Tag Archives: peace

Unicorny?

I was walking along a narrow path deep within a forest. The path was carpeted with pine needles that padded my footsteps and smelled of Christmas. I could hear birds chirping above me in the branches of the trees, their rich green leaves filtering the soft sunlight, making dappled patterns on the delicate plants and tiny flowers that covered the ground. Overhead were soft, cumulus clouds forming shapes that defied imagination: an eagle feather, a jack-in-the-box, a marshmallow bunny, a sesame seed bagel. There was a light scent of jasmine dancing on the warmth of a breeze.  Coming from what seemed a great distance, I could just barely hear the kind of music that makes you want to close your eyes and feel the life force flowing through your skin and into your bones and muscle and out again, back into the endless energy of the universe.

nirvana

As I followed a curve in the path that skirted a large gray rock flecked with gold that glinted in the sunlight, I emerged into a small clearing. At its center stood a shining pink unicorn nibbling on some yellow buttercups. At the sound of my step, she looked up, tossed her long white mane and tilted her silver horn in greeting. I reached out and gently stroked her delicate muzzle, felt the curve of bone in her powerful jaw, gave her a light scratch between her twitching ears and drew the tips of my fingers along her magnificent brow. She winked at me, as if to say, “Yes. This is real. I am real. You have found nirvana.”

And then I woke up. There was no unicorn, no gentle sunlight, no breeze, no birds, no buttercups. It was cold in the room and still raining as it has been, off and on, for the past three months. The only sound I could hear was the shriek of a motorcycle tearing apart the neighborhood’s peaceful Sunday evening silence. And I still felt just as awful as I had when I fell asleep.

Then I looked down at my hand and saw, resting on my fingertip, one sparkling pink eyelash. I smiled and then I sneezed. When I opened my eyes, it was gone. But I choose to believe it was there, just as I choose to believe in nirvana and I choose to believe that it will someday stop raining and I choose to believe a lot of things I can’t really put into words but carry around with me, some version of hope, a tendril of faith in the power of elves and fairies, a knowing in my soul that there are some universal truths and I just have to find the strength to see them.

The sun will rise again tomorrow and I will open my eyes to see it. For now, that’s enough.

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Pop-Tarts and Peace

I have spend the past two weeks suspended in limbo, waiting for the final chemo session early next month. In the meantime, I have very little work and very little energy so my tired body creeps through the days as slowly as the minute hand makes its way around the face of the clock.

Persistence of MemoryI am the mushroom platypus thing in the middle. See the resemblance?

I keep rebuilding my perception of reality only to have it knocked out from under me and having to start again. There is a limit to the number of times one can do that, but the alternative is hiding under the blankets until pigs fly, hell freezes over and Trump grows a conscience, none of which is likely to happen any time soon. Well, given advances in plastic surgery and aerodynamics, the pig thing might happen, and global warming is bringing us closer and closer to the possibility of frosty hell, but I’d bet my last Pop-Tart that Donny will never grow up. So I choose to get up each morning, ignore the tangerine-tinted buffoon, and try again.

The Pop-Tart Philosophy

Pop-Tarts

Tragedy and/or trauma bring on the five stages of mourning as the psyche tries to absorb and cope with loss. That mourning has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I had assumed the scenario goes something like this:

Monday: Don’t be silly. We still have plenty of Pop-Tarts.
Tuesday: Damn! Some douche canoe ate the last Pop-Tart.
Wednesday: I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a Pop-Tart today.
Thursday: I’ll never have another Pop-Tart. How can I go on?
Friday: At least I got to enjoy the Pop-Tarts of the past.

But it doesn’t. It’s a messy, unpredictable tangle of what the human heart and brain can and cannot deal with. I still hover between denial and depression. Most of the time, my reflection either startles or saddens me. More recently, there is anger, and along with anger comes fear, or maybe because of fear there is anger. Bargaining has not happened and is unlikely. Who would I bargain with and what would I offer? And acceptance? How can I accept something that cannot be defined? How do I plan for the future when I don’t know if I will have one?

We watched Erin Brockovich a few days ago, and I know it’s idiotic, but I found myself resenting the sick people because at least they could blame the gods of corporate greed for their trouble. There’s nobody to blame for my situation, not even myself. So far, at least, I’d been able to meditate my way past those feelings of frustration and helplessness. But then I did a stupid thing. I binge watched some old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, unfortunately the part where Izzy gets cancer. But her scenario was adorned in delightful Hollywood optimism. Not only did she survive death, within a month her hair had grown back and she insisted on scrubbing in on a five hour surgery, with only a couple of bites of banana to sustain her. Izzy, you go, girl! If only I had your strength.

The next morning, I woke up so depressed that not even a cocktail of yoga, meditation, Xanax and Pop-Tarts could snap me out of it. I’ve been bald for five months already, and my hair won’t be coming back anytime soon. As my frustration grows, my patience wears thin. If one more smug person smiles at me and says, “Don’t worry. It’ll grow back,” I may have to plunge a fork in your eye. Consider that fair warning. I know you mean well, but please be aware that a person who has cancer is not just dealing with contradictions on the scale of the Grand Canyon, e.g., you can’t even feel the disease while the treatment is making you very sick. That person is also trying to deal with the limits of their own mortality, trying to get up each day knowing there is a silent, greedy killer lurking in their cells, a dormant volcano on the molecular level. Round and round the mulberry bush we go, never knowing when the weasel might pop.

But while anger and frustration fuel me, they are exhausting. I have to find a way to make peace, peace in my thoughts, peace in my words, peace in my heart. I suppose that’s what they mean by acceptance: serenity, courage and wisdom. I will keep trying.

Desiderata

Yak!

I’m a member of a women’s group that is so Top Secret that I can’t tell you the name. Go ahead, torture me. Tickle me until I pee. Force me to eat eggplant and beets. Lock me in a closet with an insurance salesman. I won’t tell and you can’t make me. So there.

Even before I got sick, the group was a source of support and inspiration and has been a major part of the solid steel structure that has kept me from sliding over the edge for a long time. We come from different backgrounds and live in all sorts of circumstances. But even though they are so many thousands of miles away, I always know they are there and they genuinely care.

I post to the group pretty often, keeping everyone updated on my doings and in return have received more love than I ever expected was possible. Plus we have this whole unicorn thing going; I don’t remember how it got started but I love it. This morning, a small package arrived from one of those women. Inside was this little fellow. According to the label, he was made with love by women in Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyesan

 

And now I want to tell a little story.

For most of my many years in Japan, I’ve been freelance, doing a variety of jobs that sometimes surprises even me. (Write a letter to the Dalai Lama? Sure! Why not? The princess of Thailand? Hand me the pen!) I am staff re-writer for NHK International, a non-profit affiliate of NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster. It has various departments that do things like produce foreign language versions of original NHK programs, sell NHK footage for overseas productions, and use public funding from organizations such as the Japan Foundation and JICA to provide NHK programs and equipment to broadcasters in developing countries. People from that section, The Travelers, go all over Asia, Africa, Central Europe and South America having meetings and helping with the complicated paperwork involved in those projects. What it means for me is writing a lot of letters to broadcasters and ambassadors and government folks asking for their assistance. I don’t get to go anywhere.

In these days of internet and email, I’m outsourced now, only going to the office when there’s a special project, but for a long time, I had my own desk and one of the fellows in The Travelers’ section sat across from me. Arrayed across the top of his desk was a tidy row of folders marked Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and my favorite, Kyrgyzstan. I guess living in Japan wasn’t exotic enough for me, because when I wasn’t busy, I would stare at those folders and they would conjure up delightful images of wrinkly women dressed in colorful traditional costumes, eating yogurt and yak butter and living to be a thousand years old. I saw them hopping on ponies and scrambling around on mountain scree, or seated at hand looms meticulously weaving beautiful fabrics with intricate patterns.

I believe this is what they call empathy. I doubt I would like yak butter and I don’t want to live to be a thousand, but I love taking a moment to imagine how my life might have been so very different. Most of the time, despite a piqued curiosity, I feel a wave of gratitude as powerful as a tsunami wash over me.

I have never been to Kyrgyzstan and will most likely never go. I will most likely never meet most of the woman in my Top Secret group, but although we are all so very much alone, we are all together. So perhaps I will hop on my little pink unicorn and go see what’s up in Kyrgyzstan, have a nice cuppa yak butter tea, stare at a clear, blue sky and see all the infinity that has already been and is yet to come, wrap my arms around what’s left of this beautiful earth and be at peace.

Life is good.

elephant scarf

Stasis

On the plus side, the sun is shining and  the sakura is popping.

On the minus side, I’m stuck in a third basement studio all day.

On the plus side, this morning’s yoga was particularly pleasant, accompanied as it was by two fuzz  monkeys rasseling in the corner, and neither of them peed in the bed today.

On the minus side, my knees hurt and my claustrophobia won’t let me ride in the coffin-sized elevator so walking down the stairs to the studio was hard.

On the plus side, I’m getting paid to sit on this comfortable couch and share these thoughts with you.

Also on the plus side, I discovered this morning that they’re finally changing the name of my bus stop. I doubt you can begin to grasp how humiliating it is to get off at Nichidaiseibutsushigenkagakubumae. As of April 1, it will be simply Nichidaimae.

For some reason, this makes me very happy.

Nichidai

I assume this is not an April Fool’s joke. I sincerely doubt the bus people have that  much of a sense of humor. Bus stop naming is serious business, after all.

So all in all, the plus side wins. Yay!

The iPhone Revolution

The little mechanical monster has been in my life for exactly one day longer than the little fuzzy monster. Both have had profound effects.

Once he finally stopped peeing in the bed, Monkey Boy began to curl himself around my heart and now has a pretty firm grip. The phone has proven to be both a bane and a boon, but more boon than bane. Case in point: lunch today at Royal Host.

RH

Problem:
Four tables of young women with small children all competing to see who could scream the loudest. The only single adult was the man at the next table who couldn’t stop blowing his nose.

Solution:
iPhone, earphones, and Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter”. LOUD. Foul mood to fair in under 30 seconds.

Conclusion:
The phone exists to serve me. I am the Goddess.

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.

jam

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…

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

The journey is the only destination.

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.

Sideman

I arrived at Denpasar just after midnight, tired but relaxed, knowing that someone would be there to pick me up. I went through the magic doors and there was a long line of little brown men holding pieces of paper with people’s names on them. Mine was not among them. I checked up and down the line a couple of times to make sure. The only contact information I had was the phone number of the hotel but I had no phone and no local currency. So I stopped walking and thought, “Well, this is a pickle.” But then friendly taxi man came over and asked where I was going. “Sideman, and someone is going to pick me up.” He said, “No, no. It’s much too late. They’re not coming.” I insisted that they would and got out my itinerary. Nice man that he was, he called the hotel, who said the driver would be right there. Turns out he had been driving all day and had fallen asleep in the van. No harm done, and I’m glad to know that I don’t panic easily.

After all of that, we rolled into the hotel around 3:00am and I was fairly bleary by then, but was greeted by a woman named Ayu who took my hand in both of hers and a wave of warmth and sincerity shot up my arm and directly into my heart. “Follow me,” she said. “I’ll show you to your room.” And this is where we went.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAyu slipped off her sandals and padded across the terrace.
She pushed open a pair of ornately carved wooden doors and I saw this.

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And this.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe tiles were cool on my tired feet and there were flowers everywhere. I couldn’t find my towel for the longest time because it was disguised as a snail.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA The understated beauty, the simple elegance, the sense of fun all reached out to me. It’s hard to describe the way Bali fills up your senses. It’s not just the scents of lotus and jasmine flowers but also the constant burning of incense with an undertone of steamed rice. I see ranges of greens rising above the rice paddies, highlighted with bright flowers in tropical hues, and all the while there is the sound of running water.

In the morning, I sit on the terrace and soak up the atmosphere. The moss on the gently swaying trunks of coconut palms and papaya trees winks in the early morning sunshine under a clear blue sky adorned with the faintest brush strokes of wispy clouds. All around is an orchestra of crickets, birdsong, rooster crows, gekko chirps and flowing water, always the sound of flowing water. Just outside my room, a staircase of terraced rice paddies brimming with water and life makes its way down the slope. It begins to rain, the drops adding syncopation to the orchestra of sound, the concentric rings they make forming popcorn patterns on the surface of the water, always changing, each unique.

Despite the drought on other parts of the island, at that altitude the ever flowing water seeks lower climes, meandering from the heights through rice paddies, the myriad swimming pools and carved stone fountains, always flowing, always seeking, somehow seeming to know its destination.

The earth is sodden, so the many buildings that make up the hotel complex are connected by rutted stone and concrete walkways. One quickly learns to carry a flashlight and walk gingerly, especially in the dark. On the first night, I stumble on the way to dinner, scrape my elbow and bash my knee. The knee is all right, jut bruised, but for the rest of the trip I can’t put my weight on it. One of the women in my group notices me icing it down and asks what happened.

“I fell, that first night,” I said. “Didn’t you notice me doing very strange yoga?”

“Yes, I noticed,” she said. “I just thought you were doing really advanced poses.”

There is something almost mystical about doing yoga in those surroundings. I work my way into a pose then look up. The inrush of sights, sounds and scents fills me with both joy and a profound longing, as if I could somehow know everything that can be known, see the ageless connections among all living things and find peace, a peace that reaches from the bottoms of my feet through the top of my head and out into the infinite universe.

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The Tale of the Ivy Lady

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She married young, as was expected, and produced two kids. She spent her days on her bicycle, pedaling them to and from daycare, school, activities, doctors, one kid at the front, one at the back, grocery bags dangling from the handlebars, dry cleaning draped over her arm. They grew bigger, learning to feed and dress themselves, eventually getting their own bikes, finding their own friends, finding themselves.

Watching them blossom over the span of 20 years, she probably served 100,000 bowls of rice and nearly as many of miso soup, uncountable pickles, several schools of fish. She was up at 5:00 every day to start the laundry, pack the bentos, plan the evening meal. She was there for torn jeans, scratched knees, bruised egos, broken hearts.

And then one day she woke up and realized the children had grown. She sat across the table from a man she didn’t really know, her slippers suddenly feeling strange against the soles of her feet, her hair pulled back too tightly, air going in and out of her lungs but supplying no relief.

So she had herself copied at Kinkos and sent the clone home to cook and wash dishes, then sat down on an unobtrusive tree stump. She closed her eyes and waited for peace to come. Birds rested on her head, cats and clouds wandered by. Through the riot of spring’s rebirth, ivy began to creep toward her toes but on and on she sat. During the summer’s swelter, ivy snaked its way along her shins and toward her knees but patiently she sat. While the autumn leaves did their exquisite transformation, ivy made its way across her lap and up her belly but still she sat. Winter’s rain and snow fell, icy winds blew, the ivy crept over her breasts toward her neck, and yet she sat.

One spring night as the tendrils of ivy started to caress her chin, the shadow of a smile touched her lips. She opened her eyes. The full moon shone with such lurid clarity that she could see the veins in the ivy leaves, the motes of pollen dancing in the gentlest of zephyr breezes, the ants’ footprints trailing in the dust.

She shook herself free of the ivy and raised her arms toward that too perfect moon. Taking the deepest of breaths, she threw back her head, arched her spine and exhaled everything that ever was and ever would be.

And then she was gone, nothing but a twinkling luminescent dusting on the ivy leaves, which mourned her passing but grew on into the night.