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  • Suzanne Casamento

The Pilgrimage to St. Columba's Bay on Iona Scotland

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

On the morning of The Pilgrimage to St. Columba's Bay, I did not want to go. It was cold, rainy, and windy and I hate cold, rainy, and windy. Twenty-five years of living in LA and 15 months of traveling the world in mostly warm climates had turned me into a sun loving lizard. While wind roared and rain splatted the windows, I lay in my cozy bed at The Green Shed Iona, gripping my hot water bottle with the furry cover thinking of excuses not to go. Not to do the work. Isn’t that way? Don’t we all find excuses not to do the hard things?


It was the third day of Kate Emmerson's Cutting the Threads That Bind Retreat on Iona Scotland. The other attendees and I had set intentions and we’d been working hard at clearing the energies that stood between us and our goals. That day, we were set to walk the entire island. The island of Iona has powerful chakras, or energy centers, and we were going to travel to the island’s root chakra, St. Columba’s Bay, which is filled with powerful ancient stones, including Iona marble. It would be an all day walk and an experience of a lifetime. So, I got out of bed. After a warm breakfast, I pulled water resistant joggers over my long john-like pajama bottoms, layered on several tops and a wool sweater, donned my puffy coat, a rain slicker, and my wool hat and met the other attendees at the front gate. We began walking into the rain and wind. The weather app had indicated that it was supposed to let up in an hour or so and I prayed it would be right.


The five of us walked the island’s main road. Even in miserable weather, it was beautiful.

one lane paved road with grass on both sides and gray cloudy sky
Iona's main road.

After about 20 minutes, Kate Emmerson, the retreat leader said, “Change of plans. Let’s head into St. Oran’s Chapel.” The tiny chapel was empty except for an altar and two pews facing each other.


Doorway from dark chapel looking out on to green grass and rocky mountain beyond
Looking out from inside St. Oran's Chapel. Photo by Kate Emmerson.

“Whew!” I exclaimed, relieved to be out of the rain.


All of us took a moment to shake off the outside elements. Then we began a discussion about people or energies that might support us through that day’s journey.


My Granny is always with me. I can feel and hear her everywhere I go, so I knew she was there to support me, but in the last couple days, I’d also felt a big presence from Stacie, my dear friend who died from breast cancer in 2016. As I considered my memoir, I kept hearing her yell, “It’s my story too!” And I knew she was right. It’s funny how writing works. We do so much work subconsciously, in the back of our thoughts, way before ever sitting down to type. And during those first few days on Iona, the more I cleared, the more clarity I received.


As the wind howled outside the tiny chapel, and inside, five women explored how to clear our paths to our highest selves, I looked down at the stone floor. St. Oran’s Chapel was built around 1100 and Kate had already explained that it’s one of the island’s chakras. I slipped off my sneakers and stood on the stone floor in my socks. Energy snapped, crackled, and popped through my feet, up my legs.

“Be careful. Once your feet get cold, it’s really difficult to warm them up,” Kate said.


“But the energy is so amazing. It feels electric,” I said.


Dory slid off her shoes. When her socks met the stone, she looked at me wide eyed. We both nodded.


WHOA.


By the time we left the chapel and I’d thanked Granny and Stacie for their support on the pilgrimage, the rain had stopped.


We walked through the tiny village and along the sea. Then we walked along the island’s other main road.

Long single lane road on Iona Scotland
My friends walking ahead on Iona's other main road.

Then we came to the island’s heart chakra. This was the view.


Author Suzanne Casamento on Iona Scotland's heart chakra. Green grass and ocean beyond.
Selfie on Iona's heart chakra.

At some point, the sun came out. Dazzled by the beautiful cows and glorious ocean, I felt thrilled and incredibly grateful I’d gotten out of bed.

Brown cow, green grass, and ocean on Iona Scotland
Beautiful cow grazing lush green grass along the ocean on Iona island.

After passing the cows, we came to a beautiful bay. I began picking up stones and praying. Thanking the Universe for my health, for the ability to travel and experience crazy things like a spiritual pilgrimage on an ancient island off Scotland.


Then Kate waved from up on a hill.


“C’mon! We have to keep going,” she called.


My gratitude flatlined. We’d been walking for hours. My feet hurt. I was cold. And I thought we were already at St. Columba’s Bay. I thought we had arrived.


But aren’t healing journeys like that? You think you are there. You think you finally have it figured out and the Universe says, “Oh no. Not yet. You have to keep going.”


So, I took a deep breath and trudged up the hill and met the others. Less than 1,000 feet later, I stepped in a bog. My entire right foot was soaked in mud.


“Oh no!” Everyone kindly sympathized.


“How are you doing?” Kate asked.


“I’m annoyed,” I replied.


“Ok,” she said.


We kept walking.


Someone mentioned that it was my right foot and we began a discussion about how the body has a masculine side (right) and a feminine side (left). When I experience back pain, it’s always on my right side. When I injured my foot before going to Greece, it was my right foot.


I told the women about my latest novel, ALL THE MOMENTS IN BETWEEN, in which the main character’s fiancé leaves after she is simultaneously diagnosed with estrogen driven cancer and discovers she’s pregnant. When she chooses to have an abortion because the pregnancy would likely kill her, her fiancé abandons her in the Hollywood Craftsman Bungalow they had dreamed of renovating together. Along her healing journey, the roof leaks on the right side and she realizes that her home and her dreams have been injured by a man.


My intention of the Cutting the Threads That Bind retreat was “to build the courage to finish my memoir, including all of the icky hard parts.” While I’d been working to do that, I realized I had to overcome the fear of upsetting people, but I also kept coming back to my grandfather and pain among masculine members of my family.


My mom’s Dad was an amazing man. Not only was he warm, kind, and always cracking a joke, he was also a wonderful writer and creator. He wrote poems, stories, and an autobiography. He designed board games and gameshows.


He’d had several meetings with Parker Bros, where they’d played his games, Spellopoly and Phrog Wars. He’d even had a pilot shot of his game show, “Write Your Own Ticket,” where people competed to win luxurious trips. I have black and white photos of game show hostesses standing next to sailboats on a glorious stage and when you look closely, you can see my grandparents sitting in the front row.


I can’t imagine his disappointment when the network opted NOT to pick up that gameshow.


My grandfather wrote into his 90’s. He submitted manuscripts and screenplays in his 80’s. He always got reeeaaaally close, but never quite achieved “success.”


I’ve experienced similar things. FINGERPRINTS was shopped by my agent and got 26 rejections before I eventually decided to independently publish it. A decade ago, I created a dating game and got a production deal to do a reality show, but ultimately, the networks opted not to pick it up. In both circumstances, I was devastated.


After plunging my right foot deep into mud along my pilgrimage to St. Columba’s Bay on Iona, Scotland I realized that the story of “close, but not quite” had to end today.


So, when we finally arrived at St. Columba’s Bay, I let it go.

Big white clouds, blue sky, sparkling water in St. Columba's Bay Iona Scotland.
St. Columba's Bay Iona Scotland.

As I stood on the ancient stones and the sun glistened over the rumbling sea, I called in my grandfather’s spirit and asked his permission to let that story go. And something amazing happened.


I saw his face.


When I hear from Granny and Stacie and other loved ones who’ve moved on from this plane, I don’t actually hear voices. I just get a message. It’s a knowing. Sometimes, I ask a question like, “Granny, where did I leave my phone?” and my feet will walk me to it. The trick is not thinking, “Why am I walking into this room?” The trick is trusting that what’s happening is happening for a reason. So, as I stood on the rocky shores of St. Columba’s Bay and saw my grandfather’s face and got the message, “Yes, let that story go. Just write the book,” I didn't focus on the fact that I could suddenly see people when I've never had that ability before. I simply trusted the message.


And when I saw a long line of women, leaning over desks by candlelight, writing with old fashioned quill pens, I fought the urge to say, “WTF?!” and snap out of it and instead, I just let it happen. I let them appear. Woman, after woman, after woman. All with the same message.


Write the book. Write it for you. For Stacie. For us.


Rainbow over the ocean on Iona Island Scotland
My new friends admiring the rainbow that appeared after we cleared what we needed to clear in St. Columba's Bay and began the long walk back.

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