Journey to Mt. Kurama

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This photo by Becky Holtzman; all others by photographer David Ondrik.

This summer I had the opportunity to visit Japan—something I’d hoped to do for years, long before I even knew about Reiki. As luck would have it, my visit was based in Kyoto. Mt. Kurama, the sacred mountain where Reiki was first perceived by Mikao Usui, is about an hour’s train ride north of the city. Traditionally, Usui is said to have discovered Reiki after a three-week fasting meditation on the mountain, in 1922. Of course a visit to the origin place of Reiki was at the top of my list!

The train ride was beautiful: as the city eased into suburbs, lush rice paddies and vegetable gardens began to replace dwellings. Our train tunneled through maple trees as we moved into the mountains. Finally, we were deposited at Kurama Station, and our trek began.

We paid the entrance fee at the main gate, and received a lovely, pale purple “Summer” ticket, which told us that Mt. Kurama is “imbued with life energy, a wide variety of life forms resides here in serenity, and the rich natural environment continues to flourish.”

Perhaps a quarter mile up the trail, we encountered another large stone entrance gate. Just beyond that, we found a beautiful, large, hand-constructed ring of vegetation, an ephemeral and marvelous entrance. We thought perhaps this was from the Bamboo-Cutting Ceremony that had happened a couple of weeks previous. The multiple thresholds opening onto the Kurama trail created a sense of ceremony, of being led deeper into the pilgrimage.

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Beyond the green-gate was a flight of steps, which ran alongside a huge, old Grandfather Sugi tree—estimated to be about 800 years old, adorned with a rope and a “lightning strike” paper streamer (called a shide), elements from Shinto rituals. Gigantic trees, and reverence for them,  was a common theme in my experience of Japan. When you look at these old beings, and see the many lichens, mosses, plants and insects that live on and whirl about them, one can’t help but appreciate these magical ecosystems-unto-themselves.

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The trail up the mountain alternates between paved path, dirt switchbacks, and long flights of stone stairs. So many stairs! Lanterns line the route. The mountain is home to dozens of Shinto shrines, both tiny and large. The bright reddish-orange of the lanterns, a shade that also trims the shrines, positively vibrates against the various greens of the forest. 

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One of the things I had most been looking forward to was visiting a particular shrine near the top of the mountain. My (admittedly out-of-date) guide book said it was a not-to-be-missed quiet treasure of Mt. Kurama, nestled into a sacred grove of massive sugi trees. As we neared the top, I mentioned this to my partner, who hesitantly broke the news that the shrine had been destroyed in 2018’s Typhoon Jebi, the strongest typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years. Ah. Well.

After traversing the Tree Root Path…

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—a labyrinth of living tree roots right out of a fairy tale—we came upon the shrine. Uprooted trees were everywhere, and parts of the shrine lay in piles. The exception was a small stone bowl resting on a short pedestal, and also a rectangular stone basin—perhaps the former purification trough. In this basin, dark tadpoles swam with vigor. Life wants to live!

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Near the wreckage of the shrine, amid the overturned trees, several humble wooden benches had been installed, low to the ground. A small sign was staked into the ground by the benches: Meditation Place.

I sat down, and looked around me: the downed trees, the mud, the shattered shrine, and the robust green of the still-standing trees. I searched for feelings of sorrow in the wreckage at the sacred site, but wry humor is what came forward: the traveler-from-afar fantasy I had harbored, of having a perfect meditation in the perfect place where Reiki was literally born … that fantasy had tumbled down the mountain.

In fact, I was having the perfect meditation, in the perfect place; it just didn’t look the way I had expected. As the birds sang and the insects buzzed, I let my gaze drift back and forth between the downed trees and the trees still growing. I felt the heat of my partner’s leg next to mine, heard our breathing, and I asked myself to be present in this landscape exactly as it was: uprooted and tempest-tossed. I loved this sacred grove, which had made a sacrifice to forces bigger than itself: the wind and rain, a climate that is raging in ways this old mountain might be untroubled by, but which is challenging to the hundreds-of-years-old “youngster” trees. 

Echoing through it all, continual birdsong.

Several years ago, right before another big journey, a good friend asked me if I felt happy. I thought carefully before responding. I replied that I felt content in my life—that I experience happiness as a transitory emotion, while to be content is to be rooted in satisfaction, a sense of “this is enough,” even as happiness, sadness, and all the other human emotions wash over and through my days, again and again. I thought of this conversation as we descended Mt. Kurama, considering how once we commit to a journey, we can find contentment with whatever we discover along the path. All that’s required of us is to show up.

Working with our own Earth

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Image from NASA, via NPR

Monday, April 22, at 6pm, I’ll be offering a guided meditation to celebrate Earth Day. No meditation experience required. This event is free. For more information call 812-327-1330 or contact me.


In the early 2000s, I had the good fortune to hear biological pioneer—Bioneer—Kenny Ausubel speak to a small group of ecologically concerned people. At the time, I wrote down these words: The quickest way to heal an ecosystem is to connect it with more of itself. (Is this a quote? Not that I can find. A paraphrase? Who knows!)

I have thought about this concept time and again; more often, since I began practicing Reiki. If each individual is a small ecosystem—which studies of the microbiome suggest—then it’s worth considering the ways we get disconnected within ourselves: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. The impacts of disconnection—of missed connections—on our personal lives, on our families and workplaces, in our local and global communities, can be enormous.

We care for what we feel connected to. What we call “nature” is a vast, stunningly diverse variety of life forces, which all together make up the amazing Earth-ship that we call home. As humans, we tend to place ourselves at the top of the heap, but openhearted humility and clear-eyed observation suggest that we are but one (rather domineering) species among millions of animals, insects, and plants.

“Matter is NOT opaque and dark; this is what I think the planet is trying to tell us,” says Marion Woodman, in her lecture series, Sitting by the Well.

“And once you experience that light in matter, you are one with the flowers, you are one with the trees, the birds… And it breaks your heart to see the cedars dying. Or to recognize what we are doing minute by minute to this planet. But then you think: So what are you doing to your own body…

“Something you are doing to your own earth. And then, in working with our own earth, we come to recognize the earth on the planet that we love.”

Reiki fosters healthy connection. I think of this as true Life Support. And it begins in real life, embodied life, when people share space together, breathe the same air, make eye contact, and communicate with words, facial expressions, body language. When we connect our individual ecosystems to one another, we recognize healing as a practice to be applied daily, not a noun to be achieved.

This Earth Day, join me for a guided meditation, to hold Earth in healing practice—both Big Mama Earth, and our individual-body earths. Everyone is welcome!

Shinrin-Yoku: The Japanese Art and Science of Forest Bathing

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Interested in trying a bit of forest bathing? Join me for a slow-and-easy excursion in beautiful McCormick’s Creek State Park this Saturday, October 13. We’ll meet at 3pm in the Orange Flower Healing parking lot, so that we can carpool and save on the park entry fee. (You are welcome to drive alone and meet us there, if you prefer). We’ll explore the Wolf Cave Trail (#5).
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I recently read Dr. Qing Li’s 2018 book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. Dr. Li is the Chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, and his book is an easy read, straightforward and practical. The first chapter describes the benefits of spending time in the forest: decreased stress levels, a sense of calm, increased vitality, and a strong feeling of connection with the natural world. He cites studies that show some measurable health benefits gained from forest bathing, including improved blood pressure, boosted immune system response, and mood enhancement.

The book offers guidance on how to practice shinrin-yoku and suggests methods for bringing “the forest” into our living and work spaces, with indoor plants and essential oils. The author then encourages readers to join the effort to preserve our forests, which cover just over 30% of the Earth’s land. Most Americans experience forests as a place for recreation, but the reality is that the livelihoods and food security of around 250 million rural poor depend on vibrant forests and trees, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Li offers facts and figures, but is also careful to convey the aesthetic power of forests. He offers lines of poetry from Bashō, and provides an outline for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. He also mentions a study, Fertile Green: Green Facilitates Creative Performance, that demonstrated how just a brief glimpse of the color green can influence performance on creative tasks.

The color green is a balm to the human eye, and nature’s age-old method of indicating that water, and possibly food, are nearby. Green is the color of nourishment, potentiality, and growth–and can help set the stage for healing.

The practice of shinrin-yoku aligns perfectly with Reiki practice; some of my favorite Reiki sessions have been in large urban parks, practicing among the trees. And that was before I even knew about shinrin-yoku! I’ve often gone to the woods searching for refuge and comfort, but Li’s book encourages me to think of nature as prescription: Big Tree Medicine.

Take 2 hours in the forest, and call me in the morning.

 

 

 

The Mystery takes form in the glory of the Earth…

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Epic Earth image from NASA.

Happy Earth Day.

“The Mystery takes form in the glory of the Earth,” Marion Woodman assures us in her wonderful lecture series, Sitting by the Well: Bringing the Feminine to Consciousness Through Language, Dreams, and Metaphor.

Today I’m setting aside some time to send Reiki to our sweet home, planet Earth. I’ll offer healing Reiki — Universal Life Energy — to the waters, the land, the skies; the plants, wild and cultivated; the insects, birds, and animals who run wild, live as our companions, and provide food; and to the humans, whose choices impact every aspect of life on Earth.

A few minutes spent in meditation today can help connect us with our planet and the abundance of shared resources that Earth provides to each and every one of us. If you don’t currently practice Reiki, a conscious expression of gratitude will work, too!

 

Spring greening

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Last week we had one of those eerie-for-February-but-still-appreciated 60-degree days. I loaded up the dog and drove out for a walk in one of my favorite spots…

It was warm and gray, and the woods were winter-brown. Strips of bright green moss stood out, wrapping downed trees and the occasional boulder.

About halfway through the hike I came upon this enormous outcrop, covered in moss. It glowed in the diffuse light of the cloudy day, and looked to me like a big green beast emerging from the winter earth.

This is what I had gone looking for: the comfort of green. For more on the divine nature of greening, check out Hildegard von Bingen’s concept of Viriditas.

Reiki for Earth’s Climate

earthhThis Friday, April 22, is Earth Day. Interfaith Power and Light is calling for prayers for our sweet planet at 12 noon in each time zone. I’ll be offering Reiki to Earth: healing consciousness for the waters, the land, the skies; the plants, wild and cultivated; the pollinators, birds, and four-leggeds who run wild, live as our companions and provide food; and last but not least, the two-leggeds.

Epic Earth image from NASA.