Wednesday, October 30, 2013

shibuya crossing: another unlikely meeting place


Immortalized in many an artistic photograph and film moment, Tokyo’s iconic pedestrian crossing in Shibuya can amaze, thrill and mortify with its density of the pedestrians pounding through the 5-way crossing. I’ve been told that on one heavy crossing you could have a million people pass through there. Now, even to one so poor with numbers such as myself, that seems highly improbably, but seeing myself the thickness of the human traffic, I can imagine that it is possible. Regardless of the numbers, one cannot deny the fact that it’s a staggeringly large amount of people, all with a mission, all moving towards some destination and, for one moment in time, they converge to cross one of Japan’s busiest intersections, swift flowing rivers of human walking bodies.

This is the backdrop of my last jaw dropping coinkidink, so utterly random, so brilliant in its timing that I can’t help but smile at the universe’s continued blessings and good humor. Because this is where I met my friend Taeko, whilst crossing the street.

This might not sound very impressive at this point, so let me backtrack…

It’s Day One in Tokyo after a rather relaxed two months and a bit in Kansai region’s Osaka, a big city, but after sometime a manageable one--very orderly except for some “unruly” pedestrian and cyclists (I being one of them, for a brief period of time). If Osaka is a big city, then Tokyo is a monster one. Everything is amplified: the buildings, the subway system, the advertising, the business signage, the noise, the people…

I was feeling a bit jolted out of my comfort zones, I was missing the easy pace and wholesome energy of Kansai. Previously, I was in peaceful and green Kyoto, enjoying lovely bike rides in the city, visiting temples, gardens and shrines, eating healthy veg meals and chilling at gameboard hot spot, Cafe Meeple.

And now, I was on the move AGAIN and in overly vibrant hyper-driven Tokyo! I was feeling the intensity of it and was doubting my decision to leave Kyoto.

Here I was without a phone trying to meet friends at various meeting spots I had no previous experience with. Had managed ok through a lunch and an afternoon outing. But then there was a dinner meet-up set at the east exit door of the Shinjuku station. I thought, if all the signs fail me, I still had my compass.

There, I would meet Taeko, a new Tokyo resident, and our friend Andrea, who was coming in on the trains from Ibaraki, where he lives and works.  Wasn’t too worried about the meeting, though my friend Alona, who I was exploring Shibuya with, had her concerns. Shinjuku is a big station.

After crossing, Taeko is still on the phone with Andrea!
When we parted, I had a good 3 hours to kill before meeting, so I decided to return to the famous Shibuya pedestrian crossing and try my luck at trying to capture the hustle and bustle of the people with my camera.

In a way it was laughable, me crossing the streets a number of times, trying this crossing or that, the bumbling tourist. There was no capturing the scale of the human movement on these Tokyo streets, at least, not with my phone camera. But with so many people, so much action, I felt anonymous, another body moving with the flow, arm outstretched upwards, camera over my head, trying to snap up a little of that oh so special Shibuya energy. I must have been on my fourth or fifth round, in the middle of one of the crossings, when Taeko snuck up beside me to say hi and to tell me that she had Andrea on the phone just at that very moment and that they were just wondering how they would get a hold of me—then passes the phone to me and I hear Andrea on the line. Smack in the middle of the crossing. Seriously?! What were the possibilities?!

Taeko then walks me down several fabulous streets, where the energy and flavor of young, hip Tokyo is pumping, then we head to Shinjuku together, where we wait for Andrea at an exit door, which I must admit I would have had a difficult time finding.

When I recount my story to my friend Alona after Monday yoga practice as we have coffee and breakfast at the fashionable Omotesando district, she points out that this is, in fact, something that happens to me all the time. And what’s more is that it seems to be happening with greater and greater frequency: these golden moments so fortuitous, so sublimely random and yet totally perfect. Some meetings and events may not have the grandiose effect or the same shock value of a chance encounter in Shibuya, but every encounter is a blessing.

I wrote about my last serendipitous meeting in Barcelona as the universe’s feedback system, confirming that all is perfect, that I am just at the right time, the right place. But I am starting to sense that these aren’t isolated events, that each encounter is part of a great trail, tasty morsels that mark this fantastic forward-moving journey.

love the idea or... love, the idea

We all want love. We dream of it. We crave it. We seek it out.

The very idea of it becomes a thing of epic proportions. And as we wait for it, the bigger and bigger the idea gets.  Sometimes, it is a thing we fear and run from, either way it cultivates the same energy. Elusive or prolific, it gives birth to more ideas of love.

And when we perceive it to come, how easily it moves us to distraction, how easily we get carried away, how easily our mind molds it into the thing we’ve been waiting so patiently for or we’ve built up so greatly. We are such visionaries, sometimes, seeing/creating only what we like to see.

So, how do we distinguish love that is real from that which we have, in part, made up?

When my last relationship ended, I couldn’t quite get past how one person could profess such a great love and then, after a lot of silent internal deliberation, take it back. Was it all a lie, I asked myself? Was what we experienced as love a false representation of one?

(I’ve also been on the other end of this human equation, and I can honestly say, neither end is easy or pleasant.)

And perhaps there are no easy answers to such questions.

Love itself is unanswerable. It is both the question and the answer; it is complete. It is accountable to no one. It exists everywhere and its power is immeasurable and mysterious. It is infinite and unending.

But when love “ends” and seems so disappointing, what is that? Where does that come from?

What I am learning is not to blame love--which is guileless, it is innocent. But, rather, to recognize that my experience of it is limited because I’m human, and that those who I love and who love me are human too, and in our limited being-ness we experience love in an imperfect and limited fashion.  Most of us do our best, and many times our best will fall short of the perfection that love is. We, as human beings, are inconsistent; we stumble, fall, make mistakes; we also get up, dust ourselves off, and try again.

Love is different from the idea of love. The idea of love is mind-born. If “love” is something that we think, then already there is something not quite right about it. 

Real love is much more subtle than that. It is not experienced with the mind but with the heart. And not even the physical beating heart, but the more subtle energetic heart center. Love is an energy, not a thought.  

Love is not what we think it is; it is what we feel it is. But when we seek to define it, this feeling, we use a language that is not the language of love, but the language of ideas, and many a time our ideas are based on the way we think things should be.

And a good friend pointed out just this last summer, as I was moaning about how I thought things “should be,” that there is, really, no such thing! Love, simply, is. Not an easy thing for the thinking heart to accept, but there it is.

And it’s a whole new challenge; this feeling love, experiencing it just as it is: in essence, it is great, always present but also changing and transforming because those around me, including myself, change and transform. I’m learning—sometimes with great difficulty--to just feel it, not to judge, not to discern, not to categorize, just being with it and, in turn, letting it be with me, another act of surrender, another way of being.      

Thursday, October 3, 2013

last days in osaka

The river runs through Osaka city. Nakanoshima park and island to the right. 

Two more teaching days in Osaka. Almost 9 weeks. How quickly time moves, it flows as if it were a river moving towards the sea. And for the two months here, I've been watching it go by, its source, somewhere upriver, a place of unending rainfall.

From here, though, there is no indication of weathering storminess, not anymore. Just steadily flowing time. There is no holding it, no way of pausing it just for, at least, a tiny little moment. All there is to do is to simply flow with it; move with it now, until it moors me into the next bit of shoreline. 

So these are my last days in this bustling urban metropolis, Japan’s second largest city. I meant to take a train today for sightseeing at near-ish Himeji, but in the end, I couldn’t leave the city, which I am already starting to miss.

Hipster haven: Brooklyn Roasting Company, Osaka branch.
So today, I’m on my borrowed bicycle, riding around in my borrowed city, navigating with surprising ease between districts to eat, chill, and run crucial final errands.

Now, I’m in my favorite hipster hang out, Brooklyn Roasting Company, having a much needed free-trade iced soy latte (I did say it was hip!) and feeling quite at home with the Japanese cool kids. This is just one of the many places I’d like to make one last stop at.  Taking a moment to write and recap the last two months before I get on the road again, before the thought gets lost in the whirling wonder of life at play.

I meant to write more--story of my life really, this meaning to write business—about Osaka, about the adventure of being in Japan, about this new phase of my life teaching on the road, about the everyday blessings and the surprising gifts of manifestation.  And while there were a number of things and events that undermined that, I also know that this time has been more about “being.”

And Osaka has been an incredible filling station.

Mysore class in Spirit Yoga School where I've been teaching.
If the village of Vio in the Monte Perdido (or Lost Mountain) National Park in the Araganese Pyranees—where I spent 8 weeks prior to Japan—was a place of feeling the deep chasms and caves, the peaks and the valleys of myself, then Osaka is where I filled up these great empty spaces with fulfilling work, with wonderful students, with new experiences, with yoga practice, with good food, with steady loving friendships, with good cheerful fun and doing things that I enjoy doing, and with—and this has been most key—simply being myself.

It took a little bit of time to get off the old train of thought, the tracks leading to nowhere, to arrive and be present in Osaka. But this subtle city eased me slowly into the now. Day by day, as I cycled around its streets, as I sampled its delicious delicacies, as I was awed by the strangeness and uniqueness that is Japan and as I was met with the reserved sweetness of the local people, I found a deep sense of happiness. 

Goofy post-practice
self portrait. 
Without any of the old stories, old characters, in a whole new job in a whole country, I got to ask myself that crucial question: who the heck am I?

I won't go into the answers to the question, none of which really matters anyway, what matters is that things do shift. Negative feelings dissipate. Shadows fade in the light. 

Osaka, known as the food capital of Japan, lives up to its reputation. It nourished me so exquisitely in Japanese fashion, with remarkable efficiency and orderliness, with quality ingredients, with its own kind of quirkiness and aesthetics.

It’s been a very special time of self-recovery and self-recognition, of surrendering into the great what is.  The Big O has facilitated this recent bit of transformation. I recognize that this is just one stop in a long journey.  And how things, myself included, fall apart only so that they can be put back together--hopefully, each time it happens--better than ever.