Friday, October 4, 2013

I Put My New Shoes On, Suddenly Everything's Right.

street art in an area of Tokyo we call "Tokyo Brooklyn"

The first period class I taught yesterday has a turtle in their classroom. I've been watching it the past few weeks when I go to class 3-1. Without fail, the stubborn and determined creature tries to get out of its glass encasement. It repeatedly throws one front leg and then the other on the side of the terrarium and pushes itself up and inch or so with its back legs. Then, it slides down, all fours submerged in water once again. It does this over and over. Every time I see this turtle, it's trying to escape, mind and body merged into one self-propelling force up, up, out. In one class, I noticed it perched on the fake rock in the middle of the glass box. Its whole body was stiff, rigid with longing, and its head, fully extended from its shell, was stretched forward and up. He was staring at freedom. He longed to be outside of the prison forced on him.
homemade Japanese dinner 

Those who have communicated with us in the past 8 months know that our particular location and situations have taken a toll on us. I've felt exactly as I imagine that turtle does. It's not any one thing, but the combination of distinctly different culture, incompetent financial aid workers at John's Tokyo-based university, the lack of depth, meaning, fun, or even teaching, in my teaching job, and the perpetual feeling of being outsiders. I've really wanted to practice the little Japanese I've learned, but the culture is such that even if you can speak Japanese, most people here speak to you in the English that you know. It's hard to get better because there's very little opportunity to practice. On the other hand, we are in a different country, and are expected to speak the official language. It's a major catch-22. Our compounded grief and anger about our entire unfulfilling situation (in work/ grad school) keeps us from trying to immerse ourselves and be involved.
Sensoji, a famous Shinto shrine in Tokyo
This has been the situation since our return from our welcome and gluttonous week-long Alabama vacation (seriously, we were fed such good food and ate way too much of it). Every day has been relatively "schmeh," as we so articulately put it. I've become all too good at combining specific situations into an all bad picture of my life now. Not surprisingly, when you add together a job you don't like, a language you can't speak, friends you miss deeply, extracurriculars you used to love that you now don't take part in, residual negative body image, waiting impatiently for the future, and ample time to brood about all of the above and more, the combination is more than detrimental; it's deadly.
rice field in July

Stress causes deterioration in everything from gums to skin disorders to heart disease. We've both had panic attacks here, an uncomfortable situation that I haven't found myself in since middle school. I finally decided that I can either watch the worry literally tear me down, or let loose and chill the fuck out. I know, I know, what a simple solution, right? But I assure you, even with yoga, breathing exercises, and regular runs/work-outs, it's much, much harder than it sounds. I am more thankful now for these amazing and efficacious tools, and can only grimace at the idea of getting through life without them. I also find comfort in the fact that this gestation period is a "pull back" to catapult us to even better and brighter things. I am glad that in the future I'll be able to look to my amazing life partner and say, "OMG, do you remember when..."
secret abandoned shrine

On a slightly more academic note, I've discovered that I am not, in fact, racist! What a relief, right!?! There are many things about this culture, etc. that really don't sit well with us (i.e. government subsidies of concrete, hierarchy and formula over merit, the education system as we see it, the way Fukushima has (not) been dealt with, etc.) and a lot of times these formularies have caused those wtf kind of feelings. But truthfully, learning more about the culture through a number of anthropological and biographical accounts we have come to understand our feelings as something much deeper and more complicated than dislike. It's the same kind of relationship we have with our own country.
"Get your shit together" could be the mantra for the next year or so.
Ichihara's pretty side


Change starts inside, right? I fall on and off the wagon, but most importantly, I keep getting back on. I read recently that "willpower is a deep inner force that is the balance between self-effort and the ability to surrender." Giving up is not surrendering. Falling into acceptance of circumstance with the fortitude to stay on the path is. It is right attitude, which encompasses focused effort balanced with open-heartedness. Effort without softness creates the attitude I've held for the past 6 months: an inner hardening and loss of sensitivity. Instead I need to open to grace.
eka hasta bhujasana

I biked the 10 or so miles to a shopping mall that includes a small import grocery store, a Starbucks, and two sporting goods stores. I indulged in a few comforts from home and finally bought a new pair of running shoes. In running, and in life, I'm steering myself toward a minimalist path. I love these lightweight shoes so much, I smiled during the majority of my run tonight. "I put my new shoes on, and suddenly everything's right." :-)
new shoes 


Some upcoming events:

I've been practicing chado, Japanese tea ceremony, for about a year. I've been to four formal tea ceremonies, and worked in the background as a sort of server for two of them, and participated as a guest in the other two. I will actually perform the entire ceremony, front and center, and without instruction, this Sunday, October 6. If you pray, please include me. I'll really need to be on the side of grace for this one. My confidant, helper, and translator will be absent during this ceremony. It will only be me and a bunch of older Japanese women with no English-language. It should be interesting to say the least.
sirsasana prep

It's amazing that this practice encompasses everything I love and don't love about Japanese culture. It is highly formulaic and ritualistic, which at the same time requires focus and devotion while also stripping one of any variance. Sen Soshitsu XV's explanation sheds light on the apparent dualism: "There are many people who wonder why such ostentatious procedures must be employed simply to prepare a bowl of tea. But nowhere else in the world do we find a beverage like matcha that is offered by one person and received by another in such a spirit of mutual gratitude." It is an interesting parallel to life in that the way of tea must be acquired by means of the movement of your own body and through one's own experiences. It can't be learned by observing and listening to others, or imitating them. The only way to learn is through the movement of your own body and by accumulating experiences and storing them within your body. It is just like BKS Iyengar said of the study of yoga: "Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory".

sirsasana (headstand)
The weekend of October 11, John and I will get to go on a short trip somewhere. Receiving funds from a certain institution has been a hellish ordeal on more than one occasion, but we were finally given what we were owed and will soon be planning a short escape. Regardless of the location, it will be so good for us to get out of our town and out of the greater Tokyo area for a few days. I'll post updates as events warrant.
We'll take another trip for the new year, but the planning stage of that operation has not begun.
 
adho mukha vrksasana (handstand)
Venerable Tenzin Pemba, the resident Director at the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT)'s Hong Kong center, will be visiting Tokyo October 18-20. I am so excited for the opportunity to learn from and be in the presence of those on the path. Even though my studies in Buddhism have waned, I'm very much looking forward to these teachings. His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be in Japan November 21-22. I'm really hoping that circumstances allow an audience. It'd be amazing to hear his teachings in person.
eka pada koudinyasana


I've been diving deeper into the philosophy and study of yoga. After a new book at work yesterday, I went to the gym. For the past four days, a typhoon has been looming outside Japan, and we've experienced torrential downpours. It'll rain again tonight too. But, at the gym, while I was running sprints on the treadmill and trying so hard to embrace my new perspective, the sun broke. I watched out the window as the clouds parted, and got to see the entire formation of the biggest rainbow I've ever seen. It started off dull and barely visible, but by the time I shifted from sprints to jogging, the colors were bold and alive. A double rainbow followed that. It seemed the sky approved of my new vision. I smiled and thought that it all seemed like such hyperbolic symbolism...but I totally didn't care. 
urdhva dhanurasana variation 
rainbow shot from gym window
rainbow, cloud, from outside

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