by Selena Fox
Since ancient times, Cherry Blossoms and the non-fruit bearing trees that produce them, sakura, have been revered in Japan. They continue to be an important part of Japanese culture, and appear in paintings, haiku poetry, anime, songs, and other creative works. They are symbols of beauty, good fortune, and the cycle of life. The brief time of beautiful blooming is a powerful reminder of the transience of life. Each Spring, hanami, or blossom viewing parties and festivals are held throughout Japan.
Cherry Blossom Trees and the custom of viewing them in bloom also are in other parts of the world, including the United States of America. One hundred years ago this Spring, a gift of 3,020 Cherry Blossom Trees from Japan arrived in Washington, DC and were planted around the Tidal Basin and surrounding areas. In subsequent years, additional trees were added.
One of the largest Cherry Blossom viewing events in the world today now happens every Spring in Washington, DC. Thousands of locals and visitors from around the world converge on the Tidal Basin to delight in the beauty of the blossoming of the multitude of ornamental Cherry Trees in the city. This year, early warm weather brought the blossoms out in time for Spring Equinox and the start of the five week Centennial Cherry Blossom Festival.
My husband Dennis and I decided to do our personal celebration of Spring Equinox this year with a journey to Washington, DC to experience the Cherry Blossom Trees in peak bloom. In addition to delighting in the beauty of the blossoming trees themselves, this year’s journey was also one of ancestral remembrance for me. My great grandfather Peter Bisset (1869-1951) was part of the team of horticulturists involved in importing, planting, and caring for the Cherry Blossom Trees one hundred years ago and in years that followed.
Although ornamental Cherry Trees commonly live between forty and fifty years, there are a hundred of the original trees planted in 1912 still living and blooming among the many that now surround the Tidal Basin. It was moving to connect with these originals. In meditative rituals, I paid tribute to them and my great grandfather, and I honored the spirit of international peace and friendship that brought this wonderful Cherry Blossom Trees community into being in my homeland.
The best way to connect with the beauty and magic of the Cherry Blossoms of Washington, DC is through direct encounter. Viewing photographs and videos of the Blossoms online, in print, and on screens can give a glimpse of their splendor but the most powerful experiences come through spending time with the trees and their blossoms.
I perform rites to honor these beautiful trees each time I visit. These rituals take the form of Nature communion meditations with blossoms, trees, and landscape. Here are some of my favorite ways of doing spiritual work with Cherry Blossoms in the Tidal Basin of Washington, DC. Some of these rites can be adapted for work with Cherry Blossom Trees in bloom in other places.
Blossoms Community. Find a bench underneath one or more of the Cherry Blossom Trees and meditate on the beauty of the blossoms individually and then, collectively. After a time, expand your focus to also include meditating on the colorful convergence of people of many paths and places appreciating the blossoms. Be part of the multicultural, international, multilingual, interfaith blossom viewing that is happening daily, dawn to dusk, during the Cherry Blossom Festival time.
Aged Tree Communion. Visit one of the oldest Cherry Blossom Trees, honor it as you place your hand on it, commune with it, experience its wisdom and memories. When you are done, give it thanks and envision it thriving. Some of the original trees are along the walkway by the water by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. They are easily identified because their trunks are darker and thicker with more signs of pruning than younger ones, and often their branches extend over the walkway by the water.
Cherry Blossom Star Meditation. Stand by a flowering branch with fully opened blossoms. Select an individual blossom and look into its depts. See the five-pointed star at its center. Let this Cherry Blossom Star be a focal point for your meditation. Meditate with your eyes open for a time. Then close your eyes briefly and internally visualize the image. Repeat several times to memorize the image. Then, with eyes closed for a time, envision it. Now become one with the Cherry Blossom Star. Experience serenity, balance, and the magic that is within the bloom and within you. Then, open your eyes and express thanksgiving to the Spirit of the Cherry Blossom.
Moving Waters Meditation. Rent one of the paddleboats for an hour or two, and paddle out into the waters of the Tidal Basin. Pause, experience the movement of the water, and enjoy the view of the blooming tress along the shoreline in all directions around you. Connect with the energy of water, land, sky, light, and blossoming Springtime.
Liberty Circle Walk. Walk the entire path that encircles the Tidal Basin, visit each of the Memorials along the way, and reflect on Freedom enduring as you delight in the ephemeral beauty of the Cherry Blossoms. Experience the Jefferson Memorial as a Temple of Liberty as you seek out and read Jefferson’s own words about religious freedom engraved on the wall. Read and reflect on Freedom words and works at the George Mason, FDR, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials. Meditate on the beauty of the world’s tallest obelisk, the Washington Monument, framed by Cherry Blossoms and focus your intentions on Liberty and Justice for All.
Photographic Meditations. Meditatively take photographs of the blossoms as at different times of day and night, and in different climate conditions. Notice and appreciate the changes in colors and textures of the blossoms.
Falling Blossoms. Stand near some trees in full bloom. As breezes blow, appreciate the beauty of blossom petals falling and contemplate the ephemeral nature of Life. Deepen your understanding of beginnings and endings.
Remembrance. Give thanks to the Cherry Blossom Trees. Support efforts to care for them. Carry with you the memories of your experiences and express them through poetry, narratives, photography, storytelling, ritual, and other ways. Share your experiences with others.
Beyond the Tidal Basin: Introducing Other Great Flowering Cherry Trees, publication of the U.S. National Arboretum. www.usna.usda.gov.
Celebrating 100 Years of the Gift of Trees. National Cherry Blossom Festival: The Nation’s Greatest Springtime Celebration. Washington, DC, March 20-April 27, 2012. www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org
Cherry Blossoms: The Official Book of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, by Ann McClellan, with photos by Ron Blunt. Washington, DC: National Geographic. 2012.
Cherry Blossoms Photographs by Selena Fox on Facebook, March 2012:
Selena Fox on the Power of DC’s Cherry Blossoms. Guest post by Selena Fox on Pagan Newswire Collective’s Capital Witch blog, Monday, March 26, 2012, www.capitalwitch.com
This article was first published in the Spring 2012 issue of CIRCLE Magazine
Selena Fox is Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary and founder of the Circle Craft Tradition. Her lifelong love of Nature is an essential part of her personal and community spiritual practice. Like her great grandfather Peter Bisset, she honors Nature and capitalizes it. Selena teaches Circle Craft through writings, in workshops and rituals across the US and elsewhere, and via podcasts and social media presence.