I returned to Canada on April 28, spent a few days resting and visiting family and friends, then returned to home, work, and real life. It took me roughly a month to completely catch up and pick up the threads of my life again, but now I can really say that I'm back. Tadaima.
How do I even begin to describe what the Shikoku Pilgrimage was to me?
The pilgrimage was a major item on my Bucket List for years. Then, to get there and encounter so many issues was incredibly discouraging. I felt so terrible about myself, cursed my luck, and wondered why in the world I was even there to begin with.
There is one phrase that can be seen all over the pilgrimage: 同行二人 (dogyo ninin). It means "One practice, two people" or "Two people going together." It references the belief that Kobo Daisho accompanies every henro who undertakes the pilgrimage, guiding and protecting the henro. He is symbolized by the kongozue (walking stick), which is a henro's support and was certainly mine when my knees and feet were at their limits.
I'm not Buddhist, but whenever I encountered a problem, it felt like the universe sent someone to help me overcome it. When I was feeling lonely and depressed after a difficult morning while tackling Konomineji (Temple #27), I stayed at Minshuku Yuan with a funny man and his sweet daughter and a quiet but very kind man, all of whom could speak some English. Their company over Yuan's delicious dinner cheered me up immensely. Or when I was feeling hot and exhausted after trekking through the Goshikidai Plateau, an elderly woman and her daughter offered to take me with them in their car to the next temple. The two Dutch sisters I talked to in Kuma Kogen said the same thing. For example, they couldn't find the ryokan because all the signs were in Japanese, and they could not speak or read Japanese. Then I came along, struck up a conversation with them, and was not only staying at the same ryokan but I was also able to read the ryokan's sign, pointing it out to them.
Coincidence? Maybe. I don't think I'll never know for sure. Regardless, there was no way I would have made it without the help of so many people. I can't say the pilgrimage changed who I was as a person, but I certainly did learn a few things, namely gratitude and the importance of kindness. From the woman who ran out of her house when she saw me limping to give me medicated anti-inflammatory patches to the elderly henro at temples 20+21 who walked hunched over but still worried over me and offered me his food multiple times and then to everyone who gave me osettai...they were all instrumental in my journey. Even those who simply said, "Kiotsukete" (Take care) offered the encouragement I needed to keep going. After being so affected by them, I, too, started to be kinder, more patient, more willing to give to others. That is probably the greatest gift the pilgrimage gave me.
Would I do the pilgrimage again? Absolutely! In fact, the Camino de Santiago is now on my Bucket List. My left knee never completely healed, so I will need to work on it before attempting a pilgrimage (of any kind). Otherwise, I would absolutely go back to Shikoku and attempt the 88 temples again, perhaps by walking the entire thing, the way I originally intended. I have no idea when that will be, but Shikoku will always hold a special place in my heart and I will be back.
My name is Marianne and this is my journal about that time I decided to complete the 88 Temple Shikoku Pilgrimage. It was both the most difficult thing I've ever done and the most amazing thing I've ever done. It was truly an experience of a lifetime.