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Learning about the Spirit of Tanabata in Okinawa and How to be Ready to Receive our Innermost Wishes Fulfilled (a Photo Essay)

As I continue to prepare for our Tanabata-inspired Reiki tea ceremony next month on July 7th, I thought about how I often have trouble keeping the faith when it comes to certain things I'd like to have happen. Some things are just easier to believe in than others. So I wondered if there was more I could learn about the spirit of Tanabata and how that spirit could further guide us on how to keep the faith and be ready to receive our innermost wishes fulfilled.

I decided after a hearty breakfast of cold leftover noodles and matcha that I'd take a long walk to the nearest beach (I was staying in an area in the capital city I'd never been to before so I had no idea what to expect) and ask Okinawa to teach and show me along the way about the spirit of Tanabata, and also about how we can as open hearted conscious magic-driven dreamers fully prepare ourselves to keep receiving, again and again?? Because even if we have everything we've ever wanted now we're still always expanding into the next step in our lives and that expansion, by definition, means moving into unknown territory, which will continue to be challenging! And I personally felt in need of some more wisdom and guidance in this department.

The discoveries or lessons came to me almost as soon as I started walking, which makes me think that if we want advice on how to move forward, actually moving forward in space could aid us! We each have all the answers we need but sometimes we forget and need to be reminded [of what we already know] from a fresh new perspective. I've found especially from living in NYC that cities hold special magic of their own that come to us through the people and surrounding commerce. There are many literal signs all around us in cities. But regardless of where we are when we set out with an intention or a question of some sort keeping our eyes peeled and heart open, we're connected with the land and that special connection can deliver us into our holiest of remembrances. I wanted to share an example of what this might look like with this Tanabata-inspired walk-about in Okinawa. I hope this photo essay will inspire you to go on a magical walk-about of your own, be reminded of the love that's in your heart, as well as help us all to better understand how to bridge our dream visions into our respective realities. Learning about the spirit of Tanabata has shown me that this bridge is like a kind of living magical realism that's deeply rooted in the land where we live and our own dynamic well-being. Anyway, thanks for coming along and journeying with me on this hot summer's day in Okinawa!

As I set off down the busy street from my hotel I could feel in my bones that this was most definitely going to be a healing adventure. As I waited at the stoplight to cross the street I heard my heart speak, "Keep your eyes open". I suppose it also meant keep my heart open too because we can only truly listen and “see” from our hearts. As I began walking into a commerical area I immediately starting thinking about the two star crossed lovers in the Tanabata tale, princess Orihime and Hikoboshi, both star beings from different sides of the Milky Way. One was celestial royalty, and I happened to be walking near the main castle (Shurijo Castle) that once housed the royal family in the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom (before Okinawa became Okinawa). And then at that moment I saw a sign that said "noble". That's when something clicked inside and I figured the first discovery or lesson about how to keep the faith and stay open to our dreams coming true was being presented: Have the confidence of a royal, a king or queen! Or in other words, have the audacity to feel worthy of a wildly magical life and otherworldly-level happiness! It's ours if we want it.

And then as if to confirm it I intuitively looked up at that moment and saw a sign for a cake and flower shop called Love Bird. The spirit of Tanabata was present and guiding! I smiled so big as if to acknowledge and communicate I'm listening I'm listening! More please, more! 

And so I kept going. Soon enough I noticed a sidewalk A-frame sign with the word 'relaxation' (all of these words are in English by the way which is another wonder!) It was for a massage parlor and with the sign came the next lesson from the spirit of Tanabata: We must remember to relax. Must as in no compromises. Not mindless distraction but really really relax our minds and bodies like, well, when we get a massage. One of my main intentions for a Reiki tea ceremony is for all participants to be able to relax and let the mind be free of any obligations and worries even if it's just for the hour. May it feel longer! :)

The next lessons came in rapid succession because I wasn't missing any beats! There are unseen forces at work to help us and we can ask them for assistance in making our dreams a reality, we have access. This is like praying I suppose. Really we're supported beyond what we can see with our eyes and understand with our logical minds or intellect. Guardian dieties love and adore us and truly want to help!

Then I was about to make a left and looked up from my navigation app to make sure I was at the correct street and there was the Dream Cafe! There was even a sign with a unicorn on it! Tanabata is a time for magical dreaming and imagining or envisioning a life we'd like to have for ourselves. And just like in our dreams anything goes. There are no limits and no one to tell us no!! The lesson here was to keep dreaming and following our hearts and holding a vision because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. For example, later on when I was in the forest wondering which path to follow I ended up following the one that felt most curious even though it required more effort (like climbing up another set of stairs in the sweltering heat). And even though that path clearly led to the ocean which was my goal all along there was an old man who was setting up a nice picnic and all the things for a pleasant day outdoors for himself and it didn't feel right to disturb him. From that moment I turned instead take in the view from where I stood and saw the traditional Japanese "kawara", clay tiled, roof of a nearby shrine and strongly felt I needed to visit it before the ocean. So I turned around, retraced some steps and kept walking, only glad for the new clarity and destination.

The next lesson was about having balance. There was a sign that actually said magic, Morutaru Magic to be exact. I'm not sure what it was for because there was no shop below but I looked at both sides of it and one side was a male shisa (an Okinawan protective deity that always comes with its female counterpart) and on the other side was the female shisa. It spoke of balance or perhaps two sides of a coin. Balancing our minds between structure and flow, being on time and spacing out, between discipline and pleasure. Having balance is no yawn fest either, it's truly edge of your seat captivating and dynamic --riveting even -- like any circus act. The juggling, the tightrope, the walking ball! Seeking or having balance keeps us energized and feeling full. And then the word Axis appeared alongside a bicycle propped against a wall. Balance requires something we can rely on, that brings us to a comfortable center, like a spiritual practice of some sort, or a life philosophy, something that can hold us up as we keep moving forward.

A little further along a restaurant owner was opening her restaurant for the lunch crowd and at that moment flipped over the sign on the door to “open”. And soon after the word “welcome” appeared on the ground. We must keep our hearts open! Don't stay closed in fear for too long. Because to receive anything, especially our innermost wishes, we have to be fully open to receiving them. 

By this time I was so close to the ocean I could almost feel it. I passed by a Mexican restaurant (for some reason Mexican food is popular here which I love!) and thought about soul food. Not literally food but also that too! But about feeding our souls, making offerings to ourselves on the regular and how that’s important for feeling good mentally, emotionally, and physically. Recently a student shared that he was entering into a new phase of creating strong boundaries with the people in his life, not only because he had to but because it was an act of appreciation for all that was guiding and supporting him. I thought that was very beautiful, the idea of boundaries as an offering! I then heard a light tapping and turned my head to see an old woman standing in the middle of a ground floor open window directly across the street from me tapping on the window frame. There was no glass, perhaps the window slid open from the side? To my photographer's eye the image was stunning and also sacred because it was just her with her dark sun-kissed face and wispy white hair and wearing a light summer's dress from the waist up perfectly framed and looking out at me. I didn’t have the courage to ask if I could take her picture. Instead I stopped and bowed my head slightly and said good afternoon and she nodded back and it was a wonderful moment between us on that otherwise empty street. The encounter filled me with a passionate thought I think about sometimes especially when I’m feeling down, which is what if I were my own one and only precious daughter? Seeing the much older woman reminded me of maternal ancestors whom I’ve never met but who surely know me and are looking after me? Surely they would want to fiercely protect me at all costs? Because this is how I feel about my own family. There are times when I’m in a difficult moment and alone, I look upon myself as an older version of me holding my current me’s hand, or giving me some sage advice when I’m acting out. Or cheering me on when I'm being impossibly brave. The imagination of a young woman finding her own way in the world is its own power. And I thought about the idea of boundaries again. When we set really clear boundaries for ourselves it's like we're being our own protector. and how that might inspire others to protect the preciousness of their being as well. Boundaries can be a wonderful offering to ourselves. And also anything at all that serves our soul, like a walking meditation or picking some beautiful wild flowers or singing a song.

That’s when the street delivered me into the arms of a small mystically vibrant park teeming with butterflies and thick shade and inviting respite, with ancient banyan trees all around. There was also a clearing that housed a marvelously bright swing set for the kids. How I just wanted to sit and rest there for a while as it was only getting hotter in the strong afternoon sun. I noticed then someone walking down some stone steps behind me, opposite the direction of the ocean, and then how my body involuntarily, as if by animal instinct, turned to face those steps. It was like I was being guided to ascend the steps, even though I would have much rather liked to rest and then prance on into the water! But continuing on the walk felt like what had to come first. I started towards the stairs but stopped and turned around for a moment to take one last look at the park and the shining swing set: Keep going, the time for play will come! 

As I carefully climbed the stone steps I saw a forest area up ahead and as I entered it discovered many memorial stone monuments of different shapes and sizes and designs all around. I remembered that the past weekend was Okinawa's memorial day commemorating the end of the Battle of Okinawa and remembering the thousands of lives lost almost 80 years ago. There was a heart-wrenching larger than life statue of a mother holding her lifeless baby and it reminded me so much of La Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. The whimsical rhythm of the walk had suddenly turned somber as a sharp sadness filled my being. Everything came to a full stop and I felt my hand go to my heart as if I was laying a gentle hand of understanding on every heart that has ever profoundly and irreproachably ached. With tears welling up thinking of the cruelties of man, I said a prayer for all the mothers. There was also in front of that memorial lots of flowers and the thousand cranes offering, a Japanese offering of 1,000 origami cranes symbolizing wishes fulfilled or in this case for peace. The next lesson came to me then: In order to move forward in our lives in any new way we must continue to make peace within ourselves. For me coming to Okinawa has helped me to make peace with my mixed race identity as half American and half Okinawan. At first I had a hard time with it and only frantically sided with the Okinawans because they were in their defenselessness the ones who suffered the most unspeakable anguish and without ever receiving proper reparations. But then I’d visit throughout the years peace memorials or war memorials which are the same here, and I left each one filled with renewed personal power. Okinawa continues to teach me that choosing to make peace over continuing to harbor hatred will give us power, the energy of life, as in chi or ki. Which is the same as saying that embodying peace promotes for us a long healthy life. As much as I’d like to hate my American side, as justified and reasonable as it would be, it would be the same as hating myself and I honestly don’t have that kind of energy anymore and I choose my health. Taking sides doesn’t end wars, it only perpetuates them in our minds and we bring that awful fight into our bodies and into our homes. To receive our innermost wishes, we must find our innermost peace, or rather seek to find where in our innermost heart it is needed.

Another memorial stone I came across strangely reminded me of the Reiki memorial stone that’s by Usui Sensei’s grave in Tokyo. It was erected by his students and is inscribed with the story of his life and thereby the history of Usui Reiki Ryoho. And all was reminding me now of the 5 Reiki principles, especially the last one: Just for today I will be kind to every living thing. Strangely enough, that wasn't the lesson. The lesson here was about foundation. What are our own founding principles? What do we believe in and base our actions upon? And does our foundation need a rebuild, one that’s all our own that we can happily pass onto our children that will teach them about loving big and living well? The lesson here was more like a question asking us to know and perhaps recreate if necessary, our personal foundation for happiness. 

What happened next didn’t garner a lesson but I was so steeped in the spirit of Tanabata at this point that it was perhaps a prelude to what was to come next.  I suddenly heard the loud cawing of a raven or a crow high up in the trees before me. It was strange because it only happened when I'd take a step forward continuing on the path. And then I'd stop and then it was quiet. And then I'd take another step and it was like it was saying not that way yet! So I was still and looked up and followed the branch it was perched upon and traced it to the tree trunk slightly to my right, and instead took a step towards that tree and it was quiet. Oh !! It was a gracious winged messenger of the spirit of Tanabata! So I slowly went up to the tree which is called a gajumaru tree. In Okinawa these trees are considered sacred and are thought to hold mystical power within their moving banyan trunks as well as house nature spirits. I gently took the ends of some aerial roots in front of me and carefully waved them back and forth as if I were ringing a temple bell somewhere. I was ringing it for us all. (What do you wish for?) I gave our wishes to this tree and it’s now in the hands of the wind and stars and Love. Just then another bird came to join the one watching over me. Its partner! They flew off cawing together about some other mystery and onward into the day. I thought of the star crossed lovers meeting in the milky way at their appointed time every year and how happy reunions between lovers must be.  

I kept going and found one more final war memorial with a stone bird, a Quan Yin statue that looked like she was moving yet still, and more 1,000 peace cranes and offerings that all felt like fervent prayers for peace. One last poignant reminder to move forward in peace. 

And so I kept going toward the shrine I saw from afar earlier. Actually there were two, they were neighbors. The first one I went to housed two golden dragons high up near the ceiling with the sun between them. Another powerful reminder of the unseen forces of protection and aid available to us should we ever be in need, we can ask for it. 

And then I was off to the one next door whose entrance was so grand surely it was to be the grand finale of this journey. When I arrived I read about its history and learned that this location overlooks the ocean and is high up on a sacred cliff. In ancient times lovers would meet here secretly to be together! The truest spirit of Tanabata had come at last -- LOVE! Who doesn't love love? Who?? I was so excited and when I passed through the enormous entrance gate it really did feel like entering into another time. I naturally first visited the hand washing area that everyone goes to first for washing the hands as a ritual and symbol of cleansing before entering sacred space. The water looked so cool and inviting also (I really couldn’t wait to get to the beach). There was beside the more elegant bamboo water scoops three dragon head fountains with water pouring from their mouths and it was clearly the more interesting water cleansing option! I saw a little girl who was also feeling the water dragons more and was motioning mischievously that she was going to drink the water (which is not allowed). So playful! I laughed out loud like I was giggling with her. It was my turn to wash my hands and I happily approached the water dragons after the little girl. The next lesson came to me then, keep cleansing our hearts and minds. It's surely a discipline to keep up with our spiritual practices but it's a discipline that also brings us great freedom. And then that’s when I noticed perhaps the girl’s parents? a couple dressed up in beautiful summer kimonos cheerfully posing for pictures. They were so lovely! They certainly symbolized the lovers coming together at this beautiful placeand I couldn't help but admire them! 

The spirit of Tanabata isn't just about romantic love. I mean who are we kidding, that too of course! but also it's more, and perhaps also about being in love with our lives, with the life that we are living. Just that morning a friend from Brooklyn sent me a video of the sunset from her balcony. She panned opposite the sun too to capture the generous red-orange and ambery glaze over all the buildings and then back towards the sun over the Atlantic Ocean. And then she sent me another video right after of just the sky as it was quickly turning all those exhilarating gradients and hues of a gorgeous summer sunset. No messages just those videos. The earth was loving her and she was receiving it! They were long videos too, big files! :) Have the willingness to be romanced by life itself, to be consumed by its beauty and wonder and its mystery. The spirit of Tanabata says it is worth it, in fact it’s saying it’s necessary to receive our innermost wishes fulfilled! The gift from the lovers is always more LOVE. Stay open to having more Love than ever before! It was the best grand finale to this awe-inspiring healing adventure!

As I began to make my way out of the shrine for some reason I wanted to get one last look at the altar area and as I walked towards it I then felt instead called to a nearby gajumaru tree. And there in the center of the trunk was one wish tied to it, one! Honestly how did it get there but much more importantly, is that your wish? What would light up your life like never before? (Aside from money, because please for the sake of being romanced! Or, what would you do with all that money?) What would bring brilliance and joy to your innermost heart? What feels impossible but would feel like a genuine dream come true for you??

I keep asking you what your wish is because 1. No one cares to ask us adults anymore! And 2. I truly believe in the potent energies surrounding the tale of Tanabata and I want to invite you to make a juicy wish and have a magical experience of your own! I wish for you to be blessed in all the ways you ask for and more, so much more! 

And so I found the pathway from the parking lot to the beach and wouldn’t you know it the water was right there in the shrine's backyard! It was the shortest path yet. As I fast approached the very blue sparkling water I felt the completeness of the day and all the discoveries and lessons received from the spirit of Tanabata. I was beyond grateful to Okinawa for holding us and taking us on this fantastical journey bridging our dream spaces with our seen realities. And speaking of bridges, I know this sounds and appears odd but, there was actually a bridge over the water in front of the beach. What I mean is, instead of peering out into the vast infinite expanse of the horizon you instead see a highway. You’d think it messes things up but actually seeing it only felt different and didn’t take away from the gorgeousness of the water and beach experience, only added to it I thought. And as I approached the water I was so elated to have finally made it! I also immediately noticed to the side was a sacred site, a prayer ground and power spot, a place where locals believe nature gods dwell that was the cliff itself, and it was carefully and respectfully roped off to the public. In Okinawa these power spots are considered very sacred like temples themselves, with bountiful mystical energies present. Seeing them is as special as seeing the moon, because not everyone sees the moon. Its a gift in itself to find one so I stopped to acknowledge it all and prayed and and asked the gods for assistance in making all of our wishes come true.

And as I made my way back to the hotel craving an ice bath and snow cones and AC all at once but also feeling really accomplished like I just descended from climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro or something, one last thing caught my attention. A huge diamond was jetting out from a building as if very confidently aware of itself and simply unable to be ignored. It was a present, a giant engagement jewel, a reflection of new ideas coming into form, an encouraging last word on dreaming big. It was also one final message from the spirit of Tanabata for us open hearted conscious magic-driven dreamers which also reminded me of the line from a poem The Potted Plant by Hafiz, "For I have learned that every heart will get what it prays for most", and that is: You shall have it, all


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