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.

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The Beauty of Imperfection

“Where there is perfection, there is no story to tell.” – Ben Okri

South Korea leads the world in numbers of plastic surgeries. I’m not going to lie – as a new mom, still getting used to my new body and appearance (and oftentimes being covered in baby spit, etc.), I find comfort in this fact as I walk around Seoul noticing how incredibly gorgeous everyone is. But my own vanity and insecurities aside, the popularity of plastic surgery in a predominantly Buddhist country is an interesting thing to reconcile. I’m still pondering how a drive towards perfection in some things can coexist so comfortably with Buddhist ideals of non-attachment. I imagine it is something that will perplex me for quite some time.

But it gets me thinking about perfection and it’s opposite, imperfection. The above quote by Ben Okri is so true, I find. We learn and communicate through storytelling and the stories that really resonate with us are the ones that show the evolution of a person from flawed  to instructed to improved. We love to watch this happen over and over again. And though our beloved characters never come out the other side perfect, they are indeed better than when we first met them. Ready to face the next instruction life has for them. I think we love these types of stories because that is how life is. We make mistakes, we learn, we grow.

Of course, we are also drawn to fairy tales. Fairy tales don’t usually begin with perfection (quite the opposite, in fact) but they usually end perfectly. They lived happily ever after, and all the rest. At the end of a fairy tale, then end is really THE END. The story is over.  But as we age and gain more experience in life, fairy tales start to lose their luster. Sure we still like to indulge ourselves, perhaps as a bit of an escape, but I don’t think fairy tales touch us as deeply the older we get. They are just that … tales. Things we know do not happen in real life. And thank goodness for that! Imagine if life became tidy and perfect. How would we grow? How would we evolve without imperfection?

Having said that, embracing imperfections is not easy. If it were, the whole world would be much more at ease. Instead many of us try to erase them through any means available to us.  But, we cannot grow in love of our self and others if we hate any part of our self, which means that embracing our imperfections is really the only way to move past or through them.  Yoga teaches us that where attention goes, energy flows.  If we use all of our attention to try to scrub ourselves of that which makes us imperfect (i.e. real and human) then all of our energy is wasted on a hopeless pursuit. Why not turn our attention towards what we love about ourselves? What if we focus less on what we don’t like and more on what we do like?

Our Yoga practice is a great place to start. On the mat, we are often faced head-on with our imperfections in body and mind. Each time we are, we have a choice. Do we start down the slippery slope of negative self-talk, focusing on everything we perceive as wrong with us? Or do compassionately observe the ways in which our bodies can move and the way our mind can become clear and calm if only for small moments at a time? Do we focus on where we can’t yet go or on how far we’ve come?

The stories that are truly beautiful and touching are not the ones that end in “happily ever after”, but rather those that end with change and growth and the implication that this evolution will continue.

And they all lived and learned as best they could ever after…

Embracing and finding the beauty in my imperfections is what I’m working on right now, dear yogis. How about you?