“Well, I just believe in the possibilities. I wouldn’t say there’s no perfect, correct way in religion. Really I think they’re all the same and it all leads to the same place anyway.”
“Ahh, so you’re a Universalist!”
We boarded the ski lift. I had all but an hour ago made friends with a man named Alan, snowboarding (well, falling) down the slopes of Yamagata’s Mt. Zao. Considering our inability to master the bunny slopes, we both had told our separate groups of friends to go on without us. Upon realizing my brown, photonic skin, he instantly approached me like an old friend. There’s something about the black community in Japan. Being the hyper-minority among the minorities, there’s a sort of an unstated, but assumed, bond between us. That connection even multiplies in a place like Yamagata, where almost no foreigners are to be found.
“Ahh, I see what you mean. Well I guess I’m a Universalist.” It felt kinda awkward that this (American-African?) man was trying to prescribe a religion to me. At the time I was in a phase of spiritual exploration. I didn’t want to be boxed in. Ironically, it seemed like Universalism wasn’t a box at all. (I eventually made it my Facebook religion because of this conversation.) Or it was a really huge box. Regardless, it was a label; something I didn’t really want stuck on me at that time. We hung out for the rest of that day, and in the afternoon I had lunch with his friends. Over the rounds of hot cocoa I came to realize that they all were just as forward with their religious ideals as he was. But the interesting thing was that they weren’t all from one religious background. Alan was Muslim. His friends were Christian and Jewish. The Big Three.
I think it was awesome that this group was so open about their beliefs and accepting of each other. But I always find these situations awkward. When someone wants to know my beliefs I just want to tell them it’s everything. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, whatever; it’s all the right way. It’s all the wrong way. It just is. But I don’t want to be that dick who makes his living in the Youtube comments section trolling religious beliefs. People gotta find their own way.
During that study abroad experience. I prayed at shrines and temples, bought good luck charms, and reflected into infinity like twin facing mirrors. My meta-senses were never higher. Coincidences were the way the Universe spoke with me. And these communiqués were occurring almost every other week it seemed. I wouldn’t say these coincidences were a direct result of my good luck charms and visits to temples. It could have been that the very act of prayer was tuning my mind to look out for things in the external world. Maybe that’s how prayer, meditation, reflection, whatever you wanna call it, works. It primes us with an awareness for specific indicators in the world around us.
In all the temples and shrines I went to, I never felt an energy as present as the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) in Kamakura. It was a hot Saturday in late July 2012, a few days before I left Japan. There was a direct train line right from my apartment to Kamakura. Yet for months I postponed the hour-long pilgrimage to the famous world heritage shore town. I hopped on the Keihin-Tohoku line alone (all my friends were hungover from partying into the morning), and prepared for a day of deep reflection.
In the seven months I had lived in Tokyo, I was treating every religious place I visited as some sacred, magical place. Japan itself was a fantasyland too. But these temples, shrines…I haven’t seen anything like them in my life. I’d walk into these places, throw my money into the box, and follow suit with everyone else there. Clap twice, hands together, eyes closed, face slightly down. What went on from then were mainly conversations with myself, until I lost focus or got distracted.
Going to the Daibutsu just felt different. Maybe because I went alone. Maybe because I had high expectations. I stood in awe of it all, trying to conceive how this structure was built so long ago. I walked up and inside. Waiting for this huge “thing” to digest the rest of the tourists, I read the writings on the inner walls. Finally, the crowded space had emptied. I looked up at the Buddha’s head. Into it’s concave eyes from within. Gradually, I bowed my head and drifted off into a meditative state.
Something was transmitted to me that day. Maybe a message, a feeling, a connection with something alien to me. I felt like Tron at the I/O Tower receiving a transmission from the Users. My head was the light disk, downloading the data from Outer Space. I could really feel this energy entering my head. Minutes later, I started to lose my concentration as tourists began to pour in again.
As objective a person I aspire to be, I don’t try to put physiological or psychological labels on these experiences. Actually, I think it’s fairly ignorant to put a scientific label on every single thing in this existence. One reason being, our science has historically changed as discoveries were made. Although we have some the major laws down, such as conservation of energy and gravity, fields like quantum physics are changing the way we think of matter. You can say my thinking is New Age B.S.. But until we know how everything works, we can’t deny the spiritual, metaphysical aspect of Life. Likewise, we can’t use spirituality to explain everything we don’t yet understand. A complementing balance would be ideal. Watch a few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and you’ll see what I mean. Or try improv: music, acting , rapping, anything. Sometimes ideas seem to arise from “nowhere.” But that’s for a whole different story. I think we’ve covered some ground on my spiritual roots. Let’s travel even further back. To the vibe, the beats…the Music.