Kyoko Katayama is the contributing writer in the Winter/Spring 2020 Catalog. Below, read her writing that appears in the catalog.
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Kyoko’s full text also appears below her bio.
Contributing Writer Kyoko Katayama:
Kyoko Katayama, a retired psychotherapist of 35 years, has been a lifelong student of writing and visual art. Author of the chapbook Wings above the Sea: A story and images of loss and transformation, her poems and prose have appeared in magazines and anthologies. Kyoko was a Loft Inroads Mentoring Award recipient. She is a mother and grandmother, and a befriender of a rescued dog.
Urgency and Timelessness ©
If you have one hour of air
and many hours to go,
you must breathe slowly.
If you have one chance to know God
and many doubts, you must
set your heart on fire.
On my desk, two small prints gaze at me as I write.
One is in a style of folk art, of a white rabbit riding on a greenish turtle against the background of colorful stylized flowers and green plants. Their mouths are rounded into smiles. The turtle is happy to carry the rabbit who has long flowing ears and big round eyes. It can see and hear what the turtle can’t. The rabbit beams, resting on the mound of the turtle’s shell. The image is framed by a border in which a rabbit and turtle run towards each other like long lost friends.
The other print is of a mysterious creature, a head of a hare with the body of a tortoise. The long brown ears cup to catch any sounds, its wide reddish eyes, alert to movements. Is it a jack rabbit? The furry head protrudes from the ringed carapace of an ancient tortoise. The feet are like the scaled stump of trees, solid and steady. A few stubby claws shine. The creature is on the move, as fast as a tortoise can walk. The sky behind it is pink orange. I cannot tell if it’s dawn or dusk.
For a year I have contemplated and practiced living in the gap between urgency and timelessness, between the urges to hurry and inner calls to slow down and breathe. Life is short and I do not want to squander it. But in order to not squander, I need to keep my eyes on what really matters. To set my heart on fire, the practice asks for repeated effort to unflinchingly bear witness to the reality of the world as it is. The world existed beyond my preferences and wishes. See the world as it is and open to it. Love does not discriminate. If I love only what makes me feel good, it is not love, wise voice inside whispered. The burning heart asks of me to love the world as it is, with me in it as I am, without necessarily understanding its totality.
Sometimes the world I saw was terrifying, at other times, poignant: the ecological crises presented by the media, a bitter partisan schism filled with blame and no assumption of responsibility; a growing intimacy with my daughter diagnosed with aggressive cancer; an awareness of my own aging body and deaths of friends.
The world was the news of wildfire raging in California, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia. The cities, mountains, and jungles burned at a rate never seen before.
The world was NASA’s report that the Greenland has lost nearly four trillion tons of ice since 1992. The earth is scorching and flooding without a time to recover.
The world was another black man killed by white police, 865th in the year 2019.
The world was missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The world was asylum-seeking families separated at the US-Mexico borders.
The world was waking up to the news image of drowned Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 2-year-old Valeria by the bank of Rio Grande, trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas, the daughter’s arm wrapped tight around her father’s brown shoulder as they floated face down. For a moment my breath too is taken. My fingers grip like Valeria’s. They turn to a fist that want to pound on something, do something that the dead can no longer do with their own arms and hands and hearts.
I feel profound grief, grief that seems hardly containable in this one human body.
In bearing witness, my body shakes and limbs jitter. The body wants to release this energy of fear and concern. Do something; it says. The threat to the integrity of the bodies– our individual body, the collective body of our humanity, the body of the earth and the ocean–fills me with a sense of urgency. Unless we do something, things could get worse. The fears lodge as trauma in the body. Collective fatigue, insomnia, or massive numbing appear in pockets of humanity the world over. The clock seems to tick, tick, tick, towards irreparable destruction. My heart beats like a rabbit in fright.
To the rising instinct of fight, flee, or freeze, I resist: When there is one hour of air left, I must breathe slowly. I must get grounded like the tortoise. I bring my attention to the breath. The inhale swells my chest. Space expands in my body. Exhaling, the inner space meets and resonates with the outer space.
Dainin Katagiri Roshi, the late founder of Minnesota Zen Center, wrote, “In the realm of time, everything exists separately from everything else…In the realm of space… all beings are all interconnected. We are interrelating and interpenetrating each other from moment to moment.”
A memory arose of an encounter with a maple tree whose black trunk glistened in the misty rain. Its ten thousand branches reached up to the sky with green shades of fluttering leaves. The wind touched the limbs of the tree, and mine. An invisible force made itself known. My breath deepened. The tree was fully itself without holding back. The maple exhaled. I inhaled her. The magnificent tree in the breeze restored my singed heart.
After not speaking with my father for twenty some years, he called from the other side of the continent. I heard his voice say, “I made mistakes. Please forgive me. I love you and cherish you.” At 92 years old, blind, he saw the light. “I , I ,” he stammered, weeping, “I can…just be myself now.”
His pensive effort at self-acceptance led to the utterance of love for his daughter. In that moment, we reflected the sun in each other’s hearts. It took a lifetime, but as Katagiri reminds us, in space, there was only connection, moment to moment.
It was inconceivable that my father and I could meet eye to eye, voice to voice. He abandoned me most of my life. And, he claimed me as his daughter seventy years after the birth. If this was possible, then anything is possible. What was torn asunder, mended, became the fullness and goodness of being alive.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist declares, “There is hope—I’ve seen it… The people who have been unaware are now starting to wake up, and once we become aware, we change… That’s the hope.” Hearing her youthful determination, I heal some more. The sharp edges of terrifying images fade.
More stories of courage and beauty come. I bear witness to moments of indescribable grace. In such space, ticking time stop pressing. I touch things that can’t be destroyed. Ever. Not by fire or flood, not by hatred or despair. I sleep better at night. In the morning I wake with energy to do this day’s small work of love and justice.
I return to the gap between urgency and timelessness. It is not a gap after all. It is where time and space intersect with energy vortex of life itself.
The true urgency of this moment is to honor life with great love. We need to remember to loosen the fist and extend open palms. A fist can only do one thing while open hands can do multitudes. When the world has one hour of air and many more hours to go, the true urgency is to remember to breathe slowly, and remember one another.
I bow to the images on my desk, the old friends, rabbit and turtle, and to the hare-tortoise creature. It is still moving, slow and steady, with wide eyes and alert ears to see and hear what really matters.