Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ichiryo Gusoku

I realized on this Labor Day weekend that I needed to catch up on an old point of business which I had started some time ago but never really talked about.

If you had not noticed, about a month ago I posted two new pages here at the blog:  One on "Ichiryo Gusoku" and the other on goals around this.  The concept is one that I have been working with in my mind for some time, have tried a couple of alternate attempts at, and then decided to connect them with my blog and how I am attempting to evolve my life.

What were the Ichiryo Gusoku?  They were the samurai of Chosokabe Motochika (1539-1599) of the Japanese Island of Shikoku.  The term literally meant “one fief, one suit of armor” – which meant the samurai who not only fought but also worked the land as farmers and only had enough land to support themselves, not any follower - or what we might think of, a sort of yeoman farmer who provided for himself and his family but served a higher cause.

“These rustic samurai were known as ichiryo gusoku, because what they possessed was “one fief and one suit of armor”.  They were essentially rough-and-ready characters, who armor came to pieces where the plates where laced together.  They only thing they  prized was courage in battle, and it is said of them that when they were working in the paddy fields they stuck their spears into the ridges between the irrigated sections and fastens their sandals to the shafts, so they could be ready to fight at a moment’s notice.” – The Book of the Samurai: The Warrior Class of Japan, Stephen R. Turnbull

The thought intrigued me as I was introduced to the concept because it combine two areas of interest to me:  my interest in sword arts and my latent interest in doing more to support my own lifestyle by what I produce for it.  As I continued to work through the concepts I came up with a set of goals (that is the other page) of ultimate ways I would like to directly provide for myself and my family.

The goals are a work in progress both of time and location:  where we are now we can only probably do a small fraction of what we I would like to do.  Still, putting them down - and more importantly, putting them out there - is a sort of goad to me to get on with the process.

As I have stated multiple times, I make no commentary on politics and few comments on current affairs on this blog.  That said, there is one truth that transcends all of this and is applicable:  the more has control of the components of one's life and what one needs to survive, the greater degree of freedom one controls over one's destiny.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Rabbit hops closer,nose twitching, asking for love:
fear and love combined.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dog Qualities and People

It occurred to me yesterday evening as I was walking Syrah the Mighty that there are certain qualities that we value in dogs, things that make them pleasing and attractive to us as pets and companions:

- Happy:  Dogs are so often happy when they see us.  They hardly ever seem to hold a grudge.
- Playful:  Dogs are playful.  They are alway ready for any number of games.
- Protective:  Dogs are protective of members of their pack, sometimes annoyingly so.
- Ready to Please:  Dogs like to do things that earn them the praise of their owners.
- Content:  Dogs are generally content with whatever their circumstances are.
- Service:  Dogs like to help, even if it is only helping in the way a dog can.
- Loving:  Dogs can just be there whenever you need them to be, just to give love.

We value all of these traits in dogs, but when people have the same sorts of traits they are sometimes seen as not assertive enough or too silly or not goal oriented enough or the sort of people that will always be followers and not high achievers.  We value such traits in our pets and companions, but not in our fellow humans (or perhaps we say we do, but in practice we do not).

It just struck me as odd.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Releasing the Sword

One of the greater misconceptions of many that I have had to overcome in my pursuit of Iaijutsu is the concept of always holding on to the sword.

At first the thought seemed counterintuitive to me.  After all, we constantly train with the sword to block and then attack.  We drill with nukitsuke (drawing), nigashi (cuts) and various cuts until they are drilled into the core of our muscle memory.  We practice constantly getting the blade between ourselves and our attacker or taking ourselves off-line to avoid the attack.  So in all of this, the concept of dropping the blade came like something that was going against everything I have been training for.

The reality, of course, is that one is not just "dropping" the sword.  One is releasing the sword to get a greater advantage.  Musashi discusses this in his Fire book of A Book of Five Rings":

     "'To release four hands' (yottsu te o hansusu) is used when you and the enemy are contending with the same spirit, and the issue cannot be decided.  Abandon this spirit and win through an alternative resource.
     In large-scale strategy, when there is a 'four hands' spirit, do not give up - it is man's existence.  Immediately throw away this spirit and win with a technique the enemy does not expect.
     In single combat also, when we think we have fallen into the 'four hands' situation, we must defeat the enemy by changing our mind and applying a suitable technique according to his condition.  You must be able to judge this." (translation by Victor Harris)

To release the sword at the critical moment is to seek to take the greater advantage.  If I do not expect myself to release the sword, neither does my opponent.  Now I have the moment of surprise or unexpected reaction that I need.  Now I also have two hands with which to maneuver and pull my opponent off balance or trap him in a lock and bring him down.  Now, as Musashi says, I have released my spirit and am contending by alternative means.

To release the sword is also to expand my view of the situation and resources.  When the sword falls to the ground, I am left without my primary means of attack and defense.  I am forced to evaluate the situation and come up with another means of resolving it.  I have disengaged my muscle memory and am now forcing my mind to work in other ways to achieve the objective.

Another interesting fact: most often when I release my sword, my opponent will not.  It is taught to the point of instinct that we are always to hold on to our swords.  By releasing the sword I gain an instant of hesitation on the part of my opponent, a moment which - if I have truly trained - I can use to my advantage.

Ultimately the sword is a tool, like any other that we have in life.  And if we insist on clinging too tightly to our tools and not sufficiently keeping in mind what we are actually trying to accomplish, we will find ourselves in the position of ourselves been surprised when the sword falls to the ground and we find ourselves in a position of defeat while still holding the superior weapon in the confrontation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Forging of The Soul

I feel as if my soul is being forged right now, beat out on the anvil of life.  It is not an overly pleasant feeling.

That strikes me as odd because I would think that it is something that people - well, at least myself - would actually like. After all, this is what I write about a great deal, correct?:  becoming more of yourself, pushing yourself towards doing more of what your actual purpose in life is, having the less desirable parts fall away.  This is the goal, or at least what I am striving for, right?

Certainly, in theory.  The practice is a bit more difficult.

Is it the heating that I do not like?  That sense of being thrown into the furnace of life and having the temperature of your life rise as the flames heat you, to feel first the outer core and then your inner self become infused and then hot with the transmitted heat of circumstances and people that seem to push you to the break point as the events and circumstances expand your life while it seems to maintain its present form?

Or is it the hammering, that place that finds you between the hammer face and the anvil, as you are pounded repeatedly or twisted uncomfortably?  The pain of the heat may be removed but now it is replaced by blows or twisting that just seems to come and come without any sense is going on or hope that things are going to stop.

The ultimate problem, of course, is that the piece of metal can never truly know what the ultimate outcome of the forging is.  It is nothing without the master hand of the blacksmith, who has the design in mind as does not heat merely once or twice but repeatedly, ultimately converting the steel into something pleasing to the eye and useful to others.  It is the blacksmith that determines how long to heat and how many blows to lay and where to lay them.  It is the metal's job to heat and form.

We often fool ourselves, I think.  We feel ourselves to be the blacksmith, heating and hammering the metal, when really we are the metal and being formed by a Blacksmith greater than us.  We become surprised when the heat and hammer are applied in ways that we did not anticipate - because we forget that we are the thing being forged, not the forger.

I know who The Blacksmith is, and I have a wavering trust - not the level I should have - in what His ultimate outcome is.  I just wish that I could understand what He is forming me into.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Petals of Memory

I apologize.I seem senseless sometimes,
looking at the world through lenses
that only I can see.
These are not the lenses others view the world through:
they are heroic and romantic,
redolent with tales of bravery and laden with emotion.

I forget, sometimes,
that everyone else has a life as well:
plans to be made, plans to be executed,
lives to be lived.
I become so engrossed in my own lenses
that I fail to account
for the lenses of everyone else.

The result?
I constantly walk in a garden filled too often
with dreams and memories,
where the memories whirl like petals
blowing in the wind,
never remembering my petal snowstorm
is not the extent of the world.

And so, forgive me:
Sometimes petals of blowing memories
obscure the bright sun,
leaving me to look through lenses
that have become so clouded
they do not reveal things
as they really are.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer Garden Woes

Blazing sun lays waste:
Only okra and peppers
lift praising green leaves.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Productivity Without Joy

Yesterday was not a good day.

I have been making a sincere effort to work hard and be more productive.  As one aspect of this, I have been making a list every day before I go home of things to do for the following day.  Every day, at least 10 items on the list.  When I get to work I start on the list; by the end of work, I must either have completed every item on list, made progress on those I cannot complete, or indicate who needs to take the next step.

Arguably my productivity has gone up.  I am becoming more effective at making sure that things get done - not only the things that need to be done now, but the things that are upcoming such that I am not rushing to get a thing done right before I am required to product it.  It is starting to be so effective, in fact, that I am already starting to get to the second tier of items that need my attention.  Compounded over months and years, one can begin to see the power of using a tool such as this to make things happen.

And yet, I went home completely crushed.

Why?  Because accomplishment of tasks is not the same as having meaning.  One can perform all of the tasks that need doing and still be no closer to happiness or purpose than the one who never does one task at all.  Doing work which drops off into the abyss leaves one not with a feeling of accomplishment but rather a feeling of emptiness, that one has done something of negligible value to the actual things in life that matter to one.  One may perhaps earn money for the tasks of the day, but such money scarcely pays for the sense of meaningless that accompanies one as the door clicks shut.

This bothers me.  I cannot turn aside from the need to accomplish things, nor can I turn aside from the need to work - right now, at the position I have.  Both of these are critical to my survival.  At the same time, i do not perceive that I can continue to indefinitely maintain this level of deep commitment to a thing which leaves me feeling so utterly empty inside every day when I leave, even though I have been very productive.during the day.

Or perhaps I am just fooling myself.  It is not that I cannot do it indefinitely - anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it.  It is that I cannot do it indefinitely and pretend that it is anything other than what it seems to be - not a joy, but an interminable chore which, joyful or not, must be done.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

To What End?

To What End?

This is the question
that looms in the back of my head
as I try harder and harder
to do more and more;
to be more efficient,
more effective.

To What End?

I try to fill
every moment of my day
with something of value,
something that matters,
yet the days always end
in exhaustion and silence.

To What End?

Why can I not see
beyond my efforts?
How do I spy
the goal I cannot see?
Where is the powerful "THIS!"
that gives meaning to the "WHAT"?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Holding On

Sometimes letting go of something is the hardest thing in the world.

I like to hold on to things.  I am not really sure why.  I am not sure if I equate clinging to something with being deeply committed to the point of not giving up or willing things into existence that are not there or even simply a sense of fear.  But I like to hold on to things - sometimes desperately.

Emotions seem to be the thing I cling to most of all.  I will fiercely grasp anger or disgruntlement in my heart and hold them there as a defense of why I have to feel or act a certain way.  I will think that they have become quiescent in my heart, only to find them roaring back at a time I did not expect.

Sometimes relationships can be the same way.  I think back to the fall of The Firm and how I failed to read the fact that friendship had really become the business. I clung because the friendship was old and cherished but failed to realize that lives had diverged to the point that business was the only thing keeping the friendship together.

Failed projects as well. I am almost quixotic in my quest to try to hold onto projects that have not worked or even simply things that I cannot do.  It is as if admitting that I have failed or even simply that I am no longer interested is akin to admitting that I cannot do something - and I do not like to believe that there are things that I cannot do.

Failure.  I suppose that is the underlying sense of all of my holding on.  I do not like to admit that I have failed, even though such a failure on my part may not be indicated by anything.  Things just do not work out sometimes.  That is just the way of it.

Investment of energy too, I suppose.  I invest energy in our emotions, relationships and activities.  I put time and dreams into them - and when the the thing does not work out, that time and energy and dream become something which may seem to be a failed investment.  It is not always true of course - learning and knowledge are never lost - but the primary point of the investment to feel that emotion or enjoy the relationship or become good at that thing are gone.

And so rather than admit failure, rather face the fact that dreams are all too often just that and that the energy and time did not pay off as I hoped, I cling.  I hold on.  I think that somehow by force of will I can make things different than they are.  And the fact that such a change happens perhaps once in a thousand times does nothing to disturb my willingness to try.

Because in my mind the thought of releasing my hands and simply moving on too often has the scent of someone who has come accept things as they are instead of how they might be.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Difficulty of Being Honest with One's Self

Being honest with one's self is one of the most difficult things one can do with one's self.

In general, honesty often seems hard.  That thought takes me a little by surprise because it would not seem to be so.  I would like to think that honesty is the easier thing to do than prevaricate or fill the space with words while we really say nothing at all. Perhaps in my mind I have this image of honesty as a thing which it is not:  a blade which easily slices through the cobwebs and old trappings of our life and makes a path.

Honesty can indeed be a blade.  But the fact of blades is that the cut everything in their paths without a regard for what it is.  And that is where honesty with the self becomes difficult.  Because I am often very reluctant to turn that blade loose on my own soul lest I see things that I do not wish to see.

If I were honest with myself - genuinely honest with myself - I fear what I would find there.  I have suspicions of these things lying beneath the surface, waiting to make there way from hidden feeling to action.  I know that there are words there waiting to be said that would be destructive beyond belief, actions waiting to be released which could hurt others in my life - not the physical actions but the far more frightening actions of bad decisions, which leave psychic scars which never truly go away. I would find myself face to face with the illusions I carefully maintain and the dreams I carefully nurture in the face of a reality which says that neither are true and cannot really exists.

Would there be good to come out of a true session of self-honesty?  I believe that there would be.  But it is difficult to grasp what that would be.  Perhaps this arises from a sense that self honesty never results in greater clarity of mind or purpose but only in the revelation of that which I have buried and preserved inside.

Is it because I ultimately perceive myself to have failed in some great task, the one thing which I seem to keep pursuing as a goal even as I do not fully know what it is or what I should be doing?  Perhaps.  Failure often makes it difficult to be honest, except in a way which always seems to tear one down in the process.

As I write this there is a sense of walking on ice that is millimeters thick, threatening to crack lest I put too much weight on it.  I have come to recognize this feeling:  it is the feeling of being very close to something which is going to make me very uncomfortable to deal with and I am assiduously lest I suddenly find myself face to face with a truth.

It is beneath my consciousness, roiling beneath the ice.  The question is, am I willing to break the ice and look in?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Inner Walls

Inner Walls separate us.
I am surprised at my ability to build them - but I find them carefully constructed within myself.  Walls that have been constructed around almost every portion of my life.  They have not grown up naturally.  Neither were they (ultimately) put in place by anyone else other than myself.

Why do I build them?

Up to recently I would have responded that the reason I build them is to protect myself from other people, to defend against the vagaries of the moods of others (to be generous and a friend is to learn what to overlook and what to pay attention to) or the very really hurt that others sometimes can cause.  And maybe that is true in some senses and possibly for others.  But I do not think that is the real reason.

It it to protect others from myself?   Walls can not only keep things out, they can keep things in. But again, except for perhaps things I can keep of, there is not a conscious effort to protect others from me.  And so again I do not think this is the real reason.

I think I build them to protect myself from myself.

Why do I need to protect myself from myself?  It is not to protect me from myself per se that I do it - rather that I seek to protect myself from revealing something to others what will return the results that I do not want.

We have all been in the situation that someone exposed more than they intended to in an unguarded or truly honest moment - and the response was not what they had anticipated at all.  They perhaps thought to make a deeper connection or find a true moment of honesty or even simply be real.  More often than not, the response is hardly that: shuffling of feet, looking away, even a rejection of what was offered.

And so people (really me) learn to build walls around themselves.  They know the limits of these walls:  their height, their breadth, their construction, their appearance.  They know what they can and cannot safely do from these walls and how far to open the gates to allow access by others or to go out through them.  But even those gates are very carefully guarded lest in a moment of abandon what is behind the wall rushes out into the action at hand - with unexpected or unwanted results and reactions.

And the walls go higher and higher - in ourselves and thus between ourselves and others - until we find ourselves shouting across canyons of walls, the distances and the echoes obscuring the original message of what we wanted to say.  There is a danger of course, the danger that our walls will become so high and thick that we will never be able to tear them down and let what is out in.  It is a risk - but always measured against the risk of the reaction we did not want.

But Inner Walls ultimately trap us - they do not set us free but rather isolate us from all around us. And so we must learn to love the openness of relationship, even when it is painful and we are misunderstood and rejected and reacted to poorly, than we do the cool smooth protection of our walls.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Small Degree of Hesitation

One of the items I am trying to become better at is the observation of people - not just for the practice of learning to observe but for the practice of trying to learn.  I have learned one of the most challenging items of observation is one's own children, because knowing both their history and their environment it is very easy to track the root of many of their behaviors and actions (too often that root runs directly back to me, their parent).

The incident in question occurred last Saturday at Nighean Dhonn's soccer game.  She plays defense almost exclusively, her job being to cut off the offensive players moving down the field with the ball and either force them to make an early choice or drive the ball back. As I watched this particular day I noticed something which I assume was always there before but just became apparent:  as a player advanced down the field she looked at the player, stood for a moment as if making up her mind, then drew herself up and advanced to where the player was.

Once I suddenly realized this was occurring, I started watching for it - and the behavior repeated itself a number of times.  A few times she would just go - and the play would be more likely to be stopped.

I pondered and wrestled with this following the game.  Look, Make Up the Mind, Go.  Look, Make Up the Mind, Go.  There was something here, something that really applied to me in far greater detail than it did to her.

What I came to realize is that the "Make Up the Mind" step was really a hesitation, a hesitation in which she was making the decision "Should I go?  What should I do?" - then, deciding what needed to be done (run to cut off the play), she went.  The problem, of course, is that the offensive player had no such hesitation and so advanced a great deal farther than she should have if the hesitation had not occurred.

I also realize that I have precisely the same issue.

We train in Iaijutsu in order to gain muscle memory, to remove that moment of hesitation and thinking "What should I do?" and replace it with instant action.  Attacks are varied and repeated in the theory that no matter what attack comes, there is an automatic reaction.  I should not think if an overhand cut (a kirioroshi) comes in; I should just react in one of three ways to block, move, or counter attack.  But this same logic of physical actions are not often applied to other parts of our life.

When I hesitate - when I try to make my mind whether or not do something - I miss a valuable opportunity to instantly act. When I fail to instantly act, I lose something - time, position, initiative - that passes to the situation or the other party, something that inevitably would be of use to me.

Is this the same as acting without thinking?  That is not the intent.  In the example given, my daughter knew what she should do.  It was not the course of action she was determining or even the rightness of it - the knowledge of the game of soccer she was playing and the nature of her position - it was "Should I do it?"

And so with me.  Too often I know what I should do, the rightness of what I should do, perhaps even the positive outcomes of what I should do - yet I hesitate, holding back for fear or concern or even second guessing what I am doing.  And in those moments, I lose something - not just the time or position or initiative mentioned above but something greater:  the ability to build the confidence in myself of ability to action and ability to succeed.

In Iaijutsu the symbolic meaning of drawing the sword quickly (which is the true spirit of the art) is once you have made a decision, to act immediately without hesitation.  Deciding is the time ponder, to think, to take the time to weigh the options.  But once the deciding is over - the decision to participate, the decision to engage, the decision to move forward - hesitation provides nothing but the ability to lose, never the ability to win.

I want my daughter to learn that in any sport - and indeed in life - instant action when you know what to do is more effective than reconsidering the action before doing it.  More importantly, I need to teach myself the same lesson.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Granting Myself Permission to Succeed

The thought process that resulted in "An Indistinct Guessing of the Soul" did not end with a reflection on the fact that I tend to shy away from things as if I were seeking approval.  It went further as it continued to percolate in my mind.

Why is it, I wondered, that I continue to seek the approval of others for things that are really activities that I do myself?  Why do I so cherish this level of approval - which may or may not come - that I am willing to sabotage myself in the doing of these activities?

And then the thought hit me - I have never given myself permission to succeed.

The concept almost seems intuitive.  It is a foregone conclusion that if a person has undertaken anything they have given themselves permission to succeed, correct? Otherwise, why would they undertake the activity in the first place given the true difficulty of accomplishing anything?  But as I continued to dwell on the thought, I realized that this was precisely my problem.

Why do I fear success so much?  Is it that I truly believe myself to be that unskilled?  Do I believe that I am inferior in ability or deed by nature?  Or is simply the unspoken belief that I am unworthy of success unless someone else approves it?

This is subtly different from the believe that one can succeed.  That is a belief in one's ability to accomplish something.  I believe that with great presence of mind and determination almost anyone can do this.  But the thought of giving one's self the permission to succeed is the "Fifth Column" of achievement, the hidden foe that will ultimately drain our efforts and cannot be overcome by simply doubling down on effort.

So I gave myself permission to succeed.

It was not a particularly extreme ceremony - there were no natural phenomenon, no crowds roaring, no sense of time standing still for a momentous occasion.  I simply made the choice - a vocal one - that I give myself permission to succeed in whatever I choose to do.  And the weight that rolled off of my heart was amazing.

Suddenly I do not need the approval of others to succeed.  Their help, possibly.  Their support, definitely - but I do not need them to grant me some permission to go forward and be successful in what I do.  What I simply need, as much as the believe I can do it, is the acknowledgement by myself that it is okay to do it - and do it well, to the point of being very good at it.

We always own our failures instinctively even if we say nothing - now it is time to permit ourselves to own our successes as well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Depression

(Today's regularly scheduled program will return tomorrow)

To those who do not know, depression is a terrible foe.

We all get depressed.  All of us.  At some point in our lives we face that sense where fate has buffeted us past our point of bearing and that things will simply never get better.  Our feelings are perhaps crushed, our outlook is perhaps less optimistic.  We may be overwhelmed with sadness.  But for most of us, this eventually turns and we come back to our usual selves and lives.

To those that truly deal and face depression, this experience is very different.

I cannot speak of every experience with depression. I can only speak of my own, which is a fairly mild case one time diagnosed as bipolar.

To the depressed, depression is not a one-time event.  It is something you live with constantly, like a sort of chronic pain that never really goes away.  There are days you may feel better and days that you may forget that it is there - but you know that it is always in the background, ready to strike.

When it comes, it is nothing like that of the depression of the ordinary.  As you become older, you begin to recognize the signs of it coming on - I would think that at some level they are different for everyone.  Mine tends to be tiredness combined with onrush of pessimism and the inability to see anything good in life, followed by depression.

It has come.

People sometimes ask why the depressed simply cannot "Pull themselves out of it".  I cannot - again - speak for everyone.- but for me, it cannot be pulled out of because you simply cannot see a future.  Depression is like a tunnel into which comes no sunlight, no hope - just a long unending sense that what is, is what will every be.  Things will not get better - in fact, they can only get worse.

You are overwhelmed with sadness in your heart and darkness in your soul.  Always the sadness and darkness.

The first time I faced this was as a senior in High School.  A good student, I was doing "poorly" (C level work) in Pre-calculus.  I was a bit socially inept and had never had a girl friend.  I felt disconnected from my life and could not see anything getting better.  I tried a very passive form of hurting myself.

For me, I was lucky. I had intervention: a friend, then a counselor at high school, then my parents who helped me to get some counseling.  It certainly did not prevent the depression from returning, but it did give me a sense that perhaps there was something that could be done.

The thing that sticks with me in my mind is that sense of nothing every getting better.  That is what I associate most with depression.  The point is clear enough, at least to me:  if nothing is getting better or even if I am continually on this cycle of up/down up/down, there is no hope.   And when hope perishes, why would one want to continue?

A final thought:  Depression is a life long struggle.  If you read my blog you know that this is something I have struggled with repeatedly - and continue to struggle with.  It never really goes away.

But there is something - maybe not a bright point, but at least something to hold onto in my daily battle:  Depression, at least for me, is triggered when I believe that circumstances are simply not going to get better.  I count myself blessed beyond measure that I have a God, friends, family, pets and even activities that remind me every day  "This is not all there is - there is no reason it is not going to change.  There is no reason to lose hope."

Monday, August 11, 2014

An Indistinct Second Guessing of the Soul

This weekend, as I sat down and tried to work out (once again) the things that I wanted to do and the things that I needed to do, I realized that I am once again the victim of activity overreach:  I want to do far more than it seems I ever really have time to do.  By my count I have at least 10 things I am trying to make happen in some form or fashion outside of my regular job.

As I sat and pondered a little more I realized that this is not only a trend for me, but that I have a history of half started things, projects that started to move along but never really got past the point of catching fire.  My bookshelves are littered with things I thought I would do once upon a time but did not and various portions of the house piled with materials "I intend to get around here to any day now" but never seem to.

Why is this?  Why do I start so much and finish so little?

As I tried to continue to slice through the outer edge of my consciousness looking in, I realized that one thing I felt to be different was that in some way I had "permission" to do some of the activities that I did while other were somehow "not sanctioned".  That is odd to me, since I have had the ability to choose what I want to do for 30 years now.  What would cause me to still feel like I needed permission to practice something.

Then the thought crept into my brain  "You do not do them full force because you are not approved in doing them."

Approved?  By who?  For what?  What a strange thought, that I should somehow need someone else to say "okay" before truly doing something.  Is it not true that the things that I have done and stuck with have been things that I started on my own, without "asking" permission but merely doing?

As I teased the thought out more what I found is that I am looking for the approval or the sense of pleasing others in this as I look for it in so many other areas of my life.  I start something but then, in the depths of my soul, there is a "second-guessing" that I do, a sense of holding back full commitment until someone (and this person seems to vary) says that it is "okay" for me to do.  I took up writing to please myself; it was not until such friends as Bogha Frois and Songbird and Otis said "Hey, you can write" that truly began pursuing it, just as it was not until Snowflake did the same that I was able to commit to writing a book.  Highland Athletics became a part of my life when some participants told me that my size and lack of ability did not matter as long as my spirit was there - in other words, someone "approved" what I was doing.

How confusing it must be for my inner self that I am not always conscious of, this constant back and forth of "Let us do this" and "Let us stop doing this", all by driven by this vague sense of seeking out the approval of others to really seem to commit to something.  Carried out long enough, it means that I will never really do a tenth of the things that I desire as I will always be seeking the approval of others to do what I want to do.

And that is really the rub - not the picking up of activities or varied interests but this constant and nagging sense that I need someone else to sign off on the activities to commit to them.  I continue to find myself trapped in a need for someone else to make me feel better about myself and my decisions.

(Note:  I am incredibly uncomfortable as I write this, a sense of turmoil and wanting to turn away present.  Probably means I am on the right track.)

How to combat this?  Strike at the root, not the branches.  The activities are hardly the issue at hand - the fact that I continue to seek the approval of others long after it is relevant is.

Somewhere in here, there is a very small boy continuing to ask others to like him and approve of him.  How do I tell him that it is okay to just be about doing - with no-one's approval needed?

Friday, August 08, 2014

Permanence and Boredom

Sometimes familiarity breeds not contempt but boredom.

I really wonder why this is.  Ironically we have a culture where reliability and durability are things which are desired but seem  more and more to be out of reach goals.  Our entertainment, our marriages, our entertainment, sometimes our very lives seem built on this dichotomy of permanence as a desirable but not one we actually intend to practice.

Why? I do not wonder if part of it is simply the fact that we do not see true value in permanence.

Permanence - in relationships, in jobs, in societies - is often the exact opposite of novelty:  it can be boring.  It can come to be expected.  The things that at one time seemed novel and exciting come to be expected, if not demanded.  The water works every day and so we first begin to rely on it and then expect it to work, in fact becoming angry if it does not: we forget that in parts of the world running water is a novelty, not a permanent fixture.  We start doing something for our spouse or significant other because we want to; the behavior comes to be expected to the point that when it is not done, it is as if a major tragedy occurred.  We take on extra tasks at work in hopes of advancement; we find that this work has now become expected of our current role - along with everything else we were doing.

And so we become bored with what we have.  We look to things to move beyond that permanence to "spice it up" - or we simply collapse within our souls. slowly becoming crushed under the level of expectations we have allowed to build up until sometimes it feels that we are merely another item in the area, like the coffee pot or printer that is used when needed.

How can this problem be solved?  I wish I knew.  It is like a car - you never really think about its operations until it suddenly dies and you need it to go somewhere.  Your entire world is suddenly focused upon one particular item and how it is not working.  Maybe you go through a quick list in your head of all the things you think you should have done but did not - and perhaps promise yourself that if only the car will work, you will take care of these things right away.

A closing thought:  if we celebrated and treasure the permanent and reliable and truly treasured them as much as the new and novel, what would our lives look like?  More importantly, what would the lives of others look like?

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Power of Being Ourself

Sometimes I think that we forget about the power of being ourself.

Oh, I am always myself, you might argue.  I make a habit and practice of only being myself.  I do not conform myself to those around me.  I am a rugged individualist in an age of electronic uniformity.

And that is probably true at some level for all of us.  But something happens, something a bit insidious, especially when we start to become involved in the lives of other people:  we start not being ourselves.

Some of it is probably natural, of course- after all, we are involved in relationships where we have to change a little to make the relationship go well.  Such is the nature of human interactions.  But what I am more concerned about are the parts and things we lose - perhaps not lose so much as set aside.  Why?  Because we begin to fear that if we practice this or that or do this or that, we will become less attractive to the others involved.  And once we have been involved in a friendship or relationship that is meaningful, we can become attached to it in such a way that we are willing to let parts of ourselves go.

And this is foolish.

Why?  Because we forget that part of the reason that we are in this friendship or relationship is what bring to the relationship.  Not just ourselves - our feelings, our skills and habits, our quirks.  These create the unique bundle that makes "us".  And being "us" gives a power like no other because there is (statistically) no-one like us.

But we forget this.  And so over time the people involved begin to lose interest because we are less and less ourselves and more and more a homogenized person.  We become desperate for the relationship and so we become focused on the relationship, not ourselves in the relationship and what we contribute.  Conversations narrow down to a few things - including the relationship  - and we no longer talk of swordsmanship or a movie or how lavender is our favorite plant.  And then we wonder why we feel we have lost a connection with the relationship.

There is a power in being ourself - not some sort of mystical power that will propel us through a wall or make us fly, but a gentle power which allows us to relate, accomplish, and be a valuable part of any relationship.  The only one that can ultimately take it from us is ourselves.  The good news is the only one that can also reclaim it is ourselves.

Be unique.  Be powerful.  Be yourself.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Never Really Ours

We sometimes claim ownership to things that are not ours.

Oh, we know the usual items.  Too often we claim credit for something we were slightly involved in or for someone that we tangentially know.  We do not really mean anything evil by it of course - we are not one of those people claiming stolen valor, for example - but we are almost instinctively drawn in by the fact that people are paying attention to it and if we are at all involved, we want a little bit of the attention as well.  It feels good. And after all, we were somehow involved, right?

But there is another kind of ownership we are quick to claim sometimes, an ownership of things that really are not ours but we wish they were.

It is a gray area.  It is not as if we are precisely lying - after all, we usually have some relationship to the thing in question - and often times the thing or people involved never know that we really think that.  And we may never verbally admit to anyone that it exists - it may only dwell in the recess of our heart, a secret thing that we lay claim.

The difficulty, of course, is that we actually never owned the thing.

It is a difference - a big difference.  It is the difference between actually having the money in hand to purchase something and telling someone "I can get the money to purchase the thing" when you are not sure you have it.  It is the difference between definitively having a date versus having the concept of possibly talking to the person about having coffee.  It is the difference between having the job offer and telling others you have a job offer when in fact you have only had a first interview.

It is often the distance between fantasy and reality.

Why?  Sometimes it is simply harmless, the sort of silly fantasy or wishful thinking that simply wishes a situation to be different in our life - that we are something, or know something or someone.  Sometimes it is less harmless:  we feel we do not have the ability or courage to actually do the thing and so hope that acting as if we did will make it so (this may work for changing our own behavior, but seldom in this case).  And sometimes it is desperation that we desperately need something to be different or better in our lives and so we grasp at straws with hands wide open, hoping that such a thing slightly grasped is the same as something actually grasped.

But it never is in any case.  The thing - be it an object or a relationship, a person or an experience - was never really ours.  We perhaps believed it to be, acted as if it was, told others that it was - but it simply was not.  Our minds, our hearts, and our souls perhaps created a reality where there was really nothing but fleeting images and  happy wishes.

It was never really ours.  But sometimes we certainly act as if it was.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A Fog of Our Own Devising

I wonder how many times we bring our own confusion upon ourselves.

Too often I think we like to believe that we are surrounded by a fog of living.  We believe that it is similar to the so-called Fog of War, that confusion that is well documented in the midst of military action where all becomes confused and unclear in the reality of explosions and death.  We look around us at the confusing set options and circumstances that we often find ourselves in and find that we, too, seemed to be lost in a mist of events, uncertain at times of what is truly going on and who we are truly with and what we should really be doing.

At least, that is the way the seems to us.  But does it seem that way to others?

I wonder if it that is fact not true, that the fog that we find ourselves too often ensconced in is something of our own making.  We have a grand tendency to confuse our own lives, to put up obstacles where none exist and to walk into walls that are clear to everyone around us.  We feel ourselves to be trudging through a mist we can barely see through, hands held straight out as we try and make our way.  To all around us, it must often look as if we are playing blind man's bluff in the daylight for no particular reason.

Often we lack the ability to see ourselves and the situations we are in clearly, completely, honestly.  This is part of what it means to be human.  We are a bundle of experiences and emotions, filtering the world in a way that no-one else can quite do.  That can be quite a powerful thing - after all, at some level all forms of art are the interpretation of an individual of the world around them.  But it also means that we can see problems that others simply cannot and create issues where none exist - things which are very really to us indeed but only because of the fact that we make them real.  And so we end up wandering through a fog which we have created, a mist which makes the easy difficult and simple confusing and the hard almost unsolvable.

Is there a solution to this fog?  Surely there is.  If this was a meteorological discussion, I would simply say that the sun or wind eventually drive the fog away.  And in this sense God, or a good friend, can often serve the same function, driving away the confusion and helping us to see things for what they really are.  Removing the fog helps us to see the true obstacles for what they are and remove those cobwebs of unreality from clogging our vision.

But here is my problem:  sometimes it feels as if God and friends are not enough.  Because there are times when, although the weather is clear and splendid, the fog always comes rolling back in.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Higher Value

So my week of training on Lean Principles of Manufacturing is completed.  Overall not a bad way to spend a week learning.  The thing that this has brought home to me is the importance of making the most of the time that have - not only by trying to do things more efficiently and effectively, but by choosing the right things to be doing.

This is nothing new, of course - Stephen Covey made a career (well deserved because he was a fine communicator) around these concepts:  Figure out the important things, then do them.  I have read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People several times yet in never really seemed to take hold.  That is beauty of universal concepts though:  one can keep trying different venues until you find something that clicks.

That said, what are my higher values?  I confronted this issue on the weekend when, after having accomplished a great deal on Saturday, I still did not feel like I had "done" anything.  When asked by Snowflake, I commented that I felt that I had not done the highest value things I could have accomplished that day.  I did a little better yesterday (interestingly, a higher value activity seems to be planning, something that we always justify not making time for) but still did not get everything done I should have gotten done.

I need to work on this (obviously).  Time is the great limiting factor and large chunks of my time (at least right now) are taken up with things that I would argue do not have the highest value in my life (other than paying the bills, of course).  That is okay, maybe for the first time in a long time:  I now have a rubric whereby I can take the activities, judge them, and then figure out how to make them even more beneficial to me.  If, as was presented, 50% of the activities at any company are waste (not value added, not improving the product, not willing to be paid for by the customer) can this be any less true of my life?

One goal:  Every time I undertakes something from now one I need to ask myself:  is this the Highest Value Activity I can possibly be doing right now for the product at hand - ultimately, my life?

Let us make it a goal never to spend our time on lower value activities again.  Life is too bereft of time, the stuff of which life is made.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Furuyama Blade

Mirrored katana
reflects my face; the hamon's
waves softly wash my soul.