Earlier this month I had an invitation from dear friend and co-conspirator Dana Levy to join her for a silent yoga retreat in southern Utah. Dana was participating as a yoga therapy teacher with Inbody Academy and suggested that an Ikebana workshop might be a nice addition to the retreat activities. One can't say no to such invitations, so I packed my bags and we hit the road. Being my first such experience, I had few expectations and was simply grateful to be able to spend some restorative time in one of my favorite places on earth.
Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch is an ideal setting for such a retreat- remote (no cell reception!), peaceful, and surrounded by the pristine wilderness of Escalante National Monument. We meditated, practiced yoga, ate delicious home-cooked vegan meals, and practiced the art of non-verbal communication (at least until the last evening). We took time to notice things like the sound of the birds singing at dawn and twilight, the smell of the sagebrush, and the feel of the first rays of sun warming us on a chilly morning.
And we practiced Ikebana. As Ikebana is essentially a spiritual practice; a means of joining human mind/heart with nature, I was particularly looking forward to incorporating it into the context of yoga. My own journey with yoga started in childhood growing up as part of the Transcendental Meditation community in Fairfield, Iowa. My grandmother taught me how to meditate at the age of 12 and at our school, Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, we meditated every day with our teachers, and did asanas in gym class. However, as one often does with gifts one is granted in childhood, I largely took these experiences for granted as I grew up, and it wasn't until my late 30's that I got back to yoga in earnest, studying with the amazing Dominica Serigano and Dana Levy in Tokyo. Yoga became a path back to my body after birthing and caring for 3 babies, a means of rediscovering the innate intelligence of the body/mind, and a way to cultivate mindful presence in my ever-busy life.
I've often thought about how yoga (and martial arts, to a lesser extent) seems to be the only eastern tradition to have truly taken hold in our western society. Through yoga we begin to reorient ourselves towards process vs. product, we come back to the mat day after day, we engage in the practice and all the repetition that entails over years, understanding that the rewards are gradually revealed as we continue our journey. Ikebana, and all the traditional Japanese arts, all share the same intrinsic qualities of a spiritual path to self-discovery. We don't expect mastery to come instantly, and the longer we pursue the path, often the less we know. Our hard-won insights are a joy that one has difficulty conveying to others. But it does bring joy, and very simply, that's why we pursue it!
Being able to introduce ikebana to the wonderful yogis at the retreat was a joyful experience for me.
We walked the grounds around the ranch. studying every tree and shrub, gathering only what was needed, noticing how each plant grew in this unique landscape of high desert. When we arranged our foraged treasure, and brought what was outdoors into the indoors, we noticed it differently. Each creation was a unique reflection of the heart/mind of the person who created it. A moment's encounter between human and nature. It doesn't last. Flowers fade and leaves wilt. But there is such beauty in impermanence, and there is such beauty in this moment, right now.
Lara Chho was raised as a global citizen, living all over the US and Africa as a child and youth, and living in Japan from 1998 and 2013 where she met her husband and raised her 3 children. She has been exploring clay since 1992 and flowers since 2006. She is passionate about using the arts as a means for self-discovery and for building community.