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Chiba Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings

The Night Crossing

Naruto River Reflections

The wind blows through this little town like a newly landed boat passenger, all breezy with new ideas and pent up enthusiasm, legging across the gangplank, scarf whipping about, and pushing past the locals without considering them. From my apartment balcony I can look out across the treeless rice fields to the line of trees along the coast, just at the edge of a morning’s walk, from where the salt air flies in and harries the metal bannister of my apartment building. On blustery days like this I can smell the brine of the sea and that fresh stirring of ammonia, carried in by distant seagulls.

I’ve heard that some of the highest concentration of birds gather along that imagined coastline over there. Now that things have slowed down at work and I have several weeks to put the new apartment in order, I think I might take a bike ride out that way to see for myself. Since coming to this area (northeast Chiba) of Japan four months ago birds seem to be my constant companions, watching over me during some of the bleakest days of my life. Just when I feel that I’m just not going to make it, some bright-eyed elf of a bird flutters into view and does his dance, either to distract me from my, as one of my readers put it so humorously, “tortured writing”, or to remind me that even in the depths of self-doubt nothing is really ever that serious or self-important. And like an angel dressed as an overworked waiter the one bird, the white wagtail, that has always followed me everywhere, all the way since childhood, daily I find one of their representatives waiting impatiently at the foot of the apartment stairs, calling out, “Hurry! Hurry! There is work to be done! No time to dilly-dally!” I’ve seen a ural owl and a wood cock, two mysteries that let their guards down long enough for me to receive their blessings.

Naruto Apartment

On other, cloudy days when even the birds take to the bushes or when night falls, I’ve found myself out away from the windbreaks and trudging along dirt roads, sometimes long after midnight, with the sky slipping along the heavens and me down here, below, making my way between ditches and telephone poles. One night, having spent the entire day at my office in the university without another soul in the building, I emerged onto the deserted streets and couldn’t feel the draw of the compass that usually beckons me home. I stood beside a sleeping maple and listened to a shred of corrugated plastic banging against a wall, trying to make sense of the emptiness that welled either from my own heart or resided as it was in the carelessness of these modular houses.

Night Train Crossing 2

What is it to need someone, anyone, nearby, just to hear their voice, though you don’t know them, or to reassure yourself that you are not just imagining those dark shapes fluttering at the periphery of your vision? Why do I end up whispering so much to myself as days go by without speaking a word to another person? What is this need to speak, to reach out and brush your fingers against another soul, or to say, “Stay. Stay for just a minute. I need to see myself reflected in your eyes, to know that I am there.”

Night Train Crossing 1

With her gone now the nights seem longer. I still have the habit of turning over and reaching for her, my fingertips expecting her smooth shoulder and my ears listening for the soft sound of her breathing. The white mug that was paired with the blue one, which we both used to share a cup of tea together every night, now sits unwashed in the sink. She had wrapped it in newspaper while packing and when I took it out of the box in my new place the flood of memories choked me. One after another memories came spilling out of the boxes, so many of them that I had to stop and go for a walk.

I wonder how you are doing, dear heart, over there, all alone yourself? Are you holding the blue cup, or turning over and patting the mattress where my pillow once lay? Do you have to go for a walk, too?

Walking to JIU

I guess I can say the worst is over and that from here on out it is the healing that takes over. I’ve had some hard walks in my life, sometimes the trail so battered and strewn with boulders or the rain so bad that the mud made it impossible to push on, that I had to turn back and hope to climb the mountain again. What often made those climbs easier was a partner to consult with and call to through the thick mist. It’s easy to get lost when you’re on your own. These last few months have opened my eyes to the existence of that door through which you might never come back. It didn’t know it was so easy to lose all substance and turn into a ghost right before your own eyes.

Naruto blue sky

Yesterday I took a train ride through the area north of my town and stood in the doorway of the train when it stopped at the next station. A quiet little place, with farmhouses guarded by bamboo groves and side roads that turned off the main roads and took off into the hills. “Maybe this is where I can settle down.” I thought. “Maybe the thing is to go further and deeper than you are now, take the quietude a step closer to the birds and follow their lead.”

Naruto Me 3

Along the edge of the field a wave of starlings settles into the grass and soaks in the bright morning sunlight. Azure-winged magpies swoop in and out of the persimmon canopy, chuckling and purring to one another. A black tailed kite keens high above the fields, rising on the updrafts and disappearing into the clouds. A white wagtail cocks its head and bobs its tail. Then it is off scuttling along the road top, peeping its satisfaction.

“Excuse me, sir. I think you forgot your umbrella.”

Naruto Old Camphor
Categories
Ecopoesie Journal Nature Spiritual Connection

Walking in the Plum Rain

Jinbasan Rain Walk
Stalking beneath the rain clouds along a level ridge traverse between Mt. Jinba and Mt. Takao, June, 2004.

I’ve been finding it difficult to charge myself up to write in the blog lately. Even viewing other blogs has been difficult. More and more I’ve been getting the feeling that the unreality of the computer screen and the ethereal voices of people I almost never see, let alone share more than fleeting words with, seems uncannily like what happens to you when you end up pacing your living room, mumbling to yourself. I keep staring out of the window and watching the wind stir the trees, each touching the other, a completion of purpose and presence. The blog world and the whole internet phenomenon comes across more as intention than as act. And lately I’ve been feeling more of a powerful need to interact.

Reading David James Duncan’s My Story As Told By Water shook awake a lot of slumbering convictions that living in the city, away from the opera of live things that make up natural biomes, has of necessity switched off. There is so much to take in and ponder in Duncan’s words that it is difficult to summarize the story that is speaking itself into my daily thoughts lately.

In my last post I spoke of rediscovering the rhapsody that wrapped my world when I was younger. I wondered how to go about doing so without losing sight of what the outcome was meant to grow into. Just stepping outside and expecting the elements of the outdoors to immediately imbibe meaning into my soul ignored all the causes of my initial retreat, like the over prevalence of human settlements and people, the destruction of live things and habitats that I love, the apathy, even despite, of people toward the very world that keeps them alive. Looking out my window I recognized that I could view everything I see out there as simply items in a scene, items to be bought and sold, cut without regard for the gifts of life they might carry, and thus lose the very essence of human imagination and the explanation for our own existence in this world.

Or I could relearn to imbue meaning in all that I see.

Duncan discusses ways in which we can find effectiveness in our desire to protect the natural world. He points out that our modern world has neutered the ages old inclination to view the world through spiritual vocabulary, instead giving complete legitimacy to the concept of commodity and ownership. By seeing the whole world in such a narrow and selfish light we effectively starve the kernel of consciousness and dialogue that watches from within each of our shells, a consciousness that speaks in constant dialogue with the surrounding world we live in, and, by use of our imaginations, allows us to create an identity that either expands or limits our understanding and sense of meaning within the physical world.

I would go on to say that much of the western world’s loss of spiritual connection to the natural world, often spoken of as the western world’s “duality”, stems in great part from the Judeo-Christian-Moslem insistence upon a separate, disembodied entity that rules the world. I wonder if it is this displacement of our imaginations and intimate identifying with our surrounding world, by shunting the whole personality of the natural world onto some abstract construct called “God”, thus disembodying the spiritual richness of the world around us, that allows us to view other living creatures, including ourselves, as mere shells without inner resources or value.

I believe what this has done is relieved us of responsibility for the world, that destroying everything can now be regarded as simply a rearrangement of blocks. With “God” up in the heavens now, out of reach and thus free from our sense of guilt, wanton destruction and irresponsibility could be engaged in without remorse or culpability. It may also explain why so much of the world’s worst wars so often take place in monotheist cultures, and why so many cultures that seemed more or less stable with their earlier polytheist outlook now face complete meltdown with the introduction of western values. So much of Japan’s destruction of its natural beauty occurred as the Japanese reverence for its anima (kami), with its belief in or respect for the deities that populate every single aspect of the Japanese world, gradually eroded in favor of a culture dominated by materialistic acquisition. The evidence is physically visible. The few places where the deities are still influential enough to command respect, such as in shrines or locations recognized as holy to bodhisattvas, old trees and biologically diverse habitats often remain intact, often right in the middle of densely populated, biologically dead locales.

So I’ve been taking my experiment a step further: learning how to bring home the gods. People talk of seeking something to believe in, and yet the answers are all there, all around us. The Earth is right at our fingertips. It is important to return again and again to our ur-cosmology, being able to fundamentally comprehend the Earth as HOLY, to remember where religion first stemmed from and why we carry a need to instill the holy in our lives. The Earth is holy. Sacred. All of it. Every single thing we see and cannot see. All the live things. All of the less living things. All of our brothers and sisters. Gods, in all of us, in all things.

To rediscover this sense of connection with the world is easier than one might imagine. You can do it anywhere, any time. Just open your eyes, look around you, and try to feel what is around you. If you open up your heart and allow what you might normally think of as “inanimate” (notice the insistence of not having spirit that our language has instilled in us… a vocabulary that does not exist in most Asian languages) to generate a kind of presence, strangely it immediately comes alive and occupies a undeniable place in your sense of the whole. If you take a step further and inject the idea of a deity into that object, suddenly it is more than just an item; it is alive, and has a name. The more “items” you inject with spirit the richer the world around you grows, and the more imbued with meaning it all grows into. The world suddenly blossoms with presences, with a great richness of meaning in which you no longer feel alone… as Duncan calls “the sphere of eyes”.

Imagine what the world must have seemed like to those first people who have always lived within a country of spirits great and small. No matter where the eye alighted all was holy and sacred. And humans could move within this sphere confident of their own value within the cosmos. What a wonderful LIVING world it must have been! And yet there is no reason we cannot see the world the same way.

And this is what the early monotheistic leaders must have feared and why they insisted on destroying the “idols”. You cannot take control if your spiritual construct has no authority over people’s imaginations.

Last Sunday I stepped out into the monsoon rain and walked the slopes of Mt. Jinba in the pouring rain. Not another human soul in sight, the trails sluicing with mud, and the rain clouds obscuring any views of the surrounding forests. But I didn’t feel alone. As long as I kept myself warm and well-fed, I walked the solitary paths with a sense of walking with other beings. It was the beginning of reawakening to the real world.

Categories
Art & Design Graphic Design Humor Journal Musings

Copy that?

It is 3:00 in the morning, my brain has oozed into the consistency of refried beans, and surely my eyeballs must have loosened in their sockets… Here I am attempting to write copy for the hotel’s restaurant brochure. It’s been a slog of hours now and, by Jove, the words have turned off the Muzak and taken to dancing on the table. What d’ya think, as an introduction to a major offering of victuals:

“The world reeks of flavors. All kinds. And the flavors come with food. All kinds, too. There’re hot flavors, cold flavors, Japanese flavors, French flavors, Korean flavors, and even Karaoke flavors. And they’re all good. Really good. Nothing bad. All really, really good. Cooked by good cooks who can cook good. No really, no one bad. Well, at least not where you can see them. And the seats are straight and the tables don’t wobble. No really. Sturdy as Gigantor. The restaurants are good. You can enjoy food. Come and eat.”

So what do you think? Simple, straight, to the point. Can’t be anything wrong with that! Ugh, gotta get back to the notebook…

Sleep a wink for me, ye Ramblers of the Land of Dreams…