San-Ni-Ichi

Peak Experience3 ClombardTranspersonal experiences have blessed my life for many years. Perhaps one of the earliest and strongest occurred in 1987 while I was living in Japan. After graduating from UC Berkeley, I moved to Fukuyama, about 400 miles south of Tokyo to teach English.

Before I left, my brother gave me the name and address of Takashi (not his real name), a friend of his from business school who lived in Tokyo. Soon after settling in, I contacted Takashi and introduced myself. He replied with the suggestion that I meet him in Kyoto where he was planning a business trip. During the weekend, he would have time to accompany me through the ancient capital city.

I happily agreed to this idea. Kyoto is renown for its numerous temples and shrines. Surrounded by mountains and graced with bamboo gardens and philosopher paths, Kyoto seems to hold the essence of Japan. With a guiding hand, I hoped to touch this essence.

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The author and her guide Takeshi at Sanzen-in, Kyoto (1987)

When I left for our rendezvous, it was early February, a blustery cold month, that the Japanese calendar marked as the beginning of spring. Takeshi, a gentle-voiced Japanese with high cheek bones and a wide smile, met me at the train station. He wore a grey trench coat, standard attire for an international banker, and his jet black hair was flecked with grey, as if he had accidentally splattered himself while painting a room white.

The next morning, when I opened the frosted windows of my hotel room, I could hear the coo of morning doves mingled with the soothing trickle of a waterfall. It was a cold winter day, and we first visited the dimly lit temple halls of Sanjusangen-do where 1001 serene Kannon figures lined the wooden floors.

Later that afternoon, fat snowflakes swirled around us while we strolled through an ancient tea garden in the nearby hills. I stood spellbound in front of a plum tree that was in bloom. Swollen pink blossoms undauntedly fluttered in the snow.sanzenin

The next day, we caught a bus to Sanzen-in, a renown temple rebuilt in 860 A.D., tucked away in the mountains. Upon arriving, we found the snow piled high, the sky deep blue, and the air biting.  We entered the temple, and robed monks led us, along with other visitors, to a room with low tables. Sitting at the tables, we were given the day’s sutra written on hand-made, cream-colored paper. The monk then invited us to meditate and trace the kanji sutra.

kanji for peaceOn the same piece of paper, we also were asked to write down a personal goal.  At the end of each day, the monks collected these papers and burnt them with incense.  My mind felt cleared after tracing the sutra, as I waited for a goal to enter my heart.  Finally, I wrote “To grow wise with age,” and Takeshi drew the kanji for peace, the character depicting a stalk of rice next to a mouth—everyone satiated in all ways.

Takeshi then walked over to a shoji door. The mulberry paper meticulously covered its cross-lattice bamboo frame and seemed alive with sunlight. “San…ni…ichi.  Three…two…one.” He counted backwards and then slid the door open.

I was stunned. The garden beyond the door was unworldly in its beauty.  At that moment, I lost all consciousness of self and became one with everything, one with light. The manicured pine trees and carefully placed stones seemed captive in snow, frozen in time. Iridescent colors of green, blue and orange flickered in my mind’s eye. I felt like I had finally, breathlessly arrived in Japan.

Regaining consciousness, I found myself moved to tears. For only a split-second, I had transcended time and space and momentarily encountered a limitless universe, yet I felt I had been gone for days. A monk’s voice floated towards me in a soothing rush of monosyllables. The air tasted sweet and cold. A stream of melted waters ran beneath the snow.

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The author 30 years ago (!) at Sanzen-in, Kyoto

Takeshi offered me his arm, and we stepped into the temple’s garden. Pine trees occasionally shook piles of snow off their boughs onto our heads, as if to mock our awkward humanness.

Since that time, I have indeed aged. As for growing wise, that remains a work in progress. But one thing is certain, this brief glimpse of the invisible through the visible reverberates through my soul today.

You can also Journey to Places of the Higher Self

In our everyday lives we are often too busy, distracted, or caught in the mundane to be open to the places of the Higher Self. That is why these experiences tend to happen in foreign lands in beautiful natural settings. In this light, we would like to invite you to experience great natural beauty in the spiritual landscape of Umbria, Italy, with the hope of awaking a connection to the Higher Self.

Please join us as we Journey to Places of the Higher Self from September 17-23. During this five-day journey, you will have a chance to discover places of transcendence in the green heart of Italy – the Umbrian Apennines –home to many generations of seekers and saints of the transpersonal.

For more information, please visit Journey to Places of the Higher Self.

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