a change in time

musings on behavioural change – the small stuff and the big stuff.


On impermanence and new beginnings.

Six months have passed since my last post, which lands us at one year since Peter died. I so want to use every euphemism other than ‘Peter died’. Passed away, passed on, left us, left his body. ‘Died’ is so final. Fortunately I am currently in Japan, traveling with my sister, Jann, and there are many other interpretations on offer here regarding what happens to our loved ones when they die. Besides, it’s cherry blossom time!

This was the first blossom we saw up close, in Kanazawa, walking the back streets, a few days into our trip.

Everybody knows how much the Japanese love their cherry blossoms. I like the fact that they appreciate the blossoms because they flower for such a short period of time, around a week, reminding them of the impermanent nature of all things living. They even have a phrase for it. “It is a notion called mono no aware or ‘bittersweet awareness of the impermanence of things’ (From Cherry blossom season in Japan: the love of the ephemeral well worth a read if you like cherry blossoms and Japan.)

This trip has been ‘mono no aware’ in so many ways. Jann has been the perfect person to travel with. I’ve been like a puppy, dogging her heels, as she guides me from one amazing place to the next. And every place we go, we declare, “Peter would love this place!” He really did love Japan and all thing Japanese. (Maybe not all, but most.)

Shinto shrines for example. This one was a stone’s throw away from our hotel in Kanazawa. A shrine to Inari Okami, the kami of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry. Very cool.

Today we made a pilgrimage to Kifune Shrine and to Mount Kurama, north of Kyoto.

I had bundled up a package of Peter’s ashes for the journey, doing my best to make it as symbolically relevant as possible. I hope you like my efforts. Some orange fabric, clogs, a heart, and traveling in a wooden box. (The cute soft toys are along for the ride. Travel Suki on the left has been traveling with Jann for many years, Wabi Sabi Suki is traveling with me for the for the first time. It’s the year of the dog, and Peter was born in this year. He’d probably hate the Suki lookalikes but he wouldn’t tell me to my face!)

The walk from the Shinto shrines to the Buddhist temples, across the mountain, took us five hours. The Shinto shrines are spread out over three sacred areas, so I decided to spread some ashes at each spot. It was both gut wrenchingly sad and unexpectedly elating. I told Jann that part of my intention in doing the pilgrimage was to change my perspective from ‘he should never had died’, to a more accepting relationship to the impermanent nature of life. Which brings us back to the cherry blossoms.

Jann took this sneaky shot of me spreading some of Peter’s ashes amongst the roots of this tree. Someone else had a similar idea so it is clearly a good place for shrines.

While the Japanese appreciate impermanence more so than most of us in the west, they also love the way that the blossoms acknowledge new beginnings. “For people living in Japan, the sight of cherry blossoms invariably brings up memories of starting a new school, a new job, moving into a new apartment.” (From the same article mentioned above.)

When Jann was in Japan last year she had a chance to ask the gods how her friend Anka, who had also recently passed away, and Peter were going in the spirit world. This is what they said, “All human beings die and their bodies will return to the earth. It can be said that people are just parts of the earth. In that sense, human beings and all other living things are equal. It means that all living things are sure to die. In that sense human and nature are not separate things… a deceased person protects and helps his descendants and relatives. I think this is not a general way of thinking in the West.” You’re right about that, God.

So now you know, Peter is looking over us, protecting and helping us. It was such a special day. I love to think of Peter’s spirit flying around the mountain and keeping an eye on us at the same time.

The happy wanderers. Ashes scattered, after three trains, a bus ride and a long walk up and down a mountain. I’ve asked Jann to do the same for me when my time comes.