I always had questions about the meaning of my existence; what was I doing here, why was I here and where was the answer with the evidence that would make sense of my questions? By the time I was eight, I was asking my father ‘why’ about all kinds of other things too- most of all why oh why did people suffer. We would have big discussions about how it was good to seek answers but he cautioned me that everybody thinks they have answers and to be careful not to be too sure that I was absolutely right in what I found.
As a teen, I read Dharma Bums and other novels and poetry of the Beat Generation, along with readings from scholars Dostoyevsky and Carl Jung, which helped shape me into my first career as a writer and then later as a psychotherapist. In the years I spent training as a therapist, I spent a lot of time wondering what we could “do” with all the pain and suffering, real and neurotic (self-generated). One day, I was listening to Thich Nhat Hanh give a talk on integrating Buddhism with psychotherapy. “Do not hate your garbage,” he said. “You need your garbage to grow your flowers.” I pulled my car over to the side of the road, re-wound the tape (it was a long time ago) and listened again. I needed my pain to grow my compassionate heart. Pain was not to be hated, sad histories and traumas were not to be gotten rid of, they were to be integrated and observed with compassion, with lovingkindness, with mindfulness. I didn’t know it at the time but this was preparing me for the words of my life teacher, Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh.
When I was in 9th grade, I attended the American School in Japan where, instead of attending to our studies, we spent the better part of the year hanging around rock ’n’ roll bands at Ginza and Shinjuku Ashibe — where Japanese schoolgirls screamed as if the Beatles were performing. The Japanese kids we hung out with called our group of friends the Chibiko Gang. We called the two smallest girls Chibi, which meant “little one” in Japanese. Those years in Tokyo touched my heart and soul in ways that continued to nourish my creative and spiritual life many years later.
When I first started practicing psychotherapy, I treated a large number of trauma victims. Needing a way to relax after work, and having always wanted to be a painter, I bought some acrylics, found some boards in the basement and began to paint. At first I wasn’t very good, in fact, I was pretty awful, but I found a cookie cutter in the kitchen and filled it with red paint. I would paint a thick “Chibi” at the bottom of the painting and then moved the cookie cutter up the page as the image grew more faint, to represent the dissociative process; the process the psyche has for protecting children from what feels like insurmountable pain. At the bottom of the matte, I would write, “When someone yelled, I went away.” This childlike image grew out of the Buddhist principles of compassion and loving-kindness I was integrating into my counseling practice. Chibi provided me a personal outlet to process the traumatic experiences my patients shared in our sessions.
Then, I got busy, put away the paints and forgot about Chibi.
I first met Jizo years later while hiking to a hillside temple in Kyoto. There were dozens of old stone figures scattered along the roadside. Some of the round-faced figures wore bright red bibs. I was captivated – who or what did the image represent? Our host explained that these were representations of Jizo Bodhisattva, revered in Japan as the protector of women, children and travelers. A Bodhisattva is one who achieves enlightenment but postpones his Buddhahood until all sentient beings can be saved. The story began 2500 years ago when Jizo promised Buddha he would remain on earth until every soul was finished suffering. At that moment I felt I had found the manifestation of a Higher Power that I could tap in to within myself: my Jizo Nature.
Returning home, I searched for a Jizo of my own. I received my first statue in the mail from a Buddhist antique dealer, worn from 250 years of weather. I created a small shrine and placed it on a large box, covered by a yellow sarong. I found comfort as I meditated, embracing the tiny child inside me. That was the beginning of my best sitting meditation, after years of trying.
Jizo’s name originally meant Earth Womb, and his reflection as the Earth Womb, the grounding one, began to mirror the grounding one within me. As time went on I started painting again. I used watercolor pencils over a watercolor wash and drew and sketched Jizo. My little shrine was in the same room as my paints and one day I found my old Chibi cookie cutter. I placed it atop a drawing of Jizo and, with a calligraphy Sharpie I created a Chibi, with raw edges, right in the middle of Jizo’s chest, where he usually holds a pearl or precious stone to light up the darkness. The image of Chibi had literally pushed through my consciousness to the canvas …and onto Jizo’s chest.
When my husband saw the painting, he said, “You should make these images into jewelry – they will help people.”
So I created them together here, as Jizo and Chibi. Jizo is an awakened teacher: a learner who then passes on his or her learning. He teaches us that here in the present moment, any of us can be free of suffering and the roots of all suffering. Chibi reminds us of the inner child within all of us who brings wonderful questions, curiosity and playfulness in everyday life.
I hope you embrace Jizo and Chibi so they may comfort you and bring you light.
Until next time, we send you warm wishes for your journey.
— Valerie, Jizo & Chibi — “bring home a piece of inner peace”