What is a Langkah?

Langkah (Indonesian) - noun: literally step, move, pace, action, measure, stride, leap, foot, footstep, gesture, tread, footpace

In Indonesian martial arts, Pencak Silat, it commonly refers to geometric patterns on the floor used to train footwork and develop an understanding of the role of the lower body in maintaining balance and a base from which to generate power.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

"Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change." - Wayne Dyer

My friend Otis posted a video on YouTube & Facebook recently. It talks about some tools to help climb out of slumps in life. It's excellent, and I recommend watching it.

Further, it inspired me to discuss my own perspective on the subject. It's similar to Otis's, which isn't particularly surprising given how well we clicked when we met. I have found, in my martial arts training and in life, that different perspectives on the same topic are a useful learning tool. I have literally been unable to grasp something presented by one instructor only to have it click right into place when explained by another. In a few cases, they even used the same words.

Sometimes the difference was in the timing. I wasn't ready for it the first time; I hadn't finished building all the foundational understanding required to grok the information. Usually, though, the primary difference was one of presentation. Not that the first instructor's presentation was poor, it usually wasn't. It just didn't resonate with the way I process data.

So, here is my expansion, from my perspective, of what Otis said in his video.

My research into NLP led me to the understanding that Otis discussed. We literally define our own reality. More specifically, each of us draws a map of reality based on our experiences. This internal map is actually what we deal with nearly all the time. When we encounter something new, we check our map for similar situations from our previous experience. Usually, at that point, we react to the new situation the way we did to the prior situation. If we're a little more on-the-ball, then we base our response on what we learned from the previous situation. In either case, though, we're actually dealing with the situation from the past. We're not really addressing the current state of affairs.

To address the reality in front of us requires us to completely set our internal map aside and assess the current situation as if we've never encountered anything like it before. This way we actually see the it as it is, without any preconceived notions. Once we have completely assessed, then we can reference our map and apply lessons learned from similar experiences and modify them to suit the specifics of the present circumstances.

This process is difficult, though. Incredibly difficult. Sometimes we encounter completely new situations which force us to do this. If you've ever experienced this then you know how uncomfortable it is to have to set the map aside. It ain't easy, but it is a much healthier way to deal with the world in general.

This is part of what various sages have meant when they admonished us to, for instance, see the world through a child's eyes. Children are constantly encountering new situations, but they are also able to flow with them much easier because they have no preconceived notions.

The map is largely defined by words and language. We literally describe the world to ourselves to build a large part of the map. Some of it, of course, is also based on touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell. But a huge amount of the map is comprised of words. If we can change the words we use internally to describe things to ourselves, then we literally change our internal map. This, in turn, influences how we deal with the external world and our actions, in turn, influence how the world deals with us. Changing our internal dialog affects our reality and influences the environment and people around us.

This is what Otis, in his video, talks about when he says, "It's a way for us to take control of our life and our experiences and to say, look, so much of me wants to say this is a bad thing that I'm feeling right now, that I'm experiencing right now ... but I'm not going to. I'm going to say 'This means something good is happening.'" The process he's describing is a way to consciously affect our internal map. To change our perception of what is happening from a negative to a positive.

One of the many stories I love from my research into Buddhist philosophy--though I've heard it from other sources too--is about a farmer who had one old horse and a son to help run the farm. One day the horse ran away. The neighbors said, "How terrible! Now there's no way you'll get your fields plowed in time for planting." The farmer shrugged and said, "We shall see."

A couple of days later the horse returned, leading a pack of wild horses. The neighbors said, "How wonderful! Now you have young, strong horses, and they will breed. You will get your fields plowed and be able to sell some of the horses." The farmer shrugged and said, "We shall see."

The farmer's son had an accident and broke his leg. The neighbors said, "How terrible! You rely on your son for so much around the farm. How will you keep up?" The farmer shrugged, "We shall see."

Soon after, representatives from the military showed up in the village. They conscripted all the able-bodied young men to go to war. The farmer's son was overlooked because of his broken leg. The neighbors said, "You are very lucky. Your son will heal while all of our sons are gone and may die in the war." The farmer shrugged. "We shall see."

This also relates to the old adage, "This, too, shall pass." Everything in the world is impermanent. Everything changes. We suffer because we cling to what was or what we wish could be. It is far healthier to live in the moment and thrive on what is. Even if the present is filled with pain because, like Otis said in his video, "This means something good is happening." It's a re-labeling of the situation.

Even if the situation sucks, it will change. And, how it changes is significantly influenced by, as Otis says, our intention. Our intention influences our actions, and our actions influence our environment and those around us. If we set our intention toward something positive, then we start making it happen.

Some people may argue, "But that's not being present. Being present means being in pain in painful moments." It does. We should deal with the moment, painful or not, experience it fully, then let it go. But, in this moment, we can also consciously set our intention.

We set our intention, literally, in each moment. The trick is whether or not we set the intention consciously. By bringing conscious intention into any situation, we can set amazing changes in motion. It may take a while for them to be recognizable, but they start happening--sometimes in very tiny ways--immediately.

Situations and emotions are neither positive nor negative. They simply are. They exist, but they are neutral. "Positive" and "negative" are labels we apply to them. It doesn't always seem like it, but we literally choose which label to apply to things. Often the labeling is unconscious, but we still choose. The big lesson here, though, is that we can always choose to relabel.

A couple of years ago, I bought a Kindle. It was brand new. I'd had it about a week when I visited my brother, Rick. I went out to breakfast one morning at Waffle House. After I left, I realized I had forgotten my Kindle on the table. I went back, but it was gone and hadn't been turned in. I left. Rick called shortly after. "Hey, can you show your Kindle to June? She's thinking about buying one."

I said, "Nope. I can't."

"Why not?"

"I gave it away?"

"You gave it away? To who? I would have taken it? Why did you give it away?"

"I gave it away to whoever picked it up after I left it at Waffle House."

"Ah. So it was stolen?"

"Nope. I gave it away."

"You're a weirdo."

I could have been upset, but it wouldn't have helped the situation. It merely would have meant I had lost my Kindle and I was upset. By reframing the situation, though, I turned it from negligence and forgetfulness into an act of generosity. It doesn't change what happened objectively, but it does change how I feel about it subjectively.

Some people may say, "Sure. It's pretty easy to relabel that way when you're talking about losing a material possession but I'm talking about real pain here. I'm talking about grief and depression. Those aren't so easy to shrug off."

You're right. I never said it was easy. The thing is, most people don't even bother to do this with something as simple as losing a Kindle. A lot of people would have been livid. They may have ranted and raved at themselves or others for a long time. They may have taken it out on other people or acted in self-destructive ways because of it.

When my brother died, he was 42-years- old, had two amazing kids, an awesome wife, and was a Combat Medic in the Army National Guard. He had fought hard and long to set up that life, and he loved it. He had big plans for the next phase and was setting things up to follow through. Then, bam! He was dead.

Thinking about everything he had left undone was incredibly painful. Standing with his wife and children while they watched their world literally crumble around their ears was horrible, not quite as devastating for me as it was for them, but horrible. When people asked how I was, though, I said, "I'm awesome!" I was in a hell of a lot of pain. Soul-wrenching pain so deep and terrible it's impossible to describe. But, still, I was awesome, and I knew it. Circumstances may suck but they don't define me.

The present moment may be full of pain and suffering but knowing it will pass is a powerful tool. Knowing things will change gives me a foundation to find leverage internally to set my sights, my intention, toward changes I will label as positive.

The Wandering Guru

"The basic root of happiness lies in our minds; outer circumstances are nothing more than adverse or favourable." - Matthieu Ricard


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Love is Divine

Recently, I heard an upsetting story. It upset me in the way I get upset when I hear about a child or animal being abused.

A good friend of mine, a woman I have come to know, respect, and love as family told me her mom had disowned her when she found out my friend was dating another woman. Her mom told her, "You should just strap a bomb to your chest. You're what's wrong with America and you're no better than a terrorist."

This sickens me to the core. It upsets me deeply in a way I can't even describe.

I do believe the mom has the right to believe whatever she wants. I think she's wrong, but she can be small-minded and bigoted all she wants in her own head. That's between her and the God to whom she claims such [fanatical] devotion.  But, personally, I consider her evil if she's willing to disown her own daughter, especially to say something so hurtful, so hateful.

And my friend is awesome. She's intelligent, kind, generous, compassionate, gentle, and caring. When she loves someone, she loves deeply and without reservation. She's powerful, independent, and sincere and strong in her own beliefs. She's an amazing mother to a couple of incredible kids. After hearing her story - and about some of the hell she went through being raised by her own mother - I realized she was even more awesome than I had previously thought and that's saying something. I am honored to call her a friend, to call her family.

I'm not a parent, per se. I do have a step-son but he was 14 when I met my wife so my actual parenting experience has been pretty limited but I have many nieces and nephews - related both by blood and by choice - and I have two godchildren who I love dearly. In my estimation, it is the job, the *duty* of a parent to love their children unconditionally and to be supportive of them even if you disagree with their choices. You can express your disagreement but to disown them is extreme. There are cases where I can see it as valid but those scenarios would be incredibly rare. Even in such a case, though, there is absolutely no call to say something so hateful as what my friend's mother said to her.

Hearing a story like this makes me appreciate my own parents incredibly deeply. Even when they disagreed with my choices they stood by me. They warned me about the pitfalls of my decision but they were never hurtful. When I dropped out of college and took a job my mom considered beneath me, she was still supportive. When I quit my job and moved to Ohio to be with Margaret, a woman 15 years older than me, and to train with Guru Ken, my mom thought it was a horrible idea and she told me so. Once. If anything had gone wrong, she would have said, "I told you so." But she still would have been there to help me get back on my feet. Dad never even gave me an "I told you so." He'd just shake his head and ask what I planned to do next. If something went wrong, he'd ask if he could help.

My parents had a lot of problems and our family was far from perfect but my parents did the best they could. Hearing stories like this about how horrible some parents can be really makes me appreciate how awesome my parents were.

If you're a parent and your child finds love and happiness you should be happy for them even if you disagree with their specific choice. You should be happy and supportive. In my estimation, my friend's mother is what's actually wrong with our country. There are far too many small-minded and bigoted people. And far too many of them, like my friend's mother, hide behind their religion to justify their actions. It's BS. Plain and simple.

I heard a guy say once, "You know, when I was a kid in Sunday School I recognized a lot of conflicts in the stories in the bible. I asked my mom about it and she said, 'The bible was written by quite a few people. People never agree on everything. The most important lesson, though, is this. God *is* love. Period.'"

I think that's very accurate. No matter how you picture "God" or what labels you use in your personal beliefs. I think most people would agree with that statement. God *is* love. Therefore, love *is* godly. Period. When you love someone - whether it's romantic or friendship or even the love you have for a pet - you're touching divinity. No matter how you define divinity. If you can't see that, if you point at someone in love and say they're wrong and say hurtful, hateful things then I have no time for you or your beliefs. Don't tell me you're following God's wishes. One thing *everyone* who believes in God agrees on is that God is beyond mortal comprehension. So when you tell me you know what God likes or dislikes then you're just projecting your own flawed perspective and prejudices on God.

Now, some people might say, "What about pedophilia? Or bestiality? Should we advocate those? They're 'love' too, right?" No. Children and animals don't get a say in it. They're either manipulated or forced. That's rape, not love.

The Wandering Guru

"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage." - Laozi


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Living the Dream

When I was about 21, I had been away from formal martial arts training for 7 years. I had kept my hand in by training with various friends who were still active and I had made progress during those 7 years. I was exposed to a pretty wide variety of martial arts disciplines and I think my exposure to those different methods was very beneficial to my overall development as a martial artist. It enabled me to see the differences and commonalities between the various arts I was exposed to. This helped me a lot when I got back into formal training. It was like leaving my little hometown and experiencing other cultures and environments then returning home with a completely new outlook and being able to see the beauty of my hometown through fresh eyes.

I was living in a trailer in Anderson, Indiana and working full-time as a data entry operator at USA Group (now Sallie Mae) in Fishers, Indiana. I decided I wanted to get back into formal training. I thought about the various martial arts I had been exposed to and, while each of them was interesting and had something I liked, none of them suited me any better than the Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate I had left 7 years previously. I started training again in Okinawan Goju Ryu with Shihan Larry Davenport, Sr. in Alexandria, Indiana.

There was a fellow student in the class whose name eludes me so I'll call him Darren. Darren had trained in Karate for a bit when he was a student at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana in the mid-to-late 70s, about 15 years before I met him. One day after class he told me a story about Bill "Superfoot" Wallace. Wallace was, and is, a very well known Karateka who was a full-contact Karate world champion and retired from the sport undefeated. Wallace lived near Muncie, Indiana and used to go work out with the Ball State Karate Club.

Darren was training there one of the times Wallace came in to work out and got to spar with Wallace. He landed a good kick to Wallace's midsection. Wallace said, "Good!" Then he kicked Darren in return, knocking him sprawling. I thought the story was pretty funny so the next time I visited my parents I told the story to my dad.

Dad smiled and said, "Yeah. Bill was like that."

I said, "'Bill' was like that? You say it like you know him."

"I do. Or, rather, I did. We were drinking buddies for a while back in the late 70s."

"You and Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace were drinking buddies?"

"Yeah. He was a great guy and a lot of fun to party with."

"I've been training in martial arts for 15 years! Why am I just now finding this out?"

"You never asked."

"Did you know Bruce Lee? Or Gene LeBell?"

"Nope. I did know Larry Pickel, though."

I had to think about the name. It rung a bell but took me a moment. "What? You mean Shihan Davenport's instructor?"

"Yup. We were drinking buddies too."

"Now you're just messing with me."

"Nope. We met when I first moved here, fresh out of the Air Force. We became friends and even went back to his house from time to time and sparred."

I sat, dumbfounded. Dad had an amused glint in his eyes but not the mischievous one he got when he was yanking your chain. He was serious. He had known these guys. He was just amused by my reaction.

About 10 years later, I met Bill Wallace at the Arnold Battle of Columbus event in Columbus, Ohio. I asked him if he remembered dad. He didn't recognize the name but he did say I looked familiar - I would have been about the age dad was when he knew Wallace and I'm very nearly a carbon copy of dad in appearance.

At the time, I was amazed my dad knew these guys. Bill Wallace is a name recognized by most everyone in the Karate world and by a lot of people outside of Karate. I had met Larry Pickel a couple of times when I was a teenager and he visited the Karate class at the PAL club where I was training. Pickel wasn't as much of a celebrity as Wallace but he was a celebrity from my perspective.

Now, I look at my life and experiences. I'm about the same age now as dad was when we had that conversation. I am on first name basis with several world class martial artists and have trained with quite a few others. I've even had firsthand experience with *being* a celebrity in 2004 when Guru Ken and I visited China to do demos at an expo which was part of the 55th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. We gave demos on a stage in a stadium with tens-of-thousands in the audience. I think the actual number I heard was twenty-three thousand. We had groupies. Seriously. We were in the papers and on TV every day. We had dinner with the Chinese Foreign Minister and met the Premier of China. I've been inducted into a highly respected martial arts hall of fame three times and have traveled the world teaching and training.

I never sought to be a celebrity at all. It never crossed my mind. I just enjoyed training and when opportunities presented themselves I took advantage of them. When you *live* life these things happen.

If you pursue your passions you'll inevitably meet others who are doing the same. And people pursuing their passions tend to make ripples and get noticed. Maybe not on a big scale but they get noticed and are usually celebrities in at least their particular niche.

People routinely tell me I live a fantasy life. And I do. I know it. It was certainly my fantasy when I was a kid training in martial arts. My friends and I used to talk about how cool it would be to travel around like Kwai Chang Caine, living the martial arts life. I've made that fantasy my life. It wasn't easy. It required a lot of hard work, sweat, blood, and some tears. Some people might say I've sacrificed certain things to get where I am but they're wrong. The true sacrifice would have been in not getting where I am now. Never having gone after what excited me, made me come alive; that would have been the true sacrifice.

The Wandering Guru

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

Sunday, February 23, 2014

My poor wenis

When I was about thirteen we went to visit one of dad's friends. I don't remember the names of the family members but they had two children who I'll call Robby and Jenny. Jenny was about my age and Robby was a year or so older.

Robby and Jenny were showing us around their property while the adults socialized in the house. They took us into their chicken coop and told us about the chores they had to do related to the chickens. The coop had a small wooden three-sided shed with a fenced off area attached to it. Robby said, "Watch this!" He ran out of the coop, locked the door behind him, and climbed on top of the wooden shed with a couple of ears of corn. He started pelting us with corn and laughing. The only cover from the barrage of corn was inside the little shed but it had no door on the side opening into the coop so Robby just leaned over the side and continued throwing corn.

This went on for a while then Jenny said, "Robby, this is not cool. You gotta let us out." Robby just laughed at her. Then she said, "Come on, Robby. At least let me out. I've gotta pee." After some coaxing, Robby relented.

The door latched with a simple wooden peg which rotated on a nail at the top of the door so Robby was able to lean over the side and unlock the door without giving up his perch on the shed. As soon as the door was unlocked, Jenny ran and smashed the door open, pulling it away from Robby's grip. Then the three of us ran out of the coop.

I was last through the door and just as I was passing through it, Robby landed on top of me. He claimed he had lost his balance but I suspect he jumped intentionally. I was slammed face first into the ground. It knocked the wind out of me and Robby laughed, got off of me, and ran away. I recovered my breath in a few seconds. I started to get up, planning to chase Robby down and get some payback. As I started to get up there was a horrible pain in my right elbow.
The door to the coop had a nail driven through the bottom of it then bent back. The nail had gone through the flesh of my right elbow elbow - a bit of flesh I now know is referred to as the "wenis." Seriously, look it up. I screamed with pain and shock at seeing the torn flesh and the blood welling from it.

Susan, my sister, ran over and looked. She freaked out and ran into the house to get dad. I was still in shock and just laid there screaming. I remember screaming some obscenities at Robby, screaming for mom and dad, screaming for Susan. Honestly, though, the words may only have been in my head. I'm not sure my screams were actually coherent. Dad came out and assessed the situation. When I saw him, I quit screaming because I knew things were going to be OK but I was still crying and moaning with pain. Dad squatted beside me, lightly resting his hand on my head. "Son, take a few deep breaths and get control of yourself." After I'd calmed down a bit, he continued.

"Make a fist with your right hand." I made a fist. "This is going to hurt. A lot. If I saw a less painful option I'd take it but I don't. Are you ready?"

If I made any sound more than a whimper I was going to lose control again so I just nodded tentatively.

Dad said, "Okay. I'm going to count to three. Relax, breathe, and keep a good solid fist. It's going to hurt but the worst of it will be over quick. I promise." I nodded again.
"One. Two. Three!" On three, his hand shot forward and slapped into the front of my fist driving my arm straight back. I can't describe how badly it hurt. I've experienced worse pain since but at that point it was by far the worst pain I'd ever felt. To my relief, my arm was off the nail and the wound was as clean as possible given the circumstances.

By this point everyone was outside. Dad's friend ran back in and got a stack of napkins. Our family got in the car with me resting my elbow on a stack of napkins to soak up the blood and dad drove to the nearest hospital which, if memory serves, was not very close. I got some stitches and a tetanus shot. The whole time I made plans to get even with Robby but I never met him again.

Pain is temporary. Scars remain but, as the saying goes, they're like tattoos with better stories. OK. Maybe not always better stories. I've heard some really good tattoo stories too.

When faced with a problem it pays to remain as calm as possible, assess the situation, make a decision, then act. This model is a *response* rather than a reaction. How much time all of this takes depends on the situation but even in a high stress situation this is the model which should be used. Acting without thinking is reaction and usually only makes the problem worse. When you act, don't hesitate. Don't second guess yourself. Act without hesitation but don't react.

The Wandering Guru

"The best way out is always through." - Robert Frost


Always follow through.

When I was still in elementary school we had a neighbor named Mr. Frazier. Frazier was a cantankerous old coot who, according to neighborhood gossip, had been terrorizing the neighborhood for decades. Even to the point of siccing his dog on kids who happened to step into his driveway while walking through the neighborhood. Our driveway bordered his and there was only a concrete strip, maybe an inch tall, separating the two drives.

One day my friend Sean and I were playing with a ball in the front yard. The ball got away from us and rolled into Frazier's driveway. I ran over, picked it up, then ran back into our driveway. Frazier came off his porch and started yelling. I don't know how long he really yelled at us but, as a child, it seemed to go on for a long, long time.

“You damn brats better stay off my property! If my dog was still in good health I’d sic him on you. That’d teach ya! I see you on my property again I’ll get my strop and tan your hides properly!”

I’m not sure we knew what a strop was at the time but we understood tanned hides well enough. We were terrified. Frazier continued like that for quite some time while Sean and I just stood, motionless with fear. When he quit yelling we ran into the house blubbering and crying. We told mom what had happened and she comforted us, distracted us, and cheered us up. Dad worked second shift so he wasn’t home when this happened. When he got home from work, though, mom told him what had happened. The next morning dad got the story again from me then he paid Frazier a visit. I don't remember when I heard the story of the visit but this is my memory of how dad described it.

Dad walked onto Frazier's porch and knocked. Frazier came to the door and asked what was going on.

”I hear you yelled at my son and his friend yesterday."

"Damn straight I did. Your brat was trespassing on my property."

“Way I heard it, my son and his friend were playing with a ball. The ball rolled into your driveway. Mike took a few steps into the driveway, retrieved his ball, and went back onto our property. Technically, yes, that's trespassing but there’s no call for you to yell at them and scare them. And threatening them was way out of line."

"If they don't want to be yelled at then tell them to keep the hell off my property. I will take my strop to them if it happens again."

"I'll tell them to keep off your property but here's something you need to know, old man. You should thank your lucky stars you just had heart surgery. It’s the only reason you're still standing upright. If I hear you've threatened my children or their friends again I'll put you back in the hospital. And if you actually touch one of them you’ll be lucky to survive the beating I give you. I won't hesitate. I won't talk. This is the only warning you'll get."

Dad walked off the porch and back home. Frazier continued to be a thorn in our sides but he never directly threatened any of the kids at our house again. Instead, he had his grandchildren, who were older than us by several years, start bullying me, my sister, and our friends. When we brought this to dad's attention he said, "They're kids. I can't help you with that. You'll have to figure out some way to deal with them on your own. If the old man gets involved again, I’ll handle him.”

Looking back on it, the whole thing was ridiculous and rather humorous. Frazier’s grandkids, especially the boy, Tommy, tried to torment us. They threw dirt clods at us while we were playing, they yelled insults, they threatened us. I don’t know how it affected my sister but I don’t remember ever being all that bothered by it. The old man terrified me but I had enough training and experience by then to know, push came to shove, I could handle Tommy. His sister primarily targeted my sister and her friends. The closest Tommy and I ever got to a real problem happened about a year after Mr. Frazier sicced his grandkids on us.

I had a little Honda Z-50 motorbike and I was riding it around in our back yard. Tommy started throwing dirt clods at me. I tried to ignore it but when one of them hit me and nearly made me wreck I’d had enough. I stopped the bike outside what seemed to be his maximum throwing range and I yelled over to him. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to run you over.”

He laughed. “There’s a fence between us, moron!”

“It won’t stop me, Tommy. I’m serious.” He laughed again.

I resumed riding and he resumed throwing. So on my next lap around the yard I aimed right at him and gunned it. He dropped the dirt clods he was holding, his eyes about jumped from his head, and, to borrow a phrase from my friend and mentor Joe R. Lansdale, he ran back into the house like a spotted-ass ape whose hair was on fire. I slammed on my brakes and turned, trying not to actually run through the fence. I succeeded, after a fashion. I wound up laying the bike down and slid under the bottom of the fence. No real damage was done to me, the bike, or the fence, but it took me several long minutes to get the bike worked free. To the best of my memory, all the bullying ended then.

The Wandering Guru

"Beware the fury of a patient man." - John Dryden


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Put on your big boy pants.

When I was about fourteen, with roughly eight years of martial arts training and several school-yard fights, dad decided it was time for a more adult level lecture about fighting. He sat down with me at the kitchen table and began.

"I know you've been in some fights at school, and I know you've won most of them. You've been training for years, and you've made good progress. Soon, though, you'll be in high school. Fights in high school might be a bit more serious and, as you move forward in life, you might even get into some really bad fights.

"Here's something I think you need to understand. The fights you've been in, well, they're real fights but they're school-yard fights. They're essentially pecking order fights like you've seen our dogs do. There's a lot of growling, barking, and, maybe, some blood but no one's really intent on hurting the other.

"Real fights, though, aren't always like that. Sometimes people are really trying to hurt or even kill each other. I hope to God you never have to face something like that but, if you do, there's something you need to understand.

"In a real fight, there's no such thing as a 'winner.' There's only a lower hospital bill."

It was years before I really started to understand what he meant, and I didn't fully understand it until I'd been in some real fights with people trying to hurt me. His point, made in such a short, elegant quote was that everyone takes some damage in a real fight. It might be minor. The "lower hospital bill" might be no hospital bill but there will be damage.

In all my fights, even if my opponent never did any damage to me, I'd end up with scraped knees from taking him to the ground or a sprained ankle from tripping over something or someone or a sprained finger from catching it in my opponent's shirt. The reality of his statement sank in within a few years of his lecture. What took me another decade or so to really figure out, though, was the deeper layer of understanding to be found: as soon as the fight goes physical, everyone involved has lost.

As I've matured in my understanding and spirituality, I've come to realize an even deeper lesson: as soon as I let my emotions dictate my actions I've lost.

It's a lesson taught over and over again in martial arts in a myriad of ways, but it took me decades of training and experience and more than a few fights to really appreciate the importance of the lesson.

I'm sure dad didn't have this depth of understanding when he gave me the lecture. Hell, at the time of this lecture, he was younger than I was when I figured out this depth for myself. He might not even have had it when he died, but the depth was in the words regardless.

In any given situation, we have choices. Our decisions always influence and sometimes dictate the path the situation will take. Even in the hairiest of situations, the choice not to fight is always available. Sometimes, though, the consequences of not fighting are unacceptable, so you fight. Understand, though, by the time the fight starts you have already lost several other battles. Maybe you were distracted and missed the danger cues. Maybe you shouldn't have been where you are at all. It's impossible to list all the possibilities, but if you're in a fight then there's a good bet you've already lost some battles. You've already made some choices that brought you to the situation.

It can be a hard pill to swallow. I've talked to a lot of people over the years who refused to believe it. They would rather believe there was no other choice than admit they might have done something wrong. Here's the thing, though, getting in a fight doesn't necessarily mean you've done anything "wrong." It does mean you made some choices which got you into the fight. Different choices might have avoided the fight. It's not about assigning blame. It's about recognizing the choices we make.

No matter what your situation, you're in it because of choices you have made and actions you have taken or not taken. The only question, then, is whether you made those decisions consciously or whether you allowed your emotional reactions to unconsciously guide you. Conscious decisions--even if they get you into trouble--are healthier than unconscious reactions. I can't think of a scenario where this isn't true.

In each moment of life, look at your options and make a conscious choice based on the data you have at that moment. Live your life consciously and deliberately. Don't let your emotional reactions guide you.

Many of our emotional reactions are rooted in lessons we learned as children before we really had any context to understand the world. These reactions tend to be black and white, all or nothing.

Our present is rooted in our past but shouldn't be dictated by it. Every situation is different and should be approached as something new. Apply lessons from previous experience but don't be ruled by the eight-year-old in your head who's still worried about a troll hiding under the bed.

The Wandering Guru

"It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped." - Tony Robbins

Whichever you choose, do it intentionally.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Real men don't start fights. They finish them.

When I was five and getting ready to start kindergarten dad sat me down and gave me this lecture. I'm sure he used simpler language but this is the gist as I remember it all these years later.

"Son, you'll meet people at school who aren't nice. Some of them will be bullies and they'll pick on you. Some of them might even try to physically hurt you. It's an unfortunate part of growing up and there's not much I can do to protect you.

"So, with that in mind, I don't want you to fight. If you have a choice, walk away. It's not cowardice and don't let anyone tell you it is.

"Sometimes, though, you won't have a choice. Sometimes the other guy starts the fight by attacking you or a friend. Also, understand that everyone has a line. Once you're pushed to or past that line then you only have two choices. Walk away or fight. I'd prefer you walked away but I'll understand if you don't. If you get pushed to or past your line then the other guy has started the fight even if he didn't throw a punch.

"So, with all that in mind, here are the rules. If someone starts a fight with you then you do your level best to finish it and I'll do my level best to prevent you from getting punished at school. I can't make any guarantees there but I'll try. You won't get punished at home.

"If, however, you start a fight you'll likely get punished at school and you'll definitely get punished at home. If you lie to me about who started it, I will find out the truth and you'll be punished for the fight and for lying to me."

As you might expect, this was all a bit much for me to really comprehend at that age. Soon after starting school, though, I began to understand. I was small for my age and had red hair and freckles. I spent my first day of kindergarten crying in a corner because of separation anxiety. On the second day of kindergarten two things happened. First, the bullying started. Second, I became friends with the other two "misfits" in class, Sean Kelley and John Fish. Sean and I are still friends but I have no idea where John ended up. My first fight happened several weeks after the start of school when Sean, John, and I caught the class bully behind the school and laid into him. His bullying decreased significantly toward us and, in fact, toward the rest of the class.

More importantly my dad was, as usual, true to his word. We didn't get caught but he recognized the signs and knew I'd been in a fight. He asked about it and I told him what had happened. I told him about the weeks of bullying and how my friends and I had been pushed to our limits. Dad patted me on the shoulder and said, "I think three on one was a bit much but I'm not going to punish you." When I pointed the bully out to him the next day he said, "He is a good deal bigger than any of you three. I still disapprove but I understand. I'm proud of you for standing up to him and I'm proud of you for telling me what happened."

Throughout my school years I had quite a few fights. I won some and I lost some but I never started any of them. I did get punished at school a few times but dad never punished me at home. When I was six I started training in martial arts. Dad was very supportive and encouraging. When he saw me teach for the first time, at an event in Muncie in 2003, his pride for me was palpable.

Today, bullying has become a major concern and a lot of people and groups are looking for ways to address it. Some I agree with, some I don't. I disagree with the ones trying to eradicate bullying. It looks good on paper but it doesn't take human nature into account. We are animals. Establishing a pecking order is very common, if not universal, in the animal world. It's unfortunate and, having dealt with bullies throughout my formative years, I understand the sentiment toward eradication of the behavior. Honestly, though, even if the eradication were somehow accomplished, I think it would do more harm than good to humanity overall.

Was my dad's method for addressing the situation the best method? I don't know. It worked for me, though. Knowing, if push came to shove, he was in my corner was invaluable. It gave me solid ground to stand on and find leverage when facing the bullies myself. I think bullies and bullying are a normal, if unfortunate, part of being human. I think the best way to deal with the subject is to teach kids to face the bullies - and all their fears - and deal with them. Give the children support and a safety net. Help them understand. Most bullies act as they do because of insecurities. Many have a horrible home life and bullying others is one of the few ways they can feel like their in control of something. Really, most bullies need compassion more than a beat down. In the end, though, what kids who are being bullied need is room to figure it out and deal with it on their own so they can grow. Fighting their battles for them doesn't help them.

The Wandering Guru

"He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious." - Sun Tzu


It's all fun and games until ...

Dad worked for General Motors for 35 years and retired as a die setter. I don't know everything he did in the factory during his tenure but he told me once he'd worked nearly every unskilled trade position in the plant at one point or another. He worked a lot. There were extended periods of time when he worked over 100 hours a week for weeks on end - 16 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week.

He worked like that because, after '81 or '82 he had a disabled wife and two kids to support and he felt it was his duty to earn more than enough to just scrape by. He had grown up pretty poor and didn't want his kids to endure the same hardships he had. As a kid, I never realized just how hard he and mom worked to make our lives comfortable.

For their 40th wedding anniversary Susan collected a bunch of pictures of mom and dad and the family and I scanned them in and put together a slide show with music. As I was looking through the pictures I realized something which had never dawned on me before. Growing up, or at least by the time I had any sense of economics, I thought we were pretty firmly in the middle class economically. Susan and I had a pretty cushy childhood compared to a lot of people I know. It wasn't all sunshine and puppies (though there were a lot of those) but, at least materialistically, we never really went without. There were some tight times but I was never aware of serious problems.

Looking at the pictures, though, I realized we were in a pretty low economic bracket. Maybe the high end of low class with peaks into the low end of middle class. Maybe. I realized my parents often went without so they could provide for us kids. Whether it was dad working 16 hour days or mom losing sleep on a ratty bed rather than getting a new one.

Also, for dad, the factory was his primary social outlet. Going to work usually wasn't a chore for him. He generally enjoyed the work and he got to hang out with all his friends. Consequently, a lot of the stories I've heard over the years about dad were related to the factory.

One story I remember was about an electrician. I don't remember his name so I'll call him Ned. Ned always had a volt meter on him. It was a sturdy piece of equipment and he used it regularly in his job but one of the primary reasons he carried it around was because he liked to play a "prank" on guys. He'd be talking to a guy and holding the volt meter. It had a wrist strap. He would drop the box and let it swing so it hit the his victim in the groin. Then he'd laugh and walk off while they were doubled over in pain.

One day he did this to dad. When dad got startled - especially if he was in pain - he'd reflexively attack. I'm guessing he learned this pretty young dealing with bullies in school then it got reinforced working as an Air Policeman in the Air Force. So Ned dropped the volt meter and it hit dad in the groin. As dad doubled over, he punched Ned in the chest and knocked him off his feet. Ned got upset and started sulking. It was all fun and games as long as he wasn't on the receiving end.

A few days later dad was at the coffee station in the break area. The coffee maker was on a table in front of a tin wall and there was a cabinet next to the table. The cabinet had been made by someone in the machine shop and it was sturdy, made of steel and welded together. Ned decides to pay dad back so as dad's getting his coffee, Ned hit the tin wall with a piece of metal. It made a loud noise and, again, startled my dad. He shifted to the side and punched toward the thing which had startled him - in this case the wall. He wound up punching the door of the cabinet. Hard. Ned started laughing.

Nathan, one of my dad's best friends, had been standing behind dad waiting to get coffee. He waved Ned over and pointed to the door of the cabinet. When dad hit it, he'd popped the top hinge on the door and bent the door. There was a fist-shaped dent in the door. Ned realized the implications, rubbed his chest, and said, "He could have killed me when he punched me."

Nathan said, "When Leo hit you, he was being nice. You'd best stop it with the pranks, though, before someone - maybe Leo, maybe someone else - decides not to be nice."

I never heard any other stories about Ned so I assume he learned his lesson, one way or another.

The Wandering Guru

"Everyone has a plan 'til they get
punched in the mouth." — Mike Tyson

What would Scooby Doo?

Margaret and I met our friend Ashley for lunch. It was great to spend some time with her. We haven't been able to get together the last couple of trips. We had a great discussion and Ashley told us more about her family and past. I'm even more impressed with her now than I already was. A lot of people I have met with backgrounds similar to hers are not very well adjusted. Ashley is. She's a strong, independent, intelligent woman and, as far as I can tell, she's an amazing mom to two great children. I'm proud to call her a friend. In fact, it goes beyond "friend" by quite a bit. She's family, through and through.

She never met my dad, but came to his viewing on Tuesday. Chuck was there too and also had never met my dad. I can't express how much it meant to me.

After lunch we went back to June's house and finished packing. We played one final game of Legendary with Chuck then I headed out for one last meal at Pizza King. Chuck and June then took us to the airport.

Things took a turn.

I have flown Frontier several times and really like them but today was not one of their shiny days. There were a lot of complications getting checked in. I got the impression they'd just upgraded their computer system so I don't know how much was agent error and how much was computer error. It took quite a while to sort out though. Fortunately, we had plenty of time.

Our flight from Indianapolis to Denver was delayed quite a bit. The pilot made up a lot of the time but we we're still about 30 minutes late. Our connecting flight was also late.

The flight attendants asked everyone who wasn't on a tight connection to remain seated. We, along with about 25 other people, rushed off the plane and to our gates. Margaret and I were nearly the last people to board.

The plane had a problem where they couldn't shut the heat in the cabin off and they couldn't get the air vents working until the engine was started so, between waiting for last minute passengers and deicing we sweated it out for about 30 minutes. Now we're en route to Phoenix. Yay! Then we have an hour-and-a-half drive home. It's gonna be good to be back home and get back on track with our preparations for the move to full-time RVers.

Now, back to the plane in Denver. The flight attendants asked everyone who didn't have a tight connection to remain seated. Most people did. But a few people, at least one I personally saw, just didn't get it. Obviously, some people who weren't getting off yet had to stand up to let others out. Margaret and I, for instance, were in middle seats so the people on the aisle seats had to get out so we could grab gear and go. Some people, though, thought, "Well, no one else is waiting so why should I? This is ridiculous." A woman two rows in front of me literally said this as she stood up and wedged her way into the aisle.


People get so wrapped up in themselves and their sense of entitlement, they lose all grasp on common sense and courtesy. It would be really frustrating if it wasn't so sad. I can't imagine living like that. Being so self-absorbed and disconnected from the people and world around me seems so alien. In fact, I see it as a form of self-induced hell.

Years ago there was a popular trend called WWJD - What Would Jesus Do. Bumper stickers, bracelets, shirts, hats, and more with the phrase or the abbreviation were common. I think a lot of people didn't really get it. I know I didn't. Until I read a book inspired by it titled What Would Buddha Do?

In the preface, the author explained. It doesn't really matter what anyone else would do. You could substitute anyone for Jesus or Buddha. The important part was when you stopped to ask yourself the question. It automatically shifts your perspective and gives you some objectivity. It slows you down and helps prevent knee-jerk reactions which might be inappropriate.

So, the next time you're feeling frustrated or out of your depth or frightened or whatever, stop. Take a breath. Ask yourself, "What would [fill in the blank] do?"

It might be Jesus or Buddha, for that matter, John Wayne or Teddy Roosevelt or Yoda, Vader, or Han. Remember, it's not really about what they'd do. Your just giving your internal compass a chance to orient to what's really going on so you can *respond* instead of just reacting.

The Wandering Guru

"The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause." - Mark Twain

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mending Fences

As I mentioned a few posts ago, my dad's death has been far easier to deal with than I had expected. There's still some pain, of course. I've always found writing cathartic. Especially writing about the person whose loss I'm grieving. So I'm going to share some stories about my dad. Partially for the healing but also because he was an interesting man and I want to share some of who he was with other people. So, for a while, I'm going to post a story about dad each day. Don't know how long I'll do it. I'll probably mix in other things but I want to introduce you, the reader, to my dad. If you read the eulogy I wrote and posted to the blog a few days ago then you've already had a brief introduction and now you can learn more about him.

Dad was always friendly toward everyone. Unless they did something to warrant another response. Generally, though, he was friendly. He was talkative and social and fun to be around. He occasionally got upset but, for the most part, he was always in good spirits. He whistled and sang a lot. He joked around and laughed a lot. He was just very social.

But there was a deeper affection he reserved for those very close to him. This deeper love was given to people he called family - whether they were related by blood or not - and he gave it without reservation, without hesitation. If he counted you as family then he would stand by you, help you any way he could, no matter the situation. Even if he kicked your ass later because you'd done something stupid to get yourself into the situation to begin with. When he was helping family, he had no boundaries. There were no limits to what he was willing to do to help. If you hurt his family, you got dealt with. If you were lucky, you'd get a warning first. "Shape up or ship out 'cause you're cruising for a bruising."

When I was growing up we had a lot of dogs. My mom ostensibly ran a business raising dogs. And, technically, we did. We sold many of our dogs. We had a few mutts but most of them were AKC registered breeds. Mostly poodles but also a couple of pomeranians, shih tzu, lhasa apso, and pekingnese. Maybe some others I'm forgetting. The most dogs we ever had at once was 13 adults and 3 litters of pups - so about 25 in total for a brief time. In short, we had a herd of dogs. Most of the time we had about 10 dogs. I say she ostensibly ran a business because mom just really loved dogs. We all did. Running it as a business brought in a little extra income and provided some tax benefits which helped offset the costs involved in having so many dogs.

When I was about 16, one of our dogs, a family favorite, was a teacup poodle named Teddy Bear. She was tiny with a thick coat of kinky black fur. I think she only weighed about 4 pounds.

One day she went missing. We had searched the house and I was out searching the yard. We had about 2 acres of fenced in yard around the house in the middle of a 25 acre farm. I was running around the yard, calling for Teddy and having no luck. Out in one of our fields, about 100 yards from our front gate, I saw a group of dogs. They were hunting dogs and belonged to the neighbor who lived next to the northwest corner of our property. His dogs were in our field and they were excited about something on the ground.

I had a premonition. My stomach dropped out and I ran through the gate and into the field, stumbling over the furrows and through the short remnants of recently harvested corn stalks. The dogs scattered as I got near and my fears became reality.

There was Teddy's body. It was all torn up, the skin pulled back from her hind legs up her torso. The hunting dogs had run her down like a rabbit and skinned her. It was horrible.

I turned and ran as fast as I could back to the house. I'm pretty sure I hurdled the gate. I ran into the house, tears streaming down my face. Mom and my sister, Susan, were in the living room. They looked up at me when I burst through the door. Mom said, "What happened?"

Half-winded from the run, I barely managed to say between sobs, "Teddy's dead." That brought mom and Susan into action immediately. Mom got me calmed down enough to explain what had happened and tell her where Teddy was then she took a trash bag and shovel out to collect the remains. I walked into my parent's bedroom and got the .22 revolver off the shelf. It was a nine-shot, pearl handled revolver with a long barrel. I made sure it was loaded and I started out of the house. I'd seen six dogs going at Teddy's body so I was going to shoot six of the neighbor's dogs.

Susan stopped me in the kitchen. I remember her getting physically in my way and talking to me. I don't remember what she said and I have no idea how she talked me down but she did.

When dad got home from work, mom told him what had happened. The next morning, dad went over to the neighbor's house. I don't remember the neighbor's name so I'll call him Bruce. Dad told me later how the conversation went.

Dad knocked on Bruce's door and Bruce answered.

"Hey, Leo. Can I help you with something?"

"Yeah, Bruce. You've got a hole in your fence. You need to fix it."

Bruce said, "Yeah? Thanks for the heads up. I'll get it fixed when I have time."

"You'll get it fixed by tomorrow."

"What? Who do you think you are, coming on my property and telling me what to do?"

Dad shrugged. "Some of your dogs got out and killed one of my dogs."

"Sounds to me like you need to get your own fence fixed."

Dad shrugged again. "You're missing the point. My dog was still on my property. Your dogs killed one of my dogs on my property. My son was going to come over last night and shoot six of your dogs. My daughter barely managed to talk him down. Get your fence fixed ASAP because if we see any of your dogs on our property we'll kill them. If any more of my dogs get wounded or killed I'll come over here and kill every one of your dogs. If you try to stop me I might kill you too."

Bruce blustered for a bit, nonplussed. Then he said, "You're trespassing. If you're not gone by the time I get to the phone in the kitchen, I'll call the police."

Dad said, "Fix. Your. Fence." Then he turned and walked back to his car and left.

I don't know how quickly Bruce got the fence fixed but we never saw any of his dogs on our property again. Some might say dad's response was over the top but that was dad. As far as he was concerned our dogs were family and, beyond that, Teddy's death had hurt everyone in the family. He'd given Bruce fair warning. More than fair in fact.

The Wandering Guru

"Love your neighbor as yourself; but don't take down the fence." - Carl Sandburg

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Funeral

When my mom died, we had a two hour viewing prior to the service and it was packed. I don't know how many people came but it was wall-to-wall people for the whole two hours. About half of those people were actually friends of my dad's and the other half were split between family and friends of mine and my sister. This wasn't surprising since mom didn't have many friends outside of the family.

So, when we were setting up dad's arrangements, we decided to have a four hour viewing yesterday, then a one hour viewing today prior to the funeral service. We had a very small turnout yesterday, though. We're sure part of it was due to the weather and I think part of it was the split in the days. I think, too, some people who would otherwise have been there couldn't get off work. The light turnout still seemed odd, though.

However, while the four hours was pretty long for such a small turnout, it was good. It was mostly family and extended family, with quite a few friends of mine and Susan's and a handful of dad's friends and old coworkers. Some were people I hadn't seen or talked to in years and it was nice to see and catch up with them some.

Chuck, June, and Ashley came which was nice. June only met my dad at Rick's funeral last year. Chuck and Ashley had never met him but we've all become very close - like family - since Rick died and it was great to see them there. Rick's mom and step-dad, Jean and Mark, also came. Of course, Jean has known my dad since 1978 when Rick and I started training in Tae Kwon Do together. It was hard for them to be at the funeral home since Rick's funeral was at the same place less than a year ago.

We hung around and talked to people throughout the four hours then Chuck, June, Margaret, and I went to Pizza King for dinner. We were all incredibly hungry. So hungry, in fact, Chuck and I split a 16" pizza with extra cheese and ate the entire thing. Usually, 16" leaves a fair amount of leftovers.

There were more people at the viewing and funeral today but still far fewer than I expected. It was a good service, though. The chaplain did a very good job. She also did mom's funeral and since mom's funeral she had visited dad regularly and they had become good friends. It was rough for her at times but she did great.

She read the obituary and got the standard stuff out of the way then read the eulogy I wrote. Then they played a song. I forget the title of it but it was very fitting.

Then the chaplain read Susan's eulogy which talked about how much dad liked music and how he would often sing or whistle. One of his favorite songs was "Country Roads" by John Denver. After she finished, they played "Country Roads."

The chaplain then read something she had written and she talked about her own experiences with dad. She talked about how often she would be on the way to the nursing home thinking about ways to lift dad's spirit then get there only to have her own spirits lifted by dad. He would always greet her with a holler like, "There's my spot of sunshine for the day! Come over here, girl, and give me a hug!" It was very touching and by this point, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Then they played "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" which was another song dad often sang.

All in all, it was actually one of the best funeral services I've ever attended. At many of the funerals I've attended what is said at the funeral doesn't match my memories of the person at all and I sit there wondering if anyone in the room even really knew the person. People project their own wishes and perceptions on the deceased. I'm sure I do the same to some extent, it's a natural thing to do. But some of the projections I've seen just leave me scratching my head.

This service was exceptional. Of course, it probably has something to do with my dad being such a larger-than-life character. It was hard to project anything on him because the reality of him tended to override things like that.

Here's to you, dad. You are fondly remembered and your legacy and legend live on in everyone who knew you and beyond because your influence spreads like ripples. The lives you touched touch other lives and your influence continues through them and will for quite some time.

The Wandering Guru

Country roads, take me home
to the place I belong
West Virginia, Mountain Mama
Take me home, country roads
     - Jon Denver, Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Meditation for Living - Part 2 - Non-Attachment

When people are first exposed to Buddhist philosophy they come across terms like "non-attachment" and they read about the perils of attachment. The English word, "attachment" is really rather inadequate to what is really meant in Buddhist philosophy. And the "non-" prefix is usually completely misunderstood.

People tend to equate "non-attachment" with "detachment." In fact, they are polar opposites. Because people think it means detachment they think it's a nihilistic philosophy when, in fact, it's as far from nihilism as you can get.

Detachment means disengagement. It means never really engaging or experiencing life. It means not really living at all. Nihilism, which is related, believes life is meaningless.

The concept of non-attachment, from Buddhist philosophy, means full engagement. Full immersion in experience and in life. It means living life to its fullest and finding meaning in every aspect, even the most seemingly mundane parts.

What Buddhist philosophy admonishes, though, is to remember impermanence. Everything in the world - certainly in the physical world - is impermanent. Everything from your home, to your car, to your body, to your relationships. Everything. Everything changes and everything ends at some point. Nihilism looks at this reality and says, "Why bother?" Buddhist philosophy looks at it and says, "Cherish every moment but don't cling to any moment."

I personally think a better English translation for the word "attachment" (as used in Buddhist philosophy) is "clinging."

A simple example of this clinging is common with new vehicles. You buy a new vehicle. You love it. It's awesome. It's the vehicle you've always wanted. It's perfect. You attach to it as it is when it's new. Six months down the road, though, it's no longer sparkling and beautiful like it was the first day. Even if you've maintained it well. The engine, tires, doors, seats, etc. have six months of wear on them. They may still look good but they aren't as pristine as they were. Maybe there's a slight blemish on a door where a shopping cart hit it. The new car smell is gone. Maybe there's a small tear in a seam on the driver's seat. If you have clung to the snapshot of perfection you took when you bought the car then it no longer measures up. This can lead to disappointment and suffering.

If, however, each day you let go of your memory of the car. You let go of expectations of how it will or should look. Each day you look at it with fresh eyes and see the beauty which is there instead of what you think it has lost. If you do this then each day you get a new car and each day you can choose to like it or dislike it based on what it *is* not what it was.

The same is true for relationships. Each day I look at the woman I love. Each day she is new to me and just as exciting as the first time I saw her. She looks different now than when I met her and different from when I married her. But different isn't bad. It's just different. Each day my wife is different and each day I fall in love with her all over again.

Emotions are the same way. Emotions are natural. We all experience them. An emotion, inherently, is neither positive nor negative. It simply is. It exists purely to be experienced. We tend to label our emotions, though, as positive or negative. We tend to dive right into "positive" emotions, then we hesitate to let go of them. We tend to avoid engaging "negative" emotions and end up repressing them.

Rather than label them as positive or negative, simply experience them. They're a necessary, vital part of living. Enter them, experience them completely, experience whatever happiness, sorrow, pain, or other feeling they bring, then let go of them completely. This is *truly* living, being present, here, now, and *experiencing* the moment.

This is difficult idea to grasp, I know. I struggled with it for years. I won't claim it has ever gotten easy but it has gotten easier. It has become more habitual for me. Something which really helped me understand it and develop the ability to engage, experience, and let go was the audio from a retreat called "Releasing Emotional Reactions" led by a Buddhist lecturer named Ken McLeod. Here's a link to the audio. He has it free for download on his site - along with  many other great audio downloads from other retreats and the like. http://www.unfetteredmind.org/category/transcripts/releasing-emotional-reactions-retreat

This also extends to our actions. Always do the best you can. Sometimes you'll make a mistake. Learn from it and move on. Dwelling on past mistakes is useless and will increase your chances of making another mistake because you'll be focused on the past. The best way to avoid mistakes is to be present and mindful throught the action. If you do make a mistake, fix it if possible, learn from it, then move on. If you made the best choice you could - given the data you had at the moment - then there's nothing to regret. If the mistake actually arose from ignoring some data you had then learn from it. If you learned from it then there's nothing to regret. If you are unable to learn from the mistake then don't regret the mistake - instead focus on *why* you are unable to learn from it and learn how to learn. Regrets are never worth the energy they require to maintain.

The Wandering Guru

"If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever." - Dalai Lama

Meditation for Living

As I said yesterday, meditation is a practice for being present and mindful. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, has written many great articles and books which I personally have found very helpful in furthering my understanding of mindfulness. One of the things he talked about in one of his books, I can't remember which one, is doing dishes.

Most people dislike doing dishes. If you ask them what they dislike about it, they'll usually say, "I'd rather be doing [fill in the blank]." The thing Thich Nhat Hanh points out is, if you're mindful and present then there *is* nothing else in this moment. You and the dishes are the only things which exist. You can choose to do them or not. If you choose to do them then, since there is nothing else, you are left purely with a choice of enjoying the task or not enjoying it. If it's all there is then you might as well enjoy it. When you frame it in this way, it becomes pretty obvious and when you realize there *really* is nothing else in the moment then dishes can suddenly be fun.

If you choose not to do the dishes and, instead, go do something else, go for it. But enjoy the other thing fully. Be present with it. Don't admonish yourself for not doing the dishes. Whatever you do, do it mindfully and be present. This way, whatever you choose to do, will be done fully and well and whatever you choose to do can be enjoyed fully.

This is a powerful concept and tool. It can make even the most tedious tasks enjoyable.

Doing the same thing while eating can make any meal much more enjoyable. Savor each bite. This is one commonly recommended way to lose weight because it gives your body time to start digesting and for you to recognize the feeling of satisfaction before you overeat.

Being present and mindful has so many benefits it's really like a panacea unto itself. It may not be able to handle *everything* but it's certainly a powerful tool. Our state of mind has a direct influence on the health of our body. Being mindful and present leads to a healthier mind and, in turn, to a healthier body.

Going back to the dishes example, when you are present and mindful you *are* meditating. Formal meditation is one way to achieve and practice mindfulness but it is possible to find the state in most every moment of every day. You may only be there for a few seconds at first but, with practice, it can become longer.

A friend of mine, and my primary source for my understanding of Tai Chi Chuan, Rick Barrett, has a great tool for finding mindfulness in any moment. He got it from reading Martin Boober's works. I think Rick has taken it farther than Boober did but, having not read Boober myself, I don't know for sure.

Here's the tool. It's very simple. Seems almost silly. But it works. It's incredibly powerful. Simply ask yourself, "Where am I?" Think about the question for a moment and the only answer which truly works is, "Here I am." Any other answer, like "Indianapolis, Indiana", is obscured by labels. The only *true* answer, stripped of all but the most basic labels, is "here." This can be taken farther but this is a very basic tool which can give immediate results.

So, when, for instance, you're doing dishes. Ask, "Where am I?" Answer, "Here I am." "What am I doing?" "Dishes." Or, be more specific, "Scrubbing this plate." Ask yourself again and again. You will wander. It happens.

Going back to the lessons on meditation I learned from Guru Ken, meditation has a focal point. Even if the point is emptiness, there's a focus. As we meditate, we wander from the focus. Then we come back. Then wander, then return. If you draw it out graphically, it looks like a flower with the focus as the center and the wandering/returning as petals. Over time, with practice, the petals get smaller and smaller.

People often look at the petals as errors or problems. They're not. They are as much a part of the meditation as the focus. In fact, those petals are where growth really happens. Growth happens when we challenge ourselves. Growth happens from failure and from overcoming obstacles. The only way to grow is to push the envelope, to challenge ourselves. When we challenge ourselves we *will* fail.

The petals are part of the meditation. Don't get hung up on them or admonish yourself for them. Recognize them. Learn from them. Move back to focus. This is how improvement is made. This model is true of *any* endeavor and ties back to a previous blog post I wrote.

The Wandering Guru

"Be happy in the moment, that's enough. Each moment is all we need, not more." - Mother Teresa

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Meditation for Martial Arts

When most people hear the word "meditation" they picture a person sitting with legs crossed in lotus position, hands on knees, spine straight, eyes closed, trying to achieve some altered state of consciousness. This, though, is only one of many, many expressions or forms of meditation.

A lot of people, especially martial artists, especially martial artists who are young in training, think of meditation as boring. After all, you're just sitting there, right? There are many, many ways to meditate, though. Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) is a martial art which is most commonly associated with old people in a park moving slowly. A lot of young people scoff at this exercise and assume it's only for old people. Old people, or perhaps I should say "older" people, generally have more experience than younger people and if they find value in the exercise then maybe the younger people should reevaluate their perception of it. However, TCC is also a form of moving meditation. So if sitting still and meditating is too difficult or boring then a form of moving meditation might be easier.

Of course, a lot of people ask, "Why meditate at all? What's in it for me?"

Great questions. They open up a huge can of worms, though, and I'm only going to touch on a few here - maybe more in later posts. All the meditation I've personally been exposed to are geared toward one goal, even if they take very different approaches to get there. The goal is "mindfulness" or "being present." What this means is to be aware of everything going on within your field of perception - everything around you and inside of you to whatever extent you're capable - without attaching to any of it. If you, for instance, hear a car honk outside. You should be aware of it but then you should let it go. You shouldn't, ideally, spend any time wondering *why* it honked. You hear the sound, you let it go.

Being mindful is incredibly powerful in general. A mindful person tends to be happy and stress free. S/he doesn't dwell on the past or get anxious about the future. Doesn't try to predict outcomes, just experiences what is.

I was aware of all this by the time I was 23 - having been involved in martial arts for 17 years by then. But I still didn't really see the point of meditation. All the stuff about mindfulness and being present seemed like a pie-in-the-sky goal which offered very little immediately useful results.

Then I met Guru Ken Pannell. He became my primary martial arts instructor and had the largest impact of anyone on my development as a martial artist. He explained meditation to me from a warrior's standpoint and it changed my whole understanding of the subject.

If you've ever been in a fight this will make perfect sense to you. If you haven't, well, ask someone you trust who has. A fight is *completely* dynamic. The whole face of a fight can change in less than a second. You might be dominating the fight one second and the next you're fighting just to stay conscious. Technically, everything in life happens *now* but in most of our lives things change at such a slow pace it doesn't really matter if we're outside of the present because we'll have plenty of time to catch up.

In a fight, though, there is no time. Everything is right now and it's moving fast. Things are changing from split second to split second. 10 seconds of fighting can feel like an hour because so much can happen.

With things changing so quickly, if you're not *right here, right now* in the present and mindful, then you're way behind the curve. If you're busy thinking about how mad you are, or whether you look good for the person over there you're attracted to, or whatever, then you're not present. If you get hit and you spend any time thinking, "Ouch!" then you're not present. Fortunately, *most* people fight like this. However, I, personally, haven't spent 35+ years training so I can be equal footing with my opponent(s).

Meditation helps teach us to be present and mindful. Being present and mindful is a *huge* advantage in a fight - not to mention in our every day lives. So, from a fighter/warrior's standpoint, meditation is for the mind what sparring is for the body.

If you're a martial artist, I would highly recommend researching and experimenting with different types of meditation. Learn from them, then apply the lessons to your sparring. Stay relaxed, stay present. Flow. You should find it much easier to spar in such a state. I know I have.

The Wandering Guru

"Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won't)." - James Baraz

Thursday, February 13, 2014

An Amazing Life - Part 2

When I read "The Four Hour Work Week" by Tim Ferris, I was already, to a large extent, living the life the book is intended to help people develop but the book really helped me define some of the things I already did and gave me a reference point and language to explain it better.

One of the things the author talks about is an honest assessment of the questions: "What's the worst that could happen? How would I recover from it? How long would it take me to recover from it and get back to where I am now?"

When he asked himself those questions he pictured himself sitting on a dreary beach in Ireland, homeless, penniless, with a 3 legged dog named Lucky. He determined it would take him 4 years to get from there back to his current position and he knew how to do it.

When you put things into a framework like that it can really help. Sometimes - often, in fact - you look at the worst case and say, "That would be hard but doable. The potential reward is worth the risk."

The book has many such stories. Like an attorney who quit his job in New York and moved to Brazil. He bought a boat and lives on the boat with a beautiful Brazilian wife and they are madly in love. He charters fishing trips on the boat and teaches tourists how to surf. Family and friends ask him, "You were on the fast track to success. You were about to become a full partner. You'd have had it made. How could you sacrifice all that?" He looks around at his life and says, "What did I sacrifice? I was miserable. Now I have everything I need and I'm happy. The sacrifice would have been staying in New York and never living all this." Tourists see his life and say, "Man! I'd love to live like this." When he says, "You can." They start throwing up imaginary obstacles.

Years ago I realized it's really just about accepting responsibility for choices. Whether you take the risk (assuming it really *is* a risk) is a choice. Which choice you make doesn't matter. Take responsibility for it and be happy with it. If you don't like something about your situation, change it. If you choose not to change it then you got no one to blame but yourself. If you make a change and end up worse off ... make another change.

Imagine your absolute worst case scenario. Then come up with a plan and time frame to fix it. If you're willing to do that then take the jump. You already know you can recover from the worst case scenario.

Most of the hurdles people claim for why they can't do what they consider "amazing" are imaginary. They're fear based knee-jerk reactions to the unknown. A lot of people live by the standard, "Better the devil you know than the one you don't." They'd rather stick with a miserable situation rather than risk finding themselves stuck in a worse situation.

The problem with this is, really, they're only *stuck* because they choose to be stuck. If their new situation sucks then the same thing will be true. They'll only be stuck because they choose it. If you're not happy with something change it. It really is that simple. If you don't like the results, change something else.

I don't recommend back tracking, though. People fear to burn bridges but if that bridge goes somewhere you don't like then burn it. There are plenty of paths to take.

Another problem people have, though, is with their internal maps. No one deals with reality. Each of us has an internal map of reality and the map is what we really deal with. When we encounter a situation, we look for something like it on our map. If we find something similar, we use it as a guide for dealing with the new situation. There's nothing inherently wrong with this. If the map is healthy then it's useful.

In "The Structure of Magic, Vol 1" by Bandler and Grinder, they discuss these maps in depth. The example they gave really helped me understand the concept. Imagine two young boys. Each gets burned on a stove. One boy makes a note on his internal map: "Stoves are potentially dangerous. Be careful around them." The other boy makes a note on his internal map: "Stoves are dangerous. Avoid them at all costs."

Both notes are logical and plausible. The first, though, is healthy. The boy has learned a valuable lesson and will, in the future, likely be careful around stoves and probably won't get burned very often. The other boy, though, spends the rest of his life avoiding stoves. Over time he may even realize how many other things in a kitchen are dangerous and end up afraid to ever enter a kitchen. He lives his life trying to avoid kitchens. Not healthy. Two maps, one halthy and one not, from the same initial stimulus.

Here's the big thing to understand, though. The maps we make are *literally* our reality. We generally can't see beyond them. We might occasionally catch glimpses of the reality beyond them - and moments like that are generally referred to as moments of enlightenment or, to use a different term, transcendence. The transcendence description is very apt. In those moments we are literally transcending our internal map and getting a glimpse of what is *really* there. These moments are terrifying. Some people run from them and seek solace by burying themselves deeper in their map - their delusions. Others embrace the challenge implied by these moments and seek to find more. Seek to break away from their map more and more and deal more and more with reality.

If it were easy, it wouldn't be life.

So many people are afraid of failure. The secret is, challenge is the catalyst for growth. Without challenges we stagnate. Without facing our challenges we stagnate. When we face challenges, we push our boundaries. When we push boundaries we are guaranteed to fail sometimes. It's part of the deal. People don't remember failures, though. They remember people who quit and they remember people who succeed.

If you want to live an amazing life you have to challenge yourself on a regular basis. Face the challenges. Face the fears. Take risks. You will get bruised, blooded, and knocked down. All you have to do is learn something and then get back up. Each time you get back up, you apply the lesson and you make progress. You grow.

If you cower in the shadows afraid to fail then you'll stagnate and the shadows will swallow you whole. You won't be amazing. The few people who remember you might remember you fondly but they won't be awed or inspired by your life. If you're lucky they won't actually pity you.

The Wandering Guru

"I'd rather be a spectacular failure than a mediocre success." - Joe R. Lansdale

An amazing life

Day before yesterday, I posted the eulogy I wrote for my dad's funeral and it was titled "A Legendary Life." My dad was a legend, always bigger than life. I think a lot of people would say the same about me. I don't know. "Legend" seems a pretty lofty word to apply myself. However, I do live a pretty amazing life.

First, I have an amazing wife, Margaret Westlake. We met 19 years ago, started dating a couple of months later, got married in April of '97, and have one of the best relationships I've ever seen or heard of. She's always been supportive of my interest in and passion (obsession?) for martial arts. I know from talking to a lot of martial arts friends how rare this is.

Second, I've had some amazing teachers and mentors. From my parents and my uncle David to several of my martial arts instructors, I've had consistently great influences and role models.

Third, I've got an amazing family - and, blood relatives only make up a very small portion of the family. I've got an amazing group of friends. Quite a few have been my friends for 20+ years. My longest friendship is with Sean Kelley. We met our second day of kindergarten and have been friends since. Next longest was Rick Rumler, who died last year. Then Adam Pope, Bob Moore, Donna Hodson, Noelle West, Nicole Poss, Judith Oosting, Kristyn Kimery, and others. Some are (relatively) new friends like June Rumler (Rick's widow), Chuck Way, Andy Beck, Bobby Doss, Jeff Wood, Ashley White, Eddie Wells, Tony Lyle, John Haag, Martin Gordon, Mike Allen, and ... well, I could go on for quite a while. Like I said, an amazing group.

Then I've got an extended network of friends literally all over the world - in Europe, Japan, the Philippines, and more. Again, I could go on and on with a long, long list of names. The sheer volume of people I can call friends and family is staggering. In the past 18 months, I have lost 8 people who were close to me and a few who, while not close, still impacted me directly. The outpouring of sympathy I have gotten during this time is incredible and humbling. It really is amazing. I can't begin to express my gratitude to each of them individually. Even as a group, it's hard to express. If you're reading this and you're part of the group who has reached out to me over the past 18 months, know that I am profoundly grateful, even if I don't tell you directly. I can't even keep track of it all. There have literally been 100+ people who have done so just in the past few days regarding my dad's death.

As I said, I live a pretty amazing life. And thus far, I've only talked about the amazing people in my life. On top of that, I have been self-employed to one degree or another for 15 years. For most of that time, my primary job was doing computer programming of one sort or another, mostly as a consultant. In the past year, though, I've gotten farther and farther away from programming as a job. I've been more focused on teaching martial arts, which has always been my vocation but for the past year I've been making it more and more my profession. For the past few months, I've been focused on writing, too. This blog is part of that.

One of the amazing people in my life is Joe Lansdale. He's an award-winning author. Professionally he goes by Joe R. Lansdale. If you're not familiar with his work, I'd *highly* recommend checking it out. He's written a lot of stuff in nearly every genre you can imagine and some you can't. He's also the founder of a martial arts system called Shen Chuan. I met him in '98 and moved to Nacogdoches, Texas in January of '01 to train with him. I now have a 4th degree black belt in Shen Chuan and he has been a significant influence on my writing. Some in person with pointers and tips and critiques. Then, last year, he got active on Facebook and started posting tips and talking about his personal writing method. That really inspired me and I started focusing on my own writing which, to that point, had been a pretty spotty focus.

Since then I've completed a novella - historical fiction/crime where the legendary Annie Oakley meets the nefarious Dr. H. H. Holmes in Chicago in 1893. I don't know when or if it'll ever get published but, by all accounts, it's very good. I'm also working on a few other projects, including this blog.

I have, literally, traveled the world, mostly for martial arts. Following the example set by my dad, I have met life's challenges head on and lived the life I *chose* to live. I live what a lot of people refer to as a "fantasy life." What a lot of people miss, though, is the work which goes into living the "fantasy." From my perspective, it's not fantastic. It's just life. I recognize it's pretty amazing and I do love it. Wouldn't trade it for anyone else's life but I think the term "fantasy life" belittles it. It makes it seem like it's unattainable or unreachable which, in turn, makes it seem like I got lucky or found some magic potion or something. While there were certainly some awesome opportunities available to me from time to time, it was still up to me to act. My ship didn't come in. I don't think anyone's does, really. I saw my ship on the horizon and swam toward it. Then my worn out, unconscious body was pulled onto a dinghy by a fisherman. I knocked him unconscious and rowed the dinghy out to the ship until a shark capsized it. Then I grabbed the sharks fin and wrestled with it until a dolphin rescued me. Then the dolphin hauled me to the ship. Then I had to scale the ship's anchor chain until I reached the deck, sodden and sore, only to find out that I now had to pilot the damn ship. In short, I chose to live the life I live and have worked very hard for it. I'm proud of it and, looking back, pretty awed by it but it's not a "fantasy life" that fell into my lap.

The Wandering Guru

"A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for." - Grace Hopper

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Living, dying, and community

Yesterday was rough, on the shuttle, at the airport, on the plane. Not being able to grieve the way I wanted to. Once I got to Indy, though, and was with friends everything got a lot easier.

I think, in many ways, this will be easier to deal with than my brother Rick's death. Rick was only 6 months older than me and his death was abrupt. He was ripped away - not just in the prime of life but he was ripped away from *living* life.

Like my dad said 20 years ago ... wow, hard to believe it was so long ... when he had a blood clot in his left leg which went from his ankle to his knee. He'd been in the hospital for a couple of days on blood thinners. The doctor came in one day and dad was walking to the bathroom. The doctor said, "What the hell are you doing? If that clot breaks free you'll be lucky to live more than a minute."

Dad said, "Doc, I tried using that bottle. Pissed all over myself. I've lived 48 good years. If I have to die to piss like a man then so be it."

That sentiment is even truer now. Dad lived a good life. Hell, like my eulogy said, he lived a legendary life. He lived a life anyone would be proud to have lived. The type of life a lot of people only dream of living.

16 years ago he had a bad stroke and it hit him hard. Physically, he'd always been strong. Always been one of the strongest people in any situation. After the stroke, he was phyiscally one of the weakest for a while. He was still internally strong so he bounced back and recovered quicker and better than any of the doctors expected. But it took its toll.

That stroke was the beginning of a downhill slide. It was pretty gradual for a long time. Then, in September of 2012, mom died. They'd been married 43 years and he had loved her deeply that whole time. Her death, while not really a surprise, ripped a huge chunk out of his heart. It took the wind right out of his sails for the most part.

He was still strong, though. He recovered quite a bit but, more and more, his body was failing him. He had a few more minor strokes. By the time he died the left side of his body was effectively useless - though it never impacted his facial muscles or ability to talk.

He had always been a very social person. He thrived on it. He was the guy everyone knew and loved. He was the guy everyone called when they needed help. He was *the guy* in most any situation. That never really changed but his social circle kept getting smaller and smaller and since he used that as a reference point for his self-definition, he gradually lost himself to some degree.

The old "Leo" was still in there. He'd occasionally make an appearance but it got less and less frequent as time went on. When I visited him a few weeks ago he was just barely there. Looking back on it, I was unconsciously aware of it then and I think I started unconsciously preparing myself for this.

Interestingly enough, on Saturday, I got the song, "When I'm gone" (the cup song) stuck in my head. It was stuck in my head all day Saturday and Sunday. Then my sister texted and told me about dad's heart attack. That song stayed stuck in my head through last night.

So while this sucks in a special kind of way, it's not nearly as bad as I expected it to be. The outpouring of responses has been truly awesome. Especially from the martial arts community. It's part of the reason I love being a martial artist. The community is amazing. People have offered - in total sincerity - to travel hundreds of miles to be with me in person if I needed them. That's powerful. That's amazing in a way I can't even put words to. I have made that offer. Hell, I've literally traveled hundreds of miles to help a friend. But it's still just amazing to be on the receiving end of it.

I am blessed and honored to have such a strong - and relatively large - community around me. I've said it before and I'll say it again, nearly everything in my life which I consider "positive" can be attributed directly or indirectly to my lifelong involvement in martial arts.

The Wandering Guru

"He who has a why to live can bear almost any how." - Friedrich Nietzsche