KingMidget's Ramblings

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A Movie and Meditation


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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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!!!

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15 responses to “A Movie and Meditation

  1. Carrie Rubin January 30, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    I suspect I’d end up feeling the same as you after a day of meditation. I’m always a bit removed from group retreats. I don’t seem to take away the same things everyone else does. I blame the cynic and pragmatist in me.

    • kingmidget January 31, 2016 at 6:39 am

      I forgot to mention another point … why have a group retreat if you can’t talk with each other. Other than interactions with the retreat’s leader regarding the things he wanted to discuss and our questions for him, there was no “chit chat.” So, we’re doing this thing in a group of people with whom we are not allowed to make a connection. So … again, why bother coming to a group retreat. And that’s where my cynicism and pragmatism comes into play. Hard to be a true believer …

  2. cinthiaritchie January 31, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    I have “Ode to My Father” in my Netflix favorites but have been hesitant to watch because I know it’s going to serve up a wallop of reality, and that isn’t always easy to digest.
    As far as meditation, I can’t imagine meditating for a whole day. I mean, where would your mind go? Where is it supposed to go?
    When I run, I often feel the way you feel as you walk, I worry, I fret, I talk and argue with people inside my head. That usually slips away by the fifth mile or so and then I feel peaceful and happy and totally blissed out, until ten miles later or so, when I start to bonk and find myself worrying and wondering and talking and arguing with people inside my head again. It never ends, lol.

    • kingmidget January 31, 2016 at 4:51 pm

      Yes. Running is where I do some of my most serious problem solving. This morning, I went for a six mile run with a major problem in my head, one that has been going on for several weeks now. And I was barely a mile into my run when I made a decision regarding which tactic to take on the matter. This happens pretty regularly. But, yes, whether running or walking, there’s a whole lot that goes on in there while I’m out. The interesting thing is that my most “successful” meditation efforts come after I get home from my run and I lay on the carpet and stretch and just relax and calm myself.

      As for Ode To My Father — yes, it is a tough movie to watch, but it is very good. One of those movies where I forgot I’m watching actors acting and felt like they were living the experiences.

  3. Nurse Kelly January 31, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    Sorry to hear you had a bad experience at the retreat. I hope you don’t totally give up on it though – just keep it in perspective as a way to calm your mind like you said. I went to a retreat for a few days with some friends of mine. We sat and walked and were able to talk though. I know what you mean about people going all out with it too… can get annoying.

    That movie sounds interesting. I’ve always found the human rights violations in the North Korean prisons really unsettling. Notoriously horrific!

    • kingmidget January 31, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      I absolutely am not giving up on meditation as a part of my life. I’m just not going to go all in on it. It’s like everything else — take a little bit of this, a little bit of that, add a pinch of something else and maybe the combination will end up being just right. The retreat you went to with some friends sounds much more workable.

      • Nurse Kelly January 31, 2016 at 5:38 pm

        I agree! You really do have to just take away what works for you and leave the rest! I stick with health-related stuff that works for me for a long time, though, and can honestly say that meditation has benefited my life. But I also think it’s effect and further study into Eastern spiritual practices is something you have to be really ready for and open to. To be perfectly honest, I’m pretty out there on some of that stuff, but I would never push it on anybody! I just like to subtly suggest it now and then 🙂

      • kingmidget January 31, 2016 at 5:47 pm

        Some day when I have more time, I may expand my exposure to some of the other aspects — maybe even including Eastern spiritual practices. But for the moment, what I have time for is to incorporate it into my life in a way that helps calm me and really nothing else. One of the things I was struck by was that everybody else at the retreat was old enough to be retired. I’m not quite there yet.

        And I strongly encourage you to subtly suggest whatever you think may work.

      • Nurse Kelly January 31, 2016 at 5:50 pm

        What the heck kind of retreat were you at?! Too funny, Mark! And thank you for the validation 🙂

      • kingmidget January 31, 2016 at 5:56 pm

        Should I have re-considered when I saw this on the door: Shady Acres Home for the Aged??

        Actually, it was hosted by a former co-worker who retired about ten years ago. He is very involved in meditation and Buddhism — teaching meditation to inmates in local prisoners, for instance — and offering these retreats at his home on a fairly regular basis. And the leader of the retreat is somebody who has written books on it and has been meditating for more than 40 years. So, lots and lots of great experience.

        But, the sense I got was that this is one of those things that you simply cannot get completely into without … more time. Yes, there are definitely younger people who do this. I have a current co-worker who is 35 and has been involved in meditation for years. So it is possible, but I’ll have to add it to my list of things that I simply don’t have enough time for now. 😉

      • Nurse Kelly January 31, 2016 at 5:59 pm

        Or you can do it at 5 in the morning like me before I take my son to rowing practice and go to work! (But I do make my own schedule, so that helps) You’ll figure it all out I’m sure. Have a good night!

      • kingmidget January 31, 2016 at 6:02 pm

        Actually, that’s what I’m trying to do. In terms of making it a regular, daily practice, the only time that really works is first thing in the morning when I get up. Otherwise there is too much noise and activity at other times of the day. I’m working on it. The thing I need is a variety of approaches and techniques — doing the same thing every day will never work.

      • Nurse Kelly January 31, 2016 at 6:05 pm

        Well at least you are realistic and honest with yourself. You can only do so much – I hope you get time to yourself as well.

      • kingmidget January 31, 2016 at 6:07 pm

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me on this. Hope you have a great week.

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