There are only 60 days until I leave for my pilgrimage. I am set to fly from New York to Tokyo on March 15th. I’ve been advised to spend a day or two in Tokyo in order to adjust to the time change and to begin calibrating with Japanese customs and culture. Then it will be time to travel to Shikoku and begin walking the pilgrim’s path.
This adventure has come to dominate my life over the past few months. My time has been filled with physical, spiritual and mental preparation.
I’ve worked hard at physical training. I managed to walk nearly 3800 miles (6115 km) in 2015. As far as I can tell the pilgrim’s path (henro michi) is mostly along roads and streets. There are some challenging mountain climbs and hills along the way. So I adapted my training to include both roads and mountains. I’m fairly satisfied I’ve achieved a level of conditioning that will prevent my experience of pilgrimage being dominated by physical challenges.
Spiritual training cannot be accomplished in a few weeks or months. It is the work of a lifetime. I have wasted a great deal of my life pursuing without reflection or understanding the unimportant and illusory. But from time to time I have made the effort to change this, especially in the past few years. Had I not been doing this I would never have become attracted to pilgrimage. I have learned that spiritual practice demands effort, energy, dedication, patience, generosity, wisdom, humility and faith. These are the qualities I see in the pilgrim’s quest. So, my explicit intention in making this journey is spiritual. The long walk, seeing new and wonderful places, making friends with those I meet are, for me, considerations secondary to the religious aspect of the project. A protracted spiritual practice will, I hope, become an extended walking meditation on the true nature of reality. Should I make progress in this already long standing practice I have established for myself, then I will have more to offer others. It is the only way I know to make the world better. Thomas Merton once observed that the monastic practices to keep the earth turning on its axis. I’d like to do just that.
Then there is the process of training the mind. This is a more daunting prospect than preparing the body and less important than the spiritual. To train the mind I can’t just walk out my door and slowly adapt myself to life in Japan, or to the backpacker’s daily search for shelter and food, or to learning the ways to interact with people in a culture much different than my own. Given my strong individual preference for predictability and routine in my life, the mental qualities I need must address this quirk of my personality. In this, at present, I find the greatest obstacle to overcome. The only preparation I can make is to ground myself in the understanding of the difficulty it will present and to trust I will be able to meet the challenges skillfully. The blisters and aching muscles of my pilgrimage will be found in my personality not in my feet and legs.
Now that this dream is becoming reality, I hope to write about it here. I would like to share my experiences, both good and bad, with those of you who might happen on this. I want to post lots of photos (maybe even some video), stories and reflections so you can participate in the adventure. I hope you will check in and walk with me in Japan.