Having read many accounts of the life-changing nature of The Camino, I have often daydreamed about what I might learn along the way if I attempted the feat, and who I would become along the way.
The Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of St James, is a network of pilgrims' ways or pilgrimages leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. The most popular route to walk is 500 miles and takes 35 days for a seasoned hiker to complete.
With this in mind, I was very interested to pick up Walking with Buddha: Pilgrimage on the Shikoku 88-Temple Trail by C. W. Lockhart, a self-described peregrina, or long-distance hiker. Having completed The Camino five times, he was now undertaking the Shikoku 88-Temple Trail, which involves walking 746 miles to visit 88 Buddhist temples. The Shikoku takes 42 days for a seasoned hiker to complete.
I was thinking if The Camino which provides 35 days to walk and think and connect with other pilgrims, is life changing, I could only image what visiting 88 temples in 42 days might accomplish.
Lockhart self-published this book, so in her book overview and description she writes:
Walking with Buddha is a moving-meditation set along Japan's stunning Shikoku 88-Temple Trail. The ancient 1,200-kilometer path around the island of Shikoku serves as a reflective backdrop for cultural immersion and introduction into the Buddha-Nature. Wearing her heart on her sleeve, Lockhart sets off on a walking-pilgrimage to nourish her soul and contemplate her next fifty years. While learning to embrace her own Buddha-nature, she discovers the wisdom, courage, and grace to accept change and re-create a life she truly desires.
Lockhart begins the book with:
We carry the weight of our fears.
I returned (to The Camino) four more times to hit that life-altering magical reset button that, thus far, only the Camino provides. Now, north of 50 years old, I find myself in need, once again, of the magical reset button. I’m tired. And disenchanted. And bordering on burnout. I need a strategy and new tools to embrace this second half of my life.
And with that, she was off, and I was along for the pilgrimage, eager to understand what the ‘magic reset button’ of a peregrina, who used walking-pilgrimages to nourish her soul and contemplate her life, could accomplish.
Though not a Buddhist, Lockhart chose the Shikoku Trail due to its proximity to Okinawa, where she was living. She explains:
I suppose pilgrims are pilgrims, regardless of cultural or religious values. I imagine we share similar goals. We seek the intangibles of wisdom, grace, and light. So, I have got to make it count. What am I struggling to overcome?
Along the pilgrimage, Lockhart provides interesting descriptions and moving insights into each of the temples she visits. She shares the people she meets and connects with along the trail. Readers share in the logistic of negotiating travel, arranging lodging, and eating in a foreign country.
As she describes it:
During a pilgrimage, discomfort is a valuable teacher and an integral part of spiritual growth and healing. I want to keep pushing and growing and healing.
It’s not the physical trail that manifests change. I don’t think the process is contextual to time or space. Instead, spiritual growth develops over the entirety of the journey and beyond.
Usually, walking is prayer, and pilgrimage is my church.
Yet, sadly, despite her ability to describe what might be the very soul and nature of a pilgrimage, I found very little of the spiritual components and insights contained in her book. I would best describe it as a very interesting travelogue.
By her own admission, Lockhart hopes the Shikoku will provide her the courage and grace to return home and retire; maybe her pilgrimages will serve as bookends, making the beginning and ending of her rambling ways. Hardly the soul nourishing, contemplative, and life resetting encounter I had hoped to share. But then again this was her pilgrimage, not mine.
She ends the book with:
Instead of asking myself “What did I learn?” perhaps better questions are “How have I changed” and “Who am I now?”
I still carry the weight of my fears, but the burden of fear lessens with each cycle of peregrination. I am lighter, braver, wiser.
I have discovered my own gentle Buddha-Nature, and I’ll use it as fodder to nurture my pilgrim-heart. Instead of a backpack full of fear, I carry an awakened sense of Wisdom, Courage, and Grace.
An interesting read, but I had hoped for more of how her experiences shaped the internal dialogues that led to her self-discoveries; more of the spiritual nature of walking meditation; more of carrying the weight of fear and confronting the need for change.
Perhaps some things must be experienced to be understood.