This post is by our July Pilgrim in Residence, Pat Loughery. This is the final post in a month-long series about Pat’s recent pilgrimage to Iona. Read the other posts in the series and learn more about Pat here. -Lacy
“In almost every area of life, humanity is being invited to turn its attention to reestablishing our original unity with the earth.”
John Philip Newell, A New Harmony
“He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and hear”
U2, “40,” a renewed Psalm 40
For much of my weeklong pilgrimage on Iona, I walked barefoot. I had packed hiking boots and thick socks which I used often, but I walked with my soles to the ground as much as I could, including from our arrival ferry to our hotel. It seemed important to me to be on Iona in humility and simplicity—to be grounded.
For the past 20 months or so, I’ve had chronic daily migraines. Where before I had a migraine once or twice a month at the most, in October of 2012 I slipped into a daily mode. I’ve seen a wide variety of health care practitioners in various fields—family and general practice, neurology, naturopathy, acupuncture, massage therapy, reiki, mindfulness meditation, aromatherapy. When you live with chronic pain, you try much of what is suggested to you, and along the way one of my practitioners suggested walking barefoot outside as much as possible, as a way of re-balancing my body’s electrical life.
I’ve done that fairly often, and enjoy it, though the migraines continue. I think mostly I enjoy it because it puts me in touch with my environment in a way that boots don’t. Literally. It also has slowed me down, made me more aware of the trail in front of me, and caused my kids to giggle when we’re out hiking and we hit a smooth-ish stretch and I gladly tear off my boots.
On Iona, I often was barefoot when outdoors. Again, it felt grounding, simple, mindful. Iona is perceived by many to have unique electromagnetic properties, and while that attribute of the island is outside my sphere of understanding, I wanted to experience all that Iona could show me. Bare feet seemed to help that.
Near the end of our week on island, perhaps as I was trying to make space in my luggage for two quart freezer bags of rocks collected from the island, I realized that I didn’t just want to take—or receive—from Iona. I was certainly taking wisdom, friendships, refocus, clarity in calling, stones and photos. I wanted to also leave something behind.
On one walk through the village, I saw a clothing donation bin which sparked an idea. What if I left behind my hiking boots? They weren’t in bad shape at all, and would be helpful to someone. And their loss would physically remind me of Iona.
So, on the last day of our trip, I walked from the hotel back to the ferry barefoot, boots carried around my neck. I quietly donated them before walking onto the ferry, and slipped on some running shoes when my toes had left Iona’s soil. Perhaps other pilgrims in our group noticed, but we didn’t discuss it. Everybody was in their own processing world as we left the island.
My week on Iona was too short, of course. I would return again today if I had the chance, and hope to return often. I will need new boots for that trip, but I hope that I spend much of my time there barefoot again, grounding myself in the presence of Iona.
What can you leave behind at this stage of your journey? What have you outgrown, or no longer find useful, or want to donate sacrificially? Share your response to these questions or Pat’s Pilgrim in Residence series in the comments.