Smiling Eyes

During yesterday morning’s meditation, I was just starting to flirt with the edges of bliss when the byatch who lives next door started opening the shutters on her windows, and she does this with a vengeance. Every evening she slams them shut and every morning she slams them open, always wearing over-sized slippers that make irritating thwack-thwack shuffling noises on the concrete. It would be funny if she were wearing a rainbow colored wig and red nose. She’s got all the ineptitude of a clown with none of the charm.

Randy clown(This is a real clown. His name is Randy. He’s very funny.)

The shutters make jarring metal-on-metal screeches that fire directly into my eardrums, a barrage of painful sound bullets tearing through my equanimity. The woman seems to be taking out her anger and frustration with the universe. My gut reaction has become a sudden eruption of seething rage, not unlike my champagne bubbles of light, but again with none of the charm.

Yesterday, it struck me that maybe she’s got things to rage about, too. The absurdity of my rage hit me, and by extension, the absurdity of me letting the noise bother me so much. I took a deep, cleansing yoga breath and let it go, and then discovered what it means to smile inside.

And just then I felt the corners of my eyelids curve into smiles.

I didn’t know they could do that.

Such magic doesn’t happen every time I meditate. Each session is different; some are sweet dewdrops of peace, others are the box of milk that’s been in the fridge a little too long. That unpredictability is the difference between fresh blueberries and blueberry jam, the thrill of the unknowable level of sweetness versus a homogenized jar of Smuckers, delicious but guaranteed, unvarying. While the comfort of the predictable is appealing, most of the time I’d rather take a chance on the unknown.

And maybe I need to get myself a red nose.


Training the Mind

This morning marked my 104th meditation session, 1920 minutes of being mindful.


I’m doing an online guided meditation course. It keeps track of these things. I took great pride in watching the numbers rise on my quit smoking meter, but there’s something oddly unsettling about Big Brother knowing how much time I’ve spent looking inside me. At least he doesn’t know what I’ve seen there. Probably.

Yesterday, The Voice told me to visualize a point of light in the middle of my chest and allow it to grow and grow until it reached the edges of the universe.

Today, the light turned into an effervescence that bubbled up and out of me like champagne from a shaken bottle. I can’t find the words to describe how good it felt.

The Voice also told me to take time to revisit that state of mind several times during my day, so I did. As I was standing on a platform waiting for a train, I closed my eyes and the bubbles started pouring out of me. The train had to drive through a great cloud of them as it pulled into the station. It reminded me of the light parade at Disneyland and I couldn’t help smiling.

There are few things as mind numbing as standing on a platform waiting for a train. Anything that can turn that experience into champagne and Disneyland is worth pursuing.


I’ve been working on some thoughts on the difference between wanting and needing and what is worth waiting for and what isn’t. And grilled cheese sandwiches.

Just as it takes time to grill your sandwich to golden perfection, it takes time for thoughts to mature.

Here’s a taste–of the thoughts, not the sandwiches.

Foresight is considering things that could happen. Hindsight is getting perspective on things that did or didn’t happen. Insight is coping with what is happening now with a degree of grace and dignity.

Outtasight is where things that never should have happened belong, like Euro Disney and Justin Bieber and pumpkin pudding flavored KitKats.


Meditation Cat (that’s ‘cat’ with a ‘c’, not a ‘k’) says:


No. Just…no. I have spoken.

Murder Is Bad

murder-meme1Peas and Cougars is one of my favorite blogs and the woman who writes it, Rae, pointed out that I would be a bad person and bad things would happen to me if I didn’t share this meme. Just to be safe, I decided it deserved a whole blog post. Allow me to explain.

It’s true that English, especially American English, greedily gobbles up words from other languages, generally mangling the original pronunciation in the process. Excellent examples include kimono, karate and karaoke. I learned the latter here, so the first time I heard it in the States, I had no idea what the person was talking about.

American friend: The place has carry-okie on Thursdays.

Me: Oh, is that some kind of ethnic food?

The other day, we were recording some English lessons for sixth graders and part of one lesson was, ‘I want to be…’ We had ‘I want to be a doctor.’ ‘I want to be a farmer.’ ‘I want to be a patissier.’ The narrator pronounced that last word American style with a hard R at the end. I told the client the correct pronunciation, pointing out that since it was not an English word, we should probably use the proper French pronunciation. Better yet, we could use the perfectly good English equivalent, ‘baker’.

Client: Oh, no. We can’t change the word and we have to use the American pronunciation.

Me: But it’s not an English word. There isn’t an ‘American’ pronunciation. If you say that word to the average American, they won’t know what you’re talking about.

Client: That’s OK. Japanese understand it.

Me: (Carp face.) Uh…OK.

There was a time when such an exchange would send me into a murderous rage, causing my head to explode and raining sticky bits of brain onto the client and anyone else unfortunate enough to be sitting nearby.

But that didn’t happen. I shrugged. I sighed. I let it go.

Meditation Cat says…


Yoga is good. Meditation is good. Not murdering anyone is very good.

Voices in the Trees

Meditation is reaching into my psyche and teasing loose unexpected and wonderful sensations. It’s like following a path through Hansel and Gretel’s forest but instead of leaving a trail of crumbs, I’m collecting a trail of treasures someone left along the way.


The other day, when I was walking in the park, I looked up into the trees and they suddenly took on an almost surreal clarity and vibrancy. I could see the outline of each leaf and sense the nuanced differences in the gradations of their greens. Each one was unique. I experienced a profound connection to those leaves; it felt like I could name each one and describe its personality.

Alfred Greenleaf likes chocolate ice cream and once shoplifted a packet of colored pencils. He still feels guilty about it.

Wendy Leafblower dreams of one day going skydiving. In the meantime she crochets tea cozies and is addicted to reruns of Friends.

Howard Leafmealone is something of an introvert and wishes the other leaves would give him some space.

Brenda Longleaf is self conscious about the length of her veins.

Merry Greensleaves wishes she was a needle on a Christmas tree.

George Mapleleaf is something of a sap.

While that babel of personalities was revealing itself to me, at the same time the voices of the leaves seemed to be humming a gentle melody with layered harmonics, the autumn breeze smelling of sunshine and playing a woodwind accompaniment to chirping crickets and the last of the summer cicadas.

It was as if all of those layers of life and energy and music had always been there, just under the surface, but I had never noticed them.

What other wonders are waiting for me just around the next bend in the path?

An Escalating Situation


In Tokyo, we stand on the left of escalators in the subway and train stations and people who are in a hurry walk up or down on the right. In Osaka it’s the other way around. Nobody knows why and we’re not supposed to ask.

Recently, there has been a campaign asking people to stop doing that–walking on escalators, I mean. It is dangerous, after all. Somebody did the math and realized that 3800 escalator-related accidents have occurred over the past three years. If we factor in Tokyo’s 13+ million residents, that works out to 0.0098% of people having been in an escalator-related accident. (I do not swear by the accuracy of those numbers.)

Someone pointed out that by that same reasoning, we should also ban walking on the staircases. After all, that’s at least as dangerous as walking on escalators. Perhaps walking should be banned altogether. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t fallen down at some point in their life.

The escalator walking campaign is just a campaign and therefore unenforceable, and although the Japanese are generally a fairly obedient group, the idea has been blatantly ignored. There are good reasons for this. People who are late don’t get any less late by waiting to get on the escalator.

Case in point: Despite Japan’s usual heroic feats of engineering, the almost unforgivable Oedo Line, which opened in 2000, is a total disaster. The cars are too narrow, the trains slow, the noise unbearable. Since it’s relatively new, it was built to run beneath existing lines. At some points, it’s 40 meters down. At some stations it takes six or seven escalators to get to street level; you have to factor in an additional 10 minutes to your travel time just to get out of the station. In addition, the platforms are much too narrow. They have sliding platform gates to keep people from tumbling onto the tracks, but the congestion during rush hours can be horrible. If people didn’t walk up the escalators, it would be human gridlock. I kid you not.

Someone mentioned that many escalator accidents are caused by people tripping over other people’s walking canes. We could ban those, too. And while we’re at it, we could ban baby strollers, wheelchairs, suitcases, shopping bags, bunches of Ikebana flowers, large bags of sports equipment and any musical instrument bigger than a piccolo.

And while we’re banning all those things, we could also ban people who don’t necessarily walk on escalators but are annoying, like people who take up two seats or stink of cigarettes or garlic or fall asleep on other people’s shoulders or wear too much perfume, and, of course, all smart phones and other handheld devices.

But I had another idea. Instead of spending a gazillion yen on a bunch of unnecessary new stadiums for the 2020 Olympics, let’s just tidy up the ones that already exist and instead spend the money to build a separate subway system for all of those space hogs and annoying people to use. Donald Trump can decide who is qualified to ride which one.

Life Is Berry Peachy

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, one of the best times of year was late summer when peaches came into season. Now, Georgia can go on as much as it cares to, but I doubt their peaches can hold a candle to Pennsylvania peaches. Perhaps a very small candle, like a birthday candle. Or maybe just a match. A damp one.

Anyway, my dad would buy peaches by the bushel, plump yellow peaches complete with fuzzy skin. The whole family would eat them, outside and leaning over, so we wouldn’t drown in peach juice. We ate them and ate them and ate them until the whole family had diarrhea. And it was worth it.

I’ve missed those peaches. Peaches in Japan are invariably white varieties, very juicy and sweet but unfortunately tasting only of sweet juiciness. I’ve seen yellow peaches in cans a couple of times, but even those are rare.

So imagine my surprise when the neighborhood veggie stand had yellow peaches.


They’re some unfamiliar variety, not as sweet as Pennsylvania peaches, somewhat more tart, closer to nectarines, but I won’t split hairs. And the selfsame veggie stand also had strawberries. Mountains of strawberries. I would guess 2kg of strawberries for less than $3.


I was suspicious.

That very veggie stand has been known to pass off some rather questionable produce, so I asked why the ruby colored gems were so cheap. The woman explained that they were restaurant quality strawberries from California, destined for strawberry shortcakes, but slightly too ripe and would need to be consumed ASAP.

I hesitated.

California? Most likely they were raised on Monsanto genetically modified fracking chromium. But when was the last time you got to gorge yourself on strawberries at the end of August? I always have to bid those glowing embers of heaven’s bonfire a tearful farewell in late spring and pine for them over the next ten months.

So I bought them. And the peaches. And picked over them to see which were most in need of immediate consumption. Those that didn’t survive the culinary culling made their way into a tart, a tart the likes of which all other tarts will strive to equal.


As my very wise friend and mentor Meditation Cat has so wisely said, it is the unexpected that makes life so spicy. Or something like that. Blueberries a few weeks ago, then nectarines and now strawberries and peaches. Things could be a whole lot worse.

The Tale of the Crazy Lady

Setagaya lineThe Setagaya Line is a silly little two car line that doesn’t go very fast. I’ve seen people whiz past it on bicycles, but it was the only way to get to yesterday’s job. After the first stop, a woman behind me started yelling quite loudly, “Excuse me! Excuse me!”

As is usual in such cases most people ignored her, but the conductor was obliged to go see what the fuss was about. The yelling woman had a cane but wasn’t old and didn’t seem to have any trouble walking. From what I can surmise, she wanted to sit and asked a young guy to get up and he ignored her. The train stopped at the next station. Yelling woman and two young guys got off and stood on the platform. The conductor took the guys aside and spoke to them quietly. The train pulled out of the station with the guys standing on the platform looking bemused. I don’t know what happened to yelling woman.

I can only guess, but assume the conductor said something like, “OK. This is clearly a case of crazy lady. In the interest of keeping the peace, would you two mind waiting for the next train?” So very Japanese.

This course of events made me a little late for work, but everyone enjoyed the Tale of the Crazy Lady so they forgave me. After all, a little crazy is the spice of life.

Meditation Cat Says….

Meditation is turning up some very interesting sensations: movement in the mind although the body is stationary, warmth, lightness, realization. I didn’t feel like it this morning but did it anyway. I’m glad I did.

If only the dickhead down the street with the jackhammer would knock it off.

Meditation Cat says…


Stay on the path.
Don’t worry about where it leads.

The journey is the only destination.


After seventy-one straight days of morning meditation
and my first yoga practice in over a month,
I can say that I’m feeling pretty good.

Life isn’t perfect, but it could be a whole lot worse.

We can and do decide for ourselves how we perceive the world around us.


Sometimes things are not exactly what they seem.

dog horse ditto

A little adjustment might be all that’s needed.

toner cat

It may be that all you need is a hug from someone you love.

lion babies

And if all else fails, there are always baby goats.

little goats*I’m sorry I can’t post attributions for these, but a heartfelt thanks to whoever created them.


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