The Serendipity of Shoji

I love how serendipity surprises you when you least expect it, like some mischievous little sprite waiting in the shadows for just the right moment to jump out and startle you.

A week before my mother died, as a respite from the stresses of caregiving, I booked myself into an Asian-style spa called Shoji – a nearly hidden little refuge tucked away on a mountaintop outside of Asheville, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I didn’t know when I made my reservation that I would end up there only a few days after her death. What I did know was that my body and mind needed the healing powers of warm bubbling waters interspersed with hot, cedar scented air and cold plunges. In a primal and intuitive way, the only therapy that felt right to me was a sauna.

My son introduced me to the Finnish sauna experience last year, when I spent Christmas with him in Helsinki. Many Finns consider the sauna essential to their wellbeing, as evidenced by the ratio of one sauna for every two people in the country. [‘Sauna,’ interestingly, is the only Finnish word to make it into everyday English.]

Unaware of a Finnish-style sauna in Asheville, I headed to a quiet and reclusive Japanese mountain spa called Shoji.

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In addition to the hot sauna, there is a private hot tub and a cold plunge.

I stayed at Shoji for a couple of hours, alternating between heat and cold, air and water, pondering life and death, and the newly raw absence of my mother from my life.

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I drank tea and read a book, and let the water and sauna therapies do their transformative magic.

After a few hours, I felt more at peace and – at least temporarily – physically restored. And so I returned to Shoji each week that month until I felt ready to tackle the world on my own again.

It’s been weeks since I’ve been there now, and I hadn’t given Shoji much thought until yesterday, while looking for something else, I came across the writings of Frank Ostaseski, co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project.

“There is no separation between life and death,” he writes in his book, The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, “other than a small hyphen, a thin line that connects the two.

“Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight. She helps us to discover what matters most.”

In Japanese Zen, Ostaseski went on to say, “the term shoji translates as ‘birth-death.'”

Birth … death … mother … daughter.

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I had no idea of the meaning of its name when I headed to Shoji to begin sorting out my head and heart after the death of my mother.

I only knew that, for reasons I couldn’t explain, Shoji was where I needed to be.

 

 

 

Author: kristin fellows

Kristin Fellows is a street photographer & travel writer, based in Asheville, North Carolina. Kristin’s adventures in the past several years have taken her to Iceland to hike volcanoes and photograph puffins; to Barcelona, Mexico, Addis Ababa, and New Orleans for street photography; and most recently, to Athens for a big fat Greek wedding, and to Helsinki to get beaten with frozen birch branches in the city's oldest public sauna. She has worked as a documentary film consultant on more than 65 films. Her photograph, “Skywalker,” was chosen as a National Geographic Photo of the Day in 2015. Kristin is still working on her first book, The Red Moon Letters – a non-fiction, dual-narrative thriller set in Ethiopia during the time of the Haile Selassie. Educated in both London and the US, Kristin also has a cherished diploma from the Icelandic Elf School (Álfaskólinn.) Kristin is the niece of the late New York Times foreign correspondent, Lawrence Fellows. Follow Kristin on Instagram @ kristinfellowsphotography

4 thoughts on “The Serendipity of Shoji”

  1. Condolences on the passing of your Mother to the ‘Other Side’. I was not aware of that. Regarding Shoji, I am happy to hear they are still there. I went to a function/opening there when they first opened their doors. I have always thought I should be living somewhere where I can end my daily routines naked in hot waters in very large pools in exquisite environments (so I can relate to your story). Something about being immersed in natural and warm waters. I can’t get enough of it!

    Liked by 1 person

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