The Language of Flowers within the Time of COVID:  Discovering Solace in Zen, Nature and Ikebana 

By Joan D. Stamm /

Fifteen years in the past, compelled to flee the irritating city atmosphere the place I had lived and labored for over thirty years, I moved to 6 and a half acres on a mountain, on an island within the Salish Sea—4 ½ hours from the closest metropolis, and an hour by ferry from the mainland.  In winter, as a result of excessive elevation and steep windy highway, I used to be typically snowed in for over every week.  In some methods the isolation wasn’t so totally different from the place I grew up: a distant nook of the prairie in North Dakota, additionally remoted from neighbors, with a fair harsher local weather.  My mother and father have been struggling wheat farmers and we lived with out indoor plumbing till I used to be eight years previous.  In fact I had extra facilities in my place on the mountain, and for 15 years I labored arduous to develop vegetation for ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) and to show this artwork kind to island college students. This love for all issues Japanese was born once I lived in Japan.  Throughout that two years within the early ‘90s I taught English dialog, edited Shinto texts and visited as many Buddhist temples as I might slot in on any given weekend.  These two years gave beginning to my curiosity in Zen, nature and ikebana, a triad that will come collectively thirty years later in The Language of Flowers within the Time of COVID.

I traveled to Japan many occasions since these first years being a resident, typically to proceed my observe of ikebana at my faculty’s headquarters in Kyoto. I didn’t prefer to journey simply to be a vacationer, so I used to be all the time arising with new and purposeful causes to return to Japan.

When the pandemic hit, I had deliberate to spend the month of April in Kyoto and Nara researching a flower temple pilgrimage route. These journey plans had been within the works for years, all stemming from an article I’d learn in {a magazine} in regards to the “25 Flower Temples of the Kansai,” a route put in place by varied abbots of Buddhist temples who had been experiencing low attendance.  Their thought was to entice folks to the temples with stunning flowers, referred to of their literature as “little Buddhas.”  As a training Buddhist and an ikebana instructor the Flower Temple Pilgrimage couldn’t have been extra good.  I had already skilled one of many Flower Temples—the Cosmos Temple or Hannyaji—on a earlier journey in the course of the month of October. Nestled in a quaint little neighborhood temple in Nara, Hannyaji was crammed with each doable coloration of cosmos.  Finally I wished to go to Japan to expertise the 4 seasons and soak up all of the Flower Temples.  My first endeavor, scheduled for April 2020, would come with cherry blossoms, azalea, wisteria, peonies and kerria. All of the reservations had been made, the airplane ticket purchased, and the journey garments bought, however the virus had the final phrase. 

After we went into lockdown, I turned to my very own backyard reasonably than temple gardens to have interaction thoughts, physique and spirit.  Writing The Language of Flowers within the Time of Covid was a life saver—from boredom, isolation, outrage over American politics, and concern over local weather change.  Taking a look at flowers, doing ikebana, tuning into seasonal adjustments and finally writing The Language of Flowers have been my inventive coping mechanisms in our worldwide crises.  In fact, I needed to cease instructing for security causes, nevertheless it didn’t cease me from creating my very own preparations and photographing them to share on Fb or different venues.

The story for me in the course of the pandemic grew to become one among discovering solace and luxury in nature and ikebana.  It was additionally a time to focus extra intensely on my Zen observe and keep related with my instructor and sangha by way of Zoom.  I finished procrastinating about taking Buddhist precepts, and through 2020 I began stitching my symbolic gown, or rakusu in preparation for my Principle ceremony.  A yr later I acquired the Buddhist identify Kanka Kyoshin, which roughly means, Beneficiant Flower, Harmonious Religion.

Though I didn’t fulfill my want of visiting the Flower Temples within the Kansai, the primary yr of the pandemic was fruitful nonetheless, even regardless of all of the calamities of political upheaval, pure disasters, and racial protests bombarding the information channels.  On my mountain high I felt eliminated however not detached.  I noticed that nature would have the final say.  It could survive and thrive whether or not we as a species did or not.  I noticed that so long as we’re nonetheless right here, the best comfort lies within the magnificence and bounty of nature with its myriad types, particularly the unending show of seasonal flowers. We shouldn’t take nature as a right, with out it we couldn’t be right here on this planet.  On this regard it’s vital to actually cherish nature, to have a look at the types of nature, not simply in passing, however to actually look and see how vegetation develop; how they flip towards the sunshine; how they unfold from the earth; how they die.  What’s their form? What are the traces? What temper or feeling do they evoke? In ikebana that is the observe of Kado: the Approach of Flowers.

Writing The Language of Flowers within the Time of COVID saved me from complete despair in the course of the pandemic.  It saved me targeted on the great thing about image and metaphor; it preserved my sanity within the midst of a lot unprecedented political, social and local weather upheaval in the USA.  The yr between February 2020 and February 2021 was one of the vital tumultuous in current reminiscence.  Writing The Language of Flowers gave me a way of goal and occupied my thoughts in ways in which have been therapeutic.  Being immersed in nature, flowers, poetry and meditation, plus doing analysis on these topics, have been all medicinal actions.

The Japanese love of nature and seasonal flowers continues to encourage me, although for the final three years I’ve solely been in a position to partake of Japan’s nature actions by way of the web.  Throughout the third yr of the pandemic somebody despatched me a video of Japanese viewing plum bushes blossoming at well-known temples in Kyoto.  Everybody wore a masks although they have been outdoor. I like that in regards to the Japanese, that they’re cautious and thoughtful of others; they give the impression of being out for the group not simply themselves; it reveals up in so some ways, together with their nice respect for nature and its magnificence.  Ikebana is commonly thought of a Zen Buddhist artwork kind, nevertheless it’s additionally infused with Shinto: the unique non secular expression in Japan.  In Shinto all the things—stones, bushes, flowers—has a spirit or kami.  Some folks, and particularly the Japanese I believe, can really feel or sense this power or kami that radiates from pure objects.  They recognize nature on a deep stage. I hope that The Language of Flowers within the Time of COVID conveys my very own deep respect for nature and evokes others to take a more in-depth take a look at the flowers and vegetation throughout them. 

The Language of Flowers within the Time of COVID:  Discovering Solace in Zen, Nature and Ikebana 

by Joan D. Stamm is on the market from and from wherever books are offered.


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