In Conversation with Ilse Van Baalen
“We are the ones we being waiting for” – Hopi Elders
“Walking as One creates space for people to connect with the Soul of the Earth
and all of her many kingdoms
We enable a new way of living by stepping into our purpose
as True Custodians of the Earth
Stepping onto African Soil, Sacred Soil, and Walking as One,
May be the best gift to help serve our beautiful planet in these difficult times”
I first met Ilse when we were both students of Leslie Temple-Thurston teacher training program. Ilse has a soft warm disposition that exudes wisdom. Doing this interview with her was such a pleasure and makes me so proud to be South African.
Prem: Can you give us some background on how “Walking as One” came into being?
Ilse: After walking the launch of the very first Cape Camino in April 2015, I was very inspired to use their 150km route, in the form of a figure 8 around the beautiful setting of Table Mountain and the Cape Peninsula, as a classroom. Nature has always been the place where I learned my most valuable lessons. And reconnecting with nature, plants, animals, trees, the elements, stars, planets and Mother Earth Herself, is for me the most powerful way to understand where I originally came from and how to live in a more conscious, healthy, earth friendly and preserving way….
Tapping into the diversity of the South African Rainbow Nation (all races, nationalities, ages, interests) walking and working together and by doing so, reestablishing our love for Mother Earth and all her kingdoms that share this planet with us, forms the foundation for “Walking as One”
We walked he first Camino as a very diverse group from different cultures, backgrounds, religions and some people with who had disabilities, but despite our differences and diversity we connected deeply and formed close bonds in a very short space of time. I was inspired by the possibility of bringing people together in this way on a more regular basis. I feel that the beautiful mountain, the history that has played out here in South Africa, the diversity of people that live here and the breathtaking beauty of the area spoke deeply to my heart and my vision.
Prem: Walking is seen as a spiritual practice in many mystical and religious traditions – how do you interpret “Walking as Spiritual Practice“?
Ilse: So many things can happen in so many different ways while walking and it meets each person where they are at. It feels like you do not need a therapist or anything or anybody outside of yourself to create what you need. When walking, it helps each person to connect to the innermost part of themselves and that brings up what is needed for each individual and it can influence and transform each person’s life in the most profound way.
Prem: The Camino in Spain is often described as taking a holy pilgrimage. What are your thoughts about “pilgrimage” and how would you describe a “pilgrim“ in today’s world?
Ilse: For me I walked the Camino in Spain as a Sacred Journey for connecting more deeply with myself and my process through life. I did it with a group of 16 people and we walked 320km in 21 days, each day we focused on one of the 21 Major Arcana cards of the Tarot. It was a very “conscious” walk, which I did not only for myself, but also for my family, as all 3 of my children joined me on the journey. Walking on this route that so many people have walked consciously, immediately places you in a space of deep connection. My journey unfolded with deep connections to past lives, especially in the Roman Catholic Church and also showed me how different time lines came together in our family; we were given the opportunity to deal with and heal some of the karma we as a family were working with in this life.
Sometimes I walked alone and could connect deeply with what was going on inside of me and some days I mingled with other members of our group or with my children – our group did conscious meditations and group sharings everyday. I also sometimes connected with people from other countries and could learn and experience so much about their worlds. A pilgrimage is not just about what happens on the walk; for me the process, healing and insights continue to unfold in the days, months and years since I walked, as I integrate and see where I came from and where I am going…
For me a pilgrimage is about deep personal transformation and allowing that transformation to happen. So much of my “stuff” comes to the surface when I am walking or when I am in nature, and this brings transformation in a way that is not connected to anybody else’s process, paradigm or belief system.
Prem: The Land is a Living Being……….in many traditions The Earth is seen as The Great Mother, a Magnificent Goddess. Can you speak how reconnecting with the Earth, this Great Mother can help us reconnect to our own place and sense of belonging in the tapestry of all life?
Ilse: I feel, for me, the best way to help the Earth, is to deeply reconnect with nature and all her kingdoms (plants, animals, minerals, elements, planets…). For most of us it is hard to look at what we did to create the Earth that we know today. With Compassion and Taking Responsibility for own actions we can make a difference and for me it can only happen if we have that deep love and connection with the Earth as our Mother.
Prem: In a world divided by extreme separation and deepening schisms – how does “Walking as One” contribute to the healing of the intense schisms present on the planet today?
Ilse: I think South Africa carries a lot of the “separation karma” of the world, it was openly written in our apartheid constitution and the whole world knew about it. I suspect that caused a lot of projection on South Africa from other countries. Now, however it feels like people of every country need to face that “big separation” wound from our Creator, our Fellow Earthlings, and Ourselves, within themselves.
One of the incentives of “Walking as One” is to bring people of different cultures, financial backgrounds, religions etc. together. We have made connections with the local Khoisan people who act as guides on our journeys and they take us on walks through their settlements, while sharing their wealth of knowledge of indigenous plants and herbal medicines with us. As they are part of the local communities they create a safe space for visitors to meet the local people in their own environments. Sharing their hearts and deep love and connection to Earth with us, opens doors to bridge the huge separation that was created by our laws and previous constitution.
We also include different places of worship on our route, like Buddhist retreat centers, Kramats, Roman Catholic Churches, Sufi Centers, and other Churches of interest. We all share and pray together and experience that Love is the only ingredient needed to bind us all together. As we walk through the poorest and the most wealthy areas in the Cape, the people that walk the journey are invited to see that inside we are all driven by the same Source and so we can gently let go of any judgement or programming that we grew up with.
Prem: How do you connect the Truth of Oneself with the Natural World – what can Nature teach us about our own Essence?
Ilse: By observing Nature and watching how plants and animals operate helps me to trust in Divinity and to surrender to the greater plan. Birds, for example know when the winter is coming and that they need to migrate to warmer parts of the world; they do not try to control their lives the way humans have learned to do through eons of deep seated programming. Animals, plants and trees live in the “now” and just act according to instinct, doing what they need to do. A monkey does not try to act like an elephant or like a bird. They truly live what they came here to do. If humans can trust and be connected like they are, we can let go of much of our worries and expectation of outcomes.
During a recent journey within South Africa, an elephant in the Addo Elephant Park in Port Elizabeth told my friend Malathy: “I remember you.” He also communicated to her that we have lost much of our mystical nature and that we can ask them to help us remember……..
I also feel “great trust” when I watch the sun go down in the evening…..knowing that no matter what, tomorrow morning it will rise again.
Prem: What would you like people to experience through “Walking as One” as a metaphor for the larger narrative that we are experiencing as a human race?
Ilse: A big thing for me is to break the divisions or the boxes we have placed ourselves in. To learn to deeply accept and respect each other, no matter what our religious beliefs, social standards or backgrounds, skin color or culture are. To be able to learn from each other and see the truth of everyone without wanting to change them to be like me, so that I can feel more comfortable. When we “Walk as One” we can hold hands as our unique selves and bring our soul gifts to the table without competition and in that way strengthen the whole group.
To really see through the eyes of creation, that each person holds a part of the whole and that there is no need to try to be anything else but ME and that we can walk together on this journey through Earth, as ONE.
Prem: Native American wisdom speaks about “Walking in Balance” – what does this mean to you and what practices can we undertake to care for the land and form a connection to it?
Ilse: For me the work that we did with Leslie Temple-Thurston, in holding the dark and the light without spinning in duality and developing a strong witness in our everyday lives will help us to vibrate at a different frequency. If I can hold that from a space of love and know that both sides – the good and the bad, are actually creating balance, (not only wanting the good, nice, pleasurable things all the time) it can positively affect those around me.
I have also done some work with Jon Young. One of the things he suggests is to have a “sit spot” somewhere outside where you spend time everyday and since I have created that space in my back garden it is amazing how much I have learned from the birds and little creatures that visit me on a daily basis. Through sitting there, my love for nature and a deeper feeling of love and protection for the Earth has grown.
I have also started my own vegetable garden, making my own compost, recycling, using less plastic and taking every step to live a more natural and simple life. All these things have helped me to establish a deeper connection to Nature and Mother Earth.
Prem: Animals are experiencing so much pain and suffering in this world through abuse, neglect, hunting and cruelty. Tell us about your relationship with the animals of the earth, your communication with them, what messages do they have for us today at this critical point in our evolution as a species and why it is imperative that we recognize animals as Sacred Beings, worthy of being loved and protected.
Ilse: Animals are amazing beings and even though people are so cruel to them, they still hold us with deep love. Sophia, an owl that we adopted close to Stellenbosch at a rehabilitation center for hurt or traumatized birds of prey, asked us to bring more people to these centers, as well as to places where canned hunting occurs, and where animals are kept in cages, so that people can experience the trauma these creatures are faced with. By seeing the effects first hand it can help to change the consciousness of humanity and how animals are harmed and mistreated.
Also taking people to game reserves and into nature in a more conscious way, will help to create a loving bond with animals and nature and ultimately change people’s attitudes – nature touches people in powerful ways we can’t comprehend with our minds.
Prem: Can you speak a little bit about your work in the United States and your upcoming retreat at Crestone. Give us a little background about the land there and what participants can expect to experience.?
Ilse: Crestone is a small town, surrounded by magnificent mountains and has attracted spiritually minded people over many years. It can be seen as a place where you can grow beyond spirituality to find existence within.
Through generous donations by Manitou Foundation, spiritual groups, monasteries and retreat centers around the world are modeling a kind of coexistence so needed in our world today. Monastic communities, representing unbroken religious lineages, offer retreat opportunities, nature connections and those who live here are dedicated to prayer, education and meditation – WAO Website.
The Crestone Camino takes people on a walk from one spiritual center to another. However it is also for agnostics and atheists that don’t belong to any named religion.
By taking people on this Walk – we hope to walk together in love and acceptance, to learn about each other and connect to the beauty of the natural world. Crestone is known as “The Place of the Heart”
Prem: Some final thoughts – Your favorite quote——–and spiritual practices…
Ilse: I have many by Maya Angelou – one of them being “My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style”
I think my spiritual practices have changed a lot over the years and I have also explored a lot of ways to strengthen my connection to the Universal Life Force that resides in all of life. At the moment my favorite practice is to “be” – to be in my “sit spot”, to walk on the beach, to watch the sun go up or down, or to just be outside in nature. there is no place where I feel more connected than in nature.
Prem: Your prayer for the world……..
Ilse: That we can truly love each other like we are loved and that we can see, acknowledge and respect the gifts and talents of each other and walk in diversity, together as One.
Prem: Books on your bedside table….
Ilse: For the past year of two I found it difficult to read. It is as if I am being guided to find my own voice and tune into my own inner wisdom instead of finding my ideas in the words of other people.
I do however love Rumi’s poems and always have Leslie Temple-Thurston’s books at hand.
My books on gardening, growing organic vegetables, composting, making ormus, making of my own natural deodorants and potions are a huge inspiration.
Prem: Final Words ……
Ilse: Deep gratitude for this opportunity to express myself and to get my deepest heartfelt feelings out in the open.
I love the people of our rainbow nation and it is such a privilege to create connections with all living creatures that share this beautiful planet with me and to WALK AS ONE with all of them.
Cape Camino – http://www.walkingasone.co.za/watch/
Peoples experiences on the Cape Camino: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C18GZNLAhGg
Video on the launch of the very first Cape Camino walk by Gabrielle Andrew and her daughter Peggy: