picture) where a unique opportunity for confession arose. Legend has it that you can walk into the spiral while confessing the aspects of your personality that cause pain for yourself and others. You then walk out of the spiral while affirming your intent to be aware of those aspects of yourself and to behave in a different way. If you do this wholeheartedly, it is said that the negative energy will be left in the center of the spiral.
I walked the spiral, and I can’t say for sure if my negative energy was left behind. But in the spirit of confession I just spoke about, I decided to share my walk through the spiral with you. As I walked inwards, I said, “sharpness in tone, interrupting others, eating my food too fast, being critical of others, complaining, and diminishing life through worry.” As I walked outwards I said, “speak gently, chew slowly, be generous in word and action, remember that life is only in a hurry if you are.” I must admit that as I walked away from the spiral, I felt certain lightness in my step and in my heart. Was it from the spiral or from the powerful act of confession? Or both?
The rest of the highlands were as wonderful as Skye, though time doesn’t permit me to elaborate on everything. In brief summary, we hiked through 8,000 year old forests over Loch Marie, learned the Scottish dance Strip the Willow in the lively bars of Inverness, and mourned the Highland Clearances that would come after the pivotal battle of Culloden. After that we visited a local scoth whisky distillery, an old aristocratic nature park called the Hermitage, 8,000 year old standing stones from a lost civilization and the beautiful town of St. Andrews with its old castles, cathedrals, and the creation of modern day golf.
Neda and I found our trip through Scotland to be tremendously moving at a spiritual, aesthetic, and cultural level. See all the wonderful pics of our journey through this land here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjAxNY1s