While Japanese culture has always fascinated me, sometimes things just click like a lego snapping into place. With some customs I’m satisfied to take a spectator’s view, only wetting my toes in a practice that feels to me like wearing the wrong shoe on the wrong foot–not quite the right fit. Other times, it’s like listening to my own uncrystallized beliefs being defined through a centuries old custom. Those times I cannonball in.
Japan has a concept I’ve only recently become aware of, though I have been practicing it unknowingly since I arrived. I’d like to give you the Japanese word for it, but it appears to be more of an idea than an entry into the dictionary. It’s a journey of yearly personal renewal, undergone alone, to a place where the past falls away in the face of the upcoming year. It’s a spiritual bath where you shrug off the psychological dirt of the previous year, renewing you for the next. It’s the demarcation–when you finally say “it’s over.”
We’ve been accumulating invisible baggage all year, yoked to a past we drag with us–forever present–a zombie in our minds we should have buried a long time ago. The pit stop is where you bury it. It’s the funeral, where you put the past year to rest so you can face the next renewed. You come away lighter, clean, with a full battery and a clear head.
We need that.
Your pit stop in Eden could be climbing a certain mountain, a day lakeside, a trip to the ocean. Whatever it is, it’s something personal that has meaning to you. My pit stop is climbing Mt. Minobu. I’ve written about my last climb before, where by chance I met and had dinner with a monk. I’m not Buddhist myself, and while Mt. Minobu is the headquarters of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, it’s the climb, not the temples, that I go for. The inner part of the mountain is stunning. I can easily see why Nichiren chose Minobu as its sacred place.
Minobu was the first real mountain I’d ever climbed. And if truth be told it’s quite easy. With most of the way up actually a paved road winding through the mountain, it’s hardly a challenge. But that’s the point. I don’t go for a struggle, but a session to put a psychological end to the troubles of the last year. Climbing the mountain is kind of like walking out of the mud. You’re still covered in the stuff at first, but it gradually falls away until by the time you make the top you just give anything left a brisk shake and the wind blows it away.
Many Japanese make their journey of renewal in April, the end of the new fiscal year when tensions at work have been at their highest. But it’s not a matter of when to go, just the best time for you.
For me it’s in Fall, when the leaves are changing colors and the air is good for climbing. My pilgrimage is coming soon, and I’m looking forward to putting a long, hard year to rest.