10 Teachings of the Okinawan Soul
When I first arrived in Okinawa I wrote this post 10 Japanese Wellness Practices to Heal Yourself Completely. And since this week marks my 2 year anniversary being here I feel a whole lot more Japanese than I did back then! So here's an *updated* list of things I've been learning, still learning (most times painstakingly because culture shock), breathing through, and practicing everyday.
1. It's better to be quiet and listen (to what's not being said).
When I first first arrived I was having dinner with one of my cousins and was feeling a bit uncomfortable in our dinner silence. I was just so used to having conversations with dinner, and semi-nervously remarked about something random. And he frankly responded, "Americans are noisy!" Meaning, I was noisy. He noticed my shock and then explained, "in Japan we eat in silence because it means we are enjoying the delicious food." Silence can be a way of expressing joy and also warmly embracing the unseen energy of togetherness.
2. Say sorry when an apology is due, and thank you for everything.
Two words in Japanese that are said ALL the time are: I'm sorry (the same word can also mean 'please excuse my intrusion' or 'pardon my burdening you with this..' based on the way it's said) and thank you (also the degree or level of gratitude depends on the pitch and gumption with which it's said). I don't think I've ever said these words so much in my life. And what's amazing is that it feels so good for this to be a new normal for me. These words hold SO MUCH medicine and if they're said in a conscious way they can heal so much for everyone. The practice of saying them so much, especially with a healer's mind, is quite thrilling.
3. Eat (only) food that's mouth-wateringly delicious.
I've learned, again from my cousin the culture teacher, that when we eat food that's delicious we are also respecting our lives in unseen ways. It also helps us not eat as much "filler food" and we can have a joyous, and silent!, experience feeding ourselves!
4. Don't eat too much, always leave a little room.
There's a Japanese term, hara hachi bu, which originated in Okinawa and means only eat until you're 80% full. This is considered one of the culture's secrets to living a long healthy life. I'm someone who's used to eating until I pass out (big American portions maybe?), and what I love about hara hachi bu is that instead of feeling lethargic after a meal I still have energy. It makes me feel like a kid again so it makes sense that eating this way in our adult years will help us feel younger and live longer!
5. Cherish your family and love everyone like children.
The family values in Okinawa are so endearing. I can't explain it but I love it. Of course I can only speak about my own small family here who I have extremely limited contact with, but when we do see one another even for a few minutes outside by someone's car there's such warmth quietly exchanged between all. I've tried giving hugs (pre-covid of course) but it's more traumatic for them than anything, so to spare them the emotional shock and be nice, I've learned to quietly stand in and emanate my love outward. It's so cool. And also this kind of energetic emotional exchange feels very innocent and pure.
6. Respect nature in all the ways you can, as much as you can.
There's a deep feminine energy (think great cosmic grandmother) that's given and received whenever I go out into the forests, visit and pray to sacred earth shrines, care for my earth altar at home, gaze at flowers and trees and the moon, wade in the ocean, etc., etc.. Something always feels mended in my mind and in my spirit, and I feel very spiritually cared for in ways I never have before. It's like, the more I bow in respect to the natural world, the more it bows in respect to me.
7. The only thing more important than money in this world, is kindness.
I've learned SO MUCH about kindness here that I could weep from all the realizations of just how attached to money I've been my whole life. There's something so. incredibly. precious. within the Okinawan soul that understands the value and virtue of kindness in ways I'll never be able to articulate. I'm still learning, but I feel I'm able to say this for now: If you're financially wealthy but unkind (emotionally immature, childish, mean, greedy, etc.) you'll end up with nothing. If you're kind, or at the very least striving to cultivate kindness, you'll end up with everything. There's nothing more impressive than the aura of a person with a kind heart.
8. Dedicate yourself to your work, no matter what it is.
This is a very personal but profound example of what this means and I can't think of any other way to explain it! Once again, my cousin, the teacher, works long hours at a manual labor intensive tradesman job, makes very little money, strives to become the best at what he does, and has only one day off a week. He never ever complains about any of it. In fact, once I asked him why he never complains (because I was dumbfounded) and he said it was because it takes his power away. I realized that every day there's an inner fight going on to maintain rights to his soul, not to give it away to his work, to society, to others, to have it always intact for himself. Do the work, strive to be best, and come back home to yourself. And so every day when he returns home from a day of hard laborious work, and doesn't complain, blame, or become angry, and also, might I add, remains light-hearted, jovial, and fun-loving he has won this fight. This kind of spiritual conquest is only possible through hard work of any kind (some work is mentally or emotionally hard, etc.). I can honestly say that I have never met anyone so mentally sound in my life, except for the indigenous shamans I met in the jungles of Peru, and especially the leaders who were always giggling and making jokes outside of ceremonies. I'm still learning that having daily work is a privilege, and also a necessity to establishing profound and lasting happiness that's firmly rooted straight from the soul. Because it's not about the work, the money, or becoming a great whatever, it's about the kind of person we're becoming in the process.
9. Move swiftly when it's time to act, and rest deeply when it's time to rest.
This connects slightly to what I mentioned earlier about not wanting to be burdensome to others. Somehow moving swiftly and taking swift action not only relieves others of burden, when it's done with integrity always also puts everyone at ease, including the do'er. Yes, it's hard to understand. Yes, it's a lot of being busy dashing around. But, like Savasana after a dedicated yoga practice, when it's time to rest, the body really deeply rests.
10. Always be cleaning, something.
Cleanliness is godliness. That is all.