A month or so ago, a co-worker recommended a book to me. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park. It tells Ms. Park’s story of her defection from North Korea. There is some controversy about the book and some suggestion that Ms. Park’s family may not have had it so bad in North Korea and that there are some other questionable elements to her tale. For instance, when she first started speaking out, she claimed that she and her mother defected by crossing the North Korean border into China with her father. But in the book, this is not what she describes. There are a few other inconsistencies that have been claimed. Which isn’t really the point.
There are parts of the world that fascinate me. North Korea is one of them. The Hermit Kingdom. This land in which the government has such complete and absolute control that millions of people who live there have absolutely no idea what is going on in the rest of the world. And it is a place of great tragedy because of what the government has done to its people.
Another acquaintance of mine is Korean. I talked with him on Friday about the book. His parents came to America from Korea. His father was born in what is now South Korea and his mother in what is now North Korea. He has family in North Korea (uncles and aunts and the resulting cousins) that he’ll never know anything about. He told me about a movie he had seen … Ode To My Father … and recommended it to me.
So, I watched it last night. It’s on Netflix. What an incredible movie. It tells the story of Duksoo and his family, who tried to escape from North Korea during the war in the early 1950’s. Duksoo, his mother, and two of his siblings made it onto an American ship taking refugees to the South. His father and his younger sister Maksoon did not. As the oldest, he then lived essentially the rest of his life taking on the responsibility of protecting and providing for his family, including waiting for the day when he would one day see his sister and father again. It is a heartwrenching story about the effects and lifelong impacts war can have. It is a Korean film, so us English-speaking folks have to live with subtitles, but if you can get past that, I highly recommend it.
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I’ve spent the last year dabbling with the idea of meditation. Read a few books, making my way through a few other books, experimenting with it in my own time and space. Via a friend who is a believer in the power of meditation, I spent today at a day long meditation retreat. I was excited to give this a try and now that it’s over … well maybe not so much.
I still firmly believe that meditation can be a useful tool, but I don’t think it will ever be something I become a true believer in. Just as I am pretty much not a true believer in much of anything. Part of the problem is that an entire day of meditation, when I’m still kind of new to it and not entirely comfortable with the practice, was probably a mistake. I just didn’t have the capacity to fill hours of time with meditation techniques and the required effort.
That’s on me. The larger problem is what I mention above. I’ll never be a true believer and by the time the retreat was over I realized I was in the midst of true believers and I started to question in my mind some of the things that were being said. I compare it to this. If you read enough running magazines over a long enough period, you will realize that there are people out there who believe that running can cure cancer, solve world hunger, end the risk of nuclear war, and get man to Mars. I felt the same way today — and I simply will never believe that meditation can do all of the things the true believers claim.
Now, understand. I haven’t given up on meditation and the potential it has for providing some positive benefits for me. There is something to be said for calming the mind, for recognizing the thoughts in there for what they are, for identifying mechanisms to better deal with the dramas of life. There is much that is good that meditation can offer and I will continue my efforts to incorporate it into my life in some way. But I just don’t know that going all in on it is an option for me.
One final comment about today’s session. At the conclusion, the leader of the retreat read a brief passage he had written. It was about how he takes walks along the American River and how he always struggles with the thoughts that intrude while he does so — the thoughts about the people and things that are pissing him off, the loneliness he feels, and he spends his walk struggling with those thoughts and has to figure out the mechanism by which he can let those thoughts go and enjoy his walk along the American River.
And I just sat back and said “wow” because what he described was my experience exactly. A little over a year ago, I started trying for some regular walks along the American River. I blog about it over at americanriverramblings.wordpress.com. What I don’t really share in the blog, however, is what he described. I spend my time walking along the river, raging in my head at the people and things that have angered me or frustrated me, the circumstances that I am in the middle of that cause me turmoil, my own loneliness … when all I want to do is walk along the river, watch the water flow, appreciate the trees and the wildlife, and have a few moments of peace and quiet.
Who knows what that means. I was just stunned when I heard his words because they could have been mine.
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A little bonus. I got a package of cookies yesterday to take to the meditation retreat. There’s a logo on the package. It says this: Cookies For Kids Cancer. Seriously. That’s what the logo said. So, apparently, there is some organization out there that is actually “for” kids getting cancer. And they advertise this!!!