On the Kumano Kodo

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When I originally planned a trip on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail (“the world’s best unknown hike”), what appealed to me was the combination of hiking and sightseeing, especially in a locale I hadn’t visited, one also generally unknown to foreigners. But as the date approached, I came to believe I genuinely needed the pilgrimage aspect – if not quite for religious reasons, then existential ones. I realize I’m privileged, healthy, overall lucky; none of it I deny in the least. Yet caveats aside, I cannot help but circle back to the fact that I too often feel like a fucking mess of a human being.

I’ll be unemployed in four months and barely give a fuck because I can’t imagine any occupation from which I can derive any sense of joy or feeling besides fundamental apathy. I recently turned 33 and still can’t find anyone who appears remotely capable of reciprocating my romantic love, a problem compounded by my repeatedly falling for those who see me only platonically. I live in a country that I cannot stay forever in for any number of reasons, yet I find myself increasingly wanting to, probably because I am so incredibly sheltered here, the way the country is from all the world’s problems.

Anyway.

I didn’t experience anything truly profound during my five-day hike. I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life, where I want to live, why I can’t find love, or how to rectify any of that. But for those five days, none of the big stuff really mattered. I had the overriding goal of getting to the next place. I walked through forests, small villages, a shrine or two. When I arrived in the inns I had booked, I enjoyed the local onsen, ate decadent meals, and managed generally meaningless conversations with hosts or fellow travelers. And with my spare time, I was preoccupied by a work quasi-emergency – I ended up writing and editing and researching in the evenings.

I don’t know that I ended up with any sliver of inner peace after the fact. Sure, I was proud of myself, felt a genuine sense of accomplishment, etc. In fact, I would not hesitate to say the trip was one of the best experiences of my life. But the takeaway is mostly about distraction, I think. I thought a lot about the minutiae that occupies my mind, in convincing myself that a report or an email actually mattered in the greater scope of things, or in counting the markers remaining before reaching my destination for the day. Maybe that’s my life. Because if I didn’t have those things, then I would have been left thinking about the existential questions. And the bottom would have fallen out.

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