Balancing the Politics of Planning

Was there anything I meant to write about just now? Would it much matter if there were? I don’t doubt the relevance of intentions but, if not for the title, I could make this post into a story about an animal with the head of a dog, body of a duck, wings of a falcon, and tail feathers of a peacock. In fact, in the moment I’m tempted to do so just to prove a point.

Skip to Paragraph 3 if you’re not here for the silly shish.

There were only 12 of their kind and they had no name for people had not discovered them. If they had been discovered, people may award them the name of Rainbow Retriever. The only creature actually capable of retrieving rainbows, but also the least likely to care enough to make the effort. This creature lived on a planet all alone, separated from the other worlds without a care for the expanding galaxies. They were aware of them but lacked interest in other existences. . . If I was really interested in proving a point I would continue the story, but I had a plan and I’ll stick to it.

The word ‘plan’ carries an air of a misnomer with the way expectations develop around it. The word implies a kind of error if things to not go “according to plan.” We might need a new way to paint the picture of the function that plans seem to serve. Something like, “the way everything will definitely not go,” or, “the things I would like to have happen, but only until I change my mind,” might be better. I understand, these suggestion lack the aesthetic appeal of singled word: plan.

Alas, Shakespeare was likely correct when he stated, “brevity is the soul of wit.” The greatest faith one can have, and many ignore, is in knowing that everything will be okay when plans go awry. People love to overreact to everything and panic over anything. This may be a product of sensationalized media, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is the world will not end when your plans go wrong. In fact, the greatest likelihood is that, if it has an effect on anyone, it will be you and it will be way less dramatic than you think it is.

A plan can only be followed as a guide in a general direction. If anything more is desired that plan is more likely to result in a stubborn mood that fears improvisation, despises impulse, and lacks creativity. One must be able to adjust their plans creatively as they move forward into a reality separate from the one in which the original plan was created. When plans become too strict they become dictators upon the individual. Imagine Stalin weighing himself down with a ball and chain.

I cannot speak for everyone in this situation. It would be just as dictatorial to say it would be best for everyone to operate with their planning in the same way. Despite which side of the fence you fall on, whether making stricter plans or loosely organized ones, it is in compromising between the tendencies that the greatest outcomes can be realized.

From my own statements it may be obvious that I tend towards the style of planning that is more loose and unstructured. For this reason I can best speak to it’s downfalls. Lacking definition creates a lack of direction and too great a likelihood to fall into an entire lack of progress. You might consider too loose a schedule equivalent to a five year running country; it is uninformed and unprepared to move you into the future.

There is no right or wrong way to go but, whichever way you lean towards it would be advisable to ad a touch of it’s opposition for balance. Remember, more strict equates to greater definition but a lack of flexibility, while a lack of definition leads to vague intentions and often underwhelming results. Find the middle ground and achieve new levels of success.

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Defining Maturity, Do You Have It?

“You find maturity through knowing what you’re going to do and, not only concerning yourself with the present, but thinking about the future as well.”
This was how a friend of mine described maturity to me. It was not in those exact words, but I hope she could forgive me for paraphrasing. After she said it, she asked me what I thought maturity was. I couldn’t come up with an answer I was confident in at the time, but I found myself having a hard time agreeing with what she had suggested. It didn’t seem like enough to me. Her idea seemed too simple.
I feel I do agree with her, in part. Maturity has a great deal to do with awareness. One must be aware of what affects oneself and what one has an affect on in order to carry themselves in accordance with maturity. But, it would be erroneous to say that knowing what you were going to do, or knowing what you wanted to do, was the fundamental element of maturity. There are a great many people who are uncertain of the path they wish to take, and to think these individuals would then be unable to carry themselves in a mature nature is unfair. Furthermore, there are people who know what they want and are going after it by egregious means. If that defines maturity, I think we need to reevaluate the way we value the quality.
Albeit, maturity is a state of knowledge. It is a state of knowing what to do, what not to do, and how to be in accordance with oneself. The most difficult part is not deceiving the self. People talk, and they like to talk in a way that makes them feel like they are in control. They want to know they have things figured out. So, when people talk, if they do it well, it is easy to be swayed by one person or another and feel like they have some secrets to life that you must follow. This is a trap. Other people, and the things they have to say – their opinions, their ideas, their beliefs, their experiences – are valuable, but they do not apply to everyone. It is a mistake to be under the impression that something someone else says is directly related to you. There is value in the words of others because it opens a window to the realm of their experiences, but that does not always mean their words are poignant onto your own life.
The mature understand this, and they will listen, they will learn, but they will not be easily changed. This does not mean the mature will never be affected by others. That would be more in accordance with arrogance or stubbornness. In fact, the mature will be affected by all they come into contact with because they recognize everything has some importance and relevance, even if it is not directly onto the self. In this awareness is another important trait to maturity. It is impossible for one’s beliefs, hopes, desires, intentions, and acts, to always be in accordance with those of the people they meet. This does not make the other person wrong or evil, it only makes them different. The mature can recognize and respect different paths chosen. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step aside. The mature is aware of moments to engage in interaction and moments when it is wise to sever ties. Maturity does not need to destroy others to reach it’s goal. The mature understand that every step taken against another is merely a way to compile wrath against the self.
Now, I must concede that I’ve said a great deal about awareness being an important part of maturity. It is important to know yourself so that you will not let the wrong people have too strong an effect on you., and it is important to know what your actions do to others. But, I also stated that I felt not knowing what you wanted to do or what you were going to do should not be a vital part of maturity. It is easy to fall on contradictions. The mature will do it, and the immature will do it far more often. It is something in life that is difficult to avoid, but the mature become aware of their contradictions when they are revealed and make an attempt to correct them. It is through correcting these inconsistencies that one becomes closer to discovering what is best for them, what it is they truly want, and where they want to be.
It might be best to define maturity as a journey of progress. A journey of learning about the self with and through other people. It does not require a perfect set plan, but it does call for progress. It calls for a direction and a meaningful intent in that direction, even if it turns out that it won’t be the right one. Maybe this definition doesn’t fit perfectly for everyone but, in an attempt to abide by one of the frameworks I’ve already laid, that’s okay. People have different experiences that result in differing opinions. Neither are right or wrong, they are just the result of their own experience.
What do you think?
What part of this definition of maturity do you agree or disagree with?
How do you define it yourself?
If you would like to read more from me and see my videos as well, you can check out One World Home where I’m constantly posting new material to help people feel at home anywhere they go.
Thanks for reading.
Peace be the Journey

Capitalizing on Intelligence and Balancing Weakness

It is said that everybody has different learning techniques that work best for them. I don’t doubt this. In fact, I’m quite certain it is true. But, at the same time I believe it is an over-simplification of the learning process and provides too narrow a view of how people can learn, remember, and improve through the information they obtain.

Multiple Intelligence test are based on a eight different types of intelligences:

  • Bodily – Kinaesthetic: This intelligence is all about thinking in movements and having an ability to express oneself or achieve goal through physical movements. Kinaesthetic thinkers retain knowledge best when it is associated with activities such as dance, acting, or sport.
  • Interpersonal – People: Interpersonal intelligence is about understanding the people around you and their motives, emotions, perspectives, and moods. This is understandably applicable to social situations and interactions.
  • Intrapersonal – Self: This is said to be the road to achievement, learning, and personal satisfaction. It is largely about being connected t who you are, how you feel, and knowing your own limits and abilities.
  • Logical – Math: Logical intelligence is about understanding complex problems and conceptualising relationships between symbols, processes, and actions. This type of intelligence asks questions, finds solutions, and reflects on the problem solving process.
  • Musical: Musical intelligence is associated with enjoying music, making music, singing, and playing an instrument. It involves a sensitivity to sound and understanding the emotions that music conveys.
  • Naturalistic: This thinking is about understanding living things and applying a scientific reasoning to the ways of the world. It is mostly applicable to those working with plants, animals, or science.
  • Verbal – Linguistic: This relates to the ability to use words effectively for reading, writing, listening, and speaking. These people are generally capable of explain complex ideas through words and gaining understanding by asking questions.
  • Visual – Spatial: Visual intelligence is attributed to seeing and modifying things in your mind. This kind of understanding is valuable in solving spatial problems, designing, and doing crafts.

These along with personality tests can provide valuable insight into the best ways we as individuals can interact with our environment. It is a good recommendation to find the intelligence that is strongest for you and utilize the abilities that particular type of intelligence identifies. But, it can be just as useful of a practice to identify the things you are weak in.

Myself, I am a dominantly Intrapersonal and Linguistic individual, which accounts for the large amount of reading and writing I like to do along with the habit of questioning almost everything. I was not always this way. These habits have built over time and become cemented as my most genuine style. But, just because these intelligences represent a large part of my personality it does not mean there is no value in testing the skills of the others.

I have, at times, utilized other skill sets in my learning and daily life. Even though it may not be my typical path I have found great use out of some of the techniques in the other intelligences. For example, musical is the lowest of my intelligences but I’ve often found it has been the best tool for me in learning languages. In both my French and Chinese studies I have found some of my best progress came when studied lyrics of songs and then sang along with them. There may be a slight sense of the linguistic intelligence still present in this activity, but I see no fault in balancing the weakness with a strength.

Working towards a goal of mastering weaker intelligences may be an intense struggle, but at least strengthening them would provide you with more balanced abilities and could even reveal new skills, What are your greatest intelligences, and what will you do to improve on your weaker ones?

Reversing the Habit of Inconsistency

 

Inconsistency as a Handicap

One of the biggest struggles in the lives of many is in finding the thing they want to do. It becomes even more of a difficulty when the fact is that people need to do something for a long period of time in order to build a valuable skill. Inconsistency is a handicap that cannot coexist with expertise.

Skills must develop as habits overtime and habits become a part of us through regular involvement in daily life. If there is no consistency it will not be adopted. This is why negative habits are so common and easy to pick up. Doing the simple things and taking the easy way out is an appealing option and when done with regularity they become entrenched as routine and difficult to correct.

In reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin my attention has been repeatedly drawn to this quote: “You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do.” For different people some things  fit as aptitudes and interests better than  others. But, it is a regular occurrence for people to have a hard time finding the thing that fits well for them and, even if they do find something, it can prove just as much of a challenge to make time for those things.

What do you Gravitate Towards?

For those without overwhelming natural talent -even for those who do have it- failing to find consistency often means finding oneself trapped in mediocrity. This can feel debilitating. The fact is that even the most enjoyable activities repeated time and time again can develop an air of monotony and even become quite tedious. It takes either great willpower to excel or an intense interest to call someone back to the same thing over and over again and develop consistency.

There is a great deal of pressure on people these days to find profitable careers and it’s no secret that many people fall into careers they do not necessarily enjoy. Finding something profitable can become a distraction from finding something that you actually care about. Many people can relate to the feeling of, “I wish I could try that,” or, “I would like a chance to do that again,” but restraint on time holds us back from doing these things.

There are the lucky few who, from a young age, gravitate towards something and do not divert from that path (Bill Gates with software and Michael Jordan with basketball). For the majority, knowing who we are, what we’re good at, what we want and like is a skill that takes more time. The good news is this is a skill that can be learned, and it is never too late.

Forget the Path, Find a Direction

We often reference people’s activities in life by talking about their calling or their passion or even their path, but I prefer a different title for it: direction. A calling implies there is only one thing to do. The word passion is too abstract to instruct any immediate action. Path implies you should follow a plan laid out for you no matter where it goes. But, if you can find a direction you have something that let’s you know exactly what to do NOW without restraining possibilities for the future. There is no ten year plan for a direction, but it’s guaranteed to go somewhere.

The issue one immediately might find with this idea of “direction” is that it leaves us with the same problem of consistency. If we do not have a plan that we are committed to over a long period of time how can we know we will stick to anything? There is no clear cut answer to this question as it is different for each person in each individual task. Sometimes, it turns out you very well should get away from what you’re doing. A laid out plan is just as likely to coax somebody into taking things too far. But, if a task is done to completion, that is to say if a direction is followed until a new choice needs to be made, there is success in that endeavor. The only question at that point is what direction to go next.

One could say this hasn’t gotten us far at all if we have arrived at the same question of what to do with ourselves, but the fact is that we now have more information about ourselves to work with. We know how we preformed with the previous direction and tasks involved in it. We also know how we interacted with other people(if any) involved in those tasks and how we appreciate them. It is only through actual action and practice that we can gain the valuable knowledge to assess ourselves through.

Some people spend more time with introspection in an effort to get a better idea of themselves as a person, but studies have shown that people cannot rely on this information as much as we may expect and they still may not recognize why they feel or act the way they do. This is why finding a direction and taking action is irreplaceable as a method of self-understanding. The actions support ideas about ourselves through the concrete evidence of what has happened.

The Proof is in the Process

No matter what we do energy is being spent. It does not matter if we enjoy the activity or not. As it turns out, we may tend to spend more energy on the things we don’t enjoy doing since doing those things not only call upon the energy of action but also require a level of self discipline and patience. In the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength two lessons were demonstrated by sited studies.

  1. You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
  2. You use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks.

It doesn’t need to be said, we all have to deal with things we don’t want to do. The fact that those activities take away willpower and energy that would better be used on the activities we enjoy is not only disappointing, but it is also likely to lower the quality of the things we do want to do when we find the time. It may even make those things feel more like work and therefore feel less desirable.

In order to compensate for this we can take another lesson from Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project. Gretchen organized her happiness project to span a year where each month would be focused on a specific set of resolutions. Ultimately, it was a year long project of alternating New Years resolutions with the hope of habits from prior months being carried through as she moved forward.

The very first resolution that she worked on was to boost her energy. This entailed going to sleep earlier, exercising better, organizing her home and work space, tackling nagging tasks, and acting more energetic. We can all probably recall a person in our lives who seemed to get a lot more done than anybody else. Maybe there was even a time in your own life when you were noticeably more productive than at other times. The likelihood is that these productivity levels translate directly to energy levels at the specific stage of your life. If you can manage your energy and how you are spending it you will better be able to manage your time according to what you have.

One thing we are never taught at any point in our education is how to manage our energy levels. Often, even the things we consider leisure are sapping away our energy and steadily diminishing our ability to preform at whatever task we are soon to undertake. When we spend time doing things we personally do not consider valuable we are wasting our energy and are likely to be left wishing for more time in the day. As Seneca wrote:

It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has be given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishments of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.

So, when we ask the question of how we can develop more consistency in the tasks we care about it may be better to restate the question to ask how we can better organize our time to ensure we have the energy to tackle these tasks with consistency. It is through the action that we learn about ourselves and find the tasks and direction we desire. But, it is only through organizing and managing ourselves that we are able to find consistency and excellence in time.

Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone

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This book sheds light upon the difficulties that were present -and in many ways remain present- in a racially divided country. Baldwin is able to speak to the challenge from a number of angles. We see the perspective of the child, the parent, the lover, the suppressed, the empathetic, the affluent as well as others in the struggle of this story. It evokes genuine compassion and understanding from the reader on issues that are far too recent and remain too present.

We are shown vivid scenes of abuse in black labor camps, run-ins with police, mixing races in segregated neighborhoods among a number of others. Baldwin’s skill at bringing social struggles to life is on full display as he weaves a tale of a boy’s unlikely rise to prominence and shows how, despite progress on the economic ladder, social challenges remain constant.

Baldwin takes a step away from his erudite prose that seems to come so naturally to him. In much of his work the elegant style and rhythm in which Baldwin writes is regularly on display, but in Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone that rhythm is, at times, so notably absent that one might believe it was a conscious decision on the writer’s part. Either way, the emotionally powerful scenes present throughout the novel are sure to give any reader an image that will remain with them.

This book is a depiction of the way the United States of America was and remains a depiction of where it comes from. This is a history that too many of its citizens either neglect or wish to forget, but it will forever play a role in what it will become. Through his work, this novel a small but important piece of the whole, James Baldwin remains a prominent figure in the nations history. The day we forget James Baldwin, we take a step towards neglecting humanity.

Value in Nothing; Making Time for Silence and Improving from it

Hey folks, here’s a preview of my new post up on One World Home. To see the entire post click here, or the link at the bottom of the page.

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I did something a few nights ago. More accurately, I did nothing at all. I sat in a room, quiet and dark. I wasn’t meditating, at least not in the way I’m used to. I moved everything away from me, especially electronics, and just sat. It was late enough that there was no activity outside. No children playing in the streets. No cars driving by. No doors opening and closing. There was still sound. Where I live right now, in a neighborhood surrounded by in Taiwan trees, the cicadas are always adding their buzzing to the background of life. The constant hum provides background music to my days. I remember they stopped once. That was nice.

There I was, in the silence -in what now defines silence for me- and I just sat. I didn’t ‘oohmmm’ or chant or take strong measured breathes in and out. When something came to mind, I thought about it. When I was done thinking about it, I stopped. What I didn’t do was respond to the urge to attend to anything.

I recalled a switch I’d forgotten to turn off downstairs. I ignored it. I wanted to fill my water bottle before going to sleep. It could wait. I didn’t do as much reading as I’d wanted to during the day. There was an e-mail I’d forgotten to send and an urge to go through the ritual routine of Internet checks: E-mail, Facebook, ESPN.com, in that order. Rarely do I feel better about myself after that process.

I responded to none of these urges. I sat and I looked around the room. Not the most exciting point of my day, but three days later those fifteen minutes have been the most memorable of the past week. Silence has long been something I’ve been fond of, sometimes even too much. I’m quick to anger when people raise their voice and grow frustrated when silence is disturbed by an outside source. But, at this time, it wasn’t the silence of the world I was concerned with. It was silence of my mind.

To read this post in it’s entirety, click here.

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Shikoku Day Fifteen: The Final Day, for now

I woke up on top of the sheets and blankets, still wearing the bathrobe from the Onsen. It was still dark. There were signs of the sky growing lighter, but I saw no reason to be in a race against the sun. I rolled from one side to the other shedding my robe and kicking it to the end of the bed. I looked across the gap between our beds at Cindy sleeping. I could hear her breathing, not snoring, but definitely alive. That was good. I tugged the sheets beneath me but still did not put them over my body. I went back to sleep listening to the sound of Cindy’s breathing.

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When day came we made no rush of getting out of the hotel. I knew I would be leaving the trail that day and, though my feelings were conflicted, I was comfortable with the idea. I wanted to finish the trail in one go, but reasoned that it was probably an ambitious task considering I’d never done anything of the sort in the past and had no idea what I was up against in this challenge. Now there is something to come back for, I told myself.

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We started moving towards Kōnomineiji (27). It was a 3.4-kilometer hike up the mountain, not close to the challenge of Shōsanji, but a task nonetheless. There was a train station near the bottom of the mountain and we concluded it would be best to see what time we arrived and then decide whether or not to go up.

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We walked through more back roads lined with small businesses and homes. It was quiet, but not like the silence during the previous day. There were people around, but they had nothing to make a fuss about. Everybody was relaxed. Everything was calm. As we passed one bakery, the owner stopped us and handed u each a fresh baked roll. This provided a double-sided thrill for me because I had been hoping Cindy would experience some of the o-settai kindness of the island. Also, the bread was good, so that helped. We got back onto a main road looking for a convenience store where we could print the bus tickets we’d ordered for the night bus from Tokushima to Tokyo.

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“Do you know her?” Cindy asked me as we walked down the street. She pointed out a woman on the opposite side of the street who was waving to us.

“Ummm. . .” I thought it might be the Japanese Stallion from the day prior, but this woman had grey hair and was without the strong, pride driven elegance of the Japanese Stallion. She started to make her way across the street. There was no crosswalk, and it was obvious that she was concerned over the fact. She looked both ways and crossed with her head down like she was praying to be delivered across this ocean of road towards safety. She had a petit step with a reckless air reminding me of the way a kitten moves innocently through the world but is also comically foolish with it’s shallow understanding. She was an elderly kitten.

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She reached our side of the road safely and spoke to us with an excited curiosity. She wanted to know about us, but gave neither of us a chance to speak. She spoke fast, jumping from one thing to another. All I could pick up in her words were a few things concerning the pilgrimage, but I wasn’t sure what. Cindy was more involved, saying a few words of affirmation every now and then.

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I whispered to Cindy, “do you know what she’s saying?”

“Not really.” Even while we whispered to each other, the elderly kitten did not stop having her fun. It was as if she had been waiting all day for this precise instance to say these exact words. She’d prepared well. She began to slow her speaking and fumbled with her purse.

Ummmm, what’s happening? I wondered. Then, as I saw her opening her wallet, “what is she doing?”

“I don’t know,” Cindy said.

The woman pulled out a 1000-yen (roughly equivalent to 10USD at the time) bill and pushed it into Cindy’s hands. Cindy was nervous as if she was actually being robbed instead of given something. “Matt,” she looked at me, “what do I do?”

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Typically, it’s not appropriate to turn down o-settai offered while on the pilgrimage since it is the citizen’s way of being a part of the journey, but there are special circumstances and I felt this might be one of them. The woman asked Cindy a question, and it was finally her turn to speak.

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I don’t know what the question was, and I don’t know what Cindy was saying but I could see that she was hesitating in her speech and pausing at some words. She explained that she was Taiwanese and I saw an enlightening shock come over the woman’s face. She wasn’t upset, but she was definitely surprised. We explained what we had been doing in Japan for the past year and our conversation wore to an awkward close as the kitten inched away wishing us luck.

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Cindy stood, still holding the money in her fingertips. She held it out to me like it was dripping with a guilty filth. I took the bill and put it into my wallet. I folded it different than the other bills; I felt I should differentiate it so I could know what we spent it on.

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We passed through a number of fields that were out of season, or maybe they were just being ignored, and I knew the trail up the mountain was on the other side of these fields. Cindy wanted to go up to Kōnomineiji, and so did I; the altitude all but guaranteed I would love it. I was concerned about being able to get to Tokushima on time for our bus and having time for meals as well. Tokushima is one of the cities I passed through earlier in the pilgrimage, and it was not nearby.

I saw a set of stairs going up a hill. It could not be the start of the trail, more likely, a small shrine. I suggested we go up and make that our last visit before planning our route to Tokushima. We climbed the stairs. It wasn’t much of a shrine and it looked like nobody had been there in a long time. There was little to see, but it did provide a nice scene looking over the fields into the ocean.

I felt bad that Cindy was only able to see three temples during her short time in Shikoku with me, but I knew this was the conclusion of our journey. I’d heard of other henro leaving their staff at the point that they left the trail. By the shrine, there was a hallowed out tree. I removed the gifts -the cover and the bell- from the staff to carry with me and placed my staff in the tree.

IMG_8771I looked at the staff standing in the tree but was apprehensive to walk away. I don’t consider myself a spiritual person but, in the moment, I was compelled to speak to the spirit of Kūkai. This staff had truly been my greatest companion during this journey, aiding me when my legs were tired, making the uphill climbs easier to manage, providing the rhythmic tap and jingle to distract me from the weariness of the trail. I promised I’d return and be better prepared for the challenges of the trail.

I bowed and turned away. Maybe it was strange to grow an attachment to a staff but it had become more than a representation of a spirit, or an aid when me feet were weary. The staff was a representation of all the assistance that I gained on the trail whether it was direct or indirect. The women giving me food, Muriyama-san helping me when I was scared and just being a joyous spirit, Yuka giving me my first official o-settai, even the people working at the Onsens where I recovered, those who worked to put up the trail markers that helped keep me on the right path, and Cindy who arrived just in time to be my second pair of eyes and help me appreciate the world with some new layers. There were many people involved in the journey that I’d said I wanted to go on to be alone. People do nothing alone. I know I could not have made it past the first days without the help so many people offered.

Everyone, thank you.

Shikoku, thank you.

I’ll be back.

いろいろとありがとうございます。

M.J. Hutchison

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Shikoku Day Fourteen: Cindy’s Day

I expected that waking up with Cindy would be an improvement on the mornings prior, and I was accurate. I knew that I both enjoyed waking up with her and that I wanted to do it more often, but that wasn’t happening. While we were in Japan together I was working near Nagoya and she was studying just west of Tokyo. It was a 6-hour bus ride between the two. Sometimes she would come visit me and sometimes I’d visit her. The round-trip wasn’t cheap and we seldom had more than a weekend to spend with each other while often having a month or two in between. So, when I said we were living in Japan together, I lied. We were living apart from each other.

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The streets looked lonely. The businesses looked closed, the houses empty. My initial thought was that people were away for the holidays, but it seemed strange that an entire town would leave for what was a short holiday of three days. It was not an upsetting absence, just quiet; an unassuming absence that I had not even noticed as out of place until the third street we went down. Complete silence is such a foreign thing these days. There is always something to get in the way. But, we left it undisturbed.

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It wasn’t until we returned to a main roadway that we saw signs of active life apart from ourselves. The familiar sound of engines disturbed the silence we’d been enjoying. I wondered where they were going to and coming from since there seemed to be so little here. A woman approached us. She had short dark, curly hair and a hunched back, but did not look so thin and frail like many older Japanese women I’d seen. Her winkles reflected the strength of the years she’d endured and despite being half my height she looked me in the eye and was excited to help us.

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I liked these guys.

She rambled off directions to reach the next temple, pointing out the street we wanted to go down and explaining what we would be passing. She spoke fast, mostly to Cindy – she is Taiwanese so, many mistook her for Japanese. Luckily, Cindy’s language skills were better than mine and she could understand. There was a hospital we’d pass, a small bridge we’d go over, and then we needed to take a right into the fields towards the mountains to hike up to the temple. The hike at this temple would take tenIMG_3453 or fifteen minutes but, she warned us, the hike up to the next temple, the one we’d reach the following day, would be much more difficult. She spoke with a confident knowledge as if she’d walked this trail a hundred times. I wouldn’t doubt that she had. She wished us luck and walked away, not slowly, like a stallion past her prime trying to prove she could still stride well.

Together, we walked down the road, occasionally exchanging gear. I left my vest in my bag –it was starting to stink- she would walk with the kongozue (the staff) and I would have the sugegasa, then we’d switch, then she’d give me both. “I’ve been thinking about something,” I told her, “I think I might go back with you.” I’d been giving it a lot of consideration. I wanted to continue, but mostly only to prove that I could. “I’m not sure yet. But, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to go, and it would be easier to make the trip back to Tokyo together.”

She didn’t try to sway me one way or the other, maybe because she knows I usually tend to do the opposite of what people try to convince me of; a habit of being needlessly defiant. She now allows me to think too much on my own, which is wise. We passed the hospital and crossed the bridge that was described to us by the Japanese Stallion. There was a road marker indicating where we should make the turn. I partially wished there were no markers so her directions would have been more necessary. But, that was the way in Shikoku. If the road markers failed to help you, the people would not.

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The hike up to the temple was a challenge, but a pleasant one, not overexerting. The temple itself fell in line with what I had come to expect from past experience: it seemed the higher the temple was in the mountains the more I like it; this was not the highest, but it was higher than most. While I was taking pictures of scenes that had been left behind by past visitors, Cindy took pictures of me.

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We had a long walk to make it to any lodgings for the night so, while I enjoyed the temple, we made sure to move on before too long. Coming down the mountain we were, again, looking straight out onto the ocean. A walkway was not far from the road looking out over the ocean. Cindy wanted to stop and relax for a while. This had been against my typical habits in walking the trail. While there was daylight, I wanted to be moving. But, this was also one of the things that I appreciate most about Cindy; she slows me down.

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She’s more photogenic than me, but it is a pain to get her to smile on camera.

We sat looking out on the ocean and trying to be photogenic. If we failed I feel our surroundings helped make up for our shortcomings. Before returning to our walk we refueled at a restaurant that had amazing curry. I might choose to be a little more enthusiastic about the curry, but I don’t want to take anything away from the quality of the Kinmei-don from the previous night. I would never wish to diminish the glory of that dish.

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Having Cindy with me made things significantly easier since she had a phone. She called a few lodgings and we settled on a business hotel that had an Onsen on site. We now had a destination, but we still had quite a distance to travel. The trail began to alternate between the main roadway -where there was nothing but the road, the mountains to our right, and the ocean to our left- and passing through small towns that were similarly sparse in population. It seemed a definite possibility that there were more cats populating these small villages than there were people.

To say Cindy is a fan of cats is comparable to saying Cookie Monster takes some pleasure in a chocolate chip. I’m aware of the rumor that states that Cookie Monster is eating smarter these days, but we all know that doesn’t diminish his passion, and I couldn’t think of anything that could diminish Cindy’s. Each time we saw a cat we needed to stop. And if we saw one there was often three, four, or five more accompanying it. The pictures I have here could not nearly do justice to the amount that were taken.

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I felt almost evil in separating her from the cats, but we still had a long way to go and, though it was not yet getting dark, it was also not early. The cats kept coming. We saw them on roofs, in driveways, crawling out of garage doors. It was enough to give me practice at my evil task to the point where I would just shout at Cindy and keep walking. If she didn’t follow, she would have to meet me at the hotel. Maybe equally evil, but it got the job done.

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We passed through the village of cats, onto another long stretch of roadway, through another village –this one with a noticeable absence of cats- and into another stretch of roadway. We had one more village to go through and another stretch of roadway before reaching the town where our hotel was. I had my mind fixed on the Onsen as I was beginning to feel more discomfort than I had on the entire trail. In the arch of my foot and up through my right leg there was an intense, tight pain each time I applied pressure.

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I used the walking stick as my right leg putting as much of the force and weight of my body that I could into my arms instead. The practice helped the pain in my leg, but it was not an easier way to walk as I stabbed the stick in front of me with both hands and leaned against it moving forward. My arms could manage the pressure, but my left leg was jealous wishing it could get some of the rest as well.

“How are your legs feeling?” I asked Cindy.

“It feels like I’ve been wearing high heels for a long time.”

She hardly wears heels and I never do, but I knew enough to be aware that her feet weren’t feeling great. I didn’t expect they would by now. “We’ll be there soon,” I assured her. I think I said it more to comfort myself.

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When we did arrive it was a wonderful sanctuary to reach. A restaurant and an Onsen inside and I was ready for both. The Onsen provided everything I was hoping for: a quality bath with jets inside and a hot bubbling pool outdoors looking up at a night of stars. I even had the fortune or the men’s bath to myself for almost a half hour. By the time anybody else came in I was ready to go back to the room. When we returned to the room I collapsed on the bed and I did not move for the rest of the night. I was not even able to climb into my sheets.

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Shikoku Day Thirteen: Company Again

Waking up in the Ryōkan was strange for a few reasons. (1) I knew I’d be going to sleep in the same spot I woke up, (2) I was in no rush, and (3) I was going to see a familiar face. Cindy’s bus wouldn’t arrive until 11AM and it would only take me 40 minutes to walk back to the bus stop. I had plenty of time.

I took this opportunity to open a book again. With this being the second quality reading session I would have in a stretch of less than twelve hours, I was beginning to feel like I was living luxuriously. I recall reading one line in particular, “wherever a man goes, man will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions,” (Walden, Thoureau). I couldn’t help but wonder if Shikoku, in some small way, had transcended this idea. There were still, of course, cities throughout the island and chain stores were spread out covering any area where groups of people had decided to live. Business hotels popped up to profit from the busloads of tourists visiting the temples. Yet, I knew of no other place where complete strangers took such an intense interest in each other’s lives and went through genuine effort to help see things move along smoothly.

What one might actually consider “dirty” institutions is up to the individual, but Shikoku was definitely not without it’s own form of them. Be that as it may, Shikoku seemed to care. It was a place where, if you were struggling, it would find a way to help. Whether that was in the form of a candy chomping Buddhist helping you with a place to stay, a group of women giving you food for the day, someone driving you to find free lodging, or someone giving you a drink when you were thirsty. Shikoku had a sense for what you needed and a desire to give it to you.

I did feel, however, that I was somehow corrupting the code. That by turning around, getting Cindy, and staying in the same place for two nights, I was abandoning the journey I’d originally set out on. Then again, this seemed irrelevant since I’d already doubted the legitimacy of my reasons for coming to Shikoku. Whatever the reasons were, they got me here and I was now far more interested in the present; and, at present, it was time to go meet Cindy.

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This walk, unlike any other I’d experienced since coming to Shikoku, was easy. Not in a sense of difficulty pertaining to length, altitude, and weather conditions, but it was easy on my mind. I was in no rush; I had no concerns of where I was going for the rest of the day, and no worries about where I would be sleeping at night. Everything was already planned out and required little thought. It was also  helpful that I was able to leave my backpack at the Ryōkan and was walking without the extra weight on my back.

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The street by the bus stop was lined with tall shrubs that had occasional openings revealing paths to the rocky beach. I stood down the street from the bus stop in one of these openings looking into each bus as it passed by. In the first, there was no sign of Cindy. The second, still no. The third, in the back of the bus I saw her jump out of her seat and smile, she saw me too.

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The only temple I visited with it’s own sumo ring.

“That’s cool,” she said to me referencing my sugegasa. I let her wear it so that she would have something of the henro attire while she was walking on the trail with me. Before making the small hike up to Hotsumisakiji (24), we walked around the coast and took in the scenery. She found more appreciation in the landscape than I originally had, which made me grateful to have her with me. Truman Capote once wrote, “it is the double vision of sharing with your beloved which gives experience texture, shape, significance. To travel alone is to journey through a wasteland. But if you love enough, sometimes you can see for yourself, and for another, too.” I wouldn’t classify traveling without her as ‘traveling through a wasteland,’ but her company certainly provided new depth to my experience.

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It proved to be that way for the rest of the day as well. I explained to her some of the traditions of the pilgrimage, reliving their discovery myself, and told her about some of the challenges I’d experienced in the past two weeks. The added camera angle of her iPhone proved to be it’s own advantage. Hotsumisakiji provided a quality first experience for her. We watched as one of the stamps were being put into someone else’s stamp book and she promptly scolded me for not getting a stamp book.

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The walk down the other side of the mountain provided a much better environment than walking beside the industrial docks I had seen on the previous day and, with her company, the walk to Shinshōji (25) – which was near where we would be staying – felt half as long as DSC_3455it did the day before. Shinshōji may have been the most surprising of the temples I visited due to it’s small size. There we many steps leading up to just one building and a fountain. I was worried about any disrespect I was showing, but I could not help but to say, and I’m sure I was not the first, “this is it?”

It wasn’t the longest day, but she’d had a long night before it and was in need of a nap before we went out for dinner. I’d heard from one of the locals about a good place to go to get a special local dish. We went and were not disappointed. Now, when I say this, I do not say it without emphasis or intended exaggeration. This was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. It was that good. If there is any hyperbole in the words, it isn’t by much. I expect the dish to remain in the top three favorites all time. If ever you have the chance, go to Muroto in Shikoku and get a bowl of Kinmei-don. The eyeball wasn’t so bad either.

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This is a big eyeball, and I ate it.

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After our meal we went for a walk around the coastal town before returning to the Ryōkan to retire for the night. The next day would be her first –and really her only- full day of walking. There would be no sense in having her play with running the risk being tired on top of it. Even without the ease of knowing where we would be sleeping the next day sleep came easy knowing I had my second pair of eyes with me.

Shikoku Day Twelve: Rain and Shine

The rain had stopped for a while during the night but was strong again by morning. Knowing the rain was waiting for me made it harder to wake up. Laying with my hands behind my hand and my bag as a pillow I took my time getting up, but the weather made no signs of change. I clothed myself slowly, as a man that has nowhere he wants to go, giving everything more consideration than it required.

I was already in Muroto City, but there was still at least 20 kilometers to go before I got near the lodgings. I set out with my rain gear on, but with fewer layers beneath. Passing through town, most of the houses looked empty. I saw no lights on and no people moving in the streets save for one other henro. The community may have been hiding from the weather but, either way, I was grateful for the quiet.

I was back to enduring the tap on my sugegasa. But, there were worse things to endure. The rain had it’s own kind of rhythm, even if it was frantic and unorganized. It fed to a similar rhythm in the movement of my feet. I walked faster now than the start of any other day. There wasn’t much reason to accelerate my speed, but, if I needed to be out in the rain it I might as well make use of the time.

Behind me was a woman who did as much to influence my pace as the rain, if not more. A short henro, but she had little to carry and utilized the lack of weight with an increase in speed. Whether it was in competitive spirit or friendly motivation, we stayed near each other for some time never speaking. First me in front, then her in front, then me again. I made a significant distance between us when I came to a small roofed hut by the road. I sat down to take a rest from the rain. When she reached the hut she too stopped. Standing in the rain, she looked at me, and then at the space on the bench beside me. She took one step towards the hut, I was just about to say hello and ask her name, then she turned back to the road and took off at her regular speed.

I considered giving chase, but I took my time. I knew I would see her again, and I did, but not till much later in the day. I was getting close to the tip of the cape and after another twenty minutes of walking the rain had stopped. I came to a large henro shelter with benches, nearby toilets, and a roof – never before did I look at having a roof as being such an admirable quality in a structure. In the hut was a large whiteboard and markers. It seemed like it was recently build because there were few things written on the board, and they were all dated in 2015 or late 2014. Most of the writing was in Japanese until I saw, in large printed letters, “Where is Matt?”

This brought a smile to my face during what had largely been a melancholy morning with the rain. I knew it was from Connor and Miles and wondered how long ago they’d written it. I knew they wouldn’t see it, but I had to write a response. Below their words I wrote, “Here I am!”

Not long after the rain dissipated the sun returned to provide crippling levels of brightness. I arrived at the tip of the cape and sat down watching tourists enjoy the scenery while I enjoyed another yuzu fruit. It was a beautiful scene, a rocky beach with boulders of varying shapes, sizes, colors, and forms, but I found more value in the sustenance.

The sun had returned to it’s typically brutal levels of heat. I changed into more appropriate clothes and started a to walk along the coast. The walk into the city provided a less scenic walk and was much longer than I’d anticipated. Passing through by industrial ports with boats that all looked identical. There were no people. This area looked as deserted as the town I passed through and the morning, and the tedious length of concrete docks was nearly as debilitating as the rain had been.

It was a welcome relief when I started seeing signs of businesses, convenience stores, and restaurants. I knew I was getting close to my lodgings. Finding the Ryōkan I booked was another problem entirely. I spent an extra hour walking up and down the streets before finally asking people for help. But, that didn’t help much either. I walked down one street and asked a clerk at a convenience store. She pointed me back in the direction I’d come from. When I went back I asked another person walking in the street who pointed me back in the direction of the convenience store. Apparently, it was somewhere between the two and only after another 20 minutes of walking in circles I asked someone else who walked with me 20 feet down the street to a building I’d passed three or four times in total.

There were no signs out front, just an open door and I walked in hesitantly, worried of trespassing. The woman who helped me stepped into the door, shouted , and walked away. Help popped up immediately. A woman rushed to the door and helped me with my things. I warned about the weight of my bag but she shrugged my warnings away and picked it up anyway. The weight in her arms helped her realize her error and she only moved it a few feet to prop it up against a wall.

She signed me in and brought me upstairs to my room. Every step creaked with age. Walking on the second floor, I felt certain I would fall through to the first. At some points, I could actually feel the floor sinking down below me. All considered, the room was comfortable and cool. My main concern at the time was getting out of the heat, and that was accomplished.

I went out to find dinner and a sushi restaurant provided that in perfect form. Their options were limited, but the salmon and tuna was so fresh and left me with few concerns over the variety. By seven o’clock, the small town was already shutting things down. Restaurants and stores were closing and lights were going out all up and down the streets.

I returned to the Ryōkan and searched through the bookshelf that was in my room. The majority of the books were Japanese style manga; not something I usually have any interest in. But, I grabbed one and I lay down to practice my Japanese reading skills. I surprised myself getting through about ten pages of the book with decent comprehension – but the pictures obviously helped. I changed to something a little more stimulating in the English language. This was the best portion of reading I’d had since I came to Shikoku. It was satisfying to have the opportunity. Before I went to sleep, I was able to do more reading than I had in all my time on the island before then. I was growing more comfortable with the idea of slowing down.