Monday, December 31, 2007

new year's eve....

"'s 3:23 in the morning
and I can't sleep
because my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the earth was unraveling?"

-excerpt from drew dellinger's poem: "hieroglyphic stairway"
found in his book "love letter to the milky way"

dinner with our therapists

one of my colleagues and i, both regulars at the physical therapy clinic, took our therapists out to dinner to a snazzy vietnamese restaurant "xin chao." here are jieun, mary and sungwoo...we made our own spring rolls with all kinds of fresh veggies...we were given two large bowls of warm water to moisten the rice paper - sungwoo willingly took on this job for all of us....we also had dim sum and a seafood noodle dish. i love the many interesting and palatable dipping sauces! maw-shee-sigh-yo!!! (delicious)jieun, jessa, and sungwoo...a little token of my appreciation!after dinner, we went to a sweet little winebar/coffeeshop "santorini" just a stone's throw from my apartment. we enjoyed our green tea lattes, hot lemonade, peppermint tea and cheesecake while engaging in some pretty funny conversations (with so much lost in translation)!!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

the korean way of tea

"tea has five functions:

it quenches thirst.
it consoles the lonely heart.
it draws host and guests closer together.
it ensures good digestion.
it relieves a hangover.

tea has six virtues:

it bestows long life.
it heals disease.
it cheers the spirits.
it soothes the heart.
it purifies the mind.
it bestows propriety."

--yi mok, a scholar of the korean joseon dynasty (late 1400's)

"the first bowl moistens my lips and throat,
the second bowl banishes all loneliness,
the third bowl clears my mind of words and books,
at the fourth cup, i begin to perspire and
life's troubles evaporate through my pores.
the fifth cup cleanses my entire being.
six cups and i am in the realm of the divine.
seven cups - ah, but i can drink no more:
i can only feel the gentle breeze blowing through my sleeves,
wafting me away to the isle of immortality!"

--lu tung, a poet of the chinese t'ang dynasty

--both quotations taken from the book: "the korean way of tea" by brother anthony of taize and hong kyeong-hee

Saturday, December 29, 2007

royal hawaii

i went back for more soakin' and scrubbin' today. i decided to try out a public bathhouse in my neighborhood. royal hawaii. i walked in to find mass chaos in the locker room. a korean drama blasting on the television and naked little kids running around everywhere....moms, aunts, grandmothers all either yelling or chasing after them while at the same time trying to focus on the tv. sheesh. luckily, i made it to my locker safely and got undressed. one little girl kept peeking around the wall at me and as soon as i looked at her she hid and shreeked "meguk!! meguk!!" ("american, american!") i don't blame her really, westerners are not a common sight around gyeongsan, let alone naked ones....i'm sure i looked to her like a very strange, pale creature.
upon entering the bathing area, the vibe was much more calm. the kids had their separate shallow pools to play was really sweet to see so many women of all ages sitting on the edges of the baths scrubbing each other down...strutting around or lounging naked is absolutely no big deal. as i was soaking i tried to imagine what it must be like to grow up in such a physical community of women who bathe together regularly....who relate with such ease to the body, scrubbing every inch of each other while chattering was easy to notice how different my upbringing was....and i vividly remembered the first time i visited the baths at esalen in big sur, california, five years ago...the first time i got naked and bathed in community with was the beginning of a profound liberation.i signed up for a full body scrub with the head agima who was about 65 years old and fit as a fiddle....once again wearing the uniform black lace bra and undies. this woman was serious holds barred. she slapped me on the butt to turn me over, had me spread eagle, and didn't use any oil on my body - so the skin was coming off in sheets. by the end i was one big tingle. i have to admit, it hurt so good! and then to jump into the baths afterward.....oooohhhhh sooo THIS is part of the ecstacy of being in a human body!! my skin felt so alive.
after two hours of soaking, steaming and scrubbing i decided i better get home. having brought no hairdryer, i put my stocking cap over my wet hair, bundled up and caught the bus home...i had some dol sot bibimbap (with extra red hot pepper paste) at a nearby restaurant and then fell asleep for the entire afternoon on my couch! it was divine. when i woke up i felt so unlike doing ANYTHING at all that i put in miyazaki's film "spirited away" and relaxed for a couple of more hours! why haven't i had more days like this in my lifetime?!

Friday, December 28, 2007

viking warrior bodhichitta

"the raw courage of women without men lost in a fantastic hell-on-earth!" wow....fantastic is right...oh, and the sea symbolic. anyway, i can't pinpoint the exact reason why i chose this poster to accompany this post, but it made me roll my eyes and i have been sick for so long now (almost six weeks) that rolling my eyes, all the way back into my head, is something of a common feeling these days......a deep, violent cough and total lack of energy have not wanted to let me go....but finally, finally i am feeling vitality coming back....i have started humming again....and entertaining the thought of getting dressed up for an afternoon on the town....

this is the first time in my life that i have felt physical weakness for such a prolonged period of time and actually asked myself "what if this doesn't get better anytime soon? who would i be if i felt like this every single day?" i have felt increased empathy for people who are chronically ill.

during this time, i have hit some pretty intense low points.....coming up against existential angst....wondering why on earth are we all alive anyway. there is so much suffering....why must we experience this? what's the point? there is so much struggle; and at that particular stage in the inquiry my struggle was to simply breathe without coughing up a bronchial tube. my strong-as-an-ox-norwegian-viking-warrior-self (similar to the scantily clad blonde women in the picture, yeah...right) has been encountering the ever-present, rarely acknowledged fragility of being human. i have been discovering that i have limits that i haven't paid much mind to before....i am not invincible, as previously assumed.

crossing the threshold of 30 has brought some slightly harrowing, coming-of-age realizations....there are indeed some pretty big-time limitations to living in a human body....some dreams may not be possible to manifest this time around, there are things that can't and won't turn out as one would hope, and all beings will most certainly die. there's no escaping any of it....not the pain, the disappointment, the sickness, the broken body and aching heart....the emotions that pass through...loneliness, grief and rage doing their infamous dance together, and the feelings of hopelessness and despair.....i have had glimpses of these inescapeable realities throughout my life....such as remembering my mortality and that of others, but the realness of it has almost always felt like a far off from where i was standing.

as i sit here the middle of winter, a seemingly archetypal time for such a pondering....i am looking behind me and i can see, waving farewell to me in the rearview mirror, my child-like belief that anything and everything is possible....that optimistic innocence....the belief that somehow there has to be a way to experience this human life without pain.....for most of my life, i thought god would take it all away, if i just followed all of his rules least i could get into heaven where there was a guarantee of no misery...only streets of gold and songs of happiness....and it was easy at first to romanticize buddha's promise that there is the possibility of the cessation of suffering. yes....there they are, slowly fading away into the distance.....these steadfastly loyal parts of my consciousness that have held me through some very painful, terrifying times....these companions have stood guard, protecting a deep tender place inside that has felt frighteningly vulnerable, terribly at risk.....
but the winds of change do blow.....especially near the sea.....and in the last few years i have been graced with living into a different kind of wisdom that spaciously and truthfully holds this experience of humanness, with all its incredible suffering and a way that allows the loyal soldiers to find moments where they can lay down their weapons and find peace....the beliefs and patterns of protection that keep the tender spot inside guarded and locked away long past the war being over.....but it is not easy.

and it is not linear.

"the buddha said, 'everything dear to us causes pain.' those of us who have chosen relational life have made the choice that the pain is worth it."

-sylvia boorstein, from her book, "it's easier than you think"

an excerpt from "the places that scare you: a guide to fearlessness in difficult times" by pema chodron:

"When I was about six years old I received the essential bodhichitta teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved, and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, "Little girl, don't you go letting life harden your heart."

Right there, I received this pith instruction: we can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.

If we were to ask the Buddha, "What is bodhichitta?" he might tell us that this word is easier to understand than to translate. He might encourage us to seek out ways to find its meaning in our own lives. He might tantalize us by adding that it is only bodhichitta that heals, that bodhichitta is capable of transforming the hardest of hearts and the most prejudiced and fearful of minds.

Chitta means "mind" and also "heart" or "attitude." Bodhi means "awake," "enlightened," or "completely open." Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the cruelest people have this soft spot...

Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot—our innate ability to love and to care about things—is like a crack in these walls we erect. It's a natural opening in the barriers we create when we're afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment—love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy—to awaken bodhichitta.

An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we're arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.

The Buddha said that we are never separated from enlightenment. Even at the times we feel most stuck, we are never alienated from the awakened state. This is a revolutionary assertion. Even ordinary people like us with hang-ups and confusion have this mind of enlightenment called bodhichitta. The openness and warmth of bodhichitta is in fact our true nature and condition. Even when our neurosis feels far more basic than our wisdom, even when we're feeling most confused and hopeless, bodhichitta—like the open sky—is always here, undiminished by the clouds that temporarily cover it.
Given that we are so familiar with the clouds, of course, we may find the Buddha's teaching hard to believe. Yet the truth is that in the midst of our suffering, in the hardest of times, we can contact this noble heart of bodhichitta. It is always available, in pain as well as in joy.

A young woman wrote to me about finding herself in a small town in the Middle East surrounded by people jeering, yelling, and threatening to throw stones at her and her friends because they were Americans. Of course, she was terrified, and what happened to her is interesting. Suddenly she identified with every person throughout history who had ever been scorned and hated. She understood what it was like to be despised for any reason: ethnic group, racial background, sexual preference, gender. Something cracked wide open and she stood in the shoes of millions of oppressed people and saw with a new perspective. She even understood her shared humanity with those who hated her. This sense of deep connection, of belonging to the same family, is bodhichitta....

Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening unconditional and relative bodhichitta are called bodhisattvas or warriors—not warriors who kill and harm but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. These are men and women who are willing to train in the middle of the fire. Training in the middle of the fire can mean that warrior-bodhisattvas enter challenging situations in order to alleviate suffering. It also refers to their willingness to cut through personal reactivity and self-deception, to their dedication to uncovering the basic undistorted energy of bodhichitta. We have many examples of master warriors—people like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King—who recognized that the greatest harm comes from our own aggressive minds. They devoted their lives to helping others understand this truth. There are also many ordinary people who spend their lives training in opening their hearts and minds in order to help others do the same. Like them, we could learn to relate to ourselves and our world as warriors. We could train in awakening our courage and love...

Wherever we are, we can train as a warrior. The practices of meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity are our tools. With the help of these practices, we can uncover the soft spot of bodhichitta. We will find that tenderness in sorrow and in gratitude. We will find it behind the hardness of rage and in the shakiness of fear. It is available in loneliness as well as in kindness.

Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn't work that way. A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it's also what makes us afraid.

Bodhichitta training offers no promise of happy endings. Rather, this "I" who wants to find security—who wants something to hold on to—can finally learn to grow up. The central question of a warrior's training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day?

All too frequently we relate like timid birds who don't dare to leave the nest. Here we sit in a nest that's getting pretty smelly and that hasn't served its function for a very long time. No one is arriving to feed us. No one is protecting us and keeping us warm. And yet we keep hoping mother bird will arrive.

We could do ourselves the ultimate favor and finally get out of that nest. That this takes courage is obvious. That we could use some helpful hints is also clear. We may doubt that we're up to being a warrior-in-training. But we can ask ourselves this question: "Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?"

All beings have the capacity to feel tenderness—to experience heartbreak, pain, and uncertainty. Therefore the enlightened heart of bodhichitta is available to us all. The insight meditation teacher Jack Kornfield tells of witnessing this in Cambodia during the time of the Khmer Rouge. Fifty thousand people had become communists at gunpoint, threatened with death if they continued their Buddhist practices. In spite of the danger, a temple was established in the refugee camp, and twenty thousand people attended the opening ceremony. There were no lectures or prayers but simply continuous chanting of one of the central teachings of the Buddha:

Hatred never ceases by hatred
But by love alone is healed.
This is an ancient and eternal law.

Thousands of people chanted and wept, knowing that the truth in these words was even greater than their suffering.

Bodhichitta has this kind of power. It will inspire and support us in good times and bad. It is like discovering a wisdom and courage we do not even know we have. Just as alchemy changes any metal into gold, bodhichitta can, if we let it, transform any activity, word, or thought into a vehicle for awakening our compassion."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

prayer for the world

silkscreen by san francisco artist: nancy hom

Monday, December 24, 2007

happy holidays....

james taylor with the dixie chicks singing "sweet baby james."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"listen to the story told by the reed of being separated...

since i was cut from the reedbed,
i have made this crying sound.
anyone apart from someone he loves
understands what i say.
anyone pulled from a source
longs to go back.
at any gathering i am there,
mingling in the laughing and grieving,
a friend to each, but few
will hear the secrets hidden
within the notes. no ears for that.
body flowing out of spirit,
spirit up from body: no concealing
that mixing. but it's not given us
to see the soul. the reed flute
is fire, not wind. be that empty."

by: rumi
from: the essential rumi
translated by: coleman barks

Saturday, December 22, 2007

lost in translation

directed by sofia coppola, this movie came out in 2003. had i viewed this film before moving to asia, i don't think i would have understood it in nearly the same way as i did tonight. i kept thinking "i totally get this! this is how it feels to go to the doctor and have him explain my ailments in korean as if i can understand every word....and this is what i look like as i sit there stunned and clueless with a blank stare on my face. and this is how it feels to try to operate korean appliances (washing machines, exercise equipment...) by trial and error and have some downright hilarious and at times nearly fatal happenings because of it! if you haven't seen "lost in translation" you've got to rent it simply for the scene with bill murray on the eliptical machine! you will be on the floor! and the scenes where bill has someone translating for him, it's hilarious because the person speaking japanese goes on emphatically for two minutes straight and then the translator turns to bill and says one or two lines in english! and he exclaims, "that's it? that's all he said? it sure seemed like more than that!!" this is SO how it is!!! i can't tell you how many times i am left wondering "what did she REALLY say?" "what are they NOT telling me??!"
and seeing all the flashing, buzzy neon lights and the hoards of people milling around till the wee hours of the actually gave me a cozy, at home sort of, "yeah, i know this's familiar....i live here." and even though the air quality makes me not want to breathe....i will miss this place so very much when it comes time to leave.

Friday, December 21, 2007

no crevice left unscrubbed

last night i received an unforgettable initiation into korean life. a family i have grown close to in the last few months invited me to go with them to the sauna. for many, going to the bath house is as common as going to the gym to work out. as we pulled up to the valet parking area in front of the hotel inter-burgo, one of the finest luxury hotels in daegu, i got the feeling i was stepping into another world for the evening....we descended a winding marble staircase with a massive crystal chandelier hanging overhead and a thirty foot christmas tree beautifully lit up at the bottom where we entered the women's spa.

after we disrobed, leaving our belongings in our lockers, we went into the bath house...the ambiance was very zen....quiet, sparse.....incredibly clean. we showered and then soaked for awhile in the large slate bath filled with hot bubbling water.....after a bit, i gathered all of my guts and took a plunge into the ice cold tub in hopes of getting my immune system up and kicking. i let out a little yelp and scurried back into the hot tub.

the family arranged for me to recieve a "body scrub" for 20,000 won (a little over $20). many women who come to the spa either scrub themselves or each other...but since i am new to the whole scene, i decided to let the professional show me how its done. so soon after my cold plunge, the scrubber agima, wearing the traditional black bra and panties that the scrubber women wear, gruffly signaled me to follow her. i have grown to know not to fear the agimas who put on a hardass front, for underneath there is usually a belly ready to erupt with laughter and a very tender heart.

she led me to a partitioned room where she roughed me around a bit to get me situated on the padded table. then she threw a bucket of extremeley warm water over me with absolutely no warning! i burst out laughing, which made her crack a smile. by the end, i had her laughing too as i flicked 30 years worth of dead skin clumps off the table while making outrageously grossed out faces!! she found this to be hilarious!

anyway, this agima, with her brillo-like scrub pad in hand, went to town on every nook and cranny of my body. i was on my front first, then my back, then rolled over to each side....she scrubbed my limbs from a million different angles....this ritual is not for the for the faint-of-heart, i tell ya. i felt pretty vulnerable lying there. she put what smelled like a mud cucumber mask on my face which was very cooling and refreshing, but made it so my eyes had to be i never could be sure when the next bucket of hot water was going to come splashing over my entire body! after she was finished, my skin felt like it was brand new! smooth as silk. i felt about twenty pounds lighter. to integrate this experience, i sat in the steam room for awhile, breathing deeply and reveling in the newly acquired softness of my body!
it was a lovely weary-of-being-sick body felt deeply renewed and relaxed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

unmunsa...the women's temple

built in 560, unmunsa is now one of korea's largest temples. it is located on tiger mounain, about one hour from daegu. in 1950 unmunsa became the largest women's buddhist seminiary in korea. about 300 nuns live and study here at one time. they follow a four-year course, learning the classic buddhist texts, chinese characters, and how to live an ordained buddhist life.

the head nun at unmunsa, myongsong sunim, writes, "whether we bow to the buddha or weed the ground, we must do it with exactly the same mind. if we bow to the buddha because the buddha is sitting up high, this is idol worship. if we bow to the buddha while we think the buddha lives outside of ourselves, this is idol worship. if we think our mind right here is the buddha, we are bowing to our true nature with respect, we are trying to curb thinking which would lead to self-importance or arrogance. this is the meaning of bowing." (taken from the book: "women on the buddhist path" by martine batchelor)

a beautiful view on our drive to the templethe trees that line the long temple road...they remind me of old, old beautiful gnarled women who have lived for thousands of years...whose lives are written all over their strong, wrinkled bodies.....who have stood in this sacred grove for centuries as guardians of this temple.a glimpse in sweet anticipation from outsideentrance to unmunsataeok and i in front of the 500 year old weeping red pine treei would have dreamed to have an ancient weeping pine like this to climb and play under as a child.this part of the temple is restricted to visitors every day of the year except in may on buddha's is the seminary where the nuns study.the main sanctuary....taeok and i took our shoes and hats off and went inside....we each took a long cushion from a stack of many, upon which to kneel and bow....she taught me the traditional way to bow in respect and reverence to the respect and reverence to our own true nature.paintings on the outside walls of the sanctuarytaeok translated this story for me....this monk was on his way to china to learn the buddha's teachings from a monk who had reached enlightenment.....he stopped for the the dark he took a drink of water which tasted delicious to him. in the morning, he saw that he had sipped the water from a skull....he was instantly repulsed and threw up....suddenly he saw what had happened, that the once delicious water had so quickly become disgusting all because of his perception - the water itself had not changed. through this experience he understood the mind and did not need to continue on his journey to china for he himself became enlightened!carving of a lotus flower on the temple wall.....from the mud springs this incredible life of beauty....the perfect place for another temple concertan extraordinary painting of the buddha surrounded by children
lotus flower fountainbrilliant colorsas part of ancestral tradition, some persimmons must be left on the tree for the birds to eat through the winter season.the nuns take excellent care of the land....many of the plants were all bundled up to keep warm during the winter weather. it is said that the head nun deals so well with her student nuns because she takes such good care of the plants.taeok and i standing near one of the two three-story pagodas that are said to keep the energy of the temple land balanced.what a gorgeous chimney!a very old seated stone buddha statue - seokgayeoraejwasangpaintings of kuan yin, the goddess of compassion, on the outside walls of one of the temple buildings....a welcome sight amidst the plethora of patriarchal iconographyupon coming and going, one must pass underneath this tower where three times each day the nuns drum and sound the bell....calling forth the awakening of all beings.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

would you like to live slowly like an elephant?

this sign can be found at the gyeongsan train station at the top of a large stairway. it made me smile and reminded me not to rush around so quickly.

one thing i do for fun around here is visit the infamous korean stationery shops. when jennifer came to visit i took her to one nearby for a daily dose of laughter medicine! we came across several quotes that just about got us kicked out of the store. we were making an absolute scene....literally falling to our knees in the aisle laughing. i went again the other day and before i could stop myself, i started howling with laughter which immediately led to an out of control wheezing cough attack - i have been having a very nasty bout with bronchitis for the last three weeks. anyway, it may have been one of those "you had to be there" moments, but i'll share it anyway!

this first one is not necessarily hilarious, but it coincides with the reminder in the stairway of the train station.
the stationery pictures a blue elephant and reads "would you like to live slowly like an elephant?" i thought that one was rather sweet....
another set of stationery looks like air mail and has a picture of an old-fashioned reads:
"beautiful flying...
when we are in love
we love the grass
and the barns
and the lightpoles
and the small mainstreets abandoned all night."

another one has a cartoonish sketch of a girl in a kitchen and it says:
"do you feel how much
i love you, my dear?
hold still...
i'm not done yet!"

(yikes! i can't quite get over that one!!)

on a pastel blue notebook with white lilies all over it (reminding me of easter morning), it is written:
i could protect you
so you would be happy each day
and filled with joy every day
if only i could become an angel
like in my dream..."(the L and R sound share the same letter in korean, so often when translating to english, these two letters get mixed up!)

lastly, on a grassy green notebook it reads:
"green of our mind revolution
everyday evergreen
green memory function"yes....maybe you had to be there....but honestly, i have never laughed so hard in my life!