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If in our daily life we can smile,
if we can be peaceful and happy,
not only we, but everyone will profit from it.
This is the most basic kind of peace work.
- Thich Nhat Hanh
On my way home after a delightful three and a half hours of training yesterday - the kind you float away from - I stopped by WalMart to pick up some cat food. One of the greeters (actually working the exit), a guy in about his 70s, who seems to always be there, called out to a woman leaving as I was walking in, "Are you happy?" "Do you know it?" "Well then, clap your hands!" So, great… Now I had that song stuck in my head. LOL But it was great to be able to answer for myself, "Yeah, I really am!" As I was shopping, I smiled at people, and they smiled, too. :-) I asked a taller clerk to get something down for me, and then later I helped a shorter woman who was struggling to reach cereal at the back of the highest shelf, and she went away smiling. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. On a Monday. At 10 p.m. Shopping at WalMart.
When I first started training I lamented that it would take generations, if it could ever happen at all, to get a large percentage of people participating in Aikido, or something like it - something that can change one's experience of the world, and the world itself, for the better. Sensei told me something about it only taking a few people - not everyone… I don't remember how he put it. But last night an image came to mind: mixing dye into a big container of water. It
This is not specifically about Aikido, but I hope you'll enjoy it just the same.
We are fortunate to have the largest state park in California, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, right here in San Diego County. It's a great place to camp and hike, and an easy day trip by car. I spent many family vacations there, decades ago, scrambling up rocky trails in flip-flops, watching the wildlife, and playing card games. Kids at the campground would swim in the small hot spring-fed pool, where at dusk, bats would swoop down to drink, eliciting panicked shrieks from some of the children. The ranger at the campground check-in kiosk always had a tarantula on his sleeve. My sister and I would walk to the small campground store to get a soda or some chips. At night in the desert the sky is pitch black, sprinkled with a million brilliant stars. There is something special about the air — the wind howls, and gusts threaten to blow you over — even sound travels in a different way. There's a kind of stillness and quiet that's unique to the desert.
Every spring people visit the park's 600,000 acres to see the wildflowers. Depending on the rains, some years are better than others. Like with weather or surf, there are websites where you can check to see how the flowers are doing, and find the best places to view them. It's not something you can schedule by the calendar, because their blooming varies with the recent rainfall.
In a good year, if your timing is right, you might see a few hills
If you aren't already in the habit of reading the columns here on AikiWeb, be sure to head over there and check out my column about my experience of our recent open mat / exam prep sessions. I write as part of a group of women calling ourselves The Mirror. This month was my turn to write, and we all collaborate on editing and revisions. :-)
It's been about a year - actually a year and two months, since my 2nd kyu exam. My 1st kyu exam will be this morning. I think of each exam like New Year's Day - a time to look back, and to look ahead.
This year has been one of transitions. Bringing things into alignment. Getting behind center. Grounding. Being clear.
I changed the way I work. With my employer's and husband's support, I cut back on my hours, and now work exclusively from home. This has meant a huge reduction in stress and a better physical workspace for me. It allows more time and flexibility for my Aikido training, and lets me focus on writing as my primary activity.
Over the past few months I have upgraded my office, with a new computer and printer, and all new software tools for writing and design work. There have been a few steep learning curves, but now I'm off and running.
I established my own publishing company, Shugyo Press. I wrote and published my first book, "A Bowl of Love - How to Make a Big Green Dojo Potluck Salad." On Monday morning I will be moving directly into my next two books, one of which is to be my "Black Belt Project," something we each take on at our dojo, before our shodan exam. (The other is a secret, for now.)
There have been a lot of little things, too. A long-delayed household improvement is finally on track. My blog on AikiWeb just went over 200,000 views. I turned 50.
I've happily spent over 250 training days on the mat. I have helped out in the kids' classes
Yesterday I completed one entire month on the mat. I'm preparing for my first kyu exam, which will be this Saturday, so I've been training even more than usual. I did it just because I could, and because it seemed to help me keep up the proper momentum, and stay loose physically. The nerve problem I was having with my neck and arm has been improving with constant activity, and I'm generally feeling very good. So why stop?
I trained every day, even Sundays. Every class, even the kids classes, and every open mat session.
When I shared that milestone with my friends, one suggested that I must be experiencing an "awesome growth spurt."
Actually, no. Although I have been enjoying training and having a lot of fun preparing for exams with my dojo mates, I've actually been fairly perturbed by my lack of progress. Sometimes it's felt like I'm going backward. It's been discouraging. For for each new "aha" moment there are three more things I see I seriously need to work on.
Here's what I said to him:
"Not really feeling like it... Well actually, yeah... But the kind of growth where you become more acutely aware of where the holes are, and what needs work. Humbling - in the classic sense of the word."
In writing that answer I saw the situation in a new light, and suddenly felt a lot better about things. I really was making progress, it just didn't look the way I had been thinking it should. So I guess that does still count as an "awesome growth spurt
[I wrote this post almost three years ago, but tucked it away with a hundred or so others in my Drafts folder, because it felt a little too raw. A conversation with a friend recently reminded me about it. Now, with another free intro class coming up at our dojo, it seems like a good time to hit the Publish button. Here it is, unedited.]
There is nothing that touches us quite like being "gotten" - known for who we really are. Being recognized. And there are few things so exasperating as being seen as someone who you are not.
The photo on the left is me, on my 2nd birthday, on what I'm guessing was a birthday present. A Wonder Horse. Like a rocking horse, but on springs. I think they make bull-riding practice rigs like this. I probably played on it until I outgrew it or wore it out. I'm sure I fell asleep on the damned thing. If they had these for grownups, there wouldn't be a weight problem in our country. It was only a plastic horse, but it offered movement and energy and adventure and freedom from gravity. I loved that thing.
The photo on the right is me, dressed and posed as someone I never was. I remember that day very clearly. They moved the round walnut coffee table over to where the photographer's background was, for me to sit on. I was told to smile like that, and the photographer positioned my hand, with my finger against my cheek, and turned my head just so. I protested, but the photographer (who was a professional after all, and who knew best) insisted. I'm sure it was supposed to look sweet and cute. But it didn't look like me. I was as furious as a little child can be. It still pisses me off to think about it. My mom recently gave me that red checkered dress from the photo, to do with as I like. I think I'll burn it.
It's been a bit of a disjointed week… since my post about Monday, I've helped in the little kids class on Tuesday, and participated in two classes Tuesday evening. In the second class on Tuesday, I got to make a request, so I requested that we work on timing and entries, from munetsuki and shomen-uchi. We worked on kokyu-ho, kokyu nage, and kote-gaeshi. That was really useful, and I feel a lot more comfortable with those, although I still feel like I'm only doing them in slow motion. I'd love to be able to spend some time really drilling on these techniques. I feel like a few hundred repetitions would be a good start.
Wednesday was a relatively pleasant but unproductive day. I woke up late, making up for a few nights of sleep deprivation, and then had a massage, took a hot bath, and saw the chiropractor, all in hopes of continuing the improvement in the nerve in my neck and arm. It's been doing a tiny bit better each day for a few weeks now. That sounds like a lovely, relaxed day, but I had things I needed to get done, and didn't make any progress on them at all. So in spite of appearances it was actually pretty frustrating and stressful. I helped in the older kids class, but skipped the evening training on Wednesday to go out for early Valentine's Day dinner with my husband, Michael. Wednesdays are test prep nights, and people stay late to train together, so I hated to miss it this close to an exam. But the alternative would have been to miss the weapons class and the ad
Today marks the beginning of the four-week countdown to my first kyu exam on March 9. I spent the afternoon training with friends , and the evening discussing training strategies, among other things, over dinner.
I've been training with my exam in mind for a good while, but the date has seemed safely distant, off in the future sometime. I haven't been too concerned with things that aren't smooth, or for that matter that I hardly know it all, because it felt like there was a lot of time left. No worries. I've been dealing with a funky nerve in my neck and arm, fighting various colds and coughs, and trying to get my first book finished and published. Just show up and train, there's no rush… But now suddenly it doesn't feel like I have much time at all! This is the time to snap out of that "whenever" thinking, and instead begin to bring a good bit more attention, precision, and fullness to everything. Now.
I have technique notes written down here and there, and a few scribbles about things I need to work on. I will feel more secure once I have them in one place, with a clear list of the things I really need help with.
But first, I promised I would finish another blog post, about counting to 31 in Japanese. So that's next, and then getting all my notes together in one place. Ready? Acck! Go!
[Originally posted January 22nd, 2013 - Catching up on a couple of missed posts here.]
Well, I've run into an interesting complication with writing. I've managed to screw up the radial nerve in my left arm. My thumb and forefingers tingle and go numb when I use my right arm for things like the trackball or the keyboard. So, I'm trying an experiment. I am using the voice to text feature on my iPhone to dictate blog posts And other writing.
The good news is that Aikido seems to loosen things up. I trained for 12 days straight at the beginning of the year, and improved continuously. My physical therapist was very impressed. Then for one day on a Sunday, I didn't train, and instead worked at the computer off and on. That about did me in! Even with frequent stops for stretching, PT exercises, and other movement, my neck and shoulders got really tight and painful.
I got back to training, slowly, with a few false starts, and yesterday managed over six hours on the mat. I'm no worse for the wear. If anything everything is a little looser. Today I have a class in the morning, and then another appointment with my orthopedic doctor. We'll see what we can figure out.
Meanwhile, I had a great time over the weekend at the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar, and at a seminar with Dave Goldberg sensei at Aikido Tijuana. I was very disappointed to not be able to take ukemi for some shodan exams there, on Sunday. Alas… I hope next time I will be able to. I am grateful that this injury at least is not keeping me off the mat, for the most part. I just need to learn how
I hope my neighbors are in their beds, dreaming their dreams, late at night.
I hope they are sound sleepers, sawing logs, not bothered by much.
I hope they are not nosy; not peering from their windows with the lights out.
It's bad enough I feed the donkeys after class, and sometimes after dinner.
The braying at 10:30 could be trying if my neighbors were awake.
The clatter of cat food into dishes, and splashing of water into large bowls,
Might not be too bad. At least the kitties are well enough behaved.
I hope my neighbors are not fearful.
They would surely wonder what that crazy Eskin lady is doing now,
out there in the dark, swinging and swirling a rake handle overhead
while the donkeys munch their hay.
"Has she at last gone completely mad?"
How could they know that practicing the 20 jo suburi in the stillness
is the perfect way to settle down before settling into bed?
If they do see, I hope my neighbors don't worry.
"Why on earth is she lying on the driveway, on her back, at 2 a.m.?"
Maybe they haven't seen the observatory in the yard.
Maybe they didn't read the news about the meteor shower.
"And why is that rake handle lying across across her chest?"
Perhaps they haven't noticed the raccoons,
Who've come to eat the cat food.