Monday, September 6, 2010

Moving over to wordpress

I'm moving over to wordpress. I'm going to keep my content here but it's not going to get updated. If you are still interested in what I have to say, please find me at:

Monday, July 26, 2010

What I want out of life

what i want out of life is to live......think, discuss, explore, make something with my hands, learn something new, see something beautiful.....everyday
- Anonymous

This could just be my favorite quote. This will be my charge to my son and my son's children.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Finishing the Couch to 5K program

"If you can breathe in and breathe out, then you know for that moment you are ok."
- Thich Naht Hanh

I finished the Couch to 5K running program today. Contrary to it's claims I am not running 5K. I am running about 2.2 miles now continuously for 30 minutes. I have NO qualms whatsoever with the fact that I am not running 5 kilometers at the end of this program. I've not run consistently for more years than I could count on my fingers and toes. I am grateful to the people that came up with the program and the developers that brought the app to my iPhone. Seriously, this is the best 3.99 I've spent. Certainly the best decision I've made to stick with the program and be faithful to the incremental increases in running duration.

If you are interested in finding out more about the program you can browse to the following links:

I love metaphors and can find them in most everything that I do. What i found about running is that it is rich with them. I usually run with music from my iPhone. Today I ran silently. I was tired, and around the last 10 minutes of my run, I started getting overwhelmed. I didn't want to finish because of all the distance I had to cover in the last few minutes. I wanted to walk back home and go to sleep. However, I decided not to worry about the distance, I just had to worry about taking the next few steps. I'd set my site on just a few yards ahead, an acheivable goal, and make it that far. When I got close, my eyes would shift to another few yards. I did this again and again until my run was over. Small achievable goals. Bite size goals... i can do that. I don't have to look at the big picture.

I have started to do some transformation physically, losing weight, feeling myself get firmer. Through consistency over the last 9 weeks, I went from not being able to run 2 or 3 minutes, to being able to run 30. It's not a marathon, I know this. But if anything, it's a model. It proves to me that if I show earnest discipline, am willing to make changes, then I can in fact transform the physical. If I can do that to the physical, then I certainly have a model for my spiritual and emotional side as well.

This is some terribly obvious stuff, but for me, it's good to have these models around. Sometimes it's hard for me to see the forest from the trees. I get boggled down and mired in things that take my mind away from what is truly important. So again, I can look to my running, my Aikido training, my guitar playing and see that consistency, practice and discipline make a world of difference in producing good things in my life.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Things I (re)learned on my summer vacation...(with inspiration and apologies to Pastor Bey)

I am writing this from Leah's Desk. She is at work and I am here for my last day in Marion, IA. On my last day, I dried hers and my clothes at the laundry mat, went to The Country Kitchen for breakfast (try the country fried steak benedict, if you ever get here!) Given that she is at work, I am doing exactly what I want to do on my last day: inhabiting her house, feeling her spirit, closing my eyes and seeing her and her kids running around the place, remembering all those moments, fun, crazy, tender, and intimate moments.

I had the opportunity this past week to share in a truly joyous event: the wedding of one of Leah's closest friends, Amy Lewis. Her husband Scott and she got married on a hot Iowa Saturday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids. I had only met the both of them once before, at an Art show a little more than a month before their wedding and had not met their friends. Spending time with them through the rehearsal dinner, the wedding and their beautiful reception shows me how obvious their love for each other is. I was thrilled and honored to be Leah's guest through this beautiful event.

Some of the things I learned (or keep on learning more and more as I get up into my late 20s):

Be chivalrous in all that you do. When your beautiful partner asks you to get in line again at the buffet line for her because she wants to try the pork loin, do not hesitate. (especially because their may be a nice pork treat for you.)

Love unabashedly. Love wildly. Look into your partners eyes as if you looked into them for the first time...everytime.

Never pass up an opportunity to tell her that you love her.

Never get sick of hearing the words, "I love you."

Be open, talk through things, grow and grow and grow.

Know in your heart that love knows no bounds, love can overcome distance, age, and time.

Be kind to those around you. Sow the seeds of friendship wherever you go. Allow your differences to be known, accept them as such and rejoice in them. I have had the opportunity to sow the seeds of friendship with people in the Midwest now that will hopefully span many beautiful and fulfilling years.

Be a man... a real man, and know that strength does not come through comparison of others, but through the act of polishing your spirit, everyday, every moment.

Be a man... a real man, and let the tears flow when they come to you. Do not hold them back. Know that it is okay for your loved one to comfort you in your times of trial and in your times of need. Know that it's okay if she's not around to still cry and know that if she were there, she would come to you, kiss away your tears and give you strength when you need it.

In a few short hours I will leave
will leave the brick lined neighborhoods of Marion. I will leave the rolling hills and greenery of Iowa and go back to California where my wonderful son Steven, my home, and my Job is. Once I am off the plane, I will drive through the middle Peninsula part of the San Francisco Bay Area. I will drive through San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and drive through Marin County. Then I will be back home in the heat of Sonoma County, it's traffic, vineyards and redwood trees.

I will be back here in a month. Until then I will think of her and consider her in all that I do. I will love her from afar until afar becomes no more. I will love her unabashedly, love her wildly, and never miss the opportunity to say those oh so sacred words to her, "Leah, I love you." I know that she will never tire of hearing it.

The day before I left, we sat on the couch, Pink's "A Glitter in the Air" came on. I have thought that it was a pretty song but never spent time listening to the lyrics as I did then. The last verse will sit with me through my trip back home:

Have you ever wished for an endless night?
Lassoed the moon and the stars and pulled that rope tight
Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself
Will it ever get better than tonight? Tonight

Monday, June 7, 2010

Life doesn't Happen in Hanmi

The shomen at Centerfield Aikido

On Sunday, June 6th I had the amazing pleasure of training at Centerfield Aikido in Occidental California with Mary McLean Sensei. The dojo is a tent structure surrounded by the wooded hillside and at certain times of the day, the trees silhouette the ceiling and sides of the walls. Birds flying overhead provide moving silhouettes as they come over the ceiling. There is a magnificent shomen built by one of her students and lends graciousness and beauty to an already magical environment.

We trained and worked on yokomenuchi koto gaishi. First we we worked on the strike, then the throw, practicing getting off the line first and connecting with our partner and finally executing the technique. There were quite a few things I really enjoyed about her aspect of training:

As uke (the attacker), she suggested that while it's ok to give your partner something to work with, try to stay balanced so that I can receive anything my partner can choose to do and be ok with it. This means that although I'm giving forward intention, if my partner chooses to do another technique that brings me in a different direction, then I can go there equally as prepared as if he were to do the called upon technique.

She likened this to a conversation. Both as uke and as nage, if we get too enmeshed with the wrist or the throw itself, it's like opening up a conversation with someone with the only interest of proving your point. When we get too entangled, we don't listen to our partners and we cannot have a clear conversation. We don't hear the arguments because we are too embroiled in our own direction to go any other way.

All of this was great. However, I really enjoyed a quote she mentioned from one of her teachers, Terry Dobson, who said "Life doesn't happen in Hanmi." Hanmi is a stance used in Aikido and other martial arts. In the most literal translation, if we are about to be mugged or physically harassed in a street situation, we cannot ask our attacker to wait so that we can find our center and get into a defensive stance. By that time we are wounded, robbed or worse.

More often than not, we do not have that opportune moment to prepary ourselves to hear a hard conversation, to get accused, unjustly reprimanded, or be told something unexpected. Hopefully our training helps us be ready for life to come at us in any direction and allows us to find that balance so that we can go with it and act, rather than react, crumple or simply fall.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Uke, Nage, and the "what if" factor

In Aikido, our practice is primarily done with a partner. In a typical Aikido class, the teacher will demonstrate a technique, call out the attack and the students will pair up. "Uke" plays the role of the attacker. "Nage" plays the role of the person responding to the attack. Usually, uke will attack times and then the partners will switch roles.

A typical question that comes up when we practice this way is "What if?" As in, "What if instead of coming in with a straight punch, I fake with the left and come in with the right." or "What if the person is stronger/shorter/taller/better/more fragile than you?" When we practice, uke's job is to give a good solid attack. That means that if we are instructed to throw a mune tsuki (a straight punch to the solar plexus area), then we follow through. We don't stop half way and change the attack as nage starts the technique. This allows nage to receive the attack fully and then perform the technique prescribed by the teacher as a response to this attack.

Aikido has been criticized by some for this approach. Some say that this does not present a realistic situation. I reserve my comments on the realism or lack thereof and would like to discuss another aspect that I feel is important aspect of practicing on the mat, but an even more important aspect of living our lives. That's trust.

In Aikido, we have to trust that our partners are going to do what we expect them to. If we do not trust that they will follow through on their attack, then we will not build up the confidence to respond in kind. There are many carry overs in life off the mat (aka the real world) where this is true. We have to trust that we can depend on our partners to be honest and trust worthy. We have to trust that our partners can and will come to us in our time of need, and ask us for help when they need help. We need to trust that our partners love us and support us as we love them. When we do this, it gives us the confidence to open our hearts and live our lives to the fullest.

It is human nature to ask "what if". In the myriad of experiences we have in our lives, there are an endless combinations of this question. As we see that our partners do what we trust them to do though, we allow ourselves to still the voice in our heads that ask, "what if?" and as we trust and show our partners worthy of trust, love happens, miraculously, beautifully and unending.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dire Straights - How Aikido Saved Jean Maggrett's Life

Although Jean Maggrett does not practice Aikido anymore, she frequently sits on our testing boards. At 81, Jean has practiced Aikido for 30 years. She is a student of Bob Nadeau, and a contemporary of my Sensei, Bob Noha. I have had the wonderful benefit of her perspective and guidance on both my second and first kyu tests. She is enthusiastic and encouraging to all who practice our art and is an advocate for the benefits that Aikido can bring you off the mat.

The story presented in this post is Jean's, published with permission from her on my blog. I am honored to be able to share this touching and poignant story.

Dire Straights - Jean Maggrett

From the time we were born, my brother Bill and I spent our summer holidays at a cottage built by our grandparents in Northern Michigan, near the top of the mitt where the great lakes of Huron and Michigan connect. Day-long beach picnics by Lake Michigan were a family ritual for four generations. We'd swim in the fresh, cold water, then gather around a bon-fire of driftwood to cook weiners and marshmallows while we watched the "million dollar" sunset over the water.

One summer when my brother was fifty-two, he suggested that we hike out the Waugoshance Peninsula which extends out into Lake Michigan, separating the straits of Mackinac from Cecil Bay. Appropriately, the area is called Wilderness State Park. There are few roads , no buildings or modern improvements, only a small parking lot at the end of a long gravel road.

With us on our expedition that day were Bill's eighteen year-old son Carl and Link, an old fraternity friend from college. My brother told us that he had flown over the straits and state park in a small plane and then dreamed of walking out to the point someday.

It was a beautiful summer Sunday in early August. Skies were blue, the water calm and clear, gently lapping the shore. On the bottom, brightly colored boulders seemed within easy reach but were deeper than they appeared.

We started hiking along the shore. It was a familiar environment though we'd never been at that particular beach. Sand pipers darted and tottered ahead of us at the edge of the water. A few sea gulls sailed above. The dry sand made a vibration noise as we trudged toward Waugoshance point. To the North, we gazed at the straits, to the South, Cecil Bay. The beach above North, we gazed at the straits, to the south, Cecil Bay. The beach above high water supported grasses and shrubs.

Eventually we discovered the peninsula was cut by a small, shallow inlet. It was fun to wade across. Soon after, we came to another similar inlet, wider and deeper then the first, but still easy to cross. At the next one, which was much wider than the first two, we gazed in dismay at the distance. We agreed to stop for a break, a snack and some discussion.

While sharing cheese, crackers, peanut butter and apples, Bill talked about how the land looked from the air. He assured us he remembered where there was a sand bar that he was certain we could find. He removed his long pants and I remarked about how his brightly patterned swim trunks that seemed to reveal a secret side to his ordinarily conventional engineer's exterior.

As we headed out into the water, the youngest of us plunged ahead, electing to swim the entire distance. The cold water quickly became deeper and I began to feel reluctant. When it reached my chest, I felt movement around my feet, then calves, rising to my hips.

At once, I yelled to the others that i was turning back. As I was bringing my legs up to the surface, I shot a quick glance around toward the shore and at Bill. He was shouting and fighting the water. His words were garbled but I made out the last one.


I felt panic close off my breath. Then suddenly, my Sensei (Aikido teacher) Bob Nadeau's teaching came to me as a transforming tide of ease: "Be okay with yourself, breath and flow." The panic was gone and I heard my inner voice say, " can be all right here for as long as is necessary," and I stretched out flat as a lily pad above the hungry undercurrent.

From that position, I wasn't able to look around or kick my feet. Only my hands moved me back toward the shore. I just gazed at the blue above, breathing and acknowledging for myself that I was okay.

After a while, I wanted to test the depth: If I had headed in the right direction, I should be near shore by now, I thought. Venturing to touch bottom, I dropped a leg down. Immediately, I felt the undertow sucking me down and the adrenaline rising in my throat. I retracted my leg and vowed to make no more tests but remain a lily pad until I brushed the shore. Moments later, I did touch land and stood up, looking out over the water. I could see Link twenty-five yards out and Carl a bit further.

Raising my arms above my head, I felt like a lighthouse signalling sailors in distress. I knew my brother drowned. Then I thought, no, he was swimming under water, and would surface any minute now. Then I realized the real truth was that Bill never came along with us on this hike.

Then in my mind's eye, I got a vivid picture of Bill emerging from the kitchen door of the cottage saying, "Hi! How was your hike?" Next came the thought that I had somehow got in the wrong location because the words were: I'm from California. I don't belong here and I must be leaving right away!"

Soon the other two survivors came out of the water. Carl's words cut my fantasies when he asked, "Where's Willie?" I said, "I'm afraid we've lost him."

Link described how he was near Bill when he hollered for help. He said he couldn't do more than advise him to take it easy and float on top of the water. Bill's panic paralyzed him, he sank and he was swept out with the current.

Link went back to the car to go for help. Carl and I stood on the beach and cried. Some other people appeared, walking nearby, unaware of the drowning.

Wouldn't they die if they knew what just happened?" Carl said. We walked in shock back to the parking lot. A medical emergency vehicle arrived and the driver gave us hope by saying frog men were about to fly in on a helicopter. When he was brought back up it might be possible to revive him due to the preservative quality of the cold water.

Four hours later my brother's body was found and flown to St. Ignace Hospital. We rushed there by car. A Doctor greeted us with the news that Bill could not be revived. His body had been moved to a funeral parlor across the road. We were to go identify the body.

There in a small room off the main office lay my brother looking very purple. His eyes seemed to have X's in them, like the dead birds in cartoons. He certainly was gone.

We drove home in silent dread. Upon our arrival back at the cottage, we would be calling Bill's wife Diane and our mother. I asked my aunt to make the call. The more people I told, the heavier I felt, until I finally just sank into sleep.