I received a letter, photographs and family video of the Werner family’s long walk embracing Muslim hospitality, expansive landscapes and Dervish dancing.
Here is the letter printed below with photographs and family video from Nirmala of Germany. She and her family walked 801 kilometres through Turkey last summer.
The family kindly supported my wish to share their letter/photos/family video on my social media.
Nirmala made a 12-minute family video of their long walk-through Turkey showing the beauty of the natural world, challenges with tough walking conditions, stormy weather, rural hospitality, dancing dervishes and more.
Their remarkable pilgrimage has the potential to inspire others to go on pilgrimage in the wild nature as a break from the usual constructs of daily life.
A Dharma, mindfulness and yoga teacher, Nirmala and her family have attended several of our Dharma Yatras in France, as well as family pilgrimages in parts of Europe.
I am lying next to my tent in the garden of the neighbours of my parents. My cells feel heavy and hot with the Covid virus and while I am lying here, I finally follow the impulse of writing a letter to you. While our friends warned us. You can’t go travelling with the virus everywhere around. We caught Covid only on the day returning to Germany after a year of travelling.
We didn’t leave our home with the intention to walk. But that’s what we ended up doing a lot. Our pilgrimages for the four of us, Lukas, Jyoti (14), Petur (9) and me, were healing for us as a family. After having walked 310 kilometres to Santiago de Compostela in 2021 we decided to walk 801 km from Istanbul to Konya, to the grave of the Sufi-poet Rumi.
Photo shows family sitting at the Mevlana-Derwish-Complex upon arrival in in Konya.
I believe walking through nature, having so little with us, being close to animals, to life itself, started a shift in consciousness of our family and gifted us with a rich and healing time.
We walked through Turkey without even a tent, without knowing where to sleep, without knowing when we would get the next meal. With faith and joy in our backpacks. We often slept under the stars besides the fire laying on the earth, dirty and sweaty. How rich we felt. In 801 kilometres we only met one other hiker. He walked into us on his way from Egypt to England. That was a special moment.
In the beginning I didn’t believe that we would make it. I hope the kids wouldn’t be too disappointed making such a walk. At the end we did it! We walked 801 kilometres in 40 days and 40 nights starting in Istanbul on the rarely known Sufi trail with our 8-year-old son, who turned 9 on the trail and our 14-year-old daughter.
The pilgrimage ended in Konya, at the shrine of Rumi, whose love for the Devine and whose poetry accompanied us all the way. Konya was the final home of Rumi (who is known as Mevlana in Turkey) whose turquoise-domed tomb is a destination for pilgrims from all over the world. In 1273, Rumi established the Mevlana Sufi-order in Konya, which is well known through its Whirling Dervishes.
Our pilgrimage was an amazing experience, especially having contact with the generosity and hospitality of the Turkish people. This is mind blowing.
Have you ever walked through a tiny village and somebody reached out with a pile of filled pancakes from their window to give to you?
Have you slept on a park bench and people woke you up in the middle of the night to offer a meal in their home?
Nearly everybody offered us a bed and meal. This was an immeasurable gift, especially for my children.
When I’m travelling, I look up at the sky or look at the surrounding trees. I see so much beauty around.
I see in cities and towns mountains of rubbish, garbage, laundry machines, sofas, batteries, clothes, furniture, ovens, plus all that plastic, covering the streets as we travelled from Montenegro to Albania, Greece, Turkey and Georgia. I hear the workers on the street as they build more stuff and destroy more nature. It was heart-breaking to see so much destruction on Earth.
Walking through Turkey, we pass many polluted rivers. The connection between environmental disaster and eating animals became so real and true for Jyoti and Petur that they lost interest to eat animals, birds and fish and decided to become vegans.
I already am vegan for 23 years. Lukas, my partner, also decided on the pilgrimage to become vegan. All of them were attached to eating cheese and cow’s milk but the sights of chained and unhappy dogs touched them. We also walk twice past cows which were close to being slaughtered.
Recently, I finished a retreat in the south of France. The staff served lots of non- organic cheese from the supermarket. I could feel a strong reaction raising up in my heart, mind and body. Thankfully, I stayed with the intensity of my emotions, so they passed away after a minute or so.
I do want to be cautious trying to find a balance between anger/action and compassion and understanding. Why are they given cheese in an ecological retreat centre? Why do so many meditators still eat meat? I have my insight into interconnectedness we share with animals. This gave the impulse to stop using animal products. That doesn’t mean everybody understands our connection with the rest of the natural world or has the same values.
I have my shadow sides as well.
My Dear teacher, Thank you for all the inspiration you brought into my life. Thank you for giving me a little kick to start teaching the Dharma. Teaching also deepens my practice I’m still learning.
Hope your dearest ones are well and safe.
PS. On our pilgrimage sometimes we didn’t have food for a few days when there were no villages.
Now we are back home. There is a full fridge, lots of clothes and things to do. It’s harder for me to feel as rich.
Nirmala K. Werner
Nirmala is trained in transpersonal body-focused psychotherapy and combines embodied mindfulness, meditation and contemplative practices. She is authorised as a Dharma-teacher by Christopher Titmuss, and has been leading a School for Embodied Yoga and Meditation since 2008. Nirmala lives with her partner and three children in an eco-village in the North of Germany. Her website is at www.soulteachings.de.
Photo of Nirmala