Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Visit With The Korean 'Han'

One of the Japanese Corporations that do business in Korea is the athletic equipment company ASICS, named for the five letter acronym of the Latin words no one seems to know: Anima Sana in Corpore Sano--a sound mind in a sound body. Few will deny today that the mind can have profound effects on the body and that the body can affect the mind.The two have been found to be so interconnected in neurobiological studies that the words "mind" and "body" are often joined and discussed together in the expression "the mind-body connection."

One of the priests in the diocese frequently asks me about my health: am I eating well, sleeping well, and having good bowel movements. This is his criterion for bodily health.
However, we must not forget the role of the mind in achieving and maintaining health.

Recently I read that to have a healthy mind three things are necessary. They are expressed by the same Korean words--with different meanings--used to describe the health of the body: expressing feelings honestly, stopping self-tormenting criticisms and learning to relax, and dealing with everyone without discrimination.
The article goes on to explain why this approach is necessary; without it we can feel regret and sorrow when our desires are not satisfied--a state of mind that Koreans call "han." Whenever desires are not satisfied, it is believed that there is a build up of han, which results in a tense and anxious condition, and confused feelings that sometimes cause us to do what we know we should not do. With deep-seated han the heart is said to become heavy as if one has been sentenced to death on trumped up charges.

This han is considered something uniquely Korean and the "soul of Korean literature," and yet it's a complex feeling difficult to describe precisely--at least 22 definitions have been attempted. Park Kyong-ni, one of Korea's most respected contemporary writers, describes it as being a feeling "both of sadness and hope at the same time," as if living at "the core of life," with its many difficulties and dualities. Sadness comes, she says, when we realize and accept that difficulties are an unavoidable part of life. Hope comes from the will to overcome the difficulties, no matter how impossible this may seem.

Christians deal with the han by getting closer to our Lord by living the Paschal mystery. We die daily to be born again. The sorrows and failures we experience are a birth to even something better following the example of our Lord.

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