As I write this post Cardi B is defending her new WAP video that is igniting a fever of objections disproportionate to any leveled at the misogynistic and sexually explicit lyrics and images of male rap performers. Kamala Harris is chosen to be Joe Biden’s running mate however her strengths are sidelined by a flurry of the same timeless terms of denigration used to belittle female strengths throughout history. She is “Nasty”, “Unpleasant” and dares to not smile accommodatingly and stroke the ego of every male who disagrees with her. Women are losing their jobs at a much higher rate than men in COVID times. This is partially due to their higher representation in the lower paid service industry professions that are hardest hit by the pandemic, and also because the family workload has never been equally shared despite most women working outside the home. A disparity simply highlighted by the pandemic.Continue reading
The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
The residents of the small southern Japanese island of Okinawa seem to have found the fountain of youth. It is not that they do not age. They do. In fact more people live to be centenarians here than anywhere else on earth. However, it is the quality as well as the quantity of the years lived that stand out on this idyllic island paradise. Study of the health, happiness, and meaning that these people experience in their lives promises to shed insight on how we could all be living longer, and more joyfully.
The key to living as well as Okinawans revolves around a concept called ikigai (or life purpose). It is finding your ikigai and living under it’s direction that is the focus of Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles’ book entitled Ikigai.
The core concept of ikigai is outlined in this leisurely read, along with the food, activity, and lifestyle approaches that flow from this basic philosophy of living a meaningful life. Okinawans believe that to thrive one must first uncover their life purpose, or ikigai. To determine your personal ikigai you assess what skills you possess, what the world needs, what you love to do, and what you can be paid for. Somewhere in the overlap of these four things lies your personal ikigai.
Ikigai is an attractive little book that holds much wisdom, ranging from such practical advice as hara hachbu (only fill your stomach 80% when you eat), and never retire, to more subtle lifestyle tips for giving thanks and living in the moment.
There is a Japanese saying that it is only by being active that one would want to live to be 100. Maybe so, but our exhausted, stressed-out western culture is evidence that not all activity is equal. Maybe by bringing some ikigai into our lives we can all learn to live as well as the Okinawans.
What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?
This famous paradoxical riddle is one of the many legendary historical zen references in Alan Spence’s biography of the illustrious Zen Master, Hakuin. These riddles, or koans, are used to illustrate the limitation of logical reasoning, and in turn trigger enlightenment when one meditates on them with sincerity, and intensity. Hakuin taught that every life experience was a koan of some form. This story of his life is inextricably woven into an exposition of zen art and poetry, portrayed against the backdrop of the enchanting Mount Fuji, and the bustling activity of the Tokaido, the famed walkway between Tokyo and Kyoto.
The book begins with Hakuin as a scared, spiritually thirsty child struggling with a terror of hellfire and brimstone. Encouraged by his devoted mother he chooses a zen path despite his father’s objections.
His journey meanders through the many struggles of his seeking years as an earnest young monk, eventually arriving at his colorful twilight as the world’s most renowned and influencial zen instructor.
Alan Spence skillfully blends the man, the time and the teachings into a breathtaking zen tapestry. For those interested in learning more about the practice of zen this well-researched book provides a multi-faced exposure in the form of Hakuin’s many teachers, experiences, zen poetry and artwork. Lovers of Japanese aesthetic and history will feel as if they have just taken a stroll down the Tokaido.
Cast aside your hazy robe
And show me your snowy skin.
Truly Profound Yogic Silliness
As I prepare to spend the Summer in the Himalayas where the seat of the Tibetan government is in exile I felt compelled to re-read Terry Pratchet’s comedic take on Buddhist traditions, Thief of Time. I know what you might be thinking, but in my defense I also watched Kundun (the life of the Dalai Lama) and read a lovely book by his holiness as well. These more sober activities were educational for sure, however Pratchet’s ridiculous and hilarious take on humanity, with a dab of Buddhist (kinda) philosophy, partially set in a monastery (sorta), was, hands down, the most fun part of setting the tone for my travels. As with most of Mr. Pratchett’s books it is as profound and truthful as it is ludicrous.
I have been in a love affair with Pratchett’s Discworld series for years but never thought to recommend one on my blog since the yoga focus seemed to make it a bit off topic. Yet, having pulled this book out in anticipation of being surrounded by Buddhist teachings this year I began to think back on all the other times I have also brought up these books in lighter Yoga Teacher Training discussions. I finally decided that to dismiss the yoga in these comedic works would do a disservice to the message of laughing Buddhas everywhere. Who said that joy could not be had in the yogic quest to find our own true nature?
When Terry Pratchett died in 2015, I was hit by the most intense celebrity-loss grief of my life. It was at first an immensely selfish grief, as I came to terms with the reality of never again starting a new Terry Pratchett book….ever. I have since however settled into a healthier place of gratitude for the many hours of pleasure that his books have brought, and continue to bring on every re-read (a bit of a lesson in aparigraha or non-grasping in here for sure).
For those who have never read a Terry Pratchett book I will attempt to give you a bit of an idea of what to expect. The fact that you would find him in the Sci-fi/fantasy section of your local book store would be somewhat illuminating, however not the full story. His books are indeed littered with witches, dwarfs, vampires, and pretty much every other fantastical creature you have ever read about. There is also a whole cast of, let’s call them “interesting”, human beings. These characters are not the point however, Pratchett was obviously a student of eastern philosophy and human folly, his books are unerringly intelligent societal and philosophical commentary that somehow also never deviates from the main goal of being laugh out loud absurd.
With a house overflowing with yoga practice and philosophy books in a to-be-read cue, his books have been the only non-fiction I have allowed myself to read in years. They make me laugh out loud, they make me think, they make me not want to put them down even on the 3rd or 4th read. In fact, when I need a work break I often pull out a random Terry Pratchet Book and start reading wherever it falls open.
If you decide to read this book as a yogi, look forward to the most interesting (and non-traditional) take on Tibetan prayer wheels and the monastic lifestyle that you have ever read, as well as the funniest and most spot-on insight into what it might be like for non-corporeal energy to learn the ins and out of residing inside a physical body (think purusha to ahmkara for students of yoga philosophy). If this is your first Terry Pratchett book I cannot tell you how envious I am that you will be getting to read it for the first time.
And finally, best of all, the book even lends itself appropriate to be read with an open box of very high quality chocolate at your side. You won’t understand what I mean until you read, but it will not hurt to be prepared. If you are reading in St. John’s I recommend a dark box from NL Chocolate with lots of George Street and Longs Hills, or Purdy’s maple creams if you are out west, or Anne’s Dairy creams if you in P.E.I
….or (while I wouldn’t do it this way) you could just read the book.