What of the dreams we carry inside our hearts for this life on earth?
Visitors to Shinto shrines in Japan often write their wishes, dreams, aspirations and prayers onto wooden plaques, known as ema 絵馬, and hang them at the shrine, in the hope that these prayers will be heard and granted by the Gods, and often believing that these entreaties will be absorbed and bestowed upon the seeker by Spirit.
This act of writing our prayers and hopes onto the plaques teaches and reminds me that not only must we know our own dreams and aspirations, we must also be able to articulate them and put them into words.
We must have the courage to realise our dreams into text on a tangible surface, see them inscribed in ink, view them with our eyes and recognise them to be our own longings and wishes before they may transform into reality in our lives.
Before this reality can manifest itself, however, we must also be brave enough to let others into our hopes and allow them to witness the aspirations we hold, which we sometimes shelter too closely in the secret places of ourselves.
Maybe when we free our dreams to hang out in the summer sun, let them soak in the autumn rain, open them up to flutter in the springtime breeze and allow them to shiver a little when the winter snowflakes fall, they will be tested and become strengthened?
When we can display our aspirations, hang them on a wooden plaque for others to view at the local shrine, pin our goals onto the wall by the office desk, scribble our wishes into our diaries at home or reveal our life’s hopes anywhere at all really, because this entire earth is sacred ground, we become a little more emboldened and our dreams become further solidified.
Perhaps it is now that we, ourselves become strengthened and our dreams along with us, that we begin to merge with our aspirations and actually live our goals and dreams as our reality?
High on the hill where Kumamoto castle lies is also located the Kato Shrine which is dedicated to the founder of Kumamoto, Lord Kato Kiyomasa.
When I visited Kato Shrine, one of the priests was performing a particular ritual of chanting incantations while working a fire on the grounds of the shrine.
I stood nearby and watched the fire, observed the smoke and listened to the priest’s quiet incantations for some time.
A shrine attendant later explained that the priest was performing the ritual of burning the plaques of prayers and dreams that had been left at the shrine by visitors. The plaques are displayed and retained for four seasons, about 365 days then are burned by a priest.
The symbolism is powerful.
Our dreams need to weather the storms and bask under the moonlight. These hopes must be exposed to the stars in the sky, the chirping of insects in the night, the tooting of horns in the daytime…
After four seasons of exposure to the earth’s endless voices, these wishes and prayers are released to the Heavens while incantations are invoked so that the entreaties may reach the Gods, lightly prod Spirit, and remind the Universe that we are here still pursuing our path and seeking to fulfil our dreams, these life-longings that had once upon a time been given us when we were birthed.
In English language, there is the expression of dreams “going up in smoke” to convey the idea of our efforts having been wasted, and also the saying of plans “going down in flames” to denote spectacular failure of having attempted something.
Standing on the sacred grounds of Kato Shrine while witnessing the inscribed wishes and dreams of so many people going down in flames and then seeing these hopes and aspirations spiralling up in smoke, I gain a different understanding to the idiomatic expressions.
I think that our dreams must be exposed in the open and must be thrown into the fire so that they can rise up in the smoke to permeate the earth and infuse our lives with their reality once they have been tested and we along with them.
We need to learn to accept the storms that inevitably come to us and weather them courageously. We must allow for our dreams to sometimes be scrutinised and for our resolve to be tested for this is the journey towards realising who we are.