Knowing that at age 67 most of his life was behind him, Ernie Vecchio was faced with a dilemma. Should he retire and ride off into the sunset or use his nearly 40 years of experience as a trauma psychologist to keep helping people.
What he decided to do was embark on what he calls the Camino Del Alma, a more than 3,000-mile biking/hiking trip that began March 11 in Lewe’s Beach, Del. and will around Thanksgiving in Reyes National Park, Calif. He will touch nine states, skipping the Rocky Mountains and Nevada dessert.
“I think I have to leave something behind of what I’ve learned about the human condition based on what I’ve learned from people who (spiritually) are in the worst places,” Vecchio said Monday at The Times-Gazette offices.
Vecchio’s journey across the country is not a typical one. He is traveling with a jeep and electric-powered bicycle, often retracing his steps to get back to wherever he is based and has left his vehicle at the time. He said he pedals the bike 60 to 70 percent of the time and hikes the rest (when he is traveling west). If he is moving east and retracing his steps, he will use the bicycle’s electric power.
For about the past week Vecchio has been based in Hillsboro. On Monday he said he was headed to his next base in the Cincinnati area.
The Camino Del Alma, or Way of the Soul, is a state-by-state invitation to hikers, cyclists and anyone interested in covering their state’s portion of the route for spiritual retreat and growth. People can join Vecchio, also an author and wisdom teacher, on the trail where he is hoping to start a conversation about the importance of having an inner life and encouraging participants to ask questions about his life’s work. Though the journey does not carry a religious meaning, Vecchio feels the pilgrimage can be an uplifting spiritual endeavor.
He can be followed on Ramblr.
Vecchio said that he was born to an abusive father and went into foster care when he was round 5. He said that after spending a few years going from home to home, he eventually landed in an orphanage. It was there, through athletics and coaches who served as a paternal figure to him, that was able to rise above his beginnings, and eventually found what he calls his inner life through years of dealing with patients who found themselves in the worst of traumatic situations.
He has also initiated a movement he calls Inner Lives Matter.
“Inner Lives Matter gives station to our inner subjective experience as a ‘to be alive’ force that inherently attempts to unfold as its fullest self,” Vecchio says on his website (innerlivesmatter.com). “It is tested most when this emotional material is paired with the human ego as adversity or suffering. Though such emotions can change, how they are ‘behaved’ in the world cannot be erased or taken back. This means that ‘inner lives matter’ in direct proportion to how much our inner dimension motivates what we do. An ego asleep will ‘act out’ according to its pain, while an awakened ego will claim this inner subjectivity and support the entire ‘to be alive’ system (soul, spirit and heart) to remain intact.”
According to Vecchio, people who feel Inner Lives Matter:
• Tend to discern ego from heart, ultimately improving their self-understanding;
• Seek to enrich their lives in ways the ego cannot imagine;
• Pursue an ethical ideal and valid context for self-care;
• Choose to bring their personal wisdom into the world for its healing intent;
• Hope to elevate their highest quality – compassion;
• Seek answers to life’s biggest questions.
The youth of today, Vecchio said, all too often approach life backward. He said they tend to think that if they obtain the perfect job and other materials things, everything will take care of itself, and they often forget that life is a journey.
“Young people don’t have a clear picture of what is real,” he said. “What is inside you is what is real. If you want to find the truth, you have to look inside yourself.”
Vecchio said his journey is not a religious one. In fact, he said he tries to avoid religion in his conversations, and that religious matters are different from spiritual ones.
“I’m just trying to get some kind of feel about what’s on people’s minds,” Vecchio said. “What I wish I could say is how can I help you? I want to have a conversation with people who have questions.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]