Yakushima is a beautiful island in the south of Japan, famous for the “Jomon-sugi”, an ancient Cedar tree from the Jomon period. It’s somewhere between 2,000 to 7,000 years old, and is what the Japanese call a “power spot”. Power spots are places where spiritual energy is supposed to be accumulated, so people visit them for rejuvenation, for blessings, to connect with divine energy, and so on.
The Jomon Cedar is a five-hour hike into the mountains, and some people camp overnight in the mountains, but many people do a day hike (10 hours in and out).
For experienced trekkers and the generally fit, 3 hours of up-up-up at that steepness probably isn’t a big deal, maybe a difficulty level of 6-7 out of 10.
Me, I was a complete newbie to trekking. My idea of going for a walk was taking a 5-minute stroll to the convenience store to check out their new desserts. My physical and mental make-up is a wonderful combination of unfit, scared terrified of heights, and best of all, clumsy. The clumsiness makes everything more scary. I think I’m putting my foot *there*, but in physical reality, anything could happen (blame the lazy eye.) Clearly, I’m on the extreme end of “unsporty” on the sportiness bell curve.
Going in, I was mostly excited, and a little scared. It was like being in an action movie. Except I was the stunt person. Yikes. Suspension bridges (sway sway sway, oh no the rope might break, RUN!), narrow bridges with no rails on either side (what if I fall over!), man-made stairs with steps 45 cm high on a steep incline (can.not..br.ea..th..e…*gulp* see ‘the bit that killed me’), slippery, moss-covered stones (oops, slipped, my shoe came off)… What did I sign up for?!
Here’s the route:
Unfortunately, that was not the most challenging part of the trek.
A couple of hours in, my negative mental chatter started up and wouldn’t stop. It took me by surprise when I started to get annoyed with the people I was with. “What’s the big rush?” “Why can’t they stop to appreciate the scenery a little more?” “Why do they expect me to be as fit as them?” “Why am I not allowed to be scared of heights? Or just be scared in general?”
At the same time, I felt bad for holding them back, because they were much fitter, had no fear of heights and it was just a more intense than usual workout for them. So there was also “Why can’t they just go ahead at their own pace?” “I suck, I can’t keep up.” “I’m so unfit, why was I so stupid to come on this trip?”
Yup, I’m ashamed to say, my oversensitive, selfish, immature self came out to play. But what the hell, when you’re on a mountain, you either go forward or backwards. You choose.
A couple more hours later, we finally got to the Jomon Cedar. Yay! There it was. Wow. 7,000 years of history, right before my eyes. (I’ll take the optimistic number.) I’m not sure I felt that surge of positive energy though. We broke for lunch, then started our trek back out.
That’s when the magic finally kicked in.
At some point, I managed to get out of my head, and started really engaging with the beauty around me. I thought, perhaps the power of the Jomon Cedar, lay in the journey, and not in the actual seeing of it.
And that journey is a perfect metaphor for how we choose to live.
There were hundreds of people on that path that day. Some going in, some going out. Some people said hi out of politeness, others out of friendliness. Some didn’t say hi. Maybe they were shy, or super focused, or didn’t care. Or maybe I didn’t hear them.
Some people were fully equipped with tools designed specifically for trekking. Others came with a mishmash of this and that. Still others came with the bare minimum. Some walked speedily, some strolled.
One path, in and out of the mountains, just as birth and death are the only certainties in our lives. The variety of people – uncountable.
Sometimes I walked with my friends. Sometimes I walked amongst strangers. Sometimes I walked by myself. Even so, there was an amazing sense of connectedness and camaderie amongst all the trekkers.
In life too, we also walk in the company of friends and strangers, towards the same destination. But even when we walk with others, it is our own legs that carry us to our destination.
How we choose to walk the path, is entirely up to us. What we carry in our minds and hearts… How we interact with the people and the environment around us… The decisions behind these determine the quality of our experience.
The difference we make in our individual journeys, lies in the choices we make, and the values that drive those choices.
I’d understood these points mentally for a long time, but the trek really hit the point home.
In whatever life area, business, love or spirituality, everyone has their preferred ways of being and doing. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. It also doesn’t mean that we can’t change or experiment.
It also doesn’t matter if we have one life or one thousand lives to live. Since the end point as we know it is the same, we might as well make the best of what we have, and consciously choose what kind of trail we leave behind.
In the end, there is only one purpose for everyone: to walk the path in your particular way.
I decided to live as consciously as I could moment to moment, to actively choose the quality of energy I brought to any situation, to make a small difference every day, in spite of knowing that there’s only one ultimate destination.
It’s easy to have clarity about this in the big picture issues, but applying this to everyday interactions is far more challenging. I fail, way more often than not, but this epiphany is never far in my mind. Thanks, Jomon Cedar 😉
What are you doing to own your purpose? Share in the comments!