Koto Jazz 37: Zen “Inspired” Garden

Here is my first effort at creating a simple zen- “inspired” garden in a narrow side yard of our family home on the coast of Oregon. Since this is a vacation spot, it is intended to maximize simplicity in beauty without the maintenance required for most zen gardens (e.g., raking highlights around the featured rocks, watering, and pruning). More may be added later, such as a tall pogoda toward the back and a sumac to commemorate our family roots in Colorado (which grows wild in Boulder’s green belt, and light up the Flatiron’s Green and Bear Mountains with their fiery- orange and red color images in the fall.


Sumac in Fiery Red

TORII GATE:
It includes the Torii gate, where the objects of its true meaning frivolously dance and sing, “where birds dwell”. It is very common to see birds in our bird house and among tree branches in the back yard, including finches, chickadees, robins, but also hummingbirds, Stellar’s (blue) jays, and an occasional bald eagle perched on the top of one of the large fir trees. The Torii gate symbolizes the entrance to a special place of natural beauty.

As a basic requirement, this Torii gate has a kasagi, the top beam of the Torii, angled at each end. It also featured a miniature cross beam, the nuki, separate from the upper kasagi beam, but not too far below it. The hashira are the two supporting pillars which hold up the Torii. This is the simplest and most basic form of Torii gate as it lacks additional features common to most Shinto Toriis. In the middle, we intend to add a small gakuzuka support post with our Harada family crest on it. The gakuzuka will connect the kasagi and nuki at the center.

STONES:
Two large stones are featured in this zen garden, one symbolizing the crane (in the background) and the other (located in the lower front center of the above image) representing the tortoise. Though the slight bluish colors do not represent anything in zen garden traditions, they do accent the stones quite nicely. Both symbolize longevity. Various mosses are placed around the front of the two stones, including the standard sheet moss, fern mosses, and hair cap or tree moss (a bit hidden on the side as they are more sensitive to sun exposure). The gravel is basic pre-existing standard grey gravel that has been always been in our side yard to reduce yard maintenance.

Hair Cap/ Tree Moss

EARTH ELEMENTS:
The garden also includes a coral bark maple tree already beginning to change colors before the autumn season from bright yellow into fabulous orange and pinkish red colors.

Coral Bark Japanese Maple

It also includes two bamboo grass clumps on the left and a meandering white stone path from the front to the back. To the right of the stone path is a clump of naturally growing crocosmia.

Orange Crocosmia

There are a couple of wild plants which I left in this zen garden. In the background, you may see a naturally growing wild golden tansy shining resplendent yellow flowers on tall stems behind the maple tree. Also, you will find in front of the lantern, a wild broad-leafed weed with multiple stalks, which I am yet not able to identify.

Behind the Torii gate is our back yard which features a small circular nature trail highlighted by four large old growth Douglass firs. Crocosmias grow naturally throughout the back yard, which feature honeysuckle-like orange flowers at the end of tall stems (hummingbirds and bees love them!), interspersed by wild purple asters, and a range of fern varieties. There is something special about this back yard as my late father insisted this part of the yard remain in its natural state. So while this Torii is a transition from the zen garden to the wild and natural part of the yard, it is also symbolic of a spiritual transition from the physical to the spiritual worlds.

LANTERN:
I have also placed a black lantern toward the back of the garden in front of the Torii gate and to the left of the maple tree. The lantern is elevated on a small hill to make it more pronounced. It is embellished with black pebbles my mother and I picked up from the ocean shores. The pebbles have been smoothed and rounded by the hands of churning ocean waves :-).

Black Creek Pebbles

As Shinto – Buddhism are often interchangeable, I have placed this lantern to light up the pathway of this garden Shinto shrine/ zen garden, as lanterns traditionally light up the path way to a Buddhist temple.

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Koto Jazz 36: Flow State in Art & Music

Have you ever been so immersed in a creative adventure that it takes you to a different, alternative plain where your creative expression no longer feels like you, but a part of something more? Wikipedia defines the “flow state” as being “fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” It is a serendipitous, spontaneous expression of joy. It is spontaneous because one’s greatest level of creativity emerges from the collective unconscious almost without your own planning it to happen. It just flows out of you, and in many cases, it rushes out of you like a waterfall. It is serendipitous because so much of your unique and beautiful creative discovery almost happens by accident in this flow state.

The energy of the flow state is passed on or transmitted to onlookers, such as an audience, or a passive participant in the activity. I’ve attended many live performances in the creative arts, even visited many fellow word pressers, and whether it’s someone’s live performance, garden reflections, a haiku poem, ikebana flower arrangement, or garden design, I feel the person’s flow state and their creative energy in their creations. This also happens when I listen to a brilliant musical performance. The artist gives me insight into the person’s connection with their creativity, their spirituality, and their connection to the world. Perhaps, this is what Carl Jung referred to as the “oceanic self”, a part of our being that is connected with all of Life, and the energy of Life.

The artistic expression can take us to another plain or spiritual state. I get this when I listen to the “chaos jazz” music of Li Pui Ming, the eternally optimistic consonance of Peter Kater, or in a very different way, the meditation music of Shakuhachi flutist Riley Lee and ukulele composer Jake Shimabukuro. Li Pui Ming takes me into her collective unconscious of order intermingling with chaos and a genius flow state. Riley Lee and Jake Shimabukuro take me to a meditative or contemplative “flow state” much like the Buddhist/ Taoist teaching of being in a state of “action through inaction.” Athletes enter this zone as well, according to Wikipedia. The famous martial arts expert Bruce Lee for example, encouraged his students to “Be like water …Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water.”

In my own musical performing experiences, it is not uncommon that the music takes me along a ride beyond me, in a zone where the music takes over, and takes me to an alternative plain. I feel this particularly when I play two musical pieces– Hatchidori Wa Hana Kara Hana e Tobu (Hatchidori, for short; translated to mean “The Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower”), and Kozan no Kaze (“Alpine Winds” or Alpine Wind Storm). The other day, a fellow musician mentioned after one of my performances that “you are one of those performers who can take the audience to a higher plain.” He referred it as like a “black hole” into the unconsciousness that gives a glimpse into another world or realm of reality. It was powerful to hear that.

I hope I can do that every time I play. But before I can make any credible comment on that, I would say my music needs refinement, and this means I need to play on a real piano with real weighted keys and full depth with an 88- key range more than once every one or two months. Then, at that point, I may come to a place where I agree with this person. It’s much easier to reach that flow state when I’m alone in my room playing my mini- electric keyboard with no one listening.

The artist’s great challenge is to share that openly when the opportunity arises (and we are all artists at some level), and be always willing to push the envelop. Creative expression is full of emotion, and if you keep your peace in tact, share your creativity with the world, even if you don’t think you’re quite ready. So what I mean by being “ready” is not ready performance-wise, but be emotionally ready even if your performance level is not where you believe it can or should be. Look at the crazy popularity of karaoke singing worldwide– it gives people that creative outlet that is now socially acceptable, acceptable to take a stab at belching out your favorite tunes even if you don’t have that refined Whitney Houston kind of a quality voice. For me, while this website does offer some “rough” samples of my music, it’s not yet nearly refined to where it can be, but in any case, I do love the process. I love playing. 🙂 I think you’ll love it too– yes, the music too, but the process. Enjoy the ride, and don’t ever let go of your creative spark! Be the Hummingbird. 😉

Koto Jazz 35: HanaKotoba (language of flowers)

Hanakotoba literally translated means “word flower”, and is the Japanese “language of flowers”. In this practice, plants are given codes and passwords that evoke the emotion inspired by the physiological characteristics and colors of the flowers, according to Wikipedia.

There is a clear relationship between the color of flowers, the most distinctive and resplendent expression of color in the natural world, and its meaning to each individual’s and/or cultural experiences of the color. This can be deeply personal. Artists have long associated moods, feelings and emotions with certain colors. Blue for example, is associated with feeling calm and cozy, while in western culture it represents masculine competence and quality. Blues and purples can also evoke feelings of apathy. Yellow is associated with anxiety. For others, the color yellow can mean warmth, as is the case with orange and red. The color white symbolizes purity and innocence in the west, while it can represent mourning in some eastern traditions.

Though the scientific research behind it is limited, colors may impact a person’s stress level, blood pressure, metabolism, and eye stress, according to Kendra Cherry in About.com’s “Color Psychology”.

The Chinese advanced the practice of chromotherapy for healing (source: Kendra Cherry, About.com’s Color Psychology), and here are sample associations between colors and their healing properties:

  • Red was used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.
  • Yellow was thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.
  • Orange was used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.
  • Blue was believed to soothe illnesses and treat pain.
  • Indigo shades were thought to alleviate skin problems.
  • Pink expressed the light, quiet, sweeter side of love

  • Below are some of the flowers and their HanaKotoba meanings. See if the chromotherapy meanings or their cultural associations of color match up at all with the Hanakotoba meanings:

    Scientific Name– Japanese Name– Romaji– English Meaning–

    Amaryllis Belladonna
    アマリリス Amaririsu Amaryllis Shy Amarylis Flower

    Anemone Narcissifolia
    アネモネ Anemone Anemone Sincere Anenome Flower

    Aster Tataricus
    紫苑 Shion Aster tataricus Remembrance

    Azalea
    躑躅 Tsutsuji Azalea Patient/Modest Pink Azalea

    Common Bluebell
    ブルーベル Burūberu Bluebell Grateful

    Camellia Japonica
    椿 Tsubaki Camellia (Red) In Love, Perishing with grace Camellia Japonica

    Camellia Japonica Nobilissima
    椿 Tsubaki Camellia (White) Waiting

    Carnation
    カーネーション Kānēshon Carnation Fascination, Distinction, and Love

    Cherry Blossom
    桜 Sakura Cherry Blossom Kind/Gentle Cherry Blossom

    Yellow Chrysanthemum
    黄菊 Kigiku Chrysanthemum (Yellow) Imperial

    Chrysanthemums
    白菊 Shiragiku Chrysanthemum (White) Truth Chrysanthemum

    Four Leaf Clover
    (四つ葉の) クローバー (Yotsuba no) kurōbā Four-leaf clover Lucky

    Daffodil
    水仙 Suisen Daffodil Respect

    Dahlia
    天竺牡丹 Tenjikubotan Dahlia Good taste Dahlia

    Daisy
    雛菊 Hinagiku Daisy Faith

    Forget-me-not
    勿忘草 Wasurenagusa Forget-me-not True love Forget-Me-Not

    Freesia
    フリージア Furījia Freesia Childish/Immature

    Gardenia
    梔子 Kuchinashi Gardenia Secret love

    Habenaria radiata
    鷺草 Sagiso Habenaria radiata My thoughts will follow you into your dreams

    Hibiscus
    ハイビースカス Haibīsukasu Hibiscus Gentle
    Hibiscus

    Honeysuckle
    忍冬 Suikazura Honeysuckle Generous Honeysuckle

    Hydrangea
    紫陽花 Ajisai Hydrangea Pride

    Iris
    アイリス, 菖蒲 Ayame Iris Good News/Glad tidings/loyalty Japanese Purple Iris

    Lavender
    ラベンダー Rabendā Lavender Faithful

    White Lily
    白百合 Shirayuri Lily (White) Purity/Chastity

    Tiger Lily
    鬼百合 Oniyuri Tiger Lily Wealth Tiger Lily

    Morning Glory
    朝顔 Asagao Morning Glory Willful promises Morning Glory

    Narcissus
    水仙 Suisen Narcissus Self-Esteem

    Peony
    パンジー Panjī Pansy Thoughtful/Caring Orange Peony

    Red Poppy
    雛芥子 Hinageshi Poppy (Red) Fun-Loving

    Red Rose
    紅薔薇 Benibara Rose (Red) Love/In love

    White Rose
    薔薇 Bara Rose (White) Innocence/Silence/Devotion White Rose

    Koto Jazz 33: Music & Mindfulness

    Music is able to transform the human mind and spirit in similar ways as natural places of beauty. This is accomplished in part by the sound of music imitating nature by rhythmic beat and flow, its movement in and out of patterns, its simple resonation, coloration, depth of sound, and most importantly, its moments of intermittent silence.

    Perhaps, my favorite musical pieces, especially those with koto jazz tunes and themes are those that are able to most effectively bring out the melodious expressions of beauty in nature. While I try to do this in all my music, here are a few feature samples of my music where I believe I come close to accomplishing this (I will be featuring these songs when I play at Seattle’s Royal Room on September 8th):

  • Ki Kara Amei no Shizuku (Rain drops from Trees; see the above photo)
  • Hatchidori Wa Hana Kara Hana e Tobu (Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower)
  • Kuriku Iwa no Hamon (Ripples over Creek Rocks)
  • Tori No Yo Ni & Koto jazz encore (rough live recording at the Brass Tacks, Seattle)
  • Certain harmony even dissonance, can induce the same euphoric state as inspiration from the natural world. From a health science perspective, it releases chemicals in the brain but also establishes an ionic, possibly magnetic balance in the brain to build upon higher spirituality and higher levels of intuition (again, referring back to James Redfield’s “intuition” in Celestine Prophecy).

    After all, music is made by the passing of energy through strings and other instruments. These “instruments of energy” pass on their energy and nurture our spirits. They often connect us with our subconscious emotions and life experiences, or to the contrary, may help us escape from them. It can also lead our spirits to an enlightened spiritual plain. When a musical masterpiece is played in your presence, do you not feel uplifted and recognize the performer taking you to a higher spiritual plain? I think this is what Ludwig Von Beethoven meant when he said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”

    This also explains the use of sound in some sects of Buddhism, and the use of the flute in the aforementioned Zen sect (see “suizen” or blowing meditation in Koto Jazz 34: Shakuhachi Flute).

    When we connect with people enjoying the same music, we feel a heightened euphoria and spiritual connection with them, as if we’ve learned something spiritual and profound about them without the need for communication of words. So in that sense, it is a powerful form of human spiritual communication, and communication with a Higher Power.

    Koto Jazz 32: Shakuhachi (Bamboo Flute)

    The most common instrument played alongside the koto instrument is the shakuhachi (bamboo flute). The shakuhachi made its presence in Japan from China during the Edo period as a form of Zen Buddhist meditation called suizen (blowing meditation). As described by Wikipedia, the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhist monks is known as komusō, or priests of “nothingness” or “emptiness”. The shakuhachi is most commonly made of bamboo, its original form. The term itself is an ancient unit of measurement. The instrument is extremely versatile and seemingly limitless in range. But the most distinctive part of the shakuhachi sound is its depth and richness of tone.

    Here is a basic introduction of the bamboo flute, or shakuhachi, and koto music played in harmony together. The following are some I have in my collection:

  • Japanese Traditional Shakuhachi Music, by Satomi Saeki and Alvcin Takegawa Ramos
  • Shakuhachi Flute Meditations, by Riley Lee
  • Sakura-Japanese Melodies for Flute and Harp, by Lily Laskine and Jean-Pierre Rampal
  • The Japanese Bamboo Flute and Koto, by Yamato Ensemble
  • Variatons on Haru No Umi, by Kenji (note how this variation admittedly does not capture the full range and coloration of the shakuhachi as it is converted onto the piano)
  • Koto Jazz 31: Ikebana (Art of Flower Arrangement)

    I like the straight translation of the word ikebana. This includes the merging of the word ikeru, meaning to “keep alive”, with hana, meaning “flower”. The art of flower arranging certainly keeps alive and often brings to life the full range of beauty in color and structure combinations.

    Some sources emphasize the spiritual aspects of ikebana, providing silent reflection on the beauty of color combinations, and emphasis on shape and lines of the non-floral part of the plant such as branches, leaves and stems. The non-floral pieces often bring shape and form to the flower arrangement, and serve as the back drop of the intended image, while the flower is featured in the foreground.

    Silence is important for our ability to be inspired to connect more deeply with the natural forms before us when doing ikebana. We honor the uniqueness of each plant or flower and the flowing lines of stems and branches for back drops. Ikebana can help us appreciate and tolerate our differences, not only in nature, but in general.

    Its origins again date back to China – to a 6th Century Japanese Buddhist missionary who visited China three times and brought the art form to Japan. His name was “Ono no Imoko” and became the grounds keeper, then abbot for Rokkaku-do, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. He lived in a small house known as the ike-no-bo or the “hut by the pond”, which is the original school of Ikebana.

    Ikebana has become part of various Buddhist ceremonies such as offerings to the spirits of those who have passed away, but also paying honor to the Buddha. While spiritual in its origins, the Japanese today use it to show cultural refinement and for marriage potential.

    Hiroshima Memorial- Goodnight Aunt Shigeko

    It’s nearing August 7, and what more relevant and appropriate topic is there than the Hiroshima memorial ceremonies that happened across Japan, the U.S., and the world today? My apologies in advance for the dark nature and reality of the subject matter.

    Here is a poem I wrote when I was a teenager, then revised as a young adult, accompanied by a stunning visual from the Hiroshima Memorial in Japan (see above), a photo I took during my visit there with family in 2005. This is also a personal memorial as my own Aunt Shigeko’s life was taken from the long term affects of radiation and died before I had a chance to get to know her (mom of course, knew her so much better than I):

    Goodbye Hiroshima; Goodnight Aunt Shigeko

    The solitary ding of a wind chime’s bell resonates

    By the pull of an incessant morning breeze.

    The artificial wind slips through room walls,

    Through arms and bodies; passes from and through blinded eyes instantaneously.

    It whistles a note a few octaves higher, much higher

    Than the Liberty Bell that resounds over wheat fields

    Along waves across the Pacific

    And into pulsating Blood lines of an isolated island nation this August 7 evening.

    The Cloud spreads wide, and true air dissipates,

    sucked into a black- hole- like vortex of toxic power and energy.

    Bodies dissolve in a flash of blinding light and

    Caste indelible shadows on memorial walls.

    As the sun evanesces, the breeze feeds a blaze

    that glows much greater than the largest sunspot

    on the Rising Sun, seething over ancient rice fields

    to the pounding beat of taiko drums from distant hills

    onto hands raised high to ease the sun’s radiance.

    She bows low to touch the parched earth

    Amid the swirling ashes of friend and foe which

    Rise and glitter in a surreal anti- Amakudari.

    Goodnight Shigeko- obasan.

    Koto Jazz 29: Health Science & Shinto Spirituality

    For decades, nearly all credible sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), continue to place Japan as the #1 healthiest country in the world, consistently recording the world’s highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates, among many other statistical categories. Scientists and health experts have asserted this is due to their diet — consumption of omega- 3 seafoods and seaweed. Perhaps, this is part of the picture. In Koto Jazz 24- Waterfalls and Koto Jazz 28- Beyond Prophecy, I explored the spirituality of waterfalls and the connection of spirituality to nature and energy, a crude attempt to describe the relationship between science and spirituality. This journey continues here.

    I would suggest that the top contributor to Japan’s world health status is more due to its healthy Shinto spirituality (despite their ongoing depletion of natural beauty in their own country in the interest of development), and the sheer luck of their geography (abundance of waterfalls, oceans, and mountainous country that cannot be developed). Spiritually, scientifically, Japan is a Shinto- spirit filled country that takes seriously the “inter-connectedness” of our body– our body’s spiritual and physiological health– with the Natural world. It is also a country with a highly developed infusion of “Eastern medicine”; a medical community and insurance industry that supports Eastern medicine.

    I have explored the health benefits of how electric ions we may receive in the presence of ocean waves, waterfalls, or old growth forests supports our pH balance. If we have a low concentration of electrons in our bloodstream, medically referred to as Acidosis (high acidic pH) (see Acidosis on Wikipedia), being present in these natural environments may increase negative electric ions in our body. An abundance of these negative ions can improve the body’s immune system. In addition to waterfalls and old growth forests (which we have successfully depleted worldwide), alkaline foods such as vegetables and some fruits can contribute to our body’s pH balance, according to Oriental Detox (see link below). Metabolism, the process which provides nutrients to our body and cells, is reinforced by negative ions, while positive ions in our bloodstream weaken our cell’s metabolism and immune system, according to Oriental Detox. High acidity, positive electric ions in the body not only harms our immune system, our body’s ability to protect ourselves from illness, but it also substantially accelerates the aging process.

    To circle back to the Shinto worshipful reverence to Nature, it is only in our own personal, individual best interest to heed the call of our own inner, natural attraction to waterfalls, oceans waves, and old growth forests to replenish our bodies with the spiritual, physiological food we need to sustain our lives. Unlike the western approach to being “saved”, we can actually take action in our day to day decision making and choose to care for “the Temple of the Spirit” by giving it the spiritual, physiological food our bodies need.

    In a following blog entry, I will propose how the presence of audio music and sounds can provide similar spiritual/ therapeutic/ scientific and physiological health benefits in our lives.