Preparing for Taimyo Meditation at Omaha Beach:
An Interview with Ito Sensei and Dick Olton
By Elli Nagai-Rothe
On April 7th – 8th 2007, Ito sensei will lead a Taimyo meditation session at Omaha Beach, in Normandy, France. As Ito says of his purpose for leading this session:
“I see Omaha Beach as a symbol of the healing power of Mother Nature. In 1944 the beach was a scene from Hell, but today one can truly feel Ten-Chi-Jin, standing on the Normandy shore. This could be one simple way of studying Life & Death ― and appreciating our own experience of it.”
Omaha Beach was one of the main landing points for the Allied Forces invasion of German-occupied France during World War II. Located along the northern coast of France, Omaha Beach was one of the sites of the historic D-Day invasion when thousands of Allied troops engaged in arguably the most vicious fighting of World War II.
Ito’s Vision and the Role of Taimyo
When speaking to Ito about his vision for the Taimyo session on Ohama Beach, Ito describes the site of a violent event as a symbol for transformation. By practicing Taimyo meditation at the site of a violent event, practitioners give witness to a violent past, and transform violent energy to peaceful energy and a vision for a peaceful future.
The April 7th – 8th meditation session will be the first time Ito has organized a meditation at a war site. He feels sad when he thinks about the number of lives lost at Omaha Beach, but respects the sacrifices that were made there. Ito doesn’t agree with war, but believes it is sometimes necessary. He sites the Samurai martial art philosophy when he says―“you have to be willing and ready to sacrifice yourself for what you believe. Peace is not free. We have to be willing to make sacrifices for peace.” Ito then compares peace to health, “in order to keep yourself healthy, have to put in a lot of effort in advance. You can be lazy but then you will become sick. Peace is the same―it takes effort in advance to develop and sustain.” Thus Ito calls for a “meditation for peace” focus in the Taimyo practice, as our contribution for developing and sustaining peace.
Through the course of his preparations for this Taimyo session, Ito discovered that the father of Pamela Olton, a 30 year Shintaido practitioner, had been to Omaha Beach as a platoon soldier during World War II. Ito and I had the pleasure of interviewing Dick Olton about his background and his experience during the WWII. Ito’s hope is to become more connected to Omaha Beach by hearing Dick’s experiences of being there.
Dick was born in Brooklyn, New York in August 1925 and grew up in the countryside of upstate New York. Immediately after high school, Dick volunteered to join the Army in 1943. He was 18 years old. “In high school all the fellows wanted to go into the Army” Dick says. “In those days everybody was patriotic.” Dick’s parents didn’t want their son to go into the service out of fear for his safety, but they supported his decision. Dick’s own father had been in Europe during WWI.
From New York, Dick went to Fort Benning, Georgia for infantry school training. He was able to attend college while in the Army. He studied mechanical engineering at The Carnegie Institute for Technology, as part of the Army Specialized Training program. Dick was only able to study for a year before the invasion of Europe took place and he was put into the infantry to fight.
By the time he was deployed to Omaha Beach, Dick was 19 years old and a platoon sergeant with 38 men working under him. When his platoon reached Omaha Beach, the Americans had already invaded Normandy: “there were a lot of troops and supplies coming into Omaha Beach. Most of the fighting took places in the higher areas above the beach.”
Dick’s platoon traveled by foot from Omaha Beach, across Paris, into Luxembourg and then to the Battle of the Bulge and into Germany. Dick recalls one particular battle in Alsace Loraine, where he lost about 160 of 180 men in one day.
When the war ended, Dick was in a small village in West Germany, in a displaced person camp. From there, Dick returned to the U.S. in June 1945 and was trained for deployment to the Pacific before being discharged in November 1945. After the war was over, he finished his engineering degree under the GI Bill. “That was the best thing this country did for itself―send all our people to college,” says Dick. Dick then worked as a consultant engineer and later as a municipal engineer. He returned to Europe with his wife in 1994 to visit the places he had walked to with his platoon.
Dick’s Thoughts on the Current War
When Ito asks Dick to compare WWII to the current war in Iraq, Dick says that during WWII, there was more of a clear purpose for the war. The troops knew why they were fighting. Today, Dick believes that politicians and the media have confused and muddled the purpose of the war and as a result, many soldiers have lost their clarity about why they are fighting: “Too many people want to micro manage the war. Whether the President is right or wrong, the President is the Commander in Chief. If you argue with him, you won’t win.”
Dick goes on to describe some of the differences between his experience in WWII and his perspective on the current war: “The poor guys in the service today have to worry about justifying their shooting…they have to think about what will happen if they shoot the wrong guy. The media will jump all over them. Someone in the Army is defending himself and shouldn’t have to worry about whether his defense is politically right or wrong. If that happened during World War II, Hilter would be running the world today. If I stopped to worry about what would happen when I shot someone, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
Opinions about Taimyo
Dick is supportive of the upcoming Taimyo mediation session. “I think it’s great what you are doing with Shintaido. I think what you’re doing on Omaha Beach is great,” says Dick. “Just for people to walk on that beach and realize what happened―how many people were killed and remember the sacrifice that happened―that’s a good thing. I want more people to realize how awful war is and how awful the consequences of war are. Maybe if they knew more about how terrible war is, they wouldn’t get into it so easily in the first place.”
Ito sees Omaha Beach as an opportunity for transformation from a violent past to a peaceful present and future. He reflects on the scars of war in Japan from the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Instead of developing hate and revenge, he believes it is important to move forward in life, and to transform the scars of war into peace. It is possible to change negative conflict to positive peace. “It’s like a metamorphosis. From worm, to cocoon to butterfly,” says Ito.
Having previously visited Omaha Beach, Ito was struck by the symbolic power of healing and the “clear feeling” of the Beach despite its horrific past, “I didn’t have any strange feeling. No Friday the 13th feeling. No ghosts. When I go to certain places, I get a cold sensation in my back, but not at Omaha beach. The feeling on the Beach was clean,” says Ito. The strength of nature’s healing power at Omaha Beach is palpable and Ito believes, offers an opportunity for Taimyo practitioners to experience the connection between life and death.
Ito hopes the Taimyo Network will exchange impressions, ideas and offer feedback and discussion online after April 7-8th event. He looks forward to people sharing their experiences―both those who will be physically present at Omaha Beach and those in other geographic locations connected through the shared practice.
Elli Nagai-Rothe is a “next generation” Shintaido practitioner. Having grown up with the Shintaido community since the age of eight, Elli began practicing 11 months ago, in April 2006. She will soon enroll in graduate school this fall to study international cross-cultural conflict resolution.