I am grateful to my Sensei Masasihi Nakamura for these adventures in Japanese philosophy and nature! Part of my new Sensei and Sydney section of my blog!
Birthday at Kyoto Gyoen
by Sydney Solis
Unexpectedly I went to Munakata Shrine within Kyoto Gyoen National Garden. It venerates San’nyoshin, three female sea deities mainly responsible for birth and culture. It also houses a 600-year-old camphor tree, the oldest in the garden.
While waiting for my sensei, I purified myself with cool water at the chōzuya, prayed at the honden, then quietly pondered hands that tied omikuji fortunes to branches covered in pink sakura buds just beginning to bloom.
I wanted a shuin, temple stamp, and when Nakamura-san arrived, he said he knew the priest, so rang the office bell. The priest was away in Tokyo, but a woman priest gave me a prepared shuin, then opened the gate, granting special access within to view the tree.
The instant I laid eyes on Goshinboku I felt its presence. A powerful energy distinctly that of “mother.” Dressed with shimenawa rope and white, paper shide marking the kami dwelling within, its massive base and protruding roots gave me a solid sense of grounding. From there the trunk’s low fork thrust three massive branches toward the sky.
I approached, bowed, then laid my hands upon the thick bark. Suddenly my heart recalled — I didn’t have a happy mother nor childhood. Not a mother whose arms nurtured and held, but one whose words cut and scarred. Yet this tree sent me motherly love. I felt — in my pelvis, legs, feet, whole body and heart — love and safety as if in the lap of a mother.
I thanked the tree, and when I told the priest what I felt, she mentioned that today was her daughter’s first birthday. “Congratulations!” we said. “It’s also your first birthday — as a mother,” I added.
Nakamura-san had brought strawberries for hanami, and we all enjoyed their sweetness. Somehow, I felt it was my birthday too.