Saturday, November 28, 2009

imagining world

in my dream, the angel shrugged & said, if we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination & then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.

~brian andreas "storypeople"

the basketball

sometimes, if your lucky, something comes along, grabs you by the scruff and says, "wake up! wake up! there's more!"

there's much, much more.

"the artist's way" came along this fall, thanks to a dear friend here in korea, and is awakening me to the vast realm of so much more.

writing three stream-of-consciousness pages upon waking every morning and taking oneself out on weekly, solo artist dates are the core of the practice. those of us who are participating in the program also meet once a week to share our experiences and support one another. it's been 9 weeks now. how to even put into words what is unfolding, i can not yet. the seedlings are still germinating underground, fragile and still in need of darkness. however, i will tell you about the basketball.

at one of our last "artist's way" gatherings, we were going around the circle reading our wish lists. 20 things we wish we had. some answers were:

more courage

a million dollars

a house

a perfect lover

blue hair

a basketball was tops on my list. i have had the most insane cravings to go down to the courts and shoot around lately. the desire grabs hold of me in my legs, my arms, my hips, and it's all i can think about. as soon as i said, "i wish i had a basketball," one of the gals in the group said, "i have a basketball you can have!" "really!?," i exclaimed. "i could just borrow it, you don't have to give it to me," i said in my well trained, midwestern way. "no way, i want you to have it, it's yours!" wow. and that's the kind of goodness that's been happening again and again these last 9 weeks. the author of "the artist's way" calls it synchronicity. i think we're all at the point where if we didn't believe in it before, we certainly do now.

so, this afternoon, being an unusually warm winter's day, i decided to take myself on an outdoor artist's date! i hopped on my bike and rode down to the track/basketball courts on campus with my new b-ball in my backpack. the courts were full of students playing, so i ran a couple of miles in the meantime. it felt invigorating to be out in the fresh, winter air, surrounded by mountains, flying around that track again as if i had wings on my heels.

when a court cleared out, i claimed it, just me and my new ball! i have to say i felt a twinge of self consciousness at first, being the only gal out there, surrounded by 75+ guys shooting around and trying not to make their staring obvious. however, i stood my own ground and began shooting lay ups. right side of the basket, then left side, right, left, back and forth. after a few minutes the slight bashfulness shifted into an old familiar trance of single-minded focus. a feeling deeply recognized from the past. hours upon hours, year after year, shooting hoops by myself or bumping/setting/spiking/serving the volleyball against the side of the house after finishing homework until nightfall. it was like pulling teeth to get me to come in for dinner. i could have spent night after night out there in the dark, in a blissful trance-like, meditative state induced by the repetition of embodied activity and concentration. looking back on childhood, those were some of my most contented, peaceful moments.

as i shot around today, many vivid images came back to me of playing in childhood...and then later in high school and college. i loved the games so much when i was young that it didn't matter if i played perfectly or not. i just loved the playing. as i grew older and perfectionism really took hold, i found myself wanting more than anything to be the best, to execute each move, each play, flawlessly. that desire led to eventual demise. sucking the love of the game right out of me. what i am learning now, i wish i could have known then. how deadly perfectionism is. how it effected not only my experience of sports, but so many other things. how it is the master block of creativity. how it keeps us from exploring possibilities. how it shuts us down and blinds us to our potential. the grand kicker is that perfectionism has the capacity to actually make us believe we can't do something, before we've even tried!

these last 9 weeks have been an excavation. spelunking remote caves of childhood consciousness. unearthing what i used to love before perfectionism rolled on the scene...and sensing those feelings of excitement and passion bubbling up again inside. suddenly craving basketball, not to be the best or even to compete, but simply for the love of shooting around, the way i remember it from was when i was little.

i realized while shooting lay ups today that long ago i gave up practicing shooting the ball with my left hand. it must have been back in jr. high that i came to the conclusion that i wasn't as skilled with my left hand, therefore, if i couldn't dribble or shoot well (perfectly) with that hand immediately, i wouldn't even try. from that point on i solely focused on my right hand, blocking out the left side completely. i was shocked at this remembrance. how someone so young, only 11 years old, could give up so quickly for fear of failure, not knowing that with a little practice her left hand skills would surely develop. i felt tenderness for that little person who was/is me, who was so deathly afraid of what might happen if she didn't do it perfectly.

so this afternoon, at age 32, on a basketball court in korea, i began learning how to shoot with my left hand. i did it for the little girl in me that gave up on that over 20 years ago and is still kicking herself. it was humbling, all those air balls, with 75 jock guys watching, but boy oh boy i felt an aliveness inside that was powerful beyond any old, critical voices shouting "stop! before you make a total fool of yourself." today, both a little girl smile and a 32 year old, grown woman, "you're safe with me" smile met those voices and a softness in the belly that kindly said, "you've come a long way, baby...just do it!"

right then and there, life became new.

Friday, November 13, 2009

winter chrysanthemums

this day begs to be written...

i hopped on the 8am train to mungyeong with my thermos of homemade miso, a small bundle of steamed rice and some dried seaweed. perfect breakfast for a blustery, cold winter's morning. two and a half hours later upon arriving at my destination, my dear friend, soojin, picked me up at the train station and took me to her husband's dental clinic where i received royal treatment. i had two cavities filled and a cleaning for no charge at all. i argued and argued, but it is no use arguing against the korean way of giving. it is a hopeless undertaking and such an amazing practice of receiving and letting in the bounty of it all. the gifted dental care was just the beginning.

we left the clinic and drove a few miles to a very well known potter/tea master's house just outside of the tiny mountain town of mungyeong. as soon as i saw him with his humble monk's clothing, his greying hair and beard and his kind, sparkly eyes, i knew we'd come somewhere special. wolpa songsangnim welcomed us into his teahouse/potter's studio with open arms and gentle demeanor. he, soojin and her husband go WAY back...15 years of friendship. we seated ourselves on cushions on the heated floor at a long, rustic wooden tea table. he served us steaming little cups of boicha (puerh tea). when he'd heard we were coming, soojin said he ran up the mountain and picked some fresh crysanthemum flowers to put in a vase hanging on the wall. the decor of his space was traditional korean style...sparse, zen-like, with just a few pieces of earthen pottery and a sprig of yellow winter flowers that spoke volumes of simplicity and beauty.

wolpa kept commenting that i look like demi moore! (not many foreigners come to mungyeong!!) after about 20 cups of boicha later, we headed out for a fantastic feast of tofu veggie soup and rice with all the usual side dishes. the owner of the restaurant gave us some mountain berry wine as "service" (on the house), so we ate, drank and were more than merry! wolpa's face turned beet red with just two small cups of alcohol and he began speaking in poems, as many koreans do. it was so sweet, so wonderful. his name alone is a poem. "wolpa" means "moonlight on the waves." wow. with a name like that, you're pretty much set.

we returned to wolpa's tea sanctuary after lunch for another hour of relaxing and getting giddy on cha (tea). the mayor of mungyeong showed up and told us that tea saved his life. i guess he has a hole in his stomach and a bum liver from too much alcohol consumption. needless to say, he's quit the soju and now only drinks tea. he swears on it's healing capacities. wolpa served us all a very rare brew called "young ju cha" which translates as "dragon ball tea." it is some sort of bug excrement that is scraped off of the tea leaves (usually puerh leaves that are aging in brick form) and supposedly does wonders for digestion/detoxification. soojin called it by it's true name, "poo tea." after only moments of steeping, the tea is as dark as the blackest coffee. the aroma is much like that of puerh. very earthy, like a damp forest floor. i had to really work with my mind around aversion and absolute disgust at the thought of ingesting bug poo juice...but i quickly rationalized that i've done countless things in the last two plus years of being in korea that have pushed me past my limits of what i thought i could handle (and i'm still alive), so why not add this to the list!? then i took a swig. almost identical to a rich, old puerh. we enjoyed what must have been seven or eight steepings. and yes, it was certainly aided the digestion process.

wolpa makes gorgeous matcha bowls, traditional korean tea pots, tea cups, tea serving bowls, pitchers, vases, etc...everything is one of a kind. the moment we arrived and i saw the tea pitcher he was using to serve our tea, i started drooling. so raw and earthy, rustic and tactile. the shape unlike any pitcher i've seen thus far. later, as soojin and i were wandering about wolpa's studio, admiring all of his creations, i saw a pitcher very similar to the one he was using. i called soojin over and asked her "how much do you think this is!?" i was sure it was at least $300, as his pieces are very expensive and sought after in korea. she just shook her head and said, "mmm...i don't know." he and soojin had a secret discussion a little while after our walk around his studio in which she must have told him of my affinity for that pitcher. later, he brought the piece out to the tea table where we were all sitting and used it to make one steeping of tea and then mindfully dried it and wrapped it up in a beautiful rust colored cloth and placed it into my hands. i actually started crying, overcome with gratitude for the overflowing generosity of the day, which shocked all of the koreans, as emotion is typically not the first mode of expression! however, i know it was very apparent how much the gift meant to me and that fact wiped away any self-consciousness i felt for wearing my heart on my sleeve.

"today i was happy, so i made this poem"

by james wright

"as the plump squirrel scampers
across the roof of the corncrib,
the moon suddenly stands up in the darkness,
and i see that it is impossible to die.
each moment of time is a mountain.
an eagle rejoices in the oak trees of heaven,
this is what i wanted."

i realize that when i am drinking tea in the company of kind, good-hearted people...and when i am close to nature...i feel well in my soul.
soojin and me...september '09
the beautiful pitcher from wolpa...and my favorite tea cup!