Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fallen Heroes / Shattered Delusions

The following post is inspired by a well written Aikido blog posting entitled "Hypocrite" revealing a practitioner's hurt on learning of an alleged inappropriate relationship between a well respected, high-ranking Aikido teacher and a 13-year-old student. There are undoubtedly many people who will experience the news the same way: If this fellow was a role model, and if he represents the an objective goal of my years of hard practice, then why in the world am I even practicing? What's the point?

These types of feelings occur in many other situations though, and probably at some point in everyone's life.

To anyone in such a situation, I empathize with your feelings. If I may suggest it, though, this is a good opportunity to check into the source of those feelings. Consider:

  1. What actually changed from the moment before you had learned this news to the moment after?
  2. What made this man a hero?
  3. Where did a hero fall?

The placing of someone on a pedestal, the fall of that person from that pedestal, and the resulting feelings you are experiencing all occur only in thought, all between your own two ears, so to speak. In effect, this teacher did not fall; you fell.

Here are three things to consider:

First: Perfection, enlightenment, states of morality, level of mind-body integration, and so forth truly are moment-by-moment states. The man you were just a second ago died an eternity ago. There can be moments of complete clarity, and they may come and go. People can find god in their last breaths. An individual's circumstances can spiral uncontrollably downward in an instant, leading to a hell-on-earth with all of the associated actions that others may judge and look down upon. It is difficult enough to know ourselves from one instant to the next, to track all of the thoughts, actions, and other circumstances that brought us to this moment right now; how can we possibly know another's?

Second: Hypocrisy, in and of itself, in reality affects only the observer. The observer's sensibilities are offended at the disconnect between the words he hears and the actions he sees. Though it may be conditioned human nature to do so, the value or truth of a message should not automatically be discredited, regardless of how flawed the messenger may be. Any flawed person can pick up the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, a sutra, a poem, or anything else and read a verse aloud. Is the message now diminished? Is my hearing discredited by the speaker's tongue? Is my understanding nullified?

Third: Aikido, like any teaching from literature to rocket science to scripture readings, is in itself inherently empty. Aikido knows neither good nor evil. Aikido has no inherent value outside the affect of its practice upon you and the spirit with which you fill it in your own life.

Bringing those three points home:

When this fellow taught or teaches Aikido, he may have been / may be perfect in that moment, regardless of any other circumstance. That he may have been imperfect at another time does not discredit what was transmitted when he was in a better state. Finally, almost every lesson we learn comes to us from people whom we may judge to be flawed, but that does not negate the value of the lesson to us. After all, though a teacher may be skillful in helping us to understand, in the end it is not that we are taught; rather, it is that we learn.

Assigning hero, saint, or similar status is divisive and can do tremendous harm. Requiring (or assuming) that status in a teacher or in any other person with whom you have some relationship sets you, not that person, up for a terrible fall.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thought of the Day

I saw the argument play out fully,
well before it never happened.

Dark Night of the Soul

The sun is setting.
Does the caterpillar fear
what he might become?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

In an Instant

My son and I heard the yelling and cursing in the front of the store. An aisle or two away from the source, the commotion drew us forward. We missed what preceded, but we saw the collapsible night stick fall to the ground with a clang.

Adrenaline and tension made quite a display, the equivalent of raised hackles and chest thumping. There was clearly a nose-to-nose impasse: surrounded by onlookers and having lost control of the situation, the security guard's ego was entangled and on the line; obviously offended by what he felt was some form of injustice, and yelling that he had just lost his father five days prior, the patron was apparently at wit's end.

What could be worse? One man feels he has already lost everything save his last shred of dignity and feels he is under attack. Another has lost his bearing as well as a weapon and still holds a holstered gun on his hip. Both have lost their centers, each tensely feeding off the other's aggression. Together we were all one breath away from some point of no return.

The rising and falling of curses and provocation continued as the patron made his way through the register. "Look, I have cash. Look, I'm paying! I haven't done anything wrong! There's nothing you can do!!!"---all punctuated with curses.

And the security guard, with ego rising, cursed back in response.

I had come forward thinking to intervene, but it was clear that the only positive solution would be if the two could be separated, and, under the circumstances, that could only happen if the patron left the store and the guard did not pursue. Albeit slowly, that was happening on its own on the far side of the registers---until the guard was not content with letting the patron have the last word. It was only when an older gentleman on the other side of the registers stepped between the guard and the departing patron with one palm raised to signal that he stop that peace began to return.

The patron turned to reenter and have his last words, and the guard did turn to respond, but the elderly fellow between them without saying a word quashed any further escalation. The patron finally left. The guard paced tensely and began his incident report as the adrenaline slowly burned away.

How differently all of this could have ended...

What was the cause? What was the effect? What were the uncountable thoughts and events that shaped that one very moment, bringing the security guard, the patron, and the elderly man altogether at this one time and place, even bringing my son and I there to witness and record it?

Look around. We see the bodies moving about us like empty containers, unaware of what thoughts and experiences fill them. Consider how at any moment, whether at an office, walking in the mall, driving on a highway, or dropping in for a few items at the grocery store, we encounter people just like us but one instant away from cracking? From stepping on a path from which they feel there is no escape? From making a decision, taking a stand, or ringing a bell that they presume cannot be un-rung?

And how often is that person you or me?

Life is precisely this fragile.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Universe Discovers Itself

The Darkness shines its light upon Itself
The Blind sees its own shadows through billions of eyes
Behold! From Nothing, Everything,
And then Nothing again.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Off-Topic Absurdity: Research on Spanking

A line from a news story today making its rounds on the AP Wire:

"The best-kept secret in child psychology is that children who were never spanked are among the best behaved," Straus said.

Really, is there anything more that we can add?

But please, do check the story anyway. This points to the state of science and education. How did a study on spanking make the news anyway? Well, by using sex, of course!
New research by a University of New Hampshire domestic abuse expert says spanking children affects their sex lives as adults. Professor Murray Straus concludes that children who are spanked are more likely as adults to coerce partners to have sex, to have unprotected sex and to have masochistic sex.

What was the research process?

Straus, co-director of UNH's Family Research Laboratory, conducted a study in the mid-1990s in which he asked 207 students at three colleges whether they'd ever been aroused by masochistic sex. He also asked them if they'd been spanked as children. He found that students who were spanked were nearly twice as likely to like masochistic sex.

Another correlation found:

Straus said his study found adults who were spanked as children are more likely to coerce their partners to have sex.

What does he want? Well, money and laws, of course!
Straus said he would like more pediatricians and child-rearing experts to warn against spanking. He'd also like lawmakers to take a stand by dedicating state money to teaching parents about the dangers of corporal punishment.
It still seems to be one of the largest scientific blunders still made by researchers: correlation and causation are two different things.

Anyway, to summarize: A professor asks probing, edgy sexual questions to determine if naughty children grow up to be naughty co-eds. Actually, that's not quite accurate, since that summary would be slightly more scientific. This study is specifically addressing the correlation between spanking and later sexual behavior, apparently never making the leap to the other question.

As a disclaimer: Yes, I do understand that there are actually interesting scientific questions about fetishes and other items related to how our brains and minds develop their "wiring," so to speak. And no, I've not read the research, only this Associated Press summary. Still, you have to smile: Life is absurd!