Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dog Qualities and People

It occurred to me yesterday evening as I was walking Syrah the Mighty that there are certain qualities that we value in dogs, things that make them pleasing and attractive to us as pets and companions:

- Happy:  Dogs are so often happy when they see us.  They hardly ever seem to hold a grudge.
- Playful:  Dogs are playful.  They are alway ready for any number of games.
- Protective:  Dogs are protective of members of their pack, sometimes annoyingly so.
- Ready to Please:  Dogs like to do things that earn them the praise of their owners.
- Content:  Dogs are generally content with whatever their circumstances are.
- Service:  Dogs like to help, even if it is only helping in the way a dog can.
- Loving:  Dogs can just be there whenever you need them to be, just to give love.

We value all of these traits in dogs, but when people have the same sorts of traits they are sometimes seen as not assertive enough or too silly or not goal oriented enough or the sort of people that will always be followers and not high achievers.  We value such traits in our pets and companions, but not in our fellow humans (or perhaps we say we do, but in practice we do not).

It just struck me as odd.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Releasing the Sword

One of the greater misconceptions of many that I have had to overcome in my pursuit of Iaijutsu is the concept of always holding on to the sword.

At first the thought seemed counterintuitive to me.  After all, we constantly train with the sword to block and then attack.  We drill with nukitsuke (drawing), nigashi (cuts) and various cuts until they are drilled into the core of our muscle memory.  We practice constantly getting the blade between ourselves and our attacker or taking ourselves off-line to avoid the attack.  So in all of this, the concept of dropping the blade came like something that was going against everything I have been training for.

The reality, of course, is that one is not just "dropping" the sword.  One is releasing the sword to get a greater advantage.  Musashi discusses this in his Fire book of A Book of Five Rings":

     "'To release four hands' (yottsu te o hansusu) is used when you and the enemy are contending with the same spirit, and the issue cannot be decided.  Abandon this spirit and win through an alternative resource.
     In large-scale strategy, when there is a 'four hands' spirit, do not give up - it is man's existence.  Immediately throw away this spirit and win with a technique the enemy does not expect.
     In single combat also, when we think we have fallen into the 'four hands' situation, we must defeat the enemy by changing our mind and applying a suitable technique according to his condition.  You must be able to judge this." (translation by Victor Harris)

To release the sword at the critical moment is to seek to take the greater advantage.  If I do not expect myself to release the sword, neither does my opponent.  Now I have the moment of surprise or unexpected reaction that I need.  Now I also have two hands with which to maneuver and pull my opponent off balance or trap him in a lock and bring him down.  Now, as Musashi says, I have released my spirit and am contending by alternative means.

To release the sword is also to expand my view of the situation and resources.  When the sword falls to the ground, I am left without my primary means of attack and defense.  I am forced to evaluate the situation and come up with another means of resolving it.  I have disengaged my muscle memory and am now forcing my mind to work in other ways to achieve the objective.

Another interesting fact: most often when I release my sword, my opponent will not.  It is taught to the point of instinct that we are always to hold on to our swords.  By releasing the sword I gain an instant of hesitation on the part of my opponent, a moment which - if I have truly trained - I can use to my advantage.

Ultimately the sword is a tool, like any other that we have in life.  And if we insist on clinging too tightly to our tools and not sufficiently keeping in mind what we are actually trying to accomplish, we will find ourselves in the position of ourselves been surprised when the sword falls to the ground and we find ourselves in a position of defeat while still holding the superior weapon in the confrontation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Forging of The Soul

I feel as if my soul is being forged right now, beat out on the anvil of life.  It is not an overly pleasant feeling.

That strikes me as odd because I would think that it is something that people - well, at least myself - would actually like. After all, this is what I write about a great deal, correct?:  becoming more of yourself, pushing yourself towards doing more of what your actual purpose in life is, having the less desirable parts fall away.  This is the goal, or at least what I am striving for, right?

Certainly, in theory.  The practice is a bit more difficult.

Is it the heating that I do not like?  That sense of being thrown into the furnace of life and having the temperature of your life rise as the flames heat you, to feel first the outer core and then your inner self become infused and then hot with the transmitted heat of circumstances and people that seem to push you to the break point as the events and circumstances expand your life while it seems to maintain its present form?

Or is it the hammering, that place that finds you between the hammer face and the anvil, as you are pounded repeatedly or twisted uncomfortably?  The pain of the heat may be removed but now it is replaced by blows or twisting that just seems to come and come without any sense is going on or hope that things are going to stop.

The ultimate problem, of course, is that the piece of metal can never truly know what the ultimate outcome of the forging is.  It is nothing without the master hand of the blacksmith, who has the design in mind as does not heat merely once or twice but repeatedly, ultimately converting the steel into something pleasing to the eye and useful to others.  It is the blacksmith that determines how long to heat and how many blows to lay and where to lay them.  It is the metal's job to heat and form.

We often fool ourselves, I think.  We feel ourselves to be the blacksmith, heating and hammering the metal, when really we are the metal and being formed by a Blacksmith greater than us.  We become surprised when the heat and hammer are applied in ways that we did not anticipate - because we forget that we are the thing being forged, not the forger.

I know who The Blacksmith is, and I have a wavering trust - not the level I should have - in what His ultimate outcome is.  I just wish that I could understand what He is forming me into.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Petals of Memory

I apologize.I seem senseless sometimes,
looking at the world through lenses
that only I can see.
These are not the lenses others view the world through:
they are heroic and romantic,
redolent with tales of bravery and laden with emotion.

I forget, sometimes,
that everyone else has a life as well:
plans to be made, plans to be executed,
lives to be lived.
I become so engrossed in my own lenses
that I fail to account
for the lenses of everyone else.

The result?
I constantly walk in a garden filled too often
with dreams and memories,
where the memories whirl like petals
blowing in the wind,
never remembering my petal snowstorm
is not the extent of the world.

And so, forgive me:
Sometimes petals of blowing memories
obscure the bright sun,
leaving me to look through lenses
that have become so clouded
they do not reveal things
as they really are.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer Garden Woes


Blazing sun lays waste:
Only okra and peppers
lift praising green leaves.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Productivity Without Joy

Yesterday was not a good day.

I have been making a sincere effort to work hard and be more productive.  As one aspect of this, I have been making a list every day before I go home of things to do for the following day.  Every day, at least 10 items on the list.  When I get to work I start on the list; by the end of work, I must either have completed every item on list, made progress on those I cannot complete, or indicate who needs to take the next step.

Arguably my productivity has gone up.  I am becoming more effective at making sure that things get done - not only the things that need to be done now, but the things that are upcoming such that I am not rushing to get a thing done right before I am required to product it.  It is starting to be so effective, in fact, that I am already starting to get to the second tier of items that need my attention.  Compounded over months and years, one can begin to see the power of using a tool such as this to make things happen.

And yet, I went home completely crushed.

Why?  Because accomplishment of tasks is not the same as having meaning.  One can perform all of the tasks that need doing and still be no closer to happiness or purpose than the one who never does one task at all.  Doing work which drops off into the abyss leaves one not with a feeling of accomplishment but rather a feeling of emptiness, that one has done something of negligible value to the actual things in life that matter to one.  One may perhaps earn money for the tasks of the day, but such money scarcely pays for the sense of meaningless that accompanies one as the door clicks shut.

This bothers me.  I cannot turn aside from the need to accomplish things, nor can I turn aside from the need to work - right now, at the position I have.  Both of these are critical to my survival.  At the same time, i do not perceive that I can continue to indefinitely maintain this level of deep commitment to a thing which leaves me feeling so utterly empty inside every day when I leave, even though I have been very productive.during the day.

Or perhaps I am just fooling myself.  It is not that I cannot do it indefinitely - anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it.  It is that I cannot do it indefinitely and pretend that it is anything other than what it seems to be - not a joy, but an interminable chore which, joyful or not, must be done.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

To What End?

To What End?

This is the question
that looms in the back of my head
as I try harder and harder
to do more and more;
to be more efficient,
more effective.

To What End?

I try to fill
every moment of my day
with something of value,
something that matters,
yet the days always end
in exhaustion and silence.

To What End?

Why can I not see
beyond my efforts?
How do I spy
the goal I cannot see?
Where is the powerful "THIS!"
that gives meaning to the "WHAT"?