A Discussion of Spirituality; Leading to Another Discussion of the Different Practices of Spirituality; Ikebana Became the Source and Expression of My Spirituality; Ikebana: Not Just Branches and Flowers; Photographs of Recent Offerings. 

First of all it,  is important to define spirituality. It is the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. Wikipedia provides an excellent overview of the topic, beginning: “The meaning of spirituality has developed and expanded over time, and various meanings can be found alongside each other.[ Traditionally, spirituality referred to a religious process of re-formation which “aims to recover the original shape of man”,oriented at “the image of God” It is exemplified by the founders and sacred texts of the religions of the world.” 

After a lengthly explanation of the history of the many world faiths  Wikipedia brings us up to date. “In modern times, the term both spread to other religious traditions and broadened to refer to a wider range of experiences, including a range of esoteric and religious traditions. Modern usages tend to refer to a subjective experience of a sacred dimension and the “deepest values and meanings by which people live”,often in a context separate from organized religious institutions. This may involve belief in a supernatural realm beyond the ordinarily observable world, personal growth, a quest for an ultimate or sacred meaning, religious experience, or an encounter with one’s own “inner dimension”. 

So spirituality can, and does, in these modern days exist outside the religious connotations and connections. Wikipedia tells us: “Those who speak of spirituality outside of religion often define themselves as spiritual but not religious and generally believe in the existence of different “spiritual paths”, emphasizing the importance of finding one’s own individual path to spirituality. According to one 2005 poll, about 24% of the United States population identifies itself as “spiritual but not religious. Lockwood draws attention to the variety of spiritual experience in the contemporary West: The new Western spiritual landscape, characterized by consumerism and choice abundance, is scattered with novel religious manifestations based in psychology and the Human Potential Movement, each offering participants a pathway to the Self.” 


Here is good news, particularly if you are spiritual. “Various studies (most originating from North America) have reported a positive correlation between spirituality and mental well-being in both healthy people and those encountering a range of physical illnesses or psychological disorders. Although spiritual individuals tend to be optimistic,[ report greater social support, and experience higher intrinsic meaning in life,[strength, and inner peace, whether the correlation represents a causal link remains contentious.” The last sentence of this quote points out that this is difficult to prove scientifically because of the different and diverse meanings of spirituality and whether all of the positives led to, other than being the result of, spirituality. 

Then more about  spiritual practices. “Spiritual practices may include meditation, mindfulness, prayer, the contemplation of sacred texts, ethical development, and spiritual retreats in a convent. Love and/or compassion are often described as the mainstay of spiritual development.” 

But where does that leave me, and why is this of interest to me (or you, for that matter)?  Of course I want the benefits of spirituality – mental health, optimism, social support, inner peace. Who would not want that? 

During most of my long life I cannot be said to be innately or even remotely spiritual. I was an atheist, first refusing to acknowledge the existence of God at the age of 19. This denial ,  continued up to, and until, my entrance into the Islamic faith at the age of 77. How was I able to exist, and to some extent thrive, without religion. I shall reflect upon this.

It seems that my need for spirituality, my expression of spirituality, was met in other ways. Most notably, in a way not common in the West. I immersed myself in the study of Ikebana. It did not begin with a desire for spirituality but for another, actually absurd reason. My third husband never, and I do mean never, gifted me with flowers. I saw that classes in Ikebana were offered at a San Rafael community center and enrolled because I new that few flowers were needed and they would be provided at class.  There I met the  woman who was to become  my sensei (teacher) for the next twenty years. She was born in Japan, coming to the USA after her marriage to a military man who had been temporarily stationed in Japan. Over the years we grew closer, laughing together, even traveling together. We went to Japan together in 2011. The study began with an enthusiasm that did not leave me for years. 

 Ikebana, Wikipedia explains “arranging flowers” or “making flowers alive” is the Japanese art of flower arranging.  “It is also known as Kado “way of flowers” The tradition dates back to the Heian period, when floral offerings were made at altars. Ikebana reached its first zenith in the 16th century and has grown over the centuries, with numerous distinct schools extant today. Wikipedia traces its complex history. The eighth shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–1490), was a patron of the arts  developed concepts that would then go on to contribute to the formulation of rules in ikebana; one of the most important being that flowers offered on all ceremonial occasions, and placed as offerings before the gods, should not be offered loosely, but should represent time and thought.  Ikebana has always been considered a dignified accomplishment. All of Japan’s most celebrated generals notably practised flower arranging, finding that it calmed their minds and made their decisions on the field of action clearer; notable military practitioners include Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s most famous generals.” 

Laughingly, I look back at those years realizing that flower arranging did calm my mind and made my decisions on the fields of action clearer. My fields of action were the Marin County Civil Courts where I fought off defendants and opposing counsel with zeal.

Ikebana is more that just putting flowers in a container. “ikebana is a disciplined art form in which nature and humanity are brought together. Though ikebana is an expression of creativity, certain rules govern its form, such as the idea of good and evil fortune in the selection of material and form of the arrangement. It is believed that practice of flower arranging leads a person to become more patient and tolerant of differences in nature and in life, providing relaxation in mind, body and soul, and allowing a person to identify with beauty in all art forms.” 

It was so, relaxation in mind, body and soul, identifying beauty in all art forms. I achieved ed knowledge of the effect in an unusual way.  I went back to graduate school after I retired from the practice of law obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in Humanities from Dominican University in San Rafael, California. As it is a Catholic university, it required religious courses; one examined the search for meaning in religious faiths. The professor, Dr. Novak knowing of my absorption in Ikebana encouraged me to explore meaning in Ikebana.  The resulting term paper was  titled Ikebana: Not Just Branches and Flowers. Research led to an understanding of the spiritual aspect of this practice, it was fascinating. I did find the paper amongst my possessions in the recent past, but have been unable to locate it here in Canada. It must be amongst my possessions remaining in storage in California. 

Flower arranging was abandoned when I went to London, then Vancouver, then San Francisco but when I returned to Marin in January of 2020 and retrieved my possessions (including containers and other paraphernalia)  began to fashion flower arrangements, displaying them on the patio of my apartment in Corte Madera. Needless to say, the Ikebana paraphernalia was not amongst the essentials taken with me when I fled to the UAE. 

Now home in Edmonton, I have renewed this expression of spirituality very rarely. Two photographs will illustrate my ‘rusty’ skills. I purchased the turquoise container at Alberta Craft Council, just up the street. The geraniums were a gift from the Alberta Legislative Building gardeners. They were being uprooted before the big freeze. So it seems that Ikebana has come home to Edmonton. 

Humour and stories of the good times I am having shall return to the pages of this blog soon, I promise. 


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *