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The Bearable Lightness of Petals

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Ikebana (“life-filled flowers”) dates back to Crown Prince Shotoku-Taishi (572-621), a founder of Japanese Buddhism. Today there are more than 1,000 schools of Ikebana. One of them, Sangetsu, founded by the spiritual visionary Mokichi Okada, is a practice for creating paradise on earth.

This article appeared in the Fall 2000 issue of Spirituality & Health. A lover of all things audio, I never considered myself a visual person until my spiritual practice recently led me to study flowers. Even in my first class of Sangetsu, a school of the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging called Ikebana, I discovered a world where the confluence of shape and color, line and angle, has as much profundity as a Rembrandt or a Rodin. Where flowers differ from paint or clay, however, is that they have prana — life force — something you can actually feel with your body as you handle floral elements with a new sensitivity. Working with flowers, choosing them, pruning them, and ultimately letting them find their own proper place in the vase, has been a vast teaching to me about beauty, gratitude, surrender, and most of all, impermanence. It’s the closest I have ever come to singing with my hands. But who doesn’t love flowers? I’m ashamed to admit that for years, I was the kind of person who, upon receiving roses, would just stuff them haphazardly in a vase. Not until I wrote a …

A travel writer, fiction writer, and music critic, Pamela Bloom is the author of Brazil Up Close and Amazon Up Close, both of which won the Lowed Thomas Travel Journalism Award for Guidebook of the Year. She collected stories for a book, Buddhist Acts of Compassion (fall 2000).


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