Tag Archives: philosophy

The illusion of freedom

I’ve been thinking more about happiness, and sorrow on the trail. I walked with Pierre for a day and a half and was happy to have his company, to have him drive me on; but it was also stressful not to be able to stop when I wanted or go at my own pace. The freedom was lacking. Ironically, I always had the freedom to say I would part, yet it took a day and a half to use it. Now on my own I have a daily pace which appears sustainable and no longer feel the pressure of time. This should have been the case from the start since I had three weeks set aside, but I needed to find my groove.
The trail is still often arduous and constantly tries my patience, but I’m back in the place where I can appreciate it. As much as I pretend, to me it’s not a game, it’s a way of life. Thoughts of work and family come from time to time, but I am for the most part in a different world: the world of nature, and history, and community. In this world I walk as an observer and an occasional participant.

– udon lady
– grocery store relief
– a well timed park, leaning
– “not a nap”
– now really suing instincts and signs
– could tsuyado, but freedom factor again, beholden
– keizoku ha chikara nari

Gentle on my Mind

Insight and love are two things you’ll never find if you go looking. The nature of the pilgrimage is that you expect some modicum of wisdom, of purification to occur. The first time I started on the trail it was to answer the question I had before me: what is important in my life? Where do I go next?

I found answers, ones that I’d already known before I began, but probably didn’t want to realize. Those are always the the best kind of answers, because they’re easy to feel sure of.

This time, the fourth, was different, however. There was no conundrum, no branching point in my professional or personal life I needed to resolve. Just a simple wish, one that would take decades to see through.

Even without an answer, you need to start with a question, or an examination; the stock taking of all the phobias and insecurities that have calcified since the last time you took stock. All the barnacles and calluses that built up on the soul, an entire industry of turtle-necked psychiatrists and new age healers are pushing eighty dollar an hour sessions and detox plans to chip away at the slow fragmentation of the human mind. In one sense henro is another swing at that, but one with no rules or prescriptions other than to walk and not abuse the freedom.

So not having any kind of debates with myself about all the cobwebs and bum legs packed behind my eyes was a little bit of a let down. I had taken to singing more than I’m used to. For some reason Gentle on my Mind just felt right and I’d already been through it about forty choruses. At the time I didn’t think about it, but it must have been quite a sight, a scrawny stork-legged white man hiking down the highway, taking in all of the quiet humility of rural Japan, running through the second and third verses of Glen Campbell’s quintessential ballad, mumbling through every fourth line where I didn’t exactly remember the lyrics.


Almost a year has passed since I last wrote thinking of the trail. This year for various reasons I could not go back to Japan in the spring, and it seems I won’t have another chance for some time.

I started on the trail because I wanted to find something, to discover what was important to me, the thing that would lead me to the next step. In that respect I found what I was looking for and succeeded without finishing the journey. However after that first leg I found the road calling back to me, and a number of justifications to continue. Being on that road is something that speaks to me, and feels like an essential need I must answer. In that sense it is a very selfish wish, and far from the intentional of the pilgrimage. Knowing how much the romantic thrill of the journey lays in my motivation is slightly discouraging and taints the experience, but on the other hand that sort of worldly desire leading to suffering is at the heart of Buddhist teaching and somewhat consoling.

I think the essence of this lesson is to not pine for the man that I was, but to instead celebrate the man that I am.



Return to Kochi

Nine months after leaving my love, I am back on the beaches of Kochi, my heart suspended somewhere between the gentle crash of the waves and the setting sun. Being here feels so right, I am happy anywhere in nature but it is the murmur of the sea that truly resonates with me. Maybe this is the answer I need, the last romantic adventure to bring me peace. To be with the sea, among the waves, dappled by the sun, arms outstretched to welcome the oneness that I can only find here.

On the road to quality

Times away from focused work are dry enough that they can soak up the mood you put yourself in. This is easily accomplished with music, or reading. I think there needs to be a balance in what we consume mentally. Maybe consumption isn’t the right word. I’ve been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance again and it’s coloring my thought. All evaluations of actions and matter is divided into the subjective and objective, the romantic and classic, as Pirsig would say.

I’ve had an opportunity to look at my artistic expression, and that of others, in that dual-pronged way which leads to the evaluation of its quality. Lots of thinking, not much sorted resolution yet. I don’t know how exacting I should be in coming to those kinds of analytic conclusions. “Elliot (Irwin) succeeds in a presentation of society from a whimsical and satirical point of view, but fails to deliver a message of any significant worth.” There’s the word, “worth”, which is indicative of quality. A subjective evaluation of the work is of course going to provide varying results, the opposite would lead to a very cold and rational metric for art, and eliminate all individuality in the field.

So picking apart my feelings and actions is the idle pastime I enjoy while travelling. Whether it produces any long term growth of character I’m not sure, for as I mentioned it all ends rather fuzzy and vague, unrecorded with no notes or deliverables, or checklist for evaluating actionable items after the fact. Yes, we agree to endeavour to do better, to be more sensitive and aware of our actions. But perhaps these distilled spiritual doctrines are exactly what add to the mounting neuroses which impedes my happiness.


Inside the balance of the lines between fealty and friendship, a warm region of trust and dedication lies.  Aside from the sabre rattling of corporate states and the unbridled impulsiveness of youth I seek to stake my claim.  The spirit of building something bold and pure beckons to the heart of every dreamer given his own freedom to reign, and I seek to plant ambition at the heart of it. 

At what point will these dreams fall empty on the ears of man I grow?  If I balance idealism with prudence can the ideal take wing like the eagle on high?  The young man of his thirties still wants to believe so.

Discreet Music

Brian Eno - Discreet Music - Front

Brian Eno has been a musician that has guided me through evolution as an engineer and artist ever since I first came across Music for Airports during my golden summer of 2000 in college.

The sweet, melancholy tongue of sound that fits so neatly in the groove of engineering is something I will pursue for the rest of my days. Sometimes I wonder if the frustration fuels my advances as much as it hinders them.




The birthday

I have a habit of spending birthdays alone.  I used to receive a day off from the company, and it falls in close proximity with the Japanese national holiday Culture Day.  Games that ship at Christmas are long done at the end of October, or there is a major problem, so the confluence of these events leads to time off which I almost always prefer to spend out of town, so the solitary birthday comes into being.  This time it is a whole month, and aside from a few days where friends overlapped my path, it has been a solo expedition.  To be honest I think I have handled it rather well.  No homesickness, hardly any lonely except when I have stopped moving for example due to weather.  I have my thoughts, my books, and the scenery to keep me more than occupied.   Nature itself is an endless realm of learning and challenge.

There is a certain detail-oriented allure to backpacking.  All your possessions are on your person, and as such easily cataloged and maintained.  All of the years raised to put everything in its place:  laundry washed in restroom sinks and hung on the tent rigging, a collapsible set of chopsticks that fit in a titanium lightweight mess kit, toiletries in sealable bags, each trial size and the bare minimum for survival with comfort.  With every tightly rolled sleeping bag the day begins with fulfillment and promise.

So for my birthday when everyone wishes me something special, a drink and a celebratory evening, I thank them for the sentiment but will likely spending it as I am most content:  in a distant country or a remote forest, tidying my campsite in between extended sessions of book reading, stretching, and meditation.  In bed soon after dark and dreaming of how compact my pack will be on the trail tomorrow.

The glass river

I sit on the bank of one of the many small rivers running through the valley of Kochi Prefecture.  Doves coo on the opposite bank as the sound of a housewife beating out a futon to dry echoes far downstream.   A young duck excitedly bobs and swims underwater for meters at a time, making his way home.  Sparrows, larks, and finches chatter noisily behind me as a jet liner takes off from the airport in the bay.

The rocks under my bare feet cause the sore flesh to dimple pleasingly, and I have spent a very introspective morning reading the dharmapadma while thinking of priorities.  I am so alone as to be reflective, but like the idle river in front of me to stop for a moment, a myriad of almost indiscernable ripples form from the infinitely complex web of life that surrounds us.

To think is to clean the mind, like water kidneys and and oxygen the blood.  But a life of only thought is wasted, for a hermit brings no happiness to society.  So I walk, and I pray, I smile at old women and touch the bark of great trees.

The heart is a beautiful mirror, in form as flawless and bright as polished glass, but it must be polished to retain its luster, and shone in the world to reflect the truth.  This must be the Middle Path, and one I hope to stray from no longer.

The way to judge a man

Reading The Diamond Sutra makes my head spin with ethereal concepts, so after a while I started on in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance again, because the larger part of it is easier to relate to, with concrete examples.

Reflecting on my insecurities, and how they all trace back to the ego, the craving for individualism and validation of the self from external sources depresses me for I cannot find a substrate to begin the dissolution of the problem.

So I began to think about judgment of character, and evaluating my desire to speak, to write.  These are also undoubtedly driven by the same core psychological elements, so writing or speaking again for these reasons is unjustifiable in the Buddhist sense.

There is a saying that a man should be judged by his actions, and not his words, which I think has a lot of credence.  So, if I as a man am to do as such, words for the sake of others need be limited to the gesticulation of simple commands and needs.  If only it were so.

Communication for the completion of tasks alone is insufficient, for all humans are at some degree driven emotionally.  So the words that are most economical on their use are gratitude, understanding, and apology.  To master these words alone and their usage must take a man far in life.  There is a time, and a manner of dispensing them that builds one’s status in community of the micro and macroscopic scale.

In nirvana all these things may go unsaid, for their meaning would be implicit, and no soul hunger for them.  However, we do not live in such a world as of yet, so acknowledgement of their power is unavoidable.

On the road to erudition

Today I started on my pilgrimage in earnest.  Last night we went to the biannual rave we always visit, a group of friends who gather with a love of, music, dance, and celebration.

After bidding farewell to friends and family, I set to hitch on Doshimichi.  I knew traffic would be light at the end of a three day weekend heading away from Tokyo, but the route had few branches, so if I could get a ride it would probably take me all the way to the edge of the Fuji Lakes.  Fortunately, I got a ride with a good natured couple in about fifteen minutes and they took me all the way to Saiko where I would be spending the next few days. 

Yabe-san and his wife had moved from Tokyo to Yamanashi thirty years before to live in the country.  He was a dietary vegan, and grew all of his own food in a number of rental fields.  He had large, rough hands, and eyes that belied a lot of experience.  He talked freely, and happily of his philosophy: the beauty and tenacity of nature, simplicity of an independent life, and the heart’s role in knowing truth.

He was distrustful of media, shunning television and newspapers for books and his own intuition.  He studied the trails of jet planes, built a compendium of cloud photographs, and bade nothing to chance.  The time on the clock when he left home was 9:11, and when he returned 11:09.  These things were all signs, like the beauty of a sunburst over Lake Yamanaka as we drove.  They were not circumstance, but messages for those that had the wisdom to see them. 

He asked me some details about my journey and what I sought, but for the most part explained the details of our world through his own lens.  Being not much of a talker I was happy to listen and feel satisfied with my part of acknowledgements and the occasional follow up question. 

Fresh indoctrination

Change is inevitable, this the lama teaches.  But as one grows, is the core concept preserved?  Peace, love, unity, respect.  And the flow.  The crash.  As I grow older, in some ways I find it easier to be free, to blur and fade the world around me.  Here is to always finding something new in a love worn concept.  Cheers.


Community and love as basis for my thoughts and actions are like a highway. It’s a highway that is incomplete, but as time progresses new sections are laid down in the pathways of my mind.  The gaps in it branch off to older, rural roads, rutted and narrow.  These are the avenues of the ego and intolerance.  They’re built on instinct and misinterpretations of conduct I took as truth from those I idolized.  How much of thought should be built on self-realization, and how much on dogma?  Dogma is written by others, but that in itself doesn’t make it invalid.

So the construction continues, and on those new, pristine channels my consciousness glides over, I look at the world around me without judgement, but aceeptance, and celebration.  Here’s to investing more of my mental budget to transportation.


What is it that prompts emotional growth?  For biological things, nutrients and environment are the biggest factors, along with any motivated conditioning.  But what about love, compassion, or social awareness?  If one is loved does one learn love?  If one is shown compassion is it learnable? 

Physical growth is possible largely due to physical factors.  So is emotional growth based on emotional factors?  From my experience it seems like dramatic change prompts growth, however this may only be as the change is memorable, so the events immediately afterwards tend to be catalogued with more scrutiny.  Am I able to love as I do now because of thirty years of slow, accumulated caring?  Could I have realized these things any sooner if I had diverted more resources to the cause?  If that is the case, then we do have direct control over how growth as human beings.  Our free will permits us the opportunity to optimize this equation.  So it is quite true that a man is best judged not by what he has, but how he spends his time.

This is another thing I mean to understand more fully in my heart.  If I did there would be much less guilt in my life, and much more satisfaction.  Thanks to the powers that gave me the conscience to realize this.