By Francis P. Xavier, SJ
IchigoIchie, H. Garcia and F. Miralles, Quercus, London, 2019
Many years ago I used to admire a TV advertisement about Kellogg’s corn flakes. It would say: ‘Taste it again for the first time!’ No two days are alike nor are they identical in life. Everyday could be the best day of our life. All we need to do is to live one day at a time and if we could live it consciously it would be energizing.
Once someone asked Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, “What is consciousness?” In a nutshell what he said was: “When you peel an orange, and put one slice in your mouth, with mindfulness feel the juice coming out of the orange. Taste the sweetness…”
Being mindful is living in the present. The past is already gone, and the future is not yet here. There is only one moment to live and it is today. The Book of IchigoIchie: The Art of Making the Most of Every Moment, the Japanese Way by H. Garcia and F. Miralles (Quercus, London, 2019) brings out the art of living in the present. The words Ichigo and Ichie are two Japanese characters which could be interpreted as: Now or Never.
As an example of this way of living, the authors describe the Japanese Tea-Ceremony which cultivates our five senses: Holding in our hands the beautiful cup filled with tea that has its own aroma, we are invited to immerse ourselves in the activity of drinking tea: to touch the cup before sipping the tea, to taste the quality of the tea, to smell the sweet fragrance, to see the movement of people around (drinking tea) and outside, to listen to the rustle around (sipping or slurping tea or talking). All these are exercises to be fully present to the event and to be fully alive to each moment of drinking tea. And each moment is now or never moment (Ichigoichie).
One could see the parallel in Ignatian immersion and consciousness in any event – prayer or mission. Ignatius invites us, for example, to visualize the scene of the birth of Jesus.There the baby Jesus is born and Mary wraps him in swaddling cloth and places him in a manger (Lk 2:7). The ‘imagineer’ is there fully alive to the scene, and fully active, seeing and observing the persons on the scene in order to be edified by them; hearing their conversation and listening to their talking; smelling and tasting the infinite fragrance and sweetness of the Divinity; touching, embracing and kissing the places occupied by the persons in the scene of action etc. In all this so called application of senses, one is expected to ‘draw profit from it’ (Sp. Ex 123-124). The profit/fruit is physical observation, generating the feeling of joy, or pity, or sympathy etc and subsequently leading to action – doing something in concrete to alleviate the sufferings of people just like the helpless Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus shivering in the cold.
And there are more lessons to learn from Ichigoichie:
i. Finding perfection in imperfection: When a broken cup is nicely repaired, the cracked areas are artistically covered with golden lines – This makes the once-broken-cup look more beautiful.
ii. The second-arrow teaching of Buddha: This is how we can deal with suffering more skilfully. Any bad or sad event (such as the Covid pandemic) can cause pain. But there is a second arrow. The second arrow could be more painful. But it depends on how we choose to respond emotionally. Buddha summed it up with perhaps his most famous saying, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. Very often we deal with the first arrow, but not with the second arrow. In other words, having problems is part of being alive. It is our difficulties and how we face them, more than our periods of contentment, that shape us throughout the course of our lives.
iii. Handling basic emotions and time: It is the realization that happiness lies within us – It is an insider’s job. Further, it is appreciating what life has to offer us. And this could be achieved through ‘the Butterfly Effect’. The Butterfly Effect is associated with the popular saying, “A butterfly beating its wings in Hong Kong can unleash a storm in New York.” In other words, any change, no matter how small, ends up creating completely different circumstances due to a process of amplification. When we think and feel that all is well, this dynamic spirit generates happiness and confidence within oneself. And this becomes, in concrete, the courage to go ahead in life and to meet any change or opportunity in time.
And finally, the spirit of Ichigoichie is how we face ourselves and others. Many of the problems we experience in our daily lives, as individuals on a micro level and on a macro scale as a society, have their origin in a lack of attention to others and not becoming conscious of their existence. In our globalized world we have the chance to connect with thousands, even millions, of people, but it’s extremely rare to find someone who really knows how to listen. Listening is therapeutic and today, in the sea of media multiplicity, having someone to listen to us is the penultimate luxury. Listening helps us to create another reality where we can live, if we do not like the existing one. Thus, every unrepeatable moment is a small oasis of happiness.
Fr. Francis P. Xavier, SJ has been in administration as Provincial (MDU), Director (LIFE and LICET), and Vice president of Jesuit Worldwide Learning. Currently, he is the Rector of Loyola Jesuit Institutions, Chennai. An author and researcher, with several books, articles, and webinars to his credit, his research now is on ‘Religion and Science.