with Lao Tze Bob Davies after his 88-temple pilgrimage
(from some specific angles of personal interest to the interviewer....)
Lao Tze Bob
I am pleased to hear that you are back in your normal groove - whatever that may be? I have a list of questions about your pilgrimage and I will present them to you now on the assumption that you will be able to reply at some time in the future.
So, here we go with the questions, some trivial and some more demanding (and in no particular order):
With all this walking, what happened to your leg muscles? Did they get bigger or smaller? (I imagined bigger but one of Shaz's newsletters suggests otherwise).
Lao Tze Bob:
Longer, much thinner, and more sinewy, and extra venous with the almost entire disappearance of the butt. Particularly during the first half of the journey when I was losing a lot of weight. I then consciously stepped up my calorie intake (exercise consumption was around 10 000 calories per day) which replaced some of the body fats, but the musculature remained much the same (except a bit more butt :-))
Whatever, their size and configuration, did your legs feel stronger as the walk progressed, or weaker? In other words, did your body adapt to the demands you placed on it?
The body adapted positively. Certainly its walking capabilities improved so that whatever gradients were presented, adjustment was almost immediate. The backpack was too heavy however for that kind of sustained activity over such mountainous terrain and did present the necessity for certain additional considerations to be applied particularly when moving downhill. On the one occasion (near the start) when I got shin-splints in the lower right leg from tearing down the one mountain too enthusiastically, the body healed over the period of the next three weeks, to me, evidence that even under the continued workload, the physiological response to the way I was walking (and diet, mental attitude, etc) was positive and one of self-healing. PS: Now a couple of months down the line there still seems to be remnants of a certain 'endurance factor' left in the legs, noticeable as I have almost got back into my running routine and they have coped extremely well. The upper body is still in a recovery mode and has only felt responsive over the last two weeks. Up until then it felt overall as if adjustments were taking place in joints like hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, etc, particularly having lost a lot of musculature in the upper body.
Did you feel you were improving your physical capabilities or wearing your body out? (long term, I mean).
In the lower body, definite functional improvement. Walking up STEEP mountain trails for three to four hours non-stop, even when consisting of continued high leg-lifting action, was comfortably manageable and never did I have to stop to actually rest. Most stops were to adjust packloads, take photos, etc, but these were minimised as I was conscious that the body/mind, when in heavy workload mode, preferred not to stop. To 'keep going' was never a problem. This I put down to my mindset developed over the decades but, coming from your angle of enquiry, the body never let me down (even when not feeling too enthusiastically supportive).
The upper body was another case altogether, and there I lost most of my normal strength through practically no use of any upper body muscles for almost 10 weeks (almost like lying inactive in bed). Although recognising this during the walk there was no motivation/desire/perceived need to do some upper body exercises. Sub-consciously I think I realised I was continuously genuinely 'tired'. But consciously, such acknowledgement was never asked for nor given. In hindsight, I would say there was a constant adrenalin drip throughout the pilgrimage (possibly because I recognised that I was under challenge by the combined factors of walking speed and backpack weight.
Because of that (or whatever the relevant factor), there were a number of times when I ran, and thoroughly enjoyed the 'new' action of the legs, the sense of changed body rhythm, the expansion of the lungs, quicker change of scenery, and felt most capable - but I always controlled the extent (never exceeding one kilometre at a time) realising that the stress placed on knees and ankles could lead to a debilitated continuance of the pilgrimage.
What was interesting was the body's reaction to any extended stops I had, and there were only three of those occasions. When I did not walk for a day I was expecting the body to recover slightly from the rest and perform stronger when walking recommenced, but the opposite was the case. It would take at least a day's walking to get back into the effortless striding once more.
In terms of maintaining your mental well being, did the decisions to do things such as change clothes and the routine of getting to bed each night come easier as the pilgrimage progressed (automatic responses) or did you struggle to stay focused or concentrated because you were tired?
The necessary routines, such as you mentioned, plus some others daily 'tasks', for example my early morning meditation sessions (45 minutes), evening homework (write up the daily journal, listing photographs taken, summarise expenses, record all o-settai received, study the next day's route and temple names and kanji - at least an hour at a time) and evening washdowns (except for six occasions these were always towel cold water washes) were obviously at times quite 'imposing' that they always (daily) needed to be done irrespective of weather conditions, overnight site conditions, locale, daily timetables, tiredness. Yet, they, like erecting and disassembling the tent (no matter how frozen the hands), packing and unpacking the backpack, never became onerous. In the same manner, as the routine of walking, they were activities that needed to be done on a daily basis in order to keep everything running smoothly. Should anything be overlooked or postponed the effort to make up on the following occasion was out of all proportion to the benefits of breaking the routine and therefore not considered once I had settled into the pilgrimage. On most occasions you could not walk as night approached and you knew that the day would be starting around 04.00 so there was generally plenty of time available to sleep, even after the extensive homework. So rest was assured no matter how tired you felt so the routines were executed generally unthinkingly - meaning, accepted as necessary and not deserving of any evaluatory considerations.
Mental well-being was one of the areas that benefited enormously from the very nature and execution of the pilgrimage - the regular exercise, plenty sleep, fundamentally healthy food (although not enough of the good stuff), unlimited fresh air, magnificent sensory stimulation (views, birds, kindly people, etc), daily spiritual experiences, intimate interaction with nature and God. This faculty did not have to be maintained, it revelled in the experience :-).
The last seven weeks spiritual experiences that (perhaps temporarily) are, "Beyond description" - could words ever express the experience or was it so personal that it cannot be articulated?
Bear with me here. This is possibly the most 'difficult' aspect of the pilgrimage for me to come to grips with, as I am still an infant in terms of this evolving phase of my life - that of moving into higher spiritual consciousness. I cannot say whether words could '(n)ever' express the experience. Currently I do not have the words appropriate to describe the internal sensations. I can hardly describe the experiences to myself, even sensorily :-). It was extremely personal; not meaning private - it is a problem of articulation. How does one describe a sunrise to a blind person. I feel as if I am also the latter.
My take at present is that as sentient beings living from time of birth through the expression and satisfaction of our five senses, and later, our developing mentality. Where society (and business) thrive around and profit from the former through their constant re-emphasis, hence educating us to be able to describe them in simplistic, easily understood, forms (a 'language' has been developed). We tend to evolve from a physically-driven to a mentally-driven being during the phases of youth, through adulthoods, to maturity. Only towards the end of that continuum does Joe-citizen seem to be able to exert enough self-discipline to take effective control over those five basic senses. It is at that latter stage, when and if reached, that I think/feel we are ready to move back into the realm of sensory perception once again, but now, through our Higher senses. Here there are no everyday, societal experiences to define for us what these are, or how to describe them (just witness the confusion surrounding the expression of Love which everyone claims experience of apropos their spouse and ice-cream). These Higher senses arise from within, beyond our thoughts, and therefore beyond our general linguistic capabilities.
Not dis-similar at this early stage, to the presence of Chi/Qi within the body - a sensation; but more than that, an awareness of what irrefutably is. Like the need to breathe, the sensation and the 'knowledge' of air moving into and out of the body. Air moving through your fingers, and trying to grasp it, to feel it, so that one can then describe the sensation. Sooo subtle, yet so evident.
I am trying to work on it daily, and hoping that through a growing awareness and familiarity I will be able to describe it to myself, and then one day to others (like you :-)).
Or Is it that you do not want to share the experience because you think it is too complex or personal to explain?
Refer above. I also am a great believer in the principle of 'emptying one's cup' to make space for further growth. However, will the receivers be able to 'understand' 'personally' what is being described to them. Too soon to say. Will have to get there first. But I currently think there is a definite pre-requisite for understanding, the point you raised in your following question.
Or do you think that such experiences or revelations can only be real if you participate in them yourself?
Yes! It is not an intellectual revelation/understanding.
Without being presumptuous - were the spiritual experiences a succession of small insights, a big overpowering revelation or a combination of the two?
Wow :-! I would say a combination of both.
I found in the academic periods during my life when studying a new subject built upon a distinct logic, e.g., economics, law, chemistry, that I struggled to grasp what was going on until the basics were established. Once that stage was reached, it felt like everything fell into place (developing an 'ear' for a new language?) and the additional facts being studied were more easily understood/absorbed against the backdrop of the subject's established templates.
On this pilgrimage, many little experiences were happening almost from the start but they were more of an intellectual recognitions than a 'sense'; leaving me wondering, uncertain, searching without pushing, doubtful. Towards the end of the first two week period, the sun came out and I was sure. On the Shikoku Pilgrimage this initial period is known as Hosshin no Dojo, the 'Dojo (Prefecture) of Awakening Faith'. This had not meant much to me, as I already had faith. I had already experienced 'enlightenment' during my previous visit to Japan so I did not look at this period initially with any particular expectation or significance. Yet a 'deeper' 'faith' was born at the end of this period. Enabling me to see that what I had experienced before was a realisation looking outward, whereas now, this was a realisation looking inward. This was the turning point.
From then on, it was a continuous stream of affirmations and deeper experiences/realisations. What appears to be a progressive continuum. With that also came realisations of the potentials and my current infancy.
Did the spiritual experience bear directly on your present life (or way of living) or was it more of an insight into the nature of the universe. For example, practical lifestyle (only) revelations or timeless harmonious existence impressions.
It was and very much is, a direct bearing on my present life and my preferred way of living (which embraces the issue of timeless harmonious existence). To a lesser degree, a sense of deep comfort with what is, in terms of mankind, and some emergent 'feelings' of what is/needs to be. The 'universe' I have never been uncomfortable with. I am generally quite comfortable with where I am in the larger scope of life, with whom I am, with where I want to 'grow' (an infinitesimal being within infinity). It is within my personal relationships with God that I am seeking greater insight.
Did the journey (the actual walk) increase your interest in Buddhism? (I remember that at the outset you originally specified no particular interest in the religious aspects).
The journey certainly increased my understanding of its religious structure through the daily interactions with the various sects, but produced little change in my earlier perceptions. Buddhism, and all its variants, (as a philosophy portraying intellectuality) has certainly become the current flavour of the jet-set and professing adherents are acceptably in-fashion... particularly involvement in the Zen versions. Formal religion has moved even further to the back of my Theatre of Life :-)