Thursday, November 15, 2007

in the dark

We finally made it to "the womb" at Kiyomizudera. I'd been telling J about it, and trying to arrange a trip with K, too, since before we left last summer.

I first went with my dad and his wife when they visited Kyoto -- my dad had read about it in his guide book and it sounded sufficiently weird and mysterious: enter the womb of Zuigu Bosatsu, little-known Buddhist Goddess, find your own light in the darkness, make a wish by turning the stone at the end. Or something to that effect.

This time was slightly different; I knew what to expect, and was preoccupied with what my companions would think. But the experience is nevertheless memorable, no matter how many times you go through (skip ahead if you think you might come to Kyoto to do it in person):

You take off your shoes and descend a short staircase, keeping your left hand on the banister, which becomes a succession of large wooden beads along the wall. You pass through a hanging noren curtain, and are suddenly in total and utter darkness. The wooden beads disappear and all you have is your hand on the wall, which has been worn smooth by thousands of hands doing the same thing. The floor feels smooth too, gentle but uneven, like slabs of stone; and the darkness itself has a presence, a thickness that feels at once close and expansive. Waving out with your right arm yields nothing; you keep to the wall. And when the wall turns abruptly to the left, it feels like the floor dropped away, like you might lose your balance... your senses are heightened, you feel almost giddy in the not-knowing, wondering is this what it's like to be blind?

Voices are closeby, but direction is skewed. The space is probably no bigger than your basement, but has the boundless feeling of the inside of your mind, the inside of your own womb. So you wonder, too, is this where you are, little one? Warmer, of course, and without language -- without having been to the bright world out here -- but in the boundless space inside you, in the dark.

Soon enough (maybe too soon), the darkness diffuses around a pool of dim light, illuminating the the sanskrit character, "hara," on the top of a great round rock. It reaches to your breastbone, and is mounted on its axis so that it just takes a gentle, steady push to turn it around. It feels like an ancient ritual, somehow. Your hands come into view, other faces. You turn and walk through another curtain, you see the stairs, the bright day; you walk out into it and put your shoes back on, amid other tourists jostling eachother on the stairs and looking at omamori. Entirely surreal.

It occurs to me later when I get into bed, nestle into blankets and curl around my expanding belly, that we replicate this feeling of being in the womb, night after night. Safe, warm, dark. I feel closest to my baby then, compelled to talk to him and conspire behind closed eyelids.

I haven't written much about this internal world of being pregnant, perhaps because it's hard to say exactly why it's so magical (or because I'm hesitant to use words like magical...). But really I can't talk about it enough -- there's a sentient being inside me! He can hear sounds! He is capable of coordinating brain and muscle and nerve, he kicks and digests, he maybe has eyes like mine, hair like his daddy's... this stuff is obvious, even mundane, but is it not still a miracle? He is utterly mine, part of my body, and yet he exists in a space much bigger than me, already teaching me so much about how we unfold according to our pattern.

It reminds me of a poem written by a friend from years ago in San Francisco, which included something his friend overheard his young daughter say to their new-born baby: Tell me what god looks like, I'm forgetting.


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