In a world that has been relentlessly primed to favor the myths of independence and certainty over the truths of interconnection and mystery, the practice of reverence can seem foolish and unfashionable. But no one here exists independent of all others. And the vast complex of our knowledge, though impressive, is erected on the shores of an ocean of unknowns. Reverence is a glad acknowledgement of these realities. It does not require you to be religious, or part of an organized faith. If there are any prerequisites for reverence they are only this: The capacity for wonder and love. And an awareness in the heart, of the dignity and worthiness inherent in this earth, this life, this moment. In many ways Maki Kawamura, a mother, global peace leader and former doctor, embodies what it means to live reverently. She shares her story, and her quietly powerful convictions here.
What Were You Born To Do?
“When I was 30 years old, a close friend asked me, ‘What’s your life's mission?' when she asked me this question I drew a blank. I didn’t have an answer, and that was a big shock to me. I felt colorless.”
Mother of three and managing director of the Goi Peace Foundation in Tokyo, Japan, Maki Kawamura shares her story softly. Sincerity flutters through her words like a small, bright-eyed bird. It is difficult not to be instantly won over.
“I realized that I really needed to find my own color and the only way to find my color was to really work with myself. To ask myself: ‘What do you love? What are you here for? What were you born to do?’ It took more than a year to do this. Prayer helped me.”
When Maki uses the word ‘prayer’ she means it in a very broad, secular sense. In her usage of it, the word encompasses a potent combination of gratefulness, love, and reverence for life in all its manifestations.
“I don’t have any memories of learning to pray. I learned it the way a child learns words [by being surrounded by them]. Prayer was a different language that was always there around me. In the morning we would open the windows and say, ‘Thank you dear ocean, thank you dear air, thank you trees.’ We began each day like this. My Grandpa always said, ‘Prayer is not something separate from you. Every day whatever you are doing, the message of peace is always in your heart and you live that message.’ That is what he told my mother, and that is what she passed on to us. When we cooked our meals we thanked the food. When we traveled, we thanked the mountains. When we heard of tragedies on the news we prayed for peace.”
It is profound to think of a child being brought up in this way, suspended in the medium of prayer, so to speak. Profound, but perhaps not surprising when you consider who this child’s parents were.
A Legacy of Love
Maki’s mother, Masami Saionji is a descendent of the Royal Ryuku Family of Okinawa. World War II formed the backdrop of her childhood, and she carries tragic memories of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At eighteen, on a visit to her ancestral village she experienced a series of unusual physical symptoms before collapsing to the ground unconscious. Doctors diagnosed her with an incurable brain tumor and gave her a month to live. She was prone to daily seizures and lost both her eyesight and hearing. A close connection to her godfather, the spiritual philosopher Masahisa Goi, led her to respond to this acute physical suffering with the power of love and prayer. She experienced a remarkable healing take place from the inside out, and found her life’s calling: To bring people together, that they might heal themselves and the world. Byakko Shinko Kai is the spiritual community that Masahisa Goi founded and that Masami now leads as his successor. Along with its partner organization the Goi Peace Foundation, led by Maki’s father, Hiroo Saionji, Byakko is responsible for a global peace movement that is remarkable in its quiet authenticity, inclusiveness and reach.
“Even as a little girl, I always knew how important my parents’ work was. They were so dedicated to creating peace in the world. They traveled a lot. And as a young child, I wanted to help them. And I decided that my role was to be a good child, as a way of supporting them. I didn’t want to do anything that would make them worry. So I did whatever I was told and tried to take care of my sisters.
I respected my parents and their work so much. But my parents never told me to follow in their footsteps. Instead they said, ‘Find your own path. Find your own journey. But whatever you do should be connected to service for the community or the world.’ At the time I didn't have the confidence to say that I wanted to follow them, to support their work. I was so afraid that I was not good enough to help them, I feared that if I took on their work I might accidentally crush everything that they had given their lives to create. That was a really scary thought for me
Then I lost my grandfather to cancer when I was 15 years old. I witnessed the pain and suffering that he had to go through, and I struggled with it. The birth of a child is associated with such happiness and joy. In my heart I felt that the process of death should be similar to that birthing process. It shouldn't be filled with such fear and dark associations. I didn't want my parents to die the way my grandfather had. I wanted to learn more about death and dying, I wanted to study that field more deeply. That's why I decided to go to medical school and become a physician. I saw it as a path that would connect the spirit of their work (service to the world) with my dream of creating a space for people to transition from life peacefully."
Listening for the Inner Voice
"I completed medical school, and one time when I was on night duty at the hospital, I had this dream, a very scary dream. In it both my parents died, and the people who supported them all came to my sister and I asking, ‘What should we do now? What should our work be?’ And I realized that I had no idea. I didn’t know how they led their organizations. I’d watched them from an outer perspective, but never from the inside, never while working together with them. So I had no answers for the people in my dream. In that moment I had a powerful realization that I needed to be on a different path.”
The questioning had begun but the answer was yet to be clear. And then at 30, came the question from a friend that surfaced her feeling of needing to find her own voice, her own color...the question that stopped her in her tracks. “What is your mission?”
“I think prayer can radiate energy toward the world but at the same time it can deepen you. We receive so much information from our eyes and ears. We need to create some time to shut them down so we can hear what our inner voice is telling us to do. At the beginning my voice was so quiet that I couldn't hear. But as I continued asking myself, "What is it that the inside of me is telling me to do?" I started to realize what my mission and my role is. I realized that if I continued to work as a physician there would always be somebody who could teach me how to look for symptoms in a patient, how to diagnose and heal them. But only my parents could teach me about their work. And if I lost them, there would be no one else who could teach us their message. When I realized that I was able to make a decision to shift my work from physician to what I am doing right now, which is, supporting my parents work. And that’s guided me to live the life that I am living right now.”
A Prayer for All People in All Places
If there is a central prayer in Maki’s life it is this: May Peace Prevail On Earth. A simple statement and wish that her grandfather Masahisa Goi put forth as a peace prayer in the aftermath of World War II.
“After witnessing the devastation of war, he realized that no individual could attain true peace and happiness until the whole world was at peace. And paradoxically he also felt that the peace of the world depends on the peace of individuals. So he came up with this simple statement, "May peace prevail on Earth".
Maki teases out the brilliant simplicity in the prayer. In part it’s about letting go of your limited identity, she explains.
“We all exist as part of Earth. When we hold the wish, ‘May peace prevail on earth’ it includes us but isn’t limited to us.” It holds the space for world peace and individual peace in the same breath. In Mt Fuji where Masahisa Goi created a stunning peace sanctuary, every month people gather to participate in a joint peace prayer. “We pray for every country in the world, in alphabetical order. We say, ‘May peace prevail in Afghanistan, May peace prevail in Angola, and so on. There are 191 countries in the world. So we pray for each country, in their national language and in the presence of their flag. It’s very powerful. Especially when you consider that some of these countries are at war with each other. It is very hard to pray for a country that is hurting your country, right? But if that country is one of the 191 countries, you are praying for, then it becomes easier. Your individual self thought that it was impossible to pray for the other country, but it becomes easier in this process. And that takes you by surprise -- and that small shift can create a big transformation. I think this is the power of prayer. The transformation never starts from the outside. It has to occur from inside. My mother always reminds people,"You may not be able to pray for the happiness and peace for certain people who you are struggling with, but you can always say, ‘May peace prevail on their country’, or ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth’, and the intention will reach that person. The process slowly helps heal the relationship, and at the same time it is really healing you. And that kind of healing transforms your life -- and you expand into a bigger reality.”
There is a girlish sweetness and parable-like simplicity to the way Maki expresses herself. At first blush it might seem like charming naiivete, but as you listen further, the depth of her practice and the maturity in her understanding slowly reveals itself. She is well aware that the practice is simple -- but not always easy.
“Every day things happen that move my heart...for example, I have three daughters, and when she was very little, one of my daughters came up and said to me, " I hate myself." I was so upset to hear that. How does a 2-year-old decide that she hates her own self? What might I have done to make her think that way? I went into prayer and deep meditation and I realized that maybe unconsciously in my heart I was comparing her to my elder daughter, and my unconscious behavior was making her think less of herself. I decided to consciously change my behavior with her. It took a long time, but two years later, she said, "Mom, I love myself." When she said that to me, tears came into my eyes. Not just because I was happy that she loved herself, but also because in the process something in me had changed. This is the power of transformation. Your environment transforms along with you. And this can be created by commitment that comes from your own inner spark or your own source."
The Role of Continuity
“If you are choosing the path from your inner source, and make a commitment to really work and try to create a life that aligns with the source, then if you continue that transformation occurs. There are many people who ask me question like, "Even though I pray for the peace the world, the peace never comes to me, or ‘I pray for peace but bad things still occur in my life -- why?" Patience and commitment is really key. I think it’s like trying to boil water. Many people give up before the water gets hot enough. So it feels like shift isn’t happening. If you stop heating the water it’s going to cool down again. If you keep holding the intention and then dropping it before the water reaches the boiling point you’re not going to see any change. No matter how small your fire is, the important thing is to just keep it going. We all have pots of different sizes, so it doesn’t make sense to compare. Like, ‘We both started together and look -- her transformation has come before mine!’ It’s not a race, we each have to continue to do our part and appreciate the small shifts along the way -- all the tiny bubbles that come up. These are signs that transformation is underway. Big shifts don’t come all at once, there are always little signs. We have to just keep the pot boiling and things will unfold naturally."
There is a Spark in Everything
"The person who finds the spark in himself or herself, can believe that everyone has that spark. It will take time for all of us to realize this. But imagine if each of us who has found our spark tries to connect to that spark in everyone we meet... People come up and tell me, “If you knew what I’ve been through you would know that the person I’m dealing with has no spark." And they will explain to me how horrible their neighbors or classmates or colleagues are. Ultimately you have to make a commitment to yourself to see the spark in everything. That is your responsibility. Yes there will be people who deeply upset you. But you don’t give up. You’ve made a commitment and you have to honor it. There’s always a path forward, you just have to find it. It may take time, you just have to keep working with the love in your heart.
I have a beautiful example of this. My friend’s son was the victim of a terrible car accident. He was diagnosed with spinal cord injury and was told by the doctor that he would never walk again. My friend was devastated. She was intensely angry with the person who’d caused the accident. When that person came forward to apologize she refused to even see him. But somehow she still made time to look within every day and to try and find her own inner voice, and spark. Over time she came to realize that if she couldn’t find it in her heart to forgive then she and her son would continue to suffer. She began to pray," May peace prevail on me, may peace prevail on my son, may peace prevail on earth," over and over again. I saw the process she went through, and it was painful. We prayed together, but I knew that there was a part of this work that she had to do alone. As she continuously did this, she started hearing her own voice telling her that the only way to create peace was to accept the apology and forgive the person who had injured her son. She called the man up, invited him to the house, accepted the apology and asked him to move forward and fully live his life. They were both in tears, and made a promise to each other that they would dedicate their lives to forgiveness. An inexplicable peace came to my friend. Eventually her son was able to forgive too and as it turned out his body also went through a process of healing. It took a long time, but now he is able to walk, and live out his own life, dedicated to teaching about forgiveness. This story really reminds me that you need to really follow your voice. Your head may want to go against that inner voice, at such times it’s important to place your trust in the inner voice. Because that voice is telling the truth. The voice of head stems from common knowledge. It’s knowledge that you’ve been ‘taught’ or conditioned into. But the heart or the inner voice is moving you towards your true path. Sometimes it may be difficult, but if you follow that, it will guide you towards peace."
Advice for Working Mothers
Maki's youngest sister Yuka Saionji Matsuura (an incredible force of love in her own right) shares, "When our parents went for business trips we had adults who took care of us, but Maki really took on that role as well. That was so clear to me when Maki had her first baby Miki. When Miki was a toddler, Maki would tell her “be careful! “ or, “lets go now” or “wait!" but instead of using Miki's name she would say my name. It made me laugh when she mixed up our names this way. But my heart also ached as I realized how much of a mother she has been to me ever since she was little. Everyone who encounters Maki feels the warmth of her motherly love. She's always been this way."
I am a working mother myself. I have three children, 8-years-old, 6years-old and 1-year-old. I think that children really know what's going on. You can't lie to children. Even though I am not home a lot, they know that I am not playing around. They know that I am doing work that is important. And even though they are really small, I sense they understand and really support me in their own way. I feel the pain of not always being there to protect them, or not always being there to comfort them when they are sick. But I see that this emotional pain is coming from my emotional self. So I always tell myself not be confused with receiving message from the emotional place. If I go deeper to my inner source, the message I hear is to believe in my children's source. Each one of them has a spark in themselves, and they can live strongly from there. The pain I feel is on the surface, deep down I really trust that they have the spark and that they can live from that. I believe that trust is the most powerful thing to create transformation. If I can trust that deeply enough, they can trust in themselves too. I know personally how hard it can be for working mothers, but my mother always said that, 'Remember that our children are protected by something great. Something much greater than ourselves.' They come from this beautiful universe, and the power of a mother is great, but the power of the universe is much much greater." So sometimes it is better not to interfere. Just hold the prayer, the wish in your heart that your child can be strong enough to find his or her own spark and live from there.
There is an arresting compassion in Maki's approach to her work. And a magnitude of patience and determination that renders this petite, soft-spoken young woman fiercely heroic.
"Whatever the environment, whatever the situation, peace can emerge out of your innermost being. Sometimes people are in very difficult situations and feel that they don’t have the strength to do this for themselves. Then we must hold that prayer of peace on their behalf, until they can hold it themselves. I believe it’s our job to do this."
May Peace Prevail on Earth.
The Soul of WoMen & The 21-Day Reverence Challenge
Maki, along with her parents and two sisters. Yuka Saionji Matsuura and Rika Yoshikawa, is deeply involved with Fuji Declaration, a transnational alliance for peace. The Soul of WoMen is one of their recent initiatives, that hopes to "inspire and empower every woman and man to bring out their authentic self and share their unique gifts to co-create a new future. In oneness, we can foster a more peaceful and flourishing world for all life-- a world that honors deep feminine principles in harmony with the masculine."
Alongside KindSpring, the Soul of WoMen is co-hosting a 21-Day Reverence Challenge that launches on April 25th and is open to all people everywhere. It will lead up to the annual Symphony of Peace Prayers Ceremony at Mt Fuji -- a unique event where thousands of people from across all religions and cultures will come together and hold peace in their hearts for all living beings in all parts of the world.