Ueno Park in Tokyo is a man-made mass of flowers and trees – not made literally, of course, but picked out, planted, and designed. That sense of wildness which you find in all public parks, but tempered by man’s tastes at the time, and in that particular place on the earth.
Whether cherry trees are purposely planted or not I don’t know, except that they often exist in whole groves, which does suggest the former. In Ueno Park I came across one which was dedicated to the poet Shushiki, who composed a famous haiku about sakura (cherry blossoms) and the sake-induced tipsiness which occurs beneath their blooming branches in spring time.
Not a dead bench dedicated to her deceased self, but a living, growing tree – ah! What a thing, for a poet, to have done for them. I do wish it was something we could all strive for! (Hashtag: I want a tree after I’m gone, too…)
A little beyond the tree is a temple which contains this ‘flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’. It’s a combination of flames found on burning houses in those cities after they were devastated by the atomic bombs seventy years ago. From what I can tell of the history, given on a sign near the memorial, this is a flame kept alive because of hate (‘resentment’), but which later burned out into a desire for peace.
In my own experience, the heart can, at times, feel as if it is literally burning up with hatred (have you ever felt that? I have) and you can let the flame grow and consume you – or, you can extinguish it and sweep out all the cinders (which I have felt, as well – the heart ‘sweeping’ inside, cleaning itself completely of hatred. I’d be interested to know if any of you have felt that too).
Anyway, what interests me about these remembrances, is how they attempt to transmute a negative into a positive: death, into deep-rooted life; hate, into a a wish for everlasting peace. When I was a teenager, I had a few recurring sentences that played in my head for many, many years. One of these was ‘spin shit into gold’. I would hear a voice in my mind, saying it over and over and over…
Because the voice sounded like me, I assigned it to myself. I didn’t know what it meant. Now, I would say it was a guiding voice (it’s up to you to think about where this voice came from). In my own life, I feel I have successfully transmuted various negative thoughts and feelings into positive ones (it’s up to you to think about how I might have done this). One way to soothe such is to seek out more peaceful places. Perhaps parks, with their beautiful flowers and bodhi trees, are one place we can find this…
With the awful – but not unexpected – news of the Tories once again being voted into power, I feel it is important to keep our hearts free of ‘resentment’. Anger can be a fuel, and as someone who regularly takes part in local demonstrations, I feel it is important to take action and to speak out against injustice whenever and wherever we can.
However, as a poet, I also feel it is important not to let that anger eat you up. Keep the fire in your belly, but keep your heart free of it – you know what I mean…??
As I walked round Ueno park, enjoying the greenery, the lily pads, the heron I spotted amongst the bullrushes – and as news came in of the UK’s choice to keep its NHS-dismantling, poor-hating, compassion-lacking masters – these were my thoughts, anyway. Yes, there are drunken men fighting around the cherry tree (which is ripe for the picking…) – but the cherry tree is still beautiful, isn’t it? And it will live on after the very silly men are long, long dead.
In a way, we need to focus on the eternal, the beautiful, the spiritual, in order to keep going; to feel free inside, even if we are not free without. Ah! Poetic thoughts indeed. I wonder if I’ll ever get a tree though….!??