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As I sit here the house is quiet and still, the clock's flashing 11:11pm. It's been exactly two weeks since I returned from my month-long overseas hiatus, and I've finally found a blanket in space where it's like there's nothing else here or anywhere and the whole world's just stopped. I can finally begin to come to grips with the tides of life because I'm back and I'm here and in this time and place that's all that seems to matter right now.
If this writing seems rather archaic, rather poetic, please forgive me. There's a knot in my chest, in my mind, in my heart that's unfolding. It's been two weeks since I returned from Japan, it's been about 6 or 7 weeks since I left home for Japan, about a year and a half since I started dreaming and planning with my whole heart to make it happen. There were things I desperately wanted to see and learn, and I won't lie, there were things I desperately wanted to leave behind too.
Myself, mainly. I wanted to both leave myself far behind and find myself again. The way I once knew how. But somehow a person gets so lost in everyday life; at the pointy end of a degree you learn that your only significance lies in the marks of compliance you produce, and your only value seems to lie in the volume of life you can pour out to crowds of people with the training you possess when you leave. I'm to be a teacher; am I to claim a classroom and teach others with such authority when there's so much I still need to grasp myself? Can I bear the hypocrisy? Am I strong enough to sustain 30 hopes and cares, reach out and rescue 30 stories, every moment of every day for the next 40 years? I fled.
But there's an unbearably dizzying amount to explore, there's a gut-wrenching magnificence to the humblest details of life around every corner, in every face in every crowd. A nobility and a splendour hiding behind the veneer of the mundane. There's an honour in treading the steps of others before you and knowing still that the steps may copy but the reality of life experience creates a totally different journey. And the discovery of that journey is ...
I finished my coursework in November, I learned to pass the marking rubric and not to sleep. I learned to bury my heart deep in a vault when necessary, and I learned some of not to care at all, and also to care too well. I learned that the existence of hypothetical students is enough to drag me through it all, that the desire to teach the world's lost children burns in me and is enough to keep me from emptying my veins.
But it is not enough to simply know that there's some thing out there, somewhere out there. It's not enough to hear of stories and numbers or to just read them on a page. The nest of complacency may be too sweet and soft to make you want to fly, but hey, let comfort be there for the dead! I left. I booked accommodation first thing, then made lists and writings and tentative sketches of what this trip could be. A month, I decided, with a couple days of rest either side. I would train at Hombu every moment I could, I decided, live like a deshi, like a sacrifice; losing myself in the training. Well, I must have researched and daydreamed on the internet for 150+ hours. I know that I'd been collecting jackets and winter thermals and whatnot for over a year, hoarding my growing pile of luggage-to-be like a jewel!
I left my family at the airport; from then on they faded to the back of my mind. They may be distressed to read this. I'm sorry, but the truth is all I have. Understand that from then on there was only ever Japanese around me, there was only ever confusion and stark alone-ness, it all blended around like a wash of music, and everything around me seemed to fade to the back too. There was only ever the shadow of myself and the God I love, growing stronger and realer with every passing challenge. I learned to let go of control, to surrender to the circumstances without taking defeat. I learned that you can grow stronger by finding stillness in the terror. And through that strength people can accomplish just about everything. Everything. Things people never dared to dream of because it was too scary to admit they existed as a possibility. I learned that God who I love loves me too, delights to give me moments of unimaginable wonder and beauty, not just a safe guiding hand. If you'll take it. And let yourself be loved. I learned too that you become bolder when you realise what you want, when you throw yourself at your desire, and it's the momentum that makes everything around you happen. So I guess I did find myself, I guess the shadows of and within me did emerge and consolidate (at last!) by the end.
It's funny, though, how things never work out the way you think they will. That's the key phrase - 'the way you think they will'. We're so wrapped up in understanding what's going on, in not missing 'the' thing that'll add to our lives, in trying to pretend to be in control... There are things we can relate to, other things we can understand conceptually, yet other things we know must happen or exist deductively. But if we don't understand what's happening, if it doesn't fit our template or our plan to keep the world spinning, we might bash it to bits and pieces trying to make it fit the mould for what we think should or is going on. We break it, and then we cry.
I thought the goal of my trip was to train aikido. I love it; at times I wish I could just stay on the mat forever. I even had a plan. A plan! Daily: Week 1, I would train for 1-2 classes; Week 2 would be between 2 and 3; Week 3 would be between 3 and 4; Week 4 would be between 4-5 classes per day. Ease into it, I thought. Right!! Ha!! How naive.
Naive; very. Oh yeah. Think about it; how could I wish to give myself up with totality yet wrestle with my urge to maintain a sense of predictability?? There was still nothing there in Tokyo I understood by looking, for example, though goodness knows I tried. So, I trained for about 10 days. And did such a good job on my right knee by the culmination of it that I couldn't bend it without having it pop in and out of place. With a great deal of pain. That darlin' took about three weeks off the mat until I was brave enough to try a beginner's class to test the waters. So to speak. A dozen pops within the hour made me reassess my prognosis. I anticipate a full recovery by the end of the year.
Task: In Japan to do aikido.
Status update: In Japan unable to do aikido.
Degree of mission success: ???
See, the funny thing is (and I mean funny!) is that as people we tend to fixate of our simplistic categorisations to maintain a sense of control, even attempting influence. Processing and working through the wave of guilt when off the mat took quite some time. Embarrassingly longer than anticipated, to be perfectly candid. Trying to escape onto the mat, I began hunting myself down instead and realised that...
I am only accountable to myself. At the end of the day.
My happiness is my own responsibility. In every moment. But then, I am also entitled to it.
I have the right to have joy and to grow in every situation. No matter what the scenery around my body looks like.
'Love your neighbour', it's said. But by learning to place love in all places, we find it everywhere too.
Challenge: Who has the courage to claim it?
Time passed quickly after that. Another lesson learned: Either something is worth chasing or it's not, end of story. If it is, then you'll bleed for it, and expect to for the most shining prize. Another lesson learned: We see more if we let our eyes close now and then. For example, I meant to write all sorts of things about my time on the mat, my impressions and revelations, the details of training in aikido at Hombu, but they seem almost insignificant now since they're part of something so much bigger.
I fought for life and I bled for it, and I returned on that airplane a fortnight ago as a real person amongst shadows. I took stock. I moved house, I caught up with family, I found old friends, I found my fiancée where I'd left him (I almost wish I could say the same for myself!), I started a postgrad course on Special Education. My senseis at my home dojo say my aikido's changed. Maybe, but I was only there for just over one week from 5. The difference is in me - when they speak on it I just look at them and quickly pass to other conversation; anyway, there's plenty to talk about, and it's brilliant beyond words to see my training family again! They tease me now because I'll get married in December and it's quite close, right before I start full-time teaching in the countryside early next year. It's all on baby, and exciting!!
The clock now reads 12:33am. Even the crickets are sleepy.
It's growing more distant now - the things I did and saw and felt, but I carry the shards of infinite moments with me always. It's now, in these quiet moments of the dark when the world's still and small and just breathing, that I can feel a depth in me like a glittering black hole. New and thrilling. Just pulling at me, waiting for my chance to jump again.