A Day in old Japan
Here in the Anderson Gardens, in the middle of run-down central Rockford Illinois, we seem to have time-and-space traveled into a completely different culture. We’re back in the Shinto origins of Japan, to those times when Nature was worshiped. Centuries must have passed for the Japanese people to become aware of the details that make this garden a temple. Giant rocks are placed everywhere, but not haphazardly. Many are cut flat or chiseled slightly to keep their large power in balance with the plants around them. Trees are both pruned and nurtured. The ordinary yews are thriving. Each tree, bush, rock stands out in its beauty and at the same time blends in, fits with the larger picture. Here each individuality contributes to the beauty of the whole. For a moment my mind searches for identification tags on trees and plants, but there are none. The mind becomes quiet here, the body aware.
Beside the pond, a viewing platform with covered wooden benches serves the visitor to experience other landscapes: the small island with its short bridge, the stone pagoda, the dwarf tree that drapes over the tiny island. The only movement is of the golden, flecked koi swimming quietly here and there at their leisurely pace, flowing from their own impulses unknown to us. At times one only sees the ripples and traces of their movements. The summer insects sing in the background, not asking our attention but offering their steady vibration to calm the visitor. We are invited to be not to look at.
At a different place by the water, a bench looks two ways: a stream flows swiftly past us down around a fairly steep hill, while a pagoda serenely watches from above among the trees. Here I experience both the sound and smell of fresh flowing water, though I have to tell myself to smell. Strange: I generally breathe without smelling.
Now: the wind must have changed; I’m aware of a new smell. The scent of pine has turned to something richer, like “pond.” Turtles stretch out on rocks in the warm sun, reminding us to feel our skin and the sun’s warmth, to stop all movement and enjoy our own being. But this relaxing moment is interrupted by the screech of a tire, bringing awareness of how fragile is this time travel to old Japan.
In the Tea Room, a small, open-sided building, the floor is covered with bamboo mats. A few utensils and one very small reed arrangement sit waiting on the floor by a slender scroll. We are surrounded by the sound of water moving down the creek, around the shaded house. Without words, the room tells us to “Purify before entering.” Purity, respect, honor, are the feelings this place offers. What does purity mean? That the water of the nearby large waterfall could wash away all negativity. Let every complaint be transformed. Let every wound blossom into a flower or fruit. Here only the Present Moment remains. Ego not hurt by anything has openness to receive Now. Here all is only beauty and peace, wholeness and presence. When all harsh judgments are taken away, our natural state is happiness.
In the Guest House, there is almost nothing. Like the Tea Room, the floor is covered with mats. A low table and six legless, cushioned chairs wait for some peaceful gathering. This setting brings the full attention of those present to each other and the current moment, yet surrounds them with open connection to Nature outdoors. The sliding brown paper walls have no design. I think of my walls at home, cluttered with inspiration and various displays of disparate beauty. What is “inspiration” except leaning toward the future, trying to be more than one truly is now? What are many displays of beauty placed side by side with which we fill our walls, not allowing the full experience of anything? Inspiration and Manyness do not bring us into being present in the moment, or with each other, or calm with ourselves.
At the Main Gate where we arrive at the end of our stroll, stands a life-size statue of a simple wise person, wearing a long robe and squat hat, hands folded and a sweet smile on his face. The little man seems to say in his human way that happiness is our basic nature and that the truly wise person ishappy. Joy unfolds like a sprout from within, always growing there in the depths and floating up to sight when the impediments are removed and all negativity is transformed into fruit and flower. One feels one’s being in these grounds. Visiting briefly in old Japan gifts my spirit with contentment.