My friend Eelia sent me this beautiful pendant. Perfect for the changes I’ve been making lately. Today was another step toward balance. I cleared out my downtown office desk and will be telecommuting from now on, except for occasional meetings. I’m delighted.

Lighten up

Exquisite. I had to look it up just now to be sure I had exactly the right word.

“Of special beauty or charm, or rare and appealing excellence, as music, or poetry. Extraordinarily fine. Intense; acute, or keen, as pleasure or pain. Of rare excellence of production or execution, as works of art or workmanship. Keenly or delicately sensitive or responsive.”

Yep. That’s it. Tonight’s classes were exquisite. Another of those “I don’t know how Sensei does that” evenings.

I’d better back up a few steps, since a lot of things came together for me:

  • I’ve been reading Dan Millman’s “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior” in which his training includes some intense self-discipline, and he manages that successfully (mostly). I found that admirable, enviable, and lacking in my own life.
  • I have signed up for the week-long Living Embodiment Conference in November 2012, and I’m really excited about it, even though it’s not for months yet. Something about this work speaks to me, especially as experienced and expressed through Aikido.
  • I keep telling myself I want to lose those last few pounds. And yet I find myself drawn to the kitchen, or mysteriously eating more than I really should. It’s not that hard, I’ve done it before… but it’s like I’m not paying attention. At all. 
  • Over the weekend I had things I wanted to get done. I did some of them, but piddled around and neglected many others. By Sunday night my car was still a mess, and I hadn’t started my laundry. Then today I couldn’t seem to get my brain wrapped around my work until around noon.

Habitual, unconscious, self-defeating behaviors have been getting the better of me, and I’m not proud of it. I drove to the dojo after work fairly fed up and disgusted with myself over my lack of self-discipline. I considered talking to Sensei, but got busy warming up, and forgot all about it.

The first class was a slow progression of exercises leading to a direct, penetrating kokyu-ho. Lots of feeling, receiving, and blending as uke, and giving clear, direct energy as Nage. I had the privilege of training with some very new people, and watching how Sensei worked with them on where they were holding tension, being out of alignment, or resisting. I try to check my own ability to observe, to see if I’ve noticed any of the things he’s pointing out. It was fascinating, as that always is, and I’m grateful to be able to observe his teaching close up, in addition to experiencing it myself.

So, I come to class all fired up to learn more about embodiment, and there it is, a major component of the first class. This happens a lot, and it’s not just me. It frequently happens that classes address something particularly relevant. People hear exactly what they needed to hear, or get to work through that thing that’s been on their mind. I hear of it happening very often. Maybe it’s one of those Shrimp Plate things, like when you buy a new car, and suddenly it seems like everyone is driving the same car. In any case, it’s magical when it happens.

The second class, Sensei said, was going to be jiyuwaza (free technique). Awesome. Great fun, a good workout, and always revealing. True enough, but this one also dug a little deeper.

It started with Sensei asking us to think of one way of being that, if we could be that way (or be more that way), our life would work better. (Not quoting here, just remembering it the way I understood it.) There is somewhere within me that little kid who wants to jump up, arm waving, and shout “Oooohh!!! Oooohh!!! I’ve got one!!!” Yeah, no long soul-searching required here: “My life would work better if I were more disciplined. Or maybe focused or something.” I tried escaping from it momentarily. “No, disciplined.” Done.

And again I had that experience of wondering if Sensei has installed a chip in my brain that gets scanned as I enter the dojo, or if he just reads minds naturally. In any case, I was delighted that the class was heading in this direction, because I needed it!

We started into the exercise by choosing two qualities that would support us in being that. Everyone arrived at their two. I chose whole (as in integrity), and committed. We did some work with those, embodying those qualities and expressing them in our jiyuwazas with each other. I felt grounded, sturdy, focused, aligned, and determined, but I also noticed that I felt serious, dark, heavy, dull, and alone. And that observer that we all have sat on my shoulder and watch me try to run away. I kidded around, I watched the pair next to us, I made light of something. I didn’t want to be there, as whole and committed. Huh…

I decided that whole and committed alone were dull and lifeless. So maybe another quality that would support me in being disciplined would be passion. It’s hard to be disciplined about anything if you’re not passionate about it. So I played with passion next – whole, committed, and passionate. Much better. More life, more power, more outward, more exciting. But still deadly serious, earnest, forceful… Still not a nice place to be. Effective, but somehow lonely and cold. Still dark and heavy. 

Dark and heavy, eh? Hmmm… What fourth quality would support me in being a more disciplined person? Lightness? Could self-discipline be light? Bright, airy, and weightless? So I chose that, as a counterbalance, or complement. In jiyuwaza it worked beautifully – whole, committed, passionate, and light – and was a lot more fun.

Wait, you mean one can be disciplined and joyful? Interesting… What sort of underlying, unnoticed, and unquestioned assumption about life would I need to have where learning that would be surprising? Oh, right! That being self-disciplined is to be serious, all work and no play. No fun allowed until you’ve done the things you’re supposed to do. Whoa… I checked in with what I was feeling. Yes, thinking about being a disciplined person feels, in my gut, like being sent to my room, or like being told I can’t play with my friends until I do my homework. Of course I want to get away, and be anywhere else! Of course I rebel at the perceived confinement, restriction, and separateness. 

What if my assumption about life and being disciplined was wrong? (Duh…) What if I can be a disciplined person who is whole, committed, passionate, and light? That brings up a whole different feeling – a sense of energy, potential, wonder, enthusiasm, togetherness, and freedom.  

Maybe it’s not only possible to lighten up and still be successful, maybe it’s necessary, for me. Hmmm… Well there’s something to play with (and remind myself of) tomorrow morning. And the next day, and the next.

I bowed in expecting to have a good time throwing my friends around the dojo, and getting thrown around in return. Yes, that was there. But also layer upon layer upon layer of discovery and learning? Dan Millman learns, in the book, that there are no ordinary moments. Indeed, there are no ordinary Monday night classes. I think “exquisite” pretty much nails it.

Always trust your cape

I’ve been applying Aikido off the mat lately, in a big way. Feeling what’s actually happening, instead of imposing my interpretations or expectations. Blending with circumstances instead of fighting them. Seeing things from others’ points of view – and seeing others as cooperative partners, not in opposition. Keeping my center and integrity, speaking clearly and directly. Finding a resolution that leaves everyone in a better place. I’d be kind of impressed with myself for being so clever, except that it’s simply an effect of my Aikido training that I can’t not-do these things. Oh, I did plenty of resisting and fumbling around first, but ultimately the Aikido came through.

I’ll start with right now. So far this weekend has been absolutely wonderful. I am starting to decompress and breathe lately, and am getting caught up a little at a time.

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon I got checked for new glasses, which I need for an upcoming trip; my eyes aren’t happy about contacts lately. Then I had a couple of hours before going to dinner with family visiting from out of town, so I was able to putter in the yard, watering the native plants I put in months ago. Dinner was relaxed, and we all sat and talked and enjoyed each others’ company. Afterward, Michael and I went for a walk along the beach boardwalk at Coronado. Before bed I did some planning for upcoming projects I’m excited about getting started.

This morning I did a bit of writing on an idea that came to me while driving to the dojo. I’m getting over angry back muscles, so I just watched the first class and warmed up at the break. I was able to roll the length of the dojo and back, which was very encouraging. I participated in the second class – weapons. The 2nd-kyus and up had a great class on the first five kumi-jo, while the white belts went through the first 10 jo suburi.

After class I picked up food at the little farmers market store across from the dojo, and drove home eating bar-b-que potato chips. Not the best nutritional choice, but man were they good! This afternoon Michael and I used the tractor to take out dozens of accumulated trashcans of donkey manure, and filled our 3-yard dumpster to the brim. Later, he headed east with a friend to do some astronomy out where the skies are dark and the air is clear, and I went to a friend’s house to celebrate her birthday.

After coming home I picked up my guitar for the first time in many months, and discovered to my delight that not only can I still pretty much play the thing, but it’s easier than in the past because my arms and hands are stronger. I spent a few minutes watching our local mother raccoon and her babies eating on the back porch, and then I rinsed a huge handful of delicious cherries for a snack, and sat down to write this. And it’s still only Saturday. Bliss.

This pleasant, relaxed weekend isn’t something that Just Happened. A few months ago I was completely bogged down and overwhelmed. I was tired from working long hours for months, and frustrated because personal projects were piling up. I was falling behind on chores and house maintenance. I drove by my neglected plants on the way out the driveway, knowing I wouldn’t be able to tend to them any time soon. The neighbors dropped by to pick a bag of our amazing oranges, since we were just letting them fall and rot – they thought due to lack of interest, but really it was lack of daylight hours to pick them. The first time I noticed my bed of beautiful red Amaryllis flowers they had already bloomed and dried up and I missed seeing them at all. These are warning signs that things aren’t right. “Your life might be out of balance if…”

I couldn’t see a way to dig myself out, nevermind getting into a position to pursue some of my own work that’s really important to me, including writing. As you may have noticed, or maybe you even stopped noticing by now, I haven’t been writing much. Only a few gasps, coming up for air from time to time. 

I paid attention to what I was feeling, and finally recognized what was so: I was exhausted, frustrated, and burned out. I realized I was in a situation that didn’t work for me. Seeing something clearly that way is like seeing a hidden image in a drawing – once you’ve noticed it, you can’t not see it; it’s right there. I was being pulled in too many directions. I wasn’t able to focus or do my best work. I wasn’t happy at all. Once I saw that, I stopped trying to deny it, minimize it, or hope it would go away. I also stopped trying to figure out what was wrong, or who was to blame. Those things just didn’t apply. The reality was what it was. I simply wanted to change how I was handling it. 

If you’re swimming as hard as you can against a strong current, and still not able to keep up, the answer isn’t to try to swim harder, it’s to get out of the middle of the river. 

I needed to make a serious change: Somehow not work so much. Focus on one project at a time. Have time and energy for my personal work. Communicating that is an interesting challenge, and a risky one, but it was a risk I had to take. It felt like an irimi, an entering blend. Get close, see your partner’s view of the world, find a positive resolution. I spoke honestly, from the heart, about what I needed, and suggested a solution.

This week I am starting a new way of working: part-time, hourly, as needed. That means when there’s work, I can work, and when there’s a lull, I can focus on learning, writing, training, and finally getting some gardening done. I will be working almost exclusively off site, which I’m very happy about, since I do well with fewer distractions, a quiet office, and my stand-up (sometimes) desk.

My Michael is being supportive, and is looking forward to some of the house and yard projects I have planned. My employer, to their credit, is willing to give this a try. In theory, it should work well all around. I can ease the workload during busy times, and not be a burden on the payroll during slow times.

I’m taking a few weeks off, too. I’ll get caught up on some things, get started on others, and take an actual vacation with Michael – a two-week road trip to Portland to visit some friends. It’s been a long time since we’ve gone on a proper vacation and we’re both really looking forward to it.

There is no way before training in Aikido that I would have found my way to this outcome. I would have denied the reality of the situation. I would assigned blame and felt victimized. I would have avoided conflict by leaving my job (which I really do enjoy – just in smaller amounts), instead of initiating difficult conversations about alternatives. I would have moved toward a “resolution” that really didn’t work well for anyone. Regular training in embodying these skills, feeling, aligning, blending, acting with clarity and directness, is what let me be who I need to be to have this happen.

Tomorrow, Sunday, I get to sleep in. Eventually, we’re going to the Sea Chanty Festival at the San Diego Maritime Museum. I’ve been wanting to go for years, and somehow haven’t gotten around to it. On the way home I’m stopping by the office to clear out my desk, and leave it ready for a new hire who can now be in with the team. I’ll finally get my oil changed – another long-overdue chore. To top it off I have a massage in the evening. Joy!


By the way, the title of this post is taking from a Guy Clark song, “The Cape”. I highly recommending listing to it – right through to the last verse. :-) Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6bZ37nexSY

“Spread your arms and hold your breath, and always trust your cape.”