Updated: Feb 19
Lately, I have been struggling with some difficult feelings. So, today I went down to the beach to meditate. Afterwards I gathered some smooth, flat stones to skip on the ocean. A man with a bucket and a pick-up claw approached me and said, “Good morning.” I said, “Good morning,” back to him and asked, “What are you searching for?” He told me “I pick up garbage and search for precious stones and beach glass.” Then, he motioned for me to skip the stones in my hand, so I did one by one. Every time, he cheered and counted the number of skips. “Five!” he said with joy. “Wow!” he said, even when it was only one skip. Afterward, he asked me about my tattoo (a labyrinth) and what it meant to me. I said I once had a dream with a labyrinth that changed my life and that I liked it as a metaphor for life, too: We walk one step at a time around a maze, searching for the centre, only to walk back out again. He told me he was sure I would find the centre because I was taking time to look closely and appreciate. His face had a look of sincerity and optimism. I thanked him and remarked that he must be looking closely, too, as he was searching for precious stones. We had a laugh, said "Goodbye," and he continued down the beach.
When I was meditating before, I had heard a person pass by from left to right. When I spoke to that man, he had been walking right to left. He must have started at one end of the beach and walked to the other, collecting garbage and precious stones as he went—he’s cleaning the pollution from the whole beach, I thought. It impressed me that he had been looking so carefully for beautiful things, too. After he left, I also felt more cheerful than before. Not only was he cleaning the beach, but he had “cleaned” my mood, too!
In Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, cleaning pollution in nature and in the spirit is an important part of the daily practice. Shinto is quite unlike Western religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as it does not see humans as good nor evil. Campbell writes:
“The basic moral idea is that the processes of nature cannot be evil. And to this there is the corollary that the pure heart follows the process of nature. [Humans] – a natural thing – [are] not evil inherently, but [are] in [their] pure heart, in [their] natural being, divine. The fundamental terms are ‘bright heart’ (akaki kokoro), ‘pure heart’ (kiyoki kokoro), ‘correct heart’ (tadashiki kokoro), and ‘straight heart’ (naoki kokoro). The first denotes the quality of a heart shining brightly as the sun; the second, a heart clear as a white jewel; the third, a heart inclined to justice; and the last, a heart lovely and without misleading inclinations. All four unite as seimei shin: purity and cheerfulness of spirit” (p. 477, 1962).
Now at home, I see a parallel between this man’s actions and the process of therapeutic change, as found in effective counselling and psychotherapy:
Often, therapy is like a walk on the beach together—client and counsellor side by side. We start at the beginning and walk towards the end. Looking where we are stepping, and we notice things. “Ah, pollution!” Like the man on the beach, we pick it up, put it in the bucket, and continue walking. The beach is a little cleaner, now. Occasionally, we come across something precious. “Look at that beautiful stone.” We take time to appreciate it and the client decides whether to put it in the bucket or leave it be. It’s nice to have a few precious stones in the bucket, because you can look at them whenever you want and they brighten your heart, they remind you of the beautiful things in life, and they are solid, so you can rub it and you feel solid, too. When we look at one of those stones, we also remember the time when we picked it up and we may even walk back to that spot on the beach.
Eventually, we get to the end of the beach. We stop for a moment to breathe and to appreciate the whole beach, all at once. It looks different from this end. On the return walk, we can feel proud about having cleaned up the beach and, sometimes, we also notice a few more spots with pollution we missed before. I have often found it is on the walk back to the start when we find the most special treasures. “Wow! A moon snail shell!” We stop and take in the beauty of nature. “This one is going on the window-sill.”
Finally, we end up back where we started, feeling brighter and purer than before. Then, it’s time to say “goodbye” and return home.
Campbell, J. (1962). Oriental Mythology: The Masks of God, Vol. 2. New York, NY: Penguin Books.