Facing Forward, Walking Straight – Aikido and Health

Photo of my parking garage stairwell

I went into the office for a few hours yesterday – something I hadn’t done yet this whole year, as I work off site now. It was a crisp, sunny fall afternoon, and was excited about seeing my friends there. A quick visit, checking out a new tool I’d be using on the cool project I’m working on, catching up with a few colleagues, and then I’d be heading to the dojo to assist in the kids’ class and train in the two evening classes. The makings of a pretty awesome day.

I parked in the usual garage, on the 5th level, and headed for the stairs down to the street. When I saw them I was struck by something I hadn’t thought about in years. I stopped and stood there so long, just looking, that the security guard came over to see if everything was OK.

It’s funny the things that you forget.

When I first started training I could not climb these stairs, not up or down. My knees couldn’t take it. Every day I had to detour and take the elevator. I could do a few steps. But whole flights of stairs, no. The pain behind my kneecaps just wouldn’t let me. It’s been so long ago, so much has changed, I’d forgotten it completely.

There was so much wrong, back then. I had the knee pain, of course, and shoulder problems that had required surgery and ongoing PT. Plantar fasciitis meant I had to wear heavy hiking shoes with orthotics, and even with them I couldn’t walk far. Every morning I woke up stiff and sore, like I’d been sleeping on cold concrete. I had constant vertigo that felt like I was living aboard a ship, complete with seasickness during particular high seas. And neuropathic pain that would have sent me to the E.R. at times, except that I knew there’s nothing they could’ve done for it.

I felt old and weak and broken. But I wanted become a better horseperson – more centered, less reactive – and I knew Aikido could help. I called and asked Sensei about classes that didn’t involve rolling or falling – I didn’t know if I’d be able to. “Nope. We all train together. Come in, and just do what you can.” I didn’t even consider the link between Aikido and health – the possibility of actually improving one’s health. But I was cautiously optimistic, and buoyed by his confidence I decided to give it a try. I dragged my busted up self into the dojo and started training.

My life has a soundtrack. Somehow the right song seems to come along when I need it. Last week I got to see the brilliant songwriter Cheryl Wheeler in concert. As I was listening to her music on the way home that night I rediscovered this gem, “Boulder Hotel Room”:

Life is short, but the days and nights are long
Time will heal all these wounds
Some day soon
I’ll be rising I’ll be strong

When I first started training I loved this song for its powerful little flickers of hope and determination. I listened to it over and over, back then. I’d forgotten all about it, too.

Shortly after I started training I injured my shoulder. It occurred to me I might have made a mistake, trying to take up a martial art at my age and with my collection of ailments. Soon after, it appeared that my neuropathy might be causing new and more dangerous autonomic nervous system problems. I was worried about what was wrong with me. I thought it might be MS. Whatever it was I was scared to death that it would get worse. But I’d already been drawn into Aikido – waking up in the mornings excited about getting to the dojo, smiling about nothing on the way home from class. Come what may I wasn’t going to give it up.

But now I’m losing all my battles
Now I’m down and dropping still
And this snow’s blowing through
Like some ghost
With this blue I know too well

It turns out the worrisome symptoms – near-fainting and seeming inability to regulate body temperature – had a perfectly harmless explanation. I don’t think my doctor has ever had a patient react with such relief and happiness to discover that she’s run headlong into menopause!

But there weren’t only physical problems. In recently years I’d lost my sister to addiction, several friends suddenly to various health issues, and my first horse to colic. The equestrian community I’d been part of for years unraveled as members focused on recovering from a fire that affected thousands in our area. At the same time work went straight to hell, with a sadistic boss seemingly bent on ruining my career, and I had to quit that job. The 9/11 attacks and hurricane Katrina provided a fitting background. It was a painful time, and when I started training these things still had a strong hold on me.

Broken hearts keep on beating just the same
So I guess I can too
Go through these moves
Facing forward, walking straight

But now my glance keeps drifting downward
Now my feet can’t find their way
And this cold’s creeping in
Through my bones
Whisperin’ it’s here to stay

You know how years later you can clearly remember words that shocked your system? Someone says something so unexpected, so direct, so true that it pierces right through the usual listening we have for small-talk and ordinary communication. Like a time decades ago – maybe I was in my early 20s – in a supermarket… I was standing in the path of a woman’s cart and as I stepped aside I said “Oh, I’m sorry.” Instead of the usual “no problem” kind of civility she snapped at me sternly, but not without kindness, “Don’t apologize. Women are always apologizing. Don’t do that.” It came from out of the blue – a little verbal dope-slap – that it really caught my attention, and made me think. She was right. I took her advice to heart, and try to follow it to this day.

Anyway…I was training one day, and I don’t know what I said – probably something about how that particular technique was really hard for me, you know, with my shoulders, or how badly I was doing it – when Sensei snapped at me in the same way, not out of meanness, but so direct and piercing that really caught my attention: “Stop wallowing in your own misery!” Whoa… I hadn’t realized it, but I really was. For sure I had some problems, but I was turning circumstances into misery; I was the one doing the wallowing. I hadn’t been aware of that. I took Sensei’s words to heart, trying to catch myself when I’m inclined to revert to that way of being. The world is a brighter place when you’re not wallowing in misery, it really is.

I know there’s light on some horizon
But I can’t see so far ahead
Patience and grace, blessed is love
I’m losing my faith
In most of that stuff those wise men said

When I started training I had no idea what a sensei was, really – what it would mean to have that kind of teacher in my life. Someone who not only points out where I need to correct my body, but where I need to correct my mind as well. Not only showing me where to put my feet, but where to put my attention.

Sure, I figured that he knew what he was doing as far as technique, and could teach it well. I assumed I’d be challenged with faster, harder attacks as I became better able to handle them. I thought I’d learn to stay calm and deal more effectively with scary, painful reality.

I didn’t hope circumstances would improve. I never imagined that I would be challenged to change my reality. I didn’t even know that was an option. I couldn’t see that far ahead.

Now that old reality is only a distant, faded memory. It comes back to me, infrequently, in dream-like flashes – like when I’m stopped in my tracks at the sight of a stairwell, realizing I’m about to jog down 5 flights in light, flexible flats and a skirt, excited about the beautiful day ahead of me, like it’s the most natural, normal thing in the the world. And now it is.

Thank you for that, Sensei.

 

—–

Lyrics above are quoted from “But the Days and Nights Are Long” (AKA: “Boulder Hotel Room”) by Cheryl Wheeler

Happy New Year (kinda)

It’s been about a year – actually a year and two months, since my 2nd kyu exam. My 1st kyu exam will be this morning. I think of each exam like New Year’s Day – a time to look back, and to look ahead.

This year has been one of transitions. Bringing things into alignment.  Getting behind center. Grounding. Being clear.

I changed the way I work. With my employer’s and husband’s support, I cut back on my hours, and now work exclusively from home. This has meant a huge reduction in stress and a better physical workspace for me. It allows more time and flexibility for my Aikido training, and lets me focus on writing as my primary activity.

Over the past few months I have upgraded my office, with a new computer and printer, and all new software tools for writing and design work. There have been a few steep learning curves, but now I’m off and running.

I established my own publishing company, Shugyo Press. I wrote and published my first book, “A Bowl of Love – How to Make a Big Green Dojo Potluck Salad." On Monday morning I will be moving directly into my next two books, one of which is to be my "Black Belt Project,” something we each take on at our dojo, before our shodan exam. (The other is a secret, for now.)

There have been a lot of little things, too. A long-delayed household improvement is finally on track. My blog on AikiWeb just went over 200,000 views. I turned 50.

I’ve happily spent over 250 training days on the mat. I have helped out in the kids’ classes, and even taught a few. There were seminars and road trips, projects and parties. It’s been a full 14 months!

Starting last October (2012) I seemed to have a never-ending string of health problems: I injured my shoulder taking a roll in an awkward way. A bad cold turned into weeks of bronchitis, followed by gout in my right foot. At some point during all of this my neck and upper back muscles seized up and caused trouble for the radial nerve to my left arm.I was finally able to train fully just in time to get busy preparing for my exam.

While I have enjoyed training, it’s also been a painful year. Ukemi, the aspect of Aikido I am most dedicated to, the part of the practice where I find the most value, and where I need most to improve, was also the most difficult for me to access. I watched a lot of my friends grow and progress throughout the year, and felt left behind. I recently had a good conversation with Sensei about this, and am looking forward with renewed enthusiasm to focusing more on improving my ukemi.

It’s been a time of changes and new opportunities. Even the time will be changing tonight. Longer days and warmer weather are coming. Everything is looking brighter. I can’t wait for Monday night’s classes!

That Still Counts!

Yesterday I completed one entire month on the mat. I’m preparing for my first kyu exam, which will be this Saturday, so I’ve been training even more than usual. I did it just because I could, and because it seemed to help me keep up the proper momentum, and stay loose physically. The nerve problem I was having with my neck and arm has been improving with constant activity, and I’m generally feeling very good. So why stop?

I trained every day, even Sundays. Every class, even the kids classes, and every open mat session. :-) 

When I shared that milestone with my friends, one suggested that I must be experiencing an “awesome growth spurt." 

Actually, no. Although I have been enjoying training and having a lot of  fun preparing for exams with my dojo mates, I’ve actually been fairly perturbed by my lack of progress. Sometimes it’s felt like I’m going backward. It’s been discouraging. For for each new "aha” moment there are three more things I see I seriously need to work on.

Here’s what I said to him:

“Not really feeling like it… Well actually, yeah… But the kind of growth where you become more acutely aware of where the holes are, and what needs work. Humbling – in the classic sense of the word.”

In writing that answer I saw the situation in a new light, and suddenly felt a lot better about things. I really was making progress, it just didn’t look the way I had been thinking it should. So I guess that does still count as an “awesome growth spurt.”

  • Opening my eyes to a thousand details and endless room for refinement still counts as opening my eyes.
  • Discovering how I process and remember information (or fail to) still counts as discovery.
  • Becoming more aware of the holes in my technique still counts as becoming more aware.
  • Starting to see some of the bigger picture  — the patterns and relationships in techniques — still counts as starting to see.
  • Learning where my blind spots are still counts as learning.
  • Knowing what I need to work on still counts as knowing.

I will do my best on Saturday, and I’m sure I won’t be satisfied with that. But I will be moving into the next phase of my training better equipped to learn and develop further, with a broadened perspective on the art, and deeper appreciation for what’s available through training in it. And that still counts as progress.

Being Who You Are

[I wrote this post almost three years ago, but tucked it away with a hundred or so others in my Drafts folder, because it felt a little too raw. A conversation with a friend recently reminded me about it. Now, with another free intro class coming up at our dojo, it seems like a good time to hit the Publish button. Here it is, unedited.]

Me_NotMe_2Photos

There is nothing that touches us quite like being “gotten” – known for who we really are. Being recognized. And there are few things so exasperating as being seen as someone who you are not.

The photo on the left is me, on my 2nd birthday, on what I’m guessing was a birthday present. A Wonder Horse. Like a rocking horse, but on springs. I think they make bull-riding practice rigs like this. I probably played on it until I outgrew it or wore it out. I’m sure I fell asleep on the damned thing. If they had these for grownups, there wouldn’t be a weight problem in our country. It was only a plastic horse, but it offered movement and energy and adventure and freedom from gravity. I loved that thing.

The photo on the right is me, dressed and posed as someone I never was. I remember that day very clearly. They moved the round walnut coffee table over to where the photographer’s background was, for me to sit on. I was told to smile like that, and the photographer positioned my hand, with my finger against my cheek, and turned my head just so. I protested, but the photographer (who was a professional after all, and who knew best) insisted. I’m sure it was supposed to look sweet and cute. But it didn’t look like me. I was as furious as a little child can be. It still pisses me off to think about it. My mom recently gave me that red checkered dress from the photo, to do with as I like. I think I’ll burn it.

When I was a kid I rode my bike or skateboarded everywhere (or cartwheeled, or pogo-sticked). I had pet snakes and a paper route. I hiked all over the local hills and canyons with the local gas station dog. I played street hockey and body surfed. I never had a Barbie. I hated dressing up. I liked bugs. My sister and I had to plead our case very persistently, but we did manage to get a slot car set (“but those are for boys”) for Christmas one year.

All my life (thankfully not as much after 40) people have been trying to tell me I should be more girly. As a little kid I was told that of course I like pink. “All girls like pink.” (Blue was my favorite color.) I was supposed to love babies. (I’ve never had any rapport with babies, I’ve never wanted babies, and no, I don’t want to hold your baby.) I was supposed to adore wearing dresses.

In 3rd grade the girls at my school were allowed to wear pants on Fridays. Only.

In the summer of 3rd grade somehow I’d heard about a judo class at the YMCA, and insisted on joining it. I remember the room, and I remember endlessly slapping the mat and learning to fall (a skill that may have saved my life later on). The class was mostly boys. I don’t remember this, but my mom tells me they wouldn’t train with the girls, and that my feelings were terribly hurt by that. Being an outsider is painful.

Later I worked on cars and built stuff with my dad. I got my ham license at 12 so I could join the Humane Society’s Animal Rescue Reserve (rescuing livestock in disaster situations). I fought my way into wood shop (where the teacher said he didn’t give girls As) and metal shop. Home Ec was still required, of course. Just for girls. A friend and I were the first two girls ever in our school to take Football in P.E., and we had to fight for that, too. But they drew the line at auto shop. No girls. No way.

In 12th grade I trained in Tang Soo Do for independent study P.E. credit. It was mostly guys… I don’t recall any other girls in the beginning class with me, but one of the black belts was a beautiful young mother named Cristi, and she was clearly capable and respected. I never felt like “one of the gang,” but Master Kenyon never treated me differently than any other student. No less was expected of me. I loved training there, but had to stop when I moved to go to college.

Girls are supposed to crave shoes, jewelry, makeup, perfume, shopping, cute clothes, and wearing frilly things. Naturally we must love chick-flick movies, spa days, and girls’ nights out. Whatever those are.

Those assumptions and expectations alone are annoying enough, but there are more insidious aspects. I wasn’t supposed to be smart. I wasn’t supposed to be interested in greasy mechanical things, or computers. I wasn’t supposed to be good at sports. Possibly worse than obvious active discouragement – you can fight back against that – are the subtle low expectations and social exclusion. Simply not being invited to participate in things… “We didn’t think you’d be interested.” Not feeling welcome. How do you fight that?

Girls aren’t even supposed to be strong. Seriously, I was often told as a young woman to avoid doing things that might make my arms or legs big – like swimming, martial arts, or windsurfing. “If you get muscles you won’t ever be able to wear cute clothes.” Fortunately I somehow didn’t give a damn what people thought, but a lot of girls buy into this, and forgo healthy, fun, empowering physical activity in favor of being acceptable to others.

Dar Williams’ song “When I Was a Boy” perfectly reflects my experience. Click here to open a video of her performing it (opens in a new window): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zIB3piK0wE

“And now I’m in this clothing store, and the signs say less is more. More that’s tight means more to see. More for them, not more for me. That can’t help me climb a tree in 10 seconds flat. – When I was a boy – see that picture? That was me. Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees. And I know things have gotta change. They’ve got pills to sell. They’ve got implants to put in, they’ve got implants to remove. But I am not forgetting that I was a boy too.”

No one at the dojo has ever been even subtly discouraging to anyone on the basis of gender. Expectations are appropriate to the students’ experience, physical ability, and skill. But somehow in the context of Aikido recently, the issue of gender has been coming up. Someone mentioned the male:female ratio at the dojo a few weeks ago (about 3:1, I think). In a few small classes recently I’ve been the only woman. I don’t think I would’ve noticed except that I was the only one in the women’s dressing room. It doesn’t bother me in the least to train with just guys, but I do think it’s a shame that more women aren’t finding their way into martial arts.

The reasons why are many, and have been discussed ad nauseum with no agreed-upon answer. For many I’m guessing it’s a lifetime of assertions about who we are (“Oh, you wouldn’t like that, it looks pretty rough.”), concerns over becoming physically unacceptable to others (having bruises, or keeping nails cut short, for instance), the discouragement of subtle low expectations (whether about ability or commitment), and maybe just plain never having been invited, or made to feel welcome once they join. Not welcome like an outsider who’s being treated with kindness, but one of us.

A friend of a student was visiting the dojo one day months ago, watching a class. Trying to strike up a conversation I asked her if she’d ever done any martial arts. She visibly responded as though I’d asked her if she ate kittens for breakfast, and said something to the effect of “Oh heavens, no!” I was so taken aback by her repulsed reaction that I couldn’t find a tactful way to ask what in the heck she meant by that. If I see her again maybe I’ll follow up.

We may never have a solution, but meanwhile, invite someone, include everyone, and let people feel like they belong.

2012 has been a year for taking a new direction. I turned 50, which is, even for an optimist, “halfway there.” I almost certainly have fewer years ahead of me than behind me. I’ve developed an increasing intolerance for the idea of “getting around to it someday,” and have been taking decisive action on many fronts. Years aside, I have more life ahead of me than behind. I have more choices, more resources, more opportunities, and more freedom – all the space in the world for experiencing, creating, and enjoying.

I’ve been letting go of lots of things – letting go of my identification with them – horse things, books, musical instruments. I’m selling a few things, and giving other things away, which is far more fun. I just took down my very outdated 180+ page personal website (www.LindaEskin.com) and replaced it with much simpler page leading to some of my other sites, including this one. I’m cleaning up physical spaces, decluttering my environment and my mind, making room and time for things that matter.

I’ve decided I’m going to be a writer when I grow up. More accurately, I finally noticed that I am a writer, and started acting in accordance with that. At the end of summer I stopped working full-time in user experience, and instead am focusing most of my energies on writing professionally. I started out with the goal of writing two books – a quick, short one just for fun, to learn how the process works, and one about my experience of Aikido. What I’m finding as I get deeper into it is that there will likely be a small collection of books. In addition to writing consistently, I’ve been learning about writing tools (hooray for Scrivener!), book formats, and publishing options. I’m participating in The Merry Inksters, a support and coaching group for writers. That’s been both very helpful and a lot of fun. I launched my own publishing company (with no products yet!), Shugyo Press, named for the ongoing, daily, transformative practice that Aikido is for me. I’m planning to have my first book out in a few months.

I’ve been training right along, including helping in kids’ classes, and even teaching a few sessions when Sensei was away (look for “The Mirror” column about that experience, coming soon on AikiWeb). I was lucky to be able to travel to some seminars, and participate in even more at our dojo. I am scheduled to test for 1st kyu in March, so now I’m preparing for that. 2012 brought many fresh insights, and a lot of new or deepening friendships. I’m grateful for every moment on the mat, and delighted to still wake up excited about training. My wish for everyone is that they can find the same thing in their own lives – something to be grateful for every moment, and to wake up excited to be doing. Maybe for you it’s music, gardening, painting, research, or teaching. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, it’s worth it.

2012 been a very rewarding year, and I’m looking forward to the adventure that 2013 will certainly be.

—–

Related to this, a friend from the dojo just shared an article on Facebook:
How to Avoid Work: A 1949 Guide to Doing What You Love

Excerpts from a career guidance book from 1949, about finding and following your calling. Well worth reading.

To Do List

Give the ancient little oak ukelele to your friend at work. She’ll enjoy it.

Sell your 5-string banjo, as simple as they come, in its solid case with the rope handle by which you’ve carried it to workshops. If you haven’t learned to play it yet…

Sell the basic-but-serviceable electric guitar, even though you love the curvy shape, and dark, polished wooden body.

Return the good electric one to Michael. He can have fun playing in its dozens of alternate tunings and different voices.

Keep your favorite acoustic guitar, and another to pass around at parties. 

Keep the little red electric one. It could be fun to goof around with.

Keep your mandolin and fiddle, too.

Pack up boxes of books. The programming books and cookbooks, Dilbert and Miss Manners, biographies and histories, physics and feminism. 

Drop off books on dealing with an addict. Your sister has been gone for years, and someone else at the recovery center will be needing them. 

Keep the books about Aikido, music, gardening, and horsemanship.

You are not going to single-handedly restore public access to trails through your community. Find someone else who can use your boxes of files, piles of notebooks, and rolls of maps. You are not the keeper of local history. Give these things to someone who is.

Take down the colorful glass suncatchers that were enchanting 20 years ago, but now just gather dust and block the view. The painting of koi can go, too.

Clear out the garage, too, that place where unneeded things go when you can’t quite get rid of them. Get rid of them now. 

That cast-iron dutch oven set you meant to donate to a raffle? Donate it.

Sort through those boxes of desk clutter from past jobs. Do you want to have a desk in an office again? No. Burn the boats.

Keep the tools, gardening supplies, and camping gear.

Keep the tractor!

Oh yeah… The saddle rack, covered in a dusty sheet, and the big cabinet full of nearly-new riding gear. Clear it out. English saddles and Western, and bareback pad. Bridles, stirrups, cinches, and blankets. Clean it up and drop it off at your friend’s consignment shop. Even the saddle rack goes. Most things in the dressing room of the  horse trailer, too. And all the clothes, the breeches, show clothes, jackets. Off to new homes.

Everything goes except that one saddle, handmade by a friend, which would perfectly fit a sweet-natured drafty little mare with no withers. Just in case.

Give away, donate, or sell anything you can. Throw the rest in the dumpster, and then have even that hauled away.

Make room for movement and openings for creativity. Clear out space for friends. Declutter, unclog, and open up. Dump the teacup.

—–

It’s been very difficult for me to get down to some of the hard work of cleaning out things I no longer use or need. It finally occurred to me a few days ago that this process is very much like handling the estate of a loved one. These things represent a life that is over. They meant something to somebody. It’s hard to clear out things and say goodbye, even when they were your own things, and your own life. But the stuff from the former resident has to go if a new person is going to be living here. 

A Lifetime on the Train

[This is not particularly Aikido-related, but I wrote it on a 20-hour train trip on the way to an Aikido seminar this past weekend. Since I posted it on GrabMyWrist.com I figured I should share it here, too. I’ll be compiling some brief posts and quotes from the weekend into a single post here later today, too.
Linda]

—–

You think of the beautiful Italian woman you waited with at the station, conversing in Spanish – the common ground you share. She’s in your home town for 20 days, making a side trip today, with her sundress, cheerful tote bag, and elegant cream shawl. Utterly alone, yet happy and secure, 6,500 miles from home. The train calls you each to different cars, and with a smile and a quick wave you know you will never see her again. If she told you her name, you’ve forgotten it already.

You write in your red notebook, and a friendly-looking woman takes the seat next to you. Thankfully she nods and lets you be. As her stop approaches you strike up a brief conversation. She rides this train to work most days. Beats driving. She wishes you a good trip, and is gone.

You check Facebook. Another friend has lost her horse. Half a dozen in the space of a month. Neurological disease, laminitis, snake bite, heart failure… Best friends for years, decades… And now an empty stall and a broken heart. You wish her peace. She did all anyone could. Sometimes there’s nothing anyone can do.

At Union Station, with its leather seats and elaborately-tiled walls, you wait for your next train. You notice the young, rosy-cheeked woman next to you is not napping, but Ill. When roused she’s uncoordinated and slurring. She fumbles through her purse and finds a blood glucose test kit. Uh oh. She’s dropping things. You offer a small bunch of grapes, but she has to check first. It’s high. 340. No grapes, but thank you for offering. She seems a little more alert, but not right. You tell her you’re going to have to leave for your train in a few minutes, and ask if she wants you to find someone to help her. “No,” she assures you,”I’ll be OK.” You’re not convinced, and circle back after walking away. She’s gone. You hope she be alright as you hurry to your train.

Everything on the train is new and wonderful, until it isn’t. You learn where the food is, and how the bathroom works. You find your way around, discover a big empty room to play in, and covet the kettle chips they sell in the cafe car. Awesome, fascinating… And then ordinary.

Except for the big room. That doesnt get old. You keep returning to move and stretch, and you meet some people who are likewise desperate to get out of their seats, lie on the floor, reach for the sky, and breathe – the Tai Chi practitioner with sciatica, the woman who, with a little friendly prodding, joins you in a few minutes of swirling warm-ups, and leaves smiling, the Mennonite family with a tiny toddler in her modest coat-dress, glad to move unrestrained for a while, the old woman, who hangs on for support, but indulges in a few stretches as if she’s sampling a favorite childhood food she’d almost forgotten. And there are the ones who don’t come in. Some look wistfully, but their clothing or their sense of propriety prevents them from getting down on the floor on a train, where people might see them. There’s hope for them. Others look at you harshly, as if you are breaking the rules, down here messing around in the basement of the car, instead of sitting still in your seat like you’re supposed to. You feel bad for them.

A large group of old people have been in the observation car for hours, listening to the National Parks Rangers describing the areas we pass. Ladies with canes and little coolers full of healthy snacks to share. Men with green ball caps stating their military affiliations and wars in which they served. When the train reaches their station they all help each other down the steep stairs, and they are gone. You take one of the empty seats near the big picture windows.

You talk with your seatmate for hours. You’re from the same place and culture – San Diego, the beach, connecting with nature and movement – but two decades apart. He reads you the prayers he recites every day. You tell him about embodying qualities you want to develop. There’s a connection there. You each wander off, wander back.. Eventually it’s his stop. At least you member his name.

Now students board. School starts next week. The train picks up dozens at every station. They are on their way to their new beginnings, with their backpacks and smartphones. It’s late and they have a long ride ahead of them. You chat for a few minutes with young lady who just returned from China. The students crash in every horizontal space they can find. The train becomes a rolling dorm.

Your stop nears. You collect your trash, gather your things, and thank your car attendant. You wave goodbyes to a few of those you’ve met, who are still awake and happen to be on your way to the stairs. The train slows to a stop, you step off and vanish down the long ramp as it pulls away.

The Possibility of Balance

Dang, I am really behind on posting. I read a quote recently that suggested one should meditate for 20 minutes a day, and if too busy for that, then meditate for an hour a day. It’s a really good point. Pausing is in order. 

For horsepeople, perhaps think of meditation as a half-halt in the forward motion of life, a momentary slowing to regroup. Get your feet under you, collect, and then continue in a more organized, empowered way.

I have been just too busy. Mostly with work, and then with trying to get caught up from having been too busy with work. Things are slowing down now, and I’ve got a little breathing room.

More important, thanks to support from my darling hubby, and a willingness to be creative with working arrangements on the part of my employer, I am on course for creating a more balanced life in the long term.

Getting myself into a better daily rhythm is important. Sitting for hours on end is terrible for anyone’s health, and particularly injurious to mine, I think. It really aggravates my peripheral neuropathy, so by the end of 8 or 9 hours everything hurts. It’s a miserable experience, on all levels. Being able to be active for more of the day is something I’m moving toward at every opportunity. And getting enough sleep. That one’s a challenge.

My goal is to have time and flexibility to pursue writing more consistently, to focus more deeply on my Aikido training, and get a hundred (+/-) projects done, or heck, started – house maintenance, yard improvements, a vegetable garden, that kind of thing. Oh, and simplifying, focusing, and decluttering. I have a lot of getting rid of things to do, to make space for whatever’s next.

Meanwhile, here’s a litte catching up since my last post, at the “O Sensei Revisited” retreat (May 18-20, 2012). It was a wonderful little camp in Occidental, California, just north of the Bay Area, in the woods. I had posted bits and pieces about the event, until the WiFi went out at the Lodge. And then I drove home. And then I went to work the next morning. And didn’t come up for air until now. 

We had an amazingly good time. The people were wonderful, the food was good, the facility was recently built, and well designed, and the surroundings were beautiful. Twelve of us went from Aikido of San Diego. It was a great dojo bonding experience. Someday, we will bring Oya the tea she deserves. 

The workshop itself was brilliant. It’ll get its own post, but it had a fairly narrow subject, which we explored in some depth, lead by Nadeau Shihan, with parts presented by several instructors, who each approached the work in their own way.

The trip home was a grand adventure, also deserving of its own post. It included great company on the road, visits with four friends on the way south, a solar eclipse, sitting in a river, incredible coastal views, elephant seals, horses, lots of coffee, and hours of delightful conversation.

Since returning, I have been working and training, mostly. I am very fortunate to be mentoring a friend for his upcoming 3rd kyu exam, which means extra training for me, paying closer attention to details than I often do, and enlisting the help of our generous yudansha to help us through the fuzzy parts.

It’s also been a month or so of milestones, transitions, and beginnings happening around me. Again, subjects for another post, but for the moment I’ll say it’s been a time to look at where I am, where I’m going, and what it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, it’s time to feed the donkeys, cats, skunks, ‘possums, and raccoon, and then get to bed. 

Three Years

Today, May 5, 2012, it’s three years since I first stepped onto the mat.

I had a post half written, about dates and seminars and exams, but wasn’t feeling it. Those things aren’t important. Instead, it’s the tiny things that have made this year exquisite. Warm smiles, sharp corrections, chats over meals, and everyone growing and becoming more confident together – these are the things that continually open my mind and touch my heart. Little “aha!” moments, meditating on big questions, feeling and finding connection, and remembering how to let go and play. Laughter, joy, and vigorous jiyuwazas, jumping up to take ukemi as often as I can, and sinking into seiza to bow out at the end of class, breathless and elated.

How fortunate I am, to have this opportunity and ability to train, this insightful and inspiring teacher, and this loving and compassionate community, in our dojo and in the world! I am grateful beyond words.

These weapons are my 3rd kyu / 49th birthday gift to myself. They are from Kingfisher, where you have the option of having them inscribed with any of a zillion words or phrases. I can’t read them, but I hope the bokken, at the top, says spiritual forging, a primary focus in training. The tanto, at the bottom, says kindness, grace, or mercy, a reminder for dealing with attacks of all kinds. The jo, in the middle, says a dream that comes true, which is what Aikido is, for me.

p.s. The jo, the one in the middle, is upside down! Lucky for me Michael just gave me the book “Easy Kanji” for a birthday present. :-)