Sunday, November 26, 2006

birthday road trip

Have you ever stopped to think about what your birthday really means to you...I mean beyond birthday cards, cream frosted cake, and gifts from loved ones?

My best friend for many years succumbed to cancer six years ago. I cried for her. Cried for her babies. And as her birthday loomed (five weeks ahead of mine) I felt an ache in my heart that she’d never see her five kids grow up. And how that day, for them, would never again be a time of joyous celebration, no matter how positive a spin they applied, or how brave a face they learned to wear.

I tell you this, not for empathy, but because it made me look

differently at birthdays and the traditional celebration around them; and five years ago, I began my own tradition.

Every year during my birthday month, I go on a four or five-day road trip. I make no serious plans, other than my first night’s accommodation. And make few rules, except that I go alone. No exceptions. I take no laptop, no Blackberry, no Sidekick. I don’t check voice or email, and my cell phone remains turned off.

I travel lightly. But there are some things I always pack and one of those things is my copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, now so dog-eared that it’s held together with tape, and so overly marked with neon yellow highlighter and red exclamation points that there are few pages left as the publisher intended. I may re-read some of it. All of it. Or none of it.

My oversize black leather-bound sketch book also goes with me. Not because I sketch. But so that I can brainstorm and scribble and mind-map whatever pops into my head without being restricted by blue lines breaking up the page, or the size limitations of a normal notebook.

I take good hiking boots and two waterproof jackets. And even if it hails and storms all day long, I walk for a couple of hours every day, preferably on the beach, wind in the hair, feet splashing in the shallow surf. I also pack today’s favorite chi-chi outfit and four-inch-heels so I can take myself out to at least one super fancy dinner.

Without pressure, I like to reflect on the past year: Did I do what I set out to do? Did I enjoy it? Was it worth it? And assuming I’m lucky enough to have a next year, I think about new projects I want to develop. I think about what I want to do more of, less of; where I want to give my time and energy, and with whom I want to spend it. And I think about how I can make a difference, in my own small way.

This year I don’t feel like driving somewhere different each day as I have on past road trips. So I’ve booked a beachfront suite on one of my favorite beaches. There’s a large writing desk facing the ocean, and the French windows open onto white sand that stretches south for several miles. I’m looking forward to being lulled to sleep by crashing surf. And nudged awake by crying seagulls and 5-star room service.

When I get home, always invigorated, always reignited with passion and reverence for this life we live, I begin my New Year—the day after my birth day. This tradition is my birthday gift to myself. I hope you do something nice for yourself on your own special day.

Smile at the Rain artwork by Beth Hendrickson Logan.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

ah hyu shi won ha da: feels so good!

“Bang gap sum mi da” she bows her child-like body toward me, hands neatly folded over her belly. I reciprocate, dipping my head and shoulders and muttering “Bang bap …” … what did she say? “…very nice to meet you too.”

Stepping ahead of me, she raises her hand indicating that I should follow. Stopping in the doorway between the lounge and the studio, she again bows, this time to the empty studio ahead of us. Silently she steps onto the padded floor, watching while I mimic her actions, and invites me to sit cross-legged on the floor in the middle of the room.

Her eyes scan my attire: Black stretch workout Capri’s and black t-shirt with No Limits, Hardly Any Boundaries emblazoned in hot pink across the chest.

Orientation commences: You will be known as Vicki Dowoo-nim; you will call your instructor Kita-nim. I, The Master, Xiana Ji Won Jang Nim. You cannot chew gum; you must wear all white; and no bare feet, perfume, or jewelry in future. We will work on The Meridian center to unblock your life energy. Must not leave class early. Very bad block. Must free blocked energy center.

Sigh. Why, oh why, do I get myself into these things?

She flicks through the discipline book, showing pictures of the Dahn yoga postures, explaining the hang gong and ji-gam mediation philosophy, sharing the Korean phrases we’d use in class. All very different from the Indian Iyengar discipline I’ve practiced for the past 20 years.

Forty-five minutes later, Xiana Ji Won Jang Nim closes the discipline book and invites me to make myself at home while the other Dowoo-nims prepare for class.

Make myself at home? Can’t I just GO home?

The studio door opens and the first of the Dowoo-nims halts and bows before quietly slipping inside. A dozen more trail her, each following the same silent protocol. All wear the exact same white pajama-type uniforms. Not judo or karate PJ’s. These are more elegant, with elaborate detail, satin trim, but with a definite communistic influence. They look stiff, regimental, uncomfortable.

The Dowoo-nims form a circle with Kita-nim at center point. I join them, looking back at the faces all staring at this new Dowoo-nim. The girl to my left bows toward me, starting a domino effect around the room as each Dowoo-nim bows to their neighbors; “Bang gap sum mi da” echoes around the studio. There’s a quick introduction where I learn the other Dowoo-nims names and then Kita-nim starts patting her belly with both palms and counting out loud. ONE, beat, TWO, beat, THREE, beat. The other Dowoo-nims join her, filling in the beat: five, five; six, six; seven, seven. We look like a bunch of apes slapping ourselves and I have an urge to tickle under my arms and scream out like a chimp.

At the sum of ten, Kita-nim ceases counting and hands the lead to the Dowoo-nim next to her who continues counting, not at eleven, but at one.

We keep counting. Keep smacking our bellies. Eight, eight. Nine, nine. Sixty … oh no it’s my turn. And I screw up. Sixty-one. ONE they shout. Sixty-two. TWO they shout again. Three, three … ok I’ve got it … eight, beat, nine beat, seventy ... I hand off to the guy next to me. Seventy-one … ONE! He screws up too. I suddenly like him.

By the time we’ve counted to 150, we’ve actually tapped our dahn-jons 300 times … and my belly is smarting. We have another 300 flat-palmed slaps to go.

“Ah hyu shi won ha da!” cries the master from the corner of the room, "Ah hyu shi won ha da!”
Oh no it doesn't!!

But all things pass—eventually. The tapping stops and we move into stretching.

Quite honestly I’m done by now and would just as soon call it a day. But I don’t want to offend my ultra-polite host whose culture still places great emphasis on good manners, so I turn up the corners of my mouth and try to look sincere as she reaches to correct my posture. The Master presses on my spine with butterfly touches, indicating I should stretch more, arms high above my head, fingers pointing to the ceiling. I close my eyes. Breathe deeply from the heart chakra, low into the dahn-jon, and exhale making the auguh noise that’s supposed to free my blocked energy center. Repeat. Stretch more. Repeat. And the room starts spinning.

I feel Xiana Ji Won Jang Nim’s hands try to steady me, but open my eyes and pull out of the pose. Let’s be real. She’s an extremely delicately-boned 4’9’’ and doesn’t even reach my armpit; in fact, my two arms probably weigh more than her entire body.

We’re told to partner up. I turn to my neighbor, the guy who also screwed up counting. Following The Master’s instruction, we face each other, place our hands on each other’s shoulders, and “…stare deeply, deeply” into our partners eyes. We bend forward from the waist, keeping our backs straight, still staring "deeply, deeply" into each other’s eyes. “Bang gap sum mi da” he says. “Ditto” I reply sucking in my cheeks to stuff down a giggle; my partner laughs back and we collapse on the floor.

We close class by hugging and thanking each Dowoo-nim: “Kam sa ham mi da.” And then The Master walks up to me offering a basket filled with neatly stacked wet face cloths. How nice!

I take one, unfold it and bring it up to my face. “No, no!” she taps my hand and waves her arm at the other Dowoo-nims who have dropped to their knees and are wiping the floor. “Cleansing mediation … you wipe floor, you wipe all negative thoughts from mind. Cleanse mind.” I drop to my knees.

Five minutes later I shrug into my jacket and run over to my favorite coffee shop.

You could say I resisted this new practice; compared it unfavorably to my old familiar Iyengar. But sometimes you have to give new things—like new people—time.

It’s easy to put up walls and defenses around what we do and don’t like; or will and won’t try. It’s easy to keep doing the same old thing simply because it’s comfortable, or because we like it, or because we’re good at it.

I’m now on my third lesson and am keeping an open mind about this strange new discipline. Although still not a fan of the militaristic counting and tapping, I definitely feel more energized following class. So who knows! Maybe all this one-one, two-two dahn-jon belly-slapping really is freeing my “…blocked energy center”. Maybe I will learn to appreciate the cultural regimen behind this 5,000 year-old practice. Maybe one day, I will even reach the discipline’s ultimate goal of Sung Tong Gong Wan Ha Ship Syo—Attaining Enlightenment and Sharing It with Others.

… I did say maybe.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

oi mom - stop ignoring me

I'm in my hotel room after working through 15-days straight and spending a gazillion hours on my laptop. The brain is fried. My hands are clawed. And I'm stuck in the 'hunched-over' the computer look that's reminiscent of our Neanderthal ancestors. That's my way of saying a hot bubble bath and a glass of pinot noir is calling, and I'm too pooped to blog this week; but my sister-in-law sent this and it cracked me up. (Probably much more than it should have done ... but hey, that's what happens when we fry our brains!)