My Top 10 Places for a Pre-Death Pilgrimage.
If you knew you only had five years left to live and money and time were not a problem, where would you visit and why? As I say in this video from Fly Ranch Geyser at the end of the blog post, your passion isn't just something you care deeply about, it's something you're willing to sacrifice for.
Here's my list for where you might spread my ashes. Look forward to hearing about your list.
1. Fly Ranch, Northern Nevada
I've been going to Burning Man for more than twenty years, but it wasn't until a dozen years ago that I was offered the opportunity to experience the sublime, natural cathedral of this property (now owned by Burning Man) just a ten-minute drive from the Black Rock Desert. This is my habitat for the most profound meditations I've done in my life—surrounded by a geyser, two dozen hot springs pools, wetlands, and wildlife. The only way you can make the pilgrimage to this out-of-the-way place is to book a Fly Ranch tour.
2. Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California
Nearly forty years ago, I made a pilgrimage down California's epic, coastal Highway 1. I wasn't looking for a personal growth workshop when I showed up at Esalen in the middle of the night. I wanted to sneak into their famous, cliff-perched hot springs with my girlfriend. It wasn't long before I started partaking in their workshops, learned to meditate, and began wondering how I might create a place like this someday.
3. Poly High School, Long Beach, California
I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood but went to a very integrated junior high and then to the famous, multi-culti Poly High, considered the best athletic high school in America. I was the "curious white boy" and had to learn what it meant to be "the other” as this is Snoop Dogg’s territory (and I loved it). It's still a rough 'hood, so it is a bit of a pilgrimage to visit, but this is where I started to cultivate my cultural curiosity about people different than me.
4. Cliveden House, Taplow, England
This formerly-faded country house is where I spent part of my junior year of college and is now a historical luxury retreat. It's not just the 400 acres of gorgeous grounds on the Thames River that pulls at my heart. It's the walking paths in the Berkshire Valley or remembering how we used to wave at farmers as we hiked to country pubs. This was also the time of my life (20) when I started coming to grips with the fact that I wanted a boyfriend when I grew up. I can still remember all the soulful walks on the grounds I took or the hardbound journal that became my constant companion as I shared all the thoughts running through my head.
5. Napier Lane, San Francisco, California
There once was an ambitious, recently-out gay man who was smart enough to choose San Francisco as his post-MBA residence. Of course, that was me! I landed on this rickety old boardwalk with Gold Rush-era shanties clinging to the side of Telegraph Hill just off the Filbert Steps. This is my favorite place in my adopted hometown, where I lived for thirty-five years. The romance of living in this bucolic, groovy, urban place where everyone knew each other's business helped me to integrate the various parts of who I was. Here, there was no hiding it. Think of Mayberry RFD—only on mushrooms.
6. Campuhan Ridge, Ubud, Bali
I've been to Bali thirteen times. The first time I arrived, nearly thirty years ago, a friend picked me up at the airport, and we went upcountry to Ubud. We got on bikes and started riding on the paths through rice paddy fields. I'll never forget what I told him, "There's a waterfall down this path where we can bathe." He looked at me like I was crazy. But, sure enough, a quarter-mile down that tiny path, I saw my vision. Instantly, I knew that I'd been here before, spending past lives on this idyllic island. Years later, I had an intense, soul-connected romantic relationship with a mystical man named Pheonyx. After connecting elsewhere, we rendezvoused back in Ubud, not long before he unexpectedly died. We meditated twice a day together on this ridge, something I still do every time I go back.
7. Varanasi, India
All I can say is that my life changed in inexplicable ways when I visited this city. It was my first visit to India in early 2013 with a friend and his baba (spiritual teacher). We spent five days exploring the nooks and crannies of the Hindu religion's most holy city. Then we moved on to the Maha Kumbh Mela, one of the world's greatest pilgrimages, where 100 million people converge on the Ganges River over 55 days. I left utterly transformed. In fact, just a couple weeks after leaving, I met my most profound soulmate and teacher (who happened to be twenty-five years younger than me and is still deeply close to me). On top of that, a week later, I was also asked by the Airbnb founders to come help them "democratize hospitality." So, for me, Varanasi is a genuinely auspicious place.
8. Hot Water Beach, New Zealand
Okay, I know this post is going a little long, so I'll be brief here. This gives me a chance to restate the fact that I'm a complete hot springs addict. There's a beach on the Coromandel Peninsula where you climb down some cliffs (sort of a pilgrimage), show up at low tide with your shovel, and you create your own little hot springs bath. Joy. That word says it all. I've been there twice and am going again next spring.
9. Kasbah du Toubkal, Imlil, Morocco
There's nothing quite like the mesmerizing Sahara Desert, which speaks to the idea that life is constantly changing (along with the dunes). Kasbah du Toubkal looks out over three major valleys carved from majestic rocky mountains. It's only 40 miles from Marrakech, but the peace and quiet and seclusion are so complete the city seems a million miles away. You have to hike into this eco-retreat that mixes the Brad Pitt's of the world (who starred in a film set here) with backpackers on low budgets. I'll never forget the unusual cast of characters where people hunker down with long dinner conversations watching the sunset on the mountains. I love White Sands National Park in New Mexico because of my experience here.
10. Any Cemetery, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Okay, if I'm going to die and I have the opportunity to make the pilgrimage anywhere in advance, I can say definitively I want to land in San Miguel. In this place, the dead are truly celebrated. You can call it a real-life experience of the hit Disney film, "Coco." Oren and I loved doing Dia de los Muertos here a few years ago. The festivities in the large cemeteries give me hope that all of our legacies live on. Plus, this colonial, hillside town has long been a haven for those 50 and older.
So, that's my list. Of course, there are other pilgrimages I still want to experience, like Camino de Santiago in Spain or the Shihoku devotional journey in Japan. But this is a start.
What specific places would you visit if you knew you were going to die soon? They don't have to be spread all over the world either. Sometimes the most poignant and meaningful places may be close to home. But let's also recognize that a pilgrimage requires a sacrifice. Again, be specific, as if you were telling people where you want your ashes spread. And, while you're at it, be bold!