Showing posts from March, 2012

Practice Till It's Perfect?

Often when beginning students practice an aikido technique they are frustrated at their inability to do the techniques correctly. (Actually, although they may be working on a different level of refinement, advanced students often feel the same way!) I have had students ask me whether we couldn't just focus on a few techniques until they get them "right," and then progress on to the next set, etc. I have never taught that way, mostly because my instructor doesn't teach that way, and Sensei doesn't teach that way. After a number of years, I realized that I did have a grasp of a great number of techniques, although I never remember devoting particular attention to any one.

It was my piano teacher, David Leonhardt, who articulated why this worked in a lesson this morning. I asked, "Are you sure I should be moving on to the next exercise? I'm still pretty sloppy on this one in a lot of ways."

He said, "Your goal in playing music isn't to play p…


Some Kokikai dojo display photos of previous Kokikai Winter and Summer Camps. Each shows 200 or so people lined up in some configuration around Sensei. When we see them, each of us does the same thing: "Here's me!" Those 30 or 40 pixels that form the shape of my head are so important to me!

Meanwhile, Sensei's focus is on arranging all those forms to make a beautiful image: straight lines, clean edges, hands folded. Sometimes, to put my ego in the back seat for a while, I imagine myself as a blotch of paint in Sensei's pointillist canvas.

Then Gil Fronsdal says "Each of you has within you a tremendous beauty. and if you only knew how beautiful you are, you would fall on your knees and bow to yourself."

Am I important? Or are I insignificant? Am I one pixel on the great canvas? Or am I worthy of worship? I puzzle on this as I drive to work.

Then I see a heron winging across the highway, its wings flapping in lazy beats, and I am transported to the Now.

Is the Truth Important?

Last weekend the radio show This American Life issued a retraction of a program they broadcast in January. "Mr. Daisy and the Apple Factory" was an excerpt of a one-man show. Mike Daisy, a self-described "worshipper in the cult of Mac" went to find out first-hand about the working conditions of Chinese factory workers. I was not the only one who found the story powerful. Daisy is a great storyteller. The show was the most downloaded in This American Life's history.

Then it was discovered that many of the elements of Mike Daisy's story are "a mix of things that he just heard about or researched." As in: they didn't happen to him. As in: saying that they did is not the truth.

In his interview with This American Life host, Ira Glass, Daisy defends his work, although he admits it's inappropriate for a journalistic radio program: "I stand by it as a theatrical work. I stand by how it makes people see and care about the situation that’s ha…


Banks of forsythia
along the highway
Yellow and bright they bloom,
Beyond each bridge and curve,
Unfurling and unfolding, arising and passing.

Isn't life like this?

The Artist's Voice

At a recent panel discussion between artists and scientists at Lafayette College, a 25-year old artist asked this question:
"I'm just finding my voice as an artist and I'm having trouble identifying what is my true voice."
Answer from a computer scientist on the panel:
"The older I get, the less sure I am what my 'true voice' is, but the more comfortable I become with the uncertainty."


"The world is my world, and everything in the world is about me."

It's easy to be annoyed by someone who's totally self-centered (drivers, people in the grocery store, people at parties), but in reality all of us are like this. Joko Beck talked about our typical state as being at the center of our own drama. "The world is a stage and I am the main actor." You go out to dinner with someone and all they do is talk about themselves. And why are you upset? Because you didn't get to talk about yourself!

Imagine a world in which everyone is on stage, disclaiming about themselves, and nobody's in the audience. Now imagine a world in which everyone is listening to each other, and there's no stage at all. Which world would you rather live in? So how can we create that world? Obviously, we can most effectively start with ourselves.

What might be the rewards? The goal of creating a better world may seem a little far off and not very gratifying. But, if yo…


I just returned from a week's vacation in England and Wales. Vacationing, seeing new things, visiting the homes of family, these things can bring up strong feelings of desire. I want that painting, that rug, that embroidered jacket that someone wore on the train. I want to look out at that view every morning. I want to live in a converted malt house on a canal overlooking Bath Cathedral. Or in a bungalow on the Thames, full of Asian and African art. Or in London's Chelsea, walking distance from central London.

If I'm not careful, these thoughts can make a vacation distressing, rather than relaxing. Over time I've learned to recognize these thoughts before they hijack my mood. When I can identify "I want that," I try to substitute it with "Isn't that beautiful! I am enjoying it right now."

It helps a lot.

Press Pause

Today my back was bothering me at work. I couldn't get comfortable, not with my legs crossed, uncrossed, not by adjusting my clothes or moving my chair.

"Yoga," I thought, "I definitely need to do some stretching." But I had work to do, so I spent the next hour working, eating some chocolate, drinking tea, in a semi-conscious attempt to make myself feel better.

Finally I closed the door to my office and lay on my back in preparation for some twists. As I came into my breathing, I happened to notice how good it felt just to lie there and do nothing. What I really wanted was to "stop doing."

I spent the next 10 minutes lying in savasana, gently but consistently reminding my wandering mind to come back to the present, gently but consistently reminding my body to relax. When I got up, my back felt much better. And so did my attitude!

ID, Please.

I was raped.
I have osteopoenia.
I didn't go to college.
I love puppies.
My back always hurts.
I'm an athlete.
I hate math.
I have beautiful breasts.
I walk funny.
I always wanted to learn a musical instrument.
I am creative.
I'm the friendly one.
Nobody ever notices me.
I'm the greatest martial artist.
I hate parties.
I love teaching.
I am suspicious.
My mother loves me best.
I'm a slow learner.
I'm strong.
I'm clumsy.
I'm getting old.
I'm a liberal.
I'm a Marine.
I'm a mother.
I'm American.
I'm gay.
I'm female.

These are thoughts. No matter how often we think them, they are not who we are. No matter how deeply held, our beliefs are not our essence.

You are so much more than your thoughts and beliefs.

Can you grow beyond them?

You Have All the Ingredients...

To Build a Swing

You carry
all the ingredients
to turn your life into a nightmare-

Don’t mix them!

You have all the genius
to build a swing in your backyard
for the Divine.

That sounds
like a hell of a lot more fun.

Let’s start laughing, drawing blueprints,
gathering our talented friends.

I will help you
with my divine lyre and drum.

will sing a thousand words
you can take into your hands,
like golden saws,
silver hammers,
polished teakwood,
strong silk rope.

You carry all the ingredients
to turn our existence into joy.

Mix them, Mix them!

Kokikai Aikido Winter Camp 2012

This past weekend's Kokikai Aikido Winter Camp with Shuji Maruyama Sensei was an incredible experience. I've been practicing Kokikai Aikido since 1994, and even then Sensei's senior students said that he had been incredible since they had begun practicing! And now it's even more true. How can such a small man throw such big, strong people, people who he has trained to become even stronger? He actually trains them in specific ways to resist him! And then he throws them anyway.

Sensei's dedication to keep challenging himself is inspiring to me. It's so easy to rest on our laurels. As an instructor, most of the time when I am practicing aikido it's with students whose bodies and style of movement I know, who I have confidence that I can throw. Plus, they're all my students and they're used to looking to me as the expert. Yet I have students who can challenge me if I ask them to. I have students who have street fighting skills, who have big, strong bod…

Words: Who Needs 'Em, Anyway?

A fascinating episode of Radiolab is called Words. The question examined is: what do words do for us, and can we live without them?

Most mindfulness and meditation practice focuses on the benefits of stilling the constant chatter of the mind, and yet anyone who has tried knows that this doesn't come easily! My brain gushes words at all times.  Even as I go to sleep, nonsensical phrases blurt into my brain. What would life be without this constant flow of comparisons, associations, self-criticism, self-adulation, fears and anticipation? I'm sure that without words I would be more invested in the present moment, more able to relax and interact with people around me.

I was therefore fascinated by two stories in the show that are about people who had the experience of being without language. The first is a deaf man who had never learned sign language, or any kind of language for that matter, until the age of 27. Until he was an adult he had never known that a symbol (i.e. a word) …