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. 

Rediscovering Joy

Amazed at the joy available in Aikido. 
I mean, WTH?

Breathless, smiling-for-no-reason joy.
Joy for no reason.

Excited-to-get-up-in-the-morning joy.
Joy in everything.

Full of energy, comfortable in my body.
Embodied joy.

Settled mind, leaping heart, yearning.
Forgotten joy.

A song you loved and hear again.
Every word a friend.

New messages, new meanings, new joy.
Listening anew.

Fresh ears, fresh eyes, an open mind.
Fresh joy.

An open body in clear air. Connection.
Love in motion.

Enjoying Weapons Classes

I’ve been doing more weapons classes, and really enjoying them. There’s something that feels more centered and focused about working with weapons. Well… most of the time, anyway.

We practiced tonight with the jo,
and some things were starting to flow.
But grace was not to be,
‘cause I fell like a tree
when I caught my foot on Nage’s toe.

I’m fine, thank you. ;) Just got my feet tangled up and fell plumb over sideways. Thud.

I demonstrated just a little bit more competence during the rest of the class, at least. I don’t know what it is about weapons that makes techniques involving them seem so much simpler – or at least more comprehensible. Maybe it’s just that introducing a single straight line into the equation adds a hint of order or a point of reference to the usual wiggly confusion of arms and wrists. In any case, I find weapons classes to be quite a lot of fun, and very rewarding.

I couldn’t resist adding this, which I’m also posting to the AikiWeb thread “Limerick Challenge”:

Though I love Thursday night’s weapons class,
my techniques with the jo barely pass
for aikido. It’s true,
and it makes me quite blue,
that I tripped up and fell on my side.

Haha… I crack myself up. :-)

Love, Seduction, and Aikido

Have I got your attention? Good. ;-) It’s not a trick. This really is about love and seduction. And Aikido.

I walk at lunchtime. One day while I was walking, I was writing a haiku in my head. I went through a dozen or so versions, from various perspectives. It was shortly after an experience in class where Sensei demonstrated being connected with one’s partner. It was very disconcerting, but in a very pleasant way. It got me thinking “this must be what it means to look into someone’s eyes and steal their spirit.” It was disarming enough that poetry was rattling around in my head long after the class ended.

You look in my eyes.
Breath leaves me, balance is gone.
You steal my spirit.

It wasn’t (only) that my ability to resist the technique had been overcome. More like my will to resist it just crumbled. Or maybe even the desire to resist. I wanted to go with it. And then was left wondering what on earth that was that he had done.

Maybe everyone above 5th kyu and up is having a good snicker that I’m just figuring this out. ;-) Snicker away. I’m always happy to create a little merriment. Is this the whole point, of all the blending, and joining, and getting inside the technique?

Look into his eyes.
Take away his breath… balance…
And steal his spirit.

It started to gel a little for me tonight, when Sensei was coaching my partner, kind of jokingly taking him aside, saying that the blending we were working on could feel like seduction. And that people like that, and are more willing to go with your energy, and resist less. It was a brilliant point, of course, well illustrated. It was also kind of embarrassing. Essentially, “Here, try doing this technique as though you are trying to seduce her. Go.” Now seriously, I hang out with lots of older horsewomen – a raucous and earthy bunch. There’s not much you can say or do to embarrass me. But I think I might’ve blushed a little.

It’s funny, culturally, that we are comfortable bringing forth aggression, fury, conflict, and hatred. We think that’s normal. We wouldn’t think twice about producing a loud and fearsome kiai or well-placed atemi to evoke terror and throw our partner’s concentration off, if that were called for in a class. But somehow it’s terribly awkward, and a little unacceptable, to project gentleness, longing, warmth, and love, and to evoke the same in others – even when the end result is still to unbalance them, to our advantage. That’s a kind of weird dichotomy, and it’s kind of a shame.

When I finally arrived at a version of the haiku I was satisfied with, I realized it wasn’t about kokyu ho anymore. I ended up sending it to friend who was intellectually determined not to fall in love with a woman he’d met, but his heart was telling him otherwise. I was cheering the heart on, of course:

This time I won’t fall.
I take your hand, brace myself.
I fall anyway.

A Little More Freedom

There is class on Monday (day 4 of 16), but because of a prior commitment I won’t be there. So no training notes for day 4. It’s the only day I’ll be missing class.

Instead, I offer this, about my recent experience of trying to write a little information about my background:

Leaving Some Things Behind

I started to explain who I
Have been throughout the years

Justify my limitations
Perhaps excuse my fears

The stories told of loss and pain
And how life wasn’t fair

Like dirty water to a fish
The stories were just there

But the more I wrote
The more it seemed
Those stories weren’t mine

They’d lost their hold
And left me free 
My own life to define

By Linda Eskin

I know, intellectually, that we need not be defined by our pasts. We can start now, where we are, and create our own futures anew. I had known that, but still felt ensnared by a litany of Perfectly Good Reasons for being who I was. They were some really solid reasons, too.

But when I sat down recently to list these things they suddenly seemed insignificant, powerless, and pointless. Not like something I should try to ignore, and move ahead in spite of, but truly meaningless, at a gut level. It felt ridiculous even to be writing them down, and so I stopped.

I’m sure there will be times when stories from my past will seem more present and real than they do right now. But I won’t forget this.