Serenity in Taxes…Hmmm

Who doesn’t need a little love in their life during tax season? April 15th seems to sneak up fast every year but we all know the cold truth; we always know exactly when it will strike. Suddenly paperwork takes over everything else, invading family time and quiet team. It may be the only time we resent making money as we may face an unpleasant surprise of a new tax bracket.

So rather than focus on drudgery, take a breather from the paperwork. Remember that whatever the outcome, dollars do not control our destiny even though it certainly feels like it in the moment. Remember to be grateful for what you have.
Carve out a moment to embrace love around you. Hug your little one, be it a baby or a puppy. Lean over and give your spouse a smooch in the middle of your tax fight (am I the only one??). Walk away from the paperwork or blaring screen, step outside, and breathe in some fresh air. It is good for the soul. Phone a friend. Reconnect with what really makes the world go round. Money helps but it ain’t what controls the world. (Hint: Look up!)

I actually prepare my own taxes and I always cry out in prayer even with an advanced degree in tax. Minutiae is not my friend. So in the midst of it all, I make time to step back and remember what brings joy and fulfillment. It ain’t Uncle Sam for me!

Grab a cup of tea, glass of water, or ice cold lemonade. Kick up your feet for just a moment and give a mental thank you to all the good in your life. Leave the tedious taxes behind for a moment and remember all you have to be grateful for, including everything that makes your taxes more complicated: family, a job that brings you purpose, and a house that brings your comfort. If these don’t apply, appreciate the supposedly “EZ” return, enjoy what you have, and live with expectancy of the dreams in sight. Wishing you all a little serenity this tax season. See you after the 15th when I have time to write a decent post again.

Zen in Piping Hot Coffee

Finding zen in the morning coffee.

Morning coffee. There was a time I used to drink my morning coffee hot. I ran to different courthouses in a single morning, accruing miles and stressing the clock. I argued before judges and with other professional arguers. I guided my scared clients, drunk clients, angry clients, belligerent clients. I faced down jail time, financial ruin, demise of reputation (of my clients, not my own). I fended off deadlines. All while wearing heels and a skirt and a made up face. All while drinking a hot cup of coffee each day.

Fast forward to the arrival of little munchkins. Four years knee deep in diapers, sippy cups, obnoxious cartoons, laundry, dishes, dancing, playing, nagging. I juggled a case load of legal fights with hot coffee but somehow I failed to find the time in the harried pace of motherhood.

Here I am. Four years of cold coffee. I don’t mean the fashionable iced coffee or the hipster cold-brewed coffee. I mean the old fashioned coffee straight out of the pot coffee of our forefathers. I no longer juggle make up, unpredictable clients, and dry cleaned suits. I still wake up early but without the demand to be articulate and composed. Yet I can’t manage a hot drink in the monotonous but hectic mornings of motherhood. Each day I carefully pick my timing. The kid are calm or sleeping. Yet, somehow in the five minute window of brewing, fights break out, Matchbox cars crash, diapers need changing, and snot needs removing. When a moment of calm trikes again and I realize my craving for a little self-indulgence and morning pick-me-up, I turn and see my sad, lonely cup of Joe.

I miss my hot coffee. But I embraced my new reality and switched to ice coffee. Only to discover it too becomes sad with neglect, lukewarm and diluted with melted ice. And it got me wondering, what my hang up is about coffee? Parenting has required many changes to my routine and (hopefully) temporary sacrifice of my personal desires. Coffee seems so miniscule in the scheme of parental sacrifices. But it is symbolic of our need for a breath in our day. A moment to collect our thoughts and reconnect with our inner self. A moment to pray or just be silent. A moment to rest and regroup for another day’s demands and adventures. No matter how busy life gets, we must take the time to restore our spirits. Even if its just a minute with our coffee, hot, iced, or lukewarm.

Ocean View Hot Springs: Getting My Zen On in Luxury

I am buzzing from the hot spring high. Fifteen minutes in the natural, hot, bubbly springs will loosen your muscles, soak away your cares, and force you to let loose. Then you hop out and get right back to the craziness of toddler, baby, and in laws. But it is such a nice way to bond as a family!

Traditional Japanese inns, called ryokans, are clustered throughout the country. Many ryokans also have hot springs, or onsen. The whole family dresses down (or dresses up in my Western view) into ukatas, which are casual cotton kimonos. They are so comfortable that many people sleep in them. There are no shoes allowed in the inn. Everyone wears slippers in the common areas and goes barefoot in the onsen and in their private rooms.

Once you change into your traditional Japanese pajamas, you head to the hot spring. As per my previous post, you get naked with the whole family (usually single gender but not always). You bathe before entering the springs. Today’s bath took place outdoors with an ocean view. Then, you slip into the hot spring and let your body adjust to the heat. Slowly, your body and mind unwinds. I take in the view of the bay and the city lights. Fifteen minutes later, it is time to cool off in the nude in the fresh ocean breeze. If I stay any longer, I run the risk of falling asleep. Then, bathe again. There are usually a variety of spa products to pamper yourself, and of course you can purchase them later if so inspired.

Once double bathed and fully refreshed, it is time for endless food in your room. Ryokans often serve eight to twelve courses, including sushi, wagyu beef (heavily marbleized), and an array of Japanese delicacies. Today we indulged in local, sweet lobster, both grilled and raw sashimi. Another specialty item was steamed abalone. We ate on pillows and a low rise table. It allowed the kids to run around the tatami floor in between courses. Relaxing fun for everyone!

For a little more self-indulgence, I took a nighttime dip in the onsen. Fully relaxed for bed….until my baby screamed for attention. Getting my zen on indeed!

Sashimi

Appetizers
Abalone steaming up!

Rainstorms: Keeping the Zen On Through the Darkness

Clouds liftingLast night, a rainstorm ravaged the mountainside in the middle of the night. Dark storm clouds sunk into the valley. For the first time, the neighboring mountains were invisible. The storm clouds blocked out the mountains of every elevation. At night, pounding rain blocked out the stars, blurred street lights, and blinded the landscape.

Safe within our temporary home, the heavy rainfall created the perfect soundtrack to fall asleep. Instead of listening to music or the whirrings of my mond, I focused on the rain. I let my thoughts and stresses wash away, envisioning a mental downpour washing out my worries.

Yesterday, the valley filled with darkness. There was no light in sight. The ominous clouds hung heavy on the town. I stayed inside and off the blinding roads.

Yet, in the morning, the clouds lifted. The valley and mountains unveiled before, greener and refreshed.The farmers went back to the fields refreshed from a surprise day of rest. The doom and gloom passed and strengthened us all.

The mental and emotional rainstorms in our life are the same. One day, challenges pour into our valley, block out the light,and sometimes we forget the light, vistas, and life are still right beside us, waiting for the storm to pass. As those dear to me face some stormy skies, may we remember the Light and life is still there. The storm will pass. May we soon be strengthened, enlivened and refreshed, and play in the sun together.

Letting Loose

What if I told you I spent the evening on the nude in a pool of other naked people? Then, what if I told you I brought my kids along? This is what you had in mind reading a blog by a traveling mommy. This is

 exactly what I did. The Japanese are known for their modesty and discretion, but there is one custom that shakes the modesty of the rather immodest Americans: stripping down for a dip in the hot springs with other strangers in the nude.  While showing skin in the U.S. is not unusual, bathing with naked strangers is out of the comfort zone of most Americans.

 

Most hot springs are gender-specific, so women a only with other women.

This is generally more comfortable for foreign visitors except for one major caveat. Often, our sole travel companion is of the opposition gender. Imagine separating from your partner/boyfriend/spouse and going it alone, naked and surrounded by naked strangers that don’t speak your language.

One of my first visits to the hot spring was even more nerve wracking. My Japanese boyfriend (who would become my husband years later) brought me to Japan for a family visit. My boyfriend’s mother was not pleased to see a white girl who was formerly clueless about Japanese culture. Well, guess who came with me alone to the hot spring? Next time you meet someone’s parents or hang out with your in-laws, remember it could ne more akward. You could be naked.

Despite the nudity, and occasional gawking at a white girl at the local hot sprong, a visit to onsen is a magical experience. The steam rises over the water’s surface, creating a therapeautic mist. The outdoor onsen are usually shrouded in boulder cascades, lush landscaping, and scenic mountain vistas.  In order to adjust to the heat, enter the water slowly.  Proceed deeper when your body is comfortable. Once you sit down and the water reaches your chest, your whole body will slowly release and relax.  Although I have a mind that never stops churning, the onsen sedates me mentally and physically.  Fifteen to twenty minutes will change one’s state. It is an automatic zen for the low price of 500 yen, or $5.

Yesterday I finally gathered the courage to go to the onsen with my two kids. At first, my three-year-old wanted to escape the heat. A couple minutes later, he adjusted and went exploring in the water. Unlike a pool, the whole hot spring is shallow and walkable. We all mellowed out a bit and then the hard part was getting him to leave. In the end, we all took a cool shower while seated on small stools. Once dressed and refreshed, we ate dinner at the inn’s restaurant and then drove home. We were all zen then.

 

Shouganai: It can’t be helped!: Getting my Zen On Part 3

Shouganai is a popular expression in Japan for bad or annoying things happen beyond one’s own control. It translates into “it can’t be helped.” For example, if traffic is bad or a teenager is being a teenager, “shouganai.”  In fact, a perfect shouganai moment is my post about the car engine stopping in the middle of the road.   To me, shouganai embraces getting one’s zen on.

Shouganai is used daily in rural Japan. When something unexpected or difficult occurs,  it is socially unacceptable to complain or vent. It is discouraged to be dramatic and lament.  While I personally think a good cry or venting session with friends can be great for one’s spirit and camaraderie, the shouganai attitude of moving forward, not burdening others, and accepting that difficulty happens are all helpful in getting more inner peace. Prayers are good too!

An internet search of “shouganai” reveals controversy around this expression. Most critiques are by non-Japanese, specifically foreigners from cultures that emphasize individual happiness over communal contentment (like Americans).  Critics claim that shouganai is a way to avoid responsibility for the outcome of one’s like. Some allege that it creates harmful apathy in the culture as people accept their circumstances as is and do not work to create progress. While some Japanese may use shouganai in this way, the true meaning of shouganai is “It can’t be helped” and it should only be used for circumstances no loner in our control. It is also a commitment to not complain and to move forward with what we can control and improve.

The point of shouganai is to let go only of what can’t be controlled and focus our energy on what we can do from wherever we are. It is important when letting go that we do not use it as a scapegoat to accept our own responsibility and work to make our lives and the world a better place. The thoughts and actions of other people is shouganai. The way we treat people, which can greatly affect their behavior, is not shouganai. Natural disasters are shouganai, but how we prepare for them and respond to them is not shouganai. Using shouganai to avoid personal action and growth is like praying to God for change us without using our free will to grow closer to Him.  So  in the Japanese spirit of shouganai, don’t get stuck in what you can’t control. Use what you have to move forward and move on.

Getting my Zen On Part II

Living in a house with five boys under fourteen has zen written all over it. There is a constant battle for independence and alpha male power. There are wrestling matches, screaming matches, and a scarcity of sock matches.  Pubescent attitude rears it’s head, while the baby cries to be fed, the three-year-old throws eggs on the floor, and  the other two physically fight over Pokemon. Are you feeling meditative yet? The boys constant banter, sometimes playful and sometimes rough, is ever present. Now add in the noise from the various televisions and electronic devices all playing at once, lights flashing on and off as a fight ensues over which lights to turn on, a scuffle with a parent, the laundry is running, and the dishes are clanking. Feeling relaxed and focused now?

Living with five young boys teaches me that life does not create the quiet time for self-reflection and spiritual growth. I often put off time to think, regroup, pray and call a friend for the magic moment of calm. The problem is the calm never comes. I have to make the space to grow and rejuvenate. Lesson learned and now I have to implement the conclusion. Making the space, oh where, oh where.

My first step is to save my energy for positivity. As the kids act up, break the same rule for the hundredth time, or when they hurt one another, it is easy and instinctive to lash out. Yet if I respond in dramatic anger a power struggle ensues and the kids and I both use up all our energy in draining negativity. Now, I try to consciously step back and center myself before addressing them (once any immediate safety concerns are addressed). Despite the yelling and debating, I literally step back, close my eyes, and count to twenty in my head. Then I take a deep breath , consciously calm my tone before speaking, and release the tension in my shoulders. Once the intensity has mellowed, I speak. When I succeed, the kids follow my lead and calm down. We are no longer competing for loudest or most assertive and they see I am receptive but in control. This approach works equally for talking to adults in conflict as well as children.

by preventing an escalation of conflict, we have energy after the conflict to regroup and spend time together. It also results in more time in the day to other things. Like carving out personal quiet time.