Yesterday it snowed here in Osaka. Not much and it didn't stick, but I could hardly believe my eyes as I stood on my 14th floor balcony and stared out over the city. Little flakes that whirled and twirled and melted the moment they hit the rooftops.
If you think of Japan as a hot and humid country, you are partly correct. Late summer is like that. Winter, however, is cold, windy and it does snow sometimes. When I go out these days I wear a hat and gloves and a warm coat.
Yesterday I also heard something that is staying with me because I found it such an odd idea. A new way of looking at things and it goes like this: "We are accountable for the second thought and the first action." What does that mean?
My interpretation goes like this: Our thoughts come and go all day long and we have to be careful about the first one that pops into our head because it all too often comes in the form of a judgement or negative thinking. Things like "Japan is this or that" or "The Japanese are [insert adjective here]" or "I'm not going to be happy here..." These examples are from my current experience as a newly arrived expat/trailing spouse. These are the snap judgements or thoughts based on feelings. They are a reaction to encounters or the lack thereof - isolation being the breeding ground for all sorts of strange thoughts that tend to linger and poison everything if they are allowed to spin in one's head too long.
So far my experience as an expat wife has been about fighting First Thoughts and isolation. This time around I don't have a job to go to and I miss that. Even more insidious is this very comfortable apartment which is warm and cozy and has a great view. With the weather being so bad, it's easy to just stay put, make another cup of tea, and surf the Internet.
Are we accountable for these First Thoughts? I'm opening to the idea that, no, we are not and that maybe fighting them so strenuously is a lot like being in a net where the mesh gets tighter the more one struggles.. Thoughts come and go and stopping them from popping up is not possible, particularly when strong emotions are involved. But we do struggle to control them because many First Thoughts are probably not ones we would like to see on the front page of The New York Times or Le Monde. We are ashamed of them - all the more if we are vaguely aware that we are making terrible politically incorrect judgements about others or ourselves based on insufficient experience in response to feelings that are not facts.
The saying implies that we are not responsible for these thoughts that simply arrive in our consciousness and we can no more control them than we can hold back the tide. It's the Second Thought that matters. Or, to put it another way, it's where we go with the First Thought that counts.
We could, for example, use the First Thought to spin ourselves into a mighty fine depression. A particularly awful Second Thought would be to beat ourselves up by agreeing with the First Thought and then telling ourselves that it's because we are inadequate/old/not smart enough/too sick/too tired/too different/no fun and so on and so forth. Sound familiar? I know that I do it all the time and I sure didn't have to move to another country to feed those First Thought storylines.
Or we could do something different. A Second Thought could just be an admission that we don't really know - it's just random thinking - and we could let it go. This is the way I feel/think right now but I won't judge the thought. Instead I'll drop it for today and check back in tomorrow.
A Second Thought could also be an awakening where we could choose to honor the thought/feeling and ourselves by acknowledging it and considering what we could do about it. "I'm hungry, lonely, angry, tired, thirsty, lost" and that's OK. It happens. But instead of dropping it, we could think about a positive First Action.
I'm hungry. Eat something.
I'm lonely. Call someone or send an email.
I'm depressed. Walk to the subway station and back. Feel better? Yes. Walk two subway stations away and back.
I despair of ever learning to read Japanese. Learn two Kanji. Just two. (I chose bowl and plate.)
There are negative First Actions, too: being lonely and choosing to stay in splendid isolation savouring those terrible feelings, nurturing the negative thinking, for example.
I'm finding a lot of solace (and practical help) in this simple idea: We are accountable for Second Thoughts and First Actions only. I'll keep working on it and see how it goes.