There is a theory that all humans prefer a particular type of open landscape with a vista of trees and water. These days, we are bombarded with devastating images of too little or too much water, but I hope we do not settle for mere survival as we work to compensate for this widespread and highly destructive disruption.
Landscapes with water can do more than that and it may not take as much water as you think.
It is true that I love taking photos of large bodies of water in nature and the sea has meaning for me as a metaphor:
But surprisingly, the small amount of water in my granite water basin has proven to be enough for me to feel a deep connection to nature’s flow. It captures light. Breezes move its surface as do rain drops. Creatures drink from it. On a hot day, a raccoon jumped right in. Leaves it reflects change shape and color, then fall in. After I clear them out, ice mounds up until it melts in spring. Then the caressing moss emerges once again.
My brother, who gave me this facetted rabbit asked me to take a photo of it creating rainbows. Though tiny, you can see them there on the bottle behind it.
I was surprised by the interest in this photo. Perhaps I should not have been. Rainbows capture our attention. Whether arching out in nature or resulting from light dispersing through objects, we are delighted by their ephemeral beauty.
Our ability to perceive rainbows can also be thought provoking. Color vision is a mysterious part of our highly sensitive but limited apparatus to sense what is out there. Other animals’ vision can be quite different.
At a fundamental level the colors we can see are a function of how our human eyes and brains work. In most humans, three types of cone cells are triggered by different wave lengths of light and the results are combined by our brains so we can distinguish at least a million colors.
Color blindness results from having two normal and one mutant cone cell. The daughters of color-blind men may be born with a fourth type of cone cell and in theory, these tetrachromat daughters can perceive many millions of additional colors. However, it may take practice for them to activate this ability, and the natural world may not provide many opportunities for such practice.
The study of color vision involves many disciplines and the elusive nature of personal subjective experience adds to the challenge. Associations matter, and color preferences can differ by culture. That, however, takes nothing away from the wonder we feel when seeing a spectrum array of colors, however we perceive them, laid before us in a rainbow.
Bringing in peace as you prepare for a gathering will affect you in ways that cannot help but benefit your guests – Pause, Relax, and Open, Attune to Emergence and Listen Deeply. Then Speak the Truth in creating an arrangement that conveys warmth and welcome. These Insight Dialogue guidelines work in so many applications including when creating a setting for guests.
Perhaps you will include a reminder of nature displayed in a place of honor with space around it. It is a chance to be creative and playful, using a light touch to see what happens, a heart connection without words, a small surprise, a way of acknowledging that life can be lived more like a work of art.
You can bring to it all the sensitivity and freshness used to create a tokonoma alcove arrangement for a tea ceremony. This one includes a collage by my tea ceremony teacher, Giselle Maya:
You may also wish to keep in mind the Japanese tea ceremony values of harmony, purity, respect and tranquility. While it is important to ensure that what touches food or drink is scrupulously clean and that edibles are pure and safe, purity also dictates that anything not needed be eliminated. Care taken with objects and supplies implies respect for your guests.
Ideally, the result will be supportive of a sense of peace and wellbeing as well as openness. It takes a bit of effort, but this approach to preparing for guests is an important mindfulness practice in its own right.
I had the shadow box for some time before I discovered what I wanted to do with it. It was a multi-step process: 1) Pick a stone, 2) Find or take a photo with something to say about it, 3) Arrange them together in the box, and 4) Take a photo of that. I did not know what would happen. The ones I struggled with the most could come together in perfect balance in the end. I kept thinking of new possibilities until it was time to stop. But this could be endless. Stones just have resonance.
Morrisonite jasper slab with closeup taken from the top right.
Lobster claw Scholar’s Rock with a lobster roll.
Bubble lace agate with closeup.
Hut Stone Scholar’s Rock with Japanese garden photo.
Jasper pebble & the Whidbey Island beach where I found it.
“The unending sea of blessings,” a phrase used on scrolls hung in Zen temples and during tea ceremonies tells us what we can sense when we remove the obstacles we put in our own way. Wilson discusses it in The One Taste of Truth, Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea on page 135.
The ability to experience pain is necessary for biological beings. We need to recognize and avoid what is dangerous in order to survive. But humans can easily get stuck cycling in stressful worry and doubt. We can forget that compassion also comes naturally to us.
Compassion is. It matters as much to us as sensing pain. That understanding is common to spiritual traditions the world over. We are born with an instinct for compassion. Even babies too young to speak will pick up something that is dropped and hand it back to you.
Bringing in self-compassion when it is needed makes it easier to see the caring generosity from others and nature all around us. It shows us the unending sea of blessings. Research provides evidence that when we offer support to others, we benefit our own wellbeing, health and resilience.
We can open to the preciousness, the beauty of the transient tides we swim in. We dance the unending sea of blessings as much as it dances us. We have the capacity to do small acts of kindness as simple and important as a smile. We can recognize the light in each other that shines through our uniqueness.
We belong to the source of all waves
Colors never seen before
Floating and becoming and blinking out of existence
Only to well up again with
All the moldy, composted, and fertile mysteries
That make up our days
And the recognition when we see
Our own water light colors in others’ eyes
Facing waterfalls and the ocean, we recognize
The call in our sea salt blood ever coursing
We answer our cries for compassion
From no-thought belonging
As children, my brother and sister and I loved to catch fire flies and release them down by a falling-apart stone structure behind our camp site in New Hampshire. Dolly Copp, an early settler to this location in the White Mountains had constructed a well-like structure to capture the water of a stream and then pipe it to her homestead downhill. Over the years as we returned to the camp site, we watched as the structure became less recognizable as it tumbled apart.
I tried to capture that structure at one stage of its existence in my own garden. I stopped moving the stones about when they seemed to “disappear” – When they had blended into the universe comfortably with no need to speak individually for themselves.
Before I travelled to Japan to see its remarkable gardens, I had read about the famous Japanese garden Ryoanji with its stone groups set in raked sand that you can see in this video. I doubted that this garden would live up to all the hype, perhaps to save myself from disappointment.
We avoided the crowds by arriving at opening time, but there was no way to avoid a blaring broadcast in English. I tuned this out as best I could, until it ended with, “each person must find his or her own meaning.”
Although it was overcast, I noticed shadows on the sand cast by the surrounding wall and trees. One of my first impressions was the importance of the wall. I then became impressed by the large amount of open space; clearly, the point of this garden was not just the individual stones, although each was beautiful:
Gradually, I became aware of a low singing current passing from group to group and stone to stone. This grew in strength, zinging about. The key to this phenomenon seemed to be the specific arrangement. The intensity grew to unbelievable levels, and the stones ‘disappeared.’ It seemed like the configuration before me was a model of a vast, singing version out in space. It was full of immense power and it was beyond beautiful.
Although precious to me, my garden stone arrangement does not evoke the vast energy I experienced at Ryoanji. I sometimes think about Ryoanji’s designer and what price was paid to be able to get that particular arrangement just right.
While it is known for its shades of green, jade can be found in many remarkable colors, some softer and some more brilliant. It is also carved in a wide variety of styles and forms. The pendants and bangles in the photos below show just some of its possibilities. They were carved in the United States, New Zealand, China, and Guatemala, some a while ago and some only recently. Each has a story to tell, and since jade is such a tough stone, it is a refuge that will last.