I discovered today that the road to enlightment is not easy, not easy at all, and it isn`t straight, nor is it signposted, and it is a very long way from the bus stop.
We dispatched our fine young son Kevin off to a temple in Koriyama to be a novice monk for 3 days. We thought it would be a good experience for him, learn a little patience, a little focus maybe and 3,000 yen for 3 days `off` is not to be sniffed at either.
Once the details arrived, we found it was going to be quite difficult to get to for anyone driving a car who can`t read the road signs, so at the 11th hour, The Man stepped in, took a day off work and took Kevin off for his retreat.
He came back hours and hours later, drenched in sweat. he said there was a long opening ceremony ( Duh!! It IS Japan) and then a 2 hour talk on the history of the temple while all the fine boys sat seiza in their robes.
There was going to be absolutely no way out of the pick up. I would have to go and I would not be able to drive there, so maps were printed off the internet, I can get a couple of trains and then a bus to
Matsuoderaguchi and then a walk up the mountain to the temple.
Okay I can do it. I spent a day stressing about it, stressing about sitting through the long long goodbye ceremony, the heat in the temple, the endless sitting. Then I kicked myself up the arse and realised I was approaching this all wrong, I was about to go and see and to a small degree take part in someonething entirely new, something my son was involved in, if I was going to spend all that time there I was going to bring something away from the experience. I was hoping for eternal internal peace of course but willing to settle for a healthy son, and perhaps a moment of clarity, and if I pushed my luck a little weight loss due to sweating.
So I geared myself up for trip, my adventure, my journey, both physical and spiritual. 2 siblings were sent on a bus to stay with Baa chan ( grandma) another was studying.
I packed my rucksack with things suitable to the journey. A two litre flask of water, pens and notebook and a huge fat Thict Nacht Hahn book, that my dear friend gave me, because what you really want in your rucksack if you are climbing two kms up a mountain in the August heat is a very heavy book.
After the first train I was in New Territory. I was excited to be going somewhere different and it took me back to the early days in Japan when I would jump on trains with my friend Louisa and we would explore temples and back streets. I was feeling good, strong, powerful. I looked out of the window and watched hitherto unseen land. I was a pioneer again. I felt like I might be in a Kate Winslet film, it might be `Holy Smoke` or `Hideous Kinky,` not sure which yet, but I was wide open to possibility.
I get off the train and follow the arrows to the bus station. I asked the lady at the counter what stand the bus to Matsuoderaguchi goes from.
She said she doesn`t know, there is no such place as Mastuoderaguchi.
I said I need to get to Matsuodera, she said there is no bus there, the nearest she can get me is something or other, nantokaharacho. She said from there its a long walk to Matsuodera, all up hill. I said that`s okay I know, and I think she could tell from my aura I was on a pilgrimage.
I get the bus, I get off at the end of the line and look around and realise that I have absolutely NO CLUE where I am, where I am going and I have only 90 minutes to get there.
Panic kills, stay calm, deep cleansing breaths. Being Mindful I saw a police box so I asked them the way. There was A LOT of sucking in of breath, they said its a LONG way, I said I know I know, its okay, I am ready for a LONG way.
They gave me directions. I follow the directions but something doesn`t seem right so I ask a passerby, no problem still on track, I round another bend, I get that nagging feeling again that I am on the wrong track and running out of time. It is red hot, the rucksack is pulling me down, passerby says I am on the right road.
Now this is where I totally confuse myself.
I have absolutely no sense of direction. the police man told me to walk along the road, turn left at a `t` junction and then follow the road all the way, all the way, right to the end until there is no more road and on my right I will see a mountain track and I should go up there until I get to the temple. So which part of `stay on the same road` I could not get, I do not know, but I was itching to turn off it despite knowing that my `feelings` about a destination have never ever ever got me to where I want to go.
I kept on going, then there appeared to be a kind of fork in the road thingy and I wasn`t sure which was my road, so I broke my own rule and asked a passing JHS student, who told me to turn left at the next big intersection and the temple is next door to the gasoline stand???? I am surrounded by rice fields !! There is no frickin big intersection, and all other advice had indicated that the temple was UP THE MOUNTAIN, where one does not usually see gasoline stands.
I make a decision. I stick with the wider road, ( the road more travelled? what a wuss) and sure enough I get to a mountain road.
Now I want to say the mountain road was steep, but `steep` doesn`t cut it. Anyone from Yorkshire I would say Sutton Bank, anyone form the world I would say The Hillary Step!!! Jeez I thought I might need crampons.
Running out of time, soaked to the skin, regretting the whole smoking thing, I plodded onwards and upwards, round bend after bend after bend, thinking each one would reveal the temple, my enlightment, my salavtion, my son!!
Screw Kate Winslet. I am Robert De Niro in `The Mission`, when I get up there I will throw my rucksack back to the bottom and come back down for it.
Seriously regretting the book now and the water I don`t have the strength to drink.
At last I see the sign for Matsuodera, its hard to read as buckets of sweat are clouding my vision, can`t read the Japanese but there is an arrow pointing further up the hill, so I suppose it says ` Not Yet baby`.
Eventually, worn and spent, hot and wet I make it there. I took a few minutes rest outisde and had some water. I could hear chanting.
I slipped off my shoes and went inside.
100 boys in novice robes, sitting seiza and chanting. I was right by the door and a cool breeze blew off the mountain.
I took in the simplicity of the wooden temple, the faded orangey-red of the pillars and gates.
I got my peace.
My peace came from being grateful to be sitting, to feel the cool breeze, to be calmed and lulled by the chanting, to see my son`s face,
to see him be part of something and to be part of it too by simply showing up.
We ( they) chanted for 90 minutes, I felt wonderfully rested by it.
Then came the closing ceremony. The Priest talked to the boys of how hard they had tried. They had had just 2 meals a day, 3 drinks of tea, they had worked and chanted and sat together and he was proud of them. that even though it may have been very hard, when they do experience hardship they will have experience to draw upon, to know they have inner strength.
It was marvellous. they got their certificates, my son called out a loud `Hai` to his name.
Then they were returned to us.
Kevin ran to me, I was so happy, I couldn`t wait to hold him.
So profoundly moved and changed by his experience, so blown away by the plunging of his inner depths, all he could say to me through his de-hydrated lips was…