Archive for the Questions Category

Living on the Edge

Posted in Questions, Spirituality, Zen on July 19, 2014 by seniorsamurai

“The ‘thought picture’ of what happened in a place is still out there. It is as if the action is still going on: if you stand very quietly you know they’re still there; you just can’t see them.”    – Toni Morrison, Beloved

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On a visit to Viet Nam I had the opportunity to enter a tiny portion of the vast Cu Chi tunnel system. The Vietnamese built the tunnels during wars with the French and, later, the Americans. This elaborate tunnel system is enormous — 124 + miles — and offered a relatively safe place for secret travel, food, shelter, and medical care.

 

In retrospect, upon lowering myself into this magnificent space I felt something eerie and haunting. It was as if there were still spirits from the war, patrolling the tunnels and maintaining the sacred grounds. I suspect I might experience the same feelings if I walked the beaches of Normandy or stood overlooking battle sites at Gettysburg.

 

I’m coming around to Morrison’s point of view. These locations (and thousands like them across the globe) are not only historical reminders of death and destruction: there’s more that you ‘just can’t see.’ I wonder if it’s possible — and extremely important — to honor the souls who transitioned from those places more than once a year? And can we offer more than flags? And how should we do it?

 

By accident I found a good first step from reading provided by the monk Thomas Merton who says, “For the real stuff dig deep; for real stuff look deep, a place of clear thought, quiet solitude a place where inner core is buried. There must be a clear space that’s accumulated all the cells of the body labeled private.”

 

So if we all took time to meditate and reflect deeply at these places, what would happen? What would come up? If we consciously spend more time considering the ramifications of our decisions would it take us longer to rush off to war? Would we be able to martial a more compassionate first response?

 

Merton wanted to station himself — like the artist, writer, or sage — in a margin that exempts him from complicity in society, the Church, monasticism. From that point he could speak purely, openly, and with wisdom. He called it living on the margin without losing faith in the world. It was his way of finding his center.

 

How might you live on the margins?

Ordinary Joe

Posted in Questions, Uncategorized, Zen on June 3, 2014 by seniorsamurai

Invisible

 

In an article by Maia Duerr she reported on the passing of Bhante Suhita. He was the first African American to be ordained a Buddhist monk and also had the rare distinction of being ordained in all three major Buddhist lineages: Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana.

Professionally he was trained as a social worker, and found deep joy in working with the homeless, those with HIV/AIDS, ex-offenders, and many others on the margins.

Duerr reported that, “he was not a Buddhist celebrity, so you won’t find much about him on the internet. He worked largely in the realm of the invisible.”

It strikes me that even if you’re not a Buddhist but simply human being like most of us who won’t show up on the Internet, we are in some ways invisible throughout our lifetime.
The question in my mind is, why is that so difficult to accept? Why is it difficult to work at knowing who you are and living your life accordingly. Being whatever that means and accepting yourself as “okay”? Simply accepting that I am somebody to my family, my co-workers, my friends, and my neighborhood, but never expecting to ‘go viral.’

Framing Your House

Posted in Aging, Friendship, Martial Arts, Questions, Spirituality with tags , , on December 7, 2013 by seniorsamurai
A classical aikido throw being practiced. Tori...

A classical aikido throw being practiced. Tori maintains balance and structure to throw uke, while uke safely takes a forward roll (mae ukemi). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Poet Maya Stein  wrote about a potters effort to sculpt a face, “Her fingers could not handle the finer points of the clay, and so it’s face warped into a caricature with oblique white ovals for eyes and improbably round lips. There wasn’t much to the skull or the ears, and hardly a trace of the jaw line that marked her own silhouette. She was simple and doughy; the roughest of creatures, but such is the beginning that marks any beginning: vague outlines, hopeful guesses at proportion, an innocence of form and shape. The hard work will come soon enough, of course, the ruthless attempts at getting it right and the self-flagellation that ensues when failure hits, the way we chew and scrape at our own tender insides. So she will do her best love her now, this uneven, funny being, and hold her for exactly what she is: blameless and forgiving. “

Reframing this text in the context of aikido goes something like this:  In the beginning her hands could not handle the finer points of the technique, and so her face froze into a frown with wide questioning eyes and improbably questioning lips. There wasn’t much to her effort, and hardly a trace of completion that marked her finishing throw. She was simply and clearly, the most awkward of students, but such is the beginning that marks any beginner: stumbling entering steps, hopeful guesses at positioning and proportion, a clueless innocence of what exactly comes next. The hard work will come soon enough, of course, the ruthless attempts at getting it right and the self-flagellation that ensues when failure hits, the way we chew and scrape at our own tender insides for our inadequacies. So we Uke, do our best to support and take Ukemi for her now, this uneven, clumsy being, and honor her for exactly what she is: a work in progress just stepping on the path…just exactly like we did in the beginning and continue to do one practice and one technique at a time.

Why should we martial artists be different from a potter, musician, weaver, or swordsman?

Holy Cow: The Warranty Expired

Posted in Questions with tags on November 17, 2013 by seniorsamurai
Warranty Void if Seal Broken

Warranty Void if Seal Broken (Photo credit: eirikso)

As my family has often heard me say, ‘I’ve been really fortunate during my lifetime regarding my health. Until now I’ve easily cruised past my 70th birthday without ever being hospitalized, While there were two occasions where I had a ‘sleepover,’ both instances turned out to be observations for problems that never materialized.

While I’m not ‘health naive’ it still came as more than a mild surprise when recently during a doctor’s visit for allergies the physicians Assistant said, “You know you have a heart murmur…right?’

Time skipped a beat and I said something pithy like, “Really?’

Being a good professional she simply replied,”It’s probably age related but let’s schedule you for an echo-cardiogram?” At that instant  the thought that came into my head was, “holy cow the warranty must have run out.” While I didn’t have any recriminations that I should have done this or that to prevent the murmur, I thought this is just another milestone in my life so let’s see what tomorrow brings.

In the end, my streak is still in tact just with another notation in my health chart. The process of getting an echo-cardiogram was fun. You get to see all the parts and functions of your heart in live technicolor, with a running commentary from the professional who enjoyed the interested audience and her opportunity to do a, ‘Heart 101’ seminar.

In the end I asked, “ So how did I do?” She looked at me and noted that, “I’m really not supposed to comment on what I see but I can tell you that you have a good heart.” Besides the biology associated with her comment, I  always hoped I’ve had a good heart.

In the meantime after a few days passed I did remind myself that, everything being equal, my time will come and other ‘stuff’ will happen. ISo for now I roll along on a high about having a good heart no matter what the status is of the warranty.

Really Dude: A Dark Side Ritual?

Posted in Questions on November 10, 2013 by seniorsamurai

When Pope Benedict decided to resign and go into retirement there was extensive worldwide news coverage and probably intensive scrambling around within the Vatican hierarchy. There must have been a lot of, “What do we do now, this has not happened before?”

In an attempt to keep the story going, the international press was full of details highlighting the institutional rituals and operating rules that go into effect when a Pope dies. There’s a process and rules that kicks in automatically until a new Pope is named.

For instance when a Pope dies, or in this case resigns, the Roman curia heads have to resign, and the Vatican essentially shuts down. The old guard, the Vatican prelates, are out of a job until a new pope is named who may or may not reinstate them. They will have no authority to continue their work, pending a new dictate by the new pope.

English: Emblem of Vatican City Italiano: Embl...

English: Emblem of Vatican City Italiano: Emblema della Ciattà del Vaticano Македонски: Амблем на Ватикан {| cellspacing=”0″ style=”min-width:40em; color:#000; background:#ddd; border:1px solid #bbb; margin:.1em;” class=”layouttemplate” | style=”width:1.2em;height:1.2em;padding:.2em” | 20px |link=|center | style=”font-size:.85em; padding:.2em; vertical-align:middle” |This vector image was created with Inkscape. |} Emblem of Vatican City.svg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But there was one curious ritual that got my dark side attention. Did you know that the Cardinal who is Secretary of State—effectively the Vatican’s number two job– remains on only as Camerlengo (Chamberlain).

He stays on because the Camerlengo has traditionally had the role of officially certifying the death of a pope—he used to do so by striking the pontiff’s forehead on his deathbed with a special silver hammer and calling out the words “Holy Father”?

I’m sorry, that makes me laugh. The article I was reading went on to other issues related to what happens while the world awaits a new pope and never spoke again about this ritual practice seeming to be a bit barbaric. 

While I’m sure that now a days a physician certifies a pope’s death, I do wonder however if this method of certification could ever have gone wrong and a dying Pope was jared out of his deep sleep or coma when he got bonked on the head with a silver hammer?

I wonder if in that instance he might have awakened and shouted, ‘Really Dude”!

FBI’s Fugative List

Posted in Aging, Questions, Spirituality with tags , , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by seniorsamurai
Catholic Worker front page (July-August 1963)

Catholic Worker front page (July-August 1963) (Photo credit: jimforest)

Daniel Barrigan was an American Catholic priest, peace activist, and poet. He, along with his brother Philip, was for a time on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for their involvement in antiwar protests during the Vietnam war? When Daniel died his daughter Frida Barrigan wrote an article in The Catholic Worker titled, Remembrance of My Father.

In it she said:

“I miss that voice—-gruff and gentle at the same time. I miss his fearlessness—born out of practice and prayer rather than bombast and machismo. I miss his impatience with formality and decorum, with how things are supposed to work.”

Try a little test. When I say a person of  ‘practice and prayer’ who and what kind of a person comes to your mind? Then contrast that person to one who might come to mind when I say, ‘bombast and machismo.’ I doubt that those folks are the same.

The quote made me wonder if how we see and define ourselves will even come close to how our children and grandchildren will speak of us when we’re gone.

How do you think your children will characterize you….bombast and machismo or someone kinder and gentler born out of prayer and kindness?

Maybe we should ask them while we have time to sandpaper a few rough edges?

You’ve Got to Be Kidding?

Posted in Aging, Friendship, Questions, Spirituality, Zen on September 14, 2013 by seniorsamurai
Time me

Time me

 

 

When people inquire about I do with my time I say I have some daily activities that I call practices that keep me busy almost full time. I go on to say that specifically my practices are: aikido, watercolors, writing. At that point I usually get a blank look.

 

 In the beginning I thought that I must have given some weird response or spoken in Swahili. It’s as if they expected an answer that my practices are going to lead me to a new career in which I likely will get paid a lot and have prospects of advancement.  

 

 

 

In David Whyte’s book, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, I got some insight into peoples responses. When he discusses contemplating telling the world of his decision to live in alignment with his true self…. A poet.

 

 If you want to meet terrifying silence, tell the world you are going full time as a poet.  Who would give me a word of encouragement if I did?  It has never been easy to go full-time as a poet in any recorded portion of human history.  When we announce to the world that we are about to go full-time as a poet, people do not come up to us, slapping us on the back, saying, “Great career move, David,” or “I hear they are taking them on at Lockheed right now,” or “Marvelous.  I hear there’s a decent dental plan comes with the verse.”

 

 Funny of course. But it’s a very real insight to the reality of the situation.

 

 So be prepared for the looks and the unspoken look of, what a waste of time’ or, there’s definitely no money in that. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have someone ask,’ tell me more please?’ And’ what happens to you when you do these practices?’

 

 Maybe the next time someone takes the risk of telling you their dream that fits in the category of ‘way outside the box’ your response will be 100% supportive and inquisitive.