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Showing posts from April, 2016

When the Bell Rings, Get Up

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Some time ago I read a really great book called "Thank You and Okay: Diary of an American Zen Failure in Japan" by David Chadwick. It's mostly about him spending time in Japanese monasteries and the culture shock that ensued. Chadwick's writing is simultaneously humble and hilarious, with lots of food for thought.

In the first chapter he describes the difficulty of waking up to the alarm clock at 3:45 for morning zen service. Groggy and warm, the idea of staying in bed was inviting. But he remembered his teacher Shunryu Suzuki's advice:

"When the bell rings, get up."

Short-circuit the grumbling mind, and do.

There's lots of things I know I should do, but I just don't want to get started. Meditation, exercise, practice. (Why do so many of these involve getting up early???)  How to get started? Just start!

Very good advice.

Even so, sometimes I just collapse back into bed.

Kissing with Your Eyes Closed - And Learning By Ear

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I grew up learning music by reading it from sheet music. When I attended my first Irish music session, there wasn't a bit of sheet music in sight. I was lost. I couldn't even play the tunes I already knew without the music in front of me.

I've gotten a lot better at it and now I prefer to learn and play music by ear. I've found that when I'm not reading, I can listen better - both to myself and others. When I listen better, I play better.

There's plenty of scientific backing for what pickpockets and magicians have known for ages: focusing on what we see dulls our ability to hear & feel. A recent study at the University of London found that complex visual tasks reduce people's ability to notice a touch. They didn't actually study people kissing. But lots of bloggers drew the obvious conclusion. In another study, the more the subjects focused their attention on a complex visual puzzle, the more they became inattentive to sounds.

If you're a music…

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter: Artists can Save the World

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"You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem."        - Eldridge Cleaver We all tend to blame others - society, politicians, boss, girlfriend -  for what's wrong in our lives. Sayings like the one above redirect the responsibility back to ourselves. Frankly, though, sayings like this mostly just make me feel guilty. Apart from writing an obscure blog and some charitable donations, I never think of myself as part of any "solution." Teaching aikido and playing music are hardly going to save the world, right?

That's why I was heartened to read this letter from Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. In an open letter, "To the Next Generation of Artists," they offer their thoughts on how we all can work to increase peace and understanding in the world, despite so many trends that are painful and discouraging.

Here are a few beautiful phrases from the letter, but it's really, really worth reading all the way …

Why We Volunteer

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Another Kokikai Aikido Winter Camp is over, and afterward I had the inevitable day of rest and a little sadness.


It's quite complex to put together an event like this, and a lot of people worked in beautiful harmony behind the scenes so that Sensei could focus on teaching over 280 participants. As I think about all that effort, there are a few things that come to mind that make it so worth it:


Sensei.
Sensei is amazing. He shows us the incredible potential power that human beings have. And then he teaches us how to do it! The Kokikai Community. Kokikai is a bunch of really amazing people, and as a volunteer, anything we can do to bring them all together in one place, and then practice together, is worthwhile, not just for the volunteers, but for everyone in Kokikai. It Feels Good.
Teachers I know - of various disciplines - have commented that their students are less and less willing to "help out" when asked. I'm sure there are a lot of reasons - life is so complex. But…

In which I Fail at Aikido in Daily Life, or: Bested by a Blue Belt

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Trying A New Technique Can Be Bumpy At First 
This year, for our annual Kokikai Aikido Winter Camp, we decided to try selling t-shirts using an online seller. It seemed like the modern thing to do. Instead of guessing what people would want and ending up with leftover shirts, people could go online in advance and pre-order the exact size, style, color they wanted. They'd all get shipped to my house and we'd hand them out at camp. I'd order a few extra for those who like to make spur-of-the-moment purchases but there would be a lot less waste.

My son, Martin, works for an online business printer. He said he knew a cool little startup he had worked with before that had a great website. He set up the campaign and we were all excited...UNTIL...

The promised delivery date came and...no shirts. Not even a tracking number. Luckily I still had over a week's leeway: "Hope for the best, plan for the worst" is my motto.

This very online company had no customer support p…