In a ninjutsu dojo (like the Boston Martial Arts Center, for example), you’ll find a place of reverence called a kamidana, or spirit shelf. In traditional Shinto religious practices (the native, shamanistic religion of Japan), a kamidana is a place to honor your ancestors and their guardian spirits. In modern times, it’s a focal point for the energy of the school and students, a place to put your attention as you begin class, asking your own mind to wake up enough to get something out of class.
The kamidana traditionally has a few common items in it – a shimenawa rope, designating it as a sacred place, above or nearby. There’s a kagami mirror, signifying that the true source of your power comes from you, if you can only see clearly enough to recognize it, a set of sakaki greens, typically pine or other evergreen cuttings, symbolizing life and growth, tomyo candles that hold purifying fire and light your way, osonaemono offerings of rice, water, and salt (offering food for the ancient spirits, symbolizing giving respect to all who have come before you), and a kagaribitate watch fire stand, symbolic of standing guard against evil.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well, the idea of a spiritual seat, or a place of power, is something that a lot of us don’t have any more. Many have places of power like the church on Sunday morning, the temple on Friday night, the dojo, but rarely do we have a place of power near to us, and for those that travel a lot for business, what places of power you do have (like home) you’re away from an awful lot of the time.
Give some consideration to creating a kamidana for yourself in your own home, and a portable one for on the road. In either, think about the things that you derive power and strength from. The classical Shinto kamidana might resonate with you, but chances are if you’re not of Japanese heritage or an avid practitioner of classical Japanese martial arts, it’ll probably be a curiosity more than anything else. Look instead at your own sources of power, your own culture, personal history, and traditions for these things:
– What designates a sacred place for you? It might be a symbol, like a crucifix or the Star of David, or something as simple as a favorite colored cloth.
– What designates self reflection for you? A small hand mirror might be appropriate, or a crystal.
– What designates growth for you? A freshly cut flower? A few green leaves? A small potted plant? Heck, even a tank of sea monkeys if that’s what means growth to you.
– What designates all that is light, bright, and right in your world? If you’re a parent, perhaps it’s a photo of your child or a favorite drawing they’ve made for you. If you’re a pet lover, maybe it’s your pet’s photo. Whatever you love and whatever you fight for in the world, this is it.
– What designates a connection to meaningful parts of your past? A locket from your grandmother, maybe, or an aged family photo, perhaps. Find something in your past that is symbolic of your roots’ strength.
– What designates watchfulness against negative habits, energy, people, and events? Maybe it’s an icon of a saint in your tradition or another holy figure. Maybe it’s a favorite quote on a small card, or a picture of a hero that you associate strongly with.
Take the time to set up a spiritual shelf, a little place of your own power, something that is in a protected little space somewhere in your home or office. It doesn’t have to be big or obvious – you can even keep it in a desk drawer if need be, but make it a place that you use to remind you of what you stand for, what your true power is, and what you want to achieve in the world. Use it daily, even for just a few moments, to focus your mind and take a few deep breaths, reconnecting.
If you travel a lot, take a small cloth with you and items that designate each of the meanings, and in your hotel room, set up this little place with your stuff that again reminds you of what’s important to you. In those lonely moments when you miss home and all that it symbolizes, looking at your own symbols of what you’re doing the travel for will help you forge on and refresh the connections you have to your own power.
Try it and see how it works for you!
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