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Promise of Spring and the Way of Water

Promise of spring and the way of water

Earlier in March I sat on a tatami mat floor in the little apartment that I share with one of my cousins in Okinawa, marveling at a pen I was gifted earlier that day for my birthday, turning it over and over in my hands slowly taking in every detail. It was a shimmery dusty pink and personalized with my name printed on the side. To my even greater delight, there was a red ink stamp of my Japanese name hidden in the top. A pen with my many names! (ok just 2 but still, it felt very poetic). The stamp featured a kanji I wasn't familiar with and so I wondered aloud if there were even other ways to spell my name? My cousin in the other room immediately started researching, his eyes widened and quickly presented me with 2 new ways, which felt like a special gift, same as the pen. Since you're in Okinawa this one makes sense.. he said. Everything felt surreal and extra special in that moment like seeing some new beauty emerge from the ordinary everyday for the first time. Like when I discovered the petals of a beloved electric magenta wild rose that grows everywhere here were the shape of hearts. I knew the individual characters of the name well, because they are everywhere here, they stood for peaceful ocean. And in some strange otheworldly moment within the ordinary it was like I was being given a new name.

Looking at those characters for peaceful ocean took me back to this photo shoot from last fall, the one that helped me stretch past many of my comfort zones, like standing on the edge of all that was known and peering into a pool of pure possibility. Mostly it helped me to remember my first true love, the creative process.

Prior to the photoshoot was finishing up a busy and exciting year of personal growth giving in-person sessions and welcoming people to Okinawa for the first time (including one of my students from NYC!), while teaching and keeping up with my regular schedule of clients and virtual clinics and Reiki tea ceremony offerings for folks in the U.S.; it was a lot and it was glorious. So this felt very much like an end of year gift, from Reiki.

Getting ready for it was like getting ready for a date after being single for ages. I was also recovering from a flu and the last thing I felt like doing was going to the beach. But there was movement happening, an undercurrent if you will, which felt exhilarating and also terrifying. Getting back out there energy. I was half hoping that something would sabotage it all, like a sudden road closing or a typhoon even, but Wisdom knew that this was a gift and sometimes we have to be brave to accept our gifts. And so I kept going, like a child enamoured by adventure and love. When the shoot day arrived I nervously got into a taxi with all my snacks and my pink umbrella ready for the adventure. Even the driver, a middle-aged Okinawan "uncle" who probably knew every road everywhere, had never been to where we were going: a smaller island thickly blanketed in tall dancing sugarcane fields and little else. As we drove over the long bridge that connects it to the main island, the endless expanse of turquoise water on either side of the car coupled with the bright morning sun completely mesmerized me. It felt like we were floating or flying above the ocean, like crossing over into another time.

The waves were particularly rough that day and after an initial dip all my many doubts aggressively came at me like angry bees, how would I make it through the next couple of hours? I've never done this before, I'm not prepared, what was I thinking?! My head was fighting me hard. Too exhausted to move anymore I rested under the luxurious shade of an adan tree, completely done for. That's when with all my defenses down I heard the sound of the waves as if for the first time. I noticed the shapes of the shadows of the leaves on the sand, birds pecking for food, hermit crabs appearing and then disappearing, kids laughing, all. I thought about how far I'd come, and not just the hour in the taxi but farther. I felt myself becoming stronger. With the morning sun becoming increasingly brighter there was nothing left to do but to continue. I made a deal with myself: I'd try for one good shot.

Shortly after, the photographer arrived, and we got started. I could feel the creative process taking hold in all the familiar ways I dearly missed and slowly, gradually it breathed new life into me. That's when I let all the terrible doubts come, along with the embarrassment and shame too (I had to hold my nose!) I patiently stayed with the discomfort like a trainer might stay with a young and wild horse. Because how else can we move past our discomfort if we don't feel it all first? Then, perhaps I broke through something because I started laughing. Not literally but if laughter were an energy or another feeling. Like my skin was laughing, like someone had paid me the most awesome compliment, I felt really really loved. It was like that, the ecstatic butterflies in the sky feeling and it filled me with vitality I didn't know was available. I kept going in that direction and as I did I felt safer in the water and let the process of creative flow carry me. And the water held me like a mother.

Even though the waves were big and scary on the surface, underneath it was serene and steady, like a stable hand of peace. The peace imparted to me a sense of strength I forgot was already mine. It reminded me of what it feels like to give and receive Reiki, to have perfect peace in mind, body and soul. Even if it's just for a moment in time it stays with us, it helps us to remember down the road whenever we need a good reminding that a heaven on earth like peace is always available to us. And if someone like me who has lived through some harsh and starless times, who only really knows meanness and fighting, can still feel deeply loved like this. like this. Then it's definitely available to everybody. The way of water is much like the promise of spring because they both give us hope. Spring promises that it will come eventually and the way of water leads us back to, or reminds us of, the peace that's already in our hearts.

This experience was one of many here that have helped me begin to honor my cultural identity by healing past the impasses of anger and resentment. It's been like gently and carefully holding a part of me, my heart, that's never found its place. I was born in a military hospital in Sacramento but grew up in the South until the age of 20 when I returned to California to study at Soka University of America. There were so many Japanese students there that being there among them reminded me of my Japanese heritage and that I was half-Japanese. Until then I only knew I wasn't Black but also not white/Caucasian. I was left to a grey area I suppose like any mixed-race kid. Until leaving the South, the only link I had to being possibly identified with the world outside of our little city was when a small letter sized airmail envelope would arrive to the house every now and then, with its red and blue striped trim and "USA" written across the front. It was a special specimen from "the outside", a letter from one of my mother's sisters in Okinawa. I remember how funny the individual letters on the envelope looked written with their sharp uniformity, the same way my mother wrote in English. The way the 7's looked like sturdy upside down hooks, unlike my 7's which looked more like unbent paperclips. And the way my mom would receive each correspondence unlike other mail, like it was a precious link to her past to who she was. Even as a young girl I felt its importance as I passed them on to her. I can't be sure but I suppose this is every immigrant's story. Having to leave the mother land for a new frontier at once sacrificing culture but also needing perhaps craving that link for identity and for the sake of the soul. It takes a certain pioneering apptitude to manage such an undertaking, scary as it is thrilling. I'm no scholar, but surely it's the true American spirit.

To my young mind, those letters felt like they came from a place of fantasy, like a magical creature had placed the envelope in our mailbox during the night. Okinawa was that fantasy place that only my mom knew about and could communicate with. To the rest of us it was unknowable and without question unreachable. But when I entered that school something of primal importance started to awaken inside of me like strands of DNA crackling and lighting up.. like those neon glow sticks that we played with as children on the 4th of July. And I didn't know how, when, or in what way but I would go there one day. I'd meet those mysterious letter writers, my aunts, and behold their hands, the proof I needed to know that they were as real as I was. that I was real too. That I wasn't only a racially bemused half-Jewish girl from Georgia who didn't really belong anywhere but desperately tried to fit in everywhere. To make peace with my cultural identity also meant healing my sense of belonging in the world, clarifying what it meant to be a conscious American, and also possibly, the gravest of them all, to establish autonomy and real security from within my spiritual heart. For all these things I needed to know my mother's people, and I needed to know my mother. It was clear the only way there was to go on my own. There's something so very initiating about journeying on one's own. Pioneering even, for the sake of one's soul. I made it out of the south and across the country on my own, so I knew I could do it, one day. First certain baby steps were in order, like learning Japanese. I knew I'd get there eventually.

So it feels vastly poetic, like how the dreams of our childhood and youth never really leave us, that after some time I've finally come to Okinawa on my own. Discovering my mother’s people has helped me discover the root of who I am, the roots of my gifts, and the strengths of my ancestors. Okinawa, especially, was the perfect place to experience this, because of its history as an independent kingdom, the Ryukyu Kingdom, and its struggle to maintain autonomy and sovereignty despite America’s ongoing military presence. I feel Okinawan in this way and a kinship in spirit as I continue to heal myself. One primary and important way Okinawa has helped me heal is by opening my soul's eyes to the natural and sacred treasures of this land.

Later that day after the photoshoot I discovered a water shrine for the first time. It was outside of the beach entrance a little further down the road. I was making my way to the bus stop feeling like I had just completed a full day of prayer for world peace. I clearly missed it on the way in and was in half-belief that it was really there. It was late afternoon and the sun began its dip beyond the horizon, casting an amber glaze over everything. The water was like liquid gold, a sacred spring shimmering peacefully at the center of the grove, emitting perfect peace, a stillness in mind, body, and soul came over me. As I reflected I began to wonder if the way of water might also move backwards and not always forward, as I previously thought. Perhaps it also leads us back to our source, to our beginning. To who we've always been and will also eventually become. Maybe that's why rivers rush towards the ocean because they already know what they are, what they'll become? We are essentially already filled with peace. I think being by water reminds us of this because of how we feel. How it cleanses our minds just looking at it, and listening to it, and how we feel refreshed on the walk back home. An emotional recalibration happens and we feel better, more like ourselves again.

Even as I write this now it's as though the water, the ocean, that spring, my ancestors too all are whispering to me, "Peaceful ocean," they are saying,"this is who you are." I'll continue to let the water lead me further into this understanding. I promise to keep listening.

Before I left I wanted to take a picture and peered into the sacred spring to get a selfie. I saw my reflection with the pink umbrella above my head, some golden leaves floating at my feet or coming up to me like neighborhood cats. Behind me massive god-dwelling trees and a carved out piece of sky and clouds, the beyond peeking in all crowding in for the picture. There it all was, from the edge peering in, self-discovery, a peace sign, the way of water bringing me back to myself, and the promise of spring, that it's come.


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