In 2002, James Heartland found himself unexpectedly on Mount Shasta in northern California. There he fell into conversation with a young Japanese woman on a journey of her own.
“When I arrived, I didn’t know what to do,” Reiko Kanno recalls in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, where the couple married last year and now live. “But I saw three men talking and went over to ask for advice. One of them was James.”
The following year, Heartland returned again on sudden impulse, and while putting up his tent, wondered what had happened to her. When he turned around, there she was. “That was when I knew we were supposed to be together, that I was to love her completely and not hold anything back.”
Nursing the relationship through the next few years was not easy, however. He was in the middle of a contentious divorce; Kanno was trying to decide her own direction in life.
“Born in Tokyo, I went to art college in Kyoto with no vision of my future. This was decided for me by my family history; I needed to find a life of my own. At first, I tried to find my way through art. Then, through body treatment ( massage) and taking care of the elderly and handicapped.”
It was after she attended four lectures of spirituality that she felt herself being propelled forward in a new direction. She went to India, returning to Tokyo in 1997.
Seeking ways in which to connect with children through art, and working as a caregiver, she struggled on. It was only later, with little to no English but feeling as if she was being guided, and trusting in that sensation, that she made her first trip to the U.S.
“I could see my next step but no further than that. Believing on a deep level that maybe that step would lead to another, I allowed myself to find the courage to put one foot in front of the other.”
Heartland grew up in California’s Whittier, as founded by the Quaker movement. A spiritual teacher and somatic psychologist, with a practice in Santa Monica for 24 years, he works to help people remember their true nature — remember who they really are.
“In the winter of 2005, Reiko asked me to host her and her Japanese partner on a visit. When he pulled out, she came alone and stayed six months, studying English and learning how I work with clients. That was when our relationship began to deepen and unfold. I was smitten, but she needed time and space to be sure.”
When Heartland visited Japan for a month in 2007, he came with no expectations. That’s the way he works, he says: “It tends to help with clients.” That was when the couple decided to be together. And although Kanno would have gone to the States, Heartland was excited at the idea of settling here.
“We felt a real need in Japan. Reiko and I began work as soon as I returned and we got married.”
He has been taking people out into nature since the 1980s, and once spent six weeks alone in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, so the concept of allowing the natural environment to heal the human psyche was far from new. The idea for Awake Nature came in 2002, as the direct result of a series of meetings between Tibetan monks and Native American teachers.
“City life is a form of insanity. The stress caused by living in cities, combined with chronic problems of ego and unresolved family history, robs people of their authenticity and spirituality. Most have forgotten who they really are, and believe they have no choice in changing their situation. We say, nature heals.”
Heartland has taken city dwellers into the wilderness and their awakening has been both stunning and eye-opening. Realizing that they had been crazy to have lived in the city, they said, “OK, this is reality. This is truth. Now what do I do?”
Of course, ego with its endless doing and becoming is most of the problem. Awake Nature encourages people to this understanding, and then helps them move on in their innate, natural spirituality.
“Our ‘Vision Quest’ introduces spiritual adventures in nature,” Kanno explains. “Every two weeks or so, we take groups into nature and help them look at the environment in a different way. The next will be on May 25, or readers can check the schedule on our Web site, in Japanese and English.”
Awake Nature also offers somatic (body-centered) psychology, bodywork, nutrition, dream analysis and intuitive work.
W ithin days of arriving, Heartland had found an Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now) group in Tokyo. He also found work at the Takahashi Clinics in Shinagawa and Kamata, working with clinically depressed salarymen and women. The official brief is to teach English, “but I get them writing and talking freely about their problems and feelings. The feedback has been good.”
He and Kanno were also delighted that the first of the three lectures they are giving at Kanagawa Community College in Yokohama, drew a Japanese woman working in this field.
“In a psycho-social context, Japan reminds me very much of the U.S. in the late 1950s. A decade later, the States were on fire for change. Here there is a hunger, but people are scared to explore too deeply. I understand. Fearful of rocking the boat, we can all remain stuck, or in denial.”
This was most apparent on Earth Day, at the annual festival in Yoyogi Park — a rude awakening for an American used to a more serious and educational approach to environmentalism.
“Most people were simply out to have a good time. I was amazed at the amount of food and alcohol being consumed, how little attention was being paid to the problems we face. Having said that, those who were interested were whole-hearted and attentive.”
Heartland and Kanno are currently promoting “Blessing Words” through their blog. Every day, they draw a tarot card and he writes a short story (with a teaching message) which she translates and posts in Japanese. He records it in English, with music he composed and plays on his new CD, “Prayer Affirmation Healing.”
Most recently they posted “Greatest Gift” — giving yourself a trust in heaven’s protection even in life’s darkest moments.
Kanno: “We’re getting hits every day, building up a regular following.”
Heartland: “It’s a trickle, but a very exciting trickle. We should have an online advice column, up and running in a few weeks. If someone asks how ego impacts human growth, for example, I’ll do my best to reply and suggest some reading matter. If someone is thinking of suicide, I’ll say, Let’s talk about it!”
Everyone’s story is different, he continues, but the effect is the same.
“We believe we are our thoughts, history and judgments. Our natural spirit, or ‘original self,’ in all its beauty and goodness, is missed. But this goodness is who we really are. And why we are here, is to give everyone the heart of perfect goodness, just like our own. Then, we are off the hook of judgment and reaction, and compassion can step in.”
Heartland says that statistical psychology shows how most of us could qualify as having unresolved issues that prevent us from being happy now. Only two percent actively seek help. Awake Nature offers the support necessary.
A few years from now, the couple would like a center in the Kanto area, and a retreat in the wilderness, where all basic needs are taken care of, but people could relax into their natural states.
“People in the city are totally unconscious of their stress levels. Tragic yes, but a situation that you can begin to remedy with something as simple as a ‘Vision Quest’ walk in the hills around our home.”