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Mar 03
Arts and Poetry
Natural Flowers 2

Part two of a three-part series exploring the broader meanings of ikebana 

by Marcia Shibata, with guest editor Crystal Gandrud

Many westerners shy from, even reject, the idea of hierarchy. It is irritating and threatening because the human world has seen so many examples of destructive human hierarchal leadership throughout history, and it continues even now. Also the human world firmly believes in individualism. We believe “we” are separate from “other,” and this idea fosters another strong belief, that of always being able to have our own choice in every situation. We believe we can do what we want, when we want, to whatever we want, and we even believe it is virtuous to fight and die for this. The idea of surrendering to anything other than one’s own will and individual choice often evokes resistance and aggression, and sometimes is viewed as downright insane or dangerous.

But by looking to nature, we observe the abundant clues and answers to support the truth of natural hierarchy. Of primary importance is the recognition that nature does not struggle with the truth of here and now. She is without bias, manifesting complete clarity and wisdom in every moment, both in her separate expressions and in relationship to everything else around, above, and below her. Nature’s myriad expressions are non-thought expressions, without concept, meetings, planning, or manipulation for desired results. There is no push or pull trying to win over something. There is no hope or fear, no philosophy to debate or understand. She is simply and clearly always on the spot—no past, no concern for the future. She is pre-concept. She leaves no trace and needs no confirmation. All that manifests in nature is born with the ability to be part of, to sense, and to be with life in the now. Humans can do this too. Nothing and no one needs to learn something special; it is a matter of opening to innate primordial wisdom.

“But nature does not think,” we argue, and yes this may or may not be true, but all of nature surely senses. All of nature’s expressions are aware of what is nearby, and  are influenced by the presence of other, be it near, above or below. A flower senses the flower next to it sharing the space, the sun shining above, and the lack of water in the earth below if there is drought.

In Nature’s natural hierarchy, whatever is in the leadership role at any given moment is leading because the action or non-action is necessary for maintaining or re-balancing the situation.  Natural hierarchy leadership does not originate from something being better than or superior to something else. It originates from being awake and sensitive to the complete situation of life, be it a little spring flower here on Earth or a distant star millions of light years away. It is benevolent to all.

Responsibility is a key word here. Benevolent leadership has the ability to respond so that whatever is touched or influenced in the now benefits from that action or non-action. It is interdependent wisdom that arises from the primordial pool of non-thought. These ever-arising moments of wisdom constantly change, supporting balanced life in the moment, in the present situation. It must be this way because life is constantly moving, changing, flowing; fixed responses cannot not help all things in all places at all times. Nothing is ever the same twice anywhere.

In humans, innate wisdom often arises simultaneously with clouded views or confusion, so our task is to smell, trust, and follow the direct way to the kitchen and not veer off towards the TV or pool room. When imbalance or confusion occurs, re-balance or clarity can always be re-established if the solution arises from trusting sensing-feeling instead of our fixed concepts or embedded old habits of how we think things should be.

Nature’s primordial wisdom has no confusion, nor was there ever any.  Nature’s wisdom is both inner and outer, micro and macro, always constantly maintaining or rebalancing itself. This is why we practice paths such as ikebana and meditation: to discern wisdom and step out of the way so natural wisdom can lead.

All of nature’s expressions are found in the play of the five elements: space, earth, air, fire, and water. They share leadership, taking turns according to what is needed now, and surrender when another element arises with the wisdom necessary in the moment. However, space is always the “maha” role of leadership, because without space as the great container, the other four elements could not move or express. Everything would be stuck together like flies on sticky paper. Unhealthy, imbalanced life is the outcome if one or more of the elements become stuck. When energy becomes stuck, it is like a dictator with no concern for other; downfall, sickness, and disaster are the inevitable outcome. The four active elements depend upon space to interconnect and intercommunicate. Without maha-space they could not simultaneously be themselves and in relationship to other. Nor could they rest or be still, which is always necessary for good health and balance.



Marcia Wang Shibata serves as Artist to the Kalapa Court, and as Master Instructor of Shambhala Kado Rigden School of Ikebana

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