Love Isn’t A Battlefield–It’s A Solar System

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If I hear one more person tell me that so and so is the center of their world, I’m going to be sick. I’m no expert on love but the way I see it, making someone the center of your universe is not love in any way, shape or form. I think Pat Benatar got it all wrong. Love isn’t a battlefield, it’s a solar system. You can’t put someone else in the center of your world because guess what? You’re already there. Who’s the sun? You are.

And in our universe, the sun has planets that revolve around it. I’d like to think that each one represents one facet of our lives. For me, one would be my future boyfriend. One is family. One is my writing. One is friends. One is travel. You get the idea. While I want to totally love and cherish my boyfriend, I also love other people and things that are important in my life. My boyfriend is only one facet of who I am. He’s going to be a super important facet but not everything. I think that’s healthy, don’t you think? Solar systems, people. That’s true love.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Gone But Not Forgotten

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This past week, as I sat here working on my book revision, I was reminded of one of the reasons I write. His name is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He died on Thursday about a month after his birthday in March. He was eighty-seven.

I was introduced to his work in college. It was the first time I had heard of him or magical realism. My professor had me read, One Hundred Years of Solitude. From the title, I was not impressed. Really? A hundred years, alone? That’s what you want me to read? But he was right. Even now, I can still see myself, reading so quickly as if my life depended on it. It was 1:30 in the morning and I only had a few pages left. I could go to sleep–I had class early in the morning–or I could hold onto his world until it decided to let go. I kept reading. I had to know how it ended. It was that good. When it finally came to an end, I fell asleep, changed forever.

When I think of Marquez, I’d like to think of him as the patriarch in my literary family tree. He was probably one of the most influential writers in my career. I’ve probably read almost everything he’s written. At the time, he was what a struggling new writer needed. His work gave me permission to dream, to expand, to bring magic into reality. Maybe if I had never read Marquez, I wouldn’t have developed the style I have now. Maybe I would’ve stopped writing. Who knows? All I can say is that I am grateful for his life and work. I am grateful to have been one of many who have loved his words and the magical worlds and painfully human characters he created.

Persimmons and the Morning Fog

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Ah, it’s November. And sadly, I’m in Hawaii. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the blue skies, the tradewinds and the daily sunshine. But nothing says autumn to me like the morning fog rolling in over San Francisco Bay and lovely, orange persimmons!

November makes me nostalgic for my first trip to the Ferry Building’s Saturday Farmer’s Market just four years ago. That year, San Francisco was experiencing a record heat wave for November and the days were a balmy 75 degrees and sunny. The skies were so clear and blue, it made me wonder, “Where am I?”

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Yes, everyone gets all worked up about summer and its berries and ripe sensual fruits, but frankly, I prefer fall. When I wandered around the stalls of fruits and vegetables, it was a wonder for my eyes:  eggplants as large as boxing gloves, dark green kale with coy ruffled leaves, deep red bell peppers, plums, grapes, apples of all kinds and of course, persimmons.

I was never a persimmon lover in Hawaii. Unless you’re willing to spend $5.00 a pound for the Hashimoto one grown on Maui, the stuff we get is mediocre at best. But in San Francisco, I couldn’t get enough of it. I think in the two days that I was there, I must have eaten at least six or seven persimmons total.

For those new to the fruit, there are two kinds of persimmons: Fuyu and Hachiya. A Hachiya looks more like a heart and you have to wait for it to be soft and really ripe in order to eat it. If you don’t wait, you will be sorry and left with a mouth that looks like an old man’s without his teeth. A Fuyu is more like a mini pumpkin. It’s crunchy and firm and its sweet flesh looks like and sometimes, in my mind, tastes like there’s cinnamon sprinkled all over it.

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But don’t think the Hachiya is useless. Not at all. One of my uncles dries them. The result is what looks like a large date heavily dusted with powdered sugar. At first, I thought that my uncle must have added something. Even a date doesn’t excrete this much sugar, right? But it was all the persimmon. I kid you not.

For our family, the dried Hachiyas are like gold. The process of drying them is ridiculously labor intensive. You don’t just leave it out and let the sun do its trick. No, you have to massage the fruit like every day. I haven’t had a massage myself recently so what makes you think I would want to give a massage to my fruit? So when we receive these dried persimmons, I definitely feel loved knowing how much work went into it. Basically, I pretty much hoard mine.

So all you people who live near the Ferry Building in San Francisco, eat a Fuyu persimmon for me or two or three because autumn has definitely arrived.

The Road to True Love Has Lots of Steps

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When I first embarked on my marriage shrine adventure, I thought I’d go to a shrine, plunk down my yen, ring the bell, pray and I’d be done with it. Next! But some shrines can be an all day affair. The Kibune Jinja is about thirty to forty minutes outside of Kyoto. You can take several trains, which we did, or the bus. But instead of going directly to Kibune, we chose to go to Kurama, a nearby town, and hike from there. After several days in urban Kyoto, I was dying for some nature, trees, fresh air, and a river.

Unfortunately, when I woke up that day, I was sick. My head was in a fog and my sinuses hurt. But still, I am a trooper when it comes to love. I was not going to let a little illness hold me back. My “he does not exist” friend came with me. While she still totally believed that I would not find the kind of man I was looking for, she promised that she would keep all negative thoughts about finding a man out of her head while we were at the shrine.

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So we arrived at Kurama and hiked for almost two hours through lush cedar forests that were a nice respite from the overbearing humidity. By the time we reached Kibune, it was lunch time. At first, I was so eager to see the shrine. I thought we could pray first, eat later. But when I saw that flight of stairs, I was not ready for another challenge. “Let’s eat,” I said to my friend.

In the summer time, there are many restaurants that set out places to sit over the river. Eating there is a nice break from the humidity. It’s definitely cooler and the food was lovely.

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After that beautiful lunch, I felt like I could actually make it up the stairs. I was doing this for love, right? When we got to the top, there was a line. A line! And it wasn’t just young people. There were old people, middle-aged people and children. I didn’t realize everyone needed help with love. There was nothing else to do but wait patiently.

Soon, it was our turn. Both of us went up the stairs but not before I reminded my friend of her promise to think positive thoughts. We bowed, threw our yen, rang the bell, clapped, prayed and then bowed again.

According to the website, Green Shinto, the Kibune Jinja is dedicated to the water god Kuraokami no kami and his wife Mizuhonone no kami. But it is still considered a love shrine. It is said that Heian poet Izumi Shikibu came here to pray for help in her relationship with her husband and apparently, things worked out. Yah for the water gods!

After our audience with the gods, we bought a fortune paper or omikuji. It looks like an ordinary blank piece of paper but then you place it in the water. Viola! Your fortune is revealed. Unfortunately, when our fortunes were revealed to us, our luck wasn’t the worst but it was one from the bottom. We decided to tie our fortunes to this rod and leave our bad luck there.

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But that’s not all. This luck thing is a big operation. After you pray and see what your fortune is, you buy an omamori or amulet for your specific cause, which, of course, for me is love. But they have amulets for all kinds of things: health, wealth, success in school, having a baby etc.

So in the end, were we successful? The weird thing was that when we left Kibune and made our way back to Kyoto, we began seeing instances of really cool guys. On one train ride, there was a woman seated on one of those long seats. Her boyfriend was standing in front of her. My friend and I thought that he was standing way too close. I mean, his legs were practically touching the seat. But when we looked closer, he was standing that close because his girlfriend was leaned up against him, sleeping. I am not joking. On the next train ride, there was another couple standing nearby. They were situated in such a way that there was nowhere for them to hold onto. They basically had to balance and hope that they wouldn’t fall on anyone. This man kept his hand on the small of the woman’s back to steady her for the whole ride. While the water gods did not rain down a flood of men for me, they certainly showed me what was possible. Even my “he does not exist” friend had to admit that miracles do happen.

Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chichi ni Naru)

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If you are going to see only one movie this year, make it Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son. Last night, Koreeda’s film played to a sold out crowd at the Hawaii International Film Festival and even now, the warmth and heart of that story still lingers.

Like Father, Like Son centers around Ryota Nonomiya played by Masaharu Fukuyama of Ryoma-den fame. He is a hard working, successful architect who is very much focused on success. While he experiences triumphs at work, Ryota is no more than a peripheral father and husband. From the very beginning, we see his intentions for his six-year-old son, Keita. He wants Keita to be a winner like him to the point where he sees his son’s innate kindness and gentle heart to be a liability rather than a virtue. Ryota believes it’s his job as a father to provide Keita with the discipline that he will need to conquer the harshness of real life. But Ryota is only there in name. He rarely plays with or even has time for his son. The day-to-day contact is left to his wife, Midori (Machiko Ono). Keita Ninomiya, who plays his son, is extraordinary. In every scene, he is able to portray a gentle, kindhearted, loving boy who feels a lot more inside than he lets on. We see it in his eyes that all he wants from his father is to be loved for who he is.

The major conflict of the story arises when Ryota and Midori discover that Keita is not their biological son. At that time, they meet the Saikis, the parents of their real son, Ryusei. The differences between the two families are apparent from that first meeting. Economically, the working class life of the Saikis cannot even begin to compare to the wealth of the Nonomiyas. But perhaps the most striking difference is between the two fathers. Where Ryota is distant from his son, Ryusei’s adopted father is not afraid to play with his kids and connect with them as much as he can. He may not be a winner by Ryota’s standards owning an appliance store but in his kids eyes, he is the best. At one point, he even tells Ryota that what children want, what they really long for from their parents is not anything money can buy. In the end, it’s time.

The movie is surprisingly funny in many parts and heartbreaking without depending on sentimentality. Koreeda has the right touch when it comes to delivering the emotions necessary to make this story an indelible one. The film’s slower pace and numerous black screen breaks allow you the time to digest what is happening in the story and what you are feeling at each moment. Long after you leave the theater, you will think about what it means to become a father. What does it mean to have a son? How does blood determine who you love?

In the end, the movie shows us that whether you are bound by blood or choice, fathers are important. The movie doesn’t give us a one-dimensional view of either father. Both have flaws. Both have good points. But at the end of the day, a present father will always win out over a perfect one.

If you want to see the moon, you have to face the darkness

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This picture was taken during the summer in Tokyo. The beauty of that moon almost made me forget how darn hot it was. I love the moon. Wherever I go in the world, it is always my link to my father. When I went to college, my father knew how much I hated being away from home. So he didn’t count days, he counted moons. It seemed so much faster that way. And before I knew it, I was home.

Even though I’m an adult, my father is still that beacon of light for me. He may be a quiet man but sometimes he sure has some neat ideas on life. I was doing this exercise where you have to list what you’re grateful for in terms of yourself. I wrote down that I’m grateful to be a writer and a dreamer. I love how creative and funny I am. I love my smile and my laugh. As I was writing my list, I noticed that I only wrote about the pretty, shiny stuff. But what about the not so stellar stuff? You know, when you get mad because people don’t get their work done or you get scared of change or you procrastinate when you really should be doing your revision.

I asked my father about it. And he said, “If you want self-esteem then by all means, keep writing what you like about yourself. But if you’re looking for true self love, you gotta love it all, even the darkness.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself: Q&A with Lori Deschene

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Lori Deschene, founder of Tiny Buddha
Lori Deschene, founder of Tiny Buddha

Tiny Buddha is one of my favorite sites on the web. You can go there, click on one of the many personal stories in every category imaginable and be inspired. You can also write about your own human experience like I did as a way to inspire others. The writers are all regular people like you and me sharing their own personal stories. As you read through the articles, you may laugh and cry even but I can guarantee that your heart will be moved. You will always find a real connection there. Recently, I asked Lori Deschene, the founder of Tiny Buddha, a few questions regarding her upcoming book, Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself, which will be officially launched on October 8, 2013.

1. What made you decide to found Tiny Buddha?

Prior to launching the site in 2009, I’d spent several months writing for a different blog that I tried to model after other personal development sites I admired. At the time, it seemed most of the popular ones focused on one person’s expertize, creating a leader/follower dynamic between the blogger and readers.

Since I felt I’d come a long way since struggling with depression, an eating disorder, and shame-induced isolation, I originally planned to do the same thing—to set up a corner of the web where I could help others through my experiences and lessons.

I quickly realized that didn’t feel right for me. I didn’t want to position myself as a “before and after” story, and I didn’t want to establish myself as some kind of expert or guru.

I wanted it to be okay to be perpetually in the middle, always growing and learning. I wanted to share myself openly—successes and struggles. And I wanted to learn from other people who were open to doing the same.

That’s when I decided to create tinybuddha.com as a community blog, where we could all be both students and teachers.

It’s not about any one person having it all figured out. It’s about an ever-growing group of people sharing our experiences and lessons, to help ourselves and each other.

2. What made you want to do a book on self love?

I was originally planning to write a different book about what it means to “win” in life. Shortly after I signed my contract, I went through a series of life challenges—a major surgery, a break-in, financial struggles, and the death of my grandmother.

It was an emotionally draining time for me, and one of the most difficult I’d experienced in years.

After telling my publisher I wasn’t going to be able to write the book, I started being a little hard on myself, especially since I’d already announced the project on the Tiny Buddha blog.

As time went on, I began to reevaluate what it means to take good care of myself, and I thought about a goal I’d had to write a series of “Tiny Buddha’s Guide to” books, sharing stories and insights from community members.

Since I had just gone through a time when I really needed my own love and compassion—and since I’d spent my younger life mired in self-loathing—I realized I wanted to start with a book focused on self-love.

I think it’s something we all struggle with at times, and yet it’s so important for our happiness. Everything we do in life is a reflection of how much we love ourselves.

3. What has surprised you about the journey of self love?

That it’s a journey. When I was younger, I thought the world was divided into two groups: people who love themselves, and people who hate themselves.

Since I felt like I was as low as one could get with in the self-hating group, I assumed I’d never even like myself, let alone love myself.

Then I realized that no one is 100% confident and happy with themselves, and that most people have struggled with at least some elements of self-love at various points in their life.

When I stopped seeing everything as black and white, I was able to create and move through shades of grey—slowly increasing my self-respect, self-esteem, and self-compassion—which seemed much more manageable than flicking a switch in my head and completely changing my perception of myself.

These days, I see self-love as something similar to happiness: I know I’ll feel it differently on different days, but I also know that’s what it means to be human. Everything ebbs and flows. So long as I am growing on the whole, I feel good about that.

4. What makes this book different from the other self help books that are out there?

I don’t believe there are any other books on self-love that include a collection of personal stories, along with relevant tips and advice to help readers who can relate to them.

There are, of course, books from psychiatrists who use their clients as case studies, but that’s storytelling from an expert’s vantage point, using others as examples.

Whenever I read books like that, I can’t help but feel like the author has everything together, whereas the examples—people who struggle like I have—are somehow less-than or at the very least, different.

That’s what makes this book different: it shares 40 unique first-person stories, and 40 lessons that come from life experience.

5. What have you learned from the essays that you collected?

I’ve learned that we are all far more beautiful than we realize. I could relate to so many of the stories in the book, and yet I felt much more admiration and compassion for the writers than I did for myself when I was in their shoes.

It serves as a reminder to see in myself the same light I saw in them. It’s there—just as it’s there in every reader who picks up this book. I hope others find strength in it, and recognize, through the stories, more of their own beauty, worth, and potential.

Readers can pre-order Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself and claim the self-love bonus pack, with eight digital items valued at more than $150, here:

http://tinybuddha.com/guide-to-loving-yourself

The bonus pack will be available through October 8th, the book’s official launch date.

Buy the book, people! Let Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself inspire you to love yourself more.