What I remember about Yamagata Prefecture the first time I drove into it was its striking resemblance to the appearance of its sister city of Boulder, Colorado in the USA. I knew Boulder well as it was where I went to college. It was while visiting Boulder three months previous to when I first peered into the valley of Yamagata that I first learned about Yamagata's relationship with Boulder. It was the late summer of 2011 when I drove my Daihatsu Move into the valley of Yamagata City. It had been a whirlwind of a summer. Just five months previous to that moment I had realized that my teaching time in Fukushima Prefecture was over. A nearby melted nuclear plant had sealed that fate. It had been triggered by a wave. It was a wave that took out one-third of the town where I had been teaching in the small coastal, countryside town of Naraha. Luckily, Naraha was a small little town and the third of the town that was removed that day was mostly farming fields. Some houses were lost and some lives were lost, but they were small in comparison to further north. I already wrote about this day. It's in one of those previous writings. So you can find it there. Life is so short and fragile, I learned that day.
I had parked my Daihatsu Move in central Osaka about two weeks after the wave hit my prefecture. I had parked it there because I had driven there with some fellow teachers that had found safe quarters with a fellow JET Program leader that had opened his residence following the aftermath of what had happened that spring. We all gathered in Osaka for a couple of days. It reminded me of the childhood movie of Bambi where all the forest animals gathered after the great fire in the movie. I hadn't seen fellow teachers until that moment that I met them in Osaka. Other than word of mouth I did not know what had happened to them when the wave came. They all had varied stories to tell and similar emotions to express. I think we'd later come to realize that hard experiences only make everyone stronger. It's the golden way to look back on that time I do believe. We all soon left to return to our home countries. We didn't know if we'd be back at that time.
I went back to Colorado and landed in Denver on a bright blue afternoon and I was in wonder of how different two different settings could be. My parents picked me up at DIA and they took to me get pizza. It had been my birthday while I had been in the air. The last thing I felt like doing was celebrating. I more yearned to somehow heal all the empty hearts in Japan that I'd left and I felt guilty that I had done so. Everything was happening at the same time in that year of 2011. A few weeks went by and then one evening the TV blared blue into a darkened room in my parents' bedroom that Osama Bin Ladin had been caught. At this time I was wondering if I would go back to Japan. Job positions were available to me, but I turned down the opportunity to relocate to teach in another place in Fukushima. Nuclear stuff scared me or more so it simply wasn't my path to return to Fukushima I now see. It was right around this time that my good friend George contacted me. He had been the one that I had ventured into the spiritual rabbit hole to begin with. We had done the YES Plus course as college students six years prior. This was a course conducted by the Art of Living Foundation, which is a spiritual organization headed by the world humanitarian and spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I spoke about this in a previous article too and you can read it as well. George let me know that Sri Sri himself was leading a special process north of Boulder to heal the hearts of many that had been in the various calamities that had taken place at that time. A couple of days later I found myself in Boulder with George and his girlfriend and we were headed to the quite spontaneous spiritual retreat. While I was in Boulder as well I happened to poke into an international festival that the university was holding and happened to then learn that Yamagata was Boulder's sister city. It was with this knowledge that I entered Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's special retreat and experienced a few days of peace and healing. So much was changing at this time. It was a time of deep transition for the whole world and myself I now see.
It was raining when we left Boulder I remember, but when we arrived at the retreat location a blue sky spread all the clouds away. I was excited to see Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. It would be the first time that I would see him. I had been following his practices for the couple of years I had been in Japan. His teachings had been inspiring and eye-opening and life-changing. In some ways, he had brought great difficulty into my life as I now sought out to practice a vegetarian diet and in many ways I was grateful for the deeper meditation states I was able to get into. Every process that he led at the retreat had me feeling lighter and feeling a deep sense of calm. Also, while I was at the gathering I found magical happenings would occur. Up until that point I had been filled with quite substantial anxiety on what was my next step moving forward. Would I head back to Japan or try to pick up the pieces here in the U.S? I was actually able to ask this exact question to him in that retreat. Of course when I asked the answer I somehow felt foolish for asking. Somehow I knew in my heart at that time that I was going back to Japan. It was amazing to ask him personally and be up close to him. The retreat went on and it was decided that we'd spend the night at that campus that evening. I remember looking at my phone at midnight that night while sleeping in a room of people from India and other friends. The phone blinked on. In the message it was revealed that I had a new teaching assignment. They needed me in Yamagata. At this time I saw it as a coincidence as I felt as if Boulder was sending me back to Japan. I replied right away. My journey was going to continue in Japan. I was going back. It had been sealed at that moment. After the retreat, I would head back to George's house and he would recommend that I get a yoga book. This yoga book would begin the start of a new career for me and soon I would develop a deeper passion for the study and art form of Yoga. I would soon after leave George at a Noodles In Company in Boulder, Colorado. For some reason that restaurant has always been a sort of international checkpoint for me. I wouldn't see George for a while after that. I'd soon head back to Aspen for a few days and then ship off to Japan once again.