Ordinary People

“What do you want to be?”  I asked my date.   We were just shy of 20 years young.

“I want to be an ordinary person,” the young man said.

“???”  I didn’t get it.  When you are a teenage boy or girl, don’t you want to be an outstanding, extraordinary, prominent person even when you don’t know in what.  Somebody but an ordinary person.

Several decades have passed since and I had a chance to see the boy again at a class reunion.   I told him I now understood what he meant by being ordinary and appreciated him for his wisdom at such a young age.

“Did I say such a deep thing?”  the boy, now a man in fifties, said.

I should have chosen this ordinary guy instead of a succession of overgrown permanent teenagers, who were exciting and extraordinary in not necessarily good ways as a partner.

I am not outstanding, extraordinary or prominent, but I think my life was nothing but ordinary.   After decades of turmoil, now I find myself living a very ordinary life with absolutely no drama.  And I am mostly content with my ordinary life as an ordinary person. Then once in a while, I look back and say to myself, “It was fun.”

It must be just a state of one’s mind.

 

A Fat Collie

When and where I grew up, dogs were just dogs: brown dogs, white dogs, black dogs, black and tan dogs, etc.  The smallest were Shiba; the largest were Akita and in between there were just ordinary dogs.  Only affluent westernized families had fancy pure breeds.  There were no designer dogs, just mutts.   Some belonged to families, others just roamed around.

I adopted a large senior dog from a local Humane Society a year ago.  He had a funny face with a long muzzle.  The humane Society people told me he was a Collie mix.  All the official papers said he was a Collie mix, so I registered him as a Collie mix.

Weighing nearly 90lb he was a super obese Collie.  He was slow and low-key and walked like a sumo wrestler.  He chewed things obsessive compulsively.  He was stubborn as hell and didn’t act like Lassie at all.

“What kind of dog is he?” Since I got him  I was asked numerous times by strangers.  I say, “Mutt,” and “Do you know what kind of mix he is?” people asks.

My dog seems to have a distinct feature, which is somewhat familiar but not distinct enough for many people to put a finger on.  That makes people wonder what he is.  Eventually a consensus view emerged.

Spuds MacKengie a.k.a. Budweiser Dog on steroid.

I finally succumbed to the temptation and ordered a DNA text kit on-line.  I mailed it out expecting a “happy family”- like result: a little bit of Collie, a little bit of Pitty, maybe a German Shepard or two.

The result blew my mind.   His (probably) dad was a pure bull terrier.  His grandparents were bull terriers; his great grandparents were bull terriers.  He was half bull terrier.  The other half was ambiguous, with a miniature bull terrier and a hound in his ancestry.  There was not a drop of Collie in his gene pool!

He wasn’t an obese Collie mix.  He was a supersized bull terrier mix.   He was not fat.   He was muscular.

One day I noticed a lady staring at him.  She came up to me and asked, “Bull terrier mix?”  I said, “Yes.”  “Stubborn?” she asked.  “Yes, very” I said.  She nodded knowingly.

That made me think:

What is he?  Is he a fat lazy Collie or a muscular bull terrier?  If I didn’t know his DNA makeup, he would be still a fat Collie.  I might have put him on a weight loss program to keep him healthy.  Actually he had spent his entire life as a Collie mix with his former owner.  Or maybe he is just a heavy stubborn dog with a long muzzle.

Then what am I?  I could be fat or muscular.  I could be feminine or masculine, depending on the model the society/individual applies.  Or maybe I am just a human being with olive skin.

 

 

I will never see you again

1-IMG_0036Some occupations require us to remain on the bank and see the current of river flow. Teachers are the obvious one.  Kids come and go, come and go, never the same kid, but the life flows in front of their eyes continuously.  And the teacher him/herself never stays the same. Therapist might be another such occupation.

Whenever you are the one who remains on the bank, you will see the flow of the current.  One leaves, another comes, and leaves.  Seeing off people helps me to be aware that it was once a life time encounter with that particular person.  And it was once a life time encounter with that particular person I was.

The current of the flowing river does not cease, and yet the water is not the same water as before. The foam that floats on stagnant pools, now vanishing, now forming, never stays the same for long. So, too, it is with the people and dwellings of the world.   (Hojoki, Circa 1212)

I’ve been going to the same gym everyday for the last 2 and half years.  Trainers know me well.  It’s like a family.  I realized younger trainers were nomads. They come and they go.  I am the one who remains on the bank seeing them come and go.  It makes me feel sad when one of my favorite coaches leaves.  And I realize that I also was the one who came and went.

For the Boys

I am sad because I know I will never see you again.  I already miss you because I know I have missed the opportunity to know who you are and who you will be.

You say you might drop by when in the city.  I might happen to be there to see you coming down the stairs.

But I will never see you again in the way I see you today.

I see you moving out of the country as I did long time ago, with emotional devastation leaving behind, with anxiety and excitement in front of you.   Then, Young Man, you will be who you will be there in the land you have chosen even before I saw you for the first time.

Thinking about your youth and the path you are about to take fills my heart with a painfully raw love of life,  cruelty and grace of time, and preciousness of the moment: any single moment of my transient presence in your life.

You are not my child or my love.   You are one of the beautiful young men I happened to know.  (All young men are beautiful as all young women are.)  And I love you all as I love my child.

And I love who I was and who I could be at your age, leaving everything behind and flying out to the country to be my home.  I didn’t know I would never see her again.

Impermanence

forest

The current of the flowing river does not cease, and yet the water is not the same water as before. The foam that floats on stagnant pools, now vanishing, now forming, never stays the same for long. So, too, it is with the people and dwellings of the world.

Excerpt from Hojoki: The Ten Foot Square Hut by Kamo No Chomei.  Translated by Anthony Chambers 2007

I learned this old prose in high school in my old country.  It’s like a Shakespeare monologue.  You need to know by heart.  It’s all about Impermanence.  Impermanence was embedded in my old country’s collective unconscious.  It was a norm.   It is how it is.

Recently I was watching a kid’s educational TV program of my country.  It’s like Sesame Street, to teach children how to read, count, and have fun in the language.  And I heard kids reciting this prose.   My jaw dropped.  They teach preschool kids Impermanence?   Wow…

As born and brought up in a Buddhist culture, I’ve never questioned Impermanence.   It is how it is.  And still I often wander away, falsely believing otherwise, believing it is the same water as before.  And again the universe reminds me that I am the foam that floats on backwaters.

The truth will set us free.

Hands of Kuan Yin

“I just might be able to walk again,” she said in a barely audible voice. “I know,” I said under my breath, feeling every details of her tarsal bones. She knew she would never and I knew she knew.

Her feet permanently dropped at the ankle like a long stem rose brought home the night before sadly drooping in the morning light, making me feel slightly guilty of something which I didn’t know I did or I didn’t.

She wanted to have them dorsiflexed. “My toes stayed curled up in my boots today. They want to be stretched,” she said. I held her foot and slowly reproduced walking motion.

“When I move your foot, just imagine that you are moving it by yourself,” I said.
“My brain is not sending correct signals, isn’t it?”
“Your brain is sending signals all right. It is your nerves that are not delivering messages to your muscles,” I explained. “It’s like a highway with the southbound lanes closed. You can take a cab to JFK airport, but there are no cabs to take back to Manhattan…” I caught myself walking into the dangerous territory of reality. Your motor neurons are dying. You can’t rehabilitate dead neurons. That was what I didn’t say.

“When you want your feet on the wheelchair footrest, your friends place them on it for you, don’t they? Your mind sends a message to the feet to move and your feet are placed on the footrest, even in the exact way you want them to be placed, with the heels of the boots on, not off, the footrest. It’s just the same as your doing by yourself. Your mind moved your friends’ hands.”

“I’ve never thought that way,” she said and started to cry in silence. I’ve never thought that way either till now.

Her feet, which didn’t have to carry her weight any more, were impeccably soft and ice-cold at the same time. “Nirvana,” she sighed when I jostled her foot in my hands. Her leg muscles held no tension. There were no muscular defenses to disarm. I remembered her once athletic legs. With her nerves failing to fire, her muscles were wasting away. “Floppy, aren’t they?” she kept reiterating. Flaccid they were. Her immobile legs and feet were still cold as if she had been standing on the winter edge of the water, letting the surf sweep cross her legs, every wave slightly higher, taking away her body heat, higher and colder until it touched her knees. The frigidity had been steeped deep in the bones, refusing to thaw.

I am palpating a skeleton, I thought. Through the thin layers of flaccid tissue my fingers could clearly see bones and tendons. When I touched a tiny muscle behind the knee, she said, “I didn’t know it would feel so good to be touched there. I would never have known.”  You would never have had to be aware if your legs didn’t fail to move, I thought.

She moaned. “Is the pressure too much?” I asked. “No. It just feels so good,” she said and then asked, “Why does it feel so good?”

“Your body is ready to receive. It is difficult for most of us to surrender to receive. I feel Ki is flowing into your body effortlessly,” I said. “Most people resist and block the flow, you know.” I was making up as I went, searching for words she wished to hear. Or was I verbalizing what I always knew?

“Yes, I can feel Ki flowing in,” she said, and after a pose, continued, “Don’t you think I just might be able to…”

She wasn’t talking to me and I didn’t say anything.

Her feet and legs were finally reclaiming warmth, like the frozen ground moistened by the gentle rain. She hadn’t talked for a while. She was drowsing off.

“I fell asleep,” she said.
“It’s O.K. to fall asleep.”
“I don’t want to. I’ve been fighting hard not to.”

I didn’t understand. It’s the whole point of getting a massage, isn’t it? To relax and drift into sleep away from the tension of waking life, to yield to somebody else’s hands, allowing somebody else to take care of you.

“I want to remember how good I’m feeling now. If I fall asleep, I won’t remember. I don’t want to miss even a moment of it.”

The muscles had transformed themselves into a purely sensory organ, responsive to external stimuli, while unable to react. Like a legendary musical instrument, she responds to my touch and she is listening to the music that she only can hear. Her intact sensory nerves respond to the touch with the ever-changing combination of pressure, temperature, rhythm, direction, slow, fast, light, deep, circle, straight, faster, lighter, nerves firing and resonating.

What a state of being. She had a pure awareness of the body and I was resonating together with her.

The hands of Kuan Yin (観音)touched me through her.

The Japanese word for “treatment” literally means laying on of hands.

RIP my friend,  July 29, 2011.  You were a warrior.

Living in the Present Moment

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One’s Journey often starts before one knows it. My friend, Maria, became aware of weakness in her abdominal muscles in the summer of 2010. She didn’t know it was going to be her last summer. She was diagnosed with ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease, in December 2010. Every summer, I think about how she lived the last year of her life and contemplate on the meaning of living in the present moment.

This could be my last summer.
This could be my last August.
This could be my last sunset.
This could be my last breath.
This could be the last time to see you.
I love you all.

Join me, if you would like, to be fully present in this moment of our life, in this summer, in this August, on this day, at this time of the day… It only takes a moment. And Breathe for my friend. Thank you… I love you all.

A Fridge in the Backyard

I don’t watch the reality show about hoarding because I have more than one person in my life who hoard, and I have more than one friend who have more than one person in their lives who hoard.  There is nothing entertaining about hoarding.

My father was more than frugal.  It made sense when we didn’t have much.  He saved things and stuff for a time of scarce.   He fixed things with the stuff he collected and saved.  He didn’t allow us to throw away things.  I didn’t understand the logic behind keeping broken fridges and TVs in our backyard, though.  “It’s good for a tool shed,” he said.  The rusty old fridge is still there.  It doesn’t look like a fridge anymore.  I don’t know if there are tools inside.

We were really lucky because he didn’t save newspaper and magazines.

I used to travel back and forth between the U.S. and my old country schlepping a large suitcase.  After years of airline check in baggage treatment, it cracked.  I got a new one and asked my mom to get rid of the beaten up one.  When I visited them a year later, I found the broken suitcase in my parent’s bedroom.

“What the hell is it doing in your bedroom?” I asked.  “Your dad didn’t let me throw it away,” my mother said.  My father doesn’t like to travel.  He doesn’t even like to go out of the county.  Where did he think he was going with the broken suitcase?  It was not about being frugal anymore.  They had to have storage sheds built in the backyard for the stuff… three of them.

Inside the house, my mom managed to contain his madness in one room.  It was filled with empty boxes, toilet paper rolls, tissue paper boxes, and bars of cheap soap.   “Why did you buy so many bars of soap?” I asked my mother.  “They were on sale,” she said. “Your father drove all the way to the shopping center to buy them.”   I stared at piles of soap bars probably enough to supply for three life time, and said to myself, “How long is he planning to live?”

When I stand and stare at the room full of toilet paper rolls, tissue paper boxes, and bars of cheap soap among other stuff, I see my father’s fear.  I feel trapped.  I lose the will to change.  The fear steeps out and penetrates into who I am.

I know it is not my fear, but I need to be aware of its presence.

Universe provides what one needs.  My father lived in the same house for the most of his life, creating fortress with stuff, a fortress for him, a prison to me.   I moved many times, one time across the Pacific with a single suitcase, several times out of broken relationships.  I was forced to shed stuff like a stray dog.  As soon as I settled in a new place, usually smaller than the one before, I started accumulating stuff.  Every time I moved, I had to choose what should be part of my life and what should not.  It served as a priceless mindfulness training.  I still accumulate stuff, while I know my fear.  Universe doesn’t have to force me to move anymore just to remind me to choose.  Once in a while I do it voluntarily, especially when I witness somebody else’s fear in their space full of stuff.

Karma and a Tiger

An Interpretation of Karma based on a supposedly Japanese story quoted by Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth.

A samurai was murdered by another samurai.  He was the head of family.  The heir had to avenge his father’s death and kill the murderer to restore the family honor.  The young son set off to search the murderer, who was on the lam.  It was a long and difficult journey.  Until he could right the wrong done to his father, his family would remain in limbo in samurai hierarchy.  He did not have any source of income.  So he degraded himself into a laborer, a hired help, and a peddler –these jobs were in lower caste in those days –to support himself while pursuing the enemy.  Years past and finally, the not-so-young-anymore man found the murderer of his father.  When he confronted the man face to face, he became aware of his own hatred toward the man.

Upon being aware of his feeling, he walked away without killing the man.

The father had some kind of karma that led to his murder.  The father passed on his karma to his son, while the other samurai now bore the karma of his own as a murderer.   The son paid for his father’s karma by suffering and humbling himself to pursue the murderer.  At this point, he is just an executor of the law of samurai social structure.  However, if he kills the murderer with his own anger and hatred in his mind, he generates his own karma, thus, the chain of hatred keeps on going.  The key word is Awareness.   That’s the way to avoid reincarnation with karma attached.

What would the young samurai do after that?  Since he didn’t follow the rule, he would remain outcast from his original caste.  There is an opening for a “shift”.  He could leave the samurai caste, so that the old “rule” would not apply.

A tiger kills prey to survive.  That’s what a tiger does and is.  Killing itself generates no additional karma for a tiger.  It just keeps him being a tiger.  That’s his karma in a larger context.  If he becomes aware and stops killing prey, he would die, because it means he rejects his being a tiger.  In his next life, he might find himself in a different realm.

I don’t know.  Just a thought.   And I don’t believe in reincarnation, anyway.

Neuroplasticity and Netflix

Sawshark

Sawshark

Netflix/Amazon Prime binge watching is my choice of drug.  Once in a while I medicate myself with streaming mindless films for hours and hours and stay numb.  When I can’t tolerate feelings, mindless B horror movies or super violent action movies with serial killers, monsters, vampires, zombies, and werewolves are the most effective sedative.   I fall asleep with a horror movie playing.

Netflix learns.  If you watch Evil Dead 2 and like it, then they recommend Amityville Horror.  They recommend films I didn’t even know existed.  I click on one, watch 1 minutes, then move on to the next, till I stumble upon a movie which fits my numbness of the day.  Eventually my “You might like these” list looks like something a disturbed teenage boy would like.

When my friend apartment sat, she binge watched Netflix/Amazon.  After her visit, Netflix started to recommend something like Beckett, Elizabeth, etc. Since I don’t watch those intellectual films often, it eventually stopped and my Netflix personality returned to the normal.

Yet, the list does not represent who I am.

I guess our brain is like Netflix recommendation.  If I keep focusing on traumatic experiences of the past, my brain’s Netflix list will be filled with traumatic titles.  Eventually I would believe there are only traumatic experiences in this world.   It’s not true.

When Netflix recommended Sharknado and Human Centipede, I asked myself.

“What have I done to my life?”

Well, I chose not to watch Sharknado.