The Year of Living Spiritually

The Year of Living Biblically

I first learned about A. J. Jacobs at this year’s World Domination Summit in Portland back in July. I knew his name, but apparently I was living under a rock, and wasn’t familiar with his bestselling book, The Year of Living Biblically. He talked about the book, and also about his upcoming project, “Global Family Reunion”. I enjoyed his talk very much, so one day, back in Victoria, I picked up a copy of this “Biblically” book.

I call myself the world’s slowest reader. It’s because English is my second language. Also, I’m sure this is the case for many people, but I don’t have whole a lot of time I can dedicate to reading. My reading time is usually at bedtime, so it’s not unusual for me to take a month to finish one book. Japanese book? Takes 1–3 days tops. Sad, I know.
Since it takes me so long to finish one book, my “kick” lasts equally that long. You’ll see me talk about a single book/topic for a month. And then I’d move onto my next book/topic. This time, I felt sheepish talking about it sometimes, because this is a relatively an old book (2006). Still, I enjoyed it very much.

I grew up in a pretty secular environment. I grew up in Japan, until I moved to Canada when I was 23.
My parents weren’t overly religious, but classification wise, my household was in Jodo-Shinshu, a sect of Buddhism. Japan being mostly multi-religious country (We go to Shinto Shrine for the New Year, eat Christmas Cake for Christmas, and have funerals in a Buddhist temple), I grew up not having a lot of religious experiences, except for funerals and new years. (Christmas part is not religious at all. We just do the Santa, cake and presents. Only the real Christians would go to a mass-which I have never been.)

However, the last few years I grew rather “spiritual” — As we grow older, we encounter more sufferings, and I think it’s natural to want something to lean on. Some people turn to religion, counselling, or in worse cases, drugs and alcohol. The last few years have been really tough for me, and combined with my father’s passing, I felt I needed something bigger than myself for guidance.

Have you seen Dr. Brené Brown’s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability”? It’s heartfelt, funny and poignant and it is one of my favourite TED Talks. In the video, she talks about Breakdown” AKA “Spiritual Awakening”. I think that is what I am going through. Things happen, and you don’t know who you are anymore. You feel lost.

I started praying first thing in a morning every day, and it has become my ritual for well over a year now. I do use my Juzu praying beads my mother gave me, but I’m not necessarily praying to Buddha. I pray to my dad, my ancestors, and the Universe.

Ever since I started praying, my stress level was reduced significantly. I still have troubles and big stresses, but I have come to realize that nothing is unsolvable. Sometimes the problem solves itself. Sometimes it gets resolved in a way I’m not 100% happy about, but I understand I cannot win every time.

I picked up A. J.’s book out of pure curiosity. I really don’t know anything about the bible. My husband is the “Olive Garden” Jewish, as A. J. puts it — he is not practicing Judaism, but some rituals he grew up with are very much a big part of him, like washing his hands before meals (Well that’s just a good hygiene, you might say.)

A. J.’s project in this book was to follow the bible’s teachings as literally as possible. He follows Old Testament first, and then the New Testament. He tries not to lie, steal, or commit adultery. He even stoned an adulterer and grew his beard (no shaving allowed). Some parts were literally laugh-out-loud funny. Some parts were quite poignant.
I learned a lot about the bible thanks to this book. My husband seems happy that I was interested in his religion too.

I don’t think I will ever convert to Christian or Jewish, but I appreciate their beliefs and culture. But what I really got out of from this book, is to be more compassionate, and to be aware of my own spirituality.

I enjoyed A. J.’s writings. As I mentioned above, it’s not always easy for me to read English books. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to turn the page. Some books are written beautifully, but somehow I cannot get into it, and it’s just a torture. A. J.’s book was one of the two books I’ve ever read that was so easy to read through, and I don’t mean it in a way that it was dumbed down. I think it was because he and I were on the same wavelength, at least in this book. I could relate, understand where he was coming from, and I was laughing, crying and reading through the whole book with ease. (In case you are curious, the other author I felt very much in sync was Pamela Slim). This is such a wonderful feeling.

I also resonated deeply with his view of God. This part resonated with me;

“I spend a lot of time marvelling. I haven’t stared at a forklift yet, but I’ll marvel at the way rain serpentines down a car window. Or I’ll marvel at the way my reflection is distorted in a bowl. I feel like I just took my first bong hit. I feel like Wes Bentley rhapsodizing about that dancing plastic bag in American Beauty.

I’ve noticed that I sometimes walk around with a lighter step, almost an ice-skating-like glide, because the ground feels hallowed. All of the ground, even the ground outside the pizzeria near my apartment building.

All well and good, right? The only thing is, this is not the God of the Israelites. This is not the God of the Hebew Scriptures. That God is an interactive God. He rewards people and punishes them. He argues with them, negotiates with them, forgives them, occasionally smites them. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures has human emotions-love and anger.

My God doesn’t. My God is impersonal. My God is the God of Spinoza. Or the God of Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian who believed that God was “the ground of being.” Or the God of the Jedi knights. It’s a powerful but vague all-pervasive force; some slightly more sophisticated version of pantheism. I don’t even know if my God can be said to have a grand plan, much less mood swings. Can I keep edging toward the true biblical God? I’m not sure.”

My God is similar to his God. My God is mother nature and the Universe. I know that sound very airy-fairy; but to me, that’s the most natural concept of God, IF I ever believe in God. This is actually what Shinto is, so I guess my religion is Shinto. But I’m not sure.

When I visited Okinawa, we learned that people in Okinawa generally worship the nature. There are places called Utaki, which was translated as “Sacred Places” throughout Okinawa, and we visited one of them. It was a beautiful place in the small forest. There was a path that eventually leads to a viewpoint to the ocean. I’m usually pretty oblivious to supernatural stuff and I don’t “feel” anything, but at the Sefa Utaki, I could believe that once was a very special place. And this nature-worship idea suit me. I often look out the window and see the way the sunlight is shining, tree branches swinging in the wind, flowers in bloom. When I walk outside I notice the clouds, birds and again the way sunlight casts shadows onto the sidewalk. When I go to the beach I’m awestruck with the way waves crush with splash. And it often brings me almost to tears, because it’s all so beautiful. That is my God. Every time this happens, I give thanks to the Universe for its beauty.

Another point I found very interesting in A. J.’s book was ‘Not to look at the bible as a self-help book.” I think we all do this- praying for God when you need something. If I call myself religious, apparently I can’t do that. Because religion is about serving God. I don’t know if I want to call myself religious, but if I did, I have a long way to go. I try to give thanks, be grateful and pray for people in need as much as possible, but I still pray, asking for help, guidance and/or solution. I guess I’m not “enlightened” enough yet.

Also, in the book, A. J. goes to see his “guru” uncle Gil in Israel. He is supposed to be this charismatic spiritual leader his aunt was once married to. I honestly wasn’t too impressed with him. He just sounded bossy and angry. But one thing he said stuck with me: “Whenever you’re sad, things aren’t working out for you look around, see if there’s someone else in trouble, go and help them. And I promise you, I promise you, I promise you, your problems will be solved.” I know we’re not supposed to look for solutions in religion and God, but I think this is a sage wisdom, and from my short time on this planet, I know this to be true as well.

A.J. wonders if the bible made him a better person. According to C.S. Lewis, pretending to be a better person is better than nothing. I think, trying to live “biblically” or “spiritually” is all about trying to be a better person. I fail almost daily, but at least, I’m trying. I had started my year of living spiritually without me even knowing it. I’m grateful that I came across this book, and the opportunity it gave me to ponder all these.

Hoshinoya Taketomi – Stay as if you are living there (Okinawa Part 6)

(This is my last post for #ANAOkinawa tour. You can see all the previous posts here.)

In Taketomi island, we stayed at this amazing resort called Hoshinoya Taketomi-jima.

Hoshinoya Entrance

Upon check-in, we were welcomed with lovely tea and sweets.

Hoshinoya tea

As soon as you arrive, you’ll notice the pace here is a lot slower, and relaxed.

Cali and Neal upon check-in

Hoshinoya is one of the 6 types of resorts Hoshino Resort, well known high end resort chain produces.

Hoshinoya villas

As I mentioned in the last post, there are strict rules on building anything new in Taketomi island. All 48 villas and other buildings in Hoshinoya Taketomi is built in traditional Taketomi style, with limestone fences, Hinpun, and red tiled roof. The resort blends in with the rest of the island.

Each one of us got our own villa to stay. See my excited reaction when I entered my villa.

I loved the fact that I was given an actual key, unlike a card you get at most hotels these days. The villa is equipped with a pair of flip flops, an umbrella for sudden rain showers, and a flashlight for your evening stroll. There are small towels in a basket by sliding door entrances so you can clean your feet. They even provide cute little carry bags for your keys, cell phone etc when you go for a walk. The attention to details is everywhere. 

The decor of the room and entire resort is simple, yet breathtakingly beautiful. It was pretty hot and humid when we were there (27c/80F), but the way each villa is built allows plenty of breeze to come through the room.

Hoshinoya tub

Resort staff move gracefully and although their customer service is top notch, they never seem to be rushed. Time seems to pass slower in this village.

Hoshinoya PoolThere is a beautiful pool in the center of the property. The bottom of the pool is painted in dark color because this is modeled after a well in a village.

Hoshinoya Pool 2View of the pool from the lounge at sunrise.

Hoshinoya PathStreets in Taketomi islands are covered with white coral sands. This is so that it reflects moonlight in the evening, when poisonous Habu snakes come out. It makes it easy for us to spot them. I was told that most people in Taketomi go outside after late afternoon in summertime in order to avoid blazing sun.

Hoshinoya Juice bar

We enjoyed wonderful local Okinawan cuisine while at Hoshinoya. Every morning they served different fresh juices. My favourite was Watermelon and Hot pepper juice.

Hoshinoya Lounge

I loved this lounge/bar/library/gift shop with the view of the pool. Here’s me having Okinawa’s own Orion beer.

Yukari at Hoshinoya Lounge

You can rent a bike and explore the island, or take a short bus tour to see the sunset. Taketomi island is such a gem – as Hoshinoya brochure states, the island itself is a museum.

I saw several families at Hoshinoya. Although it is a very sophisticated resort, I like that staff were very friendly with everyone including children. I would love to go back there with my family next time. I cannot recommend Hoshinoya Taketomi highly enough. I urge you to stay there.

Thank you, All Nippon Airways, Okinawa Tourism and Convention Bureau, and of course, Hoshinoya Taketomi for the amazing trip. I will be back for sure.

Land of mythology (Okinawa Part 5)

gajumaru

(This is part of my #ANAOkinawa travel log; you can read all the previous posts here.)

I fell in love with Okinawan culture. I’m not a religious person, but Okinawa’s ancestor and nature worship struck a chord with me. As a Japanese, I was taught to always respect my elders and ancestors. And who can disrespect nature? Gajumaru(Banyan), Deigo, Mangroves. Gorgeous blue ocean. It seems like such a simple idea, but when you are in Okinawa and surrounded by magnificent nature, you cannot help but feel awestruck.

Shisa statue

There are lots of mythology in Okinawan daily life. You’ll see Shisa dogs everywhere. They are to ward off evil spirits. Sounds like there are opposing stories (just like in any other mythology), but I was told the one with open mouth is male and it’s warding off evil spirits, and closed mouth one is female, who is catching good luck and not letting go.  In fact I bought a pair of mini Shisas for myself.

Shisa on the roof

Most houses have a Shisa on the roof.

Hinpun

Also I was fascinated with Hinpun entrance wall. Traditional Okinawan houses will have limestone fences around the house. And they always have another small wall in the center entrance. This wall is called Hinpun, and I saw this architectural detail in modern looking houses (e.g. concrete fence) too. Hinpun’s roles are twofold. 1) For privacy. 2) Again, to ward off evil spirits.  It’s believed that evil spirits travel in straight lines and cannot turn corners, so there are many of these “T-junctions” to stop them from entering into your house.

When you enter a residence with Hinpun, you should always take the left side path. Right side path is reserved for Good luck, or “God”. Fascinating.

We’ve also seen several sacred sites. There are many “Utaki”-sacred sites- in Okinawa. We went to see one of the biggest Utaki in Okinawa, Sefa Utaki, which is a UNESCO World Heritage SIte.  Although I cannot show you the photos as I don’t have the permission, it was magnificent.. There are picturesque and mysterious rock formations in a sub tropical forrest. (You can see a photo in this Wikipedia entry)

Obviously, hundreds of years ago someone felt a strong inspiration and deemed the place as a sacred site. I cannot help but wonder what sort of sacred rituals were performed at the very place, some 500 years ago.

Read the next post: Hoshinoya Taketomi – Stay as if you are living there (Okinawa Part 6)

Or jump to the list of all the Okinawa posts: #ANAOkinawa Travel Log

Taketomi Island – A gem that takes you back in time (Okinawa Part 4)

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(This is part of my #ANAOkinawa travel log; you can read all the previous posts here.)

After few days in Okinawa main island, we flew to Ishigaki island(with a brand new airport!), and then took a 10 minute ferry ride to Taketomi Island.

Cali Rides a Boat (Photo Credit: John. P.)

Taketomi is a small island of 6 kmwith population around 350. Taketomi was designated as a National Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings in 1987. Residents of Taketomi are committed to preserving the lifestyles and culture that is unique to the island. There are strict regulations on building new buildings, so you cannot just move or buy a property there.

House on Taketomi Island

Once we arrived, we were taken to the resort by bus. I saw some water buffalos grazing! Our guide said they were the water buffalos that pull tourists carts in the village during the day. After work, they are free to loam around.

Water Buffalo

The next day we got to go on a village tour on the water buffalo cart.

Water Buffalo Cart Station in Taketomi Island

Our buffalo’s name was “Nacchan” – she is around 36 in human age. We had an amazing guide leading the tour for us. He said water buffalos are smart animals and after once or twice, they learn how to get around the village with appropriate stops. These cart tours are one of the main tourists attractions on Taketomi island, and with narrow streets, water buffalos have right of way! If you come across one of these carts, you will have to turn around or wait for it to pass.

Water Buffalo cart

Here’s a quick clip of this guide singing traditional Taketomi song with his own Sanshin lute! (Everybody’s looking up because the song lyrics are on the ceiling)

Here’s me with Nacchan. See a hibiscus on one of her horns? Adorable!

Nacchan and me

After the tour we got to walk around the village. All the houses were surrounded by amazing limestone walls. The walls are hand stacked. There are tropical flowers everywhere. You do not see convenience stores or shopping malls. There are no building taller than two stories. You feel like as if you have traveled back in time some 30 years or so. It’s beautiful.

Taketomi street

Fellow ambassador, Neal and I climbed up to the village’s lookout. It wasn’t very high, but you could see the whole village from there. It was windy and shaky as it was shot on my iPhone, bur have a look;

Neal and I also enjoyed some snorkelling the next day too. It was my first time snorkelling, and the underwater world was a-mazing! We saw some beautiful coral reefs, and a sea snake too.

taketomi ocean

BellSpecial Thanks to Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau for their amazing hospitality. The Okinawa travel log continues.

Read the next post: Land of mythology (Okinawa Part 5)

Or jump to the list of all the Okinawa posts: #ANAOkinawa Travel Log