Oh, the joys of very early autumn bloom! This is a rare blast of stunning nature bursting forth under a streetlamp in front of my apartment.
I haven’t been writing too many posts lately – I’ve been working on so many things, from promoting my book to new writing projects, that I haven’t been sure what to write about on these blog pages!
When I go through periods of intense writing, things start to feel a little unbalanced inside of me, because I also love expressing myself in other ways, and they really cry out to me for attention when I’ve abandoned them.
I never fully abandon my creative pursuits. In fact, I’ve been extremely lucky lately to have met an amazing woman in the U.S. who was interested in a few “cloth paintings” (I sew with used, vintage fabrics on cloth) I’ve been working on, and it’s proven to be a beautiful process of creating and sharing.
I have also taken hundreds upon hundreds of photos, and have fallen so far behind on sorting and editing them that I’m a bit beside myself!
After returning to Japan from a nice, long(ish) visit to Canada, I also found myself grappling with many emotions associated with not being closer to my family, friends and loved ones, and with being unsure of my place in Japan – how much I could learn, do, and keep going with the work I was doing with such joy during my years in Southeast Asia and India.
With all of this going on, I realized that I am absolutely not taking in the (beauty of) the present moment. I’m focusing so much on what I’m not doing and what I should be doing, that I’ve stopped letting real, actual life breathe through me.
It occurred to me that I can combine my passion for image-making with my very therapeutic desire to passionately engage with my present.
To be where I am.
Where I am now, geographically, is an apartment on a fairly busy street in central Nagoya, Japan. It’s an old neighborhood, so even on this main street, my building is the “highrise”, at eight stories high. The average age of bicyclist I pass by on the street is probably 65 – 70 years old (most are still very spry at this age). The street is rather grey and concrete-laden, as are most streets in most cities in Japan. The stunning beauty of this country lies in the outskirts, the fields, rice paddies, mountains and waterfalls well out of city limits.
Still, every street, every nook and cranny, every facet of LIFE, has charm. I want to awaken myself to this again, and I want to share my journey with you. One day, this landscape – all landscapes – will change, and we will be nostalgic for what is no longer. I want to appreciate what is before me. I want to revel in the present moment of my life, and all the magic that comes with it.
Today is September 21st, the Fall Equinox. Summer gives way to fall. It is a time of transition, of ushering in the new, of awakening to the beauty of time passing.
So, for the next 120 days, I will take the elevator down the ground floor of our building, and step onto the street out front. I will go to the same spot every day, with my camera, and capture a moment in time. My aim is, as I’ve mentioned, to learn to appreciate the beauty and charm of where I am, but there is another intention here. I also want to show that there is so much about our everyday environment that we are blind to. I want to give visibility to what usually goes unnoticed, and hone in on things of beauty that normally remain unseen in the carrying on of everyday life.
I’ll call this project, “My Street Japan”.
Some of the images will be of fleeting things – people walking by, a flower in bloom – and others will be of more “permanent fixtures” of the street. Nothing, of course, is permanent; some things just feel more permanent than others. At the same time, nothing is just “that thing”. A slice of life is actually comprised of many slices, folded across space and time, and our job, if we are interested, is to be as discerning as possible, and as appreciative as possible, while realizing that all is change, that change is the very essence of our existence.
To be truly present and in the moment, then, is also to be acutely aware of the transience of life and experience, of how little in our present moment we can really grab onto. How wild is that?
Let’s not grab. Let’s rejoice, live, love, and ever move on, from a space of pure joy – which always transcends the moment we are currently in.
Thank you for joining me on this ride! If you feel compelled, please share, especially if you know anyone interested in everyday life in Japan!
Shock of transience:
love fades bright into the past,
ablaze in colour.
Are we the stories we tell?
Do our stories—that is, our way of conceiving and talking about ourselves—have anything to do with the question, who am I?
Which stories make us feel like ourselves, and how much, and in what way? How much do our stories correspond to the answers we find when we attempt self-understanding?
We probably find that some of our stories, if we reflect on them, make us feel very secure while others make us squirm a little, and that the stories that have these effects are likely to change over time.
Ramana Maharshi, the great Hindu guru and sage who awakened at the age of 16, famously advocated asking the question “Who am I?” as a meditation practice, believing that self-inquiry, and plenty of silence, was the way to evolve to higher planes of consciousness.
“Enquiring within Who is the seer? I saw the seer disappear leaving that alone which stands forever. No thought arose to say I saw. How then could the thought arise to say I did not see.” ~ Ramana Maharshi
We can say that “that which stands forever” is something pure, beyond the mind and the stories we tell about ourselves.
Yet stories are bound to erupt as we ask, “Who is the seer?” Who is the person even doing the asking? Who is it that is seeking his or own true identity? Who asks, “What is true? What is reality? Where am ‘I’ really located and what is essential about me?”
Our answers are bound to tell us something about the stories we tell and the relationship we have, and think we have, with them.
What are some of the ways we tell stories?
We write works of fiction.
We make movies.
We tell the truth.
We share anecdotes with friends.
We explain things to children.
We explain things to each other.
We draw pictures.
We discuss our memories.
We remember things, and then re-remember them, over and over.
We sit under a great big sky and wonder about things.
We put two and two together.
We fill out forms and questionnaires.
We answer the question, “How are you,” and explain to people what we do for a living.
We react in predictable ways to things that cause pain, and joy.
We say things like, “I wouldn’t do that. I love those kinds of things. I am the type of person who hates when that happens.”
A story is never just a story. It is the culmination of an entire system of thoughts, beliefs, conditioning and identifying markers. As they form, they become infused into us, and it becomes hard to distinguish the stories from the person, the “I” who has absorbed and reformulated them again and again.
“The body does not say ‘I’. In sleep no one admits he is not. The ‘I’ emerging, all else emerges. Enquire with a keen mind whence this ‘I’ rises.” ~ Ramana Maharshi
How empowering, then, to recognize that, just as we are not our bodies (if we lose a finger, we still think of ourselves as us), or our feelings (feelings come and go, but we still feel we have an “us”), and our minds (our thoughts are a virtual revolving door of coming and going, yet here “we” are), nor are we our stories.
Our stories can be beautiful things. We are creative beings by nature, and storytelling (and extensions of that, myth-making and the formation of all kinds of grand narratives) are a natural part of the fabric of being human, in both the individual and collective sense.
It’s when our stories threaten to limit us, overwhelm us and hold us fixed to one spot (especially when that spot is not serving us and we no longer want to be there), that we may wish to learn how to separate from our stories.
Our stories have gotten us here, to this point, no matter where we are or what our aspirations might be. This isn’t good or bad; it’s natural, and intrinsic to our way of being human. We can’t so much as look as cross the street without a whole host of stories running through our head, some of which help us know how to cross that street in the first place.
We all exist in relationship, to other things, beings and people, and to our own history, and what is the strongest glue bringing us into connection, if not our stories?
But notice how they are among the first things to rise to the surface, explode into chaos and reveal their impermanence when we sit down to meditate, breathe and fill ourselves with silence in a space of calm and rest.
They bubble up and ask to be witnessed. They shake; they are fragile and hesitant and wavering and very demanding of our attention. They poke and threaten to disappear if we let them.
Do we let them?
How much do we hold on, terrified to lose our grip on what we’ve come to know as our reality, and how much do we let go?
If we hold our stories in our hands and scrutinize them, will they change or will they disappear, and doesn’t the former mean the latter? If something takes on a different form, it is no longer what it was. This means that we can dislodge it from its stronghold and it loses some of its power over us.
Sitting quietly and observing our stories stomp into our minds in a relentless bid to take over is one way to recognize that we aren’t our stories; why would the deepest, most lasting parts of ourselves give us such grief and be so susceptible to transformation? Journaling—writing variations of our stories down—is another powerful way to get them out, separate from them and begin to see them for what they really are.
Which takes us that much closer to who we really are.
Let’s love our stories, and honour the humanity that allows us to have and share them, and to learn from each other in this way. Let’s mindfully remain aware that we are creating something every time we tell a story, and that this act of creation has come about to serve a purpose. Only we can determine what that purpose is and how we feel about it.
And when and if the time comes, let’s recognize that there is so much more to who we are than the stories that have brought us here, and that we have the power to lay them gently aside as we continue on our path of evolution.