Spring is here. We have made it through another Winter. Many of you gathered with family and friends for the Winter holidays. Gathering together, sharing stories, and celebrating.
Besides being with my family and working I walked a lot in the woods near my home. I listened, prayed, and sent out blessings.
A dwarf Fuji cherry tree in my yard that has not bloomed for several years. Delicate white blossoms have opened for the last few days. It is a blessing. I wish those I know who are having a hard time could sit with me beneath the blossoms. For my friend whose father is in the ICU and for my friend whose brother is recovering from a heart attack, the cherry tree is sending you and your family its blossoms.
When I think of people struggling with the possible death of a loved one my heart goes to this gentle cover by Norah Jones of “Black Hole Sun.”
A Bundle of Sorrows
"And let's remember this: As anyone who has ever gazed up at the stars on a clear night knows, wonder is ultimately inexplicable, connecting us to the divine mysteries of the universe. It reminds us humbly that the more knowledge we gain, the more we discover we do not know." - Jeffrey Davis
One of my old butoh dance teachers Koichi Tamano shared a post in Japanese about the writer Kenji Miyazawa and in there was the phrase "despair is a gift from God." The phrase both rang true and puzzled me.
As I walked a neighborhood wilderness trail I reflected on the nature of gifts from God. If we do well in our lives we might ascribe it to our skill and training, or to those who support us, or perhaps even to God or to some mystery we cannot fathom. When we receive a gift it may be a surprise or the result of a discussion with a friend or partner. But at its heart the gift is something useful or something that will bring a small moment of joy. Despair as a gift. Can despair be a gift? We could simply say that something bad happened. No gift from God. But why when love or happiness or gifts are involved are we inclined to find a deeper meaning?
I am reminded of a story from a Jewish rabbi. Before we are born God takes us to a field filled with bundles of sorrow. We choose one and this bundle is with us for our life. A gift of despair from God. The rabbi says that if we could live our life over again we would choose the same bundle.
My mind goes to the singer Chester Bennington of the band Linkin Park who said in an interview, "This skull between my ears, that is a bad neighborhood." While he was alive he was able to share his hopes and despair through his music and transform the lives of others. You could argue he made many bad choices in his life with drugs and alcohol that led to suicide. Reducing a person's life to linear simplicity is too easy. We all live with our bundle of sorrow and get to choose how we share and express this gift.
I firmly believe that wonder also hides inside this bundle. Gifts are simple and complex. In the Greek myth Pandora was given a box by the god Zeus and told to never open it. She did and out swarmed all the troubles of the world. Only hope was left in the box stuck under the lid. A little bit of wonder. Is our individual bundle of sorrow also a personal Pandora's box? We do not want to open it and yet it the nature of our lived life for it to open. Echoes of the cocoon and metamorphosis. The truth that we all get sick, get old, and die. And yet for each us there is hope stuck under the lid of our personal box.
A Practice Celebrating Your Ancestors
Here you are on Earth with two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. Going back seven generations you have 128 great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. All together 254 ancestors. All of them are responsible for you being here. Your family, your teachers, your ancestors.
Each person you meet in life has 254 ancestors over the past seven generations.
Looking into the future imagine the seven generations following you. What legacy, what gift, what message do you want to leave them?
The following meditation will take us back and forward seven generations.
My Dance Teacher Hiroko
I met my wife in a dance studio nearly 30 years ago. I was working at a bakery in the San Francisco Bay Area making bread for restaurants. She was here from Tokyo studying English and wanted to become an interpreter. Every day for seven years I studied butoh dance with Hiroko Tamano. Seeing photos of her now I am so grateful she was my teacher. Years into practicing with her she told me one day how horrible I was at the beginning. "Who is this person who keeps showing up every day to learn and practice?" she wondered. I was so horrible that I did not even realize how horrible I was.
My enthusiasm for butoh dance knew no bounds. I practiced and performed. A funny memory of Koichi shaving a peace sign onto the top of my head. I remember leading classes for students in a park one summer while Hiroko and Koichi were back in Japan. We even traveled to the south of France to perform. We led a dance workshop and spoken language was not a barrier. All of our bodies moved together that day.
We are born into this life naked and helpless. We are raised through support from family, friends, and even strangers. Or life is both a journey and a canvas upon which we create and move. I remember a dance class with another teacher Akira Kasai. He spoke about walking. When you walk across the floor what is happening in your interior space? Are you leaving your lover or are you walking to the store to buy a bottle of milk? You are not simply walking. The interior space in you is painting itself onto your body and its movements. If you pay attention to this interior space then this is butoh dance.
This story by British writer Christopher Priest originally appeared in the January 1979 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The story is a time travel romance with echoes of the movies Somewhere In Time with Christopher Reeve and Orson Welle’s classic Citizen Kane.
In Citizen Kane there is a scene with Mr. Bernstein telling the reporter:
“One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn’t see me at all, but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.”
The British poet John Keats wrote the ballad La Belle Dame sans Merci in 1819 which tells of a knight “alone and palely loitering” who meets an enchantress in the woods. It may be based on the folklore tale of Thomas the Rhymer who is enchanted by the queen of Elfland and serves her for seven years. Keats' ballad has been made into a graphic novel with the lines on the cover, “Have you led a good life? Do you have any regrets?”
Priest wrote the story while living in Melbourne Australia. I visited Melbourne for a week and my hotel was walking distance from the Royal Botanic Garden Victoria.
I imagine Priest walking in this garden, knowing the line of the Keats poem from childhood, and having seen the movie Citizen Kane. Out of this imaginative intersection comes this wonderful story.
The Little Ways that Encourage Good Fortune
This poem by William Stafford is wonderful medicine.
Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life
but do not know why,
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune.
The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self—
and that self will never be right:
no luck, no help, no wisdom.
I had 7 grandparents: perhaps I was fortunate to receive 75% more than most. In October, with the passing of my mother, the last of my direct predecessors left this Earth. It is strange to be an orphan; although, I still have countless lessons from them all.
I think there's something about cherry blossoms that trigger a line of thinking - I was in Kyoto for the cherry blossoms last week and the passing of loved ones, ancestors, beauty, art, relationships were swirling in my mind against this spring backdrop.
Love the poem at the end!