Thursday, July 31, 2014

On The Peril of Naming Our Problems

I am having a problem with naming my problems.
Urusula Le Guin is famous for the concept and power of naming in her series The EarthSea Triology.  In the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, the hero Ged releases something from another dimension.  What he finds through the course of the book is that by naming something, you come to have power over it - and can control it.

Sounds delightful, does it not?  Find you problems, name your problems, and suddenly you have the power to know what they are - after all, if I define something as anger or depression or failure I know it, and by knowing it I have knowledge of what it is and perhaps how to deal with.

But there is a subtle risk therein, a risk that I had never considered until this week when Bogha Frois brought it up to me:  "You have to be careful when if you find a problem you immediately name it"  she said.  "By naming and defining it, you may deprive yourself of the ability to deal with it because by defining it you suddenly put it into a box.  If you put it in a box too quickly you become comfortable with it because you think you know what it is - and thus short-circuit the process of truly delving into it."

She is right, of course.  By defining something we often tend to cut short the process of discovery.  "Hey"  we say, "this is depression.  I know depression.  I know the five stages of depression" - when the thing is not fully depression at all.  Depression may be the symptom, not the cause - but suddenly we "know" what the problem is and thus we feel no need to go deeper.

I wonder if in some ways this is a coping mechanism for us, a way for us to avoid truly digging into our problems.  Most people would prefer to feel good rather than bad; by naming something and thinking we understand it we reduce the level of pain and anxiety caused by feelings we cannot name flowing into our existence.

But the danger is real, as Bogha Frois pointed out.  There is real self discovery that must occur before resolution, a real wrestling in the soul that we all too easily try to turn away from in our quest to make ourselves feel better.  We name the problems we think we have - but in naming them, perhaps instead of bringing them under control we instead cause them to hide their true natures, and thus their real names.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Hole in My Soul

I found the hole in my soul.  It does not have a name.

What is it?  Some element seems to a fear of being left behind by the successes of others.  Apparently I always feel left behind - or afraid of being left behind, overrun by those who are simply more successful than I.  They move on, I linger.

Another element is attachment - making me feel something about myself.  What that something is, I cannot fully say - because again, it does not have a name.

Value?  That may be part of it.  I perceive I have no value except in the context of someone else.  Or perhaps that I view myself as unimportant and a servant and I want someone to notice me as something more.

Sometimes I feel as if I am forgettable, that if I did not remind people that I am here I would be forgotten.  Perhaps it is a manifestation of the fact that I feel small and of no account - desperate to be noticed and for attention, if you will.

How do I look in those flights of fancy and dreams in my head?  Not at all like I feel actually am.  Strong.  Confident.  Noble.  Competent.  Honorable.  In other words, everything that I do not feel I am in real life.  Or even the sensation that if I were to become these things it would not matter.

What do I want?  No, what do I really want?  To be great and use the talents I believe (or believed) I had to do great things.  To be competent and confident, a leader.  To be in relationships that are  fulfilling.  To succeed.

But my success fall into what if feels like so much of my life is:  things of the shadows, things that do not make an impact on the larger world or fulfill this hole.  Iaijutsu, Heavy Athletics - these are small accomplishments that matter little in my daily life, or seem to.

And writing, my great hope and dream of success once upon a time?  The simple reality, based on actual results, is that I am probably much less of the writer in fact than I believe myself to be in my head.  In my mind, I am the next literary genius with mighty stories to tell that will change the lives of others.  Evidence perhaps indicates that I am simply a person who likes to write but maybe should keep my day job.

Which leaves me with what, precisely?

A hole.  A hole so big and so large in my soul that I would do anything to fill it.  A hole that I keep hoping will fill with interests or relationships or activities.  The interests and activities never do and I more than likely destroy the relationships in my incessant need to have the hole filled.

Here is the issue:  After I have written all of this and tried to put some definition around a longing and a pain so deep it almost overwhelms me at times, I realize I have probably not named it at all.

All I can tell is there is a whole, a fissure that runs through my thoughts and my life that when it fires, can consume all other things in its need for relief.  And I simply seem to have no idea what to do with it at all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Honest Writing

I sometimes wonder if I am doing this correctly.
When I started this blog I do not suppose that I knew precisely what I intended to do with it - theological and political commentary, as I recall.  Perhaps once in a while a piece of useful information or two.

That was almost 9 years ago.

What this has turned into is none of those things - rather it has become a sort of online journal of my thoughts - and then some.  I grapple with this sometimes:  is this really what I meant to do?  Is this really what I should be doing?

Much as I would like to believe myself to be, I am not the most inspirational writer all the time.  Often I am depressed - in fact, I bet if I went and considered the tone of the titles of this blog I would find that more often than not I am writing from a place of frustration or sadness or depression rather than happiness.  Certainly if there was a real market for online writing (Let's be honest - most of us do it for free) this would probably not be the royal road to riches.

The question:  Is that wrong?

One thing I always try to do when I write is be honest - in my blog, in my books, in my journals (yes, I have journals.  They go back to 1999.  They probably make this look like optimism central).  What you see on this page is unrefined me in its raw, usually early morning form.  It is one reason that I have used a nom-de-guerre all of this years even though I bet the bulk of my regular readers, being family and friends, really know who I am (and it is more than once I have gotten a call from my father asking "So, read your blog. What is up?") - it allows me a level of anonymity to write these things and feel secure enough to write them.

But am I being honest enough?  Am I being myself enough?

This is the thought that is rattling around in my head this morning:  am I being honest enough?  Is my commitment to honesty through writing as sincere as it needs to be?  Am I being myself enough that I can be honest?  Or am I even now cloaking myself in phrases and allusions so that there is some level of safety while keeping deeper issues hidden away?

The great writers, the best ones, have a way of writing that makes truth real and apparent, no matter what vehicle they use.  Their honest selves bleed out from the paper through their characters and plots and settings and writing in a way that leaves the reader craving that sort of transparency and real living - honest living - for themselves.

How do I get there?  How do I write even more honestly?  How do I be even more of me?  It is not purely by putting other parts of my life on the paper - maybe the parts no-one needs to see - that makes me more honest - it is that unwavering commitment to take a thought and follow it no matter where it leads in myself and being willing to document what I find there in a way that is not voyeuristic or crass or pernicious or hurtful but in a way that makes the thought clean and straight and true.

In iaijustu the best cuts are the ones which are kept true to the angle of the cut and the hand placement is correct.  When you have done it correctly you know it by the mirror bright line of the katana and the shwoosh of the displaced air and feeling of your hands on the tsuba  and the fact that you have completely cut through the tatami mat as it falls away.  When you have made a true and honest cut, you always know it.

May that be true of my writing as well.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Just Drive

Sometimes there are mornings that I just want to get in the car and drive.

Nothing different than normal - get up, get ready, get in the car to drive to work - and then just keep going.

Where would I go with money in pocket and just driving?  Maybe back for a visit to Old Home.  The thought of driving across hours of empty landscape with just myself has a certain appeal to it right now.  Or maybe down to the coast - not so much for the water but just to sit on edge of the ocean and look out into the water and off into the horizon.

Why Drive?  There are just times where it feels like life - and the choices you have made in it - are simply overwhelming.  It is a form of information overload except that it is not just information.  It is sensation and emotion and a seemingly endless array of things that are crashing into your consciousness.  I assume that there are people that can deal with this sort of informational and sensational overload.  I cannot.

Driving (and because I commute I have done a lot of it in my time) allows me time to think and decompress in a way nothing else seems to.  Driving allows me to control the amount of input that I want: Music?  Conversation?  Or just the quiet hum of the car operating (I have been known to put earplugs in to dampen the sound of the car)?  I control it - based on the need I have at the moment.

And that need screams out to me now, every day.  To take a time away from the responsibilities, the needs, the demands, the wants, the confusion that seems to litter my mind and soul every day.

I need peace.  I need clarity.  I need the silence of the soul that allows life's demands to just fade away in the the long horizon of the road.

I need to drive.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Secret Longings

The discovery of one's secret longings is a disturbing thing.

Not the secret longings that we think we have, of course - the things that we convince ourselves of in our mind that are the things that we want.  No, it is the true secret longings - the things that we are acting as if they were actually important, the things that we consciously or subconsciously are trying to move our lives towards.

Do they always have to be considered disturbing?  I suppose that is a fair question - after all, what happens if one is moving their life a way that is improving themselves?  Is it disturbing to find out that one is trying to better one's self in a way that is good?  Perhaps - although I think that even in this case, the idea that our conscious mind is doing one thing and our unconscious mind is off doing something else would be a bit concerning: it destroys the myth that we are in charge of our thinking as much as we like to thing.

But what do you do about the other ones - the ones that you sudden realize are there, the ones that you suddenly realize are maybe not as healthy for you - and the one's that perhaps part of you is trying to move your life towards?  It is disturbing because it is as if you have been living an illusion within yourself, thinking you were advancing in one direction - but going in another.

And what do you do when you find them out?  Often they have been there so long and have becoming so ingrained into the fabric of your life that they are more like a dye than something applied to the surface that can be easily removed.

The issue is that once discovered, I think these things have to be dealt with one way or the other - because once the secret is no longer a secret to us, it is as if we are trying to live two identical lives within our singular life.  That will not work - it creates a dissonance where we are trying to do one thing and trying to do another thing, sometimes at odds to one another.  We spend a great deal of time fighting within ourselves, almost as if we were trying to serve two masters, both of whom demand that we address their needs first.

I wish I had a better conclusion to this issue, but I do not.  Writing this has been one of the hardest focus events I have had to do in a while - because this discovery to me is so new and I am not sure how to handle it.  I know this though:  once discovered, it must be addressed. A secret that is revealed is a secret no longer.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Lack of Belief in Long Term Success

I face two great problems in realizing success in any area of my life.  It has occurred to me that this problems are not any different than those who are successful face; it is just that they have resolved them.

1)  I have the inability to focus on a particular goal.  I have enough problems deciding on one, but once I have, I have greater problems bringing focus and intensity to the problem at hand.

2)  I lack the belief that I will be able actually achieve anything leading to long term success.

The second one is the one that qualifies as the epiphany, and perhaps the one that is more relevant - without believe that you will be able to succeed, the execution of any goal in pursuit of that success seems a waste of effort.

Where do this lack of confidence originate from?  Certainly I have demonstrated that I can accomplish any number of things, and I am sure that if I polled my friends they would not see this as something that was an issue.

Perhaps the issue is not so much that I can or cannot accomplish things, but that I cannot accomplish things that make a serious impact on my life and my future.

Example:  I (through the electronic grapevine) was made aware yesterday of a former coworker with whom I shared a similar title getting promoted.  In the same period of time (approximately 10 years) they have gone from manager to VP.  I have remained a manager.

Or the simple example of my current position where I have maintained the same title for 5 years while others have been promoted in far shorter periods of time.

Promotions come by many means of course, including effort.  My point is that if I look over my career life of the last 10 years and point to my advancement in the field, I find that it is none at all.  All the various efforts and initiatives went precisely no-where.  At some point one begins to despair of ever moving forward no matter what one does.

Now imagine this seemed true in every aspect of one's life.

What is the solution?  I can see it easily enough - believe that your efforts will pay off- but it is a very hard thing to believe at the moment.  I can point to that string of individual and isolated success; unfortunately they seem more like individual rocks standing on the edge of the sea shore rather than a peninsula over which I can cross over.

It brings up a fundamental question to which I find myself seeking the answer:  how does one change the very bedrock of one's belief from the concept that one cannot succeed to the belief that one can succeed?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Of Despair and Writing

Last night I despaired.

It was the whole day in coming.  It built on a work day where I was reminded how far I have not come in my career, at one point fighting with a binder that I needed to three hole punch papers in.  It was compounded when I got home and had dinner and then ate a little more than I should of.  It was added to by the fact that I have been running low on sleep almost since we returned from vacation.

I simply got to the end of dinner and did not have the energy or will to do anything.  Not the studying I had planned to do or the iaijutsu that I needed to do or the workout I wanted to do.  Nothing.  I just sat there missing energy and waiting.

Waiting for what?  Something other than despair about everything at that moment: feeling bad, feeling tire, no energy, nothing.  So in a fit of frustration, I wrote.

I have not written (as in writing for a book) since April and finishing my last texts.  Why?  I am not sure.  I certainly have something I could write about, but with my typical concern about the perfection of the work (I know it can be good) I have put off doing anything about it because (in my mind) no action is better than bad action.  And nothing else has really gotten my creative juices flowing.

So I wrote. It was not anything spectacular - unsurprisingly it was about a person facing despair (creative, no?).  But in the simple act of writing I found a certain relief to my condition.  The mere act of writing and creating gave me a sense of doing something, of taking action - something beyond the fact of what I was facing as I sat there with no energy.

I am trying to do others things better too - get more rest, eat a little better - but it appears I need to write more.  Writing is one activity that, even if I am reluctant to start it and do it badly, makes me feel better as I am doing it.  The creative process seems to tap something beneath my level of despair or depression or unhappiness or whatever it is I am struggling with at the moment and brings the associated sense of creation to the surface.

Today whispers to me that it has the possibility of being like yesterday - but this evening if I am faced with the situation again, I will fight back.

I will write.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weakness

A realization of weakness is never a very comforting thing.
I am weak - weak in ways that are numerous in number and defy description.  For all the ways that I like to believe that I am strong and can deal with or endure life, I am fractured with weakness - fractures that can occasionally threaten to tear apart my otherwise seemingly placid life.

The worst thing about such weaknesses is knowing that they are there, threatening to act when you least expect it (or need it), diverting your attention and sapping your energy.  There are days where I have to walk a very fine line between doing what needs to be done while not walking over the precipice into the yawning abyss.

Like what sort of weaknesses, you ask?

Always the rub, is it not?  People say that they suffer from weaknesses but scarcely willing to actually discuss them lest they reveal themselves in ways that are painful and embarrassing.  I do not know that I am any more willing than any other to reveal all of them - here is one, though:  food.

I like to eat.  I like to eat a lot.  Given the opportunity, I would routinely snack and overeat all day to the point that gluttony became more of a struggle than it already can be.  It is always there - especially when there are those comfort foods around that I love and something has caused the day to go awry: Frustrated?  Eat.  Depressed?  Eat.  Tired?  Eat.  Bored?  Eat.

I know it may not seem like much compared to what others go endure - and it may not be.  But now take that weakness and multiply it by 5 or 10 or more and this too often seems to be my life:  weaknesses, living in the fracture lines of my life, ready to rupture from any number of potential inputs or issues.

How does one solder together such weaknesses?  Is there such a thing as going an hour, a day, even a week without being constantly aware and fighting?  Or is this simply the human condition?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Second Watering

A late night downpour
waters my garden; why did
I not trust the clouds?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cutting with the Kissaki

During the most recent Tokai our soke (the head of our style our school)  noticed how someone was doing their overhead two-handed cut known as a kirioroshi, one of the basic cuts of iaijutsu in which the sword is swung from behind the back over the head to cut down.  "Dame"  said soke.  "Wrong".

He explained that the way we were cutting resulted with us cutting with the longer edge of the blade known as the ha.  What we actually wanted to cut with, he demonstrated, was with the kissaiki, the very tip of the sword.  In order to do this, one has to bring the sword high over head, almost to the point where it is perpendicular with the ground, and then almost cast the blade forward as if fly fishing while changing the tenouchi, the hand grip, to nigiri no kata, the "wringing of hands" as if wringing out a towel, where the hands are so turned to the top of the tsuka (hilt) that the wrists almost sit on top of the sword..  What this combination does is ensure that the tip is accelerating more quickly than the rest of the blade while the grip makes the left arm the force by which the blade is being pushed down, the right hand almost acting more like a guide (when done correctly, this is almost singularly an action of the forearms).  The result is the that the kissaki, the sharpest part of the blade, moves most quickly and is driven down with incredible force for quick and precise cutting.

Practicing this after the fact was difficult, as is any activity in which one has learned and is now having to relearn the activity.  But one could feel the difference almost at once:  the blade almost flies as the top of the arc as it accelerates down and one has to work much more to ensure that the end of the cut is level, instead of the blade angled downward.

It made me think of life in general as I was practicing last night.

So often we attempt to muscle our way through our problems and difficulties by brute force or by energy that we expend or even by the power of the tools that we use.  The reality is that this will not always get us the best results. It is often the precise application of that thing which most needs doing - the kissaki of our task, if you will - back up by the right application of effort - the power of the left hand - that will provide results in a way which, after we get used to it, will most likely stun us in how power, effective, and quick it is.

Force or length of sword alone does not determine the outcome.  It is the correct application of them that will bring victory.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Post-Vacation Drain

So it only took about one day of routine to destroy my energy level.

This is not unexpected.  I gave up the concept many years ago that returning from vacation means anything at all changes while you are on vacation.  Workplaces seldom become better by your absence. Always a little disappointing I suppose, because one would like to believe that this time it will be different - but not unexpected.

I noticed the waning over the course of the day.  When I got in I was energized, focused, moving forward on projects. By the end of the day I was drifting, slowing down, seemingly lost in my ability to focus on what I had to do.  Coming back and realizing that without your presence initiatives continue to be not acted on will do that for you.

The saddest part of this whole experience is the fact that all the dreams and plans you built a head of steam for while on vacation disappear.  The good ideas you had, the "I am going to change things now and this is how I am going to do it"  seem to float away like a tattered flag in the wind, leaving you only with the shreds of what you had dreamed to accomplish.

I do not suppose this is the goal of any vacation, in reality.  A vacation does not solve your career or work problems, it merely gives you a break from them.  But perhaps it can provide one more piece of functionality:  to give one the wisdom and incentive to simply ask the question "If nothing changes, how long until I am willing to admit this fact and take real action to move on?"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rain and Porch

It is raining.

I am writing to you from my porch this morning where, enshrouded in darkness, it is raining.  Not the heavy downpours that we seem prone to during this time of year but rather the gentle sort of rain that I would recognize from Old Home during the Fall or Spring.

It is another one of those circumstances that becomes a bit of a shocker:  yesterday we were at the very high 90's and brutally hot.  Even last night when I walked Syrah the Mighty at 9:30 there was still not a cloud in the sky. Now,  blessed rain.

There is a cool breeze that is wafting its way across the porch as I write as well.  It is devoid of any hint of humidity which the day might later bring but is now just lazily and happily moving across the porch and my computer, a gentle greeting from the cloud cover above.

And we are in such desperate need for rain - any rain - right now.  Not that we have been so bad as years past, but we are already on severe water restrictions (not that such influences me at this point.  Other than my garden and select plants, I am operating under belief that if it cannot survive the climate here I am not going to make special efforts.  My money and my efforts are better spent on other things). I took a chance last night and did not water the garden in hopes that it would rain - even when the sky said otherwise to me.

The rain seems to be getting harder.  The ground now bears the true appearance of a rainstorm, not just the half-wet appearance of a storm which was all promise and no action.

As I sit here, it strikes me as terribly odd that dreadful things can happen - are happening - half a world away and yet I am sitting here on my porch enjoying a quiet rainstorm as if nothing else in the world was going on.  Surreal, almost.

Now the rain seems to be cutting back some, leaving only the draining sound of the water as it runs down the gutters and into the drainpipes as the major sound.  The cool wind is still making its way across the porch, perhaps a last gift as it moves off to some other porch and summer returns.

Would that all my mornings started this peacefully and full of life-nourishing grace.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Seriousness

Tokai has been this weekend.  As usual, I have enjoyed it even as I am reminded once again of how little I actually know about Iaijutsu. This year's take away for me?  Seriousness.

I realized is practicing and my attendant continued issues of not performing correctly that I am not serious about iaijutsu the way I should be.  I get to a certain level in this (or really in anything) and then I get bored with it.  I am not on the path of continued improvement and truly knowing that which I participate in.  I allow myself to be satisfied at a certain level and consider that to be having "achieved" something.

As I reflected on this Saturday night I realized that this is not only true of iaijutsu but of my life in general.  I want to do things but I never pursue them to the level that I should but only to the level that I am interested in or does not bore me.  The result?  I know a lot about a great deal but am an expert at or achieve very little.

What does this mean?  I need a renewed commitment.  A commitment to actually completing that which I start, a commitment to accomplishing fully that which I set out to do.  A commitment to be serious about that which I undertake, to accept and realize that any decision to start to something is a decision to follow it through to true completion or mastery.

I took the time to list out the things that I feel are important to myself and my life.  10 things.  I am going to use as the basis of my commitment and seriousness.  If it is on the list, it needs to become an item which I intend to either complete or master.  And for those which I complete, I will place another item on the list.

Life is to short to not be serious about that which we do and seek to do it to the best of our abilities.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Car Battery and The Will of God

I  am ungrateful for all the wrong reasons.

It is not that I cannot see God's hand evident - sometime daily - in our lives.  It is that it never seems to be in the way that I want it to be.

Witness yesterday.  I charged the offending van battery and tested it.  It started like a charm.  Headed out later in the day to run some errands.  The second stop I make, the battery is low again.  And then here is the hand of God:

1)  The breakdown occurred less than a mile from The Ravishing Mrs. TB's work, so she could come pick me up.  Additionally, it occurred in a supermarket parking lot so it was easy to access.

2)  We were close enough to home that I could run home and get the tools I needed.  Fortuitously (?) I had just organized my socket set so I could easily grab what I needed.

3)  We originally went to one store to buy a battery but could not find it the model number.  We looked at the battery and it was from Wal-Mart, so we drove there.  Turns out the battery was under warranty.  They said they needed to charge it to invoke the warranty but when I said I had already tried they were good with that.  Not only was the battery free, we got almost $4.00 back.

4) This whole thing has occurred during my vacation, when it was easy for us to deal with it.  During my regular work week this would have been a great deal more difficult.

All evidence of God's hand in our lives.  So why am I not feeling more loved and taken care of and grateful?

Because I am selfish.  Because all of this is quite handy of course, but what I really want is for the things that I want and think important to be taken care of as well.  My projects.  My dreams.  My goals.

That is not the way it works, of course.  Christ knew nothing of the sort.  Neither did the apostles.  Their concerns were God's concerns, their goals God's goals.

I am going through Acts right now. Time and time again, one finds the apostles preaching - and then something bad happens.  Prison perhaps, or lashings, or maybe stonings.  Never once do they grumble about it, never once do I catch them complaining that God is not fulfilling their dreams for their lives.  God is always working to fulfill His goals  - and the apostles see everything through that lens.

So perhaps, in the midst of my grumbling and baseline gratefulness, it would not hurt me to reflect for a moment that God, even though He is busy with the universe, has taken the time to determine that us having a functional van that we could easily repair is something that is important and somehow critical to what He is doing - and that perhaps all of my own wishes and wants do not rise to that same level.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On Autos and Grumbling

Frustrating return.

We got in at 0135 on Tuesday night. By the time we arrived at the car it was 0200.  Go to unlock the car and hit the unlock key for all doors - nothing.  Great.  Try to start the car - nary a click.

We call and get some help.  I am fortunate in that I carry jumper cables; I am less fortunate in remembering where they are (sort of a trick in the dark) but find them.  Hook them up to the transit bus and up it starts.  Wait for a few minutes, then say thanks and everyone gets in the car.  First thing I do: kill it.

Call the front again.  This time he brings a charger.  We wait for a few minutes, discussing the fact that the weather has been hard on batteries lately.  Finally, almost 40 minutes after we get to the car, we head out.  I am extra careful going home, always trying to coast through the lights and avoid having to restart.

Then yesterday morning I get a call from The Ravishing Mrs. TB.  "The van just died"  she said.  "The lights flickered and then everything just went out."  Fortunately it was less than a mile from home so I drove out.  Sure enough, the battery cable I had pulled off to replace the headlamp before we left was loose.  Got it back on and took it home, then re-cleaned the posts and re-tightened the battery while charging the other car battery.

And now this morning.  She goes out to the van and tries to start it.  Clicking.  Fortunately the battery in the other car is okay so she can take that.  I check the charge level - dead, according to what I have.  Start the charger again (fortunately I am still on vacation).

I want to look at the situation and look at the blessings:  that I am still off, that we can get by for a bit with one car, and that nothing serious has happened on the way to or from home.  I really do.  But what I find myself stuck with instead is that nasty sense of "Why us? Why now?"

I should be grateful.  Instead, I find myself grumbling.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Lavender

The Bumblebee knows
knows only that there is pollen,
not where it comes from.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Leaving and Coming in the Upper Meadow

It has been almost a week of vacation now - a week of being essentially free of work and home and the ordinary routine of my daily life.  This had not struck me until this morning, as I went for my now usual Lower Meadow walk to the southwest of the House towards the edge of my parents' property.

Walking through the low grass and wildflowers I noticed that honeybees are hitting up the little blooms that cling to the ground for the last bit of run-off moisture.  This warms my heart even as it saddens it: on the one hand I am excited that someone here is keeping bees; on the other it saddens me as the bees that are reaping the pollen and nectar harvest are not my own.  Still the overall sense I have is happiness:  bees can make it here.  Maybe they will for me one day again.

The blackberries at the end of the pasture that mark the dividing line have grown taller even as they do not appear to have pushed out any farther in the Meadow.  I check:  no ripe blackberries yet.  We have missed the season by about a month.  Darn - there is nothing quite like blackberries plucked fresh and popped into your mouth.

As I walk back in the direction of the house the thought strikes me from above:  I am a week out of my ordinary life.  Not only the cares and pressures of work - which look minutely small when one steps away from them - but the ordinary situation of my daily life.  My very mannerism and ways of carrying about my day have not been activated in over a week.  The way "I am" has simply not been evident.

Or how I have come to allow myself to be.

If you have followed my blog long enough, you will know that buried beneath the life that I seem to life is the life that I really want to live, the life of doing great things and accomplishing things of worth.  What I find at this moment is that this man - the one walking up the Lower Meadow with me - may be the individual that can do it.

Of course the question is always "How do I make it work?"  How do I take this individual and put him back into the actual situation of his life and still find this inner sense of calmness, of drive, that needs to be there to make things happen.

The secret, I think, is to not go back the way I came out.

Looking at now and given the time frame I have established, I now have a window.  I simply need to list - and execute - on those things that need to move me towards that ultimate window.

Practically this means changing a number of things in my life - not so much what I do as much as how I act and carry myself.  Of looking at things in a different light.  Of being who I need to be to do what I need to do, not who I need to be merely to endure.

Somewhere on the walk down and up the Lower Meadow I appeared and disappeared at the same time.  Now, I need to follow up on the man that walked up the hill with me.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Day At The Ranch

It is July at the Ranch

The weather here is hot - hotter than it is at New Home, oddly enough, but there are still small portions of grass that have not turned the straw-brown of summer.  The trees still tower, mantled in their cloaks of green, creating a variegated skyline between us and the mountains similar to that you would see in any skyline. 

Some things are different of course - nothing is static even though change comes dropping slow here.  A tree shed its branch by the driveway due to internal rot which did not become visible until the branch fell, leaving a gaping hole into the tree when one drives by, view into a secret world.  One or two more fields seem to have fences where none were previously.  And there is always something new that has been added to the collection of tools or equipment to see.

But many things remain the same.  The birds still cluster back and forth on the feeder.  The young tom turkeys wander by in the evening, making their pass like a group of young toughs looking for food and excitement.  And the silence continues to overwhelm, even as is the wind gives a faint whisper through the trees.

It is good to be home.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Remembering The Real Reason For the Fourth of July

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained, and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
Source: The Pennsylvania Packet, July 8, 1776

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Dojo of the Outside

Even though we are not at home, Tokai is coming soon - and so the bokuto traveled along with us so that I can practice (turns out traveling with a wooden practice sword is no big deal at all as checked luggage - although when I had to pull it out and retie the sageo I certainly got some looks) along with my obi and my practice hakama.  My in-laws have a fine backyard for such things, and out to practice I went.

Practice outside of the dojo is always an interesting thing.  The dojo is a very controlled environment with even lighting, an even floor, and temperature control. The outside world is very different of course - at New Home I bridge the gamut from frozen and rainy to hot and humid.  Here in Old Home I have a treat indeed:  cool breezes, no humidity, and a mild (to us, anyway temperature).  The even lighting gives way to the sun - and always facing away from it to practice (thus proving Musashi's dictum of always try to have the sun at your back or to your right side).

The footing is the most noticeable.

Here the footing slightly rises and falls with the small divots and hills in the yard - something that is noticeable to the eye as one looks across it or even walks across it, but which is very noticeable to the balance when one tries to execute a waza across it.  The stamping of the foot becomes an opportunity to lurch forward and throw the suheigiri (eye-level straight cut) off; the stepping back for an ukenigashi (block) or a wakinokimae (back stance) becomes the opportunity to fall back and lose the movement.  One no longer can just pay attention to the mechanics of the cut or the place of the blade; one has to pay equal attention to where one is and how one is stepping.

It is a bit disconcerting to start out with something other than what you are used to, not just for the variety of practice but the hard realization of the fact that one is not as nearly skilled as one believes one's self to be.  That is good of course, and a fine reminder that practicing anything under perfect conditions does not lead to mastery but to a delusion of what one's true ability is. 

Because, as some very wise martial artists have said, we train not for the dojo but for life.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

A Long Pause

As you are reading this I am probably somewhere over the continental United States.  I am doing something that I have not done since I was laid off in 2009:  I am taking 2 weeks off from work.

A whole two weeks?

Yup, that is the way that it seems.

The activities are split up: a week at Old Home visiting in-laws and The Ranch, two days to recover, then four days performing Iaijutsu at a Tokai with the head of my order.

I had original planned to go, come back and work, and then go again but then suddenly thought "Why would a ruin a perfectly good vacation by putting some work back into the middle of it.

I will have plenty to do, of course:  friends and family to see, places to go, even a little iai to practice.  And, as I have musing about the last few days, lots to think about.

I intend to continue writing during this time, but in the odd event that something is not here do not worry - I may merely be taking a breather in this moment of long pause.

After all, I do have a great deal to consider.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Trying to Find God's Will II

God's will (at least for my discussion purposes) has three parts:

1)  Salvation: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." - John 3:17

2)  Sanctification, or becoming more like Christ:  "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." - Romans 8:29.

3)  Spreading His Kingdom: "Go therefore and make disciples of nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you..." - Matthew 28:  19-20a

- Or in another sense, God's will is first that we be saved, that we become more like His Son, and that we then spread His Kingdom (through His Word and making disciples) throughout the world.

So a simple question:  How am I doing on these things?

Am I truly saved?  I like to think so, but is there evidence of this in my life? (Honestly, this has always been a struggle for me as I never had the classic "Moment of Change" experience in my life.  I would have to look to my actions and thoughts, I suppose.)

Am I consciously conforming myself to to the image of Christ?  Really and honestly, no for the most part.  I often become so ensnared in the need to "self actualize" or become more of myself (which is almost a cultural directive now) that I spend little time about learning to be more like Christ, of picking up His attributes and making them my own - but as John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:31).

Am I consciously spreading His Kingdom?  Here the answer is (almost certainly) a large negative.  "Sure, I give a little money occasionally for missions and perhaps pray about it once in a while, but that is about it.  I think I can honestly say that I do nothing - not one thing - to spread His word and make disciples in the places I am, let alone to all nations.

So, all in all, it would seem that if I am looking for God's Will - at least the stuff I can definitively know without question - I am far from it.  So what do I do instead?

1)  Work out salvation - Either I am saved, or I am not.  I need to work this out in my mind.

2)  Consciously begin conforming to the image of Christ - This is a large one, but pretty easy to start on.  Simply pick any book of the New Testament and list all the things we are commanded to do.  Start by picking one thing and consciously incorporate it into my life.  Repeat.

3)  Find a mission.  Find something - some way of being definitively involved in showing Christ and God's love, and do that.

I have to confess - in doing this exercise I find myself a little disappointed.  Why?  Because none of these things seem to directly address what I consider to be my "real" situation:  big life decisions upcoming, doing something I do not like really doing, even wishing that large portions of my life were different than they are.

But that, apparently is not really the point.  There is little esoteric knowledge here - nor, I suppose, are we commanded to seek it.  What we are commanded to do is to be saved, sanctified, and serving in the Great Commission.

Perhaps the other stuff will becoming obvious further down the road.