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.

Author: rhinophile

I’m interested in how we live and how we die. I like to try things on and see if they work for me. I find the human experience a fascinating one. No matter how much we hear about there being evil in the world, I also know there is goodness, and many people who are dedicated to caring for everyone and everything.

22 thoughts on “On impermanence and new beginnings.

  1. Hi Ruth. Great post. I was just thinking of you and wondering how you were. Also, of Peter, and knowing that it was around about this time last year when he ‘died’. Was trying to remember the exact date. I do remember i was out in tbe garden when I got the call from Margot telling me tjat he was ‘gone’. It was a lovely spring day. So a whole year has gone by. Was thinking maybe it would be great if we could all get together soon and see each otber and have a remembrance day of sorts. Anyway…glad to hear of your thoughts and travels & I hope you keep enjoying Japan. Peter was a real ‘Japanophile’ so I think it’s perfect that you are making this pilgrimage. Love Richard

    • Thanks for your comment, Richard. Peter and I had such a great trip when we came in 2007. We had hoped to return together but life had other plans. I think it’s a great idea for our little group to catch up soon. I’ll be back in the last week of April, so maybe early May? Love from Ruth x

  2. Yes. Look forward to that.

  3. Thank you for sharing – this pilgrimage and Peter. Love his ashes box! Cant belief it’s been a year! In so many ways Peter is still here in my mind but easier as you guys are so far away. So I like the idea of Peter being part of nature and watching over you. Love you much and as always in awe of you and how much grace you have in continuing in your journey. Peter would have loved this

    • It’s lovely to read your comment, mb. It’s good know that Peter is still with you in heart and mind. I would love to spread some of his ashes in his favourite US ‘sacred places’ as well, and one of them is sure to be your home. Sending much love back to you and your menfolk xxx

  4. Wonderful post Ruth. We’d been wondering if you’d finally made it to Japan. I second the motion for a get-together. X

    • Good morning Gerard, I’m so relieved that we actually made it, after having to cancel at such short notice last year. We are half way through our trip with many more adventures in store, me thinks! It will be great to see you all in May.

  5. G’day Ruth, lovely to read this post and see you’ve reached a semblance of acceptance, so necessary for moving on, and that you’ve seemed to have done well so far. Japan again, great to see you scattering the lovely Peter’s ashes, he will look out for you I’m sure. Think of you often and sending love, Kaye xx

    • Thank you Kaye. I love the way intentional rituals really can help one move through things. It’s as if the scattering of Peter’s ashes has set something free in me. I was also pleased that the gods could report back that Peter continues to look out for us. Such a nice thought. (We didn’t actually go to Japan last year as we had to cancel when our mother became ill two days before we were due to fly out.)

  6. Hi Ruth, so nice to read an update from you on your blog and I hope you’re doing well. You popped into my head just last week and I was wondering how you were coping after Peter’s passing. Your post before this one really stuck with me, so I was hoping you were doing alright. What a lovely trip to Japan – a lovely time to see the beautiful blossoms, be reminded of impermanence and pay tribute to Peter. I visited Japan once and was absolutely amazed by the sharp contrast between the stress of the city and peacefulness of the landscape, and I was humbled by the kindness of the Japanese people. Oh, and I loved the delicious food, too. Wishing you all the best and I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.

    • Hi Lisa, thank you for your thoughtful response. I reread that last post before we went off on our pilgrimage. I’d forgotten how raw it was. As you can imagine it is hard to continue for very long in such a state so I am ‘pleased’ to have evolved to a more bearable place during the last six months. There is so much to love here, I could go on forever, and you have definitely identified some of them! We still have another two weeks in Japan, so much more to see and do!

      • I’m so glad to hear you are in a more bearable place, Ruth. That must be such a relief (relatively speaking) for you emotionally. Hope you continue to enjoy exploring Japan! I wonder if you’ll be doing a travel post in the future on your blog so the rest of us can vicariously enjoy all the different places you visit there? 🙂

  7. You made it! You’re in Japan! Hooray! It all looks very beautiful as is your post. So good to have Jann at your side as you take your next steps. xxxx

    • I know! I didn’t believe it was going to happen until we got off the plane in Narita. ☺️ Thank you for liking the post. It was good to write it down. And I couldn’t have done it without Jann.

  8. It was a pleasure and honour to share this special day with you my dear sister. You have captured the experience and sentiments beautifully. 🌸💖💚🌿

  9. Hi Ruth great reading and gazing, thanks. I never used to like the euphemism ‘pass away’ but it is used so reverently among the Anangu that i have found myself considering. Funerals are such big events here too, big parts of life, social and cultural transmission and celebration really. An old lady I worked with yesterday kept telling me she was nearly finished, finishing soon. She really wanted me to understand, but i didn’t, until I tossed and turned painfully in the swag last night, processing and worrying, like sometimes happens, and then before daylight I heard one of the rangers up and about already. Aw no . (Usually I sleep really well here though I should add.) See you Ruth x

  10. Pingback: A transformative two months in Elemental Japan | Elemental Japan

  11. Thank you for writing so clearly about this pilgrimage. I so enjoyed the story and photographs, especially as I lived in Kyoto for two years and more, 20 years ago. In early October I will return for just four days with friends who are, praise be, still alive if not exactly well. Celebrating transitory beauty of friendship, no doubt. Kia kaha, Ruth!

    • Hi Rachel, thank you for visiting, reading and commenting. I really appreciate it. I’m glad that this post connected with you. I’m sure you know that this kind of writing is challenging but so satisfying. I hope your trip to Kyoto is as special as mine.
      P.S. I really love your blog!

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