Master Yourself

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power. Lao Tzu


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Gordon Beach, Tel Aviv Israel

Relaxing in the fine deep white sand, I watched as the last light of this day eased into the Mediterranean. The glowing sun reflected off the clouds, staining the edges of an unexpected thunderhead, to the color of pomegranates. I had just caught site of a stab of lightening in the dark cloud.

“Must be Zeus!” I thought.

The hot “land air” of the day rushed between the buildings. It blew my hair into my face, moving past me to collide with the cool air sliding along the top of the sea. Squinting against the last streaks of red, I saw a silhouette of a tall young man appear over the top of the jetty. He was frenetically paddling some kind of craft still hidden behind the rocks.

Even at this distance I could see his broad shoulders were hunched with the tension of his great effort. The paddle looked meager against the size of the surf. The fast choppy sweep of his arms propelled his unseen vessel amazingly fast against the moving currents. His head rose above the jetty with each wave, dropping from view as the swells crashed against the rocks. The cusp of sunset is tricky, evening time calls out the darkness. Sea air and land air change places, creating circular winds that move water into rolling underwater cyclones. And what about this strange cloud overhead? Here in the cradle of great myths and even greater divinities: anything is possible.

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Had an ancient canoe come around that rocky point, it would not be unexpected.

He jabbed at the water with the paddle designed for a gentle drift along the surface. The paddle board glided through the water between the great piles of rough boulders built to keep beach, and swimmers, safe from the powerful undertow. The wind was strongest, just above the water. He was pitched off his board many times, he leapt back up to paddling, as if spit out of the sea by Amphitrite herself. I felt a maternal “swipe of the brow” as he finally reached the beach. He ran by me headed towards the hotels at the edge of the sand. After witnessing his efforts in the water, I marveled at his effortless sprint through the deep sand.

I heaved a sigh of relaxation from where I was planted. I settled into a yoga-esque “easy pose,” seated comfortably in the still warm sand. I had come out to attend the setting of the sun. The movements of the sun are always sacred. In this place, people order their lives around this daily, pivitol event. Mine was a “sit in the sand, commune with the water, and thanks for the day “sun salutation” of my own design. I was feeling gratitude for the opportunity to be in this place.

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In another place, for another athlete, that workout would have been enough. But this is Israel, and that was just a warm-up.

Looking like the perfect powerful figures from a 3,000-year-old Greek pot, he thundered by me in the opposite direction. He reached the water in three strides. Three more times he paddled out against the wind, circumnavigating the long jetties, charging top speed out into the open water, amidst the crashing waves. Falling into the water, leaping back out in half a breath’s time, he ran his board aground to sprint at top speed, up the beach, circle the palms and back to the water, three more times.

I ground my own feet a bit deeper in the sand, listened for the voices of the present day volleyball players behind me. It was getting dark. There was only one other observer, meditating on a damp towel. Had I been dropped into some ancient arena? Was this a Perseus polishing up his Andromeda rescue skills? That is after all, Jaffa, or Joppa just down the beach. “Is Everyone seeing this??”

On the fourth circuit, I thought, “Certainly he must be done?”

He dropped to the beach, and performed  gut wrenching, core building isometrics. It was these maneuvers that seemed to finally blast out any remaining remnants of being a “mere human.” Then and only then did he stop, to face the dying sun and quietly paddle his board back to the marina. I have never witnessed such endurance. Maybe it’s the water, or maybe the hummus.

There is great strength here.

 

 

Magic Beings and Other Myths

“Everything seemed possible, when I looked through they eyes of a child. 
And every once in a while; I remember, 
I still have the chance to be that wild.”
― Nikki Rowe

buildingI have a theory about travel to an unfamiliar place. Dropping unprepared into another culture is therapeutic.

When nothing is familiar and communication isn’t easy, other resources drop into place, forgotten resources. Get vulnerable and our precious procedures for being a competent adult in the world go tumbling, never to be aligned exactly in the same order again. Seems to me that on these occasions childhood wisdom comes flying out from hidden recesses.

These previously discarded possibilities are scattered about my feet like bright marbles on a wet floor. In a scramble for equilibrium, I might make a grab for this flotsam before they hit the light of day, before I have to acknowledge their existence. But here in my “adult deprivation state,” devoid of proper purpose, language and regular food, the child is faster. A single idea explodes into a 100 yellow butterflies, and I am along for the ride.

I believe in magic, I know it exists. Yes, there is a piece of bright color behind those ferns and overgrown vines in the back corner of my psyche, and right there in the center of my brain. There is a meter tall door painted in outrageous Vermillion where my inner child waits in sneakers and play clothes for an opportunity to learn about the world, from the beginning, again. This trip I have found my psyche falling back to the innocent and open part of my life when I didn’t have all the answers, but I had lots of questions.

“Why do they do that? Can I go there? Can I touch that? Why not?

What is that smell?”

Yes, this phenomenon has revealed itself this past week. I believe my inner child has been encouraged to giggle by our temporary residence in a foreign hotel with American name. “Adventure” with a safe and familiar place to snooze. I think this bears a remarkable similarity to childhood.

Everything is done for you.

 People who “have to” pick up after you; make your bed, do your laundry, fold your towels. Food is cooked for you. Sometimes you don’t like it, but you have to eat it anyway, because that’s what they have. If you are in Japan all of these tasks have an order, a ritual, a meaning. You don’t now what it is, but you can guess what it isn’t from the gentle polite corrections. Next time you do it their way.

There is written language all around you but you can only read faces.

 Directions for how to make things work, street names, ingredients in food; these require a translator, as a child requires an adult. Childhood stratagem: watch others, figure it out, and ask for help. You will make mistakes and it doesn’t matter if you are polite and willing to take instruction.

Sound familiar?

The plot of this adventure was already written when I set out to explore an area of Nagoya that doesn’t see many American tourists. There is a large Buddhist temple in the center of this community, surrounded by a warren of small shopping streets. Jerusalem-esque with a Japanese sensibility. This temple doesn’t have the esoteric rarified feel of Kyoto; it seems to be more a working person’s temple in a working person’s neighborhood.

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Cutting through an edgy neighborhood, and rounding a shabby corner, the temple gate appeared before me. The bright Vermillion and black buildings, the open square, flower offerings at quiet alters, it was all here. Without the anonymity of the hoards of tourists as in Kyoto, I was feeling exposed. I watched what others did, albeit Japanese others. Walk up the center? Or the side, bow? No bow? I had a sense of who was a “regular” and who was, like me, was coming to see a beautiful 16th century, partially reconstructed Buddhist temple, and maybe do a bit of shopping afterward.

I followed a young “hip” couple up the steep steps. I had hoped the chanting I heard was real monks at their devotions, but as I passed through the temple doorway I realized it was emanating from a 20th century loudspeaker, tucked under the intentionally scary,  protective spirit carved from wood living on the end of the exposed rafter. I entered, hesitating from the quick shift from bright sun to dim interior.

From this vantage point, I could see of the golden Buddha, the offerings of fruit on the alter, the delicate golden filigree that descended from some unknown place above. I stood for a few moments taking in the environment, saying a prayer, taking in the sensations of the smooth wood, burning incense, the chanting and the peace. I put some coins in the box. I watched as a young man reached to ring the bell, pulling on the rope as thick as my arm. I would never pull it myself, but I was happy that someone was, as it’s purpose is to call in the residing sacred being to listen to your prayers.

The man had less enthusiasm than that task required, and the bell only made a weak “Umph,” as if it had been poked in the belly while sleeping. Feeling conspicuous, I followed a petite elderly woman down the stairs and went to stand in the shade of the temple bell building.

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My intentions completed, I passed under the bright Torii gate, and turned right at the next street. Back into the mundane world, the street was mostly empty of people, being an earlier time than the shops would open. I stopped to check my position in the universe via GPS and looked up to see with some surprise what was directly in front of me.

A green space, two huge Gingko trees standing behind a gate made of thick wooden posts, a small building, just right there off the street but somehow appearing far way. I could see a light burning inside, a glow even in the morning sunlight. The sign held names carved in wood in complicated Japanese characters, edged in black, benefactors I guessed and paper prayers tied to a rack.

I realized that I was standing in front of a Shinto Shrine. I stood in front of the washing place, a rectangular concrete water holder with ladles for washing your hands before entering the sacred shrine space. The color of the moss on the rock side was beautiful emerald green. Countless times this rough rock has received the discarded water as people purified their hands, mouth, before continuing with what ever task compelled them to come to this place.

I took a picture with my phone being mindful of standing to the side, as I had read on Google. I took a picture of only the place of “pre-purification,”feeling the shrine was too intimate a space to be photographed by a stranger. The sign, strangely in both Japanese and English told of the entities “enshrined” here for over 800 years; three Goddesses and an ancient Emperor. I don’t know how long I stood there. It was peaceful.

Over my shoulder I heard, spoken in English, heavily accented with soft Japanese,

“Excuse me, can I ask you something?”

Turning I saw an elderly gentleman with an umbrella.

“Of course! “ I said. He tilted his head and walked over to me.

“Why do white people, Americans, like to see our shrines?   Why do you want to see them? What do they mean to you?”

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I told him about being in a busy city all week and finding the quiet, the peacefulness, and the beauty of these places. We talked about our trip to Kyoto, and their trip to Monument Valley in Utah where he went on a tour in a dusty dry April. We talked about animism and the Shinto love of nature as divinity. We talked about belief systems that are shared across the world.

He told me about the shrine and the temple his family has supported for generations, the festivals where their three generations of men and women do rituals to sustain those places. He said they hold both Shinto, native to Japan, and Buddhism that came later. These kept his family and his life….”Good.” We tried to find words in common for vast concepts and succeeded in finding connection. He said, “I haven’t spoken English in a long time, it takes time to find the words, but it is good to do this….”

It was then that I remembered the stone under my feet and the sun on my face, it was time to take leave. We exchanged emails, his being the date of the Equinox in 2009, he suggested we should go visit Nara next time; I would like it very much. His family lived to the south, he mentioned the station stops they would make, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara then home. He asked again,

“Why do you like these places? What do they mean to you?”

I was around the corner and down a bit before I realized the question and understood the magic of meeting an English speaking, learned Buddhist elder with a life-long process of ritual and belief, standing before a shrine, in a nearly closed shopping area in Nagoya Japan, on a Thursday. Only because I was in a child-like state: open and learning did I fulfill my part of the process.

It has been 22 years since I have experienced that method of enquiry; and it took some time to find the experience he referenced, because that’s how it works. I had a painting teacher from Okinawa, a very fine mentor for a Fine Arts degree and a “being true to self” degree. He told us, “Make a mess! Try it out! Take chances!” He never lectured, he only asked questions, in English heavily accented with soft Japanese.

I was young then, just 40, it took a very long time to allow myself to take risks and seek a higher creativity. It took a long time to understand that he wasn’t at all curious about the answers; he wanted me to ask them OF myself.

“Do you like that? Is this a good painting? Are you done with it?”

And I heard again:

“Why do you like these places? Why do you come to see them?”

I know the answer now:

Because sometimes the sacred beings come out as humans and speak to those who ask questions.

Because there is magic in the world.

All photos Carol Martell Nagoya 2016
Nikki Rowe Website
Http://www.goodreads.com/nikkirowe, Www.nikkijadecreations.com

Nanzenji

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The polished black taxi turned at the light, weaving a path down the left side of the boulevard, following the tracings of a shallow river.

A single white water bird stood motionless at it’s center, as if plucked out of the gold leaf of a screen painting from a 10th century palace. The silent driver navigated smoothly up the gentle slope towards the pine green mountains.

The quiet Sunday scene unfolded. Two women sat poised on fragile stools at the edge of the narrow rock canal, focused intently on postcard size sketchbooks. Children taking parents on stroller adventures on the narrow walks, a petulant two year old with tilted helmet sprawled in his father’s bicycle basket scenes rolled by our window. Something in the quality of the light, the deep angles of mid October deepened the shadows. We stopped talking about what we saw and just drank it all in silently. This is Kyoto Japan, and we are going to see Nanzenji Temple.

Even a week ago, I did not know I would be here today.

fullsizerenderThe trip was so hastily planned, I had no time to pack any preconceived notions. No room for worriment in our new lighter, sleeker luggage, still dusty from Tel Aviv. Cautious rumination on potentials and possibilities was just too ponderous for this brief window of opportunity. When an unexpected blessing flies in your window, best not to pick up the fly swatter.

Unforeseen adventures have been thrown down before us like shiny pebbles on a path, daring us to follow; demanding our expansion. It is an unexpected pleasure to find myself right here, breathing on the other side of the world. Without question it is the mysterious workings of the divinities on our behalf, ours is not to plan, ours is to accept the challenge.

The seats of the Toyota “COMFORT” were covered in spotless white knit with tatted lace edges.

The white-gloved driver paused at the traffic light waiting for the grandparents and some children on bicycles to pass. With a grand wide arc of a right turn I was jolted out of my “Zen flute” reverie and reminded of the left side drive when a passing car appeared to sport a toddler driver. Differences, opposites, are disconcerting in habitual behaviors like driving, language, customs, and affectations.

Yesterday we galloped across the Japanese landscape at 180 mph on the bullet train, released from urban Nagoya by the un-breach able Japanese standard; a five day work week.

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The first bullet train was invented in 1964 by Hideo Shima from Tokyo, Japan.Its launch occurred in October and coincided with the Tokyo Olympics. Bullet trains travel up to three times the normal speed of a train.(https://www.reference.com › History › Inventions)

I reserved a tour for Saturday afternoon, a useful practice for understanding “the lay of the land” in unknown territory. After an accidental circumnavigation- twice actually-of the Kyoto train station complex and it’s multilevel shopping areas we located our tour bus and cheerful guide.

Five hours later we tumbled out the left hand door, having completed a very brief acquaintance with three magnificent Buddhist Temples. Time was short, but “Hit and Run” tourism is not what we do. It did however solidify our intention on this, our only day here, that we would to find a quiet spot in nature for personal contemplation. To choose one sacred place to welcome into heart and memory was the task. This is Kyoto Japan; there are 1600 Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines in this ancient city. What began as a choice, became a quest.

When moving north to south the movement of the wind of “un-creation” called “hurricane” changes direction.

Northern hemisphere whirlwinds, be they tornado, hurricane or even “dust devils” spin in a counterclockwise direction. Conversely in the Southern hemisphere, it is clockwise motion that marks a Tropical Cyclone or a Typhoon. I imagine it all balances out on some planetary scale. Otherwise wouldn’t we be moving through the universe like a Catamaran on a breezy day?

I don’t know what reversals of energies might operate on the longitudinal axis. What elemental polarities exist here in the land of the “Rising Sun” that move in the opposite at home. Could it be the frenetic multitasking of the West is an antonym for this culture? There is something different here; a single point focus to the task at hand that seems to generate deep layers of practiced mindfulness.

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In the predawn hours, by the glow of the ipad, I studied the possibilities.

Wading through countless comments and reviews of the “important” temples it became obvious; like faces and cultures, they are all interesting, all beautiful. The survival of these places of worship and understanding across epochs; political upheavals, wars and destruction are a reflection of the devotions of thousands of caretakers, across 100 generations. I choose a Temple, pinned it on my Google map, and went back to sleep.

My plan was to show the taxi driver the map on my phone showing both Japanese characters and English name and address; all potentialities covered. Ditching our overnight bag in a locker, we sprinted the two escalators, across the plaza of a thousand tourists, past the city buses, around the Cube café selling everything with fish in it, and found the Taxi stand. Spotting the curving lines of family cadres waiting for taxis, I assumed I had plenty of time.

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 With the efficiency and speed of a Toyota assembly line, the long queue of impeccably dressed Japanese families on outing were dispatched into cabs. We found ourselves almost next up, phone in hand, glasses on nose and my map point was gone! Believing it to be rude to fumble our directions while others are waiting, we panicked, and stepped out of line. As seems to be the custom here, out of the ethers assistance appears. In a person whose sole function is to alleviate whatever congestion may impact the flow, a young uniformed English-speaking avatar of Japanese hospitality stepped up and asked,

“Can I help you?”

Glasses abandoned, my finger pointed to the green swatch on my map, its center marked with a swastika; the symbol for a Buddhist Temple. Yes, it’s the energy reversal thing. Take the reviled symbol, turn it the other direction and align it flat with heaven and earth, it means “All is well”, a symbol of life to Hopi, Celts, Hindus Jainists and yes, Buddhists.

“We would like to go there, would you tell him please?”

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A smile, a bow and we were installed in our white-seated chariot. We had moved beyond the contained clamor of a thousand weekend escapees from Tokyo and Osaka.

Unlike a New York City or Tel Aviv taxi ride, the car was quiet. Our driver’s musical preferences remained a mystery and his cell phone was silent. He was, in fact, doing only one task; taking us to our destination.

I looked down at the map and finding my glasses in my pocket, I came to realize. We were headed someplace else. We were going to a different Temple, a name I didn’t recall seeing. Nanzenji

It too was situated in a green space at the edge of the mountain, marked by a swastika. For a fleeting moment we considered attempting a change mid route and realized the futility of communication. We also realized all that had transpired for the purpose of rerouting our mission.

Nanzenji was chosen for us, the magic had begun.

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Silently we ascended into quiet neighborhoods standing with shy elegance behind their wood gates and stone walls, gliding directly into the waiting arms of ancient the Holy Cedars, Camphors and graceful Pines on the steep side of the mountain. My heart sunk when I saw the parking lot crowded with tour buses and hustling tourists. But our driver didn’t stop there, he moved upward down a small street, and then a lane. He pulled up at the base of a stone walkway and stopped. Pushing his front seat control, the back door opened and we were deposited on the damp street.

We stepped out of the car and climbed the steep rock step, at the gate between the worlds. The sense of stillness was so dense it seemed we could lean into it and not fall down. It was the sound that entered our awareness first. Before even looking up to our destination, there was the sound. The sound of moving water against cut rock.

As we stood on the veranda of this sacred space I heard a quiet whisper, “ In this place there is no sense to struggle for separateness.” As we turned to climb the hill towards the first gate I heard only their grateful sigh, as souls dropped into the sacred patterns of the water element, each ending this journey and beginning another.

And so began the journey.

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Water from the mountain, flowing down the cut rock path

washing clear the traffic of mind and senses

Water from the mountain, flowing down the cut rock path

dressed in a sparkling pattern of diamonds

Water from the mountain, flowing down the cut rock path

dancing the song as given, singing the mantra

Water from the mountain, flowing down the cut rock path

order simplicity balance order simplicity balance

                                                                                                                                                               Cak Kyoto 2016

http://www.nanzen.net/index.html

Musings from New Mexico

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Minerva is my antenna to the ethers of creative flow and collective connection. She or her owl are a flagellum of sorts; flowing forward and aft of our physical travels, looking for the common link between actions, circumstances, people and locations. Jungians might call this synchronicity. I think the pond we all swim in, is smaller than we think.

Recently I have become disconnected from my muse; my own right brain connection to the creative collective. I have been stationary and focused on deconstruction in it’s most constructive form; making space for something new.

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” Joseph Campbell

Minerva is presently operating incognito in Thonotosassa Florida in a place of waiting and indecision we call Storage. This place of many doors is named Zephyr; as in wind from the west, representing an intercessor, or a place of passage between this life and the next. Funny how these ancients keep showing up in my modern story. I think there is some kind of Mythological gang that lingers just above our radar and they like to see their names in print.

For the last weeks and for a few to come, Minerva has been quietly lurking, modestly languishing in the shade of her two behemoth Class A neighbors. Class A being the Motor home designation for-

“I have a lot of stuff,

I need a lot of stuff

And I’m not leaving home without my stuff!”

We have been smugly operating under the delusion that we are not those folks. We come from a different tribe; the too late to be Hippies and too early for Yuppies, let’s try out this lifestyle via “RV lite.” The mythic names of these city buses in drag are unknown, but their sad stories were relied by the manager of the storage facility. 

“This one (pointing to the 15 Foot square face with the high forehead on Minerva’s left), it goes out once in a while, they go on short trips. But the other one…….Never goes……it hasn’t been out in years.”

Wow, how does one forget something this large? And the monthly storage bill? This forgetting must take great effort and great toll on the psyches of those who can remember its journeys. It would not be sitting here moldering under the Live Oaks if it didn’t hold significant emotional charge for those on the title. Or is it their survivors or their heirs that hold this door closed with both hands, a shoulder, and a lock. If it didn’t hold meaning, or memories, or unprocessed grief, it would have gone the way of last year’s pants when they no longer fit or flatter. 

This process of removing the “me, her, them, us,” from the physical stuff of life has been my quest since we asked Minerva to wait here. What is the human compulsion to imbue our belongings with pieces of our soul? Or worse yet, our loved one’s soul? Or even,… hang on and breathe for this one,… echoes of the souls of our precious ones who are gone and are not ever coming back in our lifetime.
It may not be Class A in size but I am not without “stuff.”
“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” Joseph Campbell

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We returned to New Mexico via Rapido air transportation to diminish a house full of belongings down to a container the size of a 10’x15″ cube. It looks really big when it’s empty. My attention these past weeks has been firmly rooted on my own oft ignored lily pad here in the gentle pond known as Santa Fe. It has been my focus to separate the meaningful from the meaningless, to weigh and examine our non-essential possessions. I set forth on this solitary journey to extract the soul parts wrapped around bits of glass and wood taped together with sticky human grief.
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This has been my process these weeks. This passage has been stormy, there has been weather; heavy weather. Typhoons of emotions spinning in the physical while in the ethers, my Spirit demands my soul pieces back from parts unknown. I imagined bits of my identity being held hostage by those who will wait entire lifetimes for one small girl, one woman, to demand wholeness and forgive mortality. The work of active grief is returning and releasing and allowing them to be free; keep the love, give the soul back. And it goes both ways. Grieving is too passive a word for this process.
The synchronicity of this tale is that on the dawn between Halloween and All Saint’s Day, a time celebrated for the thinness of the veil between the living and the dead we will end this chapter, close the door on this home for the last time and head into…the East!
“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” –Joseph Campbell