The Monsoon

The monsoon, or changma as it is called here, is winding down. We had a few weeks of 20130731-135733.jpgalmost nonstop rain, and have now experienced a few days with some spots of sun. Weeks ago when we were all going bonkers from being locked up in the house for days on end, I was desperately wishing for the monsoon to end. Now that it does seem to be nearing its conclusion, though, I feel a bit sad, unready to let it go. It could be that this will be my last monsoon season here in Korea and that I am not likely to experience this kind of torrential rain ever again. Or it could be something more.

Before the monsoon begins, the entire peninsula is enveloped in a heat that can only be described as oppressive, a heat that is made less bearable by living in a densely populated urban environment. (Fresh air? What’s that?) Then the rains start and the peninsula is enveloped in -wait for it – more heat with the added bonus of air so thick and humid you think it may choke you. The rain provides zero relief from the heat and only exacerbates the physical discomfort of existing.  And yet, it is quite beautiful and somehow still refreshing. Everything feels cleaner and fresher, even if you yourself are rather smellier.

Gashmuit is a Hasidic concept meaning serving God through the physical or material world. The word comes from geshem, a Hebrew word for heavy rain. To use rain to encompass the physical and material, as opposed to the spiritual, does not seem an obvious choice. Rain is not solid like earth or rock. It is, literally, fluid and difficult to harness, in many ways not unlike wind (the base of the word used to describe the spiritual world). But rain we can see, we can feel, we can smell, we can taste.  And rain does have a heaviness to it. Not in the individual rain drops, of course, but in it’s cumulative effect and in it’s capacity to completely soak you in minutes. You can’t outrun it, you can’t escape it, and when it is ready to fall, it will fall. It must be taken seriously, even though you really can’t get your hands on it.

If you think of monsoon rains as something that you cannot control in any way but can have complete and utter control over you, it is perhaps a very fitting symbol for the physical world.

When the rain stops, Seoul will be spotted with lush greenery. The yellow dust that blows through in early summer will have settled. Every body and every thing will be ready to soak up some sun in preparation for a very cold winter. The monsoon will have cleansed and nourished the Earth and reminded us of just how powerful and fierce Nature can be.

So much of our time is spent trying to control, manage, and change physical reality. When we, instead, make an effort to live in harmony with Nature, it settles the dust that clouds our minds and hearts, cleanses and purifies us, and nourishes us for growth.

The last few months have been a time of intense emotional experience for me and I have craved clarity and new beginnings. Perhaps it is this craving that makes me feel unready to let go of the rain just yet. But I have been nourished, through my practice, through my relationships, through my internal rain, and when the rain stops, I will be well-prepared and nourished for growth.

The Abundance and Simplicity of Nature

The moment when planet Earth reaches its maximum axial tilt toward the sun is just a few days away.  Though we think of the summer solstice as something that occurs on a day (21 June, this year) it actually only lasts a single and fleeting moment. After the moment passes, the hours of daylight, having reached their longest length, will again begin to shrink towards their shortest length come winter.

Summer solstice is said to be all about abundance, nature, and fertility. This past weekend we visited a garden just outside of Seoul with over 50,000 species of flowering plants and it felt as though we were drunk on summer. Surrounded by all those blooms and the creatures the blooms attract, including humans, it felt as if Nature was indeed abundant and fertile, overflowing unto itself. The air was thick and hot and heavy, the blooms were fragrant, and the sun was bright. It was gorgeous.

 

20130619-123716.jpgWe walked through the garden and literally took time to stop and smell the flowers. It was so incredibly nourishing to be outside, surrounded by the beauty of  nature, and it felt as though Nature was generously offering us this beautiful gift of summer; a feast for the eyes and the nose. And perhaps the fact that we know it is fleeting, that we’ll have to wait another year to see the Earth in such bloom, makes us appreciate it even more.

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Many long-time yoga practitioners will tell you that the more in tune they are with the rhythms of Nature, the more abundant their lives become.  I think we tend to associate the word abundance with excess. To have an abundance of something often means to have too much. But summer very beautifully demonstrates that abundance is not complicated. The Earth explodes with an abundance of life and yet it is quite simple. Water, soil, sun, and as little interference from humans as possible. That’s it. The less we interfere with nature, the more we can enjoy abundance and simplicity. And isn’t that what we all say we want, for life to be simple?

I recently read a great quote:

The longing for simplicity is a spiritual longing. Asking physical things to meet spiritual needs does not work.

We crave simplicity and dread complication (or at least we want to) because it is the way of nature and we are always more in tune with the spirit when we are in tune with nature. Spending our summer working at a slower pace, taking time to enjoy the abundance of the Earth, and simply being in nature is spiritually fulfilling in a way that no amount of physical things ever could be.

So, I wish you all a beautiful, spiritually-fulfilling, and utterly unproductive and simple summer, as well as abundance and joy.

Namaste, yogis.

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Renewal

Spring greetings, yogis and yoginis!

Here in South Korea, spring has sprung. We went to the 50th annual Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival this past Friday and it was gorgeous.

These pillowy, ethereal blossoms are a stunning notification that springtime has arrived and a powerful reminder of the fleeting nature of all things. Just as quickly as the trees explode into blossom, the white and pink petals fall to the earth, the spectacular show over. At least until next year.

For many Asians, the cherry blossoms are the ultimate metaphor for Life. For Koreans, there is a mixture of joy and sorrow each springtime when the trees begin to blossom. For them the trees are not only a reminder of the beautiful and fleeting nature of all things, but also of a dark period in their nation’s history. Most of the cherry trees in Korea were planted by the Japanese during their occupation of the peninsula. For many years after the liberation from Japanese rule, the trees were cut down, seen as invaders. Recently, though, botanists have discovered that the cherry trees that were planted by the Japanese were a species that originated in Korea. They had been taken from Korea to Japan and then back again when the Japanese planted them as a means to claim land. This discovery has helped to heal the wound somewhat, though it is still a sore subject for many.

Despite all this, the Koreans still celebrate the blossoms. No matter how they got here, they are beautiful and powerful symbols of renewal and hope. The Koreans’ ability to sit with these very layered feelings and to celebrate nonetheless is something I deeply admire.

As we walked around Jinhae and Changwon, taking in the cherry blossoms, the forsythia, and the magnolias, there was a warm spring breeze, bright blue skies, and that wonderful smell of spring that carries with it the promise of longer days, warmer temperatures, and a world bursting into color.

For many of us this time of year coincides with a religious tradition as well. Whether that tradition be Christian, Jewish, Pagan, or otherwise,  all are centered on renewal, resurrection, hope, liberation and the new beginnings that spring from those things.

In our asana practice, each time we end our practice with savasana, we are meditating on these very same things. As we lie on our mat, dead to the world around us, we let go of all of the things we have gathered and are carrying with us. We let go of our expectations, our worries, and our identities. For those moments we simply exist as our essential, stripped-down self. We become like the cherry tree that has gone deep within during the winter months, gathering energy from the Earth, preparing for the rebirth and renewal that will happen come springtime. It is this shedding, this letting go, that readies us for the growth ahead.

As we slowly allow our consciousness to return, gently awakening from savasana, we make our way back to an upright position. We are resurrected from our dead state, and from this place of bareness, or newness, we can blossom.

We have risen. We have risen, indeed.

At least until the next time we step on our mats, and then the beautiful cycle starts all over again.

Wishing all of you a joyful spring and blessed holidays.