Way of the 88 Temples

Knowing that I am already thinking about what might be my next pilgrimage route, my husband gave me for Christmas Robert Sibley’s The Way of the 88 Temples. The book recounts the author’s experience walking the 1400 kilometer Henro Michi, one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimage routes in Japan. The route is a circuit of 88 temples around the perimeter of Shikoku, one of Japan’s four main islands.

I’m not sure after reading the book (which I finished on my plane ride yesterday afternoon) that I’m ready to tackle the Henro Michi (although I am not ruling it out). Apart from the fact that it sounds physically more daunting than the Camino, I get the sense from Sibley’s description that my lack of Japanese language ability would be more of a problem than not speaking Spanish was on the Camino. Having said that, his descriptions of walking in Japan reminded me of much that I love about Japanese culture and tradition. But whether I do this pilgrimage or not, reading the book offered a vehicle for me to spend some time reflecting further on my Camino experience.

Many of Sibley’s observations about his pilgrimage on Shikoku resonate with my experience of the Camino – how pilgrimage invites “an immediate empathy you wouldn’t normally feel for those who aren’t friends or family,” how the stopping points become less important than the space between them, the need to let hardships come and go without obsessing about them, the way pilgrimage seems to turn the ordinary into extraordinary and the effect of the mindfulness that develops when one is on the trail. His description of post-pilgrimage restlessness and depression also resonated.

Reading Sibley’s book reinforced the conviction I developed on the Camino of the need to take time from the demands of ordinary life. Sibley writes

We all possess a spiritual life to some degree, a sense of inwardness shaped by personal experience, the climate of opinion in which we live, and our psychological dispositions. It’s surely a mark of sanity to find a way to reflect on the spiritual dimension of your life to discover, if possible, a thread of meaning and purpose in the tapestry of everyday experience…>The challenge, of course, once you’re aware of your dissatisfaction, is finding the time, place, and circumstance that allow you to cultivate those habits of reflection and introspection tha tmigth open you to the “true dramas” of your life.

I often talk about the value of daily prayer. But I think we need more than daily prayer, that we need something like pilgrimage experiences – the ability to take “respite from the demands of ordinary life, a chance to step out temporarily from the magic circle of the modern world.”

For me the question is only where will I walk next.


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