Amsterdam, Netherlands: report by Shinji Kasema
Our fifth SOPP ceremony in Amsterdam was held on the 17th of May at Maarten Luther Church. This year we chose a wooden shoe exhibition to accompany our SOPP ceremony. The exhibition displayed the work of Bas van Buuren, and he expresses emotion as well as physical movement using the form of the famous Dutch wooden shoe. His work brought everyday human feelings into a church space without disturbing its holy atmosphere. It helped us to feel natural and at ease.
We began with a Shinto ritual, guided by the sound of the shô (a Japanese wind instrument). The Shinto priest had suggested that he purify the flags to be used in our flag ceremony. After the purification ritual, we held our flag ceremony praying for peace in each country.
We had started our SOPP ceremony at 6 pm, and by the end of the flag ceremony it was 8 pm, so everyone was in need of some food. We had prepared some homemade sushi as well as cut vegetables and dip for everyone. After we had filled our stomachs, we enjoyed a concert with the shô and shakuhachi (Japanese flute). The shô is from Shintoism, and the shakuhachi is from Zen Buddhism. Both have a highly spiritual and meditative sound. It was a beautiful to hear these Shinto and Zen instruments played together, creating one melody.
With a feeling of a great harmony, we then were guided in Tibetan Tonglen meditation. This technique uses breathing to expand our compassion. We breathed in our negative thoughts and transformed them within the positive light in ourselves, breathing them out as positive energy. We began with negative feelings about ourselves, then expanded outwards to the people around us, and eventually to the whole universe. In the end, we felt ourselves as expansive beings, filled with light.
After this, we had a talk on the subject of “Birth in Modern Times.” I was concerned that having a talk might change the atmosphere of the event, but it turned out great. The speaker talked about how humans bring new life to this world. One point that I found very interesting is that when a woman gives birth, her adrenalin blocks the release of oxytocin, a hormone that gives us a happy and loving feeling. Research has shown that being hugged or touched in a loving way stimulates the release of oxytocin. The speaker showed us an ancient sculpture of a woman giving birth, accompanied by a person hugging her. Through scientific research, we now understand this message from ancient times. At the end of her talk, everyone hugged each other to create happy feelings.
Next, we listened to a Hindu chanting choir. Their chanting had a deep, meditative vibration. After that, we listened to a short performance of Ukrainian flute, then we had an art performance based on purification rituals, accompanied by improvised sounds on matouqin (a Mongolian stringed instrument) and recorder. To end the program, Pastor Andreas Wöhle led a prayer from the Lutheran tradition. Before he began, he led us in a visualization exercise to prepare our mind for prayer. His prayer was simple and clear, and transcended religion. I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for having met him and being able to organize the SOPP ceremonies with him.
After the ceremony everyone helped us to clean up. As I looked around and saw everyone helping, I felt that they were enjoying the sensation of a wave of energy covering their body—a kind of new, unknown knowledge that might be called ‘peace.’