On April 13, 2019 in Bruges, Belgium, I presented Shintaido for a second year at the 2nd Global Conference on Death, Dying and the 21st Century. This year 22 people from 10 countries came together for 2 days as an interdisciplinary research community. We discussed the ways culture impacts the care for the dying, the overall experience of dying, and the ways the dead are remembered. Attendees came from the Netherlands, Australia, Portugal, Switzerland, Wales, the UK, Israel, Lebanon, the USA, and Canada. Our interdisciplinary group included scholars from philosophy, ethics, the law and literature; experts in the field of design for both products and processes; photography and videography; writers; and healthcare professionals including me as both a healthcare professional and student of Shintaido.
I presented Tenshingoso with overtone chanting, as part of an array of topics from personal reflection on the journey through and after death of a loved one to review of literature and poems that gave voice to the illness experience. During the 45-minute interactive demonstration, the participants used their voices and their bodies to explore the sounds of Ah, Oh and Um to express grief and facilitate mourning. Participants were first given the opportunity to stand facing inwards in a circle, and then with alternating groups they were invited to stand in the center of the group while these three movements were being done by the external circle.
Group Movement in Bruges
Participants reported feeling soothed and relaxed. Many reported feeling the vibrations of sound within their bodies. All agreed the simplicity of the three repeated movements made it easier to learn and potentially use in the future. Many were eager to work with their colleagues and explore how patients might benefit from these movements and sounds.
Our group quickly formed an intimacy and connection through our mutual sharing and teaching over these two days. For almost everyone, these two days moving toward the unknown and mystery of death brought us closer together. I received feedback that the inclusion of body movement was welcome to both “get out of our heads and into our bodies” and to facilitate our interconnection as a group. I am making plans for next year’s meeting already!
Here is my paper on my presentation:
Kotodama Applications for End of Life; a performance/audience participation presentation Abstract: The use of sound combined with body movement crosses all cultures, languages and religions to provide a physical means for spiritual growth that for end-of-life purposes can provide a way to express grief and connection with the deceased. When the voice is added in Japanese martial arts such as Shintaido, the sound can be a spiritual basis for teaching. The Japanese word for sacred sound or word spirit is Kotodama. In the Japanese belief system, mystical powers dwell in words or names and ritual word usages can influence our environment. The Japanese martial arts body movement is Tenshingoso, with specific attention to the sounds “Ooo”, “Uumm”, and “Aaa”. This presentation will bring the results many years of weekly practice and instruction for use in celebrations of life.
Presentation: Tenshingoso is called “The Cycle of Life” so that through body movement one can study life as measured from moments to a lifetime, while using the voice to increase the flow of energy. Tenshingoso is derived from esoteric Buddhism with each movement accompanied by a Sanskrit sound. For this presentation, the sounds of O-Um-Ah will be presented and practiced. This movement with voice will advance to transition from one sound to the next sound ultimately doing three sounds with one breath.
O – Reaching out into the universe to reach what is omnipresent
Push hands forward and up as far as possible with the palm facing forward, fingers pulled back so as to open the palm of the hand. The sound of “Oooo” is made throughout this movement and as the movement Um is started, the sound changes to “Uumm” to start the stage of Um.
Um – Bringing the universe, perhaps those who have gone before into one’s center
The right-hand rests lightly inside your left hand. Eyes can be half closed or completely closed. Bring all your concentration into one single point where everything else disappears. Release all tension from the top of your head to your feet. Bring the hands back to rest lightly over your lower abdomen. The sound of “Uumm”” continues through this movement and begins to change to the sound “Aahh” to start the stage of Ah.
Ah – Opening Space – asking those who have died to reappear.
Opening your eyes, drop your arms down and backwards with shoulders relaxed, your fingers open and palms open, leading with the thumbs pointing backwards. Look toward the skies. Your chest will be open, head tilted backwards so that your chin and face is looking up. Your arms with palms open will be at your sides. Making the sound of “Aahh” and transitioning to the sound “Ooo”.
Life is a path. We come from Mu and we go back to Mu. Life is long, and our own lives are each a small part of life. Sometimes rain, sometimes wind, sometime life or death. Pretty simple, actually, it is what it is. Ikkyu
Joe and John. I’m sorry I missed a chance to talk to you just before your departures.
In these days, the more I practice Tenshingoso, the more I appreciate the end of the movement (Oooooo~Uuuuuu~Mmmmmm)!
When I was young, I was practicing this part of Tenshingoso according to the text/recommendation written by Aoki-sensei.
I enjoyed it, and I kept sharing my understanding with many people having the confidence of how much I know about the cycle of our life.
Now that I’m 76 years old, I understand that my grasp of this part of Tenshingoso has been rather superficial.
It is always difficult for me to watch those who helped me share Shintaido leave for the next stage of their life. I wish I could have had a face-to-face meeting and express my gratitude in person.
But, I am lucky that I can still communicate with you, through the following ways:
Through the sound of Oooooo, I believe that I can reach you who are now omnipresent in the universe!
Through the sound of Uuuuu~Mmmmm, I can feel you in my Hara, You are gone but I still have many memories of the goodness I have studied from you.
Through the sound of Mmmm~Aaaaa, I can ask you to appear!
I hope you will continue to share Shintaido, and want to ask you to become our “Guardians” in the sky!
Looking forward to talking to you in Ten in the near future!
When we drove away from the Shintaido class at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield recently, Stephen said something like: “That is so inspiring. I always feel great after that class.” I have to agree with him. I am teaching the class and Stephen is assisting me.
The class ranges from 4 to 8 participants; all women and all in their sixties or seventies. Shintaido always seems to work its magic. As the teacher, I often leave work, drive home and get myself to the class feeling a little rushed and tired. Afterwards I feel clear and uplifted. We have come to see by their regular attendance that these seniors are also enjoying themselves and the spirit of Shintaido.
The center is an older building right in the center of town. When we practice inside, we have to move the tables and chairs of the big room to the side to make some space. When the weather is beautiful as in the past few weeks, we set up outside under the shade of two big maple trees.
We always start in a circle sitting on chairs. We concentrate on our breathing and then move into seated warmups. Soon we are up and at it – warming up, stretching, doing balancing exercises. I originally thought that would be about all we would do but I soon recognized that this is a hale and hearty group.
I have surprised myself by what I have been teaching. These women are not afraid to use their voices and they enjoy the sounds and movements of Tenshingoso. We have practiced wakame and other soft movements, but also enjoy stepping, cutting and most recently Tsuki!
The classes last approximately one hour. We asked if they would prefer six or eight-week sessions but they all want to keep going. We may take a break in August, but otherwise we will continue the class on an ongoing basis.
It is true that some seniors have physical limitations, but everyone in this group seems very self-aware and able to work within their limitations and of course, Stephen and I are careful and make adjustments as necessary.
Who knows if some of these seniors will become active and participate in the larger Shintaido community? I hope so, but I am also quite content to continue this lovely weekly practice.
The most surprising thing for me is how very like any other Shintaido class this class is. It is the transformation that comes from connecting with heaven and earth and with one another that gives a meaningfulness to our movements and our practice together.
The conference was attended by 25 people from around the world with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Examples of the presenters include: an anthropologist presenting on the Mi’kmaq of eastern Canada and their Funeral Feasts; a social worker presenting on bereavement and the Malay Muslims; a PhD candidate in Russian Literature presenting on The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy; a Portuguese Literature Professor presenting on Old Age in Jean-Rhys’s later texts; and an ethicist from the UK presenting on Presumed Consent for Organ Donation in England. Other examples are: a Canadian psychologist and his social worker wife presenting reflections from their Death and Dying Group, an Australian ICU physician presenting on advance care planning, an American Chaplain speaking on spiritual care counselling, and an English artist presenting on her use of cloth and textiles as a metaphor for conveying grief and loss.
I taught the five movements of Tenshingoso with return demonstrations by the group. The group expressed appreciation for the sensation of opening the body, using the voice and the sense of harmony created as the group did the movements together. We discussed the study of the Cycle of Life with the individual movements as well as the study over a lifetime. As I concluded my teaching and the group entered the final “UM”, the local church clock bell rang 12 times – a special moment at the ending! The group also requested that I lead them again in Tenshingoso at the closing ceremony of the two-day conference.