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Zen in Ten: "A Luminous Dancing Flux"
The Power of Japanese Rituals to Heal
Dear Spark Zen Readers! I hope you’re doing well today. Below are excerpts from a fabulous new book by the equally fabulous Paula Arai: The Little Book of Zen Healing: Japanese Rituals for Beauty, Harmony, and Love. I had the good fortuned to podcast with Paula a few weeks ago, and I was inspired by her presence, scholarship, and compassion. I hope to have the edited podcast posted soon. In the meantime, below are Ten Healing Activities that form the central theme of her book. Peace!
To Experience Interrelatedness is a pivotal healing activity. It is distinct from comprehending interrelatedness. Knowledge, per se, does not carry the weight to drive a transformational shift in the way we behave. For example, knowing that [insert vice of choice] is not good for health and well-being is often not enough to keep us from indulging in it, especially when stressed and tired. In experiencing interrelatedness, we connect vast networks of support that energize and stabilize.
To Live Body-Heart-Mind involves working in harmony, even when our body, heart, and mind seem to be at odds. When honest, we know body, heart, and mind lose when we do things that are at cross purposes with our whole self. When we move with the force of our whole being, we mobilize the fullness of our strength and endurance, and we access the wisdom in our bones.
Ritualized actions, by definition, are movements encoded with meaning and import. To Orchestrate Rituals is to choose what meaning and importance to cultivate and design how to embody and convey them through gestures, words, sounds, and emotional valence. The key is to do that which can penetrate obstacles created by fear, pain, or anger and to unclog avenues of connection blocked by the residue of jealousy, self-pity, or blame.
Various dimensions of “self” need nurturing, including personal, relational, and environmental. To Nurture Self includes acts such as going to sleep when sleepy and drinking water when thirsty. Yet it is hard to sleep when stress, fear, pain, loom large, especially in dystopian times. Being in a space absolutely guaranteed to be free of contagions, discrimination, or violence is for many a distant dream. The challenge of nurturing underscores our interdependence. Nurturance is a matter of not merely control and achievement but also consciously choosing to love.
A critical aspect of nurturance is to Enjoy Life. This is especially difficult given the disastrous problems ravaging our planet, communities, and hearts. A doomsday focus can help galvanize you to act and care, but it almost inevitably leads to burnout over time. Even if you can maintain it for a while, it often takes a toll on personal interactions and costs missing many moments of joy. To enjoy life does not mean to not care. Rather, mindfully do what you can do in current conditions, which is an intrinsically joy-producing healing activity. Pausing to enjoy taking a deep breath and smiling on the exhale is a simple and quick way to feel the joy of being alive, whether at work, volunteering, exercising, or even taking out the trash.
Another intrinsically joy-producing healing activity is to Create Beauty. Beauty-making is one of the most potent invisible forces for actualizing positive change, along with compassion and love. Creating beauty is to see something in its wholeness. Beauty can be created with any ingredient, in any condition, at any time, because beauty is only dependent on what you choose to activate in your heart.
To Express Gratitude is a reliable way to access the beauty in your heart, even when tired, stressed, or angry. With a little attention on the here and now, there are always things for which to be grateful. The list might be whittled down to having enough oxygen content in the air to effectively breathe, enough potable fluids to hydrate, and enough neural synapses to think about air and water. The list of conditions for survival is shockingly short compared to the list of things that threaten survival. This thought alone can be contemplated as an inspiration to be grateful. For a relatively modest effort, the pay off is significant. In short, gratitude is a direct path to healing many woes.
But woes are many and to Accept Reality As It Is is no mean feat. Denying and resisting reality drains vital energy. How much energy is squandered becomes most apparent when you stop being in denial or resisting. Acceptance feels light, energizing, and rejuvenating. Accepting reality does not mean, however, that the reality of a situation is easy. It means you've removed unnecessary weight and complication. Healing is about dissolving obstacles that appear to be in the way of experiencing everything as integral to the dynamic flux of our interrelated whole. Gratitude is a potent catalyst for healing, but it is the tough pill of accepting you can't always get what you want—or, sometimes even worse, accepting things you have but don't want—that has the power to liberate.
To Expand Perspective is often the only way to see through the fog and accept things that appear unfair, undeserved, cruel, or tragic. When we look narrowly with fearful eyes, the greater web of interconnectedness is out of view. To look from a larger vantage point is not to diminish the seriousness of a situation but to contextualize it. Suffering subsides when we perceive our full identity: a vital force in a luminous dancing flux of interdependence.
A highly effective antidote to suffering is to Embody Compassion. To embody compassion sounds lofty—the province of advanced practitioners with equanimous minds—and may feel out of reach for all of us well -intended do-gooders who time and again leak stress with our gestures, glances, or words. But it needn't be so. One of the most down-to-earth and pragmatically oriented Japanese elder women I met on my healing pilgrimage once said something quite wise about this; it transformed my way of thinking and seeing myself. She reflected out loud, “I know I am healed when I am kind.”
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