Slowly I Turned

Slowly I Turned May 5, 2024

You have to be a certain age to recognize the phrase, “Slowly I Turned, Step By Step.” It’s part of an old vaudeville routine, embodied by the Three Stooges.   The mere mention of “Niagara Falls,” reminds him of a wrong done to him at Niagara Falls, which sends him into a psychotic episode where he accosts the innocent fellow who said the triggering words.

What has this to do with Pilgrim Life?

By chance I was given a book by a friend.  He is the author as well as the giver, a scholar of Japanese literature.  As it happened, the topic of the little book was pilgrimage in Japanese culture and literature.  He describes the Japanese pilgrimage as ‘displacement’ as a means to discovery.

Instantly I was intrigued, as this notion is at the heart of my pilgrim life.  I go to places afar to discover the places within.  This happens when I feel a resonance inside myself.  The Japanese word is aware, pronounced a-wa-re, but coincidentally similar (resonant!) with the English word ‘aware.’  Moments come, unplanned but always sought, that are flickers of insight.

In the Vaudeville routine, the phrase, “Niagara Falls,” is enough to transport a fellow out of himself but also into himself.  Yes, that sounds paradoxical, but that is ‘aware’ – to illuminate for a moment the world and the self.

Slowly I Turned

portrait of Basho… is not just the start of the gag.  ‘Aware‘ is a spiritual turning around, when a moment makes one stop and look around outwardly and inwardly because something resonates.  In the literature of Japanese pilgrimage, it is often captured in a poem, the ideal form of literature in that culture, and thanks to Basho (whom I have written about before) often in the form of  haiku.

Book CoverIn my own book about walking the Kumano Kodo, “Basho and I Take a Long Walk,” I imitate his style consciously, which is to narrate the journey and add my own attempts at haiku when something in me becomes ‘aware,’ prompting me to turn around.  I append to that literal journey my collection from writing a haiku a day for a year.

Seek Resonance

Like Whitman’s ‘letters from God’ the moments when we can become ‘aware’ in both senses of the term, are all around us.  But sometimes we have to go away from the familiar to rediscover the transcendence of the obvious.  We have to leave ourselves to find ourselves.


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