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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 64 where I grew up. I’m hunching over, as if protecting myself, even though I’m watching the drama unfold from Japan. People sometimes ask me why my husband and I left Berkeley, one of the most unconstricting places on the planet, to live in Tokyo, one of the most rigid. I often ask myself the same thing. California is worlds away from Japan, yet somehow Berkeley is still in me, beating like the telltale heart under the battered floorboards of my psyche. I know this because even though I have been doing yoga for years, my shoulders are hard as rocks. I go for my weekly massage. “What are you protecting yourself from?” the massage therapist asks. “When I was younger, I experienced a lot of violence,” I say, wanting to avoid telling my story, because it’s just a story. Over the years I grew tired of claiming victimhood. I survived, and certainly people have dealt with far worse. Moreover, these days I try not to think about violence. I’m a yoga teacher, after all. And yet, my past makes me who I am, so how can I not carry it? My teacher says the seeds of violence come from the anger within ourselves. If I want to find peace, he suggests, I have to uproot the violent seeds in my heart, which means I have to dig them up and give them a proper burial in another soil. Truth- fully, I don’t have to go very far to look for violence, even in Japan, one of the safest countries in the world. The violence here isn’t random. It’s purposeful. Perhaps that makes it worse. Not too long ago in Japan, the wife of a family friend was stabbed to death by a gangster dressed as a delivery man bearing orchids. The vendetta was against the husband, an accountant who’d done work for the mob but hadn’t cooked the books well enough. Killing him would have been too quick a punishment, so they killed her and let him bury himself under the weight of his own remorse. So why do I live here? Tokyo isn’t the city of my dreams. It’s big, polluted, and crowded. Though the people are kind, many men are imprisoned in their dark suits, many women are handcuffed to their Louis Vuitton. It’s practically a police state, though the police carry no guns. If you want to hurt someone here, you do it with a knife or a sword. Murder is more difficult this way, and that’s a good thing. But on the other hand, there are angry cries from the earth, like quakes followed by mas- sive tsunamis. We can say these things are acts of nature, but isn’t there a connection between human nature and nature? Or have we moved so far away from that connection that we no longer even fathom it? What about the incredible hubris of building nuclear power plants on active fault lines? What about karma and responsibility? The truth is, I live here because living here forces me to grow and ask tough questions of myself that I wouldn’t have to ask in America. Questions like, why do I stay? For a while, I think it’s enough to teach and practice ton- glen, a Tibetan meditation practice, which develops and expands loving-kindness. But then the weight on my shoul- ders gets too much to bear. I go to another healer who reaches in for my heart like a shaman and throws it at my feet. “It’s time to deal with the pain,” he says. “You keep waiting for it all to magically go away, but it’s not.” I stare down at my heart, covered in armor. It’s time to take the armor off, the only way I know how. Starting with words. San Francisco 1962 I was born in San Francisco, with the beautiful ocean spark- ling in the distance. We lived in an old Victorian near the Presidio. One night when we were out to dinner, our house was set on fire. The basement playroom—where I’d held seances with the neighborhood girls—burnt completely, as did the entire first floor. If the family of eight next door hadn’t hauled buckets of water up and down the stairs, the entire three-story house would’ve collapsed. “Did anyone have reason to dislike you?” the fire chief asked, “Anyone with a grudge?” “No, not that I can think of,” my mother replied. “Is it because we’re Jewish?” I said, echoing what I’d often heard her say. She shot me a look. The chief, with his big, red hat, gazed down at me. “I doubt that, miss,” he said. My father rushed home from work. Together, we surveyed the blackened wreck. “What on earth are we going to do now?” my mother said, picking her way through the charred, soggy things. My father assured us we’d be safe and sound. But the United States was at war and my father was in the navy. Soon we were living under a corrugated metal roof at a naval base in Key West. “It’s time to deal with the pain,” the healer said. “You keep waiting for it all to magically go away, but it won’t.”