By Mari Nakano
My Achilles heel manifests itself in self-doubt and self-consciousness. It’s gotten a lot better, but I’m no master of good confidence. A few weeks ago, I got into one of those miserable funks that made me feel like I was good for nothing. It was a frustrating and confusing week, which I snapped out of upon hearing about the death of my good friend’s father. In the instant of that announcement, I realized my selfishness.
Over the course of the following two and a half weeks, I was confronted with a medley of experiences both organically joyous and lamentable. I met wonderful people who expressed love and care for me, who encouraged and inspired me to pursue my passions. I visited my family in San Francisco for a few days, introduced my fiancée to my family, had a few spiritual talks with my mother and spent time with my 95-year old grandmother. I partook in the joy of connecting with new friends and spent time strengthening ties with those I’ve known for years. I shared in the art and kindness of a Japanese tea instructor, exchanged stories about my father with an honorable Taiko sensei, heard new stories about my family, received advice about marriage and exchanged hopes, ideas and goals with my fiancé.
Most of these experiences, I thought, had nothing to do with the other, but for some reason every encounter seemed to connect with a fluidity that could not go unnoticed. My family, community, history and future were all associated, and I began to wonder if we are all being cradled by a delicate lacing of life experiences. An undeniable concentrated number of events occurred, compelling me to really evaluate the purposefulness of routine self-reflection and thankfulness. Out of this short time, I’ve been able to really see how interconnected we are to something bigger than ourselves, something that is important to the well being of our sensitive passions and ideas, and to the preservation of our communities and families.
I look at life as a compilation of ongoing and overlapping journeys. From the womb, everything we experience and know is interconnected and braided through each passing year. No one thing stands alone as a solitary experience; rather, the encounters we have, the trails upon which we walk, the choices, the chances and even the most unwanted moments are enmeshed into a map of the self. That map keeps growing with each passing day, and if we are conscious of ourselves, we can use that map to guide us towards paths that will allow ourselves to flourish.
Of course there are moments in our lives that are uncontrollable. Life isn’t simply about drawing a clear straight line from beginning to end. Many of us try to draw the straightest lines we can, but in the end, no large amount of money, popularity or higher education will necessarily make our lives more enriched—if anything, these things might give us more tunnel vision. Sure, certain superficialities might make things seem easier or more accessible, but only in relation to the norms of our society, not the norms of our inner spirit. Are we living for the approval of others and our ego, or are we living for the sake of something deeper and more meaningful, something unsung and sublime?
We are not sovereign controllers of our destinies. We are sculptors, yes, and we are molded and remolded everyday because of our experiences, but all of what we know isn’t happening as self-contained bits. We are all in a state of flux, but most likely for good reason. The moments in our lives swirl around us, happening whether we like it or not. For every minute that passes, there are also new experiences being born, ready to disperse themselves into the winds around us. To find a steady breath in all of this isn’t always easy, but we must do our best to be poised and caring. We should look at that swirling mass of experiences, and be able to identify its patterns and worth. After all, that cloud of experiences will only grow bigger in time. It won’t disappear.
One of the greatest challenges for many of us is the ability to see how each of our daily encounters can turn into growing experiences. It’s very easy to pass through a day without noticing its effect on us, and I think it’s good to try and challenge ourselves to be routinely self-reflective. What did you do today? Who did you meet? What did you say or think? What did you learn? How did you care for yourself? Where did you go? Was anything different? Was everything the same? Did you realize something new? Were you reminded of something forgotten?
Our journeys are constant. We can’t stop time and push a pause button on living. We aren’t just defined by shocking or monumental moments. Our daily steps, our routines and the smallest even seemingly insignificant choices all matter and steer the course of our arks.
Mari Nakano is a member of Higashi Honganji’s Bombu Taiko. She is a freelance graphic designer and attends Art Center College of Design. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.