While travelling across the US, I had the privilege to see the sun set on the Devil’s tower in Wyoming. This conical tower is located in a flat landscape, its stature creating a focal point and allusive challenge to 2,000 rock climbers each year. It captured the imagination of the native Americans before it’s present incarnation, they called it the bear’s tower, but somehow it’s meaning got lost in translation and the settlers misunderstood it to be the ‘bad god’s tower’.
Today, at the base of Mount Fuji, I contemplated another Icon, 8,000 miles from the former. This icon has inspired artists, pilgrims and writers through out history. In our ‘stressful’ times, people reflect upon it from their tranquil spas dotted around it’s base and the workers in Tokyo lust after it from their desks and imagine the escape and break from monotony it represents.
Why do people feel the need to make or take a pilgrimage? What’s worth the sacrifice of shutting down your every day life and setting of on a journey into the unknown? These paths are not always altruistic; the pilgrim may ask himself what do I want from this? Indulgences, elation or even respect?
Alain de Bottem talks in his book the Art of Travel “that our lives are dominated by the search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest-in all its ardour and paradoxes-than our travels”. When we are pursuing these electric moments on our journeys, we may only experience 10-minute intervals of uninterrupted bliss, where our minds think of nothing else, not the past, nor our anxieties of the future, but are completely in that moment of experience.
Is this what a pilgrimage and an icon offers, places to forget our mortal bodies, that need caring, feeding, cleaning and rest. Are these the moments that we most crave to exist in?but if we experienced them continuously, they would merge into the everyday and lose their iconic significance?