Solstice Haiku for Mark Harrington

I was recently chatting with my one of my Aikido buddies on the other side of the country, Mark Harrington. We’ve been checking in from time to time as we both progress through our respective ranks in different organizations. Mark is a bit ahead of me. Anyway, we got to talking about holiday gift giving (or not). If I recall correctly, I promised him a solstice haiku. So here it is, on the first day of Winter. Enjoy.

“Hey! How’s it going?”
We call across the distance.
Friends on the same path.

Late at Night

I hope my neighbors are in their beds, dreaming their dreams, late at night.
I hope they are sound sleepers, sawing logs, not bothered by much.
I hope they are not nosy; not peering from their windows with the lights out.

It’s bad enough I feed the donkeys after class, and sometimes after dinner.
The braying at 10:30 could be trying if my neighbors were awake.
The clatter of cat food into dishes, and splashing of water into large bowls,
Might not be too bad. At least the kitties are well enough behaved.

I hope my neighbors are not fearful.

They would surely wonder what that crazy Eskin lady is doing now,
out there in the dark, swinging and swirling a rake handle overhead
while the donkeys munch their hay.

“Has she at last gone completely mad?”

How could they know that practicing the 20 jo suburi in the stillness
is the perfect way to settle down before settling into bed?

If they do see, I hope my neighbors don’t worry.

“Why on earth is she lying on the driveway, on her back, at 2 a.m.?”
Maybe they haven’t seen the observatory in the yard.
Maybe they didn’t read the news about the meteor shower.

“And why is that rake handle lying across across her chest?”
Perhaps they haven’t noticed the raccoons,
Who’ve come to eat the cat food.

Practice

Everything we do is training,
Like if we grouse about it raining,
We learn the habit of complaining.
Practice gratitude, instead.

We build our habits brick by brick,
That make us healthier, or sick.
Our actions cause these things to stick.
What we do, we will become.

We tell our passions just to hush.
We hurry things, and learn to rush.
We worry our spirits into mush
When we could chill instead.

Constant practice is our call.
Not “practice” as in basketball,
A full-time thing, including all;
The way we live our lives.

There’s not a separate time or space,
It’s every hour, and every place,
There is no finish, it’s not a race,
The practice is the goal.

Practice settling, opening, breathing,
Living, growing, even grieving.
These threads form the cloth we’re weaving
Into who we really are.

Feel into the body’s system
It has a certain ancient wisdom
We might discover, if we listen
Centered, grounded love.

[I’m not quite happy with this, but as I’ve hit the deadline I set for getting started on another thing today I’m calling it good for the moment and sharing it. I may edit it later.]

Abundance

From today’s classes, a bounty:
Blends, techniques, feedback, feelings.
Let it come to you. Relax. Center.
Keep your own alignment and things will work out.

Like armfuls of fresh vegetables from a friend’s garden.
I try to carry them all safely home,
Without dropping any between here and there.
A few escape my grasp and roll away.

But the others, the gifts I do hold onto,
These cool, smooth, deeply-colored orbs,
coaxed to life from earth, water, and air…
Each is a delicious treasure.

Porch Sitting

Today we sit on Sensei’s deck,
the ocean glinting twenty miles away.

Weathered bamboo clatters softly overhead
as we settle in to sit, scattered lightly
like leaves blown into cool shady corners,
or lizards, basking on the warm wood in the sun.

I choose the shade.

Forty minutes? I’m used to just fifteen.
I see the sea, feel the air, 
hear the birds, and close my eyes
as Sensei sounds a small, clear chime.

A dozen little birds chatter down the hill,
a faraway crow gives three short caws,
and I wonder what might come up in forty minutes
that’s managed to keep itself hidden from fifteen.

A small plane hums overhead, and I think of flying. 
When I flew I got bit, hard. I loved flying.
I had a great teacher, and a community of friends.
I was never going to stop flying.
And then I stopped flying.

I worry, briefly, about that rhythm to things.
Flying, engineering, music…
Is it just that, the rhythm of things?
They come, stay for a time, and go?
They go with good reason, but they go.

A neighbor’s horse gives a sharp snort.
Right. And horses too.

What about Aikido? 
The thought of someday not training anymore,
not wanting to train, not missing it…
It’s unimaginable, gut-wrenching.
But could it go, too, in time?

The flying, engineering, music, and horses,
those were things I was trying to become,
was trying to get good at, would be someday.
They were places I did not belong,
and was struggling to get to.
When I saw this about each one, I let it go.

As I begin to realize this profound difference
the gut unsnarls and breathing relaxes.

Aikido from the first has felt like home.
There’s no trying, no struggle, no someday.
It’s who I already am. 
I won’t let that go. How could I?

Instead I let the worry go. 
It’s silly, like worrying that I might 
somehow float off the surface of the earth.
The wind takes the worry like a kite with a broken string,
and in a moment I no longer see it in the sky.

My attention is drawn to the deck, to sitting.
I wonder how long it’s been, and how much longer.
“Don’t be looking for the end, keep going deeper.”
I remember Kayla Feder Sensei saying once,

I return to breathing, 
noticing the thoughts that come,
and letting the breeze carry each one off.

Sensei sounds his small, clear chime again,
and I complete a last full breath.
When I open my eyes I’m mildly surprised
that everyone is further away than they felt.
But I’m very happy to see them again.

Resistance

A friend recently gave me a book she thought I might enjoy, and I really have. It’s the sort of book that whatever you open it up to, there’s something relevant to whatever’s going on. It’s poetic without being sappy, and inspiring without being preachy. Calming. Sensible.

Just yesterday day a friend on Facebook mentioned that it must have been really sad for me to give up riding. My reply began “Surprisingly not all that sad. Trying to remain committed to something I was really no longer committed to was difficult. Finally seeing things clearly was a relief. …” And just hours later I randomly picked up the book, and opened it to this, which is also relevant to Aikido technique, and Aikido in everything:

Resistance

Everyone will tell you
“Change is hard,”
Transformation is the greatest
Challenge
On your spiritual journey.
But it’s not true.
Change is not hard.
Resistance to change is
Hard. 
If you let go
Surrender into the
Fear
Willingly
Open your fists and
Release
All you are clutching
And simply be still as the
Winds of transformation
Blow through you
Then everything in you that is
Not free
Will be carried away with the
Leaves and dust and debris
Lifted into the air and
Gone
And all that will remain
Is
Peace.
See?
Transformation is
Easy
If you stop trying so hard to change
And
Like a strong breath clearing a
Palmful of ashes
Just let the
Wind
Free you.

by Nicole Grace
from her book:
Bodhisattva – How To Be Free

Teachings to Guide You Home 

Who will we have become?

Sick with an ordinary cold
Nothing to do but wait it out
And feel sorry for myself
For missing class

Instead I settle in with videos
Random classes decades ago
Years before even my teacher 
First heard of Aikido

Awkward, white-belted beginners
Fresh-faced, eager, nameless ukes
Who have these people become?
Teachers? Writers? Leaders?

Do I know them?
Are they the ones showing the way now?
Do I go to their seminars?
Read their books? 

I think of our time, my fellow students, 
Even the awkward, nameless ones
Who will we have become
When people look back on us?

Meditation in the New Dojo

The same ocean breeze is here, warmed and softened as it made its way inland up nine miles of wide river valley, Still familiar, but stronger near these hills on the north side, it wanders in through the broad half-open door. The bright high note of two small bells invites us to settle deeply into sitting, breathing.

The river to our west flows in silence, but the distant freeway’s roar could be a river’s roar. Breathe. Spiraling fans above confuse and redirect the breeze. Inhale. The river-scented air expands our lungs and our awareness. We sit on what was fertile bottomland a hundred years ago. Exhale. Settle.

The breeze touches our necks and lightly strokes our hair, like a lonely ghost glad to find company. An empty tanker truck rumbles and bounces down the road. Inhale. Inspire. Inspiration. Breathing.

The soft mat and the hard floor and the fertile soil and the flowing river cradle us, sitting, eyes closed, in their open palms.

The mission’s bell, still just a whisper here, sounds more urgent on this side of the valley. It calls the farmers in from their fields as it has for centuries, not knowing they are long gone, the farmers, and their fields too.  Exhale, and let them go. We cultivate something else here now. Our work nourishes the spirit.

The two small bells guide us back as the mission’s bell falls silent. The breeze remembers its direction and continues, through another door and up the valley.