Skeleton Meditation

I don’t sit and meditate.  I have a monkey mind some might call ADD.  My friends with monkey minds don’t sit and meditate.  Some bike, others run.  One non-moving meditation I actually liked and practiced for a while is Skeleton Meditation.  I don’t remember where it came from.  Probably Tibet or somewhere in Asia.  I’ve read or heard about it and just liked it.

In Skeleton Meditation, I lay down as a corpse (Shavasana if you are yoga person) and observe my body decompose layer by layer, muscle by muscle, till my form becomes a skeleton.  It was peaceful experience.  I liked my clean dry white skeleton on the ground.  Then I imagine a bamboo shoot coming through my eye socket, reaching up and up to the sky.  And I fell asleep peacefully.

There was one major problem for me with this meditation.  At that time I didn’t have much awareness of my own body.  My perception about my body was something like a gingerbread man.  So the entire process to become a skeleton took only a few minutes.  Poof, my leg muscles were gone.

If you are fully plugged into your body, this meditation could take at least hours, maybe years.  This is an ultimate “let it go” meditation.  Then you may let the skeleton go, too. Or you may reconstruct a new body from the skeleton, adding layer by layer.

After decades of training of one kind or another, the latest of which is a full body dissection workshop, I’m much more plugged in.  Tonight, I might be able to meditate for maybe 10 minutes…

Have a happy meditation.

Teacher

We don’t have to go and look for teachers.  Open your heart and you will find yours walking with you.

 

Snow

An old dog and his old human, supporting each other.

Our footsteps have merged on the snow-covered path,

In the winter of our life.

He still teaches me how to walk the life,

As he has been doing so since he greeted me in his full youth

With his shiny black muzzle, now gray.

He loves snow, and this could be his last.


It’s important to have teachers when you are searching for your path, just as it’s handy to have a trail map when you are trekking an unfamiliar territory.   Some people look for THE teacher.  I don’t have THE teacher.  Many teachers guided me to be here and now.   Anybody who teaches me what I didn’t even know I needed to learn is my teacher and I appreciate and respect them.  My teachers include my martial art instructor, my therapists, my acting teacher, my dog, my trainer, my yoga teacher, and go on and on and on.  Yes, you could be my teacher one day and I’m looking forward to learning from you. A teacher does not necessarily give me an answer. My teacher said, “I learn in order to ask better questions.”

I learn in order to ask better questions. ~Gil Hedley

 

Mindfulness of Changing Blades

When you find yourself in a new group setting, it’s a great opportunity to learn about yourself.

In the first week, I assumed my usual role in a group.   I was that person who perform mundane tasks in silence.  During the first week, I changed hundreds of scalpel blades for the entire class at the instrument station.

Each table were supposed to be responsible for taking care of the instruments, but there are always some who do it for everybody, and there are always some who just like to pick up a scalpel with a new blade.  The first time I came up to the instrument station holding a scalpel with a dulled blade, I saw scalpels with new blades already there.  I thought “Sweet!” and grabbed some back to my work station. The second time around I tried to change the blades by myself and I couldn’t do it.   Somebody nearby showed me how to do it and still I had a great difficulty and struggled every time.

As a kinesthetic learner, the best way to learn is to do it.  I decided to be the blade person in the group.

Drawing by Tam Tran Valenti

Drawing by Tam Tran Valenti

It is my way of introspection, grounding, taking a refuge from the group dynamics, or just to standing up and walking away from the work station.  I create a safe place for me by assuming an unremarkable role.  It is a way of hiding and anchoring at the same time.

Every time I felt tired, frustrated, or just lost concentration, I left my table and went to the instrument station and placed new blades on scalpels.  My hand learned the subtle angle to slide a blade into the notch and the pressure needed to pull the blade out.  At the end of the week, I was a quick and deadly blade changer.

Then the familiar pattern emerged.

I took dozens of “dirty” scalpels left to the sink to rinse them and found one scalpel with a blade still attached.  The used blade was supposed to be removed and disposed into a medical waste container by the user.  One person failed to do so and tossed the scalpel with a dulled blade into a pile of scalpels.

I could have cut my hands rinsing it.

I felt the familiar rage rising up from my gut.   I felt disrespected and taken for granted.   My historical anger dating back to the old days started to bubble up along with this particular anger.  I’ve been there.

I caught it in time.

Nobody asked me to change the blades.  It was not my job.  I was doing because it served my purpose.  Did I do it because I wanted to be appreciated and loved, desperately trying to fit in the group by being useful?  Then it’s an old pattern.  It won’t work.

I reassessed the situation.  I’ve learned how to change blades expertly.  I’m already an integral part of the group and feeling safe.  I don’t need to hide.   It doesn’t serve me anymore.

By 10th day I stopped being a blade changer of the entire group and only took care of my work station.  When I came up to the instrument station to change MY blades, I saw one person struggling with the blade.  I showed her how to change blades and left for my work station.

Now somebody else is changing blades for the entire group.

Every day is a good day to learn something.

Emptying

Bowl

A man had contracted a then incurable disease and set out for a journey to find a cure. He traveled all over the Western world to find a medical doctor who could cure him. When he realized that nobody could, he started to knock on the doors of philosophers and great thinkers of the West to find out the meaning of the life. Nobody could give him THE answer.

Eventually the illness wasted him and he decided to go home to die. On his way back he met a yogi on board. The yogi said, “Follow me if you want the answer.” He followed the yogi to India without even asking where.
The man waited for the yogi to teach him the meaning of life day after day. Two months passed in vain. Finally, one day he walked up to the yogi and asked, “When do you teach me?”

The yogi answered, “I’ve been ready since the day we arrived here, and waiting for you to be ready day after day.” The man did not understand, since he was eager to learn from the first day.

Then, the yogi told the man to fill a bowl with cold water and bring it to him. He did. Then the yogi told him to pour hot water in the bowl. The man objected, “Any man from civilized world should know if you pour hot water in a bowl filled with cold water, it will overflow.”

The yogi said, “Now, you understand what I mean.”

I try to keep my bowl empty.  Will you?

You can find the original story in 天空先生座談 by  宇野千代

People love to teach what they think they know.  When somebody start to teach what they know and what I don’t know, I listen.  Free pearls to pick up.  I appreciate and take some with me.  I hold it dear till they become part of me.  A good teacher gives only what I could take.

Some have asked me to teach.  When I teach, many start to teach back to show what they think they know.  They are not ready to learn.  I stop teaching.  They don’t get pearls.

About the photo: Taken at Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Zen of Cherry Blossom

The falling cherry blossoms,

The remaining cherry blossoms are also

The cherry blossoms to fall.

 Haiku by Ryokan Osho

Every year I think this might be the last time to see the cherry blossoms fall.  This particular type of cherry trees only blossom for a week in the spring.  They open and will be gone in a week. If you miss it, you won’t see it till the next year.  And who could be sure that you will be there to see the cherry blossom fall next year.

So I breathe in the almost colorless color of petals, listen to the sound of silently falling petals, and watch the air tinted with millions of white grey pink petals.

This could be the last time.

It’s about

Mortality.

impermanence.

The transient nature of our existence.

That’s exactly why it’s precious.

Love and appreciate your life now.  It could be the last time you see it.

The dog enjoyed the spring day with his full existence.  He is not with us anymore.

Mindfulness of Hannibal

I’ve learned mindfulness of eating from Hannibal Lecter.

I have been an omnivore for the most of my life.  I am still.  Once in a while I cut out certain food following the fad diet of the day, but never followed through. I have vegan friends.  I also have Paleo friends.   I don’t mind what they eat or don’t eat, so long as they don’t force me how they eat.

freshrabbitWhen my dog passed, I stopped eating meat.  It was my mourning.   I never consider dogs and cats as meat.  They are individuals with names.  If a dog is an individual, then what about a cow?   What about rabbits?   On Saturdays In Union Square green market, rabbit meat is sold.  Across the street in Petco, pet rabbits adoption event is going on.  Where does the line between friends (some call them pets) and food lie?

So I just stopped eating the four-legged out of respect to my late four-legged partner of 14 years.  I didn’t specified the term.  I simply chose to go back to the indigenous diet of my old country and see how it would go.  As a Buddhist country, eating four-legged animals was spoken of as taboo.  Fish, fowl, and properly hunted game meat were allowed.

My first “oops” happened when I ordered turkey club sandwich.  It had bacon bits.

Since it was not for religious or medical reason but my personal choice, I didn’t avoid bacon bits.  Wasting the life already given up for the sake of respecting a dog’s life didn’t make sense.

Before my dog’s death, when I went to a diner, I would order “Burger with fries,” or “Philly Cheesesteak”  without thinking much about what I put in my body.  Switching to turkey burger or just salad didn’t work.  Chef’s salad contains processed meat.

This experiment turned out to be a good exercise of mindfulness practice.

Every time I eat, I have to stop and be aware of exactly what I am going to put in my mouth.   I have to be aware what is important for me and why. Then I have to make a fully conscious choice.   I am to be fully responsible for the consequence of my choice.

When I visited my mom in my old country, I forgot to tell her my current diet restriction.  Anyway, special diet as a personal choice is not well-respected in the culture where people experienced starvation a couple generations ago.

In the 2002 film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding,  Toula’s boyfriend Ian is vegetarian.  She tells her mom that Ian doesn’t eat meat.  Her Greek mom understands and says, “Then eat lamb.”

My mom served  “good” beef for dinner.   I knew what it meant to her.   When the country and we were poor, keeping her children well fed was her mission.  Beef was expensive and reserved for special occasions.   So what should I do?   What is my choice?  Do I tell her that I won’t eat meat because my mutt died?  The old woman with a bad hip walked all the way to the butcher shop to buy the gourmet meat.  I didn’t say anything, ate the beef and appreciated it.  It was my choice.

Through this exercise, I’ve learned to be aware of the lives I consume to live.  BLT is not BLT anymore.  A Four-legged creature was killed to feed us.  It is a life taken and given to us.

Ossobuco

I was watching Hannibal (NBC TV show by Bryan Fuller), and one scene hit me.  I will never see Ossobuco in the same way again.  Hannibal was preparing the “meat” for Ossobuco, cutting a leg (it did not belong to four-legged creatures). It was not the scene of cutting a human leg that upset me.  It was the realization that Ossobuco was made of a cow’s leg that shocked me.  I had never thought of a cow’s life taken when I enjoyed Ossobuco.

OSSOBUCO IS PEOPLE #HANNIBALpic.twitter.com/QmJFMtSERW

“I’m very careful about what I put into my body. Which means I end up preparing most meals myself.”  Hannibal says to Will.

I’ve learned mindfulness of eating from Hannibal Lecter.

A Pigeon and Dandelion

What’s wrong with the girl who kicked at a pigeon?

A group of teenage girls were walking down the street.  It was an early afternoon in the late spring.  A couple of city pigeons were picking up pizza crust scraps on the sidewalk in front of a neighborhood pizza place.   An ordinary pleasant day in a relatively quiet street in Upper East Side.

As they pass by a girl in a plaid skirt kicked at a pigeon.  The pigeon trotted away.   “What’s wrong with you?”  “Gross!”  other girls said.  The girl who kicked at the pigeon didn’t say anything. They walked on, talking as ordinary teenage girls did.  Nothing noteworthy happened.  Just another day in their teenage life.

It was a five second clip too familiar for me not to pick up from the cutting room floor.   It was the nonchalant way the girl kicked at the pigeon that caught my attention.

I was the girl who kicked at pigeons.

When I saw a yellow fluffy dandelion flower on the sidewalk, I stepped on it to squash with the heel of black pumps.  My friend said, “What’s wrong with you?”

I tell you what’s wrong.  That’s how the girl is treated in her family.  That’s how she has learned to treat herself.  It’s so natural that she doesn’t even think something is wrong with the way she reacts to the sight of pigeon, a vulnerable and unimportant creature just doing what pigeons do.  Nobody cares.

The sight of innocent and vulnerable creatures like pigeons and dandelions exposed and defenseless made me feel uneasy.  It’s dangerous to be innocent and vulnerable in the open without fangs and claws to fight back.  I can’t tolerate the prospect of the pigeon-dandelion being attacked, being kicked, being squashed.   So I will be the one who kicks and squashes, so that I don’t have to feel my vulnerability.

I hope the girl who kicked at a pigeon will learn what is wrong is the way she has been treated.

And dandelions are not vulnerable.

dandelion

 

 

Sliver

For the most of my life I tried to fit the expectations of others. For the most of my life I tried to make others fit my expectations. My Teacher said, “Remember, not all people operate in the same way you do. ” It has freed me from the misery endless expectations create. I can’t change how you respond. But I can let you know how I am affected by your response. The rest is up to you.


Sliver

This is how I am. Deal with it. Or if not, leave me where you found me, and walk away.

This is how you are. I deal with it. Or if not, I’ll leave you where I found you, and walk away.

It’s not your fault.

It’s not my fault.

It’s just that this is how I am.

And this is how you are.

That’s how we all should be.

And some of us still keep on feeling our way for a sliver of connection in the treacherous territory between how I am and how you are. Continue reading

Art of Tea

There are so many people to whom I said, “See you later,” and whom I have never seen since.
Some passed away, others faded away. What is the difference?
You will be a different person next time I see you and I will be a different person next time I see you.
We will never see each other again.

一期一会

It often is translated in English as Once in a Lifetime, and it’s not what it means.
Every moment is the first and the last moment of my life.
Every moment is the first and the last moment of your life.
Every encounter between you and I is once in a lifetime encounter.
I welcome you into my space as if it were the first time you see me,
Because it is the first time you see me.
I treat you as if it were the last time I see you,
Because this will be the lat time I see you.
That’s how we see and serve each other in my old country.

And we share a cup of tea.
In a tiny humble room with a tiny door,
Like the door Alice wanted to go through,
In a quietude of temporary stillness,
No move is carried out without specific intent,
And nonetheless it flows seamlessly
Because every movement happens concurrently.
And we drink a cup of tea
As it is once in a lifetime encounter with you.
I want to savor it with my full presence.
And we share a cup of tea.

© J.U. 2013

The photo was taken in 2010 in NYC.  It is a sculpture by Antony Gormley, not a real person.

Mindfulness of Being Human

“Yeah, my dad was a werewolf and my mom was a python and we spent Saturdays performing musicals based on the writings of Pol Pot, but I’d like the chance to coach my kid’s Little League team.”

This sentence cracked me up in 2005.  It was well before Twilight Saga.  It was the year of Batman Begins; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; The Chronicles of Narnia.  The writer, Amy Sohn, was way ahead the curve.   The article is about dating and child-bearing.  You can read the entire article here:  http://nymag.com/nymetro/nightlife/sex/columns/mating/14917/

Since Twilight, the parentage of werewolf and vampire coupling seems to be common and perceived rather romantic than damaging.  It was the Mother Python that got me, though.

Yeah, my dad was a werewolf and my mom was a python.

If your father was a werewolf and your mother was a python and you were brought up by them, you have to remember that you could be a werewolf and/or a python. We might pass for a human if we are careful, but we have to be always aware of the possibility of turning.

What is the most difficult part of having a werewolf father was the turning part.  He was not Mr.Rogers, but appeared to be an ordinary guy during the day when with villagers.  And he turned suddenly without warning.  What we could do was to hold our breath and remain hidden till he turned back.

What is the most difficult part of having a python mother was her lethal hug.  She force-fed her children because she was always hungry for love and In the name of love, she squeezed her children’s will out till we stop moving.

So the children learned to survive.  I followed the path to be a werewolf.  When my dad turned, I turned.  Before he would turn, I turned.   At the slightest sign of threat, imagined or real, I turned.  My mom used to tell me that I was exactly my father’s child.  She covertly encouraged me to turn because I was the one with fangs and claws, while she claimed my younger brother as her own.  After I left the nest, I realized I turned to python when I was not a werewolf.  Python part was more difficult to control.

When we grow up in a family of creatures from horror movies, the world we live in is dangerous and we learn to survive in the dangerous world.  I didn’t understand people who wanted to have a family because it would make them happy.  I believed that a family is a training camp to teach children how to survive in the more dangerous world.  (Neither I or my brother has kids.)

It took me decades of therapy and deep psychology work to unlearn the old way, to learn the world is not dangerous, and to relax because the person you have a relationship with won’t suddenly turn and attack you.  Being human is a never-ending process for us, the children of werewolves and pythons.  I know I can go back to the old way at any moment and most of the time I manage to choose not to.  I’m still learning how to be human.

I don’t blame my parents for being a werewolf and a python.  That’s how they were and they did their best.  I am responsible for whom I chose to be.  As Sarah Conner in T2 realized, even a machine can learn to care.