While cycling through downtown Portland a few days ago, I was amazed to see so many people out along the waterfront admiring the cherry trees and their eruption of soft pink blossoms. The tree limbs were like arms, welcoming us to step out into the spring, with its eternally recurring promise of rebirth and renewal.
In Japanese culture, the cherry blossom, or sakura, is a vibrant symbol of life’s transience.
Blooming season is powerful, glorious and intoxicating, but tragically short-lived — a visual reminder that our lives, too, are fleeting.
Why don’t we marvel at our own passing time on earth with the same joy and passion? Why do we neglect to revel in life when it can end at any moment, or in the grace surrounding us everywhere: our family, friends, a stranger’s smile, a child’s laugh, new flavours on our plate or the scent of green grass? It is time, cherry blossoms remind us, to pay attention.
All Things Pass
I find that this traditional symbolism of sakura resonates more strongly than ever now. A year ago, we were all negotiating the awkwardness of pulling inward, indoors, and into isolation in a season that normally inspires us to do the exact opposite.
Yet it’s because of those actions and the emergence of effective vaccines that spring’s renewal feels all the more potent, evidenced by all those out strolling alongside the Willamette River. We are starting to emerge from a year that was marked profoundly by loss – from the loss of in-person connection to children’s learning loss to lives lost to COVID.
But just as the intense beauty of sakura is fleeting, so, too, are the difficulties and challenges that life presents us. There’s good reason for saying, when wrangling with hardship, “this, too, shall pass.” All things pass.
There Is So Much We Can Be Grateful For
Sakura bids us towards mindfulness, and mindfulness primes us for gratitude. As we recognize what we have, we can appreciate what it brings to our lives. For gratitude isn’t just about saying “thanks” but recognizing what we value about an action or in another person, how we are enriched by the experience they bring. It’s an act of honoring what has made our lives better. Or easier. Or fuller.
Obviously, there is much we can be grateful for as we emerge from the pandemic – not only the return of activities and experiences that we’ve had to do without but the fact that, as difficult as things have been, we made it through. We rose to the challenges. We tapped into our creativity to find or invent solutions to keep life moving forward. We drew from our resilience to keep going on, even when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse.
Now, here we are, even stronger, even more resilient because of what we’ve gone through together, and more aware of the need to cherish what matters; to experience the nowness that gives our lives meaning – even in the smallest moments of beauty, like the cherry blossom.
In Japan, the arrival of the cherry blossoms coincides with the start of the traditional lunisolar new year. For this reason, it’s also a potent symbol of new beginnings.
The exuberance and intensity of the cherry blossom, therefore, bestows the license to hope and dream of greater things to come and to look ahead with enthusiasm and optimism.
I’m certainly hoping and dreaming and looking ahead – and dearly hope you are, too.