Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Deconstruction

I am deconstructing my public web persona.

I have been swept in the concept of persona on the web, that branding yourself and free interchange was quite a good idea. I had daily quotes, I had occasional articles, I articulated a philosophy.

I was jolted into awareness by a request on LinkedIn by someone I would not have anticipated having interest in me, someone that set me to thinking about that public persona I've created.

Have I posted anything incriminating? Not at all. But my mind suddenly wandered to some of the articles and many of the quotes that I had posted, things that while innocuous in themselves, had the potential to be abused by parties which might make use of such things other than in the spirit in which they were intended.

And so the Great Deconstruction begins. Twitter Link is down; I may scrap the whole Twitter link entirely. The website is up but that may come down as well. Essentially, I'm attempting to scrub any personal branding from associations with my name, leaving a bland placeholder in my stead.

It makes me more grateful than ever that this forum has continued to remain anonymous. I had toyed briefly with the idea of changing that, of starting to link more often to other sites with my musings. But in light of recent events, it's better this way: I can write as I please. My friends know, my readers may guess, and others can hopefully just enjoy.

It's an interesting conundrum: in a society where transparency is more possible than ever, that very transparency makes one more vulnerable than ever, thereby really ensuring that many people will become less transparent than ever due to the risk of having words or comments taken out of context.

And so, after briefly rising above the water, the iceberg sinks back down leaving only the tip - this blog - as evidence to the outside world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Extraordinarily

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." - Benjamin Franklin

Do we seek to live our lives extraordinarily? Or do we settle?

I know what you're thinking - "TB, you're nuts. Not everyone - in fact, practically no-one - can live their life extraordinarily. Most of us are struggling to make it through the day. Extraordinary? Have you seen my life lately?"

But that's not quite what I asked - not "Are you doing extraordinary things" but "Are you living your live extraordinarily?"

They're different, you see.

We have come to accept that extraordinary really means great things, big things, things that attract public notice or approval: being a media star, or being a political politician, or a well known (infamous?) artist, or giving large sums of money to causes of our choosing.

These are big things, but they are not necessarily extraordinary things.

Extraordinary things are really different for each of us. Some extraordinary things are not visible to many. Some extraordinary things are really investments in the future of others. Some will never be known this side of Heaven.

Because extraordinary is not defined by the publicity that it generates or the size of the action, but rather by what the action accomplishes - and what it costs us to do it. Extraordinary deeds can be extraordinary because of who accomplishes them, not what they accomplish.

So are striving to live extraordinarily, putting our all into whatever our days hold? We may think that if we are doing so we are pouring our lives into hole like water into sand - but I question if that is really true. Perhaps it is just that we lack the patience and perspective to see the outcome of such things.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Thinking New Normal

Starting to think in The New Normal.

Having just resigned our lease (and looking at the numbers), I am starting to think in terms of housing - specifically buying one. Given where we are (New Home), a house is much more affordable than anything we could have procured in Old Home for the same size and price.

But in thinking about is, I'm not just thinking in terms of things like number of bathrooms (although 2.5 is quite convenient) or bedrooms (we only really use three, but having four is a nice luxury) or living space (if we spend all our time in the "family room", why do I need a separate "living room" - can't it all be one room?). I'm thinking in terms of what else I really want to do.

Like sun access, which translates into a garden (bigger and better than the one I have right now). Or green area, which translates into some kind or poultry (Ducks? Reading a lot about ducks at the moment. And geese.). And what kind of space I have between myself and any potential neighbors (probably not lucky enough to have no neighbors, but maybe two instead of three?). And how much I can do in a smaller space, instead of how much space do I need or can I get.

It's adjusting to the New Normal. It's accepting we're where we are at the moment, and meshing my goals and dreams with what is possible at the moment. The later, we'll take later.

For now, I'd settle for a better garden space - and the promise it entails.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Vision

How do you find a core of energy and drive to continue on in the fact of adversity?

I got home last night, having stayed later than I intended to fix a problem not of my doing after 3 days of audit feeling completely spent. I barely had the energy to practice Iaido and walk the dog before I crashed into bed. Elements of hope and aspiration I had been feeling earlier were wiped out in an avalanche of last minute fixes and two audits which seem to have gone unacknowledged by virtually anyone.

There were other things I could have done - should have done, probably - but were pushed to the side by a vast sense of exhaustion and lack of energy.

How do I find the drive to carry on with a vision of what I would like to do in the midst of what actually seems to be happening? Too often my enthusiasm is drained away, my plans set awry, my vision clouded by the day to day drain which masquerades as a career.

If there is such a vision, how do I fix it in my brain?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Five Values

I'm working my way through Brian Tracy's TurboCoach: A Powerful System for Achieving Breakthrough Career Success (I figure if I am going to be here for the duration, I might as well do as well as I can). The first exercise in the first chapter is "From the list of values found in the appendix at the end of this books, select the three to five values that most represent the organizing principles of your career or business."

What an opportunity! I get to define the three to five values I treasure most, that I either am or want to be. This was pretty exciting - and difficult, considering there were probably about 100 listed.

I carefully started my list:

One - Authenticity - was so obvious I didn't even make it past the end of the "A" column.

Two - Joviality - was easy (could have equally been Humor, I suppose).

Three - Wisdom - was something I have some of, but want more of.

Four - Godliness - wasn't even on the list, so I added it.

Five - And there I stopped.

Because there is a five - I just don't know how to define it.

I looked down the list, then looked down it again, then went back to front - and still did not find it.

I know what I want it to symbolize - the value of independence, the value of self-sustainability, the value of growing things and providing for one's self, the value of conservation, the value of simplicity, the value of the natural - but it's not something that I can really put into a word. How does one create a value that one cannot fully define?

But maybe to define it is simply to lose it. Maybe it is that sense of Authenticity, that I am what I seem to be (Benjamin Franklin) - and what I value is all of those things.

So maybe in fact those five values are four - or maybe eleven. Perhaps it doesn't really matter to define them as values, but as what is significant to me. Because in being significant, they are valued and if valued, a Value.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Generating Interest

"Do you see a man that excels in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men." - Proverbs 22:29

How does one create an interest in something that one is not interested in?

This is the issue confronting me as I grapple with the reality that more than likely for the next 16-20 years - indeed, for the rest of my working life - I will be doing what I am doing now. The rather unhappy open secret is that I am not all that interested in what I am doing.

But interest precedes excellence - we cannot truly excel in something that we are not at some level interested in. And to excel - or at least to do everything else that I want to do - I need that excellence.

I have tried to convince myself that this is a life and death requirement, that this is my career - but what I generate is a sigh and endurance, not interest. I have tried to expose myself to industry readings - but again, the more I read the less I really seem to get excited.

There are, I suppose, exciting parts to my industry - the difficulty is that I am doing none of those things and not likely to become involved in them. Instead I plod through the daily grind of getting things done - hardly the cutting edge of anything.

Or perhaps I am once again misapplying the verse: the verse does not say "Do you see a man who is interested in and excels in his work", only "who excels".

So perhaps another illusion is indicated to me: I have thought I had to - perhaps, that I even deserved to - be interested in what I do. The reality perhaps is that interest is not required to excel - only diligence and getting things done. The interest, if it comes at all, is really more a frosting on the top of the cake rather than the cake itself.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The New Normal?

Is there a new normal in my life?

One of the last things I did last Friday before I left work was check my LinkedIn account - sure enough, a position I had interviewed for in Old Home has been filled. I am back to being in a position of not having any active interviews occurring.

Add to this the commissioning of teachers for my children's school at church yesterday - including the two of the three for positions I had interviewed for (I was very kindly told that without a teaching credential, I was not a good candidate).

As I sat there Sunday afternoon with my family gone and I alone, I considered the various things of my life that I had pursued in my past: teaching, pastoring, The Firm, performing, entertaining and writing. In each and every case, the thing had not worked out - and now, looking at it, I was forced to admit that those opportunities were truly gone - there are some doors you go through that, once passed through, cannot ever be exited.

But that was the past. Given the current economic climate and current state of my industry, the chances are greater than average that our stay here in New Home is going to be much longer than I anticipated.

So then I started to make a list - if I am stuck here and there are things that I am still interested in, can I do those and integrate them in my current life?

Suddenly my mind was surging ahead to possibilities. Yes, there is still a long road to hoe to make those things happen - but suddenly those things became possible, rather than opportunities that had passed and callings that may never come again.

Perhaps I have been waiting too long for the Old Normal to return, when in fact it is never returning - and never would have.

Welcome to the New Normal.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Art and Science

My career is a science, not an art.

It occurred to me last night around 21:30 as I was pouring through documents to read in preparation for an audit by regulatory authorities. As I sat there, rolling through the pages and writing things down, realizing that I was much farther behind on things than I had thought, I suddenly came to the realization that what I am doing is a science.

I've tried to convince myself it's an art.

I believe I tried to do this as a sop to my spirit, an attempted gift to myself to make myself believe that I was not doing other than I was, that I was still involved in a thing that had nuances and craft and skill to apply. It was a way to try and give myself some level of dignity that what I do is special and extraordinary - perhaps a last vain attempt to pour a heightened level of personal meaning into my work.

While in fact there still may be nuance and craft, the reality is simply that what I do is much more of a science, "something that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge".

On the one hand, I guess that's freeing. It means that if I want to do better or make progress, it's quite possible. Knowledge can be studied and learned. Systems can be followed. People can be taught. Others have succeeded - I need only do what they did to achieve what they achieved.

On the other hand, it's disappointing. An artist is one who, at some level, has an inborn ability that may not be held by others. By confessing that what I do is a science not an art, I'm confessing that I'm no more special in what I do than anyone else.

But, as mentioned yesterday, I can no longer afford illusions about myself or how the world works. And so art moves back into the realm of evenings and weekends, of those tasks practiced to please.

Welcome to the world of science.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Illusion

"Dillusionment is the child of illusion." - Chip Ingram

How do we create our illusions? How do we build them up in our mind until they become towering entities of the way things should be, seemingly nourished and watered by nothing but our own good wishes and wills?

I ask the question because I am become more and more disillusioned - about virtually everything in my life. I have all but surrendered any sense that my career field will be anything but what it is, that I will be doing it for a very long time yet, and that the concept of the "fulfilling job" is just that, a concept in the nebulous reaches of my mind.

I have all but surrendered the concept of being anything but a foot soldier in service to God. There was a time (illusion) I believed that I had been called to ministry or leadership; the disillusionment comes in the realization that any such opportunities are seemingly long gone and out of reach.

In personal relationships, I have all but surrendered the concept that they, too, will be anything more than they are. Great relationships of any nature are far more precious are rare than we give them credit for.

I could add to the list - interests that never went the way I hoped, dreams of doing things that never materialized - but in the end they all come to one conclusion: illusion.

Does this mean that I should attempt (so much as is possible) to abandon all forms of illusion? I'm not sure - but how to really do this in a meaningful way, and what that would mean. Because by stripping life of its illusions, it seems to leave nothing but the harsh reality: starkness with no beauty, utility with no elegance. Suddenly, there seems to be no reason to jump out of bed in the morning: the day will march on in grinding exactness, each minute fufilling the utility it was meant for.

But is this seeing life as it is, or is this too disillusionment? Have I become so disillusioned about life itself - because I had illusions (or dreams, if you will) about how it should be versus the the reality - or is the reality of the situation merely that disenchanting?

I wish I knew for sure. All I do know is that looking at the pain of disillusionment about how things are or the dour glow of reality as it is, I'm unsure which one should be chosen.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Clear and Simple

"It's strange how simple things become, once you see them clearly." - Midas Mulligan, Atlas Shrugged

We've returned from a three day vacation (thus, the lacking of posting yesterday). It was good experience - the first time, as I pointed out to The Ravishing Mrs. TB, that we have taken a vacation as a family in almost 3 years.

It was good to be away - mostly from work, but also from essentially everything else as well: no computer, no radio, no news, no TV except for cartoons and the occasional news report.

It's one of those things that hits you as you return to the shell of your world without the meat, the inevitable preparation that occurs the day before you return to work, slowly categorizing things in your mind and getting them ready to re-initiate as you prepare for your daily routine.

As I sat in the darkness this morning, preparing to get up and address the day, what I realized is that my life is truly simple - if only I would see things clearly.

To see things unclearly is to see things as society defines them and what I am supposed to "get" from them. A simple example: I am supposed to "climb" the corporate ladder because that's what people do, it is the way to increased responsibility and income, it is the way of "society". The reality is that while I acknowledge the money is important to doing the things I want to do, the corporate ladder - at least as it has been presented to me - is not something I care to do.

Because all the energy and time that go into the job beyond the work - the catering to egos, the additional hours without recompense, the shorted resources and increased expectations - do not add one iota to my enjoyment of life, one additional second to the time I'd like to spend do things I like, one additional cent in my pocket enabling me to save or spend more.

The things of importance - the things of urgency - are the very things that I need and desire to spend more time on, not the things that at best marginally or at worst make no contribution to my life.

It's all a matter of seeing things clearly. Once you do, things become simple.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Passing Along Unknowing

"It is because we do not pay attention that we pass along unknowing." - Takuan Soho

How much of our life is spent living at a low level of observation?

So much of what comes into our lives is usually not a surprise. Whether an personality dispute, a financial crisis, a company failure, or even our car running out gas, many people are often "shocked" at the "unexpected nature of the event.

What's usually clear - at least to outside observers - is that in reality, the signs are there are the time.

The relationship fails? Everyone knows you haven't been socializing or even speaking in months. A financial crisis? When you bought the house, you knew you really could not afford it but did so anyway. The car ran out of gas? The "Low Fuel" light was on; you just gamed how much fuel that really meant.

The unfortunate reality is that many of the events that occur in our lives are really plants of which we have sown the seeds far earlier. Anyone who knows corn was planted in a certain place is never mystified when the corn "suddenly" appears on the stalk. It is only the one who never planted the corn and always walked by the garden ignoring it that is suddenly surprised to see the ears blowing in the wind.

Interestingly this is seldom true of the "good" things that happen to us in our lives. We're quite aware of these - but usually because this takes effort. We are not surprised when the promotion comes to pass or the relationship blossoms or we achieve any victory because we know the seeds that were sown and we worked hard to cultivate them: the ear, when it arrives, is culmination of our effort. We are hardly shocked in the this case: we know what we planted, and we know what to look for it.

What would be the impact in our own lives if we paid attention to all matters in our lives, if we were cognizant of each action and moment as a potential seed sowing moment? I believe not only would the unexpected bad events occur much less frequently, but we would be far more aware of all that is going on around us. Instead of passing along unknowing, we would be more aware - and more able to cultivate those things that we wish- the gardens that constitute our lives.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

All I Needed To Know in Life I Learned from Thirteen Assassins

1) It is not your numbers, but your skill and dedication to the cause that matters most.

2) There are men and women at every level that are willing to do the right thing.

3) There is nothing more cruel than injustice which is recognized but not acted upon.

4) If you have no sword, fight with a rock. If you have no rock, fight with your fists.

5) There is nothing more pathetic than someone who knows the right thing to do and will not do it.

6) Judge no-one by their appearance. Great skill lurks in even the rudest appearing forms.

7) Know who and what you serve.

8) Youth is no indicator of lack of dedication and skill, age no indicator of wisdom and right thinking.

9) Understand that in some cases, the only way things may get done is in an unorthodox manner.

10) Never compromise your standards and morals.

11) To catch a bigger fish, get a bigger hook.

12) Sometimes you have to gamble everything to get anything.

13) There are not insurmountable odds, only circumstances that need to be adjusted in your favor.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Abdication of Responsibility

I'm performing what seems to be my now annual re-read of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I've recommended the book before, and continue to do so as a well thought out and well written novel (and as always, I recommend it with the caveat that I don't endorse or believe everything Miss Rand did).

One of the many themes of Atlas Shrugged deals with the abdication of responsibility, that some individuals make no decisions lest they be blamed for them, make no decision but attempt to make others make them for them, or simply make the decision but fail to accept responsibility for the consequences. The book identifies this as a major problem of the antagonists: individuals at the top demand decisions and then refuse to accept the responsibility of the consequences, while others farther down the food chain realize that they are being asked to decide in order to be blamed - and they, too, pass their decisions to yet others farther down the food chain, to the point in the book that a telephone operator is essentially forced to make the decision to send a train into a tunnel and almost certain death.

Perhaps the reason this is so much on my mind at the moment, and so poignant, is that I am seeing a version of this played out right before my very eyes. Decisions are called for but not made, and then when the consequences inevitably play out, the outcome is translocated to another individual. Suddenly, the original people who didn't make the decision but made the consequences want to get the item resolved as quickly as possible. "No time to assign blame" they say, or "What happened in the past is not important. We need to solve this problem now." The consequences of those decisions are never acknowledged by those who transferred the responsibility. Blame - if there is any to be passed around - always falls to the lowest level, to those dealing with the circumstances or solving the problem.

Abdication of responsibility. Our society reeks of it. It's in our business, in our politics, in our economy, in our personal lives.

How did it start? I'm not sure - at some levelit's always existed - but it occurs to me that when effects were separated from causes, when individuals were told they were not responsible for what happened to them and therefore not responsible for what they did, we began a walk down a road of no return.

Because - and this is one of the hearts of Atlas Shrugged - if an individual, business, society, or political system continues to abdicate responsibility, those who are responsible, who often times hold the whole enterprise together, abdicate their involvement as well.

An easy example: Businesses and management treat their employees badly, imperially, like interchangeable parts with no real hope of advancing, and are then confused why no-one shows initiative or that calls for sacrifice and long hours are met with indifference. Or when a political system calls for additional sacrifices from the productive and the productive, who have already watched their productivity be siphoned away, simply refuse to respond to such calls and instead endeavor to lower their productivity except for themselves. Or when an individual, constantly harassed or blamed by another in the relationship, decides to simply be and not engage.

Because abdication of responsibility can work both ways - not only for those who thrive and grow in it (to a point - no system can ultimately succeed without some responsibility) but for those who are truly and ethically responsible as well. When the first group does it, it is annoying and disheartening. When the second group does it, it is ultimately fatal - to the relationship, the business, or the society as a whole.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Transfer Up and Down

Yesterday I came to see how much people treat me the way they do in my life because I accept the way the treat me.

I have learned that some people have the modus operandi of always "transferring responsibility and accountability" down - when what they really do is transfer blame. Failures to perform in the midst of trying circumstances including overwork, under-resourcing, and h0stile environments become examples of how an individual "failed" to perform their tasks.

And for many years I have accepted this.

What I came to see - in a blinding flash of insight - is that this is so because I allow it to be so. Rather than raising the questions at the time, or making cogent points as to why things cannot be as I am charged, I have quietly accepted the matter as "this is the way it is."

I'm going to challenge the status quo on this - because the transfer of responsibility and accountability is only truly effective when the elements of success are also in place. If I fail to perform, it's my fault; if I fail to perform because the appropriate resources are not available, that's the fault of those who assigned the tasks in the first place. This is not, however, a popular thought on the part of the assigners, because blame that is being assigned for failure is being pushed up instead of down.

Accountability and Responsibility are useless without the transfer of the tools to do the task - otherwise, they simply become a potential point of certain failure.

And this - all of this - I have accepted without question.

I will accept it no more.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Serving Evil

I watched the movie Thirteen Assassins last night. A samurai picture of recent vintage (and not, I might add, suitable for younger viewers), it left me only with questions as I went to bed.

At its core, the movie asks two questions:

1) In the bushido ethos of loyalty to one's lord above all, what does one do when that lord is evil?

2) What is the requirement of good men to serve evil men?

Bushido (as it became codified through the years) required the loyalty of a retainer to one's master, no matter what the consequences or what the nature of the master. This becomes evident in the moview when incidents reveal the cruelty and capricious nature of the Shogun's half brother Naritsugu is revealed to his chief retainer, Hanbei. He knows his master is evil - but he holds to the tenants of bushido that loyalty to the master is above all. In the end, 200 men die to protect a less than worthy lord, as well as all those who Naritsugu has slain in the movie or is suggested to have slain - a testament to the bushido ethic, but not to the greater morality.

Which gets to the second point: what is the requirement of good men to serve evil? At what point does bushido (or in Christian ethics, submission to a higher authority) fall before the greater moral law that evil is simply evil and then is to be destroyed? Is the law of individual honor or the law of the betterment of the whole the supreme law?

Watching the movie, one can understand the inherent flaws that existed in bushido, the flaws that eventually brought the system down. Caught on the horns of loyalty to one's lord and the Confucian ethics of a good society flowing from the good rule and morals of the rulers, a contradiction existed and continued
in the system until the Meiji restoration (in which bushido ethics found the ultimate lord, the Emperor, who would make a good society by good rule)- but a system which eventually destroyed the samurai and the bushido system that had made it possible. The question for that time, it seems, resolved itself.

But evil still exists. Good men (and women) serve those individuals and systems which are evil and malevolent. The moral questions still remain, ready for another generation to review and attempt to resolve the contradictions which, perhaps, simply cannot be resolved.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Mornings of Quiet Desolation

Today was a morning of quiet desolation.

One wouldn't think so. After all, today is Friday, the last day of the week. Theoretically a downhill run until Saturday.

But no. Not this morning. Not one bit of energy.

I got out of bed at the regular time and promptly went and flopped on the couch downstairs. Thought briefly about going to the gym, but just felt too..."blah"...so on the couch I laid.

I simply had no energy - or interest - to do anything: Iaido, study, even really make coffee. Just me on the couch, occasionally pulling the pillow off from over my head to see if it was light enough that I had to get up.

I know what it's about. I can pinpoint the cause specifically. What hurts is that the cause cannot be easily or simply remedied - and even if it can, the length of time it will take seems terribly daunting at this moment.

But that doesn't help now - even now when I am up, feeling the slow call of the clock keeping minutes, calling me away to one more day of the same. There is no sense of "It's Friday", but only a sense of "Lord, let me just survive today."

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Changes That Don't Matter

Our management team at work has undertaken a somewhat disconcerting task at work: interior beautification projects.

Within the last two weeks my reports have been moved to another office, that old office has been painted and will get new carpet, the halls are being painted and decluttered, cubes are being removed to give more "space" and items that stick above the cube level are being removed. In the end, we will be working in an airy white area with blue cube walls - the prototypical "Dilbert" cube world.

The odd thing is that whatever the purpose is, I am sure of what this will not accomplish: any actual improvements to the system. Our products and services will not be better, we will not be more efficient, and this in no way increases our bottom line. It looks better to individuals as they periodically walk through, but doesn't really seem to actually improve anything.

I snort and become vaguely annoyed that it is happening at work; I ignore the fact that the same is probably true in my own life.

How often do I do the same in my own life? Repainting the outer walls, moving things around in my head or my life, trying to do things which give the impression that real change is being made, while in fact no substantive change is being made in my own life? I'm kinder to myself than I am to the others, but the reality is the same.

What real changes am I making to my own life? Not illusory or for show, but for real?

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Halting the Mind

"When facing a single tree, if you look at a single one of its red leaves, you will not see all the others. When the eye is not set on any one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing in mind at all, any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit. But if a single leave holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there."

"Glancing at something and not stopping the mind is called immovable. This is because when the mind stops at something, as the breast is filled with various judgements, there are various movements within it. When its movements cease, the stopping mind moves, but does not move at all.
If ten men, each with a sword, come at you with swords slashing, if you parry each sword without stopping the mind at each action, and go from one to the next, you will not be lacking in a proper action for every one of the ten.
Although the mind acts ten times against ten men, if it does not halt at even one of them and you react to one after another, will proper action be lacking?
But if the mind stops before one of these men, though you parry his striking sword, when the next man comes, the right action will have slipped away."
- Takuan Soho, The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom

As I was practicing Iaido the early morning heat, I had an ephiphany.

I have often lamented that I am someone who is slow of learning and slow of action, who lacks the grace of any good athlete or artists. To watch me do Iaido is probably more painful than my sensei or fellow students admit.

But as I was moving this morning, illumination occurred.

My concern in doing Iaido is that I am too mechanical, too slow. I get through one series of movements but I stop each step: foot here, arm here sword here.

But this morning, as I was practicing my unsheathing (nukitsuke), I suddenly realized what Soho was talking about.

My mind stops at each part: right step, left step, grab the tsuba, pull back on the saya in saibiki, draw and grab the saya with my left hand. As a result my movements are slow and disjointed.

But if I didn't stop at each movement, if I just moved through - to use Soho's words, my mind not halting at any one but moving through, things become flowing - not any faster to start out with, but flowing.

But as I practice this new concept, this moving without halting the mind, I suddenly realized that the same is true of life itself.

Too often as I try to do something I try to do it too mechanically, focusing on each step in turn instead of seeing the whole. Instead of moving through like a dance I let my mind halt on things - sometimes things which are relevant, but just as often things that are not relevant: anger, resentment, unfairness, injustice. These too are things which halt the eye and mind and distract from moving and doing.

Don't be mistaken: to not halt the mind is not to think and reason. It is not to practice good judgement or to do excellent work. What it means is to see the whole for what it is and complete each part while not being consumed by each section of it.

And so I will move through the kata and through the day itself, seeing each individual leaf but not sacrificing the sight of the whole tree.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Words

How do I use my words?

I come at this discussion after a long talk with Snowflake concerning an incident at work. The incident itself is not of particular concern to this meditation, but the outcome is.

What came out of that discussion was a long night(and longer morning) sitting and thinking not of the words of others, but the words of myself. How I use them, what I say by them, what my intent of them is.

Intent. The great word we can never truly say. What is the intent of the words we use? Even honeyed words used knowingly to invoke a response implicate the speaker far more than the one who hears and reacts to them.

Words are weapons of attack and shields of defense to those who use them. The ancient Irish understood this: one of the greatest disgraces that could occur was to be verbally run down by a bard for cowardice or lack of generosity. The bard had no defense or attack except his words - but they were enough.

How do I use my words - as weapons of attack or shields of defense? The reality is that I should probably not be using them as either. Interestingly, the only time the Bible (the New Testament in particular) talks about using words for defense is in defense of the Gospel, never for personal measures.

In contrast, what does the Bible say about words in Proverbs and how we use them?

- "If you have been foolish in exalting yourself or have devised evil, put your hand to your mouth." - Proverbs 30:32

- "Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction." - Proverbs 10:14

- "Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool." - Proverbs 10:18

- "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise." - Proverbs 11:19

- "A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter." - Proverbs 11:13


- "There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health.
The truthful lip shall be established forever, but the lying tongue is but for a moment." - Proverbs 12:18-19

- "He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction." - Proverbs 13:3

- "In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty." - Proverbs 14:23

- "The tongue of the righteous uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness." - Proverbs 15:2

-"A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!" - Proverbs 15:23

-"A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart." - Proverbs 18:2

- "A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calls for blows. A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body." - Proverbs 18: 6-8

- "He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secret; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips." - Proverbs 20:19

- "The North wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue angry looks." - Proverbs 25:23

- "Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him." - Proverbs 29:20

and my personal favorite

- "He who keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from trouble." - Proverbs 21:23

- And there's more, far more than I have covered about words and how we should use them.

But to me the question remains: what are am I doing with my words? Am I using them rightly? Even more correct, should I be using them at all?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Quantity and Quality

Over the last two weeks, as part of an experiment to test my time usage, I increased my time spent at work. This was to accomplish two things: 1) To attempt to make inroads on a list of tasks that just continues to grow; and 2) To see if, by adding more time, I could begin to do some of the daily reading and training I need to do in my own career field.

What I found over this two week period is what I have learned of my personal life: it's not just the quantity of time, it's the quality of the time as well.

More time spent at work did not translate into more work. What it did was translate into more opportunities to interact with coworkers about their issues, more opportunities to realize that I didn't really like what I was doing, more opportunities to "waste" the time I had there. This was certainly not the point of the exercise.

What it has taught me is that the quality of time I spend at work has as much - or more - impact as the quantity I spend.

What do I do when I go to work? This is perhaps the more relevant discussion to have. Do I arrive with a list of tasks to do, of things to accomplish? (I've got a list with 300 odd tasks that need accomplishing.) Or do I move into the "I'm here anyway, so I guess I'll have to do something. Please distract me as necessary."

I think part of my problem is that goal beyond work, the one just beyond the horizon, the reason that I am working for. I cannot name that, so work simply becomes something I have to do, not a means to an end. Give me that, that dream of what it is I truly hope to accomplish, and the rest will (I think) fall into place.

Suddenly the quantity of time will become far more precious - and the quality of that time far more important.