Meet Jizo the little buddhist monk figure that guides thousands of pilgrims on the ancient Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan. Isn’t he cute?
No I am not converting to Buddhism. Rather, I just finished reading Ottawa journalist Robert C. Sibley’s 2010 book wherein he talks about his pilgrimage there. I was amazed at the length and physical difficulty of this 1200 km hike up and down mountainous terrain on the island of Shikoku, Japan. He visited some 88 sacred temples along his 54 day long walk. Little Jizo serves as the trail marker just as the scallop shell on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage does in Spain. Wow, what an endurance!
Sibeley’s book is ostensibly not about this though. It’s larger theme is his seeking to restore a sense of mystery and enchantment in our world that has become analyzable, calculable and explainable in a scientific way for many people. Rather, if one listens deeply and really opens one’s eyes, one can learn to have a mystical experience at any time proving that the world still is enchanted despite our modern misgivings. A mystical experience is one where the truth of our being and our knowing of the world is laid bare for a few unforgettable moments. Where one feels the spiritual presence of God in everyday mundane activities and indeed within us. Anyone can become a mystic through training explains Sibley. Wow, what a breath of fresh air from the daily pandemic news these days, lol.
I liked the book but it was up and down. In a series of essays (on place, solitude, wonder, etc.), Sibley talks about his own experiences with enchantment and delves into the thinking of dozens of philosophers, theologians and writers from Rousseau, Kierkegaard, Rahner, Merton to Virginia Woolf and Wordsworth. I found myself constantly referring to the footnotes in the back as everything was very interesting and I wanted to learn more… Too, I liked his framing of things through wilderness trips to the north of Canada and Vancouver Island as well as on the Camino itself. There is a good bibliography.
At times though, my interest lagged. He seemed to have a set formula for each subject and would drone on sometimes too long it seems, just to complete the template. Is this a book about philosophy and spirituality or is it a book about walking and thinking? Ostensibly both it seems. I really enjoyed his discussion of Soren Kirekegaard wandering the streets of Copenhagen and then rushing home to jot down his thoughts while still standing in his coat and hat. For Rousseau who changed the world, it became “I walk, therefore I am.” In praise of walking.
I certainly agree that walking is a great way to unburden my thoughts and to find new connections and possibilities in life. Come to think of it, it’s time for a walk right now. I give the book 4 stars out of five because of the somewhat formulistic style but overall great content. Needs some distillation.