Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Useful Filter

Bogha Frois is a genius.

She sent me this link yesterday:

  http://www.marieforleo.com/2011/07/great-opportunities-vs-time-wasters/

I have never heard of Mario Forleo before.  Apparently (judging by the pictures on her website) she has been on Oprah so she has some level of fame.

But her genius was revealed in the short clip above.

The point of the video is simply not that you have goals, but that you have a "filter" - a single question which you ask about everything you do.  Based on your goal, you simply ask "Will this help me to do my goal?"  If it does, you do it.  If not, you do not.

What a simple yet profound concept.

Energized by this thought I sat down and made a list of things that I wanted to do in the short term.  For each of these goals - financial, physical, career, intellectual, spiritual, personal - I wrote the simple question:

"Will this help me become a published author?"
"Will this help me master the shoden body of knowledge?"
"Will this help me become a stronger Christian?"
"Will this help me move towards a new career?"

And so on.

The beauty of this is that it is not complicated.  It is simple.  It is a single question.  It has two possible answers:  yes (it will move me forward) or no (it will not move me forward).  And based on this, one then simple acts in accordance with the answer.

Simple.
Elegant.
Easy.
Profound.

I love it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Drought

The promise of rainfall,
drifts fruitlessly overhead:
dying grass crackles.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Just Run

Occasionally one has the strange and utterly undeserved good fortune of seeing someone develop over time.  Such things are seldom vouchsafed to us even though we may spend months or years with a person; in my experience it is the rare relationship where I can look and see a person's growth.

Such an event happened over the last weekend with Fear Beag.

I watched Fear Beag over the last four years of our acquaintance as he has developed a sense of personal health, moving from a smoker and non-exerciser to a casual runner to a dedicated runner.  It has been a pleasure - not only for the health benefits of course, but in the development of his character and his way of looking at life.  He has developed from someone who could barely run around the block to someone who is contemplating 3 marathons this year.

He has been recently troubled by a leg injury - he has explained it multiple times, I think it involves a muscle of some kind - to the point he has had to pull back on his running.  It has troubled him to the point that he had numerous visits with a massage practitioner, icing and heating - anything to relieve the pain and get running again.

He has slowly been getting better but continues to be plagued by this injury.  He constantly laments his lack of distance, his time, his desire to be out on the course running.

Finally, he had an epiphany.  He was even kind enough to share it with the rest of us.

He posted that he was running and after one mile, was having issues.  Then, to paraphrase him, "I just gave up.  I gave up on Garmin time, on pace, on distance, on the perceived pain and just started running."

I read this post and was struck breathless by the thought.

How true is this for my own life - to get to the point that one simply surrenders one's concern about everything that is involved in an activity and simply do the activity?  How often am I concerned with how I am doing this or that, how this or that looks, how much progress I am making - and forget to pay attention to the fact that I am doing the activity at all?

Musashi would have recognized this.  The great swordsmen of the past would have recognized this.  This, to them, was the beginning of true mastery:  having learned the basics, one begins to become more concerned with the exercise of the art.  By internalizing and then acting on that internalization unconsciously one achieves not only mastery, one begins to develop one's own style and technique - in effect, one truly becomes one's self.

Strangely enough, this post gave me hope - not so much hope that the immediate arena of my own life will change, but the hope that by simply letting all the technical concerns and reasons not to do something fall away, the core of who I am  - of what I am trying to do - will reveal itself.

Fear Beag will run his races - and do very well, I do not doubt.  I am hopeful that his blazing the trail will allow me to run my own races of life with equal clarity of mind.



Friday, August 23, 2013

All I Know

I bruise you
You bruise me
We both bruise so easily
Too easily to let it show
I love you and that's all I know

And all my plans
Keep fallin' through
All my plans, they
Depend on you
Depend on you
To help them grow
I love you
And that's all I know

When the singer's gone
Let the song go on
There's a fine line between
The darkness and the dawn

They say in the darkest night
There's a light beyond
And the ending always
Comes at last
Endings always
Come too fast
They come too fast
And they pass too slow
I love you
And that's all, it's really all I know
It's all I know

It's all I know.

- Five for Fighting

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stars

The stars dance above,
mulitcolored hues of light:
I stand in darkness.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mid Life

How does one know when precisely when one has slipped into a mid-life crisis?

What differentiates such a thing from the run of the mill personality crisis?  Is it the age?  Is it the intensity?  Is it the feeling that one has spent the last 25+ years of one's life chasing paths that were not necessarily the most desirable ones?

It is hard to question such a thing, of course.  Merely to suggest it is to set off warning signals in some, which is perhaps why we do not discuss such a thing in the first place.  The question "Are you happy?  No, I mean really happy?" inevitably triggers reactions where none may be required.

It is still a question, of course.  One I am grappling with now.

Is life terrible?  No, far from it.  We have a new house.  We have good jobs.  Na Clann are doing well in school and in their personal lives.  We recently got a new-to-us car.  I have activities and friends.  Certainly I am in no crisis mode.

But is this it?

This is the question I grapple with almost daily now as I rise.  Is this it:  the morning routine, the commute to the career that was not the aspiration of my life, the commute home, the seeming externalities of family living, the wedging in of things that I enjoy to do, and then to sleep to rise to do it all over again.  Is this it?

Where is passion?  Where is excitement?  Where is that living on the wild edge that pulses the heart and excites the spirit?  Where is that anticipation of looking forward to every day as if it were a new present to be unwrapped and enjoyed?  

There is a heavy sense of gray about my existence - not the black of depression or the red of anger, but simply the gray of monotony.  The pounding realization that fundamentally, tomorrow will be like today which will be like the last series of years.

Where is the relief to this?  Not relief in the sense of a lifting depression where my spirits raise but rather in the relief in the sense of a life which offers that excitement, that passion, that "I am alive!" sense that I so much miss now.

I wish I knew.  But the world - the real world, at least my real world - beckons with its rounds of mundane tasks needing attention.

And that sense of I should be doing more, I should be living more, I simply should be alive will go back into the small part of my soul where I store such things - the small garden of my life where such things still flourish.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Man of Action, Man of Vision

I am not a man of action.

Oh, I know what people will say:  I am.  Yes, in the sense that there are a great many things that I will do, yes I am.  I have done things that I never would have contemplated years ago:  made cheese, practiced iaido, threw weights, grew a garden, ran races, played the harp, wrote some books.

But a man of action? In the classic sense of the word?  That hardly seems to fit my conception of myself.

When I think of men of action I think of the bold ones, the great ones, the ones who painted across the canvas of life with a broad brush, who change the conceptions of how we view entire technologies or ways of doing business or even something as simply as a cup of coffee.  These men hold a secret longing and aspiration in my heart.

Why?  Because they seem to exude self confidence, a sense of knowing their place in the world and where they are heading to.  They have a vision - be it a political system or the height of an art of a new way of doing business or even a fantastic way for impacting things for Christ - which they use a a motive power both to fuel them and to guide their day to day actions.

I lack this vision, this self confidence, this guiding inner picture of what it is I am here to do and how I am to accomplish it.  Instead I seem to lurch from side to side, taking in a project here, dabbling in something there, but never really using these interests in a grander sense of moving towards it: the thing, the goal, the vision.

How does one acquire such a thing?  Is it something one is born with?  Is it something that magically comes to one in the night?  Is it hours of reflection and meditation?  Or is it simply in a blinding flash of serendipity, the bolt from the blue that makes is sit upright?

I wish I knew.   All I do know is that I feel as if I am continuing to chase my tail while the richness and greatness of what is possible rolls by me like waves, bearing others up on the surf even as I simply float along.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Silence

I miss silence.

I was struck by yesterday morning as I sat and read a portion of a biography of Miyamoto Musashi.  It was early Sunday morning.  No-one but The Ravishing Mrs. TB was up as I sat on the couch in the new Taigh an TB, sipping my coffee and reading, listening to the rabbits occasionally hop about or eat.  Church was hours later and unpacking had, for the short term, ceased.

I found such peace in that moment, such joy, such a sense of being recharged in my life.  The thoughts poured off of the page and into my brain and lodged themselves there, unlike so often where they seem to skitter off the top of my mind like birdseed.  There was a sense of truly taking in what I was read and having the luxury of actually chewing the thoughts over in my head, evaluating them, personalizing them, even thinking of ways that they could be applied in my life.

Why can I not find more time for such silence in my life?

I am a person of silences and quiet.  This is the world I grew up in; this is how I spent my time:  alone or in a small group of people, with time and space enough to take my thoughts and make them into shining gems to apply within my own life.  A place and time where dreams and thoughts and creativity flourished in the protective environment of freedom and peaceful aloneness.

Could this be one of the reasons that I so often find myself out of sorts now, lacking creativity and the energy to pursue it?  My life is hardly filled with silence now, rather with the seeming tsunami of sound and disturbance that comes from the living in the modern world.  My space is constantly filled with people and conversation and noise and the needs and wants of others. 

It is enough to drive anyone mad.

Perhaps the first step then is this:  to find a place in my life where, for 15 minutes (to start) I can be totally in peace and silence.  If for no other reason than to rediscover a now-unknown country:  to rediscover myself.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Administrative Note

As you may have figured out from below, we are in the process of moving.  Posting may be a bit late over the next week as we get ourselves reconfigured.  Thanks for your patience!

Last Run

So this morning was the last run at our old house.

It is an odd thing, to gear up and go out and realize in the back of your mind that the likelihood that you will be running this course will be very small indeed.  Every passing footstep means that you are moving one step farther away from ever running this course again.

The flat straights and streets, the yards lit at night and various yard decorations which acquire fiendish appearances in the early morning darkness will disappear into the well of your memory.  The mileage that you have memorized so well - 3.2, 4.09, 5.16 - will not be calculated anymore.

You will find new course to run with their own mileage, their own fiendish appearances, their own decorations.  They will become the new reality of your run, and eventually you will come to know them as you have known these routes.

But what you will miss more than all is the last turn on the run.  It was this turn that meant that you had essentially achieved the distance you were going to run.  It was the sign that the last part of the run was going to begin, with home and coffee soon to follow.  In a sense that last turn has become the real last turn:  tomorrow and every day after this you will find that place no longer has any meaning outside of that time in your life.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Packing

Things into boxes;
the contents of a lifetime
sitting in cardboard.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Bargain

Bargains are a two way participatory relationship.

In a bargain two parties agree that they will exchange something for something else.  It can be as simple as "Here is 20 bucks; mow my lawn" to "Here is my trust; give me yours."  In both of these cases - and in all of the gradations in between - there is a certain element of understanding:  I do my part, you do your part, and bargain will be complete.

So what happens when someone fails to hold up their end of the bargain?

This also takes many forms.  It is as simple as failing to do what you said to do and as complex as failing to support someone else in a time of change when they needed it.  In these cases, and all the cases they bracket, the central aspect of understanding, of trust, is broken.

The realization that this has occurred is frustrating beyond words.  Suddenly all that you believed to be true - all that you worked for based on an assumption of an understanding - is ended.  Your effort is not totally wasted in its effect, but perhaps in its ultimate outcome.  You are left holding the sides of a bag which you thought was going to be full only to discover that the bag has a hole in the bottom, leaving you with a circle of fabric in your hands.

Real life does not stop going on at this point of course:  work still has to be accomplished, relationships still have to be maintained, the daily aspects of living go on.  But they lose a sense of building towards something else, something greater: they lose the sense of reaching that bargain that was agreed to.

What does one do in such circumstances?  One can attempt to simply muscle through the event, laughing at fate and sneering at the foibles of human nature.  This works for a while but ultimately seems to lead nowhere:  the agreement which was not met seems to become the new standard perhaps simply from assumption that things seem to be continuing in a forward direction.  They may from the outside of course; the reality is that the energy sustaining the effort dwindles over time, bereft of renewal from a sense of continuing to keep the bargain.

How does one renegotiate such a bargain?

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Change

A man has a lot of time to sit and think, driving halfway across the country.

What do you think about, you might ask. Do you think about arriving back at home?  Do you think about where you have been?

Mostly I thought about my life.

My life seems to be in a large state of flux at the moment.  Between leaving to go to Old Home and drive back and the move and the work I need to get down while both of the other of these are happening I am feeling stretched.

But I am feeling stretched internally as well.

I am at the point that something needs to change.  My life has been pushed to the edge of cliff that it was on; the only solution is to climb up or fall down.

The falling part, although theoretically painful, is at least not as frightening to me in the sense that I understand the rocks at the bottom.  It is the climb up that frightens me more.  Why is this?  Because the climb up only seems to promise pain with no reward, the ache of arms and legs to a point that I cannot clearly see or define from here.

And it involves change - of me.  I am never very good with change, especially change at involves interactions with other people and with how I view myself in the world and more importantly, how I view myself in my own world.

I sense it and shudder.  It involves being brave, standing up, deciding and committing to actions, and following a course.  All things I do not feel terribly proficient in.

But I am not sure that I have a choice.  The cliff has run out.  The rocks threaten below.

Only the path up offers safety - even if it is only the safety of the unknown.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Kata in the Wind

One of the firsts I did this time on my vacation was bring my bokuto. I am in the process of training for my shoden menkyo and did not want to lose the opportunity to continue to train.

Practicing here versus practicing at home has been somewhat of a wash. On the down side, I brought my second-best bokuto and so perhaps have not totally trained as hard as I could have. On the bright side, I had the opportunity to practice with the wind.

I have commented before on my love of this place because the wind, the silence so deep that the wind blowing through the trees is audible and sensible. It is my place in which God walks through the trees.

And, apparently, practices iaido.

In practicing my kata, my cuts and blocks and footwork, I found myself starting to dance in time with the wind and the trees. A sense of being at one with nature came over my soul as I rose and fell with the blade, the "whoosh" of the trees accompaying my blade's quiet descent. As I continued to move, cruching the brown pine needles beneath my trees, one began to get a sense of how the great swordmasters of the past practiced and trained as well, how they valued so much the time spent training alone with only nature as training partner and watching eye. The most successful of movements are those which are the most natural and mimic real life; dancing with the bokuto among the trees imbued a sense of flow and etheralness to the practical combination of wood and muscle.

I will return to Old Home this week; my studies will submerge themselves back into the routine of dojo and home. But remain hopeful that, even in the returning deluge of urban sound, the sounds of the wind will haunt my blade as it moves through the forms.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

A Fuller Return

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up where I am.

The thought occurred to me as I was taking another stroll down the gravel road towards the main road in. I have been coming here for my whole life and looking at the road as I walked up it, I realized how little seems to have changed. Some of the outlines have changed, but the major contours of the land remain the same after four decades - in some cases, the trees have only grown bigger, not moved.

Four decades of coming up and yet I find myself very far away - a place that I always seem to be seeking to return to, in spirit if not in fact. Why is this?

It was at this moment, wandering through the trees, that suddenly the thought of performing kata came to my mind: how much I enjoy Iaido and how much I have learned.

And then came the thoughts of all else that has occurred since we moved: the people we met, the things we have seen, the humidity we have endured (not so notable, of course)and the activities that I have been able to participate in: Iaido, Heavy Athletics, running, cheesemaking, even more rabbits, authoring books.

Would I have found these things if I remained? Possibly. But in going away, what came to my mind is that I have expanded more than what I very well would have had I simply remained where I was.

Does such a thing preclude a return? I do not believe so. Even as I had not planned the going out, so I suspect any return would be a surprise as well: a random event not suspected but ultimately welcomed.

Perhaps that was the great realization as I crunched my way down the road back both to my past and to my future: the going away has not made less attached or less connected but rather more full so that in the event I were to return - or even if I never do - I will find myself greater for the experience.

And I, like the countours of the land I passed by, will be the same even as overlay of my life becomes more vibrant and full.