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HONORING IMPERMANENCE

HONORING IMPERMANENCE

One of the wisest thoughts I’ve ever encountered about impermanence is this one from English writer W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, THE RAZOR’S EDGE:

Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.” 

It reminds me of a Hawaiian aesthetic that holds that beauty is made more precious when we understand that it is ephemeral and will not last.

The world changes and changes and, if we are wise, we will drink in whatever beauty we find and enjoy it while it is still with us.

Delighting in the beauty that we encounter and not begrudging the limited time it can stay, is the only response that makes sense in this world of change, Hawaiians say.

The glory of rainbows must surely be affected by our understanding that they do not linger on and on.  They come.  They glow.  They fade away.

bridge
“Hawaiian Heimdall guards this bridge….” By James Huckaby via Flicker [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
One of the most beloved flowers used for making Hawaiian lei garlands is the pua kenikeni.

This tubular, five-petaled wonder has a strong, unique fragrance that lingers as (in one day’s time) a strand of the flowers slowly morphs from being an exquisite creamy whiteness to a vibrant golden orange before becoming a collection of brown straggling bits.

fagraea-berteroana-pua-kenikeni
“Fagraea berteroana – pua kenikeni” by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
The entrancing dance of lava flowing from the Big Island’s Kilauea volcano in this National Geographic Showcase Short Film produced by Lance Page and Wesley Young is hypnotically beautiful.  The YouTube video was published in 2015.

Always, the eruption of one of our volcanoes is a dramatic reminder that change happens and the display of destruction and creation can be very beautiful.

All of these likely Hawaiian examples of impermanence are taken from nature, but in Japan — another island kingdom across the Pacific — honoring the beauty of impermanence, process, and regeneration takes a more human turn.

ANOTHER PEOPLE’S WAY OF HONORING IMPERMANENCE

For 1300 years and more, the Japanese people in the city of Ise and the surrounding areas in the Mie prefecture have carried on a tradition of cyclical reconstruction and deconstruction.

Every 20 years or so the people connected to the place rebuild two of the holiest of their holy buildings as well as a number of other structures that comprise the Shinto Ise Jingū or Grand Shrine.

The rebuilders use Hinoki cypress wood — some from trees that are over 400 years old with trunks that are 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) in diameter — taken from ancient mountain forests that surround the area.

The cultivated trees are planted, maintained, earmarked and harvested on a cycle that spans hundreds of years in order to provide material for the great work.

This short 2019 YouTube video, “Ise Shrine/Ise Jingu,” which features a tour of the shrine complex was uploaded by travel vlogger Charlie Casia.  The serene beauty of the complex shines.

The two main shrines in the complex are the Gekū (Outer Shrine) and Naikū (Inner Shrine).  They are separated from each other by about four miles (6 kilometers) of forested land.  More than 120 smaller shrines and sanctuaries have sprung up around them as well.

The main shrines were originally built from wood harvested from the same forest that surrounds the latest iterations now.

These days, the local Hinoki wood is not as abundant as it once was so the shrine rebuilders have come to depend on other domestic producers who insure that only the very best wood is used for the work.

Logs are obtained from the mountains and floated down the rivers flowing past Ise.

Once the logs are harvested, they are put through a lengthy seasoning and drying process during which they spend several years in a pond before being dried and prepared as building material.

Timber for Gekū is landed from the Miya River while that for Naikū is landed from the Isuzu river.

No nails are used in the shrine construction.  The master artisans who erect these buildings use an ancient post-and-lintel technique with intricately cut and fitted joints that are designed and carved to fit together like puzzle pieces.

My favorite YouTube video about the miyadaiku carpenters of Japan is this one, published in 2019 by a Great Big Story.

It is titled, “In Japan, Repairing Buildings Without a Single Nail” and features Takahiro Matsumoto, a miyadaiku from Kamakura, Japan who assesses and repairs damaged temples in his own city.  It shows the kind of work these master craftsmen do.

A 100-meter long (longer than a football field) wooden bridge that spans the Isuzu River at the entrance of the Naikū shrine is rebuilt as well.

It’s actually a part of the training process.

The bridge is a journeyman project for the traditional miyadaiku temple builders — craftsmen and artisans who will, if they become masters, be entrusted with the next rebuilding of the main shrines.

ise-uji-bridge
“Ise, Uji Bridge” by Bernhard Scheid via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
The two shrines are each rebuilt on an empty building site that is adjacent to the current shrine.  Each rebuilding has always alternated between these side-by-side building sites.

(The next scheduled rebuilding of Naikū, which is deeply connected to the Japanese imperial family, is scheduled to occur in 2033 on the lower, northern site.)

Other shrines in the complex are also included in the rebuilding project.

While the people at Ise Jingū are not the only ones to practice this kind of rebuilding, these structures are the only ones that have been consistently rebuilt through the many centuries of their existence.

Besides the builders and carpenters involved in the building, scores of other craftspeople prepare thatch for the roofs using traditional techniques, cut the gold sheets that make certain of the ridge poles shimmer in the sun, weave the cloth used for hangings, and attend to the myriad details that go into making the newest shrine incarnation real.

kan-hatori-hatadono-jinja
“Weaving at Kan-hatori-hatadono-jinga” by N. yotarou via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]
All over the country other artisans create the sacred offerings and utensils that will be used in the renewed structures as well.

The local people in the surrounding areas are often deeply involved in the process, participating in various traditional events as well as a number of festivals that also include the millions of pilgrims and tourists who visit the Grand Shrine complex every year.

There’s a special festival when some of the logs and timber that will be used in the rebuilding are moved onto the site with help from many willing arms and backs.

okihiki
“Okihiki Festival, Ise” by D Kerr Ka-ru via Wikimedia Commons [public domain]
This video, “Ise Shrine,” was published in 2007 by Journeyman Pictures and offers a slice of the experience from one tourist vlogger.

The pebbles in the courtyard surrounding the newly built shrine are gathered, washed, then moved to the site and placed there by respectful human hands in a two-month process that involves the residents and visitors to the area.

(Afterwards the pebbles from the old structure are returned to the river.  One day they may be returned again to the site.)

The entire reconstruction process ideally takes about 17 years, with the initial years focused on project organization, general planning and fundraising, and the last eight years concentrated on the actual physical construction of the buildings.

Ritual and celebrations orchestrated by the Shinto priesthood is generously mixed in throughout the whole process and the people come to help and to participate in and watch the spectacle slowly unfold.

About six months after each new shrine building is completed and the sacred objects housed in the old shrine are ceremonially transferred to the new one, the old shrine is disassembled.

Some parts of the old shrine are kept for use in the next rebuilding effort.

The old major shrine’s two massive main pillars are repurposed to make the enormous torii gate that greets the multitudes of pilgrims and other visitors to the shrine complex.

ise-jingu-shrine-geku
“Ise Jingu Shrine (Gekū)” by tablexxnx via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Other parts of the old shrine are used to repair and maintain the smaller shrines that have sprung up around the two main shrines or are distributed around the country to other shrines that need repair.

And still other bits will become part of Ise amulets that are then sold throughout Japan to be placed on household altars – in Japan and almost certainly in other parts of the world as well.

The thing about the Ise Grand Shrine rebuilding is that it continues, rippling through the world in ever-widening circles.

MORE THAN JUST A HUGE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT

Each rebuild costs about half a billion US dollars (of which at least half are paid for by Japanese tax payers).

Every rebuild requires about 10,000 to 12,000 old cedar trees, many of them grown and harvested from areas outside Ise, and all of them expensive.

It is a costly proposition, keeping the culture alive.

However, it is worth noting that the Ise Grand Shrine rebuilding is an ages-old, ecologically sustainable practice that provides a structure and a framework for renewing a deep national commitment to an ancient spiritual and creative tradition.

This tradition brings together large numbers of like-minded individuals as well as those bound to the place through all the generations of families who have been a part of the ongoing project.

How much is an affirmation of Life-Its-Own-Self really worth?

NOT A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE

As I’ve said, the rebuilding of the Ise Grand Shrine is all about honoring impermanence, process and regeneration.

Maybe that’s one reason why these holiest of holy buildings in a country that is full of them –  buildings that have occupied their current sites for more than 1300 years – have not made it onto the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) began their famous list of sites that are judged to be “important to the common culture and heritage of humanity” in 1972.

These sites, they say, have cultural, historic, geographical or some other unique feature that make them worthy of protection from harm.

Some of these UNESCO sites are considered to be places where humans made great strides in advancing technology or intellectual and spiritual thinking.

The UNESCO list and the preservation program connected to it, it is said, is one of the most widely acknowledged international agreements.

The sites on the list are very popular with world travelers and tourists as well.

[Click the button below for the latest iteration of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.]

click-here

There are currently 1,121 sites on the list.  Twenty-three of them are in Japan.

You will notice, however, that Ise Jingū, the Shinto “Grand Shrine” complex which is not only historically connected to the imperial family of Japan but is also a justly famous pilgrimage site, is not on the list.

pilgrims
“Pilgrims” by Bong Grit via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
It’s said that the Shinto Imbe priests who care for the Grand Shrine have resisted the inclusion of it on the UNESCO list.

The priests say they do this because the shrines are a part of an ongoing, living tradition that continues still.

That reminds me of one old Hawaiian friend who once pointed out, “Preservation is not the same as perpetuation.  Preservation is what you do to make pickles.  When you perpetuate something, you are helping to keep it alive.”

Through the centuries of practicing this form of reverencing life and caring for the sacred within the world, the living tradition evolves, passing through the hands, hearts and minds of many people, and yet it remains the same.

future-site-of-inner-sanctuary-of-ise
“Future site of inner sanctuary of Ise” by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


TIME

Time.

 

Time flows,

Eddying here,

Slowing there,

Rushing on and tripping

Over rocks and logs,

Half-seen in the depths

Of the river that

Flows on and winds

Past cities, towns and wild places,

Moving on and through

And in and out

Of the mind’s panoramic landscape,

Moving on and always

Moving forward, never back,

Carrying memory and recall

Into the future.

Time flows.

 

Time.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit: “Ise” by Bong Grit via Flickr [CC By-NC-ND 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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DO-BE, DO-BE, DO

DO-BE, DO-BE, DO

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  You’re busy, I’m busy, everybody’s busy.  In fact, it seems like everybody’s drowning in busy, busy, busy.

We bounce around doing this, handling that, rushing through our days, knocking off all of our bullets on that mile-long to-do list, steam-rolling through the obstacles, knocking off the challenges and so on and so forth.  Rolling, rolling, rolling ‘til we drop.

But, it’s good, right?  Yup, yup, yup!

Or…is it?

THE NEW DEFAULT

In this TEDxFurmanU talk, “The Busy Identity,” published in 2016, the presenter is Lexie Harvey, then a sophomore at Furman University.  Lexie tells us we need to take a rest.  We need to remember that we are human beings, she says, not human doings.

It got me thinking, this video.  It does, indeed, seem to be the new default for a lot of people.  It’s become a bit of a pissing contest, actually.  “My busy is bigger than your busy.  But, it’s all good…”  (Cue the big grin.)

That “human-Being vs human-Doing” thing has been around for a long time.  It’s a clever phrase that wanna-be wise guys toss around, looking all holier-than-thou.  Another pissing contest.  (Sigh!)

The thing is, humans are not one or the other.  We’re a bit more organic and a lot more integrated than that.  What we choose to Do affects how we Be and the how we Be often dictates what we choose to Do.

There doesn’t seem to be any way around it.

The very wisest of the wise guys and the smartest of the smart guys all agree:  you are (or you become) how you walk in the world.  As Henry David Thoreau pointed out, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

This irreverent and very silly BuzzFeed Video was published on YouTube in August, 2015.  It does seem to capture the essence of busy quite nicely:

The video was put together by the BuzzFeed Motion Picture video team.  As you probably know already, these guys are the awesome crew that puts together the daily posts on the BFMP’s flagship channel.

MAYBE “BUSY” IS THE NEW “LAZY”?

Sometimes I think the reason we have gotten so awfully good at doing ‘til we drop is mostly because busy is easy.

That’s right.  Think about it.

When your days are filled to the overflowing with that incredible To-Do List you’ve constructed that is way longer and much more varied than the ones any other two people you know are toting around, who has time or energy to even think about what it is you’re actually doing or who you are actually being?

The Real is, it’s not like our one True Self is sitting in some dark recess of our minds waiting to be “discovered.”

Getting still and doing interior explorations is a very useful and ultimately beneficial set of skills for all kinds of reasons, but reports from the guys who actually did that are sort of nebulous and unclear.

Most of them seem to end up advocating dumping Self in favor of connecting to the Oneness of it all or something like that.

If that’s what you want to do, that’s great, but if you’re a bit more concerned with trying to get to your own meaning and mana your own way, it might not be satisfactory for you.

The really cool thing about being human is that we can be lots and lots of different selves.

The best thing about that is if we’re not satisfied with the Self we happen to be doing at any given time, we can actually choose to grow into some other Self we like better.

male-b&w
“Male B&W” by Nuuna Nitely via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

There’s only one problem.  Growing and changing and transforming ourselves takes time.

As fitness guru Jillian Michaels points out, “Transformation is not five minutes from now, it’s a present activity.  In this moment you can make a different choice, and it’s these small choices and successes that build up over time to help cultivate a healthy self-image and self-esteem.”

beauty-of-time
“Beauty of Time” by Hartwig HKD via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Michaels is right.  It takes time to build a new body.  Every wise guy there ever was all say it takes time to build a new self.  It very often takes a lot of hard choices, all made one at a time.

Our “busy” may be just a convoluted, very tiring way to avoid making the changes we need to get to the life of meaning and mana we want.

GETTING TO NOT-BUSY

So what does it take to get to not-busy?

One of the simplest and best ways to get free from busy is a thing ordinary folks can understand and do quite handily.  It’s called “selectivity.”  Its other name is “making choices.”

It’s an old and simple truth:  Time is the ultimate resource.  Time is your life.  In fact, time is all that life is.

The price tag for whatever activity you are doing is time.  That means that for each thing you do, you are paying for it with your life.

time-goes
“Time Goes” by giulia gasparro via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The question then becomes:  Is it worth it?

I listened once to a conversation among a group of old friends – unconventional outliers all – as they shared story after story of their many and varied adventures.  Laughter and heartful moments piled up and we were all feeling well-pleased with each other.

Then one guy, in a pensive moment, said, “You know what I’d like?  I’d like to buy back all the time I was paid to work for someone else.  I wonder what I would have done with all that time.”

Another put in that he’d buy back the time he had wasted on frivolous distractions that have little meaning for him now.

A third said she would take back the years she had spent following a path someone else had set for her.

The evening ended with an explosion of laughter when another said, “But, guys, look at where we are now!  Hasn’t it been a great life?  If I ever get the chance, I know I’d do it all again!”

And I had to think, as I looked at this madcap crew of adventurers and makers and smarty-pants oddballs and quirky spirits, that every one of them had grown into a marvelous human of one sort or another by choosing again and again to follow their own hearts.

bliss-with-a-sunshine-eclipse-heart
“bliss with a sunshine eclipse heart: marco cochrane’s work, treasure island (2014)” by torbakhopper via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

DE-CLUTTERING YOUR TIME

Getting free of meaningless “busy” means cutting down and weeding out the extraneous stuff in order to focus time and energy on the people we love and the things we want to do.  Actually, it’s an advanced level of de-cluttering.

Instead of organizing your desk, your room, your house and the rest of your environment, using selectivity you can shovel all the detritus out of your time and your life-doings.  (Coincidentally all the other stuff tends to get re-organized too.)

shovel
“Shovel” by Tom Rydquist via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
All selectivity requires is noticing.  Take a look at what you are doing during your day.  (You may even want to start one more list.)

When you’ve got some breathing space, take a look at your list and choose one activity.  Think about it.  Then start asking yourself some questions.

The two most important ones are these:

  • What do you give to this thing you’re doing?
  • What does it give back?

Other things that might be worth asking are:

  • How does this activity feed you?
  • Does it help?
  • Is it inspiring?

Or:..

  • Does it stoke your fears?
  • Does it bring you down, distorting your worldview or negatively impacting your disposition?

Asking these questions, especially about the things that have become habits or routines, and revisiting the things you sort of take for granted, can help you see what your life is made of.

If you’re satisfied with the results that a particular activity brings into your life then, by all means, keep on doing it.  If not, maybe you want to send it to the recycling bin.

Sometimes as you remove one activity, you’ll notice that a whole chunk of related activities end up in the recycling bin as well.  That’s a bonus.

After a while of doing this you’ll notice that you’re starting to breathe easier.  You’ve got more time to do the things you’ve decided to keep.  Life gets more interesting and more fun.  You can enjoy yourself and savor the life you’ve built.

the-world-around-me
“The World Around Me” by Akhilesh Ravishankar [CC BY-ND 3.0 Unported]
Give it a shot.  What do you want to lose?

Here’s a poem:


DO-BE, DO-BE, DO

There’s a thing going ’round these days;

The Do-Bug is its name.

If you don’t watch out, it’ll get you too

And you’ll never be the same.

 

Your eyes get red from the strain

And tics make your face twitch.

Your ears are blocked by a roaring

And you start acting like a witch.

 

Your body moves in fits and starts

Your stomach will lurch and roll,

And your heart will shrink to a peanut

As it drains your innermost soul.

 

Your hands reach out like claws

That hold on to things real tight,

And your legs can’t keep still…

You want to run out of sight.

 

You hurry-scurry in a flurry,

Rushing here and there,

And you never stop to ask yourself

The how, the why, the where.

 

It attacks all your nerve endings.

It festers in your brain.

And as it progresses,

You frequently go insane.

 

Do this!  Do that!  Do the other!

Do it for this cause or for that!

Do it now or lose forever!

Why’d you do it, you dirty rat?

 

The Do-Bug latches onto you

And shakes your fundament,

Makes you think you’ll get to Heaven

And it’ll use you until you’re spent.

 

The cure is very simple.

There’s no need for pills or booze.

Just stop whatever you’re doing,

Let be, and take a snooze.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Hurry” by Christer via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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