By DON HANLON JOHNSON, professor in the Somatic Psychology program.
Don is currently in Japan to present a lecture and symposium for the Japanese Transpersonal Association meeting at Kyoto Bunkyo University. He will also visit Kyoto University to meet with faculty and present at lecture at Kansai University.
I am sitting in my inn, an ancient building in a park surrounded by temples and monasteries in the ring of hills that encloses the city. As always, I come here to this ancient seat of wisdom wondering what on earth I, of an adolescent culture, child of rough-and-tumble gold rush immigrants to Calfornia, have to offer people growing up saturated by wise practices and thoughts, gardens and trees sculpted to carry one's eyes out on into the far skies, the constant sounds of deep monastic bells, thousands of texts about what it means to sit, walk, breathe?
So I respond almost automatically by going into a deeper sense of inquiry than usual. For instance, I did a four-hour workshop yesterday at Kyoto Bunkyo University for about 50 members of the Japanese Transpersonal Association, about 30 of whom were grad students; the rest clinicians. The somewhat daunting topic I was assigned was The Body and Sprituality. Not being so foolish as to propose any sort of answers, I settled on four specific inquiries.
One was what happens to our consciousness when we settle more sensitively into the outside environment, cultivating our body' capacities for opening to sounds, colors, space, textures, light. For this particular hour, I asked people to gather in a garden in a quiet corner of the campus. Unlike the transcendental gardens of Kyoto where the placement of stones, bridges, carp, shaping of trees and course of the paths carry the visitor far beyond the distant hills out into the ozones, this one was somewhat dried out, murky ponds, somewhat feeble trees, sparse grasses, sounds of traffic. All the same, it was still a tranquil and living place on an otherwise sterile modern campus with few signs of natural growth.
It was a perfect fall day, warm but not hot, floating high clouds, light breeze, the sun soft. I asked people to spend 15 minutes in silence walking about the garden noticing what drew their attention: the breeze, sounds of the birds, reflections on the pond, the stone bridges, sounds of cicadas, feeling of the sun. And then to join together sitting on the grass and stones in silence before we spoke. Something remarkable happened, hard put in words here. We were just grabbed by the place, sitting together peacefully in utter stillness. After a very long period one young man spoke: "I touched a tree, lifted my hand when it felt dirty, then noticing my resistance, place it back again and felt so close to this tree."
Another young man told this story: "I squatted by the side of the pond watching the dragonflies. I remembered a time when I was a child and was like I was here watching flies on a pond one afternoon. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my mother. But when I tooked up at her I saw the sky was dark. I couldn't believe how much time had passed."
A few more words were exchanged and then silence. There was a feeling that we could not leave here because we didn't want to, there was no reason to. When I finally initiated our return to our group room, many people acknowledged a new level of intimacy and kindness that had emerged among us. I stayed bringing up the rear. The young man who spoke of touching the tree came up to me with tears in his eyes. "I am so sad. When I touched the tree, I realized how many are being cut down."