Thursday, August 26, 2010

from Kyoto: to contemplate

The air is considerably less soupy now. The haze has retreated, the sky is blue, with clearly defined, puffy clouds. It’s warm – but a few degrees less so than last week. The kind of warm you think about with regret, come January.

I change my routine ever so slightly. Cheesecake instead of cinnamon toast. It’s too long of a wait until the next meal. I need something more than delicate white bread in the morning.


Late afternoon. I think I have time for only one temple, one garden. I am now visiting the “lesser” temples – the ones that, for whatever reason, are off the heavily trodden path. They are, therefore, the richer destinations. You may love Notre Dame in Paris, but if you want to see a church for what it offers to its congregation beyond the architectural statement that it makes, you’re going to want to see a “lesser church.”

Today, I am headed up the hill to Sho-ren-in. Oh, with a coffee moment before that. With mango custard.




This temple has a string of delightfully open, airy buildings facing various corners of the garden.


The breeze moves between the opened screens and I think how perfect this is for contmplation. Occasionally someone may pass by and distract you, but if you are so easily diverted from your search for internal peace than perhaps you should abandon the art of contemplation. There are, after all, always distractions.


I think how perfect this all is. Back home, you could not sit outside in August for any period of time. The bugs would overwhelm you. Here, I am caressed by breezes and pampered by the fragrance of the nearby forest. The tatami mats are soft. The mood is perfect.


Except I don’t have the time.

I pause, just for a moment, and then I move on. And I tell myself – how sad.

I have traveled this far, worked this hard to be here right now and I cannot do what I would most like to do at the moment: sit down and do nothing at all for an hour, maybe two hours...


When Ed was still with me here, he would find quiet corners and urge me to sit down for a while. I would, but after two minutes I would be prodding him to continue.

Just as now, I am refusing to give in to the desire to go no further, to stay just here, until the sun sets.

It is a false choice, of course, because the temple closes in less than an hour. But the significance of not being able to pause for long, even had it remained open late into the night is not lost on me.


I walk back toward the commercial hub of Kyoto, again crossing the bridge, now showing off a brighter, more defined Kyoto. Yes, the air has shifted here. Summer steam has given way to a more delicate sizzle.



It’s early, but I want to eat supper now, while I’m here, downtown. I choose a place that’s fun and easy on the soul – Musashi Sushi.

There is a conveyor belt, behind which cooks work to prepare fresh plates of sashimi and sushi.  Each dish is one set price (138 Y) and each has a sashimi or fragment of a sushi roll. You pick what you like and you pay by the number of dishes you use.


Watch my stack grow.








Eight dishes and a beer later (which gets its own plates), I’m feeling kinder toward myself. I know that my pace when I travel is dictated in part by an unrelenting need to not miss a fragment of the story, to not get it wrong (there are so many incomplete and incorrect stories floating around!)... Even so, I have slowed down over the years. And I return to places. And so often, I do linger.

But not today. I have four days left in Kyoto and there is much work to be done for my class here and for my classes that start next week in Madison.

For now, work still defines most every day.

On the ride back, I am amused at the scene before me. My movements -- frenetic as measured by Zen standards, are positively elderly compared to the energy that is exuded by two boys, traveling with their grandfather. In Japan, gender defines so much of what you do in life. Does it start at an early age? Maybe... (Note how the girl is watching them from the side.)




And again I am treated, on the walk home, to the warm colors of a setting sun, this time casting my neighborhood mountain in almost autumnal tones. Yes, I am aware of seasons. Of where we’re heading. Of time. Perhaps contemplation doesn’t always require many hours. Maybe a fleeting walk through a place of great calm can bring great rewards. Maybe.