It is ironic that I would come to live in and love the country of Japan, a country which during World War II tortured my father and his family, and murdered my POW grandfather near Tokyo in 1943. It is ironic that I would come to live in a apartment in Osaka in a neighborhood that was once reduced to ashes by incendiary bombs dropped by the United States.
It is even more ironic that I never ever dreamed that I would come to live in this country and love the Japanese people, people who that my mother drilled into me as my first mythology that the Japanese were the enemy. So except for now, moving to Osaka for my husband’s job, I never took an interest in visiting or knowing much about Japan for the first 50 years of my life. A county and people I did not know except for through its stories and what little history I had been taught.
Much like East Indian scroll paintings to tell stories, the storyteller points to an image and tells the story rather than reads it, maintaining an immediate connection to the listener and audience.
But Japanese mythology and stories, however, have always appealed to me greatly. For many years I have used the traditional Japanese storytelling technique of kamishibai for my Storytime Yoga® Kids Yoga Story Kits for their efficacy in educating with visual and oral cues.
I loved the Japanese story of The Grateful Crane and use it as a Storytime Yoga® Kids Yoga Story Kit to teach Thanksgiving and kindness to animals and about the rewards of living in harmony with nature.
I was enchanted by the fairy tale, The Old Man Who Could Make Withered Trees Bloom Again, which for me I considered a great teaching tale and that has much symbolism of yoga and siddhi powers. It had great personal meaning to me about loss, grief and resurrection.
But my favorite story is the Shinto myth of Amaterasu. Amaterasu is the Japanese sun goddess. Her name is derived from Amateru, meaning “shining in heaven.” The meaning of her whole name, Amaterasu-Omikami is “the great august kami (god) who shines in the heaven.” Her story begins with the Japanese creation myth which includes thee creation of the Japanese islands.
In most cultures, the solar is masculine, except for a few, such as Celtic, Cherokee or Japanese. Nippon is the Japanese word for Japan, and I remember it being on all the postage stamps I collected as a kid.
The characters in Nihon mean “sun” and “origin.” Even the Chinese Goddess Quan Yin, and her Japanese counterpart, Kannon, is said to have come from the Pleiades star system, and has links to Amaterasu.
According to Mythologist Joseph Campbell, the solar is the original singular feminine, we are birthed out of the sun, the unified one. A woman’s body. Indeed, every living thing on Earth, everything, is made from stardust. Our bodies are made of remnants of stars and massive explosions in the galaxies.
There is even a Serbian proverb that goes: “Be humble for you are made of earth; Be noble for you are made of stars. Amaterasu represents that solar that transcends time and space.
“The sun is our second symbol of rebirth … When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die; that is the insight rendered in term of the solar mystery, the solar light,” Campbell said.
I have used the myth of Amaterasu extensively, everything from my Mythic Yoga online trainings I started giving online in 2006 as well as in the Mythic Yoga Story in the Body retreats in Boulder I gave from 2010-12.
I also used the myth for after-school classes I gave in 2009 at Emerald Elementary School in Broomfield, Colorado. I had run into a former Centaurus High School classmate of mine in my daughter’s orthodontist office in Boulder. She was working as the school counselor there and hired me to teach self-confidence and stress release skills to at-risk girls.
In one version of the myth, Amaterasu is so hurt and hides herself away in a cave after her brother, the wind God Susano-O, destroys her rice fields. The world is without light, and crops start to die. It was only Uzume, the Shinto goddess of mirth with her bawdy dancing and loud party, that brought Amaterasu out of the cave to see what was going on.
A mirror had strung up on a tree outside the cave to catch Amaterasu’s first bright rays of light when she came out of the cave. Amaterasu saw her own illumination when she came out of shadow, saw her radiant allure in the mirror and reemerged completely into the world in her rightful place. The world was restored.
In the after school class, I told the story during a modified yoga nidra session I began class with. We then reenacted the myth in classic Storytime Yoga® fashion, retelling the story and its characters to learn narrative by asking questions, then taking yoga poses to embody the story and characters.
After shavasana, corpse pose, at the end, I had the girls sit and close their eyes in padmasana, lotus position, for some self-reflection, svadyaya, about themselves.
How are they like Amaterasu? What have they hidden away? Who has hurt them? How are they like Susano-O? Who have they hurt or may be unaware of hurting? How are they like Uzume? How are they not like any of these character?
Then I asked them with eyes closed to visualize about what they loved about themselves. Afterwards I went around the circle (I always teach in a circle) and gently, one at a time, asked each girl to open their eyes. I held a mirror to each girl’s face, so that their own face was the first thing that they would see. I asked the kids to then write about their experiences in a journal, and some shared. I had hoped that they would find a reflection of their own self-worth, as many kids of these kids came from troubled homes. I could relate.
The mirror that I used for class was my late mother’s. It was a large, antique handheld mirror.
When I was 11 years old I won first place for the junior high division of the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper Christmas story writing contest back in 1978.
I was young for my age, put into school early. I was also painfully shy, and would have likely been diagnosed as autistic back in those days, being extremely silent in elementary school, making strange noises and bizarre movements when I had to get up in front of the class to read my copious writings made during creative writing time. Anything to disassociate from the painful moment.
When my mother brought me to the Daily Camera building to have our picture taken and award given, she berated and hit me in front of the staff and other winners because of my shyness. Nobody said anything out of awkwardness, and all the way home she cursed and screamed at me over it. She was a freelance writer, and she said I embarrassed her in front of the people she worked with, like the editor.
My mother was not a well person. She threatened to beat me with a stick when we got home, and ranted and raved driving home to East Boulder after we cashed the $50 check that was my prize. I can’t remember much more after that event, except that she ranted and raved more for hours when we got home and said, “Show Dad the money.”
My father thumbed through the five, ten-dollar bills, passively taking her abuse, much like that he suffered at the hands of the Japanese in concentration camps on Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) where he was born and my colonial ancestors lived, looking down the whole time before saying to me, “Why couldn’t you have been more nice?”
In addition to that trauma, my parents were hoarders, but there was no TV show back the to explain the shambled state of our shameful house. It was then that I started to shut myself away. It became harder to write, the disorganized thinking came from the trauma, so I turned to drama, which I found I could put on a forced, dramatized persona and hide my true self away from the world. Always disassociated from my body, I spoke rapidly, was hyperactive and was a chest breather, afraid to breathe deep down. An ADHD diagnoses or understanding of trauma didn’t exist back then. In fact I remember that only in high school did I ever hear the word post-traumatic stress, something my father was diagnosed as having from his war experiences.
When I won First Prize of $250 for winning Transitions Abroad Magazine’s college travel photography contest in 1994, I had been in South America for three months. My mother cashed the check and kept the money. I never saw the money.
I realized after some holotropic breath work sessions several years ago that that trauma was what kept me from being out in the world and sharing all of my gifts. People think of me as out-going, that strong suit of persona keeping me in the world. But deep within I am still painfully shy. I realized that unconsciously I equated success or financial reward for my creative work as painful and to be avoided. I might be beaten, or I’d never see the money.
When I co-taught a kids yoga class at the Estes Park Yoga Journal Conference in 2007, I sensed the woman I was with felt upstaged, so I quietly roamed by myself. I was not into the social scene.
Even when sitting at a table eating by myself and a very famous yoga teaching couple sat down too, I said nothing, just smiled. Maybe they thought I was aloof. I was just shy. I did talk to Mary Taylor, the wife of Richard Freeman, who sat next to me, because I already knew her from Alfalfa’s Market in Boulder where I had worked as a cashier and she in the deli many years before.
I became grateful for my suffering in childhood, for it had, in shamanic fashion, turned me deeply inward and aspired to yoga wisdom. From there I learned to find compassion for my mother, who had been horribly abused as a child, which I knew because I knew my own experiences with her violent father. And because she had also been raped when she was older, something I found out only after her death.
Only after years of yoga practice to bring me back into my body and to practice self-love, using Amaterasu as my radiant guide to myself a I practiced my personal Mythic Yoga practice, did I find confidence in the body, more confidence in myself. As I was Solis, the Latin word for “of the sun.”
It lead me to understand the world and a steady practice of yoga over the years led me to understand and love myself. Be it asana practice or abhyanga, self-massage, or listening to the sound of my own voice speaking slowly, not in a hurried rush. To enjoy being in the world, taking up space in the body and being safe in the body, grounded in the here and now, but also seeing beyond it.
Not identifying with the trauma and the self who I thought I was, a horrible person that my mother disapproved of and who had severe bouts of depression much of her life. My youngest sister was unable to re-story herself though. She committed suicide at age 42, unable to get off of Methadone.
“Synchronicity holds the promise that if we will change within, the patterns in our outer life will change also,” says Jungian Analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen. So for me, my personal Mythic Yoga practice revealed the sun to me as Amaterasu, as myself, Solis, as a personal symbol. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung says, “The real meaning and purpose of symbol production… is to bring about an awareness of those primordial images that belong to all men and can therefore lead the individual out of his isolation… for healing comes only from what leads [one] beyond himself and beyond his entanglement in the ego.”
With self-portraiture, collage, poetry and memoir writing that plumbed the depths of my psyche combined with the somatic realm of the body, I was able to become clear of all that clouded my sunshine in the now And most importantly, I forgave myself for allowing myself to believe in my mother’s story of who I am.
I was not my mother’s story of her pain and self-hatred and sorrow. I am me, worthy of love – my own self-love and divine love within when I had no mother to give it to me.
So I re-storied myself via Amaterasu and other mythic guides that impressed their symbolism on my psyche and activated seeds deep within. I became conscious of my identification with a story of suffering and an ego that had never developed properly due to abuse. By using yoga, meditation and listening to the story in my body to tell me what was really happening instead of what my terrified and scattered mind imagined, I was able to come out of this cave of shadow my childhood had created and overcome extreme self-hatred, depression and despair.
I realized that I was not my sorrow or grief or what happened to me; I simply am, and I am love, I am joy, I am peace. A song I use in kids classes to teach meditation and wrote in my book Storytime Yoga: Teaching Yoga to Children Through Story and recorded for the Storytime Yoga® Peace, for the Children music cd.
“Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world,” Philosopher Jean Houston says. We know from quantum physics observer effect that something changes just by your observing it. We are, like the sun, within our own universe. We are our own black hole of thought, vrittis, a disturbance in the field, shooting out our own Big Bang, our own sphere of influence, as raja yoga teaches, flooding reality out of our bindu, still pinpoint.
So because of my personal Mythic Yoga Journey™ I now find myself having come out of the shadow and seeing my own light. I have arrived at my own door, the door to my home in Osaka, in a place which I had never dreamed being.
Funny, I got married in February, and my husband’s last name is Gross, which in German means big. So if I hyphenate my name to Solis-Gross, it will mean “of the big sun!” All this Mythic Yoga work is powerful! I have transformed to even bigger things!
But I still don’t care for the egomaniac version that is American yoga, or at least the American yoga image that is for sale and has become commodified. It’s not just shyness. It’s just not my style, values or what I consider yoga. I no longer wear a forced mask to be out there in the world. My true self is a quiet, contemplative writer.
But I have changed the story of how I viewed Japan, having read the pages of history for myself and not just accept the stories my mother told me of how terrible the Japanese were. I realized, yes, they committed terrible, atrocious war crimes against my family and many others for sure, but maybe my own country committed even worse ones by intentionally dropping atomic bombs on hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians as a strategy. And so I work for peace, the same peace I find within, so that there may be peace on the outside too. There has been record attendance at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum since President Obama’s 2016 visit.
Of all the Shinto shrines I have visited in my two trips to Japan so far, I have yet to get up to The Grand Ise Shrine dedicated to Amaterasu. The Naiku, inner shrine, houses her sacred mirror, is considered one of Japan’s three sacred treasures. Next trip! When I fully move into our apartment this June with my kids. Until then, I have my own mirror to gaze upon my own self – a inner beauty that radiates like the sun.
And interestingly enough, Amaterasu is considered the ancestor of Japan’s imperial family, and Emperor Akihito of Japan is abdicating in 2019. Many Japanese people want a woman to lead – an Empress, and the Emperor’s 15-year-old grand-daughter, Princess Aiko, may become just that. So the Goddess is returning, and you are doing your part to bring her back her feminine energy into the world by picking up your own mirror and loving yourself.
So practice yoga and meditation. Create your own peaceful, loving universe today. Embark on yur own Mythic Yoga Journey™ and create a beautiful story of it. Find your own personal mythology, be it with whatever mythology, story or symbolism calls to you. Make your own myth and relationship to the sun – Be that beautiful sun, that shining light up in heaven – the transcendent having an experience of reality in duality.
And be so grateful for your suffering, for what was once thought as an obstacle really was just a trick of laughter opening up your cave of darkness to let you catch a glimpse of your brilliant rays of light in the mirror of your own being – love and the source of life itself.
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