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I'm sitting here bouncing on my exercise ball with my 2-month old son, watching the Daily Show and contemplating the fate of the world. You know, small stuff. After reading about nuclear disasters, watching a show on megaquakes, and watching politicians whip people into mindless sound-bite derived frenzies, it's hard not to worry about the fate of my two sons. Then I think about all the huge dreams I had as a younger man and compare them with the "lesser" realities I made happen (despite having had a lot of support), it becomes easy to get discouraged; to become a fatalist; to see 2012 as some doomsday period.
Life is complicated; life is simple. It's unfathomable in any real depth, and I sincerely believe we're just a bunch of big-brained (neurotic) apes slapping labels on things so our minds can feel like we have it figured out...at least, figured out enough...long enough for us to build a new tool with which to break more nuts to stuff in our gullets.
And this is where my idealism tends to kick in. I look at the roughly 11,000 years of history we've scraped together out of the sands of deserts (a blink's worth on the whole); I look at the astounding level of tool development we've acquired in the last 100 years, let alone the curve seen in the last 30; I see how my 2-year old learns things I thought he wasn't paying attention to and my 2-month old smiles at me almost every time I say hi (it's not gas!); I see people building themselves up and the (corny as it may sound
The handfull of times I've made it to keiko this year have had a nice feeling of "getting back on the horse," despite still being fairly few and far between. The kenjutsu and jojutsu forms sensei Barrish practices these days are mostly new to me, so they really help reinforce that feeling of beginner's mind.
This last saturday I missed the morning misogi because I was up late tending to my sick 2 year old and so overslept. I also just barely made it to keiko on time so I started with a bit of a rushed feeling. It quickly went away as we headed out to train next to the river. We went through a series of paired ken and jo forms and moved on to taijutsu before coming back in to the jinja to finish up the keiko.
At one point I was able to take ukemi from sensei as we worked on a tachi waza omote sankyo variation. One of the things that always stands out to me in training is how different everyone feels. As uke I'm always looking to "pour" into nage, and depending on the nage, I'm always looking for how to do that. The interesting thing about sensei is how obvious my movement is. Almost without exception, I simply don't feel like I have an option...and even where I feel like I have options, I always feel like I have to play catch-up to his initiative.
It's really quite fascinating too how this adds to my form as nage. Taking ukemi from sensei I often have the feeling that my structure gets "squared up." I've often noticed how good my bad shoulder, neck, and back feels when
Brief though it's been, it feels very good to get on the mat again. It was such an unusual feeling to put the gi back on because on one hand it was so familiar, but on the other it was very new feeling. I just kept thinking what a new, old feeling it was and how there's no replacement for the visceral experience of practice.
One of the key things that stood out to me was the difference between being a 19 year old and a 32 year old. I certainly don't remember there being quite so many pops and clicks to my movement. I've been beat up by my job in construction, so my wrists aren't flexible like they once were. I've unlearned a lot of whatever I may have learned about not using my shoulders too, particularly when it came to practicing suburi, and I had to keep reminding myself to relax, stand up straight, and feel the ground with my feet.
One point of interest to me was how the katatetori portion of waza has changed a bit. Not that I had the older version we practiced down very well, but it was still strongly in my muscle memory so I had to constantly remind myself how I was going to suppress nage instead of just sort of doing it. I also really enjoyed the new swordwork drills.
All in all it felt so great to be there, to see people I haven't seen in a decade still training hard and refining their practice; not flaking out like I did. Being around people like that is great for people like me who do tend to go off into flights of fancy. It sets an example...a firm reminder o
Somewhere along the line I determined that if it felt like work I must be doing something wrong. It worked because I had so damned much energy and drive! It was a great way to promote efficiency, but with a lack of focus attached, it has also become a great way to simply be a lazy bastard. I wonder if this is something of a natural product of my youth, where energy came more readily and injuries healed without my helping them along. Was it Mark Twain who said youth is wasted on the young? Whoever said that wasn't exactly ignorant of this tendancy in many folks.
Now I am trying to find ways to make this work for me while working to be less lazy. I'm putting my bokken and jo out so it's convenient for me to pick them up; I'm telling my wife my grand plans so she will nag...er...remind me about them. These are short-cuts to the thing I'm looking to reclaim in myself, but I'm hoping they inch me close enough that it simply becomes convenient for me to kick my own ass and stop making excuses.
"Coincidentally," if I'm still talking like this in a few years, please feel free to nag...er...remind me that I'm still a lazy bastard who needs to step up his game.
...Not that this is the first time I've said anything like this. As in all things I suppose, time will tell. Now to get off this infernal machine!
Reading another blog I was drawn to this idea of The Lost Student...
If I had to describe my intentions in this world in one word it would be "student." It's been one of the most central concepts attached to my personal identity...and I'm proud of this fact. Growing up I felt it was ok to be ignorant or lacking somehow as long as I was working on it; as long as I was studying how to be better. In many ways it became my safe-haven whenever I felt less-than-adequate.
I feel it's been both a blessing and a curse for me though. A curse because at times it's allowed too much of a sense of slack. I didn't have to hit the mark, "because I was trying." There are other factors involved in this too. I have a strong perfectionist streak in me and, recognizing that, I've been afraid at times to give it too much reign over how I respond to things, making me at times a little too stoic.
That said, at one point I lost my life's ambition...gave it up, really. I went from having a drive about which to organize all my actions, to no clear motivation. I began to live more and more moment to moment and my motto became, "the unaimed arrow never misses." I still identified myself as a "student of/for life," but I was no longer organized and the more I slipped into this mode of thought, the more inconsistant I became overall. Part of the reason for this was as a defense-mechanism for my growing depression...and it was definately a circular dynamic since part of the reason I became depressed,
Lately I've come to the conclusion that I've been confusing with
I started my before I ever found Aikido, but because Aikido was such a nice fit I began to blur the lines I think. Aikido became the title of my "way," despite less and less physical training, until anything which seemed to loosely fit was simply called Aikido.
It's interesting that as my "way" has lately been clarifying, I'm looking at Aikido in a renewed light. Gradually, as my sense of this coalesces, I feel greater momentum and drive toward my study of Aikido develop as well. I've never stopped thinking about Aikido. That has been my one constant connection to the art, but I find my thoughts taking a subtle shift into something slightly more concrete...something more urgent. Recently I took my Jo which has long been darkened by the oily sweat of my hands and lightly sanded it. The accumulated gunk quickly rendered the sandpaper useless and I had to get another piece. I thought of the Shinto concept of tsumi, which is also said to be cumulative, and I smiled as I gently removed the old layers of grime I had allowed to collect.
The job isn't done. An interesting polkadot pattern has formed from the many many hits it took, and while I rather like the look of it, I plan on finishing the job.
All that's left is to do it.
From Beginner Mind but unaware
I'm finding the time to see it there.
To iron flat the page of mind;
of shadowed lines;
where some may find an open space
and then may see a form to trace
it's off to there a bit more wholly
off to recognize and to know thee:
to've refined, re-find and refined
my beginner's mind.
When I was a younger lad I went through a phase where I was surprisingly disciplined. For certain reasons, later I would actually work on flying by the seat of my pants instead. Suffice it to say I'm now working on swinging that pendulum back in the other direction and with the birth of my child I'm finding a very helpful situation for that. No longer am I on my own schedule. Just about every 2 or 3 hours or so I get up with my wife and prepare to feed our crying baby. In addition to feeding comes the other end of that process and so there are times when I must wake up, or simply get up, and change the diaper. When the obvious needs are already met, I must find a way to soothe our baby and that is a whole art unto itself. In short, there are many demands in place where previously I was used to doing pretty much whatever floated into my head at the moment...and I love it...mostly.
It's aggravating to hear a baby scream at the top of its little lungs when you just woke up and all you want is to go back to sleep. It's harder to change diapers and warm the supplemental formula and behave in a soothing manner. It takes discipline. Of course, the love I feel for baby Benjamin provides all the motivation I need, but I'm finding that this discipline of raising a baby has seeped into other areas too. My little garden which has become a jungle of grasses and weeds, in some places 3 feet high, is now about 2/3 cleared (I'm just waiting for the yard waste bin to get picked up). I just
Lately I've been thinking of a digital music class I took in which sample rate was exaplained (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sample_rate). I always thought this was a great analogy for human attention/retention of information. Using the analogy, meditation seems to be geared toward increasing the rate at which we're sampling any given period of time with the goal being as nearly complete a sample as possible.
I've seen case studies which implied the average person is not very attentive to the particulars of a given situation, particularly when they've already got a task in mind to distract from them. The most notable being a study in which students enrolling for college were directed to go to a room, get a form and proceed to the next location directed. The student would arrive at the room, request the form, and the person behind the counter would duck down out of sight "to get the form," but a completely different person would stand up and hand the form over. As I recall, the percentage who noticed the completely different person was staggeringly low...about 10% I'm guessing. Even at 30%, which I'm sure is well above the study's measurement, this apparent fact is somewhat disturbing considering most people, when asked, seem to think they're pretty aware of their surroundings.
I'm writting about this because in my opinion, the issue of attention and sample rate plays into everything we do and that it is for this ability to get a relatively "full" sample that we train