Once I became more conscious I realised the bells were tolling inside me. There was a celebration going on deep within my soul. This was the completion of a long journey, travelling from mountain to mountains.
It began in February 2009 when I was living on my own magic mountain. Deep within the Monaro, high up in the Snowy Mountains, my kids and I had run with my broken heart to live as far away and as remotely as possible. Journeying like gypsies my two girls and I hauled a trailer with two white horses, four beloved cats and three dogs high up into the mountains, south of Lake Jindabyne. I had bought a six hectare horse property with a cute alpine house. Isolated and majestic at 400 metres we had all round mountain views.
My subscription to NOVA Magazine had arrived in the mail and I became fascinated by the article "A Thousand Year Blessing". "If you are reading this," said Cate Kodo Juno, a Buddhist priest from Western Australia, "then it is your karmic fate to have made this connection with Kuan Yin at this auspicious time".
Cate did a yearly pilgrimage to Japan but this year was different, particularly sacred. This year the Buddhist temples dedicated to Kuan Yin, built along a thousand kilometre ancient trail passing by 33 mountains, would be opening the sacred face of the goddess for all pilgrims to view and worship throughout the entire year, for the very first time ever in the 1400 year temple history.
Each year for the previous 15 years Cate carried the prayers of many people of all faiths with her on the pilgrimage to offer at the final temple.
Kuan Yin, or Kannon as she is known in Japan, means "she who hears the cries of the world", knows no bounds of religion or race; anyone can pray to her for help and the history of her many miracles is well documented at her shrines. Cate herself receives letters of gratitude from the thousands of people whose prayers she has carried.
Cate urged anyone who had read of her trip and wanted to send their prayer, to contact her through her website. I yearned to not only send a prayer but to travel with her on her pilgrimage. But I had my own mountain to worry about. Deep in drought, work was scarce and my priority for my small income was to feed now three horses, cats, dogs and children. Fuel was my biggest concern. Prices for everything in the mountains were twice as high as the city and it was a two hour drive to buy hay for my horses as no rain meant no grass! Luckily, I had plenty of house water as we had a spring fed, underground bore with water fresh from the top of Australia. I had installed two more water tanks but pumping with my 20 year old bore pump was laboriously slow and time consuming.
I contacted Cate by email and quickly received a special prayer page from her. The front of the page had Japanese characters written in long lines from right to left. The instructions said this was a special Kuan Yin Mantra and that I was to write my prayer on the back and then return it before Cate departed.
To this day I am not quite sure what I wrote in my prayer. I wish I had kept a copy. I remember opening the prayer saying, "Dear Great Mother, Kuan Yin, I pray to you for my own mother who I have not seen for seven years." I prayed for the earth and everything within her, I prayed for my family and all those I loved. I definitely prayed for rain. I finished with a prayer for the happiness of the man I loved. I had filled the entire A4 page.
When Cate returned from her pilgrimage she emailed us all telling us about her amazing journey. Once she reached the last Kuan Yin temple where normally our prayers were offered for the final time and burnt, the senior priest instead asked her to carry the prayers home to Australia where they wished for her to build a shrine dedicated to the Great Mother and burn the prayers there. Cate posted each of us a tiny fabric prayer packet that she purchased from the temple as our reminder that Kannon held our prayers in her heart.
For three years the tiny purple silk prayer packet has been with me. I have carried it in my handbag, tucked it into my bra and slept with it under my pillow. After my brother died suddenly, I placed a small fine triple terminated quartz crystal he had given me inside. No matter how much the packet was manhandled the delicate crystal never broke.
In 2010, my daughters and I returned to Sydney to help rebuild the relationship with my mother. My brother's unexpected and tragic death had brought us back together with love and much grief-driven forgiveness.
Today, New Year's Day 2013, my family and I are on holiday together in Japan. We are staying on a mountain in Hakone province, beside a lake very like Lake Jindabyne. The view from my balcony over the lake is of Japan's most famous mountain of all, Fujisan.
Yesterday, for the final day of 2012, I awoke early and while my daughters and my mother and stepfather still slept, I braved the intense cold and went outside our hotel for a walk in the nearby forest. At the last minute I grabbed my purple silk prayer packet out of my handbag and tucked it into the familiar spot in the centre of my bra.
I followed the trail toward the forest. All the signs were in Japanese and the hotel map was difficult to understand. Somewhere in the forest the path led to 'the Globe of Kuzuryu', whatever this was.
The forest path wound its way around the edges of Lake Ashi. It was beautifully quiet, filled with very tall pine trees and underbrush of bamboo. The view of Mount Fuji was clear and classic like the postcards I had seen as a child. After about 10 minutes, I passed an old Japanese man who was standing on the path. As I walked passed him I noticed some buildings behind a locked gate and saw a prayer board and incense well. I kept walking hoping that eventually I would reach the Globe!
I had been walking for about 40 minutes when I took great heart that wherever I was going I was on the right path. I saw an eagle sitting in the high branch of a nearby tree. I stopped and clicked my tongue to acknowledge him. He turned, looked at me and then flew off low over the lake. When I left my mountain I had despaired that I would ever see Eagle again.
Eventually, I reached the end of the lake. I turned disappointed and began the long walk back. Again, after passing an elderly couple this time jogging, I reached the collection of buildings and noticed the signs warning that the fence was electric! I turned the bend towards the great metal gate and found it was open. I looked at the time on my phone - 9am. I had been gone much longer than I had planned. Yet I really wanted to go inside and see what was there.
On the tour we had taken in Tokyo the guide had shown us how to pray at the great Shinto temple. We were told that as you pass through the first gate you leave all your worries behind you. Being December 31, 2012, this was a great temptation after a difficult year. A large red Shinto gate for this sacred place, which I now knew must be the Globe of Kuzuryu, sat out in the waters of the lake as a beacon of light and hope.
I entered the grounds and walked towards what looked like a guide's office. There were signs suggesting amounts in yen. I had no money with me and motioned to the woman behind the window that I would come back tomorrow but she gestured me to enter. In broken English she said go left then right.
I walked down the path to the left passing through a guard gate then turned right to walk back along the edge of the lake. I felt a rise of panic as to how far to walk. I had been gone a long time and my family would be worried. I calmed myself by looking around me at the beautifully landscaped gardens with delicately and artfully pruned trees and shrubs. I reminded myself that this was a sacred place and to slow down and enjoy.
At the end of the path there was a small bright orange red temple. To the left was the 'water well' where water poured out of a brass dragon's mouth. I followed the purification practice I had learnt, filling the brass cup with water, washing first the left hand then the right, finally rinsing my mouth out and spitting the water out over the stones below. I looked up to see a red Shinto gate, a Torii standing over the path leading to the lake. I passed under the gate and saw a small red shrine box atop a large rock. I stopped and prayed here then walked and stood on the jetty looking out at the larger red Torii in the lake a few metres from shore, wistfully wishing I had approached by boat across the water and under the gate to this beautiful place.
I walked back up the path to the main shrine. The doors were closed and there was no altar in site. A large dragon was carved across the top of the mantle. I love dragons and took this as a sign that I was meant to be here. I performed two deep bows, clapped my hands twice to get the gods' attention, then bowed my very deepest bow once more.
Then without thinking I reached inside my coat and sweater and pulled out my prayer packet from against my heart. I took out my brother's beloved crystal to keep and threw the long held and much travelled silken packet into the offering box.
This was not a shrine dedicated to Kuan Yin, I wasn't even sure if it was a Buddhist temple and I had prayed using Shinto tradition. But I knew here, on the last day of 2012, in one of the many mountains of Japan, a long and difficult journey was complete.
My mother and I have repaired the many missing years. My children are all happy and most importantly healthy. My mountain has been blessed by rain. The man I loved is married now and has a newborn baby. Me? That's the part of my prayer I cannot remember. However, I place my trust and faith for my future in the heart of Kuan Yin, the Great Mother of mercy and compassion, who has heard and answered my many cries.
Kerrie Kelly is a natural therapist based in Sydney