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.