I Blame All My Problems On Change

I'm sad.

Or, more accurately, I probably have SAD (seasonal affective disorder). This kind of thing is genetic, no? My dad has figured out that he's happier in the winter if he wears one of these stylish visors 30 minutes a day that shines magical spring and summer light into his eyes.

This is my dad getting un-SAD:
Didn't think I had this kind of photo lying around my computer, DID you!

I'm not sure whether or not I have SAD, because I'm fine in the winter. It's just the fall that gets me, something about the weather turning colder and the trees losing their leaves. Maybe I'm allergic to change. I grew up in San Francisco where there are no seasons, where it's just one uni-season of cold, bleak fog. Not having seasons teaches you that happiness is forever and nothing ever changes, which is a lie.

But here in Japan, summer is hot and muggy, and fall is cold and breathtakingly beautiful. It's an extreme change. The leaves are bright red and the sky has this chilly, pink light in the evening. It's beautiful, but my subconscious can't handle the fact that summer inevitably turns into fall. This was the first week I wore a coat to bed, and it seems like I haven't stopped crying since. It's really bizarre. Sometimes I wonder if I'm dying. I mean, I know everyone is dying all the time, but... am I coming apart at the edges? When I walk down the road to my college and pass a line of bright-red trees I start crying. While doing homework and I start crying. Walking to the subway I start crying. Listening to Drake I start crying. Yes. To Drake. Weeping. Not to "Hotline Bling" but to his emo songs like "From Time" (do I have any readers under the age of 30? Anyone? Bueller?).

I'm also crying because I'm leaving Japan in January. After almost six years living here, I'm moving back to the Bay Area, where I haven't lived since I was eighteen. I'm leaving a culture and a monastic community that's defined me for years. It's going to be a huge change, and I'm saying goodbye to two teachers who have had tremendous impact on my life. In many ways, they created my adult life. How can I describe what these people mean to me? How can I talk about myself without also talking about them, how they fed and clothed me for years without asking for anything back? How when all I wanted to do was practice and practice and practice, they let me in and gave me a space in the Zendo, books, and teachings? How they were the only ones to speak up for me when others wanted me to leave because I was a woman and a foreigner? How they waited for me to grow up and stand on my two feet? How they trusted that I would? I love them in ways I cannot explain. 

The only way this makes sense for me is if I don't think of it as leaving, if I don't think of it as goodbye, if I think of it just as a continuation. They say "Bodhidharma didn't come to China." What does that mean? It means myself.

In the Genjo-koan, Dogen writes, "Life is a position in time; death is also a position in time. For instance, this is like winter and spring. We don't think that winter becomes spring, and we don't say that spring becomes summer." This passage always intrigued me, because of course we say that winter becomes spring. Why doesn't anyone ever call Dogen on his shit? 

But okay, what he's saying is that from the ultimate, enlightened point of view, we can't say that winter becomes spring or that spring becomes summer, because "spring" and "summer" are concepts, just like "Japan" and "America" are concepts. From the ultimate point of view, there's no summer or fall because it's always San Francisco, one dharma-position, one season of fog. Or as Uchiyama Roshi wrote in "Opening the Hand of Thought," "When you look at things from the perspective of letting go of all your ideas and anxieties, what it comes down to is there is no America to leave or return to." Bodhidharma didn't come to China. 

But my subconscious doesn't care. That subterranean pool of emotions doesn't care that "Japan" and "America" and "leaving" and "going" are just concepts. My subterranean pool of emotions wants to cry because everything is changing, everything is falling apart. 

Dogen wrote in Tenzo Kyokun, "Do not get carried away by the sounds of spring, nor become heavy-hearted upon seeing the colors of fall." Don't let external circumstances determine who you are and how to be in the world. Again and again in his poems he uses seasons to describe change, showing us that things are just as they are, that change is just the nature of reality. 

But I sometimes wonder if Dogen was really just giving pep-talks to himself. Because he also says this:

For so long here without worldly attachments,
I have renounced literature and writing;

I may be a monk in a mountain temple,

Yet still moved in seeing gorgeous blossoms
Scattered by the spring breeze,
And hearing the warbler's lovely song—
Let others judge my meager efforts.


  1. Beautiful! If the mommiji is red, what season is it?

  2. Fantastic piece Gesshin. And yes, you've got under 30 readership, if not by much lol

  3. love this! you are a gr8 writer!

  4. Hello,
    Well written baloney. Just sit. As Dogen says, "Don't be a jerk."^^

  5. hope you keep blogging back in the states. change is exciting and grievous all the time. and then there are Hoddie Monks:

  6. Thanks for Drake, no, I'm not under 30, but here's what you do: dance.

    IMHO! :)

  7. Lovely... As someone who grew up on the SF peninsula, I'm surprised, though, that the author insists that there are no seasons in San Francisco. For me, in particular the transition from summer to fall while subtle, is unmistakable. Some of her quotes are mildly askew, IMHO. E.g. it's usually said that "Bodhidharma never came from the West". Or in Genjō Kōan: "We do not call winter the beginning of spring, nor summer the end of spring." And while it's true that we are dealing with "mere concepts", I would suggest that our most intimate experience teaches us that when there is spring, spring is all there is. But regardless of my blather, Gesshin-san's piece is a beautiful testimony to pari.nâma-duhkhatâ, the deep unease born of change. Thank you, Rev. Gesshin!

  8. great post as usual, and i too am under 30, not for long though. u listen to drake though?! have some (no)self-respect!

  9. great post as usual! i am under 30 too, only for another few months though. u listen to drake tho?! have some (no)self-respect!

  10. I am 28 years old but I can't say that I listen to Drake to understand the reference hehehe. I was fortunate enough to visit Japan very briefly in 2009 and I cried on the shinkansen back to Narita airport. I am also going through some very big life changes, so good, some not so good, and trying to cope with these things that are completely and utterly out of my control. I guess what I am trying to say is that I love reading your posts, please continue to write.

  11. Timely post for me to read today.

    I'm also getting ready to move in January--to a temple (in Canada) with the intention to ordain, so I'm feeling emotions also.

    I find it odd grieving a life I haven't yet completely left. And there's also the "A Good Monk/Student is never sad about change and impermanence" standard that my brain wants me to hold myself to even though the actual monks I know have shown me plenty of evidence to the contrary.

    Writing has helped. Partly to process things and partly its nice to feel I'm leaving something behind, since I don't imagine I'll get a lot of writing opportunities as a novice. I've been posting it at chasingthemountains.blogspot.com

    Thanks for your writing. Good luck with the move.


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