Epilogue – I am thankful

So I went out to hike 1000km, visiting 88 temples to find my ikigai. Was I successful? Well….

Having been a teacher / educator for the past 20 years one might think teaching is my ikigai. Sorry, I have to disappoint you. I might be reasonably good at it, earn my money with it and it is definitely something the world needs, but I have to admit, that I am not as passionate about it as some of my colleagues.

When a student succeeds I am happy and hope that I was able to help him or her. If a students fails, I am upset and try to find the point where I failed him/her being of support for his or her learning.

That is not passion, that is being professional. At least for me. I am sure that being passionate and being professional can go hand in hand, but in my case passion is the last thing I would associate with my job.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like what I am doing. It keeps me on my toes and challenges me every single day. I have wonderful colleagues and I am working at a school that has its good points and some challenges but then which school does not? I am happy being there and would not want to trade it for any other school.

But everything flows and is constantly changing. The moment of equilibrium normally is short and intense, bearing the decay already in itself.

That is nothing bad, it is rather rewarding acknowledging it and striving for the next level of development.

After I achieved quite a few of my goals I had in my mind these past years, if not to say all of them, I realized that change is imminent and will take place either with me taking charge, or life taking charge of it and we all know that life can be a mean little bitch.

“So what the heck is your ikigai, Stephanie??!!”

Now, there are a few things I am passionate about, but have not yet mastered to be good enough at to actually earn money with it.

You remember the little pest in my coffee? Actually that disgusting little insect became an inspiration and gave me an idea what I would like to do.

Nothing that will happen tomorrow or next year, very likely and very realistically we are talking 5-7 years.

So in a way I accomplished my goal, I went out, I let go of my “I have to find the answer-attitude”, walked myself to mental exhaustion and was rewarded.

A process that would not have been possible without the support of the people around me and I am forever thankful to all of you.

Now, there is one more thing to add, as the story of this journey would miss a very important bit if not being told.

Over the past 6 1/2 weeks I met many different people and very often connected to them instantly, if only shortly in a very special way. That happens when you are a henro-san, a pilgrim, hiking this route.

When Thomas arrived we would meet a young man on the route from time to time, mainly at the temples or resting points. Young, energetic and fast. One day Thomas took another route, as the hike without the five weeks experience I already had would not only have been exhausting, but also dangerous. At least for the last 2.1 km.

I hiked by myself and again met the young man at the resting point before the climb. We started talking and I asked him why he was on this journey. What he answered made me feel ashamed for being selfish, hiking the henro for myself.

He told me that is grandmother is quite religious and that she was already 91. Therefore she no longer was able to take this journey and that he did it for her. At the end he would bring back the pilgrims vest with all the stamps and signatures, so that she could be buried (well burnt actually) with it, once she passes away.

You have to understand, that Japanese have very few holidays and if you estimate 14 days per year and a least 6 weeks of hiking, you can do the maths. The story touched me immensely and I can only vaguely imagine how important this woman must be for him.

The other encounter happened yesterday and again showed me, how deep relationships can run and are a lifeline.

Because of the heat I decided to refrain from a second steep hike that day and took the cable car. Shortly before the departure a young woman with a child on her hips entered the car. Not a young child. A boy approximately 7-8 years old. It was clear, that he very likely had a from of cerebral palsy. But a very witty mind, as I was able to catch from their conversation.

When we got off the car on top of the mountain, I realized, that he wore the pilgrims vest. So I just could not help myself, approached them and asked him, whether he was also a henro-san. He had the cutest shy little smile on is face as he answered yes. I asked his mom, whether I could offer him some ossetai (my bag was loaded with candy I had received) and handed it to him.

It was quite a walk to the actual temple and I saw the exhaustion with which he mastered the way, saying his prayers together with is mum, her carrying him up the stairs. I had tears in my eyes seeing this little boy’s and his mum’s effort and love for each other.

It took less than a second to decide that at the last four temples, I still had to visit, I would dedicate the lighting of the candle and incense as well as my reading of the heart sutra to this young man in the hope, that he will keep his witty little smile and wonderful attitude throughout his life ahead of him.


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