Higan Mindfulness

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.

Continue reading “Higan Mindfulness”

Crane’s Call

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?

America’s Ridiculous War on Agenda 21

America – increasingly impoverished, with little social support for the people. Why would I write this? Because I care. Why do I think this?…

Well, most Americans — and I was one of them before — don’t see it. It is hard to see how things are ruined when you live somewhere for years. But when you come back like me and can make comparisons, it is shocking.

It is unbelievable to me that due to lack of funding there were only three people working at the 12-window tax office when I went (and only for a couple of hours in the morning), with a long line of people waiting outside. The long lines at the DMV and lack of offices. The lack of funding for libraries and teacher’s salaries at schools, while administrators make much more. The lack of convenient public transportation. No publicly supported Health Care System for everyone — at least where you don’t have to pay a billion dollars for an ouchy (Here ambulances are FREE! Yes! Why? Because they are used in emergencies!).

With the level of social support it has, America reminds me of Mexico, but with good roads, rich people, and less direct corruption.

Now, I’m not saying Japan is perfect, by any means. It has its own very long list of social problems, and the result of that can be seen if you click on the World Happiness Report link later in this post. Japan ranks a very low #58 on the report, and for good reason. I also recognize that each place has its good points and its bad points, and that often these are a balance. For example, we could take Japan and say the people are so polite here, yes, they are but it is because they need to be, or else they get ostracized. It is very difficult to work in here. I could write an even longer post on Japan, but that wouldn’t be very Japanesey of me 😉

Without limitations in the US, corporate heads get huge salaries, Congress gets paid for life, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies make unbelievable amounts of money off of an increasingly taxed people, and the list goes on.

It is amazing to me how many Americans still haven’t figured out they are being led around by a carrot by the false two-party system, and instead support conspiracy theories in their fear.

It is time that Agenda 21 was taken out of the closet.
American politicians get your acts together, and voters, look around at the other successful countries in the world, or there will be problems due to simple hygiene issues. Let me explain.

Just like someone who doesn’t take a shower or brush their teeth, buy new underwear when needed, and eat properly, America is not doing the basics to maintain what is necessary for a healthy economy. Instead, like an internet gamer waking up, eating junk food and spending hours watching TV and playing video games rather than working towards getting a job, the efforts are badly placed and will ultimately result in a negative balance for the country.

Living in Japan, I have seen some things that make me really reconsider moving back. Here, there is funding support for government entities. Not that they are wallowing in it; the buildings are old but clean. That being said, there are always people to help you at the Japanese DMV, the city hall, and all other branches I have visited. Almost never a long line, and if so people really complain indignantly.

There is funding for teachers, not only administrators, and for libraries to buy books. There is a cap on salaries, so most who would make $700k+ in the States don’t make more than $150k to $200k, and all jobs are respected because it is a job and someone is working hard every day at whatever they do.

The government has a working health insurance system, and the payment is based on how much money one makes, so no one is left without health insurance and can afford their medicine. If you can’t pay now, you can pay later, but the cost is within reason. The list goes on.

In Europe, my friend just posted that he saw 11 different political parties in Denmark discussing how to deal with their problems, not just two parties pretending to deal with problems while making an easy road for their friends in the back room or waiting for their incumbency term after 8 years. Denmark, by the way, is 2nd in the World Happiness Report.

In the US, people of course want to live in beautiful places where there are good schools and infrastructure. But sadly, I don’t see it on a whole, and it is not the government’s fault (they are just doing what they do best…); it is the people themselves who do not see how their decisions are creating problems.

Maybe you think I am simple-minded, but remember, the constitution and the bill of rights can be read in less than an hour. I have done it. Resolving many issues doesn’t have to be complicated and long. It has to be clear, have breadth and depth and logic. It has to have the qualities of the intellectual standards of critical thinking.

Here are my recommendations. They are not many, and definitely don’t cover most topics, but they are a start. If you have other things you would like to see change, write them in the comments section!

I think we need to encourage bike lanes. It isn’t bad to have bicycles, and it is dangerous for people riding them. Encourage public transportation. Encourage putting money into the DMV and schools, so that you don’t waste time in line, and your children grow up healthy in body and mind.

It’s time for America to grow into America The Beautiful from America on crutches.
Please read this Wikipedia article on Agenda 21 and find out where America stands, and why you should care.

Finnish Ed & Humanizing Math

https://medium.com/@sunilsingh_42118/you-really-want-to-rehumanize-math-education-build-a-new-ship-8aa6fe6b43d0

Had this hopeful future been the case when I was in school, I might have become a physicist.

But because my ability in math was based on time, not actual ability, I was even derided by the teacher in my precalculus class.

That being said, the Fractal of Life, in all its complexity and confusion has led me here, and actually anywhere is really okay. It is the journey, and feeling it, that matters.

At some point maybe the world education system will realize that there is a reason Finland’s education system (wherein children are not given homework and are allowed freedom after only three hours of school) has been top-rated worldwide. Maybe they will see that rather than trying to control and test what has been literally crammed into delicate grey matter, it is ultimately better to allow our infinitely more-intelligent-than-us yet extremely naive children to explore their world. After all it is theirs, and they will all tell you their concerns for the future, which are very real… Actually, there may be a correlation with the education system and the fact that Finland is also famous for its social support and peace in its society. It is consistently rated one of the top happiest countries on Earth according to the Happiness Index.

But it may take destroying all we have for reasons included in the Seven Deadly Sins (there is a reason they are called that), before we change our idiotic ways from control and fear of the unknown, to trusting and allowing guided growth. In that healthy future, people might choose very different careers. They might choose happiness instead of money, an in doing so really be alright financially.

In fact, people would be much happier because they would have been training since a young age to follow their interests instead of what they are force-fed to think is what they have to do. In this, the overall quality of everything, from furniture to management would improve, because only those who thought that they were good at something would pursue it, and they would know it from their elementary education. 

I was once told by Dr. Fujii, the Japanese traditional garden specialist, that the reason Japanese garden trees have changed so much is this. In ancient Japan, the trees were pruned for the way they wanted to grow. This style of pruning can still be seen in Kyoto, and the most beautiful example I have ever seen is the tiny private garden in the imperial palace there.

Now they are pruned to force them into what is considered the proper form, or what is most convenient for the space. They are caricatures of what they could be, and the gardens suffer for it visually.

The trees, like the children, are being stunted, forced to fit into a mold, and not allowed to become the greatest they could be.

Grazing that Stimulates Growth

I was taught as a bio major that certain grazers feeding on plants stimulate them to grow more.

I never suspected that it could extend into the insect family!!

ススメガの幼虫がクチナシを食べる。 Sphyngidae “Hawk Moth” feeding on gardenia

For several years, I have been growing two gardenias. They are native to Japan, but due to my lack of fertilization, perhaps, they have been scraggly since sprouting about four years ago.

This year I found a cute little caterpillar near my plants. And another one. I tried to see which ones they would eat by putting them on different plants, because, you see, caterpillars turn into beautiful flying creatures that pollinate our flowers and fruits. So I didn’t want them to die. I found that they liked my gardenias, and knowing it was early spring and they would grow their few leaves back, I put the little guys to graze on them. They chose only the tenderest sprouting greens, and we’re quite picky… They turned out to be SuzumeGa (Hawk Moth, or Sphyngidae, Larvae), who eat pretty much only gardenias. They are lovely, huge moths with a shape like an arrow that hover while sipping nectar from flower to flower. I hope they survived because I haven’t seen many gardenias around here.

The Hawk Moth baby likes only the tenderest leaves… That will soon grow back much fuller!
The gardenia before consumption on the far right in the tall pot. Isn’t it scraggly? I think I could probably count the leaves on it, and they are evergreens!
A Hawk Moth in the Sphyngidae family. I didn’t take this amazing photo (I got it from the free pile) but I wish I had!

Gardenias, by the way, come in two types. The horticultural variety, with many petals, and the native to Japan, with only five. That being said, the one with only five petals, also called Kuchinashi (meaning “No Mouth”) produces an orange, almost flavorless fruit. This fruit is used as a natural coloring agent, and rather than using carcinogenic Yellow Five, the Japanese use Kuchinashi to color everything edible from candy to everyday packaged foods.

Where did the petals go? Rather, where did the seeds go… The seeds were turned into petals over time, as in many flowers, by gardeners who wanted more elaborate flowers. And the seeds disappeared, meaning that all of those plants have to be propagated vegetatively by cuttings, and cannot have their own babies. They can flower but not fruit. So of we plant them rather than the ones that can seed, they can never make their own… Well, that’s another story for another time.

Gardenia, the many-petaled Kuchinashi
Kuchinashi – the Gardenia that fruits

Anyway, lo and behold two months later, the places that were chomped on my Kuchinashis by those colorful babies are now full of leaves!! The moths, I believe, stimulated the leaves to produce more in response. Maybe it is similar to the technique that is being studied for stimulating crop production (see one of my earlier posts); bumblebees bite leaves to stimulate flowering earlier than normal. Anyway, food for thought. Don’t let your friends kill the caterpillars! Especially the cool-looking ones!!

Yuzu Seedlings

Today I tried to find places to plant my yuzu seedlings around my neighborhood. There was so much concrete, or weed-killed areas, that it was really difficult to find any places where they might survive. When they grow, some people might enjoy them, while others will tear them out of the ground, and that is their right. To me, it is a little gift that I can give back to the world. I hope that many years from now, if someone wants a yuzu fruit and can’t find one at the store, they can take a walk and pick one from a wild tree.

These past few weeks I have been enjoying picking some of my vegetables from forgotten corners in my neighborhood, and from my willing neighbor’s trees. Wolfberry shoots are bitter but taste so nutritious, and mulberry shoots are delicious and tender. I was told to pick some bamboo shoots… But they are two feet tall now!If we can make more space on our roadsides and unused spaces for wild edible plants, we can raise our resilience levels for times when food might be scarce.

It scares me to think that this could have been MERS instead of CoVid-19. If that had happened, the food system would have collapsed.

If everyone knew what plants are edible, that would be great, but after two weeks or even a few days they would be gone. We need to create a world with more kindness towards other species, plant and animal. Birds spread mulberry seeds. Mulberries can provide not only berries but a nutritious vegetable for your dinner plate. But mulberries often get wacked away. We don’t know the value of the species we are destroying by laying down concrete, either.

When I was doing research in a small town down south, the elderly residents said they hadn’t seen a valued ethnobotanical plant (Ashitaba) for a long time in their neighborhood. I asked them why they thought that was, and they answered that they thought it was because there is too much concrete everywhere.

It seems like it is okay to rip trees and plants out of the ground, destroying other species’ homes, but it isn’t okay for us to defend them. Ask the town office why they overprune the roadside and park trees; it is their right to do that but the tree has no rights. The river by my house, covered and sided up by concrete, also has no rights. It isn’t okay to plant trees where people don’t want them, either. It isn’t okay to try to create a viable world for our grandkids.

I think CoVID-19 is a wake-up call for us to realize that we cannot do ‘business-as-usual’ anymore. We HAVE TO change, or we will fail, big time. But how to change?

Today I found a plant I had never seen before. It had been cut down and was growing out of its stump with the most beautiful leaves. I’m sure whoever hurt it didn’t care, and just wanted to make more room in their unused parking lot. Changing is taking baby steps. Opening our minds to new ways of thinking. Refusing to follow those who tell us that “this is the way we have always done it” or “this is the way business will prosper,” because business will not prosper long term and neither will any of us if we don’t change, NOW. Small actions count!! Let’s begin doing little things, thinking about things differently, and the world will change, one person at a time, one community at a time, one city at a time, one country at a time…

So if I would like to make a little Earth Day Wish, it would be for you, the reader, to do something small this week for the natural world. Whether it be planting some edible tree seeds, making a nest box, labeling some wild plants, stop using weed-killer and weeding (cut them and do mulching, cover them with cardboard and compost and plant species you want instead), de-investing in bad companies, donating to a trusted natural cause, sharing an article, making a bird bath, planting a tree in a parking lot, or destroying some concrete and replacing it with something else, or another warm-hearted action. I hope you can do it for yourself, your children, and the world around you.

Look at the little cow I found in the bathroom!!

I found the cutest tiny cow in the bathroom!! Just kidding! He was a bat, but from the front, he looks just like a little cow to me!!

Bina, my kitty, had been acting funny all evening, looking at the ceiling and pacing, but I couldn’t find anything unusual. Then, as I was getting ready for bed, I went into the bathroom and she jumped on the toilet to try to get to something at the top corner of the window… It was a little bat! I grabbed her, and as I did, it swooped down on us, and then fell on the floor, apparently in deep shock. I put Bina in a room, got a towel, and picked him up ever so gently. He was so light, his little body giving off heat, and breathing heavily. I put him outside in the plants, lightly wrapped for warmth, and went to see what to do about a bat in winter. I found that bats hybernate in the winter. But he had come awake, so I was worried. I tried to make a makeshift bat house for him on the fly, but by the time I got back outside, he had flown off. I hope he’s okay. He was a dear little thing.

Now I have to go out and get some materials to make a bat house. After all the videos and websites I found last night, I realized that they aren’t hard to make, and I already provide water for the birds, so they would have water to drink. With that, and a safe place to put it, where it will get plenty of sun (because they need warmth), the bats will have a nice place to live (not our walls — so that was what we were hearing a month ago all through the house!) and will keep the mosquitoes away in the summer.

How and Why to make a bat house by the National Wildlife Federation