Photo by Author, Maui in Hawaii
At every moment, we are entering something new. Whether or not we realize it, we face the new and the unknown every moment. Are you excited or thrilled by this? It gives me goosebumps. Navigating with my internal sensor and compass, I am curious to see the world, to courageously face anything I haven’t experienced before. Life is opening doors to journeys of the unknown, one by one.
In my soon-to-be-published (in Fall 2022, hooray!) memoir, Finding Home: A Japanese Immigrant Woman’s Life and Transformation, I share my own lifelong journey of the unknown.
Since I left Japan in February 1990, I have encountered and cherished so many words and events in my own dictionary of “at first sight.” I have also added countless reflections to this dictionary to enrich and expand its groundedness.
This dictionary isn’t a solid, heavy, ancient, dusty book full of memories. Rather, it takes the form of fluidity, like a stream, that keeps running to see and experience the world in ever-present motion.
My life moves in its fluidity, full of feelings, emotions, actions, and movements. It’s like breathing: as I inhale, I take in the world in focus; as I exhale, I deepen and connect with it. It’s alive in movement. I enjoy feeling and sensing what’s going on inside me while it’s occurring. What is happening in my world—even when it’s vibrating, shaking, or hurting—is the source of vigor and fluidity in my life.
Have I faced everything in my life with courage and curiosity all the time?
No. Things in my life had sometimes been too tough and difficult for me to be vulnerable or digest and accept right away. During those times, I’d had no choice but to either dress in pretension, hide, or put things deep inside boxes and lock those boxes away. There had been times when I hadn’t been able to feel any fluidity in my life when I’d trapped myself in rigidity.
I had boxed-up feelings and associated memories piled up in my inner world for some time. Inside the boxes were frozen moments and mummified emotions of the past. And because I couldn’t see and accept them while they were happening, they caused me constant fear. Without seeing or opening the boxes, holding the boxes themselves generated fear in me. It threatened and consumed me as if it were alive, a ghost or monster, keeping in the immediate threats and trapping me in the fear.
An example of something I kept in a literal box is my old wedding album, representing my first failed marriage in Japan. Since I’d left Japan, it had been at the bottom of one of my few old, unopened boxes. Before my marriage to my late husband and lifelong partner, Patrick, I asked him if he would like to see and know about the album. He said no. He didn’t want me to bring my past, failed marriage into our new relationship because of his own tenderness. This was how my journey with the box had started.
In my inner world, I conversed with myself about it all along. But it took more than two decades for me to finally come to accept what it was for me.
In October 2010, I was at a restaurant in Yokohama, Japan, overlooking Yokohama Bay. With its fancy skyscrapers, a huge wheel, and its bridge along the bay, Yokohama is the second most populated city of Japan, and one of its major ports. In the previous year, they’d celebrated the 150th anniversary of the opening of the port.
At the lunch table, I talked to an emeritus professor from the oral radiology department of the dental school from which I’d graduated. Since I’d joined his reading group as a student for an oral radiology textbook written in English, he’d been more than a mentor. The small group of a few dental school students and faculty members met weekly. I was there that I’d met my first husband-to-be, Yuji, an assistant professor at the gathering.
“I’ve wanted to tell you how sorry I was . . . to get married and divorce Yuji,” I told the professor. He’d known both of us, but back then had a little doubt regarding my decision to get married to Yuji. Nonetheless, he’d come to our wedding in 1987. I’d communicated with him since then through occasional greeting cards, but this was the first time we’d met in person since the wedding. It had taken twenty-three years after my first wedding and twenty years after leaving Japan before I’d decided to speak of my mistake to him.
I spoke with the professor in clarity, but tears were flowing from my eyes. I was eating, but the food sometimes got stuck in my throat. After all those years of reflection, I’d come to the state of mind that I’d wanted to speak about my mistake openly with him. The decision to get married to Yuji had been my mistake, and it had ruined both our lives. It wasn’t the matter of who I’d married; back then, I’d avoided facing myself. I’d had deeply hidden wounds inside me since my childhood, and I’d been suffering from them. Despite my successful career and achievements, I’d lived in a prison of despair before my departure for the States.
“Well, listen,” the professor said. “After your divorce, he quickly stepped out of life in the past. He swiftly quit his job from the dental school, a minute before his dental school broke out her own crisis. Later, he got married to the daughter of the wealthy, prominently successful businessman, opened his own beautiful dental clinic, and had two children. He’s moved on in his life pretty well. So, why wouldn’t you allow yourself to live your own life by forgiving yourself? It’s time, isn’t it?”
My eyes continuing to well with tears, I thanked the professor. I was happy not because he’d told me to forgive myself as if he’d permitted me to do so, but because I’d finally chosen to come forward to speak with him. I’d opened the door to free myself that day. It had taken the latter part of my life, my life with Patrick, doing the work of healing over many years, and a twelve-year spiritual pursuit to get there. I was so grateful.
I have allergies to anti-inflammatory drugs, so I’ve learned to live with pain. Likewise, in our life, we may learn to live with emotional pain and agony. I don’t mean that such a lifestyle is not good or necessary at certain times; but from my own past painful life, I know what we are dealing with and how we can make our life once again fresh and vibrating.
Our journeys’ true nature can’t start unless we begin to open our hidden boxes. We kill our lives by accumulating, by only looking at and feeling from the boxes of “killed moments.” The frozen and mummified moments consume our lives and decay our present moments with the fear, the shame, and the guilt that even the act of accumulating such boxes creates. The boxes belong to the past, but as long as we coexist with them, their negative impact will affect our present life. It may even destroy it.
We can choose to cause some bleeding of the heart by slowly opening the boxes of our past, or we can ruin our lives with constant pains and reminders of the boxes we’ve left unopened. It’s up to us. I chose to open those boxes one by one, accepting my own imperfections and mistakes. It resulted in me discovering the fluidity of life and becoming filled with life force. This is the place where we can share life, energy, love, and grace.
I invite you to this space, we share the freedom of our life, the true meaning of our life!