Thursday, February 11, 2021

冬去春又来 - Spring 2021

The winter of 2020 is very long... One could hardly see the faint gleam of light at the end of the tunnel, the ending of pandemic. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, ... and Spring. Four seasons alternate, but my heart remains on tenterhooks.

T.S. Eliot said in his poem East Coker: wait without hope.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith 
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. 
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: 
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Look at these winter buds... Spring can wait. 

(Source: Instagram account, winterbuds0123)







不加思索地等待吧, 因为你没有做好思索的准备,



是的呢,自然力的一切都是悄悄、慢慢,有节奏地往前走。知道离暖和的春天还有些日子,但迎面的风已变得温柔,我们已在春天里, 这就安心了。

(Source: Instagram account, winterbuds0123)

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Nature of Reality -- 山光澄我心



        (Photo was taken in Uji, Kyodo, Japan, May 2019)

2020 is an eventful year, for the world, for America, also for myself. The lockdown life continues, and the light at the end of the tunnel remains dim. Since AFA, I have been staying at home for almost eleven months, taking care of a toddler and elderly parents, moving, handling all kinds of house chores, teaching, and struggling to find time for research and a little personal space. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I, like many others, were nervous, scared, and overreacting. Then we started to embrace the reality, modifying our life styles and taking the abnormality as the new normality. My family luckily moved into a house from a two-bedroom condo in the summer, and the increased physical space significantly helped alleviate the difficulties encountered during the lockdown, in particular it made it possible that I can teach online in an undisturbed room. However, I started to feel anxious and distressed for unknown reasons after a few months in lockdown. 

The anxiety is most likely the ramifications of cumulative pressure, the misbalance of life and work, the lack of face-to-face interactions with friends, and a long time being stranded at home. The extension of external space helps but its role is limited. Fundamentally, the solution can only be sought after internally. 

                   (raking in Japanese rock garden)

Being aware of my anxiety, I started a series of dialogues with my self, asking questions and hoping to find the answers of some if not all: What do I feel at the moment? What am I eager to do? What makes me stressed and what brings me joy? One thing I endeavor to is to make spaces that restore the humanity, particularly in the confined space of lockdown life. To regain stillness in one's kokoro (literally "spirit, heat, and mind"), to calmly return to oneself, only nature can offer the space to feel such grace. I thus embarked on a project to design and build a garden for my new home. 

        (Stone basin, an element in Japanese garden)

The objective is to create space, both physical and mental, for meditation and contemplation within the chaos of daily pandemic life. For me, the garden is a special spiritual place where the mind dwells. -- a place to leave behind the information-laden contemporary world and to spend time with my own thoughts, searching for truth and serenity.  

Every morning, I start my day by sweeping the garden and raking the gravel. Such a physical work is part of mindful practice, named samu in the Zen Buddhism. The meditative act of samu, despite involving physical activity, is not so different from the seated form of meditation known as zazen. For both forms of meditation, the goal is to free the mind of worldly cares and celebrate a life directed toward the concrete thing--activities of everyday life.

    (The expected garden in the summer; currently there are no flowers or flowering trees)

Still, anxiety and distress comes and goes. Soon to enter the midlife, I indeed expect distresses together with challenges and difficulties will happen more often in the near future. My parents are getting old, and my mother suffered a severe sciatica in the past a few weeks. In addition to my many roles, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a teacher, and a researcher, I began to take another role as a doctor to help my mother to recover, with my knowledge and years of studies in a traditional Chinese medicine therapy, moxibustion (艾灸). 

Helping others is my second therapy to deal with anxiety, in addition to getting close to nature. Shifting attention from my own world to others, especially those in need, my life suddenly is full of meaning. There is something in the world that I can do for others, -- even to have this idea in mind makes me so motivated. 

Before the pandemic, I have packed my schedule so intensely that I have little time to think about others --- except my essential duty as a mother, I devote most time in self improvement, advancing the career and learning new knowledge and skills. Due to the pandemic, I have lived with my parents for more than 18 months, the first time to live together for such a long time since I was 18 years old, leaving home for college. Thanks to the COVID-incurred family reunion, I get the chance to enter the everyday life of my parents, taking them to see doctors and to do dental treatment, trying to enrich their lives in lockdown, finding for my father suitable English classes to take, ordering him the painting kit, preparing their tax forms, and so on. On the surface, it seems like I am helping them; but indeed this process helps me restore my humanity and become a better human being. 

On her birthday over the Thanksgiving weekend, I cooked a duck soup and presented the soup in blue-and-white porcelain and the white rice in the Japanese red lacquer bowl. She said, "It is so delicious. I haven't eaten such a good meal for a long time." Her smiles and words made me happy. 

Pandemic life continues...The foreseeable future will have more challenges. But the next time I feel distressed again, I probably will know how to get out of the darkness: getting closer to nature, and making time and effort for others. This is what the pandemic experience has taught me. 

I named my new house Jo-An, 如庵. Though an identical name as the famous Japanese teahouse, its true meaning for me is more in line with the Pali word, yatha-bhuta, literally, seeing reality "as it is".

(The name of the house, extracted from Chinese calligraphy)

Like what the Diamond Sutra has said, "All things contrived are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble and a shadow, and as dew and lightning. Thus they should be regarded as such." Success or failure, glory or obscurity, happiness or sadness, all is impermanent. Impermanent are all compounded things. When one perceives this with true insight, then one becomes detached from suffering; this is the path of purification. 

 一切有為法.如夢幻泡影.如露亦如電.應作如是觀. ── 金剛經

                                (My angel, Grace)                                                                                                                                                               
Photographed by Jennie Bai.
                       Copyright ©Jennie Bai. All Rights Reserved.