Lessons Abroad – Part III – There Will Always Be More Sunrises

When I was doing my yoga teacher training, I had the privilege of studying alongside a woman from Portland, Oregon named Cory. She

The sun rises over The Land of The Morning Calm

The sun rises over The Land of The Morning Calm

was about my mother’s age, but the similarities stopped there. On our last night of teacher training I invited her to come watch the “last sunset” with all of us and she said, “Is this the last sunset? There will always be more sunsets, but if you’d like me to share this one with you, I will”.

I thought of this as I watched the sunrise this morning. Our apartment, which we have now moved out of, was west-facing and we used to watch the sunset over the mountains. The hotel we’re staying in until we fly on Saturday is east-facing, so we’ve traded sunsets for sunrises for our last few days here. As I watched the sky go from purple to orange to blue I heard myself thinking, “One of our last sunrises.” And it is one of the last sunrises I’ll see in Korea, but of course, it is not the last sunrise I’ll ever see. Even if it were, the sun would go on rising and setting without me.

Cory’s wisdom came flooding back. The world, the universe, keeps moving in it’s rhythm. Life goes on as it always has and as it always will. We’ve been gone for three years and this has been true about life back home. Our friends and family have changed and grown, through both circumstance and choice. And life here in Korea has been humming along. The changes we’ve undergone as individuals and as a family have been huge.

Our time here has been so special and I have cherished it so much. I have to remember that all of the learning and growth and change will continue, no matter where we are. A lot of what we’ve experienced and learned has been because of where we are, but not all of it. And the human experience is much more common and similar than geographical boundaries, cultural differences, and language barriers would have us believe.

Humans are far more alike than they are different, and we all watch the same sun rise and set. There will always be more sunrises.

Namaste, yogis.

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Lessons Abroad – Part II – Social Harmony

Nine days to go! Now that the movers have come and gone and we are 3281330927_d5fd02d9ab_oliving out of suitcases and sleeping on air mattresses, the impending move is becoming much more real and I am closer to making my peace with it.

One of the things I’ve been reflecting on quite a bit, as I prepare to return to the land of individualism, is the Korean emphasis on social harmony. Having been born in a country that is defined by it’s emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, this has been quite an eye-opening experience.

Korean culture is changing rapidly, so who knows what it might look like in 25 years? For now, though, it is still very rooted in Confucian principles, the entire goal of which is social harmony. Ideally this means that every interaction and choice is framed within the question: what will create the most harmonious outcome?

While the benefits of this are many, there are also some drawbacks. There is a great deal of emphasis on the common good, which benefits everyone immensely. The flip side is, there isn’t much space for individual expression or carving out a new way. It can be done, but with a great deal of resistance.

But I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of the way Korean society organizes itself. I can only speak to the way it has impacted me and the way I see the world and operate in it. And while before coming here I considered myself as someone who made an effort to be aware of the common good and to always operate from this ethical point of view, existing in a society where it is practiced almost without exception, I have become aware of how much room there is for improvement.

For me, the word harmony is really key. While conflict should not always be avoided, it sometimes can and should be. I recently saw somewhere the phrase, “You don’t have to attend every argument to which you are invited.” I’ll be the first to admit that I have a tendency to be argumentative and confrontational, when perhaps this isn’t necessary or helpful. It’s been easy to justify this by saying I’m just expressing myself, or standing up for myself, or being who I am. Notice the theme? Me, me, me, I, I, I, myself, myself, myself.

Of course, the answer never lies in one or the other, but a balance of both. Choosing harmony and peace whenever possible and knowing when we need to assert ourselves and stand our ground; this is a tricky balance. One I’m working towards, bit by bit.

Namaste, yogis.

New Beginnings

It’s New Year’s Eve here in Asia, dear yogis. I cannot believe I will be bidding 2013 adieu in mere hours (assuming I can stay awake).

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

My mother promised me that time would speed up as I got older and she was right, but this year seems to have come and gone even faster than she warned me. This makes me wonder if I spent too much of this year looking backwards and forwards rather than being in the moment, and I suspect I already know the answer. Time flies both when you are having fun and when you are not present. I suppose a fair share of both were part of my year.

The arrival of 2014 is especially significant to me because this is the year, the one that seemed so far away three years ago, in which we are leaving Korea and returning Stateside. And this is happening a month sooner than we expected, in a mere 6 weeks.

As I’d hoped, I’ve had many adventures and learned oh so many lessons, all of which I plan on writing about in the coming weeks. For now I just want to acknowledge the alphabet soup of emotions as I reflect on our impending departure. I feel sad and excited and wholly unprepared, among other things. Most of all, I’m grateful to have had this experience and these very memorable years.

More soon.

Happy New Year, yogis! Wishing you a healthy, joyful, and peaceful 2014, full of new beginnings.

Downward Facing Peekaboo

April 15 was my one year anniversary of living in Korea.  Try as I might, I simply cannot believe we’ve been here that long. If it weren’t for the physical evidence of the littlest yogi being less than 8 weeks shy of his first birthday, I may be able to deny it altogether. I love living here and am very comfortable in many ways, but in other ways am still completely clueless. It seems I should know or understand more about this country. And what I wouldn’t give to be able to communicate more fully. If it weren’t for that darn baby! He takes up all my time! Thank goodness we have a few more years which will bring many more opportunities for learning.

Reflecting on this first year, I may not have gained all of the knowledge that I desire, but I have most certainly learned some very important lessons. Lessons in letting go, lessons in humility, lessons in adaptability, lessons in patience … honestly the list could go on and on.

One of the lessons I am most grateful for, and one that would have been learned no matter where I was this past year, is the importance of play. I consider myself a pretty easy-going person, but I’m not terribly playful. This past year has given me some time to a) accept that about myself, rather than despise it, which I have done in the past, b) figure out why I value playfulness and why I don’t seem to be playful, and c) give myself the space to explore playing. A little Yogi certainly helps with all of this.

Downward Facing Peekaboo

Downward Facing Peekaboo

The Hindu deity Hanuman, depicted as a monkey, is described in Hindu scripture as mischievous and playful. Interestingly, his namesake posture, Hanumanasana (the splits) feels not at all playful. Not for this yogini anyway. More like torture. Or at least, that’s how I used to feel. I made a decision, when practicing Hanumanasana, that I would only go as far in the pose as I could while still being able to enjoy a good belly laugh. At first, this meant barely getting into the pose at all, as my smile would usually disappear as soon as I moved past a runner’s stretch. But, little by little, I’m getting deeper and deeper into the pose. My hips and hamstrings are releasing, and the laughter is coming much easier. I’m still a far way from the fullest expression of the pose, but the feelings I have associated with it have completely shifted. And more importantly, every time I begin to move into Hanumanasana, I have a good laugh and am reminded of the necessity of play.

My son is at the age where he mimics everything I do, so when I laugh, he laughs. When I am playful and joyous, he is playful and joyous. There are times to be serious, of course, but the realization that I have been taking myself a bit too seriously has been a profound one. One of the great things about Hanuman is that even with his playful, silly and mischievous nature, he is also incredibly powerful. He was reminded by Jambavantha:

 

You are powerful as the wind;

You are intelligent, illustrious and an inventor.

There is nothing in this world that is too difficult for you;

Whenever stuck, you are the one who can help.

Reading that, it is exactly the message I’d like to impart to my son and to myself.  I can’t teach it to him if I don’t believe it is true for me. Especially the part about knowing that when you are stuck, you have what is necessary within to get unstuck. Sometimes this means being serious, but as I’m learning, often times, getting unstuck is simply a matter of letting go and having a good belly laugh.

Namaste, yogis and yoginis!

I Change, therefore I Grieve

In 1991, the Grief Resource Foundation of Dallas, Texas found that, for them, a good working and practical definition of Grief was “the total response of the organism to the process of change”. Or, if you’re into equations, Change=Loss=Grief.

As a Yogini, I find this definition makes perfect sense to me. In our Yoga practice, particularly asana, we are doing the work of accepting and moving through change. We learn that the nature of all things is that they change. This lesson is reinforced as we move through our physical practice, changing our bodies breath to breath. Our bodies are the metaphor for everything in the external world – ever evolving.

We are all familiar with the emotions that can bubble up during a Yoga practice.  Before we get to the good stuff – the bliss – we often feel what can be described as discomfort, unease, frustration, perhaps anger, maybe even queasiness. Could these be grief? What if we saw our practice as a means to grieve the loss we are experiencing because of the changes that are occurring as a result of our dedicated practice? Notice, the definition of grief does not specify what kind of change. Just change. Positive or negative, all changes require us to let go of whatever was there before. Loss. We lose whatever our idea of reality was before we adopt a new reality.

So do we allow ourselves the space to grieve our losses, not only in our Yoga practice, but in our life? So often there is a negative connotation to the word grief but perhaps if we shift our perspective. If we apply some equanimity and begin to see grief as simply a part of change. It is good that we lose some things as we change. What if we had to hold on to everything we ever gathered, physically or otherwise? We’d be very weighed down!

In my own personal practice  I’ve been working with this – allowing myself space to grieve that which is changing. For me, it has been a very powerful exercise. It has helped me to be more focused, more aware of what I’m feeling, and ultimately, more compassionate. Grief and loss, like all emotions, are just part of the experience. By accepting and moving through them, rather than resisting, we enhance our entire experience of life.

(Change=Loss=Grief)+(practice +acceptance) = Compassion=Love=Oneness