I finally understand now what they mean by a “Kyoto Winter.” It is COLD! And it’s a new type of cold that is like a damp cold that just seeps in to your bones and chills you much more quickly. I’ve been lucky to have had Kevin treat me to some very fizzy, relaxing bath bombs, so I’ve been taking advantage of enjoying them when I’m feeling a cold coming on. Some of the other students who are from cold climates don’t seem to mind the cold but even they have said on occasion that it might be a bit chilly on some days.
To celebrate the last day of winter (called Risshun), Japanese people go to shrines to celebrate setsubun. Though not a major holiday, it is still popular for people to become involved in the festivities. We got a half-day free from school to go around town to participate. It was perfect weather: sunny and dry all day in the mid-40’s. I joined Elise and an Urasenke architect at Yoshida Shrine. It’s the famous one for the day. We brought a bag of “old” temple and shrine amulets as they must be refreshed and repurchased each year. The shinto shrines “purify” the old ones in either fire or water. We didn’t witness the mame maki (bean throwing) but we ate the ehoumaki (the lucky direction role). It’s a giant sushi role and you face a direction (this year it was NNW) and eat the whole thing silently while making a wish and if you can do that then the wish will come true. We also enjoyed some sake. The great thing about this shrine was that it had a special building that was only opened for this one day each year, so we went up to look at it and Tooyama-san told us about all the different architectural features to notice. When you return home, you get beans and you throw them around calling “Oni wa soto! Fuka wa uchi!” or “Demons get out! Fortune come in!” Clearing out the demons from the end of the year and inviting spring and new fortune in to your home.
We had a nice time learning how to play the game go at a sensei’s house. I enjoyed it immensely and definitely want to keep refining my skills. It’s similar to chess or checkers, where it has a board and you have only one other opponent. The difference being that you are trying to get the most points, firstly by capturing the most area of the board and secondly by collecting your opponent’s pieces. I think I enjoy playing card games (pinochle, rummy, bridge, etc.) more than board games. I just get so impatient and tend to not be able to enjoy board games. Especially if the game in question requires patience, thinking and mental processing. It’s something I can work on: improving my concentration. I also think that I could embrace the fact that I set up a game and then don’t feel compelled to finish it in one sitting. I brought a puzzle from home to do this winter and I completed it in January in about six hours and sadly, when it was completed I had nothing else to be excited about with it. It’s like a good book. If you devour it in one seating it just doesn’t have an opportunity to resonate in your brain or really settle in to my long-term memory.
Since coming here to Kyoto, I’ve been much more aware of my feelings of impatience or frustration and also the fact that I tend to get overly worked up over things that really don’t matter. I even know deep down that 99% of the time these things working me up don’t matter, but I can’t help but get worked up about them anyway. Sometimes I feel much more calm and zen and meditative and other times I am just overwhelmed with anxiety, frustration or impatience. One side of me says “You’re Human!” and the other side just says “that’s great you’re human, but yadda, yadda, yadda…” I’m trying to notice when I don’t feel proud of an action or a thought or something I say and then question either why I did / thought / said that thing and why it created that particular reaction. No one else could ask me “why” with out offending me, I suppose. I’m trying to not be like that. I’m not trying to spring one over on myself with a “gotcha!” or punish myself for something. I don’t think I’m necessarily changing my behavior, per say, but I’m noticing my actions and how I relate to others much more. Usually these internal observations have been fine fodder for some good mental discussion and exercise on my own later. The roots of this wanting to look inward have of course all started by delving deeper in to chado and from meditating, mindfulness and just trying to be more aware.
This week people have been grating on each other’s nerves and just generally when you live with people and work with people for almost a year you are bound to have disagreements and minor differences that work people up. There has been a recent spike in minor group squabbling. Some people taking sides (or purposefully ignoring the situation) and all of it has an impact on the group dynamic. We represent many cultures under one group and with that comes many different personalities, backgrounds and morals. I hope that it’s mostly weather-related and that since we are cold and damp that we are all just crabby and we only need to sleep more. It’s not a bad thing to admit that this is happening, rather a perfectly normal part of the Midorikai process. Hopefully we can all look back on this challenging time and laugh.