Friday, March 28, 2008

mr. tambourine man

unusual things happen in the most mundane moments when you live in a foreign country.

i was walking at a clip, ipod earbuds in, sunglasses on, heading home from school when a white car slowed down and stopped beside me. an older korean man stuck his head out of the window, so i took one earbud out and my sunglasses off. my first thought was that he must need directions, but later thought how ludicrous it would be for an elder korean man to be asking a foreign woman for guidance. anyway, he said to me with a smile, "where are you from?" i smiled back at him and answered, "the united states." he replied, "welcome to korea! do you know jesus christ?" with "mr. tambourine man" still playing in my other ear and the strangeness of his question, i felt temporarily transported into a parallel universe. i just stood there staring at him with my one earbud dangling and most likely a bit of a furrowed brow. he repeated himself more loudly, "do you know jesus christ?!" even though i claim no religious labels i said, "i'm buddhist." he pretended not to have a clue what i was saying. it was obvious he was pulling my leg! i had to laugh. i could tell he'd been through this little song and dance before. i just kept repeating, "i'm know, buddha." he kept stuttering sounds not even remotely close to "buddhist" or "buddha," faking a failed attempt to understand my words. i was beginning to feel quite amused by his whole charade and also a tad irritated not feeling privy to the proselytizing vibe. when he made his next move, picking up a book sitting on the seat next to him, shaking it at me furiously from his window while quoting some fire and brimstone scripture (in english), i decided it was time this game was over. i put my sunglasses back on, other earbud back in and said very firmly, "DUDE, I'M BUDDHIST" and walked away. he proceeded to SCREAM out his window, "DO YOU KNOW JESUS CHRIST!?!?!?"
mr. tambourine man and i walked all the way home chuckling, shaking our heads at the absurdity of it all...and really just how unexpected each day can be here in korea.

Monday, March 24, 2008

great compassion mantra

“we are all in the same boat in a very stormy sea and we owe each other a terrible compassion.”

- g.k. chesterton

great compassion mantra
painting by: scholar, poet, teacher, painter and composer catherine yi-yu cho woo

Sunday, March 23, 2008


this year, spring equinox and easter fall on the same weekend accompanied by the luminous, full moon.

what a rich and auspicious time of new beginnings.

hope and possibility float like sweet cherry blossom fragrance on the breeze.

spring has arrived with new life bursting forth all around us, except in minnesota where i hear the snow is still falling in heaps!

today has been a day of a most unexpected rebirth.

this morning i was flipping through my address book looking for a number when i stumbled upon an old friend's name. i stopped and stared at the familiar letters and the long since dialed number. i felt suspended in time for a moment. our entire history played like a movie through my mind. in the retelling of the story came a great surprise. i felt free of something i'd never before felt entirely free from. all the anger, hurt and resentment that had kept me far from her was gone. it was stunning. there had always been a prikly little remnant of unforgiven injustice somewhere inside that had convinced me to keep my distance.
there was a time when i was certain we'd never talk again due to irreconcilable differences. i had dreams about taking her name out of my cell phone and then i actually did take her name out of my cell phone. i had almost not even bothered to write her new address and phone number into my address book, thinking "why would i need that anyway, we'll never talk again." but i did. and then one used it.

i gave myself permission to hang up immediately if she answered and i felt like i'd made a huge mistake! however, she recognized my voice right away and began laughing in her exuberant, uninhibited way. i felt so at ease i almost wept then and there. throughout our conversation i felt as though it was just yesterday that we were the best of friends, calling each other by our ridiculous nicknames, sharing everything and holding on to each other in the hard moments. yet i also felt the passage of time and all the space between that has held the immense changes in our lives and the years that i don't even know what she went through.
i heard something older in her voice, something that has endured great loss and disappointment but has also grown stronger and more spacious, harboring a deepened acceptance of the twists and turns of life. i sensed something different in me too. i heard a voice coming from inside that didn't care anymore about convincing or proving any points, it just wanted to connect again and express the kindness and love that has always been there. i finally felt clear, unrestricted access to that place where no matter what has happened there is still this great love that exists, this deep and untouched kindness that cannot be destroyed. i felt that in her too, that she cares for me from that place and always has.

it is quite amazing to really come through something with someone, especially when it spans over so many years and you go through periods of thinking you will never be able to overcome the differences and the damage that has been done. and then one day, you just pick up the phone and by grace it happens to be the perfect time for both of you. somehow your hearts have mended and you are ready to begin anew.

this is the equinox, easter promise, isn't it?


by: ani difranco

"i had to leave the house of fashion
and go forth naked from its doors
'cause women should be allies
and not competitors
i had to leave the house of god
because the cross replaced the wheel
and the goddesses were all out in the garden
with the plants that nurture and heal

i had to leave the house of privilege
spend christmas homeless and feeling bad
to learn privilege is a headache
that you don't know that you don't have
i had to leave the house of television
to start noticing the clouds
it's amazing the stuff you see when
you finally shed that shroud

i had leave the house of conformity
in order to make art
i had to be more and less true
to learn to tell the two apart
i had to leave the house of fear
just about as soon as i could crawl
ignore my face on a wanted poster
stuck to the post office wall

i had leave the house of self-importance
to doodle my first tattoo
to realize a tattoo is no more permanent
than i am, and who
ever said that life is suffering
i think they had their finger on the pulse of joy
ain't the power of transcendence
the greatest one we can employ"

Thursday, March 20, 2008


twice a week i teach english to a group of three middle school boys for an hour. for the first few lessons, they behaved like angels. we are three weeks familiar now and the behavior has begun to head downhill. they like to kick each other under the table, make faces trying to evoke laughter, steal each others' erasers.... they try to execute their misbehaviors on the sly, but i am merciless. today i confronted them in the middle of our lesson. "i feel like i'm babysitting," i said in the most serious of tones. they froze, eyes shocked and wide. the most vocal of the boys said, "babies?" i nodded, "yeah, babies." wow. it was like magic. suddenly the angels were back.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

no more grunting

this is the gym i belong to now! (top floor, above the pork restaurant!!)

i only signed up for a month, just to see if i can actually get into the swing of working out at a fitness facility again. ugh...the thought of all those machines...the tv screens. it's been years. i spent over a decade playing sports, lifting weights, adhering to strict exercise regimens, even embarking upon brazilian jiu jitsu training and kickboxing....then i moved to northern california! i didn't realize at first how much i would enjoy stepping out of what my mother often called my "sadomasochistic routine." i still remained physically active but found different, gentler ways to strengthen and move my, dancing, hiking in the berkeley hills, bike riding around town, walking more to get from place to place, etc.... living in berkeley made all of that very easy to do year-round. i never had to set foot in a gym to keep healthy and fit.

living in daegu, korea is a completely different story. yes, there is yoga here, which i loved for a time, but my favorite teacher left the studio and after all was said and done it was not jessa was pretzel yoga. i am a stout, tightly musclebound people can only bend so far in certain's our particular genetic soup. this makes the "wrap your legs around your neck" yoga classes absolutely terrifying to me.
there are no dance classes i have found as of yet. although, i've seen signs in the subway for belly dancing! now that would be a trip worth taking!! i do not own a bike, and honestly i would not feel safe riding on the streets of would only be a matter of time before i was a giant, norwegian SPLAT on the pavement. i do indeed walk from place to place (ALOT) but how to get the heart rate up for good cardiovascular health....that has been the quandary.
suddenly one day, i remembered the gym. i felt zero excitement at this possibility, but when the going gets rough the rough get going. so i made my way to the facility and signed up. it's a simple place and only a block away! it consists of a few treadmills each with its own tv, two elliptical trainers of which only one works, and a few bikes. there are some free weights and weightlifting machines. that's it. i like the quaintness of it. oh, and there's this machine that you stand on and put a strap around your waist then lean back into the strap. you press the power button and the whole thing shakes violently as you lean back into the strap. it feels like a massage of sorts. supposedly it breaks up clusters of fat in your body and helps you lose weight! i don't believe it for a second, but i know it makes me feel really relaxed and giddy! i always end my work out session with that machine. it's the carrot on the end of the stick.

it's been approximately two and a half weeks of this new workout routine. my attitude is vastly different than it was back in high school and college when i was training so rigorously for sports' teams. i feel like a different person. i guess i am...and ten years later i have a different body too. it used to be all about how much i could bench, how far i could run before collapsing, how solid of a muscle mass i could become. i don't think i ever paid much mind to stretching. now, all these years later, i feel it in my right hip. all those times i hit the floor to save the ball...the miles and miles of hills run at 7am with the coach yelling in the background.....up and down, up and down.....those hook punches to the bag, side and roundhouse kicks repeated a million body feels the impact of years of hard core physical exertion. i have no desire to continue down that path of pain, so i am reworking my gym experience here in korea. i do 30 minutes on the elliptical - low impact to the joints. then i stretch and do yoga for about 15 minutes. i lift weights lightly (no grunting allowed) for about 20, then i stretch for another 15. i eat my carrot and walk home. it's beautiful. and i think it's going to stick.

Monday, March 17, 2008


the cliffs of moher...ireland 2006"on the day when the weight deadens on your shoulders and you stumble, may the clay dance to balance you. and when your eyes freeze behind the grey window and the ghost of loss gets in to you, may a flock of colours, indigo, red, green, and azure blue come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.

when the canvas frays in the currach of thought and a stain of ocean blackens beneath you, may there come across the waters a path of yellow moonlight to bring you safely home.

may the nourishment of the earth be yours, may the clarity of light be yours, may the fluency of the ocean be yours, may the protection of the ancestors be yours. and so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life."

this poem was written several years ago by john o'donohue as a blessing for his mother when his father passed away. john donohue died in his sleep at the age of 52 on january 3, 2008...he was a lover and devotee of beauty, believing that it is beauty that calls us to become into the fullness of our being. from connemara, ireland, the wildness of the landscape dances through his poetry, his perspective and his soul. his interview, "the inner landscape of beauty," on "speaking of faith" with krista tippett is purely heart-opening and springs from that place of deep authenticity where both sorrow and joy reside, in a well of can't help but feel it. you may hear o'donohue reading "beannacht" by clicking on the title above.the burren....ireland 2006

Sunday, March 16, 2008


as saturn takes leave

may 30 be a resting place

a springboard. jump.

written on july 7 2007

Saturday, March 15, 2008

resting on the shore of ease

daily meditation #15 from thich nhat hanh's book "present moment wonderful moment:"

"entering the meditation room,
i see my true mind.
i vow that once i sit down,
all disturbances will stop."

in the vietnamese translation of this verse, disturbance (tram luan) means "sinking into and rolling in the ocean of forgetfulness, worries, and afflictions." may all beings have time and a quiet place to just sit for a while and rest in the experience of wakefulness, ease and freedom from suffering.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"sleeping in the forest"

by: mary oliver

"i thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
i slept as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among tree branches
of the perfect trees. all night
i heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. all night
i rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. by morning
i had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better."

from mary oliver's book:"twelve moons"

Monday, March 10, 2008

some happenings since my return to korea...

recent weather report: this is the scene i woke up to a few mornings ago....big, fat snowflakes falling from the sky. today was the first day since then that i have not needed a coat....i'm hoping spring might be on its way. i also hear the sand/dust winds from china are moving in as they do each spring in korea. a mask will definitely be in order.sarah's birthday bash at a galbi (grilled meat) restaurant nearby. shawn gave her the cutest little bag from his recent shopping expedition in tokyo. we were all rather envious!gracie helped her blow out the candles!yesterday i went out for lunch with my co-teacher, woopi (from last semester's teaching gig in goryeong with THE CHILDREN!!), her husband and little 17 month old "cookie!" check out the heaping mound of hot pot soup. YUM!here we are!this is woopi's other son. he spent the afternoon drawing me pictures of aliens. some very good in fact! here's one....i think this is the squid alien! or maybe it's the strawberry alien. there were so many....i can't keep them all straight!

Saturday, March 8, 2008


testosterone is not something i spend much time thinking about, but recently it has been brought to my attention as a very significant part of one's make-up. the february 22, 2008 episode of "this american life" radio show, hosted by ira glass, features several different stories regarding testosterone. i was captivated by one in particular. glass interviews a man who stopped producing testosterone for a period of time because of a medical condition. what happens to his personality, his entire perspective on life, is shocking. it fills me with questions.

this gentleman speaks of the changes in his persona with the absence of testosterone: "everything that i identify as being me, my ambition, my interest in things, my sense of humor, the inflection in my voice....there were things that i find offensive about my own personality that were disconnected then. you know, it was nice to be without them, envy, the desire to judge itself...i approached people with a humility that i'd never displayed before."

he continues, "i grew up in a culture like all of us that divides the soul from the body and that is your singleness, your uniqueness, and nothing can touch that. then i go through this experience where i have small amounts of a bodily chemical removed and then reintroduced and it changes everything i know as my "self." it violates the sanctity of that understanding that who you are exists independent of any other forces in the universe...that's humbling and it's terrifying."

on a morning walk: "i would see a brick in a wall and i would think 'a brick in a wall.' i would see a pigeon and think 'a pigeon.' it was the most literal possible understanding of the world."

he explained that the one thought that accompanied his observations was 'that is beautiful,' but it crossed his mind in the most matter-of-fact way, lacking any emotion.
"it sounds like the judgment of a person with passion, but it was the exact opposite. it was thought with complete objectivity - 'a weed, oh that's beautiful.' the surgery scars on people's knees, the hubcaps of a car, all of it seemed to have purpose, and i'd think 'oh that's beautiful.' i had this omniscient sense that i was seeing through the skin of things, that i was seeing things as they really were and that the objective conclusion, not the judgmental one, was 'they are beautiful.' everything is beautiful, from the bugs, to the cracks in the sidewalk, to the faces of other people. and it was automatic. perhaps to see things objectively is to see them, all of them, as beautiful. but you have to understand that the thought was expressed in the most flat-line, boring way possible! you would think this would be a terrible state to be in, but it was weirdly pleasant. there is a certain appeal, an impossible appeal, to that rip van winkle existence of being without testosterone. you just have to remember that it doesn't matter if you HAVE nothing, if you WANT nothing."

then glass replies, "desire often feels like a burden, if i just didn't want that thing, not having it wouldn't be so painful."

and the man says knowingly, "....all that WANTING."

so, i sit here imagining us all as firing, and sometimes misfiring, chemistry sets....beakers with eyes, ears, and varying levels of desire!
and what does it feel like to be without desire....not in the sense of renunciation or repression....but in pure emptiness and clear seeing (emptiness meaning empty of clinging identities)....with total acceptance of what is, not wanting for anything else. what is is enough. this sounds to me like enlightenment?!?! - a (mostly momentary!!) state of being with no craving, grasping, or wanting.
more and more neurological research is coming out now that points to the practice and outcome of meditation as different chemical reactions in the brain. the more one practices, the more the brain and its chemical interactions change, thereby shifting our perceptions. i find this to be incredibly liberating and at the same time, the knowledge of how much of who we are may be dependent on hormones, is indeed humbling.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

THAILAND - january 2008

i'm finally catching up on posting pictures from the final chapter of my january travels: THAILAND!

boarding a little plane in bangkok heading for the island of koh samuia view from the ferry, leaving big buddha beach (koh samui) behind....soon to land on the less developed, much quieter island of koh phangansunset covea view of the bay at santhiya resorti loved this boat-shaped piece of driftwood filled with orchids.the gorgeous pool with cascading waterfallsenjoying pad thai, beer and a smoothie on the beach....pretty much in heaven after months of red pepper pastesunset over santhiyaafter a few days of relaxation at santhiya, we took the ferry back to koh samui and stayed for a couple of days at zazen boutique hotel. i was still pretty ill (i think it may have been the beach food after all), but i loved laying low in the beautiful surroundings. this was our room. off the charts lovely.koh samui airport! voted world's best airport....the silk cushions say it all!
after flying back to bangkok, i flew up to chiang mai. i spent a week there and stayed at the 3 sis bed and breakfast. as you can guess, it's run by three sisters! i so very highly recommend this accommodation. it's in the old part of the city, which is much calmer, yet still within walking distance to the night bazaars and the hustle 'n bustle outside of the old walled city.right outside the front door of 3 sis b&b is wat chedi luang - one of the oldest and most famous temples in chiang mai.i love the elephants....inside the temple grounds, some monks and lay people chanting.chiang mai (lanna) style of architechtureburmese stylereclining buddhahappy buddha! (chinese influence)
my favorite temple, wat phan ohn, was around the corner from my b&b (there are some 300 temples inside the city of chiang mai). i stumbled upon this sweet temple yard my first day in chiang mai and after that found myself visiting it every day. there were often the same people sitting around in the courtyard relaxing, reading books, playing games, felt like a neighborhood gathering place. i always felt safe and peaceful there.on sundays there is always a feast of food served at this and many other temples. inside the templein the evening, incense and flowers are set out for people to come and make offerings at the pagoda.

yet another temple that caught my eye as i was strolling through town...noticeable indian influencethe pagoda next to this templemore beauty....when i was visiting this temple, i started chatting with a monk and he said that this pagoda is burmese style. chiang mai's temples are a beautiful blend of burmese, indian, chinese, and lanna (chiang mai) styles.

some scenes around town.....

one of the giant indoor markets...floors and floors of stuff!
a couple of gals and the cutest pup ever!novice monks
the banners, lanterns and flags hanging from the trees and pagoda were breathtakingly beautiful in the breeze....
the monks' alms bowls
WAT PHRA SINGlighting incense....making prayersa monk telling stories to some children....lots of laughter was coming from the group!i met up with a fellow solo traveler and we took each others' picture here!
on my last day....DOI SUTHEPthe view from the top of the 300+ stairsbeautiful blossoms
the emerald buddhapeople receiving blessings from a monk.a monk tying a rope bracelet of blessing onto the wrists of only men....monks are not allowed to touch women. so, all of us females had to line up and have a lay MAN tie a bracelet onto our wrists. for some reason, this was the precise moment when the last remnants of romanticization that i have had of buddhism vanished. i still feel indelibly connected to certain buddhist practices and teachings, but as far as most historical and all patriarchal aspects go - the rose colored glasses have shattered!after visiting doi suthep, my wonderful tour guide took me to a giant waterfall. we climbed about halfway to the top. stunning. after all the golden buddhas and monuments of stone....the shopping frenzies and tuk-tuk (motorbike taxi) was perfect to end my time in chiang mai out in nature....listening to the sounds of rushing water and breathing in the lushness of life.