As another summer approaches the Lower Similkameen, the annual parade of cross-country cyclists, paddlers and walkers increasingly make their way through the valley en route to their destinations.
Last week it was Bhaktimarga Swami’s (formerly known as John Peter Vis) turn to pass through the valley on his way to completing his fourth cross country walk across Canada.
The 61 year old, who has been a Hare Krishna monk for 40 years, began his marathon walks as a means to deal with back problems. Accompanied by support driver Daruka and Billie, his 27 year old Bluefront Amazon parrot, the three began the final leg of this trip in Taber about a month ago. (This cross Canada trip began in 2012 and is being completed in segments.) In 1996, Bhaktimarga’s first walk was made into a documentary called “The Longest Road” by the National Film Board.
Bhaktimarga calls his walks “friend raisers,” as he tours the nation to promote “pilgimage and a more carefree lifestyle.” He hails from a monastery in Toronto. When not participating in country long walks, he’s Governing Body Commissioner for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), teaches yoga and participates in the theatrical industry as a playwright, producer and director.
Bhaktimarga reached the Lower Similkameen on June 18 and 19, taking time to speak to students at the Lower Similkameen Indian Band School before making his way into Keremeos last Thursday morning. The day began on a slightly delayed note as he contended with Similkameen winds during his early morning walk.
“I continue to develop an appreciation for nature, I see the diversity nature offers, Bhaktimarga said in relation to the knowledge he gains about life from his national walks.
“For instance, I noticed the quail around here for the first time.
“We should all be humble – it’s a good quality to have. Walking through nature’s elements is a humbling experience.”
Bhaktimarga described the pilgrimage aspect of his treks as an opportunity to “learn detachment.”
“We’re all just moving through, we can’t get attached to things,” he said, “we must learn to be in the moment.”
Dressed in a bright orange robe, Bhaktimarga could be an easy target for discrimination. He noted the world was changing, however, saying that he found with each cross country walk he is finding people are generally more accepting of him and his mission. “I was last through here eight years ago,” he said, “the last time I travelled the highway, this time the Upper Bench. It’s like another world up there, away from highway traffic and slower paced – I spoke to an orchardist and an Indo-Canadian along the way, and enjoyed a pleasant talk with both.”
Bhaktimarga described moments of his walks as times where “you get these epiphanies.” He said his experience with nature has taught him “you have to adjust your sails,” depending on what was being experienced. Walking has helped him find his place in the world, connecting him with people of different backgrounds.
Being a Hare Krishna monk, Bhaktimarga attempts to transcend religious barriers by focussing on the similar paths in people’s lives instead of their differences.
“I’ve found that atheists, for example, are people who are disgusted with things they’ve seen and heard. They’re not lacking in spirituality, they are looking for good examples,” Bhaktimarga said. “The life of a monk is one of simplicity.” He said that in speaking to the LSIB students, he did not proselytize, rather, he spoke to them of “universal truths.”
Have four cross Canada walking tours cured Bhaktimarga’s back issues?
“I wanted to find a way to treat myself, rather than seeking medical treatments, when I began.
“I like to say, we’re wired for walking,” he explained. “If we can be introspective while we walk, it can become a meditative experience. We’ll save on medical bills, and we’ll find satisfaction from within.
“I always say, ‘More walking, less squawking.”