Greetje Kuiken: Walk of Wisdom and Compassion


The Walk of Wisdom gradually became a “Walk of Wisdom and Compassion” for Greetje Kuiken. She wrote the report below about her 2023 journey. Text and photos by Greetje Kuiken.

In April ’22 I had surgery for a tumor in my spinal cord. Motivated to work on repairing the neurological damage as much as possible, I came up with the idea of walking the Walk of Wisdom . As a physical challenge and to give space to processing and reflection while walking through nature.

First bird ring and pilgrim challenge number 12874

In April, a year after the operation, I start my 15-day pilgrimage at the Stevenskerk with anticipation. Soon I leave the city and walk leisurely through the Ooijpolder to hotel Oortjeshekken where I am surprisingly happy to receive my first bird ring. We’ve started!

Greetje Kuiken

The path continues to Persingen, the smallest village in the Netherlands, consisting of a church and a few farms. I’m starting to get a little worried. The clay path that I was warned about this morning by the B&B hostess…. After all the rain the past few days, I’m sure I’ll go in over my ankles. And I wonder if it will be possible to get to the other side without help with the Persingense Veer.

I look around searchingly, looking for other hikers but there is no one to be seen. Suddenly, the tension falls away from me; I’m sure no one has ever been stranded in the middle of the lake. It reminds me with a chuckle of Oscar Wilde’s statement: ‘my life was a series of disasters, most of which never happened.’

On the ferry, I turn the wheel and slowly bring myself to the other side. After a tiring crossing, I moor and see two hikers coming towards the ferry on the banks of the other side…. Oh, if only I had waited a while! Taking a breather from the effort, I note with satisfaction that it doesn’t really matter; It feels nice that I did it on my own.

I then deftly maneuver myself over the clay path, dancing from left to right to be back in the B&B just in time for a huge downpour. The hostess looks very surprised at my shoes and pants … Still pretty clean!


Greetje Kuiken

The next day, the path ascends to the Heerlijkheid Beek. Soon I’m out of breath and my backpack and legs feel awfully heavy. Although the Elysian Fields are beautiful, my heart sinks. What did I get myself into… Until the word compassion comes to mind.

I am reminded of my trip around the Annapurna in Nepal where I asked a lot of myself to conquer the Thorung La (5416m) but now I don’t have to. Step by step I continue. Stop. Catch your breath. Look. Enjoy. Over and over again. Every now and then I sit down on a bench or a tree trunk and look around. How peaceful and beautiful it is here.

The walk over the hills seems to be a metaphor for life. Sometimes it’s relaxing on an easy forest path with beautiful views and other times I almost trip over a tree stump or have to do my best not to fall in the mud while staggering on a muddy path. Surprised, I suddenly find myself on top of the Devil’s Mountain; The mountain has already been conquered and I’m going to eat pancakes in the restaurant!

It’s okay to be scared

After my departure from Kranenburg, I am very much looking forward to the path through the Reichswald. I doubted for a long time whether I would dare to walk this quieter part of the trip alone. Until the desire to be alone in this forest became much stronger than my fear and the reassuring thought arose that it is okay to be scared once in a while. Because why shouldn’t it just be allowed to walk with me through the forest…

In the middle of the Reichswald I sit still on the ground for a long time. Leaning against a tree, I relax and enjoy the warm sun and the trees around me. Nothing. Silence. This is happiness.

Rain and sunshine

On Easter Monday I leave the hiker’s cabin early to enjoy the beautiful forests of the Sint-Jansberg in peace. In the middle of the forest, I listen to a meditation on joy and gratitude from a tree trunk. All kinds of things come to mind that I am grateful for and peacefully I walk on until it turns out that I have walked peacefully in the wrong direction.

There are some cracks in my good mood. Slowly it is getting busy on the Mookerheide. The path is much hillier and more strenuous than I expected and my good mood quickly turns into irritation. I am annoyed by the chatter of all those hikers who disturb ‘my silence’ and am angry at every hill I have to walk up. Crying from annoyance and fatigue, I sit down to come to myself. The physical exertion and all the emotions are just too much for me.

My Walk of Wisdom is not just enjoyment; I need the addition of ‘and compassion’ so badly. The weather changes, it turns gray and fresh and exhausted I arrive at my destination in the woods near Malden. After a shower in the cold outside air (that too) it starts to rain. I hide under the duvet in my gypsy wagon.

The next day I have a rest day and contrary to the weather forecast, the sun is shining! Everything feels different. I feel differently. It’s quiet around me and I’m relaxing in front of my gypsy wagon enjoying it. I read the book I brought with me, drink cups of tea and listen contentedly to the birds singing in the forest.


I’m sitting on a tree trunk in the middle of the forest. After hours of rain, the sun shines through the clouds. I listen to the exuberant birds chirping and feel the energy of the trees around me. It seems like I belong here, safe and secure by the trees in the forest. I get up and move on, step by step with compassion for my body that is having a hard time.

Intrusive company in the Haterse Vennen

I was thinking this morning of the poem ‘The Inn’ by Rumi, a Persian poet from the 13th century, in which he writes how we can welcome different emotions, even if we prefer not to see them, as guests in an inn. Today I walk with my pushy guest through forest and heathland, it accompanies me at lunch and we sit together on a tree trunk in the forest, until I am surprised to see what it has to tell me… My guest nods in agreement and leaves.


The next morning I set off for the Emmaus Monastery. A quote from the Spanish mystic John of the Cross comes to mind, which always touches me: “Tenderly I touch all things, knowing that the day will come when we must part.” In the Maria chapel, halfway through the Walk of Wisdom, I write something in the book and light a candle. I think of the dead and living people in my life and reflect on my illness a year ago and feel gratitude for every step I take.

Party and small moments to enjoy in Ravenstein!

After an overnight stay in the monastery, I continue my walk through the Keent nature reserve. The traffic noise of the A50 near Ravenstein takes some getting used to after the quiet of the past few days, but I am looking forward to a quiet hotel in an old sleepy fortified town. Nothing could be further from the truth: there is a very busy and noisy party going on in the hotel and the silence I had been looking forward to is killed for hours with loud music and partying people. Reality is so at odds with my desire for peace and quiet that I have to laugh at the situation I have ended up in.

On Sunday mornings I walk through the old streets and stop at the Garrison Church to listen to the songs that are sung in the church. My eye falls on a poem hanging on a fence. It was written by a 9 year old boy and is called Creation:

“In the beginning, there was nothing. Then there was a point and it has cracked. Pats. Then came the stars and the planets, the moons, there was water, earth, fire, air, lightning, thunder, and then came life. Mushrooms, chestnuts, daffodils, lizards, mackerel, wheatears, leopards, monk’s juices, my father, my mother and then I came’.

On the way to Hernen: reflection and an encounter

It’s a chilly, windy morning and the route to the campsite close to the Hernense forest is mostly on asphalt. I find it difficult that instead of trees and bird sounds, I am confronted with noise from cars and cyclists passing me. Walking through the somewhat boring streets of Wijchen, my mind is relaxed and I give space to thoughts about important themes in my life: that pain is inescapable and that life cannot be controlled, about compassion for myself and the people around me.

In a restaurant on the way, a woman approaches me. “Can I ask you something…. Are you walking a route?’ I tell her that I’m walking the Walk of Wisdom on my own. She wants to do something like that too, ‘but why do you want to walk alone’, she asks me, rather surprised. I answer that running together is also nice, but when you walk alone, you are alone with your thoughts and emotions. She looks at me sincerely and thoughtfully and says: ‘maybe that’s why I haven’t done it yet’.

Back to Basic

Just outside Bergharen I sleep in the Berghut, on the edge of a small forest. In this nice and quiet place I have a day of rest. Living in a complicated and noisy world, I notice how well this authentic and simple life with few things does me. Everything I need fits in my backpack. The trees in the forest give me energy every day. Difficult emotions are given air and space to dilute outside in nature and every squirrel, horse or bumblebee on my path makes me cheerful and happy. I’m satisfied like that.

The best pizza ever

Today I walk through the floodplains of the Waal to Beuningen. I decide to take the gamble and walk all the way across the Ewijkse Plaat. There is a strong wind, the sun is shining abundantly. It’s the Waal beaches, but today I’m walking light and happy. There are no other hikers; I’m alone with some Konik horses and Red Beggars around me every now and then. I’m enjoying it to the fullest! After a long day of running, I plop down on my bed in the B&B, exhausted. I can’t do much else than lie stretched out, I do have a craving for good food but the only thing I can find in my backpack is a freeze-dried fried rice meal that I don’t feel like eating. Then there is a knock on the door by the host… “Are you in the mood for pizza? We’ve got leftovers’. A pizza can’t be better than this.

The Stevens Church in sight

Greetje Kuiken

There’s a strong wind and it’s cold. On the city island I see the silhouette of the Stevens Church in the distance. I seek shelter from the wind behind the bushes and feel what it does to me to be almost at the end of my Walk of Wisdom and Compassion . It touches me. I enjoyed two weeks immensely and feel happy because I’m going to make it. But I have also struggled with fatigue and the emotions and life questions that have been with me.

During my walk, someone read me a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, which ended with the words “It’s all about living everything. If we live the questions, we may slowly but surely, without noticing it, live towards the answer one day.” I am grateful for all the support and beautiful conversations along the way and I am satisfied with my experiences and life questions back home.

At the Stevenskerk, pilgrim 12874 is added to the pilgrim register. I did it!
Greetje Kuiken.