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Road to peace

Peace pilgrimage tests the UK’s currency of kindness

Peace pilgrimage tests the UK’s currency of kindness

In June, the film makers behind Road to Peace set out to walk 200 miles penniless from London to Glastonbury. Celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday and spreading his message of peace, they were completely reliant on the generosity of strangers to survive. But is this kind of journey still possible in modern Britain?  Will Gethin, founder of Conscious Frontiers and fellow peace pilgrim, reports.

Vision of peace

Last month, I joined film director Leon Stuparich and the makers of a celebrated film about the Dalai Lama, Road to Peace, on a two week peace pilgrimage from London to Glastonbury, which we embarked on in the ancient Buddhist tradition – carrying no money and minimal possessions and putting our trust in the kindness of strangers to survive.

Road to Peace, winner of the AFME Social Impact Award, was released internationally earlier this year. The film followed the Dalai Lama around Britain on his last UK visit (prior to June 2015) and shares his vision of how we can create lasting peace within ourselves and on a global level.

The film was to be screened at Glastonbury Festival the same day as the Dalai Lama’s talk there on Sunday 28 June – and in celebration of his upcoming 80th birthday and UK visit, Leon and fellow film maker friends decided to take the film on the road, like modern digital troubadours sharing the Dalai Lama’s message of peace with free screenings at schools and faith, community and environmental groups, while also creating an interfaith dialogue around how to attain peace and happiness. And I was enrolled as scribe, helping spread the positive ripples into the world.

“Was the UK’s currency of Kindness strong enough to support this moneyless quest in a country so driven by material concerns?”

Will Gethin, Conscious Frontiers

First steps

Peace walk launch ceremony

Peace walk launch ceremony at London’s Tibetan Peace Garden

Following an interfaith ceremony at London’s Tibetan Peace Garden to launch our walk on Sunday 14 June, we set off, pioneering a new pilgrimage route to Glastonbury along the Thames Path and The Ridgeway, blending a mix of ancient and modern trails. Initially we were three pilgrims – Leon, Bethan Lloyd (assistant producer) and myself – while Rowan Matheson (co-producer) from Australia, was to join us further down the track.

So did we survive the blistering 200 mile journey? And was the UK’s currency of Kindness strong enough to support this moneyless quest in a country so driven by material concerns?

Our first tentative experiments with human kindness proved challenging. Following the preliminary 18 mile walk across London we reached Hampton Court exhausted, six miles short of a promised home to stay in further along the Thames Path. A taxi driver brutally dismissed our appeal for a free lift, our attempts to attain free accommodation in local pubs were rejected and we ultimately pitched tent on a river bank by the busy main road.

I loved that first night, cuddled up in our sleeping bags, just a thin canopy veiling us from the elements on the edge of London, with the constant bittersweet hum of traffic, and all the unknown adventure of our pilgrimage lying ahead.

Overcoming adversity

Will Gethin blisters

Author Will Gethin nurses his blisters

From the second day onwards, the current of kindness flowed consistently in our favour, and some of my most memorable experiences of the incredible spirit of generosity we encountered followed the dramas that were to blow up in Reading on day three. Thanks to my careless schoolboy error of embarking on this pilgrimage in brand new, unworn walking boots, my feet were severely blistered by the time we reached the city after close to 60 miles of walking, I could barely move, and the prospects of my continuing the walk looked questionable. And when Bethan then fell violently ill with gastroenteritis at our screening of Road to Peace with Reading Climate Action Group, duly spending half the night in A&E, a local musician, Michael, generously volunteered to accommodate the three of us overnight, before we three pilgrims were forced to split the following day.

Bethan left to recuperate at her parents’ house, Leon soldiered on solo, and I stayed in Reading to rest my feet. Determined to keep up the moneyless quest, I headed for the Global Cafe, a social enterprise and world music cafe I was told would be sympathetic to our cause. Awkwardly requesting just “free water and wifi” at first, I spent the day there intensively working on a blog – but by 7pm I was starving hungry, and starting to feel survival anxiety I mustered up the courage to approach a waiter and explained my moneyless quest.

peace pilgrimage

Walking 20 miles a day took its toll

“Wow – sounds like Satish Kumar, what a legend!” he grinned. “I recently heard about his amazing 8,000 mile peace pilgrimage, what an incredible story!”

And when I informed him, Dan, that I worked closely with Satish and his Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, my safety for another night was secured.

“I’m looking for somewhere to stay,” I began tentatively…

“You can stay at mine,” Dan said without a moment’s hesitation, “it would be an honour.”

I was duly plied with delicious Ethiopian food and a large mocha coffee, and given extra food to take away. Later, Dan urged me to treat his home as my own. “I’m delighted to help, stay as long as you like,” he said.

Walking out of Reading the following afternoon, my blistered quickly feet became sore again, so I resorted to hitchhiking up to Castle Hill Fort to rejoin Leon on The Ridgeway, striking lucky with one remarkably generous lift that took me nearly the whole way, about a 90 minute drive, and in completely the wrong direction for the driver.

“Stumbling upon spectacular Neolithic long barrows and carvings of White Horses, it felt enthralling to walk in the footsteps of pilgrims of old.”

Will Gethin, Conscious Frontiers

Peace walk last leg

The peace walkers on the last stretch of their pilgrimage

And here on the Ridgeway, the magic of the journey really began. Walking high on the ancient ridged track with Leon past magnificent, wild- green open spaces and gently undulating hills, the air was alive with birdsong and buzzing insects and there was a barely a human soul around. Stumbling upon spectacular Neolithic long barrows and carvings of White Horses, it felt enthralling to walk in the footsteps of pilgrims of old.

Given my blistered feet, I actually expected to have to withdraw from the pilgrimage that day, but I kept walking! And supported by an endless tide of kindness, we were carried all the way to Glastonbury on Saturday 28 June. By then reunited with Bethan and joined by Rowan, we arrived a band of four.

Peace walk

The peace walk pilgrims at the foot of Glastonbury Tor. Left to right: Rowan Matheson, Bethan Lloyd, Will Gethin and Leon Stuparich

“What was really surprising was how people were really taken by the message of Peace and everyone was very generous on the way to support that,” Leon told Clare Balding on Radio 2 the following morning.

And nowhere were people more taken by this Peace message than in Glastonbury, where the mayor, local dignitaries and about a hundred people showed up to commemorate our journey’s end and help us celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday, joining us for the final steps up to Glastonbury Tor, where we completed our pilgrimage with a World Peace Ceremony.

An ice cream man parked at the foot of the Tor was to provide a fitting ritual act of kindness, bestowing free ice creams for us peace pilgrims as we made the final ascent!

www.roadtopeacefilms.com

CV
Will Gethin

Will Gethin is founder of Conscious Frontiers, a leading edge communications, speakers and events agency, recently nominated for Kindred Spirit magazine’s Ethical Business Award 2015. He has also worked as a holistic explorer and travel journalist writing for leading newspapers and magazines, from the Independent and the Evening Standard to Resurgence & Ecologist and Yoga Magazine. In addition, he has produced numerous holistic events, including the recent and highly acclaimed FutureNOW spiritual ecology conference in Bristol, and the Conscious Frontiers Programme at Sunrise Festival, which hosted one of the first screenings of the film Road to Peace.

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