beginnings

Some poems seem to take on a life of their own. Apropos perhaps, I do not remember when I wrote the first version of the poem below—only that it was a very long time ago—and it seems also to have no end. I’ve come back to it multiple times, tweaked it here and there, but its completion is forever illusive. Like snake tracks in the desert sand, it evades capture. This poem of beginnings and endings, has neither. Maybe we are all like that, without beginning nor ending, in reality… and our essential self too, like snake tracks in the desert sand, evades capture.

beginnings

In every beginning 
there is death 
and in all death, there is rebirth.
Do you remember your beginning? 
 
We are a continuum, of 
eternity & nothingness 
polarity & unity
a quivering consciousness sometimes shackled
by words.
 
Freezing bits of existence 
into b/l_o.c+k-s tumbling 
from our mouths
we trip 
in the rubble of our own expression.
 
Until weary, perhaps
with splintered and twisted feet
we lay down, seeking 
nothing 
other than earth
and sky.
 
Here we find, an infinite desert.
Here our hollowed self, shimmers 
alive
reawakened 
in an instant of eternity.
 
A single drop of rain    falls 
into the soul 
and the membrane of each cell shivers 
shedding itself 
into currents of grace 
flowing and
flowing like blood into 
crevices 
and over rocks and into ancient 
ravines
 
returning devoutly 
inevitably
to firelit waves of a primordial sea.

Do you remember
                                      your beginning?

hatsumode on the beach

One of my favorite rituals at the beginning of the new year is to visit a local shrine, a practice known as hatsumode in Japan. Shrines in Japan are places of quiet beauty where nature’s sacredness is honored and the sanctity of life itself is celebrated. Often steeped in many hundreds of years of history, they are as rooted as the ancient trees on the shrine grounds themselves, encircled with shimenawa. In the air, light dances and shadows sing, softly. 

With no way to any shrine at the beginning of this new year, I went instead, to the beach. On the ocean’s shore, there are no shimenawa nor torii to announce sacred spaces; there are no basins for ritual cleansing nor altars to thank kami and pray for the new year nor omikuji and omamori to buy. Indeed, there is nothing on the beach, of human-made design. But sacredness and sanctity are present—in abundance.  I find that in the absence of shrines nonetheless, my soul dances and my heart sings, still.

Could I, in an aching heartbeat I would, fly to a shrine in Japan for my new year’s hatsumode… pour cool water over my hands, caress the wrinkled skin of those trees, carefully perform the correct way of praying at the altar, fold my omikuji with childlike delight, and bow deeply before it all. But I cannot. 

Rather, I dive into this ocean. And immersed wholly in its freezing water, my body surprisingly warms and suddenly it feels good simply, to be alive. Like the waves, I breathe deeply. And gasp. We are beautiful—an ocean wild and free. Like the waves we are—a ceaseless love. We are the shrine. We dance and we sing.

The Ocean

One of the loveliest things about strolling along the beach is finding seashells. Some of them call out to you, with a little coy glimmer or a slight beckoning and irresistible sigh. “Come, take me home with you, let me adorn your shelves, let me remind you of the sea and its beauty every day” they whisper. And others even more beguiling, “For you, I have made the arduous journey and stranded myself upon this shore! Do not leave here without me.” Alas, what heartless soul does not succumb to the romance of seashells?
Like seashells, poems too find their own ways of surfacing into our meandering minds and our wanderlust—just at the very precise moment we need them. Our wayfaring souls are steered by poetry and seashells alike.

Here is a poem by Khalil Gribran which articulates an inevitable journey to the sea, to the ocean of becoming. And on the eve of 2022, and of all the unknown ahead, I pause on its sandy shore and watch the waves rolling in. Shall I walk back now to the familiar comforts of my faraway motherland, or shall I plunge into this ocean, this unknowable depth with a million and one shades of blue—unabashed, without reserve, naked, and wholeheartedly?

Fear

It is said that before entering the sea
a river trembles with fear.

She looks back at the path she has traveled,
from the peaks of the mountains,
the long winding road crossing forests and villages.

And in front of her,
she sees an ocean so vast,
that to enter
there seems nothing more than to disappear forever.

But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.

Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.

The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.

Khalil Gibran

禊 Purification

Since ancient times, summer has been the season for purification in Japan. And according to the 79th Grand Master of Yamakage Shinto, Motohisa Yamakage, the earliest forms of ceremonial purification, or misogi 禊, most likely took place in the ocean—particularly where the river flowed into the sea. The two waters, conceived as masculine and feminine, symbolize in their merging, creation and rebirth. In this way, we can see that purification is intimately linked with the union of the feminine and the masculine, and the ensuing worlds of creation and growth.

Like death in the cycle of life, misogi is essential to the act of creation, and to growth. The goal of misogi is to cultivate a balanced self (body, mind, heart, spirit) that is pure and bright. This may be similar to some meditation and spiritual practices that speak of “raising one’s vibration” so as to merge with expanded levels of consciousness. However, misogi is not simply a mental exercise, it is embodied practice which resonates into every aspect of being and life.  

Misogi is the central tenet of Japanese Shinto, the indigenous, nature-based spiritual culture predating Buddhism in Japan. As such, misogi expresses itself in a myriad of ways both sacred and secular, in the daily life of contemporary Japan. At the entrance of every Shinto shrine, you will find a place to rinse your hands and mouth before entering. The physical act of cleaning one’s body is a ritual act of purification of the heart, mind, and spirit as well. Before entering a home, one removes one’s shoes at the door to prevent tracking in dirt from the outside. Japanese school children help clean their school buildings every day, and one often sees the elderly sweeping the streets outside their homes. Maintaining physical cleanliness is an all-pervasive feature of Japanese culture. It is the outer manifestation of an inner pure and bright self. 

In summer, we often long to go to the sea—as a place to rest and recuperate, to have fun and play, to release stress and to heal. We instinctively feel the purifying and healing energy in the salty air and water. It is a kind of home-coming to our ancient selves, birthed eons ago in those same waters. Reunited, refreshed, and replenished, we experience renewal. Rebirth. We can go forth, at peace with our selves and at peace with the worlds around us. We can be, a pure and bright light. 

"purification"

can i collapse
avalanche-like
into light
into wild windswept skies
and fly,
finally?

every shard of my sweet self
crumbled
and dissolved 
refined white sugar-like
into crystalline waters
transparent 
and pure,
holy

flowing and flowing
flowing finally,
to
into the open arms of 
my sea