Solisbury Hill

For those of you who are out there wondering if I will write a blog post for each song in Peter Gabriel’s music library while I’m on this trip, I can assure you that I will not. In fact it will likely end with this post, but the title came to me quite serendipitously yesterday morning while I was riding my bike through the Kentucky hills.

It is an innate human instinct to climb. We climb so we can see what heights we can achieve. We climb to push ourselves to our physical and spiritual limits. We climb so we can enjoy the coast on the way down the other side of the slope. Look no further than infants who want to climb on things higher up as soon as they can stand and you will know that we are all climbers at heart and our lives are full of so many potential hills.

unnamed-9Upon my arrival at Gethsemani the first thing I did after I got my things into my quarters was to walk outside and climb to the top of the hill at the edge of the property. Perched at the top of the hill was a rock grotto and tall cross to spark my desire further, but the potential view alone was enough to entice. With the sun high in the afternoon sky and the temperature in the mid 90s, the climb left me dripping in sweat, but it was a purifying start to my monastic retreat.

Climbing goes way back in my family. I have often spoken or written about my great grandfather Henry William Herbert who was born in Ireland in 1871. Henry grew up in a small fishing village named Ringaskiddy. Ring, as it is called by locals is on the south coast of Ireland across the bay from the famous final port of the RMS Titanic, one Queenstown/Cobh, Ireland. Back in great grandpa’s day, Ring was a quaint seaside village with docks for swimming, fields to play in and hills to climb on.

At the top of one of those hills stood an old Martello tower that dated back to the days of Cromwell’s invasion in the mid 1600s. In his autobiography great grandpa Henry wrote about climbing to the top of the hill through the blackberry briars with his father Captain James and playing on and around the allegedly haunted tower. It’s the stuff that all good boys stories are made of.

On our trip to Ireland in September of 2013, Christiana and I re-traced my ancestor’s footsteps and climbed to that same Martello Tower, but not without a few challenges along the way. Isn’t that what our innate instinct to climb is designed for though? So we can face challenges and enjoy the awakenings that come forth? If you want to read more about our quest to climb to that tower you can check out that story here.

This current story though is finally getting to its main point, which is my bike ride on Wednesday morning through the Kentucky hills. I have ridden my Trek mountain bike through the paved city streets of Chicago for three years now. It’s not one of those hybrids with the small nobby tires and a light frame. It is a full on mountain bike! My friends often tell me that I’m crazy to have such a heavy-duty bike for city riding, but I like the stability and somehow I knew I would find a day to ride it off road. That day had finally come.

I left the monastery grounds at about 9:00 a.m. with a bottle of water, a Cliff bar and the desire to ride for one hour or ten miles if I could last in the heat. On the city streets at normal temperatures that distance or even double would be no issue, but I had no idea what to expect in my current set of circumstances. Across the main road I saw a narrow path and a sign that said:

No Unauthorized Vehicles

No Boats

No Swimming

I clearly was not a vehicle. I wasn’t pulling a boat. I had no swimsuit or goggles. I figured I’d be okay. Off I went! It was as if my Trek mountain bike started to sing to me. It had waited for this day for three years. We bounced over the rocks. We climbed the hills and coasted down. It was a small loop, but I figured that was a good thing because I could just keep repeating it until I was too tired and then I could dash back across the street in a jiffy and be home at the monastery.

As I rode I listened to Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live Disc #1. I continue to be addicted to his music only a week removed from the fabulous Gabriel/Sting concert on my birthday weekend. At about the 50-minute mark of the ride, I was getting rather fatigued. The sun and the heat were taking their toll and I was fairly certain that this would be my last loop. As I came back to the part of the loop that was both the beginning and the ending of my circle I had a decision to make. Would I turn off or push through one more loop?

At that exact moment, the guitar riff for the Peter Gabriel’s Solisbury Hill started. My heart leapt up and my legs got a burst of life. Like an infant trying to get to a new highest height, I turned and started one more loop! I pushed my way up the hill dripping in sweat, but I felt more energy than I had at any point in the ride. As the final chorus of Solisbury Hill played in my earbuds, I glided down the hill with a nice breeze in my face. I coasted back across the street to the monastery parking lot. When I shut off my Runkeeper GPS it said one hour and three seconds for a total of 10.06 miles. Honestly you can’t even make this stuff up if you try!

Gabriel wrote the song Solisbury Hill upon his departure from the group Genesis in 1975. He had been a founding member and the lead vocalist. The song was his first solo career single and he has been quoted as saying, “It’s a song  about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get… It’s about letting go…” In his letter to the public in August of 1975 Gabriel also said:

“I believe the world has soon to go through a difficult period of changes. I’m excited by some of the areas coming through to the surface which seem to have been hidden away in people’s minds. I want to explore and be prepared to be open and flexible enough to respond…”

In this journey of infinite awakenings, I am reminded that it is only when we are willing to lose what we already have, that we can be open and flexible to the energetic space that will allow for what we are about to get. I continue my climb to get closer to Source and find my greatest self. Through the good grace of God and many angels and mentors, the deck is stacked in my favor. I am so grateful to have more than I need and my only want is to have enough time left on the path to help others find their own paths as well. What other things do I need in my life? To answer that question I give you the last few lines of Solisbury Hill:

“My heart’s going boom, boom, boom…Hey…I said…You can keep my things they’ve come to take me home…”

In letting go we find the path to the place we are always seeking. Many times in my life I’ve heard the phrase, “home is where the heart is…” What if it was the other way around and we all realized that “the heart is where the home is…” The simple act of opening up our hearts has the infinite power to create a home for all of mankind to find peace. Some might say that is an uphill battle. I say let’s join hands and continue the climb…


P.S. If you are not familiar with the song Solisbury Hill, I’ve included a link here to a Youtube video of a 1994 version from the Woodstock 1994 concert. It’s one of my favorite renditions of the song. Performed about 20 years after his departure from Genesis, it is crystal clear that Peter Gabriel found his path. It is an open and flexible path to his home of Joy!



About Jim Herbert

I've been wanting to write my whole life. By age 45 it had amounted to nothing more than a storage locker of half full journals and a lot of unfulfilled dreams. Then Paris in the fall of 2011 happened. It was the catalyst I needed to consistently blog. At first I had a hard time hitting the publish button, but now two blog sites and over 300 posts later I'm hitting my stride. I'm also a budding speech writer. I've recently been heavily involved in the Chicago Storytelling scene and have also won the Chicago Toastmasters Area 66 International Speech Contest. Check out our website at for more details about the amazing things that are happening in my life. A book or two are nearing completion. With another Paris trip on tap for Easter of 2015 I can only imagine that there are Infinite Possibilities on the horizon!!!
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One Response to Solisbury Hill

  1. People tend to think that letting go means loss. You have shown us otherwise. Infinite possibilities. Rock on!

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