Many precious memories were created during my time in Japan, but two experiences stand out. Two transcendent moments that left me longing for more, and wondering how to create for others.
The first was at the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto. It was the day before New Years Eve, a time when people from all over Japan enjoy a long holiday and embark on their annual journeys to the shrines. In other words, it was crowded! Amidst the bustling, noisy crowds the most beautiful music came to my ears. I followed the sound waves to a stage like structure where a large crowd of people stood. On the stage were two women in traditional kimonos doing a very slow, peaceful, graceful, beautiful dance to the music. The music was created by a woman at the back of the stage playing a koto and singing.
I stood completely mesmerized, gradually working my way to the front of the crowd as people moved on. Something in the combination of the music and the dance touched something very deep within my soul. I wept for the beauty of it. No pictures or video were allowed, which is just as well. I needed to be fully immersed in the moment of this beauty. Here is a link to something similar I found on YouTube.
The second transcendent experience also took me by surprise. The next day we visited Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Temple. We arrived shortly before 4:00, just a couple of hours before our train was boarding to return to Tokyo. It was New Year’s Eve and shops were already closing up. Soon after we arrived at the temple, it appeared as if they were closing up, so I rushed to get my shoes off and enter the temple before they closed the last door. Fortunately, my traveling companions made it in as well.
I moved towards the front of the space and sat on the mats to take in the feeling and beauty of the space. I thought I would just sit for a few minutes of peaceful meditation, then move on to the next building with the others in my group as we had agreed we would not spend too much time here. But then I watched as over a dozen monks slowly entered the shrine area of the temple in front of me. They sat in a row there as a ritual unfolded before us … a ritual I didn’t understand, and didn’t feel a need to know. Two older monks, with more elaborate robes, slowly came out and sat near the shrine. After all the monks and attendants were in place, they began chanting. Beautiful, resonating chant that filled me with a deep sense of peacefulness. I sat full immersed in the moment. Again, moved to tears by the depth of the experience.
Since those experiences I feel a deep yearning for more. Where are those opportunities in the area in which I live? The closest I know of is the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Lawrenceville, Georgia. I have been to their daily darshan worship services three times, and each time I get a glimpse of what I experienced in Japan. So that’s one possibility.
I am also asking myself the question, “How can we create such transcendent moments in our UU worship services or in any worship service for that matter?” Since returning from Japan, I’ve been exploring worship in other houses of worship. So far I’ve been to an Episcopal Service of Baptism Sunday worship and a United Methodist Contemporary Worship service. These were both relatively small congregations, not unlike the UU Congregation of Gwinnett. Although the people were warm and friendly, the music was good, and the messages were inspiring, I found no space for the transcendent. That’s one element I think is necessary for transcendent moments … space.
I have experienced this in UU worship, and in other “traditional” worship services, mostly through the music. I remember a professional violinist playing her heart out with such grace, enthusiasm, and love that I felt my spirit soaring as the music embraced me. I can recall hearing someone’s personal testimony of their faith that gripped my heart and moved me to tears.
For me, transcendent moments are those precious times in which the rest of the world disappears. There is nothing else that needs to be done or said, no where to go; awareness of the rest of the world seems to slip away for a precious brief time.
These are wonderful moments, but so what? Why seek these experiences? Why seek to create these moments for others? How do they make the world a better place?
Transcendent moments, in my experience, remind us that we are inextricably interconnected, and interdependent, with all of life, all of existence. They renew my faith in humanity and our ability to generate beauty. One definition of evil is the destruction of beauty, and I see this everywhere around me. The antidote is the creation of beauty. This can be as simple as a smile, as complex as a work of art, as graceful as a ballet, or as poetic as a Japanese dance.
What moves you to a place of transcendence and beauty? How are you making the world more beautiful?