Packing for our foot pilgrimage around Shikoku Island, Japan and why we walk pilgrimages….
There is a saying among people who have walked long pilgrimages that “the size of your bag is proportionate to the size of your fears.”
You carry all your fears with you, in the form of items that you put into your backpack.
You have to take rain gear because you fear getting wet, cold and uncomfortable.
You take bandages, in case you develop blisters.
You take a book, in case you find yourself needing inspiration.
The fear of pain might encourage you to pack some pain killer pills.
The fear of the sun and of getting sunburned might prompt you to pack suntan lotion.
The fear of looking raggedy and unkempt would prompt you to take extra clothes and grooming supplies.
The fear of injury would prompt you to take a first aid kit, etc.
Before you know it, you are carrying a huge load, with everything but the kitchen sink…
Since we have to walk daily with everything on our backs, we have to make do with only a few essentials, and nothing more.
It is hard enough to climb mountains and to balance yourself on narrow mountain paths, let alone be weighed down by a heavy backpack full of gear (fear) that will only make the journey more dangerous and painful.
In any case, I can never be ready and fully prepared for all possibilities and eventualities.
The burden of going on a pilgrimage with a heavy load on my back, is NOT an idea I wish to entertain….
I simply HAVE to travel light!
I packed, repacked and eliminated things from my backpack for days before we flew to New Zealand.
When we landed in Auckland, my heart expanded.
I love this country and felt warmed up by being here, and we had not even left the airport!
The first sight that warmed my heart was seeing some big island men from Fiji wearing a traditional “Sulu,” which is a sarong-skirt worn by Fijian men.
These sarongs are not made with flowery patterns, but are always made from patternless plain colors.
They resemble very much a businessmen’s suit fabric, only they are much cooler because they are skirts.
Some men accentuate their Sulu with handmade belts made from woven flax reeds.
The second sight that warmed my heart was seeing a handsome Maori man in his thirties.
He had the aura and energy of a dignified, powerful and light-filled spirit.
He carried no bag with him.
He had his passport and his wallet in his pocket and he was wearing shorts and flip flops (or jandals, as they are called here.)
Just in case he might be chilly on the flight, he had socks with him, but because he did not carry a bag, he tied each long sock around one of his ankles.
He looked like a most handsome and endearing walking Christmas present, with the socks resembling the gift’s ribbons.
“It will be many YEARS of walking around every Buddhist temple in Japan, before we would be able to achieve his level of lightness.”… I thought to myself.
To prevent ourselves from taking too many of our fears along on our pilgrimage, we bought small day backpacks that fit only 26 liters.
These backpacks were not meant for multi day pilgrimages, but as day packs.
There is barely enough room in them for a change of clothes, a daily snack, water bottles, toiletries, our passports, money, camera, phone, mini iPads and chargers.
Which means that many of the “essentials” that common-sense says that you MUST take on a three month long pilgrimage, will not be coming with us.
We will need to rely on the kindness of strangers, or to buy whatever we need IF and when we need it.
Strangers have always been kind to me.
Recently, riding on one of the ski gondolas in Vail, I sat next to a couple who were taking their own selfies, against the backdrop of the majestic Rocky Mountains.
A man leaned over to them with a smile, and said:
“Whatever happened to handing your camera to perfect strangers and asking them to take your picture?”
The couple smiled shyly and handed him their phone and he kindly took their photos.
In Japanese, a pilgrim is called “Henro.”
The traditional Henro attire is all white in color.
This is because white is the traditional color of death in Japan, worn mostly at funerals.
A pilgrimage is a journey unto Real Life.
A pilgrim must be ready and willing to lay aside his or her identity and to die to his old ways of being and of seeing the world, in order to be ready to gain new insights and higher spiritual vision.
I am fully willing and ready for my new transformation.
I am ready to be absorbed into the Infinite from which we all came.
Some say that when you are doing a pilgrimage towards enlightenment and Nirvana, you should be willing to “Do or Die.”
In other words, you either attain Nirvana or die trying.
My pilgrimage clothing is not white.
I have a pair of yoga pants that are made from recycled plastic bottles and they are super light and airy.
I plan to wear them on rest days.
My jacket is a moisture-wicking Icebreaker marino wool hoodie from NZ, and my shoes are made by Vibram, using high tech barefoot technology.
My clothes may be more advanced technically than those worn by the pilgrims of old, but my strength and my resolve are not any better than those ancient pilgrims.
This pilgrimage started in the 700’s.
Some days I feel energetic and strong, but on other days I feel weak and soft.
I hope to get stronger and to let go of my body-consciousness.
I am NOT a body, I am free, and I wish to demonstrate it in my daily life…. I wish to be carried on the wind…
A French hermit once spoke about achieving this level of consciousness:
“To drift like a dead leaf fallen from the tree
and be taken up by the wind,
knowing not if the wind carries you,
or if you are carrying the wind…”
— Michel Jourdan (a French hermit and writer)
In our house in NZ, our garden has gifted us with lots of fruit.
We have collected bags of crabapples, some passion fruit and feijoas, and the small quince tree that we planted a few years ago, has finally given us its first and most delicious quinces.
It feels so good to be here….
There is something timeless and serene about this place….
The quiet is almost palpable and it sinks deep into my soul.
The crowded world seems to be so far away…
So why do I take on this challenge?
To find out what I am really capable of.
To stretch what I think I can do.
To be liberated from the world of illusions and dreams.
To dissolve my limited body-conscious mind into the Infinite Mind.
To go beyond my “normal” physical capabilities and to see how high I can go by challenging myself.
Ch’en Chung-Shun, the Chinese Taoist hermit, spoke about his experiences in climbing tall mountains. He said:
“All that anyone needs for a pilgrimage is a six foot walking stick and a good pair of clogs. (Shoes with a thick sole)
And yet, great lords take with them escorts and much provision before they dare to set off.
When I went to the mountains, I couldn’t find a servant to go with me, much less find a walking stick or clogs to borrow.
When I encountered streams,
I did not know how deep they were.
I threw rocks or just gritted my teeth and leaped across them.
The slightest error and I would have perished.
When I encountered mud, I did not know how slippery it was.
I simply walked across it.
One misstep and I would have fallen.
Peaks that soared like hundred foot walls,
I climbed like an ant up a tree.
Slopes that tilted like thousand foot roofs,
I slithered down like a snake.
I had no idea I was so agile and so daring.”
I am adding two links to stories of people who stretched the limits of what they could do in their later years.
John Lowe is a British ballet dancer who took on ballet at the age of 79.
He is 95 years young now and he still dances.
The article below was written when he was 90
A link to the story of Phyllis Sues who started doing yoga in her sixties.
She is 93 now and better than ever:
For those of you who plan to do a pilgrimage one day, this is what I packed for the Shikoku pilgrimage:
Mini iPad & charger
iPhone & charger (I plan to get a Japanese SIM card when we arrive in Osaka)
Camera, charger and extra memory cards
2 Collapsible water bottles
Rain pants and Rain coat
Cross trail Merrell shoes
3 Hiking Socks, 1 to wear and 2 extra.
Vibram five finger barefoot shoes, plus socks for them.
2 Hiking pants, 1 to wear and 1 extra.
3 Hiking T-shirts, 1 to wear and 2 extra.
1 pair of Recycled plastic bottle yoga pants, for lounging in our room or for rest days.
1 Cool-light Icebreaker hoodie.
2 Prana long sleeve shirts.
Underwear – 2 pairs.
Bras – 2 pieces.
1 Collapsible hiking pole
Wallet, passports and cash, because Shikoku island is very rural and many of the businesses accept cash only.
A small Towel
Shampoo, conditioner, leave in conditioner, facial cream, a bottle of essential oils, deodorant, a comb, toothbrush and toothpaste, a sun cream that I got in Myanmar.
A small knife
After comparing many styles and models of backpacks, I finally chose the Black Diamond Nitro 26 liter backpack which weighs 956 g (2 lb 2 oz)
The backpack balance rule is 40%-60%, meaning that you carry 40% of the weight of the bag on your shoulders, and 60% is supposed to be supported by your hips, through the pack’s waist belt.
The backpack has a “ReActive” suspension system which includes shoulder straps and a waist belt that moves with you as you bend on the trail.
This innovative system provides “maximum efficiency, ensures a natural stride, balances load transfers, reduces knee stress, and eliminates sore spots and bruising.” (Or at least this is what the Black Diamond website promises the bag can do…..)