32 x 6 (living hagiography 3.11)


I went for a walk this afternoon. Bright but cold, the kind of cutting chill that sneaks up under warmer drafts. The weather has been steadily warming for a couple of weeks; this sudden shift from warm to cold again is called “the cold of flower-jealousy” (꽃샘 추위). It’s said that winter becomes jealous of the flowers, and sends cold weather to drive them back.



I was born during this month of convergence, winter and spring, bitter cold jealousies and warm emergent growth. Thirty-two years ago. A Pisces, the twinned fish churning in a cycle of creation and destruction, expansion and retraction, highly sensitive and creative but also emotional and turbulent, many aspects of my personality a double-edged knife and involved in a kind of dance that only keeps balance by keeping in motion. Also, the year of the monkey, nimble-witted but just as likely to follow her curiosity into trouble.



Six years ago, by coincidence on my birthday, I received novice precepts. It was a strange moment. I felt like I lost something inside me that morning, a portion of what I called “myself,” and at the same time I literally picked up the mantle of a new identity. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a birth, because it was and has been a process so slow and at times imperceptible that I’m hesitant to assign any particular moment to it. There are ceremonies to celebrate that process, but nothing substantial comes into being because of a ceremony. Ceremonies recognize and encourage, but they don’t really create anything for me. The moments of birth, rather than being singular, are continuous; the gasps of sudden understanding, the shock of a first breath, come again and again to us, to anyone, if that anyone is someone trying to pay attention. Birth loses its singularity, becoming an on-going process.



An odd thing has happened since I turned thirty. I never cared much about my birthday. Not because I had any early understanding of “birth as continuous process,” but because I just didn’t care. I actively cultivated a nonchalance after high school, until that nonchalance became a genuine disinterest in birthdays, mine, yours, anyone’s.

Turning thirty mattered to me, though. Although I just said that birth, psychologically and spiritually at least, loses its particular singularity in the context of spiritual practice, the body (on the other hand) starts to keep very close track. My physical situation shifted drastically when I turned thirty. I lost nearly ten pounds in muscle-mass, the heritage of years of swimming, running, rock-climbing, weight training, and martial arts, and I have shrunk down to my slight build in a way I couldn’t have imagined during my twenties. My eyesight, after years of 20/20 or better, worsens noticeably each six months. My hands, once merely thin, now seem gaunt and have their first age-spots. Thanks to the Buddhist tonsure, I don’t worry about my hair; but I’m sure it too is changing. I feel increasingly frail. I worry about my knees. I wake up with low-back pain. I am stiff in the mornings and my hips ache in rainy weather.

This doesn’t distress me like I thought it would. What the body loses, the heart gains. Would I love to have back those ten pounds of muscle, which meant stamina, strength, health? My 20/20 eyesight? My limber limbs? Yes. But I wouldn’t turn back the clock of my mind at all. The process, incremental and largely unseen, and largely shaped by my monastic training, of growing older, is incredible. Wonderful. Worth all the liver spots in the world.

With slightly increasing age, though, comes a growing awareness that my life is limited. Birthdays suddenly became important, mine and everyone’s. Because, while they signify nothing in the absolute, they signify much in the relative.

Birthdays are become days of illumination, a chance to notice what has changed, to celebrate the world and being in it. Sure, I also badgered my friends to send me birthday wishes and indulged in some of my favorite things (coffee, a walk, photos), because it is my birthday today; but even if it had gone unnoticed by others, I would have remarked on it for myself and noted the day and its particulars. It’s my birthday. Of double significance because my body was born on this day, and so was my vocation, ceremonially at least. (And since I’ll hopefully be preparing for another ordination ceremony at the end of the month, this birthday resonates strongly on both the physical and spiritual registers.)

What has come once, won’t come again. Happy March 11th, everyone.


Last year I was too shy to talk directly and specifically about my birthday, and I made do with a short reference and a picture.


16 comments on “32 x 6 (living hagiography 3.11)

  1. Mom says:

    So beautiful, Amanda. Every year on March 11, I celebrate your birth and am so glad you are among us! Happy Birthday, I love you! Mom

  2. roy says:

    Dear Sunim,

    Happy Birthday!

    Thank you for this lovely post of images and prose. I really really like the image of the wall with the shadows and hole in the lower right.. gorgeous.

    To celebrate, I’ll be chanting for you at the Refuge later on today. I’m sure the birds, the waves, and Sister Wind will all join in as well…


    – roy.

    • seon joon says:

      Roy, thank you… I loved the wall, too. It’s the retaining wall for the back terrace of my temple. I’d gone out for a walk in the park (which is kin to the Refuge, I’m sure) and when I came home and walked up the stairs, the light and geometry struck me.

      I hope you and your family are well!

  3. Dale Favier says:

    Happy birthday dear! I hit 54 pretty soon. I find that though I imagined the discontents of being this age vividly — exaggerated them wildly, in fact — I never began to suspect the delights of it. I thought life would become boring: but it just becomes wilder and stranger. I imagine it will be even more so for you — you have been so much more disciplined about cultivated joy and the causes of joy. xo

    • Dale Favier says:

      cultivated/cultivating 🙂

      (all right, so typos do become more frequent)

    • seon joon says:

      Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Cultivating joy, or cultivated joy? *grin*

      I know…your birthday is at the end of the week, my dear fellow Piscean! I agree with your “wilder and stranger” age…I was terrified of crossing thirty, for whatever reasons; and then I did. And not only did the world not end, but it got better. (I do miss having a 20-year-old’s stamina and flexibility, but that’s about it.)

      Here’s to wilder, stranger, greater!

  4. Ron Kidd says:

    I remember my 30th birthday. I was visiting Taize, in eastern France, the Protestant ecumenical monastery. The towns were loaded with visitors (schools re-open only toward the end of September, and this was the 12th) and we slept in a grade school requisitioned for the summer which was, as I remember it, down the hill from the Eglise de Recon-ciliation. They must have given us blankets, or were there maybe cots? What I remember is sleeping on the floor. I was very happy there and it was a very happy birthday. I don’t believe the friends who were with me knew and I did not tell them.

    But my 32nd birthday has passed effortlessly into the clouds of oblivion!

    Happy birthday!


    • seon joon says:

      Dear Ron,

      I owe you an email! I keep putting it off because I want to sit down “when I can concentrate…” Laugh; anyway, I’ll write you soon. Thank you for the birthday wishes! I also didn’t tell folks in the temple about my birthday for years. This was the first time in seven years I’ve made any sort of a fuss, although it was largely virtual. My closest brothers and sisters live in temples scattered across the country. But it was a good birthday, as full of the blessings of good company as I could have hoped.

  5. Kevin Kim says:

    Tout de bon à l’occasion de ton anniversaire, Sunim!

  6. I wrote a long comment here about birthdays (mine is in ten days), aging, doors opening and closing, and then I accidentally closed the browser and lost it. Woe!

    Well, here’s the important part: I wish you many blessings on this birthday and in the year to come.

    • seon joon says:

      *laugh* I think I’ve done that, accidentally closing a browser or losing a comment, about a dozen times, usually when I’m trying to reply to comments from my phone instead of using the computer. Yes, I remember you’re a spring birthday to! In advance–happy birthday, and all the blessings of health, family, and faith. (I’ll say it again when the day comes around, though.)

  7. Dave Bonta says:

    I remember 30 as the year I started to sometimes wake up with aches and pains, too. But in general the succeeding 16 years haven’t been so bad… well, I’ll just second Dale on that. Happy birthday!

  8. […] black and white film. It’s an early birthday present to myself. I’ll take a longer walk as is my wont on my birthday next week. But the day was so nice and the feeling in me after so long, I thought: […]

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