I started writing a post yesterday entitled “Headspin 2.0” because since arriving at the Tokyo airport, I feel like I’ve been all second glances and confusion…but it’s a happy yayakoshi yo!
I guess I have to start with Kamakura…You see, about 10 or so years ago I took an art therapy class at George Washington University in which one of my projects was to create an image of my adolescent ego ideal. Slightly unsure of what exactly I wanted to create, I found myself flipping through a Conde Nast Traveler one evening and settling on the image of a large, weathered buddha.
Why buddha? Easy enough question to answer, but for that, I have to go back even farther.
I’m not entirely sure what originally brought me to Buddhism (using a capital “B” here seems slightly incorrect), but I remember being about 13 or 14 and reading Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, a book which made great sense to me. I know that I then re-read it a couple of times and even bought a copy for my friend Alyson – I wanted everyone close to me to experience the same sense of enjoyment from Hesse’s story…if I remember correctly, my enthusiasm even brought the book to my mother’s eyes, though I am certain she had already read it once herself. Anyhow, around the same time, I also picked up a collection of writing by Lao Tzu, a little book entitled “Tao Te Ching”. Something was compelling me to look East.
I grew up in the Western Judeo-Christian traditions, but they never really made much sense to me. For most of my young life, that kind of religion always seemed synonymous with hatred, judgment, murder, war, don’t do this, etc. The idea of God as I knew it was either frightening or not resonating with what I felt inside. 7 years of Hebrew school didn’t help much…just the opposite. Although I do have a great appreciation and love for my cultural heritage, religion just didn’t fit me.
Ok, so back to the story about Kamakura. So there I am sitting in my little Washington, DC living room having settled on the image of a buddha for my class project. I took out my pens and paints and began to create an illustration – a head and shoulders from which sun rays emanated and within which a buddha sat perched in a tree…the same buddha from the magazine.
I like that illustration – the images are rich with symbolism. I liked it so much during my 20’s that during a particularly dark period, I decided to have the buddha and the tree tattooed on my upper left arm. Let me further explain that at the time, I neither knew anything about Japan nor had any inkling of the significance that it might one day hold for me.
About 5 years after the tattoo, I decided that I would move to Japan. The story is simple – someone I had been working with told me about Nova English conversation schools and the seed that was then planted immediately grew into a tree whose branches would reach half way around the world.
And so I lived in Japan for 4 years and it was there that I became a man. I left the USA a confused, young person, but returned to the USA as a focused, more secure adult.
So back to Kamakura, a place that as of today I still have never visited. Before my return trip to Japan this summer, I decided to purchase a blank book in which I could write notes about the reading materials for my dissertation and whatever else I felt needed to be pressed into a page. It was just a spur of the moment idea really, walking back to the apartment I stay in while visiting New York City, deciding to enter the large Barnes and Noble bookshop in front of Lincoln Center.
And as I examined shelf after shelf of diaries, journals and notebooks, there it was – a notebook with an image of a buddha, my buddha, on its front cover. As I flipped through the blank, lined pages, I found various quotes such as “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few” (Suzuki). The quote from the back cover was especially exciting, “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: not going all the way and not starting” (Buddha). I was so excited that I immediately purchased it and the entire path from Siddhartha, to grad school illustrations, to tattoo, to Japan, and to Barnes and Noble seemed even more inevitable.
On my first day of return to Japan, a return that would last nearly two months and bring me to various places around my old home, I decided that I should visit Kamakura. It was time for me to make that pilgrimage and stand before the buddha, my buddha, that served as a guide to me throughout all these years. And as I type this, a great wealth of emotion stirs within my belly; thinking of the once famous Coca-Cola slogan, “I feel Coke”, I make a small change – “I feel Japan”.
Now that this story has been told, I can return to Headspin 2.0, because everywhere I look I see smiling faces, open arms, and possibilities. Not only do I feel comfortable rejoining the old conversations, my seat still warm since the last time I got up from it, but the conversation is able to still include me, and for that I am grateful. But not being a person who can stay in one place for very long, I am confused about how long I should continue the conversation. Surely I will be able to climb my tree back across the Pacific at any time, but I sense that there are other branches I must also climb, and other conversations I must enter.
At least 3 or 4 times an hour my mind volleys between ideas of returning to Japan and staying in the USA. There are indeed opportunities for me to return, and reasons why I should return, just as there are reasons to stay. I have so many friends here and can navigate with such ease that it only makes sense for me to return, but at the same time, I think of those other branches not yet climbed, those other conversations not yet started…jack of all trades, master of none…