Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kami Wisdom or The Art Of Happiness

One morning a sage went up a mountain and gazed around him at the earth and the sky and he pondered a question- how to make happiness stay? Because happiness is like a bubble made of glass- beautiful and fragile, but if you squeeze too hard, it will break and the shards will cut your hands to ribbons. Now, I"m not saying I"m a sage(except it really was me on a mountain-tell you more later) but even I know the answer to holding on to happiness. You can"t grip it too tightly. Now, here's where it gets tricky. How do you keep from gripping too tightly when happiness is so necessary in life? I said that right. Happiness is a necessity. Not a luxury. But very few people have that necessity or can keep it long enough for it to do any good in their lives or anyone else's. They clutch at it like bums clutching hooch, and when it's gone, (continuing my bum simile) all you see later is broken glass shards on the sidewalk.  When I went up the side of the mountain, I didn't know what I would find. On that particular day it was windy, so windy that when I finally reached the tiny lookout overlooking my island, I was literally bent over from the buffets. So it took a moment, before I could look up enough to see how beautiful everything was.  I don't know if I was on the highest point in the islands, but if a higher view was available I didn't need to see it. What I could see already was exhilirating.  All of the Goto islands laid out before me, clouds passing across the sky like ... well, like clouds- only really fast. The waves looked like a Japanese wood cut painting  with white crests splashing in a blue-green ocean.  It looked the way it might have looked to Odysseus or other ancient sailors. And the sound- waves lapping, the wind blowing so hard, I had to hold on to the railing surrounding the building, because it was a looong way down.  And when I looked to my left- I saw two Goto hawks playing in the updrafts and calling to each other.  For a moment, I was happy- not thinking, not musing, not tired.  And then I thought why can't I be this happy all the time? And I ruined it.  Thankfully, the hawks came back and this time I was smart enough to shut up the little hamster that runs on its wheel in my head and just be in the moment. Now I know for all those people who have read books on how to be happy, books on meditation, books on philosophy that this is just too simple an answer for how to live a fulfilling life. To those people, and the authors of those books, I say...shut up. I have had my share of tears in the night, and nightmares during the day. I know that just saying "Don't worry, be happy" is a sappy cop out of an answer. I know that "fear is the little death" is a pandering backhanded way to say you should just get over it... but I also know that in their archaic way, cliches tell the truth. "It is what it is, we are what we it, there are no mistakes. " (Courtesy Tom Robbins- author- Even Cowgirls Get The Blues- read it-great book. )  I know that holding happiness seems like a simple task, but it is also the most  important work that we will ever do.  And like any simple task, it is also the most misunderstood, and  most complicated to actually achieve - sort of like "love thy neighbor as thyself."   We are not the people we think we are, or even who we pretend to be. The good thing is that we don't have to be. The best thing is that we can be better.    We are twisted people  (at least I am)  and we are desperately afraid that our love is twisted (come on , 'fess up) And it is. But then the course of true love n'eer did run true, did it? The best we can our best. We can hold children's hands and learn to grasp; not squeeze, not control, not cage. We can blow soap bubbles,and learn to hold our breaths and breath lightly and gently. We can watch hawks and remember  how to fly (we always knew- haven't you ever had the flying dream?)  We can watch waves and remember what it was like to dance in the womb. We can spread love. We can spread happiness. (sort of like Mad Cow Disease) We know  happiness. We just don't claim it, or when we do, we grasp it too hard, like crushing a sparrow. Some of us disdain it and give it no place to stay.  But we all know it- we all secretly wish for it.  We all can have it. It's simple. It's easy. Feel pain- the pain of being human, and fearful and angry and hurt. And then stop.  Boy, doesn't it feel good when you stop pressing that sore tooth?  Stop lingering in hurt- hoping that it will fill up the spaces where happiness should be. Happiness doesn't stay- it shouldn't, it can't. But make room for it anyway.   Give it a temporary home, and like any listless college student, it will return to you- not as often as you'd like, but more often than you think. I spent some time on a mountain- I climbed it in sweat, covered with spider webs (you know I don't like spiders) and buffeted by the winds. And when I got to the top, the kami- the mountain, was waiting for me,  like the hawks, like the clouds, like the sea.  It waited for me to have time for it, and space for it, and the heart for the climb. When I was ready, it was there. I will not remember every moment of my time on the mountain- happiness is not about remembering. Happiness is about being. For a little while, I was one little being, being in the moment, on top of a mountain- and I was happy. Now don't let me bore you with the story of the climb down the mountain. Let's just say there were more spiderwebs when I finished. But I remember the feel of wind in my hair, and my eyes remember the sight of waves on the sea, and my ears remember the terrible, lonely, exhilirated cries of hawks on the wind. Little moments in time, which I hope to continue to accumulate for a lifetime. A lifetime of moments, taken one by one. To see a world in a grain of sand..or a mountain- to see happiness lie gently, in the palm of one's hand. It is possible. The mountain told me so.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dee's Heart Sutra TM full text

My heart is filled with peace My heart is filled with hopefulness My heart is filled with joyfullness My heart is the heart of the world My heart is filled with love my heart is filled with generosity my heart is filled with compasssion my heart is the heart of the world My heart is free of envy my heart is free of hatefulness my heart so free of fearfulness my heart is the heart of the world My heart pours out serenity my heart pours out empathy my heart pours out sincerity my heart is the heart of the world My heart is guarded by strength my heart is guarded by forthrightness my heart is guarded by steadfastness my heart is the heart of the world I enter into my own heart without fear I enter into my own heart without condemnation I enter into my own heart without anger My heart is my soul's resting place I enter into my own heart with love I enter into my own heart with forgiveness I enter into my own heart with humilty In silence I enter this sacred space My heart connects with the earth my heart connects with the universe my heart connects with all people my heart is one with all things I give my heart to myself I give my heart to all people I give my heart to the universe My heart is a wondrous treasure My heart beats slowly- I have no fear my heart beats steadily- I have no anger my heart beats purposefully- I have no regret My heart moves the life within me My heart beats joyfully my heart laughs loudly my heart sings gloriously my heart is the heart of the world

DIY Sutra -Jewel In The Eye Of The Lotus, MFer!

Okay- a short blog today- not at all what you're used to from me, but while pondering my recent status upgrade to "murderer"- (check my recent Facebook quiz results)- I decided that maybe I needed to get some religion, even if it meant stealing and abusing- I mean "adjusting" someone elses. My apologies if I offend any one who seriously studies the sutras- I did for awhile and have complete respect for their powers- (don't know what a sutra is? Look it up-it's truly interesting and knowledge is power.{G.I.Joe!} If you don't get the reference, ignore it.) My apologies also if I mistakenly included a real sutra is my own approximation. And for any pansies out there just offended because I picked a non-Christian faith- kiss my grits! Okay- so anyway, here's the deal. The challenge was to create my own 50 line sutra or prayer that was specific, rhythmical and meaningful. You can do it too. The sutra is to be read at least two times a day for a week and should be repeated as many times as necessary until you achieve the necessary level of serenity. It can be said slowly if you're feeling peaceful and thankful, or fast if you're just really pissed off and need that serenity now damnit! It can be said with prayer beads, on your knees, on your head, staring at your navel (eww, clean that out!), staring at a wall, or staring at the inside of your own eyelids. Now, your sutra should be your own, relating to your own life and a problem you face. My sutra is copyrighted, patented, and trademarked- get your own! (The copyright part is true, folks. If I did steal a line, I will give credit where it's due. If I have to give credit, so do you. Don't steal my sutra-or you'll need it sooner than you think!) All that being said- Dee's patented Heart Sutra is posted just above (or to the left in Archives) . Scroll through and enjoy some serenity on me. Ohmmmmm....... P.S. Click the title of this post for a really great place to do some workplace meditation. P.P.S for those counting, I know my sutra is only 48 lines-not 50- give me a break, I did write 48 freakin lines! okay..ohmmmmm.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Don'T Call It A Comeback

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen- nobody knows my sorrow…” Okay, enough with the melodrama. I’ve been suffering from Stage Two- culture shock for those who didn’t read my last post. I was fed up with Japan, its rules, and the way people never quite said what they were thinking. Every time I thought I was settling in- boom! Some new problem blew up in my face. I resorted to food, (but not wine-unfortunately. I now know what it must feel like to have paparazzi following your every move. Yesterday my local baker asked me if I was going to Nakako- my second high school. Apparently everyone knows my schedule so well, they know what days I go to what school. And if I deviate, they ask me what’s wrong. So no wine- if they follow me that closely, I don’t want the baker knowing when I’m having a drink.) I resorted to movies- anything American- so I could hear some familiar sounds. I resorted to the internet. The movies were ruined by subtitles. The food gave me acne. And the internet was in Japanese. I have never felt so far from home. But then today, another surprise. A good one- one that was a long time coming. My students had to do a skit- using American expressions and idioms. They had a list to choose from, four team members and twenty five minutes. At first, they were confused and scared. Getting up in class is always scary. Getting up in class in Japan can be traumatic. But then one boy raised his hand and in English, asked for my help. And all of a sudden I couldn’t stop smiling. Someone had asked for my help- I had a purpose!. As it turned out, he wanted me to pronounce the phrase “I’m constipated.” “I’m constipated.” I still don’t really understand why that was on the list of phrases to teach a class of high school boys. They proceeded for the rest of class to use that phrase in every way they could. And every skit was about someone having to go to the bathroom. (By the way- I learned the Japanese phrase for going to the bathroom while constipated-remind me to tell you one day. What kind of people have a word for that!?) At any rate, the kids had a lot of fun, they actually wrote some clever skits, they learned good pronunciation, and they made me laugh. It seemed to make them happy- the more I laughed, the more they played it up. And I remembered, that I’m not here just to be an example to them. This journey- selfishly enough , is also about me and what I can learn. I will always be able to compare the image of the stiff persona of the Japanese people, with the laughable image of a Japanese high school boy squatting in front of a classroom. (Another phrase they learned- “That’s disgusting!” They used it too!) There are always two sides to every situation. I lost perspective for a little while there, but teenage boys can always be counted on to bring out the funny side. So, I took my little walk on the dark side. Fortunately, I had someone- a class of someones, waiting to bring me back.

It's Written In The Stars

Lots of nights here in Japan, I stare at the stars, wondering, how the hell did I get here? The nights here are a good time for reflection, since the days are so busy. Days I spend smiling, kow-towing (no offense), sometimes planning, sometimes teaching, but mostly trying to fit in, as much as any gaijin can here. I think my normalcy reassures them. But inside, the diva is waiting to break out. I don’t know if I can make it a year without letting someone have some ‘tude. But looking at the stars is peaceful. They’re magnificent here- less light pollution. And from the top of a mountain, they’re larger and more luminous than I have ever seen them. The stars have always had the power to make us feel both insignificant and indispensible. Small though humans are, we are a part of the wheeling pattern that we see reflected in the stars above. Somehow, I will find my part of the pattern here in Japan… and everywhere. This isn’t the first time I’ve wondered why I’m here and where I’m going and it won’t be the last. Japan is one stop on the journey to discovering the answer. It is teaching me all the ways in which I am willing to bend and those points which are for me, non-negotiable. It is teaching me how little I know- (ever tried using a Japanese ATM?) and how flexible I can be- (coaching shot put when the kids can’t understand you requires a great deal of creativity). Being here makes me feel both ancient at times, and newborn- the perpetual state of humanity. So I guess I really do fit in somewhere- with the rest of humanity, struggling to find worth in the struggle, to live and not just survive, to appreciate every new surprise that every morning brings after the darkest of nights. Like all humans before me , I have a destiny. It’s written in the stars. All I have to look up.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fat Bottomed Girls Really Do Make The Rockin' World Go Round

It's hard to be a fat bottomed girl in Japan. If the commercials where stick thin girls wear voluminous dresses doesn't make you want to throw something at your t.v., the shopping will. Here in Japan, the home of fashion capital Tokyo, where a large size is a medium in America, I went shopping for pants for school.. and all hell broke loose. Picture it, Nagasaki city, famous around the world, Mecca for tourists, the home of YouMeSaito- well known shopping mall with three levels of shopping all under one roof. And I can't find one pair of pants.. or a shirt.. or shoes. I am the antithesis of everything Japan. I am not small, petite, girly, goth, lolita, businesswoman, or mom. And it seems here, if you are not one of those, you don't belong. Can you imagine- I never felt that way in American-(coff,coff- excuse the cough,folks, had something stuck in my throat- feels like sarcasm). I am definitely used to not being the norm-but here it felt like more than that. It was like everything I am; big, black, sometimes bold (not often enough sometimes), was somehow offensive here. I could feel myself trying to be smaller, quieter-less me. Around the island, I noticed that I smiled less, and talked less, and excused myself more than I ever have before- a fact that I'm not comfortable with in review. It's the Japan effect. They have a saying here-"the nail that stands up, gets hammered down." Japan is a society where people try their best not to stand out, to draw attention to themselves. The homogeneity of their culture is a strength...for them. It makes everyone equal- no one feels less, because someone else is a success. The success of the team is success for all. But I am not one of the team- and never will be. I am "gaijin"-foreigner ( a rather rude term for foreigner, by the way. In politically correct terms, I am America-jin- an American. )But by my nature, and presence I am not and cannot be Japanese. Which made me the "nail"- and the atmosphere of Japan really was beginning to hammer me down. Until, back at the mall- a discovery. A shop called Bitter Syrup- which ironically enough is also called XL- as in extra large. It's a retail shop that caters to women who aren't the typical Japanese size- meaning normal like the rest of us. How appropriate for me, I thought. At this point, I felt mentally larger than ever, like my skin didn't fit, and I was definitely feeling bitter about the shopping(less) situation. But then I found- Glory, Hallelujah!- pants! In fact I found three pairs of pants, and shirts and..well, not undies. That's a problem for another day. But all of a sudden I could buy clothes and dress like a professional. There's a biblical verse which talks about "putting on the whole armor of God." Well, when I found those pants- I about did a jig-singing, appropriately enough Fat Bottomed Girls, You Make The Rockin' World Go Round- (my school plays Queen during cleaning time so it had been in my head for days- go figure). If I may be stereotypical, I am a girl and if I can't have diamonds ('cause diamonds are a girl's best friend, you know) at least let me have clothes. Clothes that fit my figure, and make me feel like an adult, and less like a student in hand me downs. Cloths that make me feel feminine- and less like an American freak- (and since all of the men here have stereotyped American women as aggressive, I have not been feeling the love). Clothes that remind me that, I although I don't fit the Japanese mold-- I don't have to. I needed a physical reminder that, with the right clothes and attitude, the world will mold itself to me. So while it seems like a small accomplishment, I count finding those pants a victory- that I can overcome the world's perception of me.. and my own. That I can remember in the worst times that I have something to offer- and if there is more of me, that that is all to the good. That being large and in charge, and standing out, is not the worst punishment in the world, but a blessing given to few- to be more than just a member of the masses. Consider me the biggest nail in Japan- they will not hammer me down. Picture me in new pants, dancing. I have decided that I will be a bold, aggressive American. One who struts her way through town, wears sunglasses like Princess Di, and heels that make her three feet taller than everyone else in town. And one who knows that fat bottomed girls really do make the rockin' world go round.

Defcon 2 Averted...for now

Here's a montage for you- picture me, running a relay- hair flying in the wind- then flash to me standing in the grocery line one day before- flash- me in the midst of 600 Japanese people, all alone- flash-cleaning and dancing in the halls of school to the music of Queen. This is the picture of a expat- expatriot to you- a -say it after me folks- "stranger in a strange land"- one lone black girl- in the middle of an asian sea. It was driving me crazy! They call it Stage Two of culture shock- the ubiquitous "they"- when you begin the downward spiral from being super "genki" -superenthusiastic and I heart Japan- to Japan sucks and when can I leave? My spiral had begun. Who cared that I was on a island in the middle of a beautiful ocean- it's a freakin' island! Who cares that my morning drive takes me over blue green canals and through the heart of a mountain? It's a forty minute drive and the tunnels have spiders. It was hard going to appreciate the wonder of nature with 600 parents staring at me at School Sports day - like seeing a foreigner say "konnichiwa" was like seeing a talking dog. I made a game of seeing how long after I passed, they waited before staring at my back. They were far too polite to stare to my face- except the old people, they had no shame. I ran at Sports Day to show I was willing to be part of the team. I cleaned with the students and mingled with the shoppers at the local grocery, and never have I felt so alone. Not even in America, where being black is still cause for some little old ladies to grab their purses if you come too near. It's expected there- sadly. But I guess I really thought that despite its history Japan would be ready to welcome diversity. But maybe I overstate the case- maybe Japan's history still isn't sure where diversity fits in to its national identity- those bent over little old ladies in the street might not be able to expand their world view to include someone like me- few can. But its future- its children, can. Though I felt like a fool running that race, (and thank God- no one got it on video) I didn't just run for them. I ran for myself, so that I can always know that I was there and I didn't miss the chance of a lifetime. I danced and cleaned so that I can know I took my job seriously ( dancing and singing? I know) of being an international ambassador. I shopped- and using my mangled Japanese I managed to communicate without saying much that I am America- that we share the simplest things in life- like shopping for cereal. (And let me tell you- the cereal adventure is a story in itself- remind me to tell you later why "cereal" and "cereal" are two different things in Japan. ) I'm making a life for myself here- becoming known as more than just the "new ALT"- or "the one with the hair"- oh, my hair- a perpetual conversation starter. I am a part of the community here- for better or for worse, and for better or for worse, these students will remember me- remember that I ran for their team, bought bread from their mom, eat the same cereal they do, and the same bento for lunch. And they'll think more kindly of America and the world in general. It's amazing how empathy can grow from the strangest of circumstances. And as for me, while I almost lost my cool, I didn't quite lose my sense of humor. When I realized that strangers were staring at me because I was wearing chopsticks in my hair- instead of eating with them, I took them out and had a laugh. And proved to myself that I was going to be able to make it here. And so Defcon 2 was averted by a smile..just barely..for now.


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