JOHN BRIERLEY 1948 – 2023
His Story: The Bare Facts
John Brierley spent his early life in Dublin where he qualified as a Chartered Surveyor and set up practice as Brierley & Co in 1971 later merging with Jackson-Stops. An existential crisis inspired him to take a sabbatical with his family, during which he stumbled upon the Camino de Santiago for the first time. This was to prove a pivotal time in his life with a reordering of priorities towards a spiritual perspective. The career break turned into career change as John, along with his wife and three children, left Ireland and moved to the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. This move also saw the beginning of the annual pilgrimages which would continue for the rest of his life.
In 1996 he convened the international conference ‘Business for Life’ where the core issue was identified as the crisis of the human spirit and the search for meaning in life. The idea of Business Sabbaticals as an antidote to burn out and pilgrimage as a way to reappraise life's purpose became his abiding passion. In 2000 he walked up through Western Nepal into Tibet to complete the renowned Mount Kailash pilgrimage sacred to Buddhism, Hinduism and esoteric Christianity. In 2003 the first of his guidebooks to the Camino de Santiago was published.
In 2008 his youngest daughter, Gemma, followed in his footsteps and walked her first camino. Along the way she took photographs for her father’s books - a seed of involvement that would grow over the following years and eventually see Gemma working alongside John in maintaining and updating the existing guides as well as mapping out new routes.
In 2023 John took the final steps on his earthly pilgrimage and following treatment for multiple cancers passed away at the age of 75. Gemma continues to keep the guides updated in her father’s memory.
Life as Pilgrimage
“…It is now topical to talk about downsizing and mid-career breaks. But we need to be careful how we spend this hard won space in our lives if we are not to end back in a life of bored indifference. We can change our work, our religion, our partner, our house, but if we don't change our life orientation away from the mundane and towards the sacred we just end up with more of the same. That is why I find the idea life as pilgrimage so exciting. What higher purpose could it have than to remind us of our divine origins and our sacred contracts?
“We live in a spiritual vacuum that is made all the more vacuous by outdated creation myths and emotional environmentalism. The busyness of our lives, even those dedicated to service, spins us ever outwards away from our centre. Pilgrimage on the other hand slows us down and opens us inwards to the Source. In one direction lies illusion, the other truth. Thank God I stumbled onto a pilgrim path. The route may still have its ups and downs but the overall direction is set, the way-marks clear and the destination assured. The only choice I have left is how long it will take me to arrive…”
Want to know more? Then read on and see how John described his life and what led him onto the Camino and to writing these guidebooks for you!
“…I started my own professional practice at the age of 21. This is when I learnt the meaning of sapientism, or the art of professing to know more than I did. Pretence then became so ingrained that I lost all sense of my own identity and fell into a shallow period that lacked any flavour of authenticity. Lost in mindless materialism I now felt the weight of years of unconscious consumerism and out of the blue came the gift of a celestial alarm clock.
Wake Up Call
“10 years of quiet desperation led to a turning point, that opportunity that comes to each of us at some pivotal stage in our life and offers us a time to re-assess our direction. The classic existential mid-life crisis that can lead to breakdown and breakthrough. For me it started in January 1986 with an alarmingly persistent wake-up call. Looking back I laugh at the idea of my spiritual guides working overtime to wake me up. The dream needed very little interpretation but I was so blind that I still could not read its message. I had this dream, off and on, for a whole year before its significance began to dawn on me. I really thought I was going mad during that period and of course, in conventional terms, I was. The turning upside down of consensus reality is frequently misunderstood as some psychotic episode whereas, within the bigger picture, it is simply spiritual emergence and the opening to knowledge of higher worlds. I slowly became aware of a spiritual reality behind the sense-perceptible world.
The Alarm Clock
“My daydream recurred like clockwork and never altered in any detail. Within the dream – I am 65 years old and confined to a wheel chair, the result of heart bypass surgery. A lifetime of dedication to a material way of life has left my body and mind incapacitated. I am being wheeled up the central aisle of a hall crowded with pillars of professional society. At the far end is a podium on which a junior partner in the firm I created is making an utterly insincere speech about the enormous contribution I have made to the firm. He then presents me with a plastic alarm clock and I am then wheeled back down the aisle to polite applause and out through large double doors that reverberate shut behind me. In that moment I realise that the value of my life is measured in that plastic clock. The tears begin to fall as it dawns on me that my physical and spiritual muscles have become atrophied and I have no energy or time left to bring any meaning or purpose to this life. I have squandered my time in that which is worthless running down a cul-de-sac called despair with nothing but my own mortality waiting for me at the end!
“At the end of that year I realised that something profound was trying to happen and it gave me enough courage to claim a mid-career break. I was 39 and Ireland was in recession so my business partners needed little persuading, my wife and children needed none. She had spent her earlier years in an Ashram and couldn't wait to break away from the mindless social and business circles. The children had suffered a few years of the state curriculum and where likewise ready to experience something more liberating. So a gap suddenly appeared with this amazing potential for change and growth - I was off the treadmill for a year!
The Journey of Awakening
“We headed away in a camper van to ‘travel the world’ and during that year, 1987, I stumbled onto the Camino de Santiago for the first time and felt its welcoming embrace. The Findhorn Foundation in Scotland was the next stop along the Way and it was there I realised that it was not an outer experience I was embarking on but a spiritual journey along the inner pathways of soul. My sabbatical year ended with a decision to leave Ireland and set up home in the spiritual community at Findhorn. I can honestly say that I have never looked back since and the journey has become a source of great joy. Yes there are moments of forgetfulness and therefore pain but essentially the orientation of my life towards an inner reality is complete and unassailable.
“I have created spaciousness in my life that allows for the ebb and flow of earthly trials and tribulations to play out against the backdrop of a spiritual purpose that transcends the illusory world I dreamt up. Life itself has become the classroom and this earthly existence a mystery school leading to the Unified Mind that lies beyond the seeming separation. The exploration has become endlessly exciting…”
The Last Words...
As John approached the end of his life his belief in this never wavered. He felt a profound connection to a divine source of love and light and felt fulfilled by the life he had lived. His only sadness lay in the fact he had taken so much joy in the journey and did not yet want to leave the party. But he reminded us regularly of the quote from author J.K. Rowling “To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure”.
John loved to hear from and connect with fellow pilgrims and answering your emails was a source of great joy for him. You can still use the contact form at the bottom of the "questions and feedback form" to get in touch with Gemma, who is happy to answer your questions and receive your feedback.
Gemma walked her first Camino at the age of 18 and despite her own training and career taking her into Psychotherapy she never stayed off the pilgrim path for long. For the past decade she has balanced her therapy practice with assisting her father in maintaining and updating the Camino Guides. She continues to keep these guidebooks to the Caminos de Santiago updated in his memory.