Om Feeling Better

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This morning was day 45 of my meditation journey. I sit on a cushion in front of a window and look at Meditation Cat until my eyes close and I sink into myself seeking calm and space and rest.

I was lost at first, but now I want to do the practices, even need to. I’ve never been a morning person, but find myself waking up extra early on work days so I can practice before I leave. I’m becoming greedy for that feeling of peace. When I can’t find it, I feel sad, frustrated. For the rest of the day, it feels like my socks are inside out and my ponytail is too tight.

But then there are brief moments when nirvana opens its limpid eyes and glances at my soul. Those are moments of pure bliss, of lightness and freedom and I want to laugh out loud. On the flip side, those moments are sometimes followed by equally brief but equally powerful bursts of pure emotion, often grief, and I want to sob.

Grief, regret, sadness, pain: none of these feelings do my spirit or the world any good. While I cannot deny their substance and reality, I can refuse to let them control me. I’m learning to embrace those feelings, acknowledge their existence, give them a hug and a scratch behind the ears, and then let them go, pushing them gently out into the universe where they can burst apart like sparkling fireworks and return their energy to the universal all. Perhaps in time that energy can learn to look for more positive directions.

For the longest time, I thought only truly stupid people could be truly happy, but I think there’s more–and less–to it than that.

I am unlikely to ever go vegan or worship crystals or wear clothing made of hemp, but have decided to heed the wise words of Meditation Cat:

We are only as miserable as we allow ourselves to be.

Another Grand Day Out

Destination: Yokohama

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Maya wanted to go to Chinatown and that seemed like a good idea, so we headed there in time for lunch.

The thing with Chinatown is there are about a gazillion restaurants to choose from. We knew enough to stay away from the fancy ones on the main drag (Bah! Those for the tourists!) but that just left a half gazillion smaller ones on side streets. I figured it was best to just dive in, so chose one because the woman standing outside trying to coax us in had a Chinese accent–usually a good sign.

We got lucky. We ordered and then indulged ourselves in a feeding frenzy worthy of several schools of piranha who had been locked in a closet for a few weeks. Chopsticks flashing faster than a Benihana chef’s knives, we devoured everything except the furniture. Yum! ‘Nuf said.

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So we hauled our bloated bellies toward Yamashita park and the port area where we saw a stingray. That doesn’t often happen. I morphed myself into E.T. to take the picture. (See shadow.)

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We next visited the doll museum which is rather boring but at least everyone else thinks so, too, so nobody was there. We enjoyed the peace and air conditioning.

Then there was this: Marine Tower.

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I have always avoided Tokyo Tower and have no interest in Skytree but we’d been looking for new experiences.

I had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for.

It’s only 94 meters tall. That’s about 30 stories. I’ve been up buildings taller than that. No bid deal, I thought. So we got into the elevator to go up. And the little glass box started to rise…and rise…and rise.

“Oh, cool. It’s a see through elevator. Love those. Look at the steel girders sliding by. Oops. What was that? My stomach just hit the floor. Uh-oh. Can’t breathe. Was that Willie Wonka and Charlie I just saw flying by? There goes the wicked witch on her broomstick. And wasn’t that Harry Potter chasing a Golden Snitch? This can’t be happening. Help. HELP! GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!!”

And then the doors opened. We crept out, hugging the internal wall. I could barely move and could feel myself shaking.

“Oh, no. That’s not you,” said the affable woman wiping fingerprints off the glass. “It’s quite windy today so this thing wobbles all around. I have to keep the glass very clean or people get dizzy trying to focus on the distance.”

Oh, my.  Do.Not.Retch.

And to add terror to an already frightening experience, there was this:

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Maya is not clowning. You step onto that sheet of plexiglass and your heart plummets to the depths of hell. You can feel your soul being sucked out through the soles of your feet. Not for the faint of heart, my friends.

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After a while, I did manage it, but what you can’t see is that I am staring resolutely into the distance, my white knuckled fingers making indentations in the wooden handrail.

Closed eyes, deep breathing and a meditation mantra are the only things that got me back into the elevator and down to street level.

Been there. Done that. Don’t ever have to do it again. Amen.

By comparison, the ride home on the nearly empty train felt like pure bliss. We were only going forward, not up, and the gentle side-to-side rocking was a comfort, not the erratic shudders of a spindly tower with the structural integrity of a Slinky.

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Maya has made an impressive effort to learn reading and writing. As we pulled into our station she turned to me looking perplexed and asked, “Garbage is dangerous?”

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Well, yes, that’s pretty much what the sign says. One of the things that makes Japanese so difficult is that even when you can read something, that doesn’t mean it will make any sense. While the illustration shows a relaxed looking hand calmly dropping a piece of paper, which didn’t strike either of us as particularly dangerous, what the text implies is that it is dangerous to toss garbage over the wall and into the street. The thinking is that if they use an illustration of, say, a tattooed thug tossing a beer bottle over the wall, then that’s what will happen. Or something like that.

(Gallic shrug.) It is what it is.

We ate, we laughed, we had a lot of fun. Once again, it was worth the effort and I’m glad we went.

P.S. Diana, this is for you. It’s the hotel where Napolitan spaghetti was invented. You’re welcome.

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Meditation Cat Says…

Our ancestors may have lived perfectly well on what they could hunt and gather. They may have slept on the bare ground and worn mammoth skin to cover their tender bits. They may have gone to bed and risen with the sun and planned their life events around the movements of the celestial orbs. They may have believed in the spirits of rocks and rivers and trees and mountains and butterflies and unicorns. But when it’s over 34 degrees outside and the humidity has blown the mercury right out of the thermometer and turned my hair into a fuzzy blonde afro and my brain is starting to resemble last month’s applesauce, I believe in swimming pools and central air conditioning and ice cubes in my drinks. Although celestial orbs and unicorns are still pretty cool.

Milk

One of the many middle aged blessings I have received from Mother Nature seems to be lactose intolerance. I am distressed about this for several reasons.

For one thing, it hurts and the accompanying gas can be…inconvenient.

For another thing, I’ve never had any sort of allergies. There are plenty of foods I don’t like and some I can’t eat, but that’s mental intolerance, not physical. For example, I don’t like any of the squash related vegetables–eggplant in particular is anathema–and you’re not fooling anyone by calling it aubergine. Please also keep your yams and zucchini to yourself.

source: images.clipartpanda.com
source: images.clipartpanda.com

I know where this aversion comes from. The rule in my family was you must eat at least some of everything on the table, and you had to stay at the table until you had done that. My brother and I both used to hide food in our pockets and then flush it down the toilet. I find it hard to believe that my mother didn’t know that, but if she did, I don’t know why she let us get away with it. At one point, she tried to forced me to eat a large pile of mashed pumpkin. I tried but resented every bite and eventually barfed. That wasn’t an allergy; it was sheer willfulness, and I’m pretty sure she never tried to force the issue again. I guess I had come of age in asserting my independence and she recognized that.

I adore Thai green curry but always pick out the eggplant. One of the waiters (I’m told both men and women are now referred to as waiters–is that right?) noticed and offered to have it made with cabbage instead, just for me, but I don’t care much for boiled cabbage either so told them not to bother. It’s not like I don’t want to eat eggplant, it just grosses me out. I hold nothing personal against the unassuming eggplant, either, and have nothing against other people eating them. In fact, they’re rather cute and I wish I could eat them. I had hoped that quitting smoking might alter my palate, so a few months ago, I bravely ate a piece of eggplant from a green curry and promptly gagged. I can eat Japanese pickled eggplant. Otherwise it’s hopeless.

Another thing about intolerance is that I don’t want to be that person, the person with special needs. As a kid, I was surrounded by a bunch of whiners who claimed allergies and wore that claim like some sort of honor badge. Their allergies were to be respected, catered to (literally), obeyed even. They had a sense of entitlement. “Look at me. I have allergies. That means I’m special.” I felt somehow inferior in my sturdy, healthy, non-allergic body. I realize now that was a twisted way to see the world, but I am a product of my environment.

Yet another thing is a joke that’s no longer funny. At one of the production companies I work with a lot, it is understood that I can’t work in the morning if there’s no coffee, and I can’t drink the coffee if there’s no milk, and the milk must be Oishii Gyunu:

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This picture isn’t blurry. My eyes were really tired.

They called the other day asking me to take a last minute job they knew I didn’t want to do. After I agreed, they said they’d be sure to bring the Oishii Gyunyu. I had to hang my head and admit that I could no longer drink it. With tears of shame in my eyes, I explained that I could only drink this stuff:

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For people whose tummies say ‘goro-goro’ when they drink milk

So I am distressed to have this lactose problem. How can anyone be intolerant of anything as benevolent as milk? It comes from breasts and human kindness; it is the source of the heavenly delicacies butter and cheese. Without it, the land would just be honey and Santa would have to eat his cookies dry.

This is so unfair.

A Grand Day Out

I was backpacking in Europe when I got a postcard from my lovely and gracious friend, Leisa. “Come to Japan!” she said. “People are throwing money around. I can get you a job at the school where I’m teaching.”

Her timing couldn’t have been better. It was 1986. I was running out of money. The Japanese bubble economy was soaring headlong into the ether. The crash and burn followed in 1987 but at least I got to experience a year of the bubble. It was pretty awesome, and I don’t use that word lightly.

All of that was nearly 30 years ago, and now Leisa’s lovely and gracious daughter Maya is spending a week with us. We’re having a fine time, too.

One of the things she wanted to see was the Big Buddha at Kamakura, and Kelly just happened to be doing a beach yoga class and picnic there yesterday so we went.

As we sat in meditation pose at the beginning of class, the sun was on our eyelids. I drew the salt scented breeze deep into my lungs as I synched my 15 month tobacco free breath to the rhythm of the surf. Feelings of happiness, gratitude and peace kitten-licked my heart like the gentle waves lapping at the sand.

And things just went uphill from there. We started our picnic, and found ourselves being stalked by soaring, swooping gangs of crows and kites, one of which dove headfirst at Maya and snatched a rice ball right out of her hand; his feathered wing brushed my arm as it streaked past. He surprised all of us so much that we forgave both the petty thievery and the lack of proper manners. We even thanked him later because his selfishness meant we were still hungry and so had to force ourselves to eat some Turkish ice cream, which Maya had never had.

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Just before we left the beach, we were looking for a shell to bring home and Maya picked up what we thought was a lump of coral covered with sticky sand. But under the sand, we were delighted to find this little piece of exquisitry.

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We will never know how or why he came to be on a public beach in Kamakura, nor why he found his way to us, but at least for me, there is something magical in the feel of his sun-warmed body against the palm of my hand. His expression seems to say, “I’ve been waiting for you. Where have you been?”

Having been primed with yoga and sunshine, it seemed that kismet could go hard on us if we didn’t pay our respects to the Big Buddha. He was the reason we went in the first place and he is, after all, very big. He looks serene enough, but one cannot know what’s in his hollow heart. A single stomp from one of his ginormous brass feet could produce a very convincing Monty Pythonesque splat, so it’s probably best not to mess with him.

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It took us five trains and a bus to get back home, mostly because I kept changing my mind about how to do that. When we finally got there, we were wilted. We had salt on our sun burned skin and sand between our toes, but Maya got to cross one thing off her list and I got to add a couple she hadn’t thought of. Overall we were pretty well satisfied and very pleased that we’d made the effort to go.

hot Jane Austin

Meditation Cat Says…

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She keeps getting hungry for things she can’t have. This time it’s an open faced roast beef sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes.

Stop pouting, silly girl. You can have that. Maruetsu has tasty roast beef and you can make gravy and mashed potatoes yourself.

But no, she says, it’s not the taste. It’s the experience. She wants the sticky vinyl booth seats, the Formica tabletops, the milkshake served in a tall glass, the waitress named Myrtle dressed in a pink uniform and coiffed in a beehive. Then she and her boyfriend Bobby will climb into his Edsel and head for the sock hop at the school gym. She’ll wear her poodle skirt and sweater set and saddle shoes.

You can see where this is going.

Meditation Cat says…

Dwell neither in the past nor in the future.
The past will always be what it was.
The future will always be ahead.
The present can only happen once.
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Supermouse

Speak softly and carry a big fish.
                                        Speak softly and carry a big fish.

“Faster than a speeding bullet train! More powerful than a shinkansen locomotive! Able to leap Tokyo Tower at a single bound!”

“Look! Up in the sky!”
“It’s a bat!”
“It’s a rodent!”
“It’s Supermouse!”

“Yes, it’s Supermouse – strange visitor from another continent who came to Asia with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal mice. Supermouse – defender of law and order, champion of equal rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice, who, disguised as Eda, slightly prickly editor for a large edutainment corporation, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and grilled cheese sandwiches.”

A variation of those words first hit the airwaves back in 1941 and they connect to a lot that has been going through my head as I attempt to cope with middle age and get some perspective on my life and my place in the universe.

Last week’s supreme court decision was a glimmering ray of hope from an America I am increasingly ashamed of, although it should surprise nobody that a conservative backlash is already growing. Why is it that people feel entitled to judge other people’s lifestyles? Why can’t they be satisfied with their own choices and accept what those choices bring?

I feel the same way about abortion. While it may be a religious issue for many, it isn’t for me, and you do not have a right to tell me what to believe. This should never have become a political issue in the first place. When does a fetus become a sentient being? This is a question that cannot be answered in court. Women must answer it for ourselves, and be prepared to live with our decisions. And it is none of anybody else’s business. Period.

The right to gun ownership raises similar flags. Under the constitution, you have a right to own a gun, but you do not have a right to scare me. And just how many coyotes are you and your machine gun expecting defend yourself from while shopping at Walmart? I’d be more frightened of your gun than the coyotes.

We all have the right to believe what we want to believe. But we do not have the right to tell others what to believe. At the same time, there are certain fundamentals I think most of us would accept. Without some common acceptance of the rules those rights and wrongs dictate, we’re left with chaos and anarchy.

It is commonly accepted that murder is wrong, but what about the woman who is systematically abused, both mentally and physically, and finally bashes in the asshole’s head with his bowling ball? Is that wrong?

Another grey area: lying is wrong, but little white lies (What a cute baby! It’s so nice to see you again!) don’t hurt anyone and can even do some good. Big black smelly lies, on the other hand (Nuclear power is safe! Smoking is cool!) can cause harm on a scale that is difficult to fathom.

So where do we draw the line? Just how much should government have to do with morality? I thought that two fundamental premises of the US government were religious freedom and separation of church and state, and yet that state tells us who we can marry and whether or not we will have children while it allows large corporations to poison our air and our water and our bodies.

And this body is now faced with yet another birthday. It’s been a better one than some of the past. The mind and body seem to be drawing great benefits from both yoga and meditation; the desire to smoke is gone, hopefully for good; I am finding strengths in myself I didn’t know I had. These are all good things. I think I’m finally understanding that old prayer about serenity and strength and wisdom. I will make an effort to carry those things with me into the future.

Perspectives

I went to a performance of Perspectives by the Tokyo Artistic Theatre Ensemble. It was a selection of performance pieces reflecting inspiration from this lovely painting by Frankie Cihi.

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The delightful undulations of the leaves and flowers in the painting gave physical form to something new in my life. Every now and then, at unexpected moments, I see tiny twinkles of light. They appear in the corner of my eye, almost out of view, grabbing my attention away from whatever else I might be doing. What are those twinkles? Some sort of energy? The souls of fireflies past? What’s left behind after a baby’s first smile?

I began to wonder if they might be spillover from some sort of parallel energy universe that we can’t see but is all around us. There could be a constant cascade of sparkling light pouring from the spout of my tea kettle. Perhaps when I close my eyes, the lights appear, and when I open them they are gone, like some sort of cosmic game of Peek-a-boo. Perhaps it’s where brownie points come from and where they go when we redeem them. Perhaps we are constantly surrounded by great swirling masses of multicolored light and hope and good intentions but we just can’t open our eyes wide enough to let them in.

I find comfort in believing that could be true. Some people believe in the Tooth Fairy. Which is more likely?

Meditation Cat Says…

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Be still. Be quiet.
And stop licking my face.

The doors to enlightenment do not open
to wiggly chatterboxes
and you have tuna breath.

Twitchy twitched her whiskers as she weighed the price of achieving nirvana, slightly resented the tuna breath comment, then blinked her eyes and curled up on the cushion. “It does not matter,” she thought as she drifted into sleep. “I will dream my dreams and when I wake, I will stretch and purr and play with my toys and if my breath smells of tuna it means my belly is full and I am happy. Who could want or need more than that?”

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