Painting in my studio, and planning our next foot pilgrimage in Japan

Painting in my studio, and planning our next foot pilgrimage in Japan

This winter, there is a lot of snow in our garden and in the high Rocky Mountains around us.

The mountains look beautiful, especially on sunny days when the sky takes on deep hues of blue.
The air is crispy clean, and the quiet of the high mountains is soul nourishing.

Each season has its own distinctive sounds.
In Spring, you hear the return of birds, especially hummingbirds, who make sounds like tiny helicopters when they circle around to claim their territories.

In Summer, we hear the din of the cicadas, the hum of butterflies, and the songs of many birds.
Living on a creek that empties into the Colorado River, we see many kinds of birds of prey and fisher birds.

In Autumn, we hear the sounds of chipmunks and playful squirrels eating the seeds of ripe pine cones, and of fish jumping in the creek.

Winter is almost silent.
The river and creeks still flow over the rocks, making a pleasant, gurgling sound.
We hear the wild turkeys as they cross the fields, but during most days, the sounds of deer hooves are muffled by the snow.
Besides, in recent years, due to overly zealous hunters, wildlife stays away from houses and people.

We recently read in our local newspaper that our municipality now traps and kills the mountain lions in our area.
That has caused me great sadness.
I truly hope that people will stop hunting the majestic moose, elegant lions, sweet elk and gentle deer.
When will humans learn to honor and live in mutual respect with nature and with one another?….

But despite enjoying the beauty of the seasons in our mountain retreat, my heart still yearns for enlightenment, for the full realization of our union with the Divine…

I paint in my studio, but in my heart, I yearn for the open road.
I want to walk for hours, listening to the quiet wind on mountain trails.

Since we will be celebrating Jules’s 70th birthday on this pilgrimage, I gave him the choice of which pilgrimage we will walk.

Should we go back to France and continue walking the Via Francigena to Rome, or should we fly to Japan, to walk one of the long pilgrimages in the land of the rising sun?

In my own mind, I hoped he would choose Japan.
I yearned to visit and pray in ancient Buddhist temples, to light sweet scented incense in the burning bowls, to sing the Heart Sutra and to gather more material for my 500 Arahats art project.

But I said nothing.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Jules chose Japan.
There are so many foot pilgrimages in Japan that I still want to walk…

So… to cement our commitment, we immediately booked our airline tickets to go to Japan in early spring.

They say a pilgrimage does not start with the first Kilometer that you walk, but from the moment you make up your mind to do it.
Buying the airline tickets and booking our first week of hotels on our route is our commitment to do the entire pilgrimage.

We will be walking along the sea and over many mountains around
the Chugoku region of Western Honshu, visiting the 33 temples dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of compassion in Buddhism.

There are four Kannon Pilgrimages in Japan.
The oldest and most famous is the Saikoku (Saigoku) 33 Kannon Pilgrimage.
Then there is the Bando 33 Kannon Pilgrimage, the Chichibu 33 Kannon Pilgrimage and the newest and least known, the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage.

We chose to walk the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage, because it is long (at least 1500 Kilometers) and it is spreads across a region of Japan that we have not visited in years.

The other three pilgrimages are near areas of Japan that we walked last year, when we walked the Nakasendo, so we will leave them for future years.

We have dedicated three months for walking this pilgrimage, which will leave us plenty of time to take in the full experience.

In my studio, I did not immediately continue to work on the 500 Arahats project, the Enlightened students of the Buddha that I was working on before we left.

In my experience, after a long absence from the studio, it is best to start easy and small, in order to get myself back into painting mode.
By painting mode, I mean that it takes time to get my hand to coordinate with my brain and the intentions of my vision.

Some artists suggest just doing some doodling or painting exercises until confidence returns.

I decided to be a bit more practical, and painted some small paintings of the Goddess Kannon.

During our pilgrimage, we will collect a stamp from each temple we visit.
This stamp contains a red seal with the symbol of the temple, and hand drawn calligraphy done by a local monk or a temple’s attendant.

The stamps are collected in a book, or on a hanging scroll.
I decided to take a scroll, and painted the Goddess Kannon in the middle, leaving space for the seals of the temples around the image.

After two weeks, I was ready to continue working on my 500 Arahats project.
It is a slow process, each painting being very detailed and taking a long time to draw and paint.
But I have lots of patience, and the process has helped me to develop even more.

Besides, while painting I listen to books on Audible, and it feels almost like I am reading while painting.

Talking about reading, I bought some books written by pilgrims who have done the Saigoku pilgrimage.
To my slight disappointment, I discovered that they did not actually walk the pilgrimage, but took trains and buses.
Even that left them impatient, since many of the temples are located in remote locations.

Nobody has ever walked the whole Chugoku pilgrimage.
People do it on buses, trains or by car.
I found an e-book of a man who cycled it, and read the book, only to discover that he often took his bike on buses and many trains.

I told myself that each pilgrim has his or her own way of seeking enlightenment and expanding inner boundaries and self definition, but to be honest, I felt disappointed that they had not even tried to walk it….
After all, the ultimate goal is to learn how to become enlightened while seemingly living in a physical body.

I know I shouldn’t feel this way…. but I do.

It is in the rigorous practice of self discipline, that we find the true gold.
Only by moving beyond what we think we can do, do we discover what we can actually do as divine beings.

Wishing you a most wonderful day,

2 Comments on “Painting in my studio, and planning our next foot pilgrimage in Japan”

  1. Jules and I both turn 70 this May. My wife and I are going to Nashville to celebrate. Not much of a pilgrimage, but an experience in music history. Keep traveling! I always read your blog. Be well!

    • Dear Bruce,
      It is wonderful to hear from you!
      We did not know that your birthday is also in May.
      Happy 70th birthday to you soon.
      We are sure you will enjoy your trip to Nashville.
      It is a music city and lots of fun.
      Many thanks for reading the blog.
      With friendship and light,

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