I used to sing a lot until Shinpei got sick a few years ago, and something started to wither within me… but I still sang and refused to completely give up until he actually passed away. Then I was lost. Throughout my entire life, it had been how I healed myself when I was depressed. But I have been having a hard time singing since he passed on.
I found going to karaoke to be very cathartic. At home I had tried and it hadn’t worked out. I felt trapped. Every time I would try to sing alone, I would cry… and it has been months like this. But towards the end of my karaoke session, I felt much better. I felt like I was able to hit notes I hadn’t hit in a long time, and the strength in my voice and my vibrato came more freely.
In general, recently, despite the situation, I’m feeling really thankful for my life and this chance that I have on Earth to make ripples of joy or peace in people’s lives. I pray for the necessary vitality to take me forward and out of this sad shade I have been under since he disappeared, and before that. I am thankful all the time for the moments we were together and for all he taught me. It was really very hard, but I loved him immensely and I don’t regret my time with him. It’s amazing how old I feel now, and how many eye wrinkles have appeared, after six months of this.
But each day is a little brighter, and I realize that I am still alive bit by bit, even though there is an emptiness where he once was. Part of going into the light is the struggle.
Life is a struggle, but the struggle brings treasure.
I hope to be able to share what I find.
I wanted to upload Moon River, which I sang today… It is a horrible recording, and it’s my first time actually really putting some effort into singing in a very long time. I used to practice every day. May this wonderful, light-filled, guiding Universe be my Moon River to share this World and all of its inhabitants with me.
This is so sad… And it’s all true. A lot of people have shunned the full-time salary work system for a number of reasons. Heirarchical maniacs, low pay and high hours, and having to stay at work till late. I read a few years ago that the number of part-time workers had grown to record highs. This is the group being referred to that is moving from middle class to poor and poor to extremely poor. There are several bad systemic problems exacerbated by the pandemic. Culturally engrained chauvinism, a lack of privacy within the the family regarding welfare checks resulting in a loss of face, the basic issue of pride, a lack of generosity among people in general because there is no ‘kata’ for it, and also a systemic breakdown because there is no ‘kata.’
I would like to discuss with a cultural comparison the lack of generosity. In the us, winter in the holiday season, everywhere you go you will see 55 gallon bins and huge boxes at store exits. There, it is encouraged to put a few purchases that you made specifically for that box. Those purchases will go directly to people who are poor. The salvation army guy with the bell stands at almost every shopping center ringing his bell and waiting for people to make donations. I remember sharing the spirit of Christmas and showing pictures, including that of a mountain of toys in Seattle that were being prepared for distribution to the poor and the Japanese students were so surprised because they had never heard about anything like this. Admittedly the activities during Christmas have their roots in Christianity. That being said, I don’t hear about it happening in Europe. But in Europe they have other ways of supporting the poor.
Anyway, there’s nothing like that here in Japan. There was a Catholic church where we got food because we had none when I first arrived back here after getting married years ago. But there’s no systemic support system for people who are in poverty and need immediate assistance like food stamps.
To exacerbate the problem the government and businesses consider waste an issue of literally garbage, not something that might have potential, but something that needs to be gotten rid of so that they can sell more products and raise the economy. There’s no concept of circulation of waste products after they become waste.
Businesses are selfishly militant about it. All of the waste bins are locked and food waste from places like 7-Eleven is not available to the poor. In the US if you go to the back of 7-Eleven or to the back of supermarkets and food factories, you can go dumpster diving and get food if you need it. But here that isn’t possible because it’s all locked down literally with padlocks. How precious is their waste??
Not only that, in the UK and in the US, for a few years now there have been organizations that take a lot of that wasted food that is canned and dried or surplus, and share it with people who are in need or people who want it. This is to prevent food waste. However in Japan, that doesn’t exist. I think that’s super selfish and a big problem. Markets should make food available to people who need it, and there should be an organization or 10 dedicated to distributing this surplus of wasted goods. About 10 years ago I remember talking to people about this issue, and being responded to with the attitude of “Why would we do that? No one does it here.” Well yes, no one does that here, but we can start!
In addition, for a company that for a country that prides itself in its recycling program, there’s a huge problem with reuse versus recycling. There is no adequate concept of reuse. First of all these so-called recycle shops and thrift shops don’t give you more than a few cents for items that are worth a lot more and there’s no concept of consignment. That reduces the desire in people to take things to the thrift shops. It also explains the recent boom in apps like Jmty, Mercari, and Yahoo auction.
But because it’s simple, most people take their things (that are actually useful and someone else would really appreciate) to the corner for the garbage man instead. The city takes it and changes it into something else or destroys it. This requires energy and is really wasteful.
The process goes like this. When you put your garbage on the corner, there’s no way for other people to take it. It’s considered thievery. The city comes and takes it and does what they want with it, destroys it, but that isn’t really recycling, especially locally. It doesn’t help the local people. I think that the system needs to change in that way as well. If there is a large number of people going into poverty, and a population living off of less than ¥160,000 a month ($1,600), there needs to be a concept of social support that goes beyond money and is centered around local needs.
My Mama used to tell me stories about her homeland in Cuba.
In one of my favorite stories, she said that when she was a little girl, every day at sunset the people would go out into the street to sing and dance.
She said the people would go out and dance happily with things like brooms.
She would dance around the house listening to a myriad of music… My childhood was filled with sunny afternoons where the light filtered into the sliding door, lighting up hanging plants, a big fuschia, a huge begonia with brilliant red flowers, and images of my mother dancing, dancing, singing through the house, to salsa, to Mozart, to funk, to The Pointer Sisters.
My brother and I then followed suit. We had our own collection; Paul Simon, The Gypsy Kings, and several Billboard Oldies tapes including 1957 and 1964. We pranced around, flying like pixies in the open living room. From the balcony that overlooked the sapphire-like Bay of Banderas, our music wafted over the red-tiled houses, and we gleefully danced our afternoons away until the sun’s gifted last rays of gold…
That house is going away on Monday, sold into someone else’s dream. I wish for future days of music. I wish for space to dance around, and warmth, and happier days. I have no doubt that they will come, just as the sun rises each morning. We are blessed, we only need to give thanks and dance, and the universe will dance with us in rays of pink and blue and gold.
When a loved-one passes away, there are so many emotions that it can be overwhelming. Coupled with work, it can seem like there is no option but to recover quickly and get on with life-as-usual. But doing so holds many negatives…
Some people turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with loss and pain. The problem with that is that, even though it might help in the moment, long-term it has severely debilitating effects on how you can move forward in life. Mood-altering substances produce confusion in the brain. Though used for the supposed purpose of healing, they hinder the ability of the mind to go through the motions of grief and then navigate back to how to deal with reality.
By numbing and denying, one not only loses the way, but also denies the pain and shuts down important aspects of the relationship, such as memories of the person, feelings for them, and urges thought why are gone. This denial buries these feelings in the subconscious where they affect the future of the griever through illness, stress, emotional instability, and other happenings that are opposite to real healing. In a way, the person who is gone can never find peace, and the person who is grieving can never really move on.
Rather than pushing through grief with resilience and control, Ossefort-Russel believes and I concur, that “the terms fortitude, bear-with-courage, transform, and humility underlie a story that honors the strength” of being honest to your feelings when someone passes away.
I hold the strong belief that without those feelings of acceptance, you deny the person their existence, pushing them away into the nether world so that you can get back to business-as-usual. It lacks integrity. One needs to accept their loss in order to honor them, and it can take a long time to recover when you aren’t denying it in your heart through resilience.
Silence, mindfulness meditation (feeling the pain in your body, thoughts, memories… and letting it go), journaling, sharing your feelings with someone close, therapy; these are all ways that you can honor your grief and also your loved-one. Feel it to the fullest and let it go; this will honor both your feelings and the person who was so very important in your life.
These methods are ways that one can truly move forward with integrity and become a deeper and more truly resilient person in the end, through acceptance and change.
Recently, I joined a sketch group with some lovely ladies here in Japan. One of them asked for some tips on how to improve her sketching.
When I see everyone’s drawings, they are so creative. Even though most of us are seeing things from the same angle since we are on video chat, we use different techniques, feelings, textures and media, to complete the drawings. For me, everyone’s drawings are unique and beautiful. But I think that the most important thing is that they believe that about their own work. Let me explain.
A few things helped me learn how to sketch better.
One was when I took an extra year of college to study art and music. One of my teachers trained us to do an activity on the shorter sketches (2-3 minutes) where we could not look at the paper, except to reorient. We had to sketch while looking only at the subject. No only that, we were not to take the pencil off the paper, but to trace the form of the object over and over. Of course, the sketches looked horrible, but the feeling was different… It became much easier to understand what we were looking at.
Another was a wonderful book by my favorite philosopher Frederick Franck, called “The Zen of Seeing.” This wonderful book teaches one how to really look at the subject without judgement.
Finally, I had the extremely good fortune to be given a trip by my Austrian grandfather as a graduation present at 22. It was a month-long Eurail Pass. In every city I went I visited at least one if not multiple museums. I learned from the great masters, tracing their wisdom in my sketchbook. There is absolutely nothing like looking at the real thing to understand which line came first. That month was probably the greatest lesson of all in studying the human form in particular.
I also studied watercolor in college, and then took three years of Sumi-E from a master — Shoshiko Sensei — in Kurume. He taught me that in just a few carefully planned strokes, the essence of something can become filled with spirit and detail. Some wonderful artists like the Harusakis demonstrate specific techniques such as extensive layering and patience to create some amazing effects. Watercolor, and especially Sumi-E, force the artist to surrender to the medium. It is impossible to erase what one has created. This makes it a kind of meditation and is training in allowing things to happen the way they will, because you cannot erase your mistakes.
The rest was just practice, practice, practice. And not judging whether something was good or not, just letting it be what it was.
I am definitely not the best at sketching. My lines are not straight and I shake and there are probably a billion things I could do better.
But it’s like meditation. Each day is different, and appreciating the art as a gift I have been given in time and space, as an opportunity to live, changes any judgement I might have to gratitude. I’m so thankful to this group, to the organizer for putting it together and to everyone for making it a community. I was doing maybe one sketch every six months. Now it’s a few a week.
So, in short, I recommend reading that book. Try tracing without looking at the paper once per session. Going to the museums in the big city (if you have the energy) and sketching would be an enjoyable and educational past time — especially considering we near Tokyo have the very good fortune of being next to one of the greatest art-loving cities of the world, with perhaps hundreds of museums.
But most of all, I would say to try to consider the art as something that is a gift that you were given, to hold gratitude towards it. That will remove the judgements surrounding it and allow you to develop without faltering at each step.
Just as we tell our students that to improve in English they need to make mistakes, we could look at life and art with the same eyes and say that in order to move forward it is important to take each step as a lesson, appreciate it, and move on. This will be the wind in your sails leading you to lands unknown.
Takeaway: For children and adults taking Atomoxetine, supplement it with vitamins C & E, and other antioxidant sources like fresh fruit and vegetables. This will most likely prevent DNA changes and preserve healthy mitochondrial activity in the brain cells. If they are not taken, it seems that some serious cellular changes occur over time.
A large percentage of people take these kinds of medications, even though we have little knowledge about their effects.
…Actually, this is my own assessment from reading other articles about psychiatric drugs, but we don’t know enough about their effects on the brain/body system. It is clear that they often cause weight gain, over which mitochondrial activity is one factor. Also, I have read that they can cause permanent changes in DNA. So actually, if you or anyone you love is taking these medications, it is probably a good idea to supplement them with antioxidants no matter what drug it may be.
Yesterday I woke up really early, before dawn, and went to practice Mindfulness Meditation at the Buddhist temple near my house.
I have been studying Mindfulness Meditation for about two years now.It was originally developed by Jon Kabbat Zinn at the Harvard Medical School for treating people with chronic diseases such as Cancer and chronic pain. Over the 30 years since it’s inception, its uses have expanded to include everything from severe mental disorders to stress, and where it seems to work best is in the realm of the mind. Thousands of studies have supported the case for it’s use in psychology to benefit society.
There are many kinds of meditation, including guided meditation and chanting. I have practiced those, too. Before coming to Japan, I lived in San Francisco and tasted a variety of different kinds. But my first experiences with it I have to credit to my mother, who would sit with me and guide me into it as a child. I remember many times finding the light in my heart and finding peace as well. She says I used to sit for about 45 minutes in silence by myself, and some mysterious things happening, like once I came back and said that “Grandma and Grandpa are on an airplane from Europe!” Which was true, and I had no way of knowing it because we hadn’t spoken to them and they hadn’t told us. I remember in my teens meditating on the moon, and that was when I started to see beautiful circles of colored light, kind of like what I’ve heard can be seen on the screen in biofeedback. That happens a lot.
But my recent studies in meditation haven’t been spiritual. They are more geared towards regulating my emotions. Life can get stressful, for everyone, and it has been proven to be most effective for that. That being said, it isn’t just for making you calm.
The way it works is you sit in a comfortable place, preferably not too comfortable so that you don’t go to sleep. You close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and then just start to watch. You watch how you breathe. You scan your body from the tip top of your head to the soles of your feet. You notice your breath. You feel yourself becoming calmer and calmer, relaxing your body when you feel tense places, allowing your body to adjust into a peaceful state. You watch your breath. Come back to it. You listen carefully to the things around you. Further and further away. Then come back to the breath.
Over the course of this, your mind will invariably wander, and that is wherein the key lies. When you notice that your mind has wandered, you gently come back to the breathe. How it enters your body. How your stomach lifts. The tip of your nose where it comes in. And then your mind at some point will wander again. And you gently come back to the breath. You become mindful of your mind.
This is the key to mindfulness meditation in the school in which I practice. It begins with watching the wandering mind. But with time and practice, one begins to notice their thoughts. You can label them, and then begin to put thoughts, memories, emotions, urges, into ‘buckets’ and label them. You begin to notice what it is that preoccupies your mind and causes you stress.
And then here’s the real kicker. Once you get good at that, you start to notice it when you aren’t meditating. In the act of doing something out of character or experiencing something uncomfortable. You begin to realize how your reactions to life affect it. And that is something.
With this knowledge, you can move forward in life. I would say that most of us live life without really examining how we live or why we do things. We are creatures of habit. But once you begin to notice how you affect your own life, you begin making different decisions.
So, anyway, back to the temple. So I figured it was Sunday, and the old monk had invited me to listen to the ancient drumming and bells anytime I wanted… But he does it at 6:30AM. So I had woken up early on a Sunday, and decided to do the things that people do on Sundays when we want to feel particularly close to God, whatever we may deem them to be. I went to the temple and began to meditate. It was locked, and he was not up yet, so sat on the steps. At one point, he opened the door slightly and I greeted him, but stayed there watching the morning. He played the drums and bells. The little birds came out. The sky changed, exploded in a dawn of color and then mellowed into a gentle morning. The leaves of the trees swayed, and I listened.
The monk is pretty old, in his mid 80’s, but so full of life, very energetic, and loves to teach. He told me about the equinox holidays in Japan. The spring and fall equinoxes are days of rest in this country. He says that the days surrounding them are important, too. The three days before and the three days after have an important Zen Buddhist function, and the entirety of the week is referred to as Higan.
During the three days before the equinox, one should practice these three things: you should be generous with others, keep your promises, and strive to be patient and open-minded.
After the equinox, you should: gaman (refrain from excesses and persevere), meditate, and study the wisdom of the scriptures (here, he emphasized that it should not be ‘human’ wisdom, because humans are not pure of thought).
After he told me, I thought that maybe this is why many Japanese people consider patience, quiet listening, and perseverance to be essential elements of their culture.
The famous TED Talk by Alan Savoy about changing deserts to grasslands was first on my YouTube watchlist today. This was after I read this wonderful blog post by Sacred Sueños, a darme un the Andes where the forest was burnt down in 1999 to bring in cattle… And afterwards was used for corn and other crops, until the land was unusable anymore and it came into their hands.
The message is this:
After we have brought grazing animals to the land, whether it be desert land that is unusable, or grasslands, if we want it to become forest again or even crop land, we need another step.
We have to give it chance for succession if we want it to be productive again. We need to allow it to feed and for the soil to grow with mulches and leaves from trees and bushes, for the microbes and organisms to live within it.
It really makes sense. There is a wonderful video about a professor from the US going back to his native land in Africa, where the people were struggling to eat from the land, and creating a new biome with water and forest through agroforestry.
The traditional way of agriculture isn’t working for us. It will be our undoing, as it has been for so many cultures before ours. This is the power of history: let us learn from it and not make the same mistakes.
I learned a new Japanese idiom today. It is 鶴の一声. It means “the decision that has been made by the highest ranking official or person.” It sounds so stiff in English. The literal translation is, “the single call of a crane.”
So I decided to write a poem, a haiku.
美白氷河の鏡 鶴の一声 私らの血を呼ぶ。
The whitening glacial mirror
Crane’s solitary voice
Calls our blood.
People often don’t get my poems… They are too symbolic. I end up having to explain them… Can anyone guess the meaning?