Archive for the ‘Errant Musings’ Category

We start each martial arts class by saying shikin haramitsu daikomyo. My favorite translation of that is in every encounter lies the opportunity for enlightenment. There is a potential revelation in every moment, in every interaction, in every breath you take.

This March, I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 IBDA Tai Kai, a forty-person, three-day, intensive training camp for those teaching and studying Bujinkan ninjutsu, hosted by Shihan Van Donk in San Francisco. I hoped for the Tai Kai to hold a little bit of enlightenment for me, but I kept myself reasonable and didn’t let my wistful thinking get too far off the ground. However, as it turns out, it was exactly as inspiring and fueling as I had wanted it to be – far exceeding my realistic expectations.

One of the many lessons I took away from the Tai Kai was the concept of being at zero. Many of our instructors discussed this, but one approach in particular stood out to me.

A gentleman named Jim King asked us what defines a warrior. In my head, I answered control – control of oneself, control of the situation, control of others to prevent escalation and damage. His answer was similar in some ways and very different in others.

His understanding of a warrior is that of balance; only unbalanced people will start a fight (excluding soldiers executing orders). A warrior is an active participant in everything; a warrior chooses to act, to bring the attention and aggression upon himself, and in doing so, he protects those around him. Everything is a deliberate, conscious choice; a warrior takes responsibility for what he does and for what happens as a result.

In order to remain at zero, a warrior does not invest himself into the fight, or the technique, or the outcome; he acts and takes opportunities where they arise, as they arise, and abandons them the moment they cease to be useful. It is intuitive, immediate, flowing; there is no tension, no intention, no emotional attachment. Ultimately, this balance stems from love, compassion, and peace – not hatred, fear, or anger.

One who is balanced is never forced; instead, he only accepts an invitation to become involved as necessary. Being balanced is an inner quality, not an outward characteristic born of great skill or competency. A warrior chooses every single thing he does deliberately and consciously.

It hit home, solidly, intensely. I am still musing over the concept and how to further integrate it into all areas of my life, not just physical training. And it’s important enough to be the first martial arts concept I blog about.

How do you balance yourself and stay at zero?

A wintry sunrise.

Once upon a time, autumn came, and all the trees turned to dying colors. Rain fell; the skies faded to marbled grey. The leaves fell; the trees were naked with only their shadows for cloaks. The ground drowned as the sunlight waned, and the frost came to drape everything in shining blankness. All the color, the movement, the life had slipped away to hibernate until the warmth could return.

Happens every year. And every year, my heart slides down into dormancy, eyes heavy-lidded with weary darkness.

And every year, after the longest night right before Christmas, I say hello to the sun and welcome it home.

And every year, it isn’t until early February or thereabouts that I manage to rekindle the fire in my own spirit.

Doing anything of worth requires fire. Passion. Some form of love, some form of desire, some driving force that animates and fuels you. Even if your motivation is only survival, it is still your passion for life that keeps your heart beating and your hands working. If you didn’t care about life, you wouldn’t bother prolonging and improving it.

If you didn’t care about anything, you’d do nothing. It’s called apathy.

Passion enflames; passion propels. Writers write because they’re passionate about their stories and their characters. Artists paint or draw or sculpt because they’re passionate; musicians create and play music; athletes move their bodies; craftsmen create; everyone breathes. Nothing worth doing lacks passion from the doer.

When the sunlight is brief and the outside world is cold and bleak, it’s easy to lose sight of passion, of our reasons for doing things, of the source of our fuel. It’s cyclical, and not necessarily in such a large arc as the wheel of the year. It can happen in a month, or a week, or a day, or a lifetime.

But losing passion is only one part of the cycle. Shove through it and reach the next stage to recover yourself and reignite your heart. However many times you do it, it’s always necessary, and always worth the effort.

How do you keep the passion flowing in your life?

Image Credit: Crestock Creative Photos.

You. Yes, you. No, not the spectre behind you. You.

You’re important.

I’ve been taking these first few weeks of the new year to let go of the old and breathe the new. I’m finding out I’ve let go of a few too many things, like my beloved sources of inspiration, and now I get to reconnect.

I’ve been reading things – sites, blogs, stories, journals. Trying to remember what got me stirred up. Figuring out why I came here and started building this house. I forget very easily – I live in the moment – and I had to go back, through written words, to re-realize a lot of my driving forces.

Most of those written words weren’t my own. They were yours. Your dreams, hopes, goals, ambitions. I draw strength and inspiration from the people who dare to follow their hearts, who push through the hard times to make better ones, who try to manifest their desires, whether those desires parallel my own or not.

Don’t ever doubt your own importance, even to people you’ve never personally spoken with. The internet lets us connect, but even when we don’t connect one-on-one, you influence people. You inspire them.

You inspire me. And for that, I thank you. I’ll try to return the favor as best I can, and I won’t waste the hope grown by your words.

February 2nd has long been a Day of Fire for me – to melt down the old in order to forge the new. It’s almost here, and I think I’ll be ready for it, now that I’ve remembered all I have to recycle and cultivate.

Not amusement. Not entertainment. Not a brief little flicker of happiness.

I’m talking joy. That effusive, overwhelming feeling of delight and pleasure that makes it impossible not to smile. The kind of emotion that brings a little mist to your eyes because you are just that happy. Elation that lifts you up to the tips of your toes because you feel so light and free. Pure bliss.

I’ve heard it called passion before. But passion has a different flavor – thicker, redder, more driven and focused. Joy is liberated from any kind of ambition and sense of progress. Joy blows with the wind, gusts into you to fill you up until you’re flying, and can be exhaled in one breath if something – internal or external – takes your mind back to what some people call ‘reality’, where worries and stressors and problems dwell.

Personally, I’m not a fan of a ‘reality’ without joy. Mine includes it. Mine thrives on it.

On the long drive to work this morning, as I was waking up, I decided to eschew the thoughts of the stress that’s plagued me lately. I’ve run into a lot of unexpected issues at work; J is sick with H1N1; money is always a concern (especially after a summer of not working); and we’re probably going to be moving in a few weeks – if my job proves stable. I’ve had all of that and much more on my mind, but today, I chose not to dwell on it.

Instead, I fired up the ole cauldron and began simmering ideas.

I thought of Into Fang Wood. I thought of the upcoming NaNoWriMo novel, which is looking to be epic. I thought of the directions I want to take this blog, the people I want to reach out to and connect with, the kind of awesome geofiction resource I hope to create with Oh, The Inhumanity!. I thought of past creativity and future potential.

And I felt that joy bubbling up just beneath my collarbone, pulsing in my lungs.

Creating is my passion and my joy. What’s yours?

It was 2 AM on a Saturday night (although some would consider it Sunday morning at that point) in early September in Nevada. I was in a bad spot and really needed some company, so I tossed myself into my car and started up the highway towards J’s work, thirty minutes away. He works in a 24/7 animal hospital as an emergency tech, and it was a quiet night – no emergencies and no coworkers. I would be safe to hang out with him a while and lend a hand where it was needed.

There’s a ten-mile stretch of empty highway between one town and the next. Just as I started down the lonely pass, I spotted a hitchhiker thumbing at the few passing cars. Like everyone else, I drove on, shivering as the night breeze seeped into my bones. Bloody desert – it can pass 90*F in the day and drop below 50*F at night. I don’t like the cold.

The next thing I passed was the sign that said I still had nine miles to go before even glimpsing civilization again. I frowned and thought of the hitchhiker. Nine miles is a long way to walk in the dead of night. I passed a few branching dirt roads where I could have turned around. My thoughts continued to dance around with stress and emotional upset from earlier that evening.

After about three left turn lanes had come and gone, I swung into the next one and rode the brakes to a smooth, swift stop. (Let it be known I love my car for her ability to not send me through the windshield.) I headed back the way I’d come, trying to remember which stretch of highway the guy had been on so I didn’t U-turn too soon. I wound up going back to the north end of town to turn around, just to be sure I didn’t miss him.

As I drove north again, I wondered if I’d find him at all. Maybe he’d gotten picked up already. Not two minutes passed before I spotted him in my headlights, empty hand jutting out.

I pulled over and rolled the passenger’s window down, watching him half-jog, half-run up to my car. He stooped down to peek in the window, and I took a glance and a breath to inspect him. He smelled like cigarettes but not alcohol, seemed to be a clean middle-aged man, and had a look of immense relief and gratitude on his face. I invited him in.

He collapsed into the seat, thanking me profusely, and I pulled back onto the highway. “Where ya headed?” I asked.

“Oh, I dunno. Utah. Maybe Colorado,” he replied.

I blinked. “Uh. I’m headed into south Carson, but I could get you as far as the north end… Probably not farther than that, though.” A pause. “What takes you out there?”

He asked to be dropped off in the middle of town, where this road intersects with an east-west highway. It would take me a little ways past my destination, but I didn’t care. Helping someone who seemed like he needed it was easing my internal turmoil, and I had no regrets about lost time.

The hitchhiker introduced himself, interspersing his sentences with continued thank-yous, and said he was leaving everything behind him. Twenty years at the same job and in the same marriage, a house in a nice suburb (ironically, where J and I live) and a couple of cars. He brought nothing with him – no phone, no cards, no cash, no supplies. He’d left just a few hours ago and had been walking ever since.

He was done, he said, just done with it all. “I’m not afraid,” he told me. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going to start a new life from scratch. And I know I can do it.” He spoke with intelligence and clarity, and agreed with my observation that he probably should have gotten some cash from the ATM on his way out, but he had no regrets. I advised him to avoid trying to walk across Utah – that state is even more dry and barren than Nevada. He mentioned going to Canada as a possibility, and we talked about roadtrips (of which I’ve done many) and the crazy turns that life sometimes takes.

When we got to the intersection of highways, I pulled over at a gas station. “Hang on, bud, I have somethin’ for you,” I told him, parking and popping my trunk. I handed him the sleeping bag I kept in there – only used once – and a nice brown jacket that my dad had given me not a month earlier. It fit him much better than it did me.

He was surprised, and grateful, and told me that karma would repay me for this. I smiled and said I knew it would.

“Can I hug you?” he asked, and I nodded. We hugged and I wished him the best of luck, and I watched him walk east as I got back into my car.

Life as adventure. You always have a choice to change what you don’t like – and a choice to do some good.