I walk. I walk to realize, to practice, to encounter the sacred. I walk for health and happiness. I’ve been doing this for years. And during those years I have read about pilgrimage occasionally letting myself dream about going. But when the dream turned into thoughts about the practicalities of the project my enthusiasm waned. Until recently pilgrimage seemed too difficult. But my attraction to a pilgrim’s quest has grown to outweigh its difficulties. Now I understand if I am going to become a pilgrim I should delay no longer. So I have decided to walk the 88 temple pilgrimage route on Japan’s Shikoku Island.
The necessary preparations are significant. First are the physical. In the words of Paul Barach, who walked the route, it’s “…really, really f—— hard.” He was 28, I’m 67. No matter how fit I may think I am, training to walk 750 miles with a pack over numerous mountains is going to be a serious challenge. Then there is my complete ignorance of Japanese which, while I may learn some survival Japanese, will leave me illiterate and nearly mute as soon as I arrive. The thought of being so far from comfortable, familiar home facing these challenges is a bit fearful.
Robert Sibley wrote, “To the Romans, to be a pilgrim was to be an alien or stranger, to leave family and community and wander into the unknown. In the unknown, of course, you can’t be sure of what will happen. The only thing you can learn to control as a pilgrim is how you respond.” To me, standing at the threshold of this journey, that is really the point. To take my practice from the familiar to the alien and strip it, and me, of the habits that attach to a routine existence.
That’s the theory, anyway.