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  • Writer's pictureValerie

Om Shiisaa - a personal journey

Some people seem to be born already knowing their destiny. Others stick steadfast to a single pursuit in the name of greatness, accomplishment, or devotion. And then there are people like me. My entire life, I have always had a nagging inclination to question everything, to dig deeper, and discover more. To take the path less traveled, in hopes of the discovery of greater truths I could not yet see. As a result, in my life I have at times had to let go of all I knew about myself and what I thought the world is, just like how a butterfly discards its cocoon of safety and stability for a new reality. And in the process, I have had the privilege of witnessing so many of the subtle ways we as human beings are connected to each other and the greater whole than we often believe ourselves to be.

Before embarking on my path as an Ayurvedic practitioner, I worked at a small travel company named PacSet bringing people to experience Japan. I had a tremendous amount of freedom to tailor the tours I led to my own style and interests. Although my last year at the company was professionally one of the most interesting and fulfilling years I ever had, it came just after a previous year that was filled with personal struggle, depression, and turmoil. It was that year that I had turned to yoga and meditation. I went on a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat, then returned and threw myself into an intensive daily yoga practice that I have kept since. I furiously read through Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God series, and studied the path of Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha. Then, slowly, I started to pull myself out of that dark, depressing storm.

In spring of 2018 I took a small group of tourists to Japan on a cherry blossom tour. It was around this time that I was entrenched in self-study in yoga and philosophy, and suprisingly my efforts revealed a new layer of appreciation and understanding of Japanese history and culture that had escaped me before. One of the tour's earlier stops was to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, a breathtaking shrine in Kanagawa Prefecture. Like in many Japanese temples and shrines, this one housed a pair of stone guard dogs, most commonly known as komainu. What excited me was that in my research I had learned that one of the dogs has its mouth open, saying ah, while the other dog has its mouth closed, as if saying un - the first and last syllables of the Sanksrit alphabet (same as in Japanese, interestingly), collectively saying "aum" or Om. Having started Sanksrit chanting in my yoga practice not too long before then, I excitedly pointed this out to my guests, and we affectionately nicknamed them the "Om dogs." In my mind, I marveled at the connection that human beings have had throughout history, such that this ancient sacred sound uttered for thousands of years in India made it to the shores of Japan to be represented in a pair of stone temple guard dogs of a temple built 1,000 years ago that are still standing today to represent the sacred connection we all have to each other.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

But wait, that's not all! In the same tour, we traveled to a small tropical island of Okinawa called Miyakojima. It was my first time ever in Okinawa, and to my utter delight, our newly dubbed "Om dogs" were seemingly everywhere - from the statuettes in the hotel lobby to character souvenirs, Okinawa seemed even more obsessed with these iconic dogs. My guests and I quickly learned that in Okinawa, these dogs were called shiisaa and have adopted their own local legendary origins as part of Ryukyu mythology.

Okinawan Shiisaa

That trip to Japan changed how I see the world and how I see myself in it. It has inspired me to look for ways which we as human beings are connected, rather than obsess over what makes us different or "special." I believe that we can become so much more expansive when we realize that human history is not a series of traceable linear events, but rather an interplay of ideas and energies whose affects ripple throughout the world in complex ways. There is so much beauty in knowing that there is so much more that we do not know, and that there is much more to discover about ourselves and the world around us.

With this, I present my logo, the Om Shiisaa - representing the interconnectedness of all existence, the constant evolution of culture and humanity throughout time and a bold stand for strength, health and vitality. This is the story of how it came to be.

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