Friday, April 29, 2022

A Wound, a Stink Spirit, and Some Gold

If you are the parent of a toddler or two, chances are you’ve encountered your fair share of #%*£?~@:&!!&#% (insert name of horrible kid video on YouTube here). The amount of times my son has asked for “cars toys!!” or “hickory dickory dock hippo!!” only to respond “NO!” every time I ask if I have found the correct video would be enough to make me pull my hair out… if I actually had any.

Anyway, you can imagine the utmost joy I feel now that my kids actually let me show them some Studio Ghibli films. It all started with Totoro. For the first time since they got sick of the Cars films, they will actually sit (or chase each other around like Mei and the little Totoro) for the entire length of the film! It’s amazing. Life goals right here.

So I’ve been introducing them little by little to some of the other entries in the Ghibli repertoire, most recently Spirited Away. Side note and fun fact, the Japanese title is 千と千尋の神隠し (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi), or “the spiriting-away of Sen and Chihiro”. Kamikakushi means to be hidden by the “kami”, which can be translated as “gods” or “spirits”. I wondered how my boys would do with the film, and though it took a few tries they actually watched it with me.

So let’s talk about the scene with the Stink Spirit. Everybody in the Onsen knows that something is up. Before that point everybody had been complaining about Chihiro’s stench as a human, but they quickly forgot when they smelled the foul odor and saw the mass of sludge and giant pustules, leaving a wash of vile liquid in its wake. Intent to give Chihiro the most difficult job, Yubaba commands her to show the Spirit to his bath.

Chihiro bravely situates the spirit, calling down to Kamaji for another herbal soak. As the water pours she notices what she refers to as “a thorn” sticking out of the spirit’s side. With the help of Lin, Yubaba, and a bunch of the other employees, Chihiro successfully pulls the thorn out, only to find that it’s actually a bicycle handle, connected to a mangled deluge of metal garbage that had somehow been hidden within the spirit. It was fascinating to see just how much gunk had been stuck inside, but once the final bit was pulled free, Chihiro saw him at last for what he truly was: not a Stink spirit at all, but a Luck spirit.

How often do we find ourselves bogged down under the weight of so much gunk? Whether self-inflicted or perhaps to result of circumstances beyond our control, how much garbage are we carrying within? Do we go along with the descriptions, perceptions, or labels other people place upon us, when the truth is that we are so much more than we might appear? The true nature of the spirit was only revealed after a LOT of effort, at the hands of multiple people… Sometimes we need help from others to get to the bottom of our wounds, and sometimes it just takes a moment of courage to get in there and discover what is keeping us bogged down.

Also of note, as water drained away from the scene, many specks of gold were left on the ground, washed out with the released muck and garbage. When we actually address the thorns in our side, what gold do we find? Further understanding about ourselves and the circumstances we are in? A greater sense of compassion for others who may experience similar thorns? An increased capacity to empathize with or support those around us?

Whatever the case, I hope we can learn to deal with our thorns in healthy ways and not let them fester. May we take courage like Chihiro did, and face our thorns and problems head-on.


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