Letting Go in Kyoto

Over the years, life has taught me two things about transformation: either my mind will stretch, or my heart will strain. These alterations explore the significance of harmony within.

On a high-speed train to Kyoto from Tokyo, I mentioned to my son we would be walking Philosopher’s Walk, a stone path that follows a canal lined by hundreds of cherry trees. Also known as Tetsugaku no michi, named after Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who practiced meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University.

Our timing was impeccable, in early April the enchanted cherry trees explode with color. I told my seventeen-year-old son, there is a chance you might discover the meaning of life. We are walking in the footsteps of many great philosophers who have plodded down this very path for centuries. He gave me the Here-we-go-again, look. I could see it written in his rolling eyes, Mom-is-taking-me-to-another-museum. We have a history of travel trade-offs wherein I take him to historical sites, and in turn, I later yield to his penchant of more adventurous locations. I continued on and informed him how the path got its name.

When we arrived at the Philosopher’s Walk, we were greeted by a mystic energy with an intense joy and radiance you could feel in the air.  I could visualize philosophers pondering the curiosities of life and it strengthened my own critical thinking.  My senses were invigorated while listening to the harmonious rustle of the trees swaying and gazing at the extraordinary beauty of the fluttering pink petals showering onto the slow moving water and stepping-stones in the creek beside the path.  Perhaps I now understand how it got its name, as it certainly made me think. There was light permeating through the aged branches illuminating my way as bumblebees buzzed in my ear, reminding me to stop ignoring my own nature and make that necessary connection to the ever-present nature around me.

For me, the act of ‘letting go’ has always been a challenge.  I am frequently in on-the-go mode.  Lately, I simply remind myself to stay in harmony with my own nature.  In fact, Socrates, one of the most recognized philosophers in our time once said, Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”  He reminds me that busyness can leave me feeling unfulfilled.

The idea of simplicity and naturalness startled me with its direct approach on this path of enlightenment.  It was refreshing to be reminded of the importance of the harmony between one’s self and nature.  In fact, I believe this is what our ancient fathers of philosophy discovered.  Nature and its healing powers, soothe and restore us to balance.  Nature and all its wonders has become a mysterious living space that exists and yet we still struggle to define or grasp the therapeutic powers it provides. The philosophers of long ago applied these theories to their own lives and have taught them to us for millennia through their writing. Still, somehow, I continue to complicate nature in the present, with future plans and past regrets, but I doubt that I am alone in this.

An inner peacefulness arrives when I surrender to the present moment, specifically, when I stop and reestablish my place in my natural surroundings.  When my distance from nature is realized, coming back to the present requires the ability to let go. However, that moment of realization that you are not in the present takes an alert awareness that is not always around when you need it most. Thus, it takes time to cognitively connect with this unseeable realm and make it a daily priority.

My son interrupted my deep-thinking and reflective moment and made the kind of sarcastic comment that only a teenager can dredge up, Wow! This place is incredible . . . Not! He wandered ahead on the square-stoned path delicately covered in cherry blossom petals.  A few minutes later, he circled back with a change of mind to inform me of the moss garden, temples, and cafes along this streamside path.  He had chatted with a professional photographer who informed him the canal was built during the Meiji Period in order to revitalize the stagnating local economy, and was used to power Japan’s first hydroelectric power plant. He whispered, How cool is that! The ability of a teenager to make his mother’s heart plummet and soar in the space of a heartbeat, should never be underestimated.

As I take the constrained high-speed train on its strictly defined path away from my newfound sanctuary, there is ample time to reflect and collect my spiraling unrestrained thoughts. Gazing out the window on Hiroshima, I had another Joycean epiphany or moment of meditational awareness — the fleeting, surreal moments walking Philosopher’s Walk had left a mark on my heart.  In my mind, I acknowledged how its undaunting spirit moved me.  As I travel, I learn more about myself and continue to stretch and strain my thought patterns to search for answers in my life while still taking time to simply stop and smell the fragrant flowers and bask in the sunshine that brought them to me. I believe my natural surroundings hold answers to the meaning of life.  It is my job to trust the invisible force that surrounds me as I live, walk, and exist within its mystery.

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