Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nature's Paradox

Three weeks ago the late winter sun splashed its brilliance across the Kanazawa sky. I walked home extra slow that day.

Two weeks ago I opened my curtains to let in the morning, and a white heron skirted past my window. It left me breathless.

One week ago a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit the Tohoku region of Japan. Shortly afterwards, tsunami waves over 20 meters in height hurled themselves onto the land. Shock turned to fear. Fear turned to sadness. Sadness turned to compassion.

Yesterday morning a swallow followed me to work, dancing to the rhythm of its tweets. I gave myself permission to smile.

I’m confounded by the paradox of nature—simultaneously playful and dangerous, continually giving and taking life.

Today the air smells of melted snow and new earth. Spring has come. The weight of wool clothes and whipping winds has lifted. I'm liberated.

I'm also chained. 
Chained to the news. Every day the death toll rises. Every day more people are displaced.

For Japan, spring has ushered in new shoots and the promise of pink, but these gifts of nature cannot easily be received in customary celebration.

“I’m sending food to my family in Yokohama.”
“My friend in Chiba is trying to leave, but the trains are full. She’ll have to wait another week. She has a baby, so she’s worried about radiation.”
“I feel guilty hoarding canned food and bottled water, but I’m afraid.”
“I’m angry at the government.”
“The Japanese media is hiding the truth.”
“The situation isn’t getting any worse.”
“Do you want to go back to your country?”
“I’m thankful for the help of the US military.”
“Will people stop buying Japanese goods because they are worried about contamination?”
“I’m moved by the generosity and humanitarian efforts put forth by so many people to help Japan.”
“We will rebuild.”

*            *            *

Cherry blossom buds continue to stretch and grow.
Soil is turned inside out.
The cycle of the seasons.
An old woman hobbles past kids playing ball in the street.
The cycle of a generation.

I inhale everything and sweep my arms up to the sky. I exhale everything and bend forward. Elongate my spine. Hinge and fold. Step back into downward dog.

More than ever I use my yoga to cultivate peace and radiate compassion.

When I give to Japan, I’m also thanking Japan for its many gifts to me.

*            *            *

If you want to help Japan with relief efforts, please visit these links:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's sakura!!

The pink has descended on Japan.
As the country prepares for sakura, or the infamous spring cherry blossoms, a pink commercial explosion introduces…



school uniforms:

I never thought I’d embrace a color most girls in America are pigeonholed into accepting. “It’s a girl” is code for, “Now I can buy that adorable pink pajama set.”

I used to run from pink like it was the devil.

“Oh, I don’t want it. It’s pink.”
“Do you by any chance have this in another color?”
“It’s too pink for my liking.”
“I’d take purple over pink any day.”
“It looks like a flamingo threw up in here!”

But in Japan, pink is a gender-neutral color.

It’s the color of spring.
The color that marks the end of snowy days and frigid nights.
The color that cracks a smile on everyone’s winter mask.

Most kids know how to say pink before they can say hello. It’s a friendly color that can warm timid children to a scary looking English teacher putting on her silly face in a desperate attempt to win their affection.

“Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes...”
“A, B, C, D, E, F, G…”
“One little, two little, three little elephants…four little five little six little elephants…”

Blank stares.
A tighter grip on Mommy’s leg.
Wrinkled faces.
The quiver of a tear.

Oh no, this isn’t going so well…

…time for pink…

And I whip out the old color flashcards. Like a magnet, the kids hurl forward toward pink. They start to smile. They start to high-five me back and detach from their parents. I look into their eyes, and I know I’ve won them over.

*            *            *

The sun sets a little later these days. 

Today I went for a walk without a jacket. I walked along my favorite river path thinking about my past seven months in Japan.

Thinking about the victims of the recent earthquake and all the kindness and generosity the world is showing toward them.

Suddenly, I hear a voice.
“SUGOI !!!!!!!”
You only need to spend one day in Japan to know what this means…
I look up. A family of three is pointing at what looks like an ordinary tree. I wait for them to leave before I take a closer look.

There before my very eyes are the first rosy buds of a sakura tree.

Stretching toward the sun.
Lengthening against the last winds of winter.
My heart leaps at their lovely color pink.

The sakura are coming!! The sakura are coming!! I’m five again.

And I skip into spring.

To learn more about the cultural significance of the cherry blossom in Japan, visit the link below to begin your research, or just read any book about sakura. Happy discovering!