Mahalo and Aloha! With Love From Tokyo and Los Angeles

Our glorious and spirited  7-day retreat was winding down. On May 23 our sixth and last full day, a unanimous decision was made to spend the remaining time at the center: practicing yoga, swimming, strolling the property, eating, and resting. However, there was an exception to make a last-minute trip to nearby Hawi town for souvenirs! David led a tension releasing “Yin Yoga” workshop in the afternoon to encourage the final sense of “letting go.”

An orchestra of crowing roosters woke me up at sunrise, so I decided to walk the grounds before meditation class, taking in the freshness of the garden in the cool damp morning and glint of sunrise lighting up the center with dazzling rays.

After the morning practice and breakfast, the group of us hiked down to the center’s private beach.  An enormous steer emerged out of the pines and accompanied us for a while as wild hogs darted in and out of the brush. Finally arriving at the beach, we paused for a moment to look out onto the shore, and then took yoga shots on the rocks.

The afternoon was free time and many of us swam in the glassy saltwater pool, lounged, or started packing. IMG_3383Later that evening Mo made a special celebratory gourmet vegetarian dinner  including a special gluten-free chocolate cake. We dressed up in our finest tropical wear (some items purchased in Hawi or Hilo) to commemorate our adventurous week together. Friday morning, May 24 was spent squeezing in a final meditation practice and then checking out. Joyful goodbyes were exchanged and after shuttling people back and forth to the airport throughout the afternoon, a handful of us traveled down to Kona to take in a few more sights before departing later that evening.

This was my first international yoga retreat, daring and elaborate to organize, it was hard to imagine such an incredibly successful outcome. Yet, the results seemed effortless thank to David Kim my colleague, who was a seasoned pro at organizing such feats. I would learn so much from him that ultimately boosted my confidence as a teacher and retreat leader, but most of all, I learned how to appear gracious under pressure and how to be the greatest host. As yoga teachers, we not only guide and inspire people to learn, but in situations like this, we are leaders and guardians who can create a magical experience that touches people in a significant way.

Overall, our 5-day retreat—was a real Hawaiian Odyssey. We were able to merge diverse cultures from two great cities, Tokyo and Los Angeles, and share a broad range of exciting sights, delicious cuisine, myths, stories and many other cultural pleasures offered by the Big Island of Hawaii. It was also great to have the participation of the growing Japanese yoga community that David and I are part of, including our energetic translator, Yuri Nakamura Hayashi and Yoga Plus Manager, Keiko Tanaka who coordinated important details back in Tokyo.

I felt as if we had truly immersed ourselves in a healthy, balanced program of daily yoga practice, mediation, healthy food, sight-seeing excursions, to benefit tremendously from an amazing transformative experience. Yoga retreats can range from intense, challenging to relaxing and restorative, thus allowing people to create a special bond. We weren’t just traveling tourists residing at a commercial resort–our splendid and generous host, Jeannie and the HIRC provided a marvelous setting to offer something rare and exclusive.

I would later hear how many of the participants on our retreat were inspired to continue to develop their practice, pursue teacher training, or even make healthy improvements in their diet. David and I were also very pleased that lasting friendships were formed among us.

This story is dedicated to Alaric Phillips

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Ryusenji Temple (Meguro Fudon) with Sachiko Inomata

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One day after at the Yoga Plus studio in Gotanda, Sachiko Inomata offered to take me to lunch and off we went by cab to an Italian restaurant in nearby Meguro.  Italian food is very popular in Japan and Sachiko said that the pizza was especially great here. She was right; we enjoyed light, fluffy pizza topped with the freshest ingredients made in a brick oven before our eyes.

Salads before pizzaPizza in TokyoRomy in front of the brick oven

Sachiko suggested we make a quick visit to see a temple in this quiet neighborhood.  We walked for about a mile and came upon the Ryusenji Temple (Meguro Fudon).  I’ve seen at least eight temples or shrines during my visits to Japan and marvel at the fact that no two are exactly alike.  I later found out that the temple’s grounds were designated in 808 a.d. by a Buddhist missionary, “Jikaku Daishi Ennin” and since then, “divine water” has been flowing from this spot for over 1200 years.   A statue of Fudo (God of Fire) is placed in a fountain of water, which is said to have healing properties. It is customary to splash water on Fudo before moving forward.

Ryusenji Temple is nestled deep within a “village-like” neighborhood in the middle of bustling Tokyo. The rambling temple grounds have a rustic naturalness with a liberal mix of fountains; ornamental, mythical and sacred statues including a great bronze Buddha behind the temple that Sachiko said had a “Japanese” face.  After cleansing our hands, mouths and taking off our shoes, we were able to visit the lavishly impressive ornamental altar inside the temple, but no pictures were allowed.  The best I could do was to zoom in and capture an image from the doors of the entryway.  I was also instructed on the process of lighting a bundle of incense to place in a bronze urn outside as an offering in prayer. It was nice to have someone highlight traditional rituals that are a mystery to a westerner like me.

Meguro Fudon seemed especially intimate since there were very few people there.  In fact, I had no idea that this compound was within a couple of miles walking distance from where I’m staying in Gotanda.  Sachiko told me that sometimes she comes to the temple at sunrise when the city is quiet and the air is fresh.

 

Spring Fever in Inokoshira Park

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The final installment on the Hanami series presents the lively antics at Inokoshira Park in Kichijoji. This setting was the most playful and eclectic: packed to the rim with people, picnicking, boating, strolling, and a delightful temple dedicated to Benzaiten actually situated in the parks’ pond.

The colors of this temple, crimson red, cobalt blue with touches of gold and bright accents, gave it an enchanting, folk-like quality.  It was right at home in Kichijoji, a community known for its artistic and creative flair. I later found out that Benzaiten—is the Japanese name for the Hindu Goddess Sarasvati whom symbolizes everything that flows–water, words, speech, eloquence, music and knowledge. She is also a protector deity attributed to granting monetary fortune. Snake and dragon imagery are also associated with her.  In fact, there is dragon shaped statue Bentin in the form of a fountain, at the back of the main temple, where you can wash your coins to help bring you wealth and luck.

I loved being amongst the jubilant crowds covering every inch of the park. There literally wasn’t one spot to sit down.  People had claimed their territory with large blue tarps or make shift tables and were not budging. The pond was crowded with amusing pastel hued and duck shaped boats. I was amused by the fable that Yuri Nakumara told me–there is a common belief that couples that ride the duck boats together will break up.  It was fun to watch the boaters attempt to navigate the pond without crashing into each other!

Petals in the water

Yoga/Meditation/Hike in Solstice Canyon

 

“Yoga/Meditation/Hike” is a program that I started years ago while teaching at Santa Monica Yoga. I’ve always loved the meditative qualities of hiking and thought it would be great to create a program that would create stronger bonds between me, my students and our local community.  Over the years, I’ve hosted at least two dozen hikes throughout the nearby Santa Monica Mountains, which features varied terrain and hiking trails.   Notable outings have included: Malibu Creek State Park, Corral Canyon, Charmlee Wilderness State Park Solstice Canyon, Pt. Mugu and Topanga State Park–all uniquely different and easily accessible from the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. The images featured in this post were from a recent hike in Solstice Canyon on February 3, 2013. Students from my classes at various Yogaworks studios throughout the Los Angeles area attended with friends.

The groups have ranged in size, age and abilities with me encouraging everyone to make it to the top where we will always certainly enjoy a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean, bucolic valley or a breathtaking mountain range.  Everyone always has a great sense of accomplishment when they complete the hike. In all, it’s a good time for all who participate with lots of laughs, shared stories and the opportunity to connect socially on a personal level outside of the classroom. The hikes are followed by a session of yoga, meditation, light refreshments or lunch at the Malibu Country Mart.

Inspired by the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s (“Wherever You Go There You Are”),  I will occasionally hand out a flier of his essay,  “Walking Meditation” an excerpt follows:

“Try, bringing awareness to walking, wherever you find yourself.  Slow it down a bit.  Center yourself in your body and in the present moment. Appreciate the fact that you are able to walk, which many people cannot. perceive how miraculous it is, and for a moment, don’t take for granted that your body works so wonderfully. Know that you are ambulating upright on the face of Mother Earth.  Walk with dignity and confidence, and as the Navaho saying goes, walk in beauty, wherever you are.”

“Letting Go” @ La Casa De Maria

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I recently hosted a retreat with Indira Shekerjian at La Casa De Maria in Montecito, California the weekend of September 22 & 23. This was our second retreat together,  we first teamed up with Megan McCarver for a sold out weekend at White Lotus in Santa Barbara, May 2011. I’ve been to LCDM a number of times over the past few years as a guest yoga teacher for a series of retreats held by Dorothy James.  As a satisfied guest, I always desired to hold my own retreat there someday.

The theme for our weekend., “Letting Go” was based on certain aspects of the Fall Equinox where there is a perfect balance between “day and night,” the “sun and  moon.“ This is also applicable to the literal definition of Hatha Yoga: Ha”–sun, “tha”–moon,  and Yoga –“to yoke.”   Through the practice of yoga we strive to strengthen  and reinforce the connection and balance between the mind and body.   Therefore, it seems appropriate that as nature shifts into balance, we too, should try to do the same.  Furthermore, Pantanjali advises us in the Yoga Sutras to observe the niyama, Santoshacontentment (2.42)  and  abhyasa vairagyabhyampracticing non-attachment (1.12).    Indira pointed out in our group discussion, that we typically  start off the year making our “to do lists” and then over the ensuing months, keep pushing the agenda.  But, do we ever stop to see what we’ve accomplished? Is it enough?  As the year winds down, what can we “let go of?”

This welcoming center provided the appropriate setting for deep reflection.  LCDM is spread out over 26 acres covered with large shady oak trees—there’s even a towering 500-year-old eucalyptus tree on the property.  An eclectic assortment of  old Spanish Mission Style structures are situated around the estate. Each dwelling built at various times, has its own unique traits. For example, The Immaculate Heart Center, a stoic stone mansion built by a wealthy businessman in 1930, evokes the style and craftsmanship of an old world European manor, its rooms filled with antiques old paintings and religious artifacts.  Other facilities on the property include comfortable and soothing Retreat Rooms; Casa San Yasidro, a dormitory that accommodates more than 20 people, mostly youth groups; and there are houses, Casa Teresita and La Casitafor smaller groups or individuals.  The center has been undergoing renovation with an emphasis on energy conservation. While most of the buildings are being outfitted with solar panels, they still retain their historic charm.

The food is simply excellent whether you’re eating meals prepared by a private chef at the Immaculate Heart Center, or cafeteria food at LCDM, it’s all fresh gourmet mostly vegetarian/vegan fare that ‘s made primarily from produce grown on the property or from nearby organic farms.  A large orchard of fruit trees and a sizable garden further support the Center’s direction towards environmental sustainability.

This interfaith center has an interesting history  dating back to the Chumash Indians who once inhabited it, planting many of the trees, then later over the years privately owned.   The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, A Roman Catholic religion purchased the property in 1940 and after breaking away from the Catholic Church in the 1960s & 70s, turned the estate into a non-profit organization.  What I like most about the center is that it’s off the radar for popular yoga retreat destinations.  It’s a retreat and conference center that harmoniously hosts many types of groups and non-profit organizations,  with “programs focused on meditation, spirituality, personal growth, community service, environmental awareness, education and art.”  Many individuals also go there for silent retreats, to write or create.

I also experimented with a new retreat format–an intimate sized group of 10-12 people and the option to spend the weekend or come up for one day.  Most traditional yoga retreat centers typically require twenty people minimum, putting pressure on teachers to get these numbers when in fact they may be happy with around 12-15.  This format  gave everyone the opportunity to connect in a profound way that isn’t possible in larger groups bringing a lightness and calmness to the weekend that proved to be refreshing.

Our group of eleven people occupied the cavernous “Lounge,” one of the meeting rooms on the property, with lofty wood beamed ceilings and a grand stone fireplace. In all, they had an excellent time participating in a well-rounded program of yoga, restorative and meditation classes and a provocative workshop and discussion led by Indira and I.  Everyone also had ample free time to hike, swim read, draw or simply take a nap!

Nevertheless,  LCDM is a good place for serious heartfelt discussion and contemplation. You’re given a rare opportunity to move inward and connect to your innermost self in a supportive environment that encourages you to open up,  reveal and  “let go.” We were all graciously taken care of.  I’ve finally found a “retreat home” and I hope you and others will join me there sometime in the future.

Sayonara, A Bow, An Expression…

Now seated comfortably on the bus toward Narita Airport, I thought about that first night in April when I arrived not knowing what to expect but completely open to new adventures.  As I waited on that chilly night for transportation to take me to Tokyo, I saw a porter bow deeply at a departing bus.  I was struck by the grace of the salutation, the expression, and the ultimate acknowledgement of respect. Throughout my stay, I was bowed to, my students bowed to each other, and I too began to bow: apologetically for not knowing the language well enough to communicate freely, but most of all as way to express my appreciation and gratitude.

One late afternoon in June I was walking toward the Gotanda Station and passed the same spot on the bridge that is in the image of the first posting of this dairy: trees sprinkling their fading blossoms along the river one rainy day back in April.    The sun was now setting on this very same scene, casting a dreamy golden light on the buildings and water. The trees were now a fresh green.  I stopped for a moment to take a picture.  Later when I compared the images, I was struck by the differences—spring to summer—which not only indicated the passing of time, but renewal and transformation.

Svadhyaya:” Commentary on a Yoga Teacher’s Sabbitical

After leaving the restaurant that rainy evening, I quietly walked up Nishi-Gotanda towards my apartment.   Worn to a frazzle from all of the weekend’s festivities–I still had to pack, meticulously clean the apartment, and be prepared to leave by 1:00 p.m. the next day, July 2.  Although I had been organizing off-and-on throughout in the week, I found that I still needed to make room in my three suitcases for new things, which meant getting rid of the old.   As I quickly got busy tearing into this herculean task, I began to think about a concept that had periodically crossed my mind – that this entire experience was somewhat like a “sabbatical.” I realized how lucky I was to have the opportunity to really immerse myself and concentrate on teaching, learning and practicing yoga.    Moreover, the circumstances of this situation allowed me to cultivate, in-depth, many facets of teaching.  At the beginning of each week, I would glance at the teacher-training manual, highlighting topics that I needed to spend more time on–nothing was left out, and then decisively prepare for upcoming sessions.  Luckily I had the foresight to bring a small library of yoga books (costing me more at the airport), which provided invaluable research support.   Instead of circumventing topics that I found intimidating I boldly approached, yoga philosophy, the Yoga Sutras, subtle body, anatomy–and lectured for hours on them.  I once e-mailed one of my friends to say that I suddenly felt like a “yoga scholar.”   For the first time I began to grasp the essence of subjects that had perplexed me for years and now saw the potential for deeper understanding through continued study, future trainings or use through other applications.  Furthermore, the five classes I taught during the week pushed my professional boundaries: Level 1, Level ½, Level 2/3, Yoga Therapeutics, & “Vinyasa Flow and Meditation” and four workshops, offered variety, a chance to create interesting sequences, and develop workshop content. The workshops were new for me and I was able to develop an inspiring project to move forward —“Living a Better Life Through Yoga” will continue on. 

In conjunction with this intense yoga immersion, I was able to focus on myself–although the photographs of the Tokyo training show me interacting socially, in reality I spent a lot of time alone—with my thoughts, positive and negative.  A sort of  “vipassana”–with deep-rooted samskaras persistently rising to the surface, forcing me to process and face my obstacles (klésas).   “Svadhyaya” one of the niyamas outlined in the eight-limbs of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, describes the concept of  “self-study” where we examine not only spiritual texts, but also ourselves–even our physical practice can be a form of personal discovery.  Coincidentally my life in L.A. before venturing abroad was full of conflict and I was at a crossroads–weary, suffering from chronic back & joint pain, stressed financially, I asked myself,  “Can I continue on this path as a yoga teacher?”   Constant mental chatter –chitta vrittis– clouded my thoughts, limiting my ability to be focused and organized.  Although my colleagues reassured me, I didn’t feel competent or ready to lead training, “Why me?” I asked.  Yet, I felt I had nothing to lose by coming to Tokyo.  My brother, Alaric Phillips said that maybe I would find the answers and solutions while I was away. He had also given me the Japanese version of the Rosetta Stone as a “bon voyage gift” adding another stimulating component of learning. 

Busy sorting clothes, dishes & cookware in the early morning hours, the packing and cleaning was now in full swing. This simple, modest room was like a sanctuary–a home away from home, with its intimate space equipped with a tiny kitchen, bathroom and even a washing machine.  The television offered invaluable insight into Japanese traditions and popular culture and cooking.  Setting a weekly schedule of self-practice, I placed my mat on a sliver of floor space, and for up to two hours or more, worked on poses that were challenging to me, honestly addressing the parts of my body that offered the most resistance–something I couldn’t manage to do in Los Angeles.  Slowly my back pain started to go away, stress subsided and I lost weight ( 10 lbs!).  The impossibly hard bed actually became comfortable and the claustrophobic cramped space actually became cozy.  “Overcoming obstacles that come your way.” 

As I taught Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras to my students, a number of the aphorisms applied to my personal circumstances.  “Atha Yoganusasasnam”(1.1) as we all started out on this journey together, I began to learn and appreciate yoga again through new eyes and filtered through a new environment and language. “Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodaha” (1.2) as I worked on confronting my personal obstacles (klésas), the” ripples in the lake” became clearer and I was able to see my true self “Tada Drastuh Svarupe Vasthanam” (1.3)

Slowly I began to see what was wrong with life in L.A., with teaching yoga, and I started thinking of solutions.  Since I was able to experience three months of “bliss” where absolutely nothing went wrong, I realized that there was nothing wrong with me—I just needed to make better choices in my personal and professional life:  Slow down the chatter, get organized, stop dreaming, and face reality.  I thought to myself, “I hope that when I get back, that I can continue to connect the dots…

The next day, after thoroughly completing the tasks, I turned to look at the sparking clean apartment and neatly packed suitcases.   Arisa came to take me to the Prince Hotel in Shinagawa to catch the bus to Narita Airport.

 

 

A Trip to Kamakura with Tomoko Kawahara

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Friday of that week, June 29, Tomoko Kawahara took me to Kamakura–we had been working so hard during the training that we never had time to spend any social time together. Many people had mentioned that I would like Kamakura, a seaside community that features nearly forty shrines and temples, notably the Great Buddha of Kamakura. We took a number of trains there and  finally ended up approximately an hour outside of Tokyo. Once there we paid for a trolley to take us to the local spots. Our first stop was an organic restaurant on Yuigahama Beach for a lunch of tempeh with tomato sauce, and assorted vegetarian dishes.

After walking on the beach we strolled up to the view the Great Buddha at the Kotoku-in Temple.  As usual, before entering the grounds you cleanse at a purification fountain and then proceed. There seemed to be hundreds of people on the Temple grounds on this hot, sunny day. The Great Buddha of Kamakura (Daibutsu) is massive (13.35 meters/43.8ft tall  and weighs approx. 93 tonnes/270,000 lbs).  It is one of the most famous icons of Japan as well as its tallest bronze Buddha and I was very impressed that this icon has existed on this site unharmed since the 1252.  The original Buddha was made out of wood in 1243 and later destroyed and the various halls that housed the Buddha over the centuries succumbed to various natural disasters.   The current bronze statue was cast to replace it and may have been gilded which would have a magnificent sight to see. The statue is hollow and Tomoko said that it is believed that “going inside the Buddha will let you start a new.”  At first I wasn’t sure–I couldn’t imagine walking through the Buddha in the heat with dozens of school children.  However,  I said, “I am returning to L.A.  and could use a new start, let’s go inside.”

From there we strolled along a cheerful, quaint street through  town, passing a small temple, Shū Genji, which was built to commemorate Shijokingo a faithful believer of the religion Nichiren who was persecuted in 1271.  This temple, a former residence made of wood was modest in size surrounded by a brushy garden.

After a quick snack of  matcha  gelato we took the trolley to another stop nearby to see the hilltop Jojuin Temple (c. 1219),  surrounded by 262  pale blue, lavender, pink & white hydrangea bushes on a slope overlooking the ocean.  Jojuin is also referred to as the “Hydrangea Temple” and we were fortunate to be there for peak blooming season.  “262” is the number of Chinese characters used in Hannya-shingyo Sutra. 108 steps lead up to the temple–“108” is the number of tolling bells on New Years eve. The temple grounds had various statues commemorating prominent Buddhist priests associated with this compound.

As we walked toward the train station, we stopped by the Gokurakuji Temple which was built-in Fukazawa in 1259 by the Buddhist priest Ryokanbo Ninsho and then moved to Kamakura around 1262. After and  crouching down to enter the wooden gate we walked down a shaded path toward a very interesting complex  of ornately carved wooden structures.

From there we took the trolley back to the train station and transferred to a bus that would weave its way through Kamakura to the amazing Hokokuji Temple.  Founded by Tengan Eko (Buddhist name Butsujo-Zenji) who was a representative of the Zen literary movement known as Gozan Bungak, this sanctuary flourished as the family temple of both the Ashikaga and Uesugi clans.  A magical and vast  garden of 2,000 Mōsō Bamboo trees dominates the property which is the reason why this complex is commonly referred to as the “Bamboo Temple.”    We decided to rest for a while at the tea house (Kyūkōan) and had fresh matcha tea under a canopy of bamboo overlooking a small waterfall.  A leisurely tour of the temple grounds revealed surprising highlights:  carved stone reliquaries, statues decorated with red hats, deep blue tinged hydrangea, a cave of tombs (Yagura), and a thatched roof bell tower.

Once back at the train station, I saw  trees decorated with colorful ribbons of paper and origami. I can’t remember the specific story associated with the decorated trees that Tomoko told me, but they were delightful and whimsical, so I took a picture.

In all, we saw five temples that day and it would take several trips to see them all.  I asked Tomoko what the difference was between a “temple” and “shrine” and with a little more investigation I found that one is “Buddhist “and the other “Shinto.” “Shinto” (Kami Nomchi—“the way of the Gods”) is a religion indigenous to Japan that worships nature. Originally people prayed to the great natural phenomena such as mountains, wind,rain, trees, rivers, fertility and powerful deities that inhabit heaven and earth.  Distinguishing characteristics of “Shinto Shrines”–are a Tori Gate, such as the grand ones featured at the Meiiji Shrine. In addition, there is a purification fountain near the entrance to cleanse your mouth and hands before prayer.

“Buddhism”  (Bukkyō) made its way into Japan in the 6th century via China and Korea. Predominant details of “Budhhist Temples” are:  the presence of the color red as evident with the Senso-ji Temple ( or a red gate (Yukuimon) and other items); an image of Buddha; and a large incense burner placed in front of the temple. Smoke created by the burning of incense is said to have healing properties. In addition, a pagoda is on the premises.

My trip to Kamakura was the perfect final sightseeing adventure to summarize my experiences in Japan and I ‘m no expert on the subject, but I could see first hand that influences of Shinto are pervasive in almost every aspect of Japanese life and culture–the naturalness of the structures, food and even clothing; respect for people, animals and towards all living things; traditions and celebrations.  Furthermore, there is relatively little crime in Japan and people are generally good spirited and very kind. Nevertheless,  these two religions—Shinto and Buddhism–coexist and complement each other which creates a harmonious balanced life.

 

The Second Workshop: “Living a Better Life Through Yoga”

Part I: “The Physical Body”

In the meeting with the translators and programmers during my first week here,  I was also asked to create a couple of workshops for the public.  The staff had ideas of their own: they said they wanted me to come up with something to address common aches and pains, fatigue and stress–symptoms of urban life,  long work hours and surprisingly, the upcoming rainy season which can be the cause of depression for many. The workshops also had to be held in two parts over a weekend ( the one weekend I had off from teacher training) and each be 2.5 hours in length.  They said that ” Part I” should  somehow address the physical body and “Part II”, the mental.   We spent a few moments going back and forth over a few titles and then I blurted out “Living a Better Life Through Yoga”  they liked it–and so did I.  When I sat down a few days later it became the name for this blog.  I realized that this effort to “live a better life,”  is my primary reason for practicing yoga,  teaching and what I hope my students ultimately gain from the experience. The workshops held on May 12 & 13, were a success.  At first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hold the space or their attention for that amount of time, but the moments flew by and both sessions were followed by lots of discussion and questions.  Encouraged and inspired by the group’s response, I’m now planning to continue developing this workshop concept to cover a series of topics.

Part II: “The Mental Body”

Sightseeing: Senso-Ji Temple

Two of my students, Kasumi (“Lotty’) Tanaka and Hisako Imaizumi and her son Yu, took me on an excursion to Asakusa to tour the Senso-Ji Temple Grounds.   The sun had finally come out  after a few days of rain so we were able to spend considerable time touring the grounds.  The Senso-Ji Temple is the oldest temple in Japan and dates back to 628 A.D. It was built to honor the Bodhisattva Kannon—a figure highly regarded in Buddhism which is believed to have been sent to relieve human misery on earth.  Many Japanese believe that their hopes and pleas will reach this deity, which is evidenced in the various methods available on the grounds for prayer— to bless, request good fortune or to eliminate illness and vessels for ritualistic cleansing.  I took so many pictures that I created a slide show to share this rare experience.

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