Today, as I was leaving the school for my post-lunch break, a parent of one of my students stopped and offered me a lift. I politely refused, explaining that I was taking a little 散歩 (osampo- leisurely walk) which made the mother raise her eyebrows before she drove on. Twice a week I indulge in this small pleasure, to walk from the school to the shopping center where I study kanji with a cup of coffee then slowly walk back to work, stopping occasionally to study a vegetable garden or watch the crows.
Taking the same walk twice a week for over two years means I am an expert on a very small section of the planet. I watch the color of the mountains and fields shift through greens and browns. I know the succession of wildflowers and anticipate each of their arrivals.
Sounds rotate as well, the bird songs, the croaking frogs and chanting cicadas, the wind across an emerald green rice field versus a barren field in winter. Then there are the smells. The slightly sour smell around harvest time as vegetables ripen before they can be picked by the elderly farmers. The rich perfume of the sultry vines and bushes that take over the mountainsides in the summer.
In order to increase my focus during these walks, I have begun engaging in a simple drawing habit. I find a spot and for at least five minutes, I surrender to whatever I am drawing. The drawings are not beautiful and they are not meant to be: they are a form of meditation that includes my eyes and my hand while suspending my Self. To see what is there, not what I perceive to be there.
It is a privilege, I realize, to be able to meander through the Japanese countryside with a pen and notebook at hand. And yet it is also my way of reacting to the madness of this world.I am painfully aware of all the turmoil and strife and have spent many, many, too many hours worrying about the cruel absurdities that we are all facing. And yet, I am on a small island in the middle of the sea. I can only balance the scales in my own limited fashion and this, my dears, is how I like to do it. Paper rather than screen, the music of the physical world rather than the curated inner world that I sometimes still create through my headphones.
It will not stop nuclear war or rampant bigotry. But if I surrender my attention completely to the ceaselessly dispiriting news, then they win, those sad souls who wish to serve their own greed by doing harm to everyone else. In order to keep that from happening, I watch the dragonflies dance over the parking lot, I stop and talk to the old woman pruning her plum tree, I sit down in a cemetery and draw Jizo, the protector of children and travelers.
I go on お散歩。