A glimpse of my new book KOKORO 心: Japanese wisdom for a life well lived… and something special for you when you pre-order this sequel to WABI SABI
Tip your ear to the sky and you’ll hear echoes of ancestral birdsong telling the story of a slain emperor, a fleeing prince and a mystical three-legged crow, a yatagarasu, guiding him to safety. Follow the whispers of the wind and you’ll discover that the tomb atop this mountain venerates that prince, who remained in this forest and gave his life to mountain worship, as the crow gave its name to the land.
Put your ear to the earth and you’ll hear this mountain speak of gods and ghosts. Press your skin to the bark of this old tree and you’ll learn of the strange shadow that once passed over this place and the cloaked man who ran behind it.
Come as a pilgrim, offer silence as you climb, and you might just hear a welcome.
‘Yōkoso. I am Black Wing Mountain.’
As one of the three sacred mountains of Dewa Sanzan, Hagurosan (lit. ‘Black Wing Mountain’) is said to represent the present and earthly desires. People have journeyed to Hagurosan for centuries, often travelling hundreds of miles on foot, to pray for health and good fortune in this life. This is where our story begins.
As I read these words aloud on day one of recording the audiobook version of my new book KOKORO, I had an out-of-body experience in the small black booth. As I spoke I was back on the first of the three sacred mountains I climbed during the toughest year of my life, feet in jika tabi (split-toed white boots), scrambling, grieving, unravelling, and at the same time I was in the kitchen of our small cottage, making cheese on toast. Wild woman and domesticated mama, everything overlapping, forming and reforming in strange rhythm like a pumping heart.
People don’t really talk about audiobook recordings, but in some ways, they are even more personal than paper books. It’s me, in your ears, sharing encounters, confessing secrets, whispering words of hope.
Recording for three days straight in a small soundproof booth is full-on. It reminds you of the preciousness of every single word. And there is nowhere to hide.
In KOKORO you are invited to join me on a pilgrimage deep into the Japanese countryside and into our inner lives. It has mountains, moons, and even a sprinkling of actual magic. For the three days I was in the studio I was back there in Japan listening, watching, chanting, questioning, seeking, surrendering. Back there at my mother’s side as she faded. Back there asking the questions that other people do not ask, being open to whatever answers might come.
During the recording there were tears, laughter and even some dancing. There was Xavier Rudd. There is always Xavier Rudd.
KOKORO: Japanese wisdom for a life well lived is the follow up to my earlier book WABI SABI: Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life. Five years in the making, tracing wisdom that goes back more than a thousand years, it’s hard to believe that after so much shapeshifting she is finally, at last, almost here.
On Friday I hung up my headphones and closed the door on the booth one final time. My producer made us a cup of tea, and we joined a colleague who was busy searching for the perfect bell sound to use in the recording.
‘So now this one is done, what are you writing next?’ he asked me, casually, in between gongs and temple bell samples.
‘You know what, I have nothing else to say right now,’ I repled. ‘I poured all of it into that book.’
Before we began recording I had asked a favour of the producer who would be spending the next three days in the adjacent booth listening to my every word, and would be the first person in the world to hear KOKORO spoken out loud. I had asked him to tell me, at the end, what lingered.
True to his word, when we had finished, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘The depth of wisdom, the reverence for Japanese culture, and the immense feeling of calm that came over me, that’s what has lingered.’
The cover of Kokoro shows Gassan (lit. ‘moon mountain’), known as the mountain of death and the past – the second of the three sacred mountains of Dewa in a remote part of northern Japan – beneath a full moon. I lived and worked in the shadow of Gassan half a lifetime ago, and returned following the death of my mother last year. It is the perfect image for Kokoro in so many ways, and I am so grateful to my publisher for this beautiful design (which has navy blur foil to catch the light which I hope shines out of the book).
In KOKORO you will find sorrow, but also much joy. There is a reckoning, but also a renewal. There is darkness, but with it, much light. I hope you absolutely love it.
Having done the audiobooks for each of my written books, I know that it is both as nourishing and as exhausting as three days spent in deep conversation. You come up for air at the end and everything is slightly blurry. It takes a while to get used to the world again, and knowing this, I decided to take the weekend off by the sea in Brighton, to sleep in, poke around vintage shops, drink coffee and meet up with old friends.
Well that was my plan, except on Saturday I started walking after breakfast and didn’t stop for eight hours. In a city which probably has more coffee shops than the entire county I live in, and one I know well from living there for several years, I could not decide where to stop and sit, so I just kept on walking. No lunch. No tea break. Just pavement pounding all day long, unable to make a decision. It was the strangest day.
As I walked along the seafront, listening to the familiar call of seagulls and watching waves batter the old pier, I sensed something behind me. I turned to glimpse a faint memory of my eldest daughter on her first birthday, laughing in a tiny Santa suit as Mr K pushed her along. I walked past a park where an echo of my mum was reading her stories as they sprawled out together on a picnic blanket. I saw my reflection in a shop window, younger, pregnant, in a bright yellow coat, smiling but tired on the inside.
I walked past our old house, more house than we could afford, and I remembered the meltdown on a beautiful wooden floor, which arrived when juggling work and children and paying for all the things all became too much. I remembered how, in that moment, I dreamt of my old life, back when I travelled the world and felt free, and I know now that it was the beginning of my midlife unravelling, which coincided perfectly with my parenting journey, and my entry into the author fray.
Fast forward seven years and I only recently realized that I have written my way through midlife, starting with FREEDOM SEEKER at 39, then WABI SABI at 40, and three more books in the following three years until this one, KOKORO, where the rumbling beneath the surface of my days became too loud to ignore, and just as I turned to face it, my mother died and everything turned to dust.
This book is mostly about what happened next. It’s about what happens when we navigate a major life transition, whatever that may be, whatever life stage we may be in.
Writing it changed my life. Reading it might change yours.
(And if you pre-order KOKORO today, you can get FREE access to a beautiful new seasonal writing sanctuary, Spring Light. CLICK HERE for details).
This week Stylist magazine named KOKORO on its list of best new health and wellness books. I am honoured, but I also want you to know that this is not a book of life hacks and quick solutions. It’s a book to change the way you navigate the world, to truly wake you up to the brevity and preciousness of this thing called life, and help you shed all that does not serve so you feel better within your life each and every day.
KOKORO: Japanese wisdom for a life well lived will be published on April 4. This book is my heart. I hope you absolutely love it, and that it lingers long after the final page.
YOUR FREE GIFT WHEN YOU PRE-ORDER KOKORO TODAY
PS Thank you to everyone who helped shape the back cover blurb for Kokoro a couple of months ago, and thank you also for the incredible response to my previous essay about notebooks + dreaming. That is the kind of support makes things happen! I will keep you posted…