On the Road to Kumano – part 4 of 5

By Paulo Coelho

The limit of pain

We are on the top of a mountain, beside a stone column with some inscriptions. From high up, I can make out a temple in the middle of the forest.

- That is one of the three sanctuaries the pilgrim must visit, and when he arrives here, he feels great joy at already being so close to one of them – says Katsura. – According to tradition, no woman may go beyond this point during her menstrual period. One time, a poet came this far, saw the temple, but because of her menstruation, could not go on. She understood that she would not have the strength to go four days without eating, and decided to return without reaching her objective. She wrote a poem of thanks for the days spent walking, got ready to return the following morning, and went to sleep.

“The Goddess then appeared in her dreams. She said she may go on, because her verses were beautiful; as you can see, fine words can even make the Gods change their opinion. The stone column bears the poem she wrote.”

Katsura and I set out on the five kilometers which separate us from the temple. Suddenly I recall the words of the biologist I met: “If the Goddess wants you to practice Shugendo, the way of the art of accumulating experience, she will tell you what to do.”

- I shall remove my shoes – I tell Katsura.

The ground is rocky, and bitterly cold, but Shugendo is the communion with nature in all its aspects, including that of physical pain. Katsura also removes her shoes; we set out.

The first step I take, a pointed rock pierces my foot, and I feel the deep gash. I stifle a cry, and continue. Ten minutes later I am walking at half the speed when we set out, my feet hurting more and more, and for a moment I think about how far I still have to travel, that I may get an infection, that my publishers await me in Tokyo, all the interviews and meetings which have been arranged. But the pain quickly pushes back these thoughts, I decide to take another step, and another, and to continue for as long as possible. I think about the many pilgrims who have come here practicing Shugendo, without eating for many weeks, without sleeping for many days. But the pain will not allow me to think profane or noble thoughts – it is simply pain, occupying all space, frightening me, forcing me to think of my limit, and that I won’t succeed.

Nevertheless, I can take another step, and another. The pain now seems to invade my soul, and weakens me spiritually, for I am not able to do that which many people have done before me. It is physical and spiritual pain at the same time, it doesn’t seem like a marriage with Mother Earth, but rather a punishment. I am disorientated, do not exchange a single word with Katsura, all that exists in my universe is the pain of treading on the small, sharp rocks of the path leading through the trees.

Then a very strange thing happens: my suffering is so great that, in a defense mechanism, I seem to float above myself, and ignore that which I am feeling. At the far boundary of pain there is a door to another level of consciousness, and there is no longer room for anything else but nature and myself.

Now I no longer feel pain, am in a lethargic state, my feet continue to follow the path automatically, and I understand that the boundary of pain is not my limit; I can go beyond. I think of all those who suffer without wishing it, and I feel ridiculous flagellating myself like this, but I have learned to live like this – trying out the majority of things before me.

When we finally stop, I take the courage to look at my feet, to see the open wounds. The pain, which was hidden, returns again with force; I consider the journey over now, I will not be able to walk for many days. Imagine my surprise when, the following day, everything has healed; Mother Earth knows how to take care of her children.

And the wounds go beyond the physical body; many wounds which had opened up on my soul were expelled by the pain I felt as I walked along the road to Kumano towards a temple who’s name escapes me. Certain suffering can only be forgotten when we manage to float above our pain.

(continued on Monday)

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Comments

  1. Agnieszka says:

    Oh..Annie, thank you, you’re so nice.
    lots of love
    Agnieszka

  2. wanbliska says:

    I think I got it. It remembers me the suffering before my son came on Earth. During, I could feel pain was nearly an idea. I say nearly because after 11h, pain made me nearly unconscious. Ok 30 mns later, all has disappeared in a breathe! Magic moment anyway.
    Yet, pain is here still. But less. The joy of welcoming the Birth added to that diminution of dolours, make that you forgot totally your painful body.

    It makes me think, I have someone invisible by my side, that can stop instantaneously my pain. As to the idea that pain means a thing we have to understand, I’m wondering if it is a good thing to ask him to be my doctor.

    Blessings

  3. biljana says:

    THANKS TO YOU TANIA, I STARTED THINKING OF GIVIN BIRTH TO MY SON AS MY PERSONAL PILGRIMAGE. AT FIRST YOU ARE THE TEMPLE ITSELF, CARRING THE MOST PRECIOUS SECRET AND THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON THAT YOU STILL DO NOT KNOW THAT WILL BECOME ONE! AND YOU GO THRU PREGNANCY FOR 40 WEEKS, YOU TASTE FEAR,PAIN, NAUSEAS,EXPECTATION,LOVE…
    AND THEN YOU FIND YOURSELF IN THE DELIVERY ROOM FELLING UNBELIEVABLE PAIN AND YET YOU DO NOT THINK THAT THAT IS THE WORSE THING AND THE WORSE PAIN IN YOUR LIFE!
    THIS IS THE CERTAIN PAIN THAT YOU CAN MANAGE TO FLOAT ABOVE!
    I DO NOT REMEMBER THE PAIN;IT DESAPPEARED AS SOON AS MY SON WAS GIVEN TO ME ON MY BREASTS, WHEN I HELD HIM, TOUCHED HIM AND KISSED HIS LITTLE HEAD.
    I REMEMBERED THAT!
    AND YES MOTHER EARTH KNOWS HOW TO TAKE CARE OF HER CHILDREN!
    MAYBE BECAUSE MEN CAN EXPERIENCE GIVING BIRTH TO A CHILD THEY SEEK FOR OTHER CHALLENGES AND PILGRIMAGES FOR THEMSELVES!

  4. Agnieszka says:

    When life is giving us a hand..
    we want to rush things,
    we want to take it right away,
    taste all of it,
    why don’t we slow down,
    feel.. the air,
    warm breeze of the sun
    on someone’s hair,
    simple things,
    take one drop at the time,
    enjoy the ride,
    let the sunrise wake up
    the senses..
    in your eyes..
    feel the heat..of the night,
    melt the heart with gentle kisses
    of..endless dreams,
    touch the soul of the bird..
    singing..
    love and peace.

  5. Agnieszka says:

    I am reading “The Prophet” by K. Gibran and it makes me… cry, it is so moving.
    The words, when he writes, that we all are like a big procession, and every one of us is like a pilgrim, who shares the responsibility for the other. Every one of us is a cause, and effect at the same time. No one is guilty and no one is without guilt. Even a victim is not without a guilt. Our lives interlace and change us. So true.
    love
    Agnieszka

  6. Liara Covert says:

    This glimpse into an engaging story reminds us that we are each powerful, loveng spiritual beings. We have choices to listen and to trust our intuition, to take guided action from our inner soul. External judgment has the potential to distract us from our path and from our instinct to listen to ourselves. Yet, we also have opportunities to re-evaluate our thoughts and beliefs, and to tap into the spiritual power that invites us to be fully immersed in our journey.

  7. mergingpoint says:

    This reminds me of our trekking on Himalayas. One of our friend’s shoes gave way and she trekked barefoot. The greatness of such spiritual places facilitate the seeker to experience the beyond in so many ways.

  8. Agnieszka says:

    The human nature is so unknown, so unpredictable, so perverse.
    When we have happiness, stability, we want danger, excitement.
    When we’re in pain, in doubt, we want happiness, love, peace.
    Everything changes, and changes us.
    After distress, tragedy, disappointment, pain, somehow we…become stronger,…better.
    And funny thing is,…we love more; life, people, every moment.
    We’re grateful to God for every minute of our life.
    We are even grateful for those moments of sorrow. Hmm…
    Maybe…feeling…something deep…brings us closer..to God,
    for He suffered so much, and… he never refused it, never faltered, He…embraced the pain.
    When we do so…, when we’re not afraid…yes…
    God….takes away the pain.

    love
    Agnieszka

  9. Tania says:

    This sounds like the type of pain one can experience in child birth ,which makes me think that if you gave birth in nature or somewhere of great significance it would be totally different then in a hospital or at home.
    Blessings Tania