The Long Road Home : Pilgrimage to Scotland | By Julia Clarke

Last Updated: February 21, 2021By

Early on a Sunday morning, I make my way up the steep grassy trail towards the peak of Beinn Dubh, a mountain in the west of Scotland that rises up from the banks of breathtaking Loch Lomond to reach 3,200 feet. It’s one of those rare, brilliant, sunny days where the piercing blue sky almost hurts your eyes and Scots of all shapes and sizes shake off the Saturday night cobwebs and hit the outdoors. Behind me, the glassy island-studded waters of the tranquil lake shrink out of view as I climb to the summit, where I find a layered panorama of jagged peaks contrasted against lush, green valleys dotted with white farmhouses. I sit for lunch facing southwest and imagine I can see the western shoreline behind the mountains (less than 30 miles as the crow flies), the whisky making island of Islay and, beyond it, four thousand miles of shimmering Atlantic Ocean that I recently crossed to come hom

For years, I’ve thought the most important thing in life is to travel. See how other people live, eat their food and you’ll walk in their shoes. But, if yoga and Ayurveda have taught me anything, it’s that a balanced life is really about the integration of opposites. This central theme is like a mantra that repeats throughout every yogic teaching, from the ubiquitous rooting down to rise up we hammer home in every hatha yoga class to the concept of Vishesha in Ayurveda that teaches of balancing hot with cold, dry with oily and so on. Just look at any structure in nature and you’ll see that life grows both up and down. What I suddenly realize on this mountain top is that there’s no salve for the weary traveler’s soul quite like coming home.

I come from a long line of itinerants who tried and failed to get to America. On my mother’s side, grandpa Vincenzo, who stopped off in Scotland on his long voyage from Italy to America, met a Scottish lass and never left. On my father’s side, family passport photos are the only proof of the O’Rourke family’s unrealized dream of immigrating from rural Ireland westward for a better life. I was the only one who ever made it.

In January 2001, I touched down in Kansas City from Edinburgh for a semester abroad to study journalism. I’ll never forget the outlandishness of the featureless Midwestern plain on that first day, a shocking sight to my cosmopolitan sensibilities. If I could ask that jet lagged younger version of me now if she thought she’d make a life there, she’d have laughed and said “no way.” But, six months became three years, and an unexpected career as a radio presenter took me to Vermont then Boston. It was when I was working as a music promoter in New York City that wanderlust got the better of me again, and I found myself heading west to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where I spent 11 years teaching yoga and sitting on top of peaks much like this one, but looking east, in the direction of home.

As the years passed, I became American to my friends in Scotland, and remained Scottish to my American pals. This phenomenon has been coined “bicultural straddling,” and it basically means you end up creating two different personas as part of the adjustment process. I am two people; or at least, one person straddling two separate lives. The sense of internal division became amplified by growing homesickness that couldn’t be cured by annual flying visits. I ached for my family and friends, the fierce patriotism and self-deprecating humor that we’ve developed to survive centuries of living under the hard thumb of British rule, the endless greenery, the passionate political debates in the pub, the traditional music we use to tell stories, the spontaneous dancing in the streets, the sharp wit and side splitting banter, the rain, the rain, the rain. I’d forgotten to apply the key teaching of yoga to a major area of my life: what leaves, must return.

So, I returned. And I’ll go back when the relentless rain becomes too much to bear. And when the dry air of Colorado makes my skin parched and my body thirst for a fine rolling mist, I’ll come home again. It’s called balance.

A few days after my hike, I’m eating lunch in an Italian cafe in my hometown of Glasgow, a cultural melting pot where tradition meets innovation and culture meets nature. Next to me a group of Chinese students alternate between chatting in Mandarin and breaking out in the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver. I’m seized by the perfection of the moment, the collision of the places I’ve called home and the shores I’ve yet to explore. I close my eyes and the whole world looks like home, for a time.

Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020-21 issue of CO YOGA + Life® Magazine.


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