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Mochitsuki and the True Self

January 2, 2018

My hands gripped the kine tightly but loosely enough to allow some flexibility as I brought it down in quick, sharp movements upon the rice in the usu.  Each of the initial strikes caused the water that was in the rice and on the kine to fly up into my eyes and I squinted as each contact gradually turned the rice into mochi.


As I engaged in this thousand year-old Japanese tradition, it occurred to me that some of this mochi would be used to make kagami-mochi that is placed in Buddhist altars and Shinto shrines for the New Year.  


A week after the New Year's celebration, the kagami-mochi is broken open and consumed  (Kagami means "mirror" in Japanese).  This is symbolic for breaking the Self into pieces so that a new Self can be reconstructed for the new year.


Many will be tempted to do just that - reinventing or reconstructing the Self - during this season of resolutions and progress.  We will see people that seem to have it more together than us and we will emulate their patterns and actions in hopes that we will become like them.  We will engage (or at least try) in new habits and go through the motions to construct this Self, but will only succeed in unwittingly creating another False Self.


Fr. James Martin like Thomas Merton noted that in living into his vocation, he felt he needed to be different by having early morning prayer times, meditation, and anything that others did whom he aspired to be like.  Eventually after wearing himself out with these daunting and unrealistic self expectations, he heeded the advice of his spiritual director and decided to just be himself.


This is good advice for all of us.  Like the kagami-mochi, I commit to breaking my False Self into a million pieces.  The real temptation to guard against will be not to construct another one in its place.  Instead, I will have to remember to be who am and not try to be like another who has his/her own True Self to be.  Rather than adding more to be like this or that, I need to remove the bandages of Falsehood and allow my True Self to shine forth in the new year.


So let it be for all of us as we journey toward being instead of doing.



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