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2012 has been a year for taking a new direction. I turned 50, which is, even for an optimist, "halfway there." I almost certainly have fewer years ahead of me than behind me. I've developed an increasing intolerance for the idea of "getting around to it someday," and have been taking decisive action on many fronts. Years aside, I have more life ahead of me than behind. I have more choices, more resources, more opportunities, and more freedom - all the space in the world for experiencing, creating, and enjoying.
I've been letting go of lots of things - letting go of my identification with them - horse things, books, musical instruments. I'm selling a few things, and giving other things away, which is far more fun. I just took down my very outdated 180+ page personal website (www.LindaEskin.com) and replaced it with much simpler page leading to some of my other sites. I'm cleaning up physical spaces, decluttering my environment and my mind, making room and time for things that matter.
I've decided I'm going to be a writer when I grow up. More accurately, I finally noticed that I am a writer, and started acting in accordance with that. At the end of summer I stopped working full-time in user experience, and instead am focusing most of my energies on writing professionally. I started out with the goal of writing two books - a quick, short one just for fun, to learn how the pro
Give the ancient little oak ukelele to your friend at work. She'll enjoy it.
Sell your 5-string banjo, as simple as they come, in its solid case with the rope handle by which you've carried it to workshops. If you haven't learned to play it yet…
Sell the basic-but-serviceable electric guitar, even though you love the curvy shape, and dark, polished wooden body.
Return the good electric one to Michael. He can have fun playing in its dozens of alternate tunings and different voices.
Keep your favorite acoustic guitar, and another to pass around at parties.
Keep the little red electric one. It could be fun to goof around with.
Keep your mandolin and fiddle, too.
Pack up boxes of books. The programming books and cookbooks, Dilbert and Miss Manners, biographies and histories, physics and feminism.
Drop off books on dealing with an addict. Your sister has been gone for years, and someone else at the recovery center will be needing them.
Keep the books about Aikido, music, gardening, and horsemanship.
You are not going to single-handedly restore public access to trails through your community. Find someone else who can use your boxes of files, piles of notebooks, and rolls of maps. You are not the keeper of local history. Give these things to someone who is.
Take down the colorful glass suncatchers that were enchanting 20 years ago, but now just gather dust and block the view. The painting of koi can go, too.
One morning recently a group of high school students visited the dojo to experience a special class, to get a feel for what Aikido has to offer us. They were a very nice bunch of young people - thoughtful, articulate, and open-minded. Aikido is a really broad and challenging subject to grasp in only an hour or so, but they picked things up pretty quickly, and made some very perceptive and insightful observations. It occurred to me that at their age they have developed quite good language skills, and still retain the clarity of vision and honesty that children have - not yet jaded.
A theme throughout the class was looking at Aikido as a practice of noticing and letting go of our resistance in life. Our natural inclination in relationship to others is to be light, open, joyful, loving, to see clearly, express ourselves, and trust. To be connected. But when resistance blocks that way of being we are left with anger, sadness, cynicism, living in fear and confusion. Shut down and alone.
At one point Sensei was demonstrating a blend, with me as uke. He was showing what it looks like when we are coming from resistance, tight, cringing, contracted. Maybe being pushy or reactive. I'm sure I've forgotten the exact words, but he was asking something like "what is my resistance keeping me from expressing?" The kids threw out a few answers safe answers. And then from one girl, "Your love for her."
There were some uncomfortable giggles. It may have sounded like she was teasing. B
This past month or so has been an amazingly varied, intense, and joyful period of Aikido for me. I've had a great time, and learned tons. I would not have said a few weeks ago that I was on a plateau. I wasn't feeling frustrated or stalled out in any way. But in the last few weeks I have felt a sort of acceleration kick in. Zero to 60 is one thing. But when you've already been doing 60... Wow.
I'm not sure why it's been like this, but I'm enjoying the heck out of it, and waking up excited about each day. In my experience, as a native San Diegan, this time of year is one of beginnings. It's blazing hot for months, and then things start to cool off. Rain comes, and the hills start to go from gold to green. I associate the changing light and weather with the start of start of the school year, so it just feels like a time for learning new things. Also, I've been writing a lot here (not just the posts you've seen, but drafts for future posts, or just private reflections), plus putting my thoughts down on paper after class in a notebook I carry with me in my dojo bag. Writing helps me digest information, see patterns, and remember. I've been writing because I've been inspired by everything I'm experiencing and learning, but the writing also deepens the experience and solidifies the learning.
Actually, this all really started around the beginning of August. Sensei did some really revealing and inspired work with us on embodying qualities in our Aikido. We had several classes
I came upon this footnote yesterday, about the Japanese word "saeru":
"*note: saeru is clarity, and Harry Watson notes that the word has strong poetic force, and says the best way to think of it is in relation to the clarity of the moon on a cold autumn night."
The specificity of meaning really struck me. What a beautiful image. "Clarity" alone is OK, but each of us might make up in our mind's eye something different that it means for us. I might envision a turquoise beach in a cove, where I can see all the way down to the white sand beneath the lapping waves. You might see a perfect crystal bowl, with sparkling facets splitting the sunlight into rainbows on the dining room walls.
Saeru: The clarity of the moon on a cold autumn night.
It's easy to picture the outlines of trees against the sky, and sharp shadows on the colorless ground. We can feel the chill in the still air, which smells vaguely of damp earth. Searu. Clarity.
In class we are sometimes given an element to explore. Sensei will call out a word: Earth, fire, water, wind, smoke, life, steam… We try to manifest the feeling of the word in our Aikido. It helps us access new energies within ourselves that we may not have realized we possessed, or maybe have been afraid to show. A heavy, deliberate person might find a new lightness through being smoke for a few minutes. One who is quick and forceful might discover that they can flow and relax when embodying the character of water.
I recently participated in yet another Aikido seminar. In fact, it was the weekend immediately following one at our own dojo. Between the two weekends, as I was leaving after Tuesday night's class, a friend observed that I do a lot of seminars, and must really enjoy them. She asked me what I get out of them. It's a good question, and one that has a lot of answers.
I find seminars physically and mentally challenging, and that's fun for me. Training with different instructors, and seeing techniques done in different ways help me get a broader view of the Aikido world. It also helps me see the "normal" way I'm used to doing things with fresh eyes. Sort of like doing everything with your non-dominent hand for a while.
I get to hang out with good friends I only see a time or two a year, some of whom I consider to be my mentors, or maybe more like sisters and brothers. We exchange stories, share ukemi pointers on the backyard lawn, and demonstrate techniques on each other, right in the middle of restaurants. We inspire and encourage each other.
Training with new people lets me feel some really different energy. It gives me a chance to learn to deal with that, and see things I need to work on. At my home dojo we really focus on committed, on-target, intentful attacks. At this seminar, with George Ledyard Sensei*, we did that too, but some of the training was a lot faster and harder than I'm used to. It was a great opportunity to notice where I get reactive, and also where
Here are some snippets from the Weekend Intensive with George Ledyard Sensei, September 14-16, 2012, at Two Rivers Budo, Sacramento, California. (Note that all quotes here are as best I remember them - not necessarily exact.)"As a martial artist, you can never have too much sensitivity. What you want to eliminate is reactivity."
"There are those who train when they can, and those who train."
"The hands do not create power; they only give the power direction."
Introducing our upcoming bokken work:
"After lunch we're going to talk about the same stuff, we're just going to have sticks in our hands."
During the lunch break on Saturday I got to play with the high-fall practice spotting-rig thingie at Two Rivers Budo - that was fun! [Concept: Adam Fong, Craftsmanship: Hannes Stein]
"The gears have to mesh before the drive gear can affect the other one.
Don't start your tenkan [rotation] until you've made the connection with your partner."
A few of the subjects discussed in studying irimi: algebra, physics, pick pocketing, black holes, motion receptors, attention, misogi, tomoe, drawing-in, and collusion.
On Saturday we had a short but awesome class with Yoshi Shibata Sensei, who introduced us to his "Yoshi Sticks" to help us see the direction of energy and connection between Uke and Nage.
Many thanks to Ledyard Sensei for three days of challenging, fun, and thought-provoking instruction; to Yoshi Shibata Sensei for an enlightening class on Saturday; and to Geoff Yudien, Adam Fong, and their students for hosting