Thirteen years ago this month, I sadly left a beautiful home in Deland, FL, and a failing marriage, and moved to a small apartment in Orlando to start life anew. Thirteen years before that, I had left a happy life and career in Columbia, MO, to start a new life in Florida, teaching at Rollins College. I’m wondering about these thirteen-year segments of living. And as we approach the new moon this coming July 31, I’m anticipating what the next thirteen years hold for me. What is possible, I wonder.
On the evening of my move to downtown Orlando, July 10, 2002, I went to a yoga class. The teacher spoke of the major configurations of the sun and the moon and said we would have a new moon that night, the sign of new beginnings, of starting projects, of planting seeds. He asked us to make an intention about a new project and to dedicate our practice that night to planting that intention deep within so it could take root. I couldn’t think of a better way to begin my life in apartment 154 of Cheney Place, on Orange Avenue, in Orlando, Florida, USA, planet earth.
I woke up the following morning, in that cramped little apartment, with a sick dog, a doomed marriage behind me, and only a tiny bit of clarity about what was next for me. I was really sad. And quickly, I began the task of making the apartment mine by hanging two pieces on the wall facing my computer. One was a plaque with the Carl Jung quotation, “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.” The other, an original Japanese woodblock print by Hirosada Utagawa (1842) showing an ancient Japanese warrior, in elaborate formal attire and head dress, holding a lantern. It’s a night scene, and his lantern shoots a beam of light out over the ocean. The objects exposed by the light beam are painted in rich color–the blue waves of the ocean, the green tips of a tree, the bright orange and yellow of a part of the warrior’s robes; all the rest of the image is depicted in shades of black, white, and gray.
I bought this print when I was nineteen years old and traveling on my honeymoon in Japan. That was the summer of 1967. It was one of many beautiful art pieces we brought back from the East, and when I returned to Missouri that fall, I immediately framed it in gold bamboo and have cherished it all these years. In various houses, it has hung in my bedroom, my living room, a hallway once, and now my office. Different houses, different marriages, different circumstances, but this image abides.
I don’t know if it’s a valuable work of art. As a novice art collector, I wasn’t searching for value, just beauty. And I remember vividly my delight the minute I saw this print in a small, dusty antique store. I might have been drawn to it because it is a traditional Japanese art form, and in those days I was smitten by all things Eastern. Bonsai, Buddhism, rock gardens, sushi, and all forms of Japanese art. I especially liked the famous woodblock prints of waves and the many views of Mount Fuji. But I think my first attraction to this print was just the drama of the color shooting out of the lantern while the rest of this pictorial world hovers in stark blacks and whites and grays. The visual shock of the piece was its appeal.
But on that beautiful, sunny Florida morning in July 2002, the morning after the new moon, this piece took on a whole new meaning for me. I was, thankfully, so different from the girl I had been in 1969 when I acquired the print—my eyes seeing different patterns; my heart holding new yearnings. As I viewed the print in my new space, the color filled beam of light represented my mind, this incredible instrument I possess, so powerful and so creative and so relentless in its need for stimulation. Like the beam, my mind had shown me so much: knowledge, beauty, form, design, intricacy of unending delight.
But I recognized, too, that the beam of light reveals just a sliver of the scene. It shows only a thin slice of the whole, just as the mind does. The great wisdom traditions say our essence is far vaster than the mind can encompass. Beyond the mind is the consciousness that takes in the whole–color and no color, form and no form, pattern and chaos. Beyond the mind is the mystery of Oneness. The Witness. The Source. We move to a new place when we recognize the indivisible union of all these seeming opposites.
Today, the picture is more than a striking image; I see it now as a representation of consciousness and its manifestations, a beacon to the possibilities for being that reside within us all.
In the fourth book of the Yoga Sutra, Patañjali writes “The spiritual entity is unchanging and always knows and is master of the ever-changing mind” (IV.18). In his commentary on this sutra, Bernard Bouanchaud says, “Whatever our degree of lucidity or self-complacency, we have an eyewitness inside–nothing escapes it. We should devote our whole lives to letting it shine through. The spiritual entity is an unchangeable, permanent, eternal reference point that allows perception of change” (241).
Yes, I thought: we should devote our whole life to letting it shine through.
In that summer of 2002, I was leaving one life and stepping deeper into another life—beginning a sabbatical, writing a book, and steeping myself in the yogic tradition through a rigorous yoga teacher training program. As I sat at my computer in the following months, I pondered both the plaque and the woodblock, and knew that I was deeply sustained, that there is more to this world than the lantern’s bright beam. That print was an admonition to always consider both the seen and the unseen in my life. “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.”
This Friday, July 31, 2015, we are given another new moon, the second one this month. On that day, I officially begin another thirteen-year segment of my life (should I be so lucky). I’ll review my intentions, set new goals, re-affirm my mission as best I can understand it. But unlike earlier versions of myself, I rest much more easily in the divine paradoxes this beautiful Hirosada print evokes in me. As I approach this new moon, I am less driven by the need for conclusion, more accepting of the mysteries.
This year, the woodblock print sits on my bedroom dresser. I look at it every day. It abides with me, still.
Hirosada print courtesy of Googleimages.com