In my case Pilgrim's Progress consisted in my having to climb down a thousand ladders until I could reach out my hand to the little clod of earth that I am.
In retrospect my headgear might have been a little shocking. Here I was in the middle of the city of Tokushima heading for temple 18 as the stone pillar behind me informs. The kanji for Shikoku, the island upon which I moved, is represented by the two characters of 'four' and 'country' signifying the modern day geopolitics of Ehime prefecture, Tokushima , Kochi and Kagawa. In a brilliant sleight of hand the kanji for four at the top of the sign post behind me looks like a road winding into the distance. Very Japanese touch I would say.
The red symbol on my head here is Shinto, not Buddhist. So here is a guy with a non-standard face (given that over 99% of pilgrims are Japanese) emblazoned with the three treasures of Shinto (looking like a triad yin yang) and carrying a staff from Mount Fuji. He wears a giant 16th century conquistador crucifix from 16th century Cusco in Peru unbeknownst to all and carries a small scroll with Buddhist Saint Kukai's image on it. In short this is not your average pilgrim-this man could be dangerous! Despite the fact that I speak fluent Japanese and since I do not walk talking, it would be undestandable if some people on the busy streets of Tokushima through which I had to pass were a trifle nervous. But since Japan is such a tremendously self restraining culture, my alien presence was quickly subsumed by hundreds of years of pure Japanese pilgrim 'vibes' that literally oozed out of the pavements and the mountain trails. I was soon to enter the 'vortex'.
It was August when this photograph was taken and that means high humidity and temperatures in the mid thirties centigrade. Liters of liquid are easily consumed as there is a plethora of vending machines everywhere save the hills. Going through cities can be very demanding since the highly complex map book depicts all paths in red-thus one must sometimes walk and read at the same time. Since I need reading glasses and carry a staff too it is a wonder I did not crash into people on the busy streets. Everywhere you go there is the magic of convenience store in this country. You can buy just about anything, anywhere, and though Shikoku is a far cry from the more economically prosperous Honshu, where Osaka Tokyo and Kobe dominate culture and business, here I could buy sheet wrapped underwear, an electronic dictionary and re-charge my cell phone all at one in the convenience store pit stop. This is a far cry from the poor bastards who traipsed along these cobbled streets hundreds of years ago with a rice ball, a bamboo water container and a heart full of woe in most cases.
You see this pilgrimage is not really about 'self realization' and 'spiritual enlightenment' at all. This is all about squaring up with your own deeply entrenched inadequacies, your failures and your lack of real understanding about just about everything. It is really about getting stripped down to essentials. So despite the fact that my ancient precursors on this route might have had less temptations abounding in the environment, like large titted women emblazoned on massive posters above, behind and sometimes actually physically on the street right next to me, the pilgrim's progress, or lack of it was essentially a psychophysical journey. As is your heart, thus is the road.
I had plenty of opportunity to see how that heart was full of less than pure pilgrim thoughts. On more than one occasion as I walked and had a fantasy especially about young women, young women would appear with astonishing alacrity. One day in Kochi somewhere the sun was going down as I walked with the Pacific Ocean on the left. It was downhill. That meant of course it was fairly easy going even after a long day, a welcome respite from the tougher sections. Walking is a highly stimulating activity sexually. That is pure physiology since a huge amount of blood is being pumped to and from the legs and transiting the genitalia as it flows. Erections are a common result, naturally. As all men know an erection will soon signal the brain for an appropriate fantasy which, if you are a highly visual type like me (in NLP there are three major types of perception: visual, audio and kinesthetic) can be conjured up immediately. Any woman's image will do, known or unknown. So there I am walking down the hill with a lump at the front of my dirt stained trousers alone and unseen. Traffic is almost non existent. A car is very slowly approaching me from behind, I can feel it is actually 'watching' me. I sense something, a female energy, a curiosity. Sure enough the car slows down in front of me and stops.
Two young women in their early thirties perhaps, in a cheap old car and obviously travelling together have rolled down the window and are inviting me into the car. It is getting dark they tell me and the town is a long way away. The lump in my trousers just wanted to leap through the window and grab both of them at the same time. Fortunately I still had a bit of cranial content remaining with which to judge the situation. Maybe they wanted to practise their English? I was unusual. I was a man. I was alone. I told them it was against the rules of my pilgrimage to get in a car.I remembered how Peace Pilgrim had always refused rides until she was quite old. She died instantly in a head on collision when she changed that rule. There was a really good chance I would get into a genital collision with these two young beauties I strongly felt as they smiled at me in the dusk. They were very, very friendly. There is something deeply attractive about the 'wild man' on his own I am convinced. This was not the first time it had happened either. I politely refused their offer and they drove off slowly. Breathing a sigh of belief and regret I watched their car pull slowly away only to stop again after a hundred meters. An arm came out of the window with something in it. As I came up to it she gave me two tangerines, and then drove off. They were truly delicious...