Friday, June 3, 2011

From Lunch to Lighting the World

Daibutsu The Big Buddha, Kamakura, Japan
So Goes a Day
The rainy season offered up a random sunny day. I met some friends to tour the temples of Daibutsu and Hasedera. We enjoyed a bit of shopping, random chats, a nice lunch, and then off to the next part of my day. There seem to be few lulls in life anymore. I think that lulls are the privilege of childhood, at first you learn to endure them, and then some day you look back upon them with yearning. John O'Donohue calls stress a "perverted relationship with time." Yesterday the Mule said, "Wow! Today went really fast," as we were driving back from her dental appointment in the dark of the evening. I used to like it when my day went fast at work, but now I feel a greater desire to notice more of the parts of my day and not let so many of them slip by.

A Quaker's Story
I began reading Parker Palmer's book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life last night. I can't decide if I am a self-help junkie, or if it is the intimacy of another's struggle and how they achieve things like wholeness, versus power, glory, or riches, that attracts me. I like history and a good story, but at the heart I like the personal story for a sense of what one person has gone through. Parker Palmer's story on the radio show "On Being" about how a friend massaged his feet during a severe depressive bout inspired my spirit. I finally got around to looking up some of his writings.

A Japanese Farmer's Story
At the same time I am half way through Mansanobu Fukuoka's The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming which reflects my long simmering interest in agriculture. I love his idea of trying to figure out what he could stop doing on his farm but still get his desired results. His premise is that we do too much and create work for ourselves instead of learning the way of the land, insects, and birds. By learning from them and working with them, what is the necessary work is revealed. A manageable workload is about letting things in their natural state work for you, all by themselves without your constant interventions. This means you have to learn which inputs are necessary and knowing when to leave something to be- likely a metaphor for life too. Sometimes you have to try not doing something to see if you really need to do it. He identifies that in simpler times, farmers had time to write haiku, but in making agriculture more and more complicated (through chemicals, machines, grooming plants to utterly depend upon your actions) you lose touch with the land and yourself. I am inspired to plant barley and fruit trees (in my free time- ha). Which reminds me, I have a large sack of oranges that need to be made into marmalade very soon. I need to spend a morning chopping orange rinds which should satiate my farming desire for a bit.

Lunch Rules

I picked up the Moose from school today to take him to swimming class. He was upset about school and finally when I got to what was really bothering him, he said, "We never get to eat more school lunch!" The agonies of being six. Japanese elementary schools serve school lunch which is called "kyushoku." All of the students have to eat it. They are encouraged to eat everything on their plate. The food is served and eaten in the classrooms (not in a cafeteria) at least for the lower grades. The teacher eats the same lunch. The Japanese are trained from birth to clean their plate meaning to eat everything. I have cautioned more than one Japanese friend not to do this in America as they will get fat. The Japanese portions are small and include a variety of colors and textures with foods prepared in different ways- steamed, fried, boiled, sautéd, etc.- including lots of vegetables; the goal being to serve a well-balanced healthy meal. I assume that kyushoku has similar aims, and it relieves the mamas of making obentos for a few years. Starting in Junior High School (seventh grade), the obentos start again. Because the children have to eat everything, small portions are served until they can progressively eat more. More food is available to those who finish early. Some classes eat faster than others and can go back for more if all children do their job. Perhaps today the Moose was hungrier than his classmates. I can't always follow his rants. However, I assured him that a bad lunch was not the same as a bad day, but I was grateful for my lovely lunch and in a small way I understood his frustration as a happy belly makes for a contented feeling that is not shaken by other events. I was also glad that it was only lunch that troubled him.

Wisdom from an old Jewish Story
Recently, I noticed a familiar name on the podcast list of my favorite radio show "On Being." I downloaded the show of Rachel Naomi Remen as it has been many years since I read her book Kitchen Table Wisdom. I read it early on in my nursing career and remembered it being helpful. I wish I still had the book around after listening to the show. I may have to get it again. She is a physician that worked with patients with severe illnesses- most often cancer- listening to stories from the edge of life changed the focus of her work from offering treatments to listening and telling stories. Her Russian Rabbi Grandfather seems to have been the source of many wonderful stories that she shares with patients, students, and in her books. She herself was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at age fifteen and was told she would be dead by forty. She is in her seventies by now, but this perspective allowed her to see the need for "listening generously" as the show is titled. It is a wonderful talk. Read the excerpt of the story she shares about the "birth of the world" from her mystic grandfather for her fourth birthday. It is a wonderful way of seeing the need and value of each one of us in this life.

Dr. Remen: Yes, exactly. Actually, Krista, this was my fourth birthday present, this story. In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It's a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It's the restoration of the world.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Dr. Remen: And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. And that story opens a sense of possibility. It's not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It's about healing the world that touches you, that's around you.

That is such a beautiful story, I can't believe I have never read it before, or if I did that I forgot it. It should be made into a story book for children.

Hasedera, Kamakura, Japan


  1. Kim, the story is much like Shine! ...We truly ARE the light of the world. Interesting, I too read Kitchen Table Wisdom many years ago and try to listen to On Being each week. Ahhh, the searcher's journey. Hugs, Peg

  2. You are right about Shine!


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