Mono no aware is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence, and literally translates to "the pathos of things", and "an empathy toward things", or "a sensitivity to ephemera". It is a unique Japanese concept that embodies the subtle awareness of impermanence- or transience of things- and includes a gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at the passing of life as well as a longer, deeper, gentler sadness about this state being the reality of life.
"Mono-no aware: the ephemeral nature of beauty – the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing that none of it can last. It’s basically about being both saddened by and appreciative of transience – and also about the relationship between life and death. In Japan, there are four very distinct seasons, and you really become aware of life and mortality and transience. You become aware of how significant those moments are.”
As a shaman, I have always had an acute awareness of mono no aware. This dance of memory and transience permeates everything in shamanism, and it is a bittersweet reminder to stay present while honoring the past.
Sometimes, mono no aware manifests through a specific, emotional connection with a deceased loved one in a mediumship session- the scent of a grandmother’s perfume or uncle’s favorite brand of cigarette. Other times, it's the more subtle awareness that a room, space or even energy work table hums with the cumulative memory of hundreds of readings, meditations, or healing sessions. Have you ever had a bag or hat that, worn with time, reminds you immediately of a specific memory? An old, cozy sweater that you’ve had for decades? A space that, when you enter it, brings you back to a moment in time, flooding you with all of the sense memories, feelings and thoughts of that experience?
Yah, me too. And that’s a very, very good thing.
With all of the extreme change that has come our way this year, mono no aware has taken on a new importance. How do we create a memorable, ephemeral experiences within quarantine protocols? How can we be perfectly present and grateful when so much is chaotic and uncertain? How can we be “witness to the dazzling circus of life” if we’re stuck in our homes, looking at our computers?
At TOTEM, we have worked to keep this energetic reverence for the experience of life alive. While I will continue to offer remote readings and sessions- a core part of TOTEM’s service offering since the beginning- I am also very focused on how to create memorable, safe, in-person experiences at our Oak Park and West Loop spaces. This is why I’ve invested so much into the art, décor and ambiance of our physical spaces: to give you a safe, sanitized place to come, sit down, relax, and reconnect with spirit in a memorable, accessible way.
And many of you have also reached out to me about TOTEM creating digital content, and with good reason. You are not wrong- it’s impactful and it would be very good for my business from a financial perspective. When I worked in corporate, creating digital content was something I did with ease on a regular basis- and I understand the importance of having reach and being able to connect in this increasingly virtual world.
But there's another side to it: I don't really want to do it right now.
I guess you could say that you can take the girl out of corporate...but you can't take the differentiation mindset out of the girl. My contrarian, "what's next?" nature has bucked at the notion of jumping into a commoditized tidal wave of providers all suddenly rushing into a noisy, oversaturated digital and social media landscape. How do you get heard in that cacophony? How do you meaningfully convey your value proposition in a medium that, by its very nature, flattens things? How do you convey a commitment to the spiritual aspect of humanity while adopting its primary “villain” (i.e. social media) as your delivery mechanism?
Put in simple terms: much of what I see right now in digital offends my reverence for mono no aware. I don't want to treat my shamanic practice with the same cynicism that a consumer products company markets a toilet paper brand or a moisturizing face mask. Shamanism is not toilet paper: it's a big, beautiful, ephemeral experience that can never be fully translated via ad buys, zoom calls, or a series of YouTube videos. It’s an experience. A feeling. A mood. A memory. Sure, there’s a quantitative aspect. But there is also a big beautiful qualitative aspect, too.
In my career, I've watched so many companies erode their own brand, mission, and operations by reactively trying to be everything to everyone during a moment of temporary hardship. This "race to the bottom" mentality always leads to the same destination: you lose the plot, your business jumps the shark, and you become nothing to no one, most particularly to yourself. And I think this is doubly true for a spiritual consultancy.
So, this is a long way of saying: “I’m working on it.” When I can configure digital content and online classes in a format that retains the vital spiritual connection while giving you the priceless experience of mono no aware- a distinct sense of time, place, ambiance, feeling, etc.- we’ll launch, and we’ll launch big. I just don’t want TOTEM to become another dead satellite, circling the earth like so many other pieces of space garbage. I’m uppity like that. And, I think my clients deserve something more than a recycled intro class on YouTube.
Until then, if you are able and you’ve been debating scheduling a session, please reach out and learn about our in-person and remote options. We are UP AND RUNNING. And, in lieu of getting new digital content out, TOTEM has been focusing on learning, practicing and launching new services, including Channeling Sessions, TOTEM Energy Work, and one-on-one, private Restorative Yoga. I’m happy to tailor services to give you a moment of peace, connection and relaxation, so don’t hesitate to reach out via email anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
Right now, so much of our lives is limited to the confines of our homes and our computers. It's metaphorically and literally antiseptic, and while that may be necessary at the moment, it also sucks. We cannot see each others' mouths smiling when we pass by at the grocery store or on the sidewalk. We're not going out to a candlelit dinner, attending birthday parties, or hugging. Hell, I just had a wedding with only one other human being to do the ceremony- THANK YOU, Loretta!- and no friends or family present for it.
So, when and where we can maintain a sensory experience or create a new, unique, organic sensory experience, I vote that we embrace it. One of the reasons I jumped on expanding into the new space in Oak Park was because it just felt so good in there. It's low tech. There is no wireless. There are no screens. When we were first decorating it earlier this year, I was flooded with sense memories of quiet moments in my life, all towards the time of sunset, when the light is a golden amber and there was more silence and stillness than noise. I was inundated with memories of individual moments I used to enjoy with regularity: reading a book quietly, having contact with an angel in a contemplative moment, or sitting in the warmth of the sun in the late afternoon. It was peaceful. It felt good. And I wanted more of that feeling, both for me and for my clients.
I put a lot of thought into the art, furniture, scent and color scheme of that space in an effort to harness and amplify the stuff that makes it feel good. We're currently doing the same for our new space in the West Loop (launch date TBD in December). And we're not doing it for a perfect Instagram image or 2D brand moment- we're investing in the look and the feel of our physical spaces to maximize psychic energy, help our clients feel grounded and safe, and leave a lasting impression of the day in which they got "that reading" that has stuck with them and helped them navigate the challenges and opportunities to come.
Because the little things really add up to something greater than the sum of their parts. You guys matter, and I like creating these shared memories with you. And even if you're getting a reading on the phone or laying down on your bed for a remote energy session with me, I think it matters that we are both in comfortable, quiet spaces and that our experience isn't broadcast over some public technology feed, informing someone's metadata collection effort or influencing the types of ads you see when you log onto the internet. There's something blasphemous about all of that being in every corner of our lives on a constant basis. And I think we all deserve small moments of spirituality and privacy.
As we go into winter, reflect on 2020, and consider what's to come in 2021, I think we'll all be contemplating the concept of mono no aware. Focusing on how to create moments and memories that cannot be replicated or replaced. Seeking out opportunities to experience something “in real life” that is peaceful and healing.
And as we reflect on those indelible bubbles of beauty- scenes from the "dazzling circus of life"- we are reminded of what really matters.
And it's beautiful.