Corine de Jong: Harvesting what is – report Walk of Wisdom

Walk of wisdom – reaping what is

Text and photos: Corine de Jong
(pilgrim 13.941) – September 2023


A year later than intended, I walk the Walk of Wisdom. When I finished my studies in Nijmegen last September and heard about the Walk of Wisdom , I wanted to let my acquired ‘wisdom’ sink in a bit while walking. Injuries and a shortage of vacation days prevented that from happening at the time. Now I walk out of the desire to be more with the rhythm of the seasons in nature.

In March I also came across an announcement of a nature retreat in the Franciscan monastery in Megen, given by Mari Vertegen (Nature Training). It turns out to fit together exactly with my intentions for the pilgrimage in terms of content and logistics. From Ravenstein I make a trip from the route to Megen for four days of silence and nature experience as a supplement and deepening to the pilgrimage alone, and then continue walking.

Walk of Wisdom by Corine de Jong


I want to leave with as little physical and mental ballast as possible; read tips on route planning in the Facebook group WoW, get tips on what to take and what not to take with you and weigh everything. A friend sends me a travel angel the day before departure. You can probably take it with you, because only 4 grams! And the book about hiking by Frederic Gros is rejected. I take out unnecessary cards and business cards from my wallet.

The week before, I slow down in appointments, turn off notifications on my phone, disconnect from work and family. I am a bit uncertain whether I will physically be able to walk so many days in a row (with a tail of corona in my body), because I want to walk the pilgrimage in one go and alone. With my pilgrim’s lace attached to my bag with, next to the starting ring, a bird ring from the art project with the text ‘in pursuit of happiness ‘ and not to forget the seedling, I’m ready to go.

The tour

The departure ceremony sets us, gathered pilgrims, on our way with a silent tour of the church, encouraging words and a beautiful quote (‘you miss more than you experience’). I am touched that these three people from the WoW are here early in the morning on a foggy Saturday morning to wish us a good trip. And so, during the pilgrimage, I am more and more touched by the experience of walking in a kind of invisible web of connection.

Along the way I speak to hostesses who tell about meetings with other hostesses/men, how they put up signs together, keep track of the route and have contact with the organization about how things are going. People who live along the route and offer coffee and have chairs ready at the right time. It may sound crazy, but with every marking I feel a little bit taken by the hand, I can be part of an open community of pilgrims who have gone before me and people who make this all possible. Feeling alone is impossible.

The great thing about a circular walk is that the arrival point is the same as the departure location, so that is already easy to let go of ‘the end goal’. And beautiful how the tour is embedded in a departure and arrival ritual and has many other ritual moments along the way. The route and nature show themselves to be a mild teacher, the first days you have to search for a rhythm. It’s been quite hot all week, I’m still trying to figure out how quickly or how often I take a break and how to deal with physical discomfort. I also find out that in the first part I didn’t take into account height differences and kilometers to be walked. And out of concern whether I will make it that second day, exhausted and far too fast in my second stage of the day. And so I learn to slow down and be still in walking and in my head. I hear a friend say in my head; “It’s the road, not the pub, dear!”

Exercise in being a pilgrim

It takes some time to switch from all the practical preparations to walking, a different mindset. To be near the road where I am walking, with the beautiful and varied landscape that the route takes me through, not with the destination of the day. The poem ‘Laat’ by Leonard Nolens comes to mind on day 1 and keeps me on my toes for the rest of the trip;


Slow down.
Slow down.
Slow down your step.

Step slower than your heart rate demands.

Slow down.
Slow down.
Slow down your desire.

And disappear in moderation.

Don’t take your time
And let time take you –

‘Slow down your desire’, that’s for me; Seeing how quickly I’m working on wanting to arrive somewhere and planning ahead (sometimes important because of water and lunch). A local resident in Bergharen asks me where I’m going. ‘To Winssen’, I say. ‘You’re going to Afferden differently now’, pointing to the direction I’m walking. Wise man, reminds me to be where I am. He calls himself a lucky man, because later that day he gets to play the accordion with two ladies to practice for their performances in nursing homes. And I’m lucky that I’m walking here and he’s keeping me on the path.

If I succeed a bit with slowing down and slowing down, I feel unprecedentedly free. Along the way, I regularly stop for a moment. In the Ooijpolder I am overwhelmed by a feeling of joy. Here I am; There is no one, there is silence, space and timelessness. Who am I to just stand here? With soaking wet feet, that is. It gives me a feeling of freedom to move at walking pace on my own, to be able to enjoy the varied landscape with nothing but a backpack with me. It is also a luxury to know that I am expected somewhere every evening, where sometimes delicious food is cooked for me, where I can just grab the key twice at an agreed place because the host families are not at home, where I can continue the next day after a nice conversation and abundant breakfast.

I also experience mental freedom, feeling detached from home. There are sad things going on with dear family members that I have felt powerless in for a long time. I have said goodbye to certain clients at work, they will have died when I get back. These people are close by in the chapels where I light a candle with the intention that they may be well. These are moments of reflection on what it means to be connected. To walk here and have it so good, knowing that there is so much suffering in others (and in many places in the world). Who am I to be here? A question that runs with me.

And then the disappearance, ‘disappear in moderation’. I understand it as being less self-centered in the landscape. Seeing what is, hearing what is, feeling what is, and not wanting to add or change anything from it. I like to look at art and notice that I recognize paintings everywhere. Timeless images of cows drinking water on the banks of the river, meadows with churches in the distance, rows of trees along the road, also seen long ago by painters such as Ruisdael, Maris or Van Gogh. On the one hand, it is enjoyment, also following in their footsteps I walk through the landscape. Wonder how I would mix that blue for the sky concerned on the last day, with ultramarine or cerulean blue? On the other hand, I ask myself, do I really see what is there now?

In the nature retreat in the monastery we (a small group of seven participants) practice with Mari to be present in nature with attention; To listen, to see, to feel and nothing more. Consent (after René Gude) is what he calls it. Regardless of all –isms, practice attention and openness. Adopting an open, receptive attitude, giving up resistance to what is already there. Together we walk in silence in the floodplain near Megen early in the morning and in the evening, sometimes longing for silence due to ‘disturbances’ we experience. Because there are speedboats on the Maas with partying people and loud music, there is a lot of traffic on the dike, it is open monument day also in the monastery garden. The open, receptive attitude that we practice asks us to let go of the story about things, namely ‘during a silent walk in nature it is serene and quiet’ or ‘in a monastery garden it is quiet’.

By Corine de Jong

That’s what I want, not what’s. By agreeing, sounds that don’t fit the picture become part of the experience, without me having to change anything (if I could). We write haikus and read to each other this Saturday evening in the monastery garden, texts with humour, lightness and attention. I enjoy the connection it gives me, to share this and to be in silence with each other. The feeling of freedom deepens with these exercises in and with nature and through Mari’s calm, honest guidance.

It also touches me to spend four days in the monastery with four very accessible and humorous brothers with whom we eat, wash dishes, pray and keep their tradition alive. Without sublimity and in all simplicity, they live for what I am learning in pilgrimage and my own life. I feel a certain rootlessness after the weekend when I continue my way alone. The retreat has imperceptibly evoked more memories of my time within a –ism than I realized. A heron that suddenly lands in front of me in the meadow brings me back to where I am, on my way to Hernen. And I walk on my pilgrimage.


Being on the road with many hawthorn berries, rose hips, apples, pears, hop cones, goose migration, last swallows, a praying kestrel, beautiful vistas in streets and forest, views, forest after forest, chapels, wonder, feeling at home, silence, dear hostess, fatigue, memories, joy, gratitude, physical pain, rituals, enjoyment, sadness, lots of sun, twenty minutes of rain and through it all having a good time with myself.

Upon arrival at the Stevenskerk it is as if an eternity has passed and at the same time it seems only an hour ago that I walked in here for the departure ceremony.

Corine de Jong
September 2023