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If you know me well, you know that my thoughts are often pre-occupied with breaking down the dichotomy between things, removing the contradiction, making things mutually inclusive (i.e. life and death, mind and body). Recognizing that these things are simply different sides of the same coin or even one in the same floods my reality with relief and joy.
These floods have increased since my arrival in China. Strangely, the catalyst has more often than not been rain. Water and fire are almost perfect opposites in Chinese medicine. So, my thoughts return to yet another dichotomy. Back in America, the arrival of rain is usually coupled with, for lack of a better word, my bitching—“today is ruined,” “how ugly it is”,” I am so sad when it rains.” In Lincang, China, the presence of rain during summer time is a welcome friend—now my welcome friend. I brought an umbrella with me everywhere, and as it rained multiple times a day, I felt myself slowly adjust. It is strange that it often takes shifting to extremes to recognize the beauty/the meaning/the essence of something. The rain demanded so much of my attention in Lincang that I finally surrendered.
I could not help but smile when this happened, as I felt that Lincang and I shared the same elemental state, that of fire. We were both in desperate need of some rain. My first three weeks of teaching and 150 new friends brought both the most hectic schedule I ever had and more happiness than I had experienced in months. The rain was a welcome reminder of a lesson that I often forget in all of my intensity: slow down; reflect mindfully (exhausting mental chatter, what I often confuse as intellectual thinking, is not the same as reflecting mindfully); smell, taste, see, feel, and hear the world around you. Rain—water—forces this on me.
The dichotomy between fire and water collapsed last Thursday. As I left the school building on my last day of teaching, the sky was as blue as could be, not a cloud in the sky, sun shining bright, and it was pouring down raining. Mother Nature shook up the stark contrasts between my associations with sunshine and rain in her confusing weather display. There was a purging of the sky on the most beautiful day I had seen in Lincang. I walked slower than usual that day, not having a care in the world where I would end up. Instead of avoiding puddles, I intentionally walked in them (while wearing my awesome shower shoes of course). The water felt like heaven on my feet. The trees smelled so good I could almost taste them. My senses merged to create something God-like. In that moment, nothing else mattered.
It just so happened that I discovered a song on that walk, “the woods” by Bon Iver. On any other day, the lack of beat, the lack of intensity, would have been labeled as simply inadequate to sustain my usual overly energetic mood. On that day though, that same perceived (key word) inadequacy manifested itself into near perfection. Who would have thought that 4 minutes and 45 seconds of the below mantra alone could rest with my mood so well that day.
“I’m up in the woods, I’m down on my mind
I’m building a sill to slow down the time
I’m up in the woods, I’m down on my mind
I’m building a sill to slow down the time.’
It was not until after my walk that I realized that the lyrics were a time capsule for my experience.
Reflecting on this now is another reminder of how necessary rain/the essence of rain, in all of its forms, are to my staying grounded. I should not and do not have to wait to wait for it to rain on the most beautiful day in Lincang to slow down and truly feel life, as it should be. Lucky for me, Sunday marks the beginning of my two years in Liuhe, a village on a mountaintop known for water shortages.