Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Time & Place

Nothing knows no place.
Somethings can become misplaced.
Be free where you are.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Words Speak for Themselves?

I asked the word My
What he meant by that. Alas,
She did not answer.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"My Sensei" & "My Student"

I have learned things from people who would not have me as a student, and I have been claimed as a student by those whom I would never call "my teacher."

I have learned from people who will never know I exist, and I have learned from instructors who have taken special interest in me and I in them.

This "my" is a very strong word though. A lantern does not own the moth, a moth does not own the lantern, and neither owns the light between them; but, on the patio every night, there they all are, doing their thing quite naturally.

[My post to an AikiWeb thread earlier today.]

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Zen & The Beans / More on Distinction

[By special challenge question from a friend. Enjoy!]

Wikipedia reports that, today, there are over four-thousand cultivars of bean on record in the United States alone. In some way, each species is distinct, yet each has enough in common with the other to still be called a bean.

But is this really so remarkable? I wonder how many hundreds or thousands of cars pass through a busy toll plaza at the beginning and end of each day, each with a different driver, each one completely unique in his own circumstances... We make clear distinctions among ourselves initially on appearance alone. On social contact, we learn more of how we are the same and how we differ. On intimate contact, we learn more again. And all of this happens within one species.

And what of ideas and opinions? Faiths and religions? Likes and dislikes? Relationships? These things, like beans and like people, bloom naturally like flowers. Some thrive, and some whither. Some oppose one another, and some rely upon one another. Some are blessed and others suffer terrible hardship by circumstance alone. All in one moment, though, whether in harmonious interaction or violent opposition, simultaneously exist interdependently in this one world.

We can spend an eternity cataloging the differences between all that we can perceive. I, distinct from you and distinct from everything between us, can see how we are similar and how we are different---and undoubtedly this is important to how we live our days. But how much value is there really in this endeavor?

The ocean has its rhythm. Sit at the shore, listen, and watch. Stop time in your mind with an image of what you experience. How many individual waves do you see? Each wave you see and each wave that you do not see has a life of its own and a path. Two waves only a few feet apart may never on the surface meet. Another two may join for a while, traveling together, and then separate. Another two may join and travel to their crashing end at the shore. The waves are born from the ocean and they return to the ocean, continuing the cycle.

It is easy to say "that is the ocean" and "those are waves," but are they ever separate? Even those waves that are not close were always connected within the ocean through the energy and matter beneath.

Does anything differ with the bean plant? We can say that this is where the root ends and the rest of the earth begins, we can say that this is where the leaves end and the sky begins, and we can say that this thing from root to leaf and nothing else is something called "plant," but are these statements really true? Remove the root from the earth or the leaf from the sky---does a plant remain? As the plant grows, it itself builds itself from the earth with energy from the sky. When the plant withers and dies, it returns to the same. Was the bean plant ever separate from what is other than the bean plant?

And what of people? Does consciousness change what we are, where we are from, or to where we will return? That you and I can walk in two different directions, not rooted like a plant or mixed fluidly like the ocean, does this make us separate? Is our form not ultimately as fluid as water and are we not as integrally connected to our environment as the plant? Where does the thing called "person" begin and end?

So, how will you spend this time where ash and dust have come together for just a moment in the universe's time to hold your consciousness? What is worth knowing? What goals are worthwhile? What forms are worth preserving?

Know the meaning of "your body is a temple." Know what dwells within it, and see that it has no boundaries.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cause & Effect

Every action, interaction, and non-action, shapes who we are. Just as my reading your articles are shaping me, my response likely shapes you---if in no other way than you spent this time reading and considering it rather than doing something else.

I wrote that as part of a longer note on the lovely writings of Ross Robertson, an Aikido teacher in Texas. The original article and my response are located on AikiWeb here, but I wanted to ensure that this thought was preserved.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Losing My Religion

I once taught a college algebra class at the local community college. "College algebra" is a misnomer of sorts: For many, the content of this course is covered in middle school or at least high school; rather than college-level algebra, this course is something of a minimum requirement for anyone's graduation.

Naturally, the course had been taught for years by others and had settled into a routine. A philosophy of teaching was selected long before I arrived, text books were vetted by the department, and the professors were well accustomed to teaching the way they teach. When I arrived, I stepped into their stream and was expected to go with the flow. I had significant freedom in how I taught and tested the students as long as I covered some minimum amount of material within the semester. I inherited a copy of the text book as well as a Texas Instruments graphing calculator...

One of the latest trends in mathematics education involves the incorporation of technology into the classroom. It was the department's philosophy---and requirement---that every student must have one of these newer model graphing calculators. The text book, written by the same calculator company, would naturally make extensive use of their calculator's functionality in the presentation of the material. The classroom was even equipped with a device that plugged into the calculator and sat above an overhead projector, allowing the class to see what the instructor was doing.

The principles of algebra are eternal, and the basics have been understood by different civilizations. For hundreds of years, the basic notation has been codified. The engineers who put man on the moon did so without graphing calculators. Hell, I learned algebra without a graphing calculator! What were these math education people thinking? How did they get into bed with a calculator company, requiring the students to buy these texts and expensive equipment as part of a core curriculum course?

At least once during the semester, the course coordinator sat in to evaluate my teaching. He was for the most part duly impressed: students were engaged, volunteering to solve problems at the board; and, I was animated, expanding old understanding and presenting new material in ways meaningful to the audience---but not once did I pick up my calculator, let alone plug it into the overhead projector.

That was clearly noted in the after-class discussion with my boss, and I took pride in it. When he mentioned my deficiency in incorporating technology into my teaching, I held up a piece of chalk, paused, turned to the blackboard, and drew three strokes---an X-axis, a Y-axis, and a parabola---and stated simply that this was all of the technology necessary for presenting this material.

I was proud of my enlightened understanding, and I was proud of my defiance. I would not teach my students to rely upon a calculator. As a matter of fact, my better students might even share and carry forward my understanding...

And that was my error.

What made my aversion to their "technology in the classroom" push preferable to their attachment to it?

What would happen to those students who went on in this college to take College Algebra 2 or the subsequent calculus curriculum? The calculator would be integral there too, and I would have failed to impart the necessary calculator skills to get them through...

No, it remains true that the calculator is decidedly not at the heart of college algebra; however, the calculator may be as useful as a blackboard or a stick drawing in the sand in teaching algebra. If I was as masterful or as enlightened as I thought I was, I would have moved beyond my own aversion and found a way to work within the department's system while still showing the students the heart of algebra---perhaps while still working to reform the department's choice to lock into one vendor and compelling an expensive purchase of each student.

Codified beliefs, rituals, doctrine, dogma, and so forth: These are the elements of religion, the tangible traces of spirituality when they are systematized. They are the elements that point to spirituality when used skillfully, but how often is the doctrine and ritual confused with the spirituality itself?

What if one day a Catholic decided that the crucifix was a distracting symbol, completely unnecessary to understanding the faith. As a result, he declared that, in his churches, the display of the crucifix is forbidden. Moreover, what if he decries the others' lack of understanding? With the best of intention, this fellow creates a new religion by virtue of his change of rule, and he pits his religion against the other.

Now what of his followers? Most may never share his spiritual insight; rather, they become the people who believe that the people with the crucifix are wrong... And vice versa.

Arguments over semantics, symbols, and so forth---the notions that exist only in our minds---become the things that separate us from each other and distract us from the underlying truth of the situation at hand.

If for a moment we strip away our notions of good and bad, right and wrong, black and white, me and you, and so forth, then what is it that remains?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lone Cypress


The Lone Cypress Tree
never tires of standing
in Nature's presence.

Drawing Distinctions

I took a break to walk around the lake yesterday. There's a beautiful path skirting the edge, right around two-miles long. Some of it is in the open sun and some is shaded by tall trees. There is exercise equipment along the trail, benches to relax, small bridges over streams, and small docks for fishing. The geese understand that no one really follows the "Do Not Feed the Waterfowl" signs. There's a playground for the young ones---in sight of a McDonalds across the street.

The trail is very inviting, not only for the locals, but for the pets. All of the walkers and bikers are accustomed to seeing a variety of dogs getting their exercise alongside their owners on the path. Dog walking there is so encouraged that the city installed and stocks dispensers with dog-waste disposal bags for easy clean-up.

So as I rounded a corner in a partially wooded leg, up ahead I saw a middle-aged woman with her iPod and sporty exercise attire. Moving faster than my casual pace, she had passed me a little earlier; now I saw her stepping off the path and making a quick check around her. Seeing no one, she walked up to one of posts, stripped it of its contents, and stuffed those bags into her fanny pack.

Then, without looking back, she was off again.

It is easy to assume the worst, making assumptions about what transpired; for instance, this lady with her fancy clothes and expensive iPod was taking advantage of the system, preferring these specialty clean-up bags to the typical plastic grocery bags one might use closer to home. Of course, it's also possible that she was intending to clean up any dog messes that the less conscientious had left behind. Who knows? Since I did not yell to stop her and then ask, it remains a mystery. When I eventually passed that empty post, it was in quiet amusement.

Whether through compassion or taxation, services are put in place to make society more livable for everyone. There are so many people who are too proud to ask for or to accept help, while there are others who need no help at all but who will gladly take advantage of the system.

We fill bird feeders with seed, and we place guards around the feeder to keep the hungry squirrels at bay. We cultivate and plant fragile flowers, and we pull invasive weeds. But who makes the distinction between the weed and the flower, or between the hunger of the bird or the squirrel? What is the difference?

Some would denounce man as being in error for drawing the distinctions in the first place and then interfering with nature; but, is not imposing our own sense of order and balance upon the world around us as much a part of nature as anything else.

Why do we do it? Who knows? The woman stuffing her fanny pack with every dog litter bag in sight is as much a part of nature and a perfect expression of the universe as a flower blooming or anything else---as might have been a man smacking her on the head and telling her to put the bags back. Are these questions even important, or is it the questioning itself---being conscious of ourselves as expressions of the universe---that is important?

What is it within us that allows us to see the absurdity and to laugh?