Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Falling Asleep

"Why contracting? Is it stable? Were you able to stay on projects all of that time?"

It was a question from an employee to me, a contractor... and for a moment, I felt the draw into the question, waking up to see myself starting to babble, in time to gracefully put myself back on track.

The question itself is purely innocuous, nothing more than a spring breeze or an itch, but friends and followers may understand how the question may have hit me differently. All of the sudden, I am there again. The mind is in overdrive rationalizing, filling in the details; my tongue is starting to wag and words are rolling out.

I'm putting things in a good light. I'm justifying my choices. I'm stringing the words together ever so eloquently, just so...

... but for whom? This fellow has no idea of my history, nor--however interesting it may be--did he ask for it.

Who was talking? Who was listening?

I fell asleep and suddenly I woke up.

And quite simply, that's how it happens.

Zen practice--and koan practice in particular--cuts to the root of situations like these. Am I on autopilot, at the whim of everything that happens to me? Do I have no choice in how to respond? It's a matter of staying awake--and maybe graceful recoveries when you realize you've slipped.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Please Mind the Gap"

請小心列車與月台間之空隙
("Please mind the gap between the train and the platform")

Taking the train around the city, the Cantonese made no sense to me, but the British-accented translation always followed: "Please mind the gap..." It echoes still today.

In a foreign land, there is where you are, standing still. There before you is where you need to be, a moving target. In between, there is the gap.

After a day or two navigating the system, the announcement recedes into station's ambient rush hour noise and the gap has long since disappeared.

In my visits, I never did hear screams of people falling through the cracks--perhaps a testament to the unending announcements. Instead, I saw hundreds or thousands of people stepping from the platform onto the train at one station and stepping from the train onto the platform at another station. In time, there was no gap.

How do you get from the platform to the train? When you are on the train, are you no longer on the platform? When you step onto the platform, do you leave the train behind? The family man steps out of apartment and suddenly the office worker is seated at his desk. Where was the gap?

Having an idea that your life could be different? That is a gap. Wondering how to leap forward from your current situation to new circumstances or waiting for your current circumstances to catch up to your desired situation? That is minding the gap. How can you ever cross it?

When I see the all of the others going about their business, I am reminded that it really is much simpler than this. I lose myself in the rush hour flow and now the gap is not even a memory.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

News from Inside the Cave

Sword Mountain Aikido and Zen is admittedly a selfish pursuit: it absolutely reflects my current state and direction of practice. Since the objective is always an integrated practice and life, sometimes that means less practice in favor of more life.

New job responsibilities and changing family schedules since March have taken priority over the long-standing daytime homeschool classes, which in turn put formal Aikido practice on hold and have raised Zen practice into prominence. The Zen practice is public, it's true, but it just so happens that far more of the formal interaction occurs over the internet than in face-to-face encounters.

So, if you didn't know where to look, you may not have found me; and, if you've inquired about Aikido practice while things have been in flux, it's likely you've seen no response. My apologies to you if you are in that crew.

I'm hopeful that we'll be resuming formal Aikido and Zen practices locally (Columbia, MD 21045) and possibly with the Baltimore Zen Center (Severn, MD 21144). I feel my primary focus shifting toward working with experienced martial artists---not necessarily aikidoists exclusively---using Aikido as a vehicle to convey Zen principles into their own arts so that they can do the same. It is not a radical shift in perspective, but it is important: It's not looking to build a particular flavor of Aikido, but rather to work inclusively with interested martial artists to find the Zen principles within their own practice---just as I find them where I am within my Aikido practice.

I don't need to create an Aikidoka. I use Aikido to convey Zen. Does that make sense?

For the inexperienced and less experienced martial artists, I am interested in you too. If you study with me you will learn Aikido--at least one flavor of Aikido--and I will encourage you to explore the martial context with other teachers as well, finding your own way.

Nothing is set in stone, no times, no locations, no prices. If there's interest, though, we can begin. Let me know. Start with the new Contact Box in the right column.

Alternatively, watch for updates and catch up if you can.