Search

beginnerdom

Make a start. See what happens.

Category

Writing about other things

If you look closely…

If you look closely you’ll see a ring of guardians standing around you. To look closely in this case doesn’t mean to squint, or even to soften your gaze and let everything blur so that the invisible comes into focus. No, this is a different kind of looking. The hardest kind. How easy it is to forget how held we are. How protected. How cheered.

It took my friend Justin reminding me yesterday that he is one of the many who stands in my circle, like a ring of redwoods. A population of spirits: living, dead, yet to incarnate, or just fine to hang out on the other side for all eternity. They are layers deep. If you look closely you see their faces, one at a time, many at once.  

You see their hands, held in one another’s, held up in blessing, busy knitting or painting, or with birds perched on their fingers. Beckoning. Patiently unlocking the cages you insist on building and rebuilding. Sometimes striking matches and burning them down. All the better to see them, my dear.

Ah, you are starting to see now, aren’t you? Just like time itself, lineage is not linear. It is a ring. A series of rings. Ever-widening circles, as Rilke says. That persistent spiral – the shape that everything takes, if you look closely.

They stand near, and far, and as you make the circuit of your life—moving farther each time from the core wound, but visiting it again, repeatedly, endlessly—you also pass each of them.

They offer a hug, a handshake, a bow, a good, long look into their eyes – into their own memories of forever, the galaxies they’ve traveled to – and you remember that you are oh so small and you are never, ever alone.

If you look closely you’ll see that the center of you has its own eyes, ones that know where you came from and where you’re headed. It pulls you to the ones who remember when you forget. Who utter, “I am here, and I always will be.” And with those words a light flicks on, and suddenly you needn’t look closely any longer. You can see them perfectly well.

Please scream inside your heart

“Theme parks in Japan have banned screaming on roller coasters, because it spreads coronavirus…. and advised riders: “Please scream inside your heart.”

– The New York Times, July 2020


Yes, scream
Shatter its walls
Let the shards and the goo
and the light spill out
Let the lava infiltrate your being
    and then burst that open too

You say you’re about to crack. Good.
Let go, crack, crack up, crack loose
Crack so that it scares everyone
Crack so that you lose all your friends
    all the respect
    all you’ve been so fastidious about building

Nobody, dear. Nobody has ever known what they’re doing
The ones that do
ask questions
    constantly
    Forever
    undermining
    their own premise.

Foundations are shaky at best
Wobbly, like your reclaimed wood desk

Actually no, shaky isn’t best—
Muddy is.

Let the shards of yourself
sink into the silt
    Wriggle downward
    Find soil
    Take hold
    Sprout anew
    Fight through
    Wilt
And try again

Please scream inside your heart
Let the scream echo against the cavernous walls
now that you’ve cleared the detritus:
Everything you thought you were meant to keep safe
    build from
    treasure always
    pass along

It went up in flames the second you laid claim to it.
Since then you’ve been grasping at ghosts
Sticking price tags on illusions
Chasing them hungrily down aisles with your empty shopping cart
    With all your might. With all you have.

Please scream inside your heart
Scream, “Stop!”
Scream, “Enough!”
Scream, “Don’t you see?”
Scream
I     DON’T     NEED    YOU     TO     SEE     ME    ANYMORE

Careen past the other shoppers and out into the sea
Stop trying to be clear or transparent or
    Colorful or
    Opaque

Lay down your street-performer juggle-balls and wade into the water.

Please, please scream inside your heart and set your essence free.
Every single thing your heart can see is in the way.
Scream past it. Scream it open. Scream it free.

Body scan, then write

Foot on the gas, the brake, gas brake gas brake. The echo of it in my right shin.

“Uh-oh!” I said out loud when the truck in front of me didn’t begin moving the instant the light turned green. The old Boston driver coming back. The only place I’ve ever been aggressive: behind the wheel.

“Uh-oh!” The most passive-aggressive phrase I could have mustered. Northern California has fully infiltrated the psyche but not the body. Another four seconds and I would have driven under that truck. As it was, I maneuvered a dangerous swerve around its right flank it as it made its perfectly timely, perfectly safe, perfectly unrushed left.

Me, though: gas brake, gas brake. Rev rev stop. Rev. Stop. Go go go. We’re supposed to be going now. Drumming my fingers at every red light. Every meal. Every episode of Jeopardy that counts as quality time with my husband. Every moment of lying in bed, not asleep but too tired to accomplish anything of note. Scroll, then. Shop. Hypnotize self with a reality show in miniature. No use reading: my eyes simply scan the words while my mind whirls. The flywheel again. It doesn’t stop. Too much momentum. Too much to do. Too much.

Gas brake. Gas gas gas, rev, rev, motor uphill, careen down. Brake for the turn, or not. List sideways and nearly tumble off the cliff. Careful!

A few days ago I heard a silence so silent I knew it was the earth speaking. No other voice could be that deafening. My shin bones become the stalks of the redwoods, the columns of the cathedral, the ode to the everything. Equal weight, gravity. They know no brake, no rev, only reverence. They stand in holy stillness.

Time to decide

I’ll probably be fined for saying this, but I do not meet 2021 with relief, and I definitely do not bid 2020 good riddance. For one thing, it’s never felt to me like an arbitrary flip of the calendar blinks us suddenly into a new dimension. More than that … what a beautiful year it was. Even in its sorrow. Even in its pain.

I can’t be the only one who doesn’t want it to end.

Not the crises. Of course not. Of course not. Not the despair. The separation. The loneliness. The unnecessary deaths and heartbreak that this year has brought with it. All that can end.

For me, what can’t end is the beautiful inwardness of it all. The circumstances of daily life (a privileged one, no mistake) that only grows more liberating for me by the day. I watch in awe as massive shifts disrupt and reveal so much of what hasn’t been working in our world.

I am not tired of this yet. I don’t think I’ll ever be.

Still, very soon, we’ll fully reclaim our characteristic human stranglehold on Nature—wresting her to the ground, hog tied and gagged, so that we can get on with the making and spending of money, so that we can get back to the commutes, the offices, the parties, the bars, the places that take us out of our homes and out of ourselves, so we can stop doing all this reflecting, all this truth-telling, all this meaningful bonding with those in our immediate surround.

We’re so close to resuming the blind march forward: our laser-sharp, tunnel-vision gaze on the bleak horizon of ‘normalcy,’ deaf to what Nature might have been trying to tell us through that pangolin or bat or whatever wise and innocent creature, flushed out of its environment and hunted for meat, got this whole ball rolling. Consume, destroy, expand, drive, run, win, sell, sell, sell …

It will all happen again—the tide of ‘progress’ reclaiming the precarious lessons. It’s happened throughout history; as with the tide itself, we can trust in its return.

Again and again we chew off entire limbs of humanity to escape what feels like the trap of a slower, saner existence. Again and again, we double down on our identity as the parasites we are, consuming a planet that is constantly and forever trying to tell us that this isn’t the way.

Evolutionarily speaking, it’s a matter of moments before this magnificent Earth shakes us off her back like so many fleas. Before she deploys some last resort of an internal remedy that she really hasn’t wanted to use but now, she’s afraid she must….

The ‘excuses’ we’ve had this year for lightening up on how much we abuse her and ourselves daily are evaporating. With the crutch of excuse about to be revoked, it’s time to start deciding for ourselves.

What will our decisions be? I think I know mine—or, rather, what will help me make them.

Again, I speak from a place of privilege. I’m under no illusions that my circumstances—including my ability to think and write these thoughts—are an all-out luxury.

And.

In all this I have found the capacity to be with people in a different way—to be gentler, more receptive, kinder. To help them feel safe and loved. To take the time to be with them in their fullness rather than resent them for their demands on my time. I’m finding how to do that. Yes, ‘finding:’ it was there all along, I was just too yanked apart to be able to feel it, see it.

I see it now. I’m not letting it out of my sight.

So once we implacable humans track down the last discontinued cog, tighten the final screw, press the red plastic button, stand back and watch as the long-obsolete machine smokes and coughs itself back to life, spewing its ancient poison into the air, I am vowing here to engage with it in a different way.

Not in any way that is epic, or even noticeable to anyone but me. Mostly it’s about listening. I’ve learned to listen this year. I want to get better at that.

One feeling that’s been easy to listen to—and as such has become a great ally—is relief. Relief at not having to be places, to drive as much as I did. At not having to shock my settling system by dragging it back out in the evenings to do things that are ‘good for me.’ Relief the dearth of needless errands to acquire vapid things and shorten my meager stacks of coins. Relief at being held back from slamming my sensitive body into those merciless waves of daily life to prove how strong it is.

The relief is intense, physical. It’s been at the fore for nine months. There hasn’t been a moment where it’s dissipated and I’ve said, “ya know? I kind of miss the way it was.” And the way it was wasn’t bad by any stretch—it’s just that it was devoid of space to breathe, to feel into what has meaning for me.

I can’t be the only one, can I?

Regardless, as the masses wake up in these first mornings of 2021, heaving their collective sigh of relief, assuring themselves that last year was all a terrible nightmare and everything is going to be OK now, maybe we don’t have to be so quick to dive back into what had been true, automatic and reliable before we entered the dream. Our hearts can be heavy and hopeful at the same time—they have the capacity to feel many things at once. Perhaps we can let ourselves linger for a few more minutes in the in-between, wander through the apparent wreckage, and notice what shines up at us.

What will you let yourself keep?

We can’t breathe

A virus that’s attacking our lungs. George Floyd crying “I can’t breathe” over and over before being suffocated to death. Wildfire smoke choking much of the western U.S. Saharan dust clouds crossing the ocean to infiltrate the respiratory systems of the American south. Intolerably high temperatures everywhere.

We can’t breathe. Air, perhaps the one thing we took for granted — smog- and pollutant-rich though it has been for years — is eluding us. Its absence making us sick. Killing us. (As always in this country, disproportionately killing people of color.)

Several days over the last few weeks I haven’t been comfortable anywhere. Air purifiers and fans circulated what little oxygen was left to us in our small apartment with all the windows shut in 90+-degree heat. I decided that I prefer smoky air that moves to air that is thin and still. The air-conditioned car has felt life-saving.

Constantly I’ve been aware that this suffering of mine is nothing compared to that of folks driven from their homes by fire; driven out of their own cars and onto the ground to be cuffed, knelt on, shot; feeling the life drain out of them as doctors look around in vain for an available respirator.

We can’t breathe.

Physiology

I went looking for what this points to, the fact that we — as a nation, a culture, an ailing, flailing, crumbling empire — can’t breathe. It wasn’t terribly hard to find.

In Chinese medicine the lungs are associated with grief, sadness and detachment.

“The lungs encompass the heart centre and the emotions. The symbolism of many of the symptoms which affect the lungs is breath holding, being in a state of emotional hurt, a sense of giving up and fear of living life fully, with the mucous which often accompanies these conditions a physical manifestation of unshed tears.”

“Symbolism of Illness: The Lungs and Breath,” Melanie Creedy

And from a different Australian article:

“…the lungs are directly affected by emotions of sadness and grief, which constrain the organ’s feelings, and restrict its movement. Being unable to express these emotions or being overwhelmed by them causes the lungs to weaken. Our immunity goes down, and we can easily develop respiratory problems… Grief is a necessary painful process. It is a transitional period of acceptance that one part of our life has changed.”

“Grief and The Lungs,” Olivier Lejus

Grief, then.

In this culture, grief is a disorder. It is seen as something we need to cope with, get through, overcome. If necessary (and it is often deemed necessary) we drug ourselves so that the fullness of grief doesn’t overpower us.

This, of course, is no remedy at all. The repressed grief will hide somewhere in our bodies and express itself as something else: resentment, illness, abuse of self or other. It carries into future generations, embedding in our evolution, growing us into a detached, head-based culture that encourages being ‘strong’ in the face of grief (i.e., bottle up anything you’re feeling for fear of freaking out the kids).

It was trickier to search for physical manifestations of grief. I found “symptoms” of grief. I found ways to cope. To get through. I typed in “grief and letting go” and found advice on how to let go of grief and move on.

What is missing in all of this, I think, is the acknowledgment that grief IS letting go.

Thankfully (and not surprisingly), Jack Kornfield’s wisdom swims gently upstream from the prevailing current. He says:

“Grief is one of the heart’s natural responses to loss. When we grieve we allow ourselves to feel the truth of our pain, the measure of betrayal or tragedy in our life. By our willingness to mourn, we slowly acknowledge, integrate, and accept the truth of our losses. Sometimes the best way to let go is to grieve…

Most traditional societies offer ritual and communal support to help people move through grief and loss. We need to respect our tears. Without a wise way to grieve, we can only soldier on, armored and unfeeling, but our hearts cannot learn and grow from the sorrows of the past.”

– From his intro to “a Meditation on Grief”

What are we grieving? What are we not letting ourselves grieve? Why can’t we breathe?

Death

To help with these questions I revisited the teachings of one of the sagest elders out there, Stephen Jenkinson. To oversimplify his vocation, Stephen educates folks about what it is to be human, sane, and mature in the face of death—and how to be useful in our dying culture.

In a 2012 interview that I revisit often, he points to all that is happening (eight years ago, mind you, not the thousand-fold version of it we’re seeing now) as the signs—not the causes—of a dying culture. The question he poses is, “If the culture is dying, then what is asked of you?” He likens it to a dying parent: in that scenario, do you try to stop it happening? Do you get as far away as you can? No.

“You approach. You’re terrified, you’re enormously distraught, you don’t know what to say or do, but still you must make your feet walk toward his/her deathbed. That’s the obligation we have if the culture itself is dying. Our job is to be a faithful witness to what is happening… Don’t turn your head, and don’t blink. Cause some day someone much younger than you is gonna need to know what it looked like in the early days when things started to turn real bad, and it was irreversible. They’ve gotta get it from somewhere, man, they’re not gonna get it from newspapers… But they might be able to believe someone in whose eye they can look while the story’s being told.”

– Extraenvironmentalist podcast, Interview: Stephen Jenkinson – Culture of Dying

We can’t breathe because this culture is dying and we don’t know how to grieve it. We haven’t been taught that. We’ve been taught to act, fight, fix, deny. We know how to long for how things used to be. We are expert at kidding ourselves that it will all go back to ‘normal,’  convincing ourselves that we actually want that.

We can’t breathe because we can’t let go of our collective biases, beliefs, attitudes and actions that have contributed to the terminal illness of this world. We won’t let go because we believe they’re the truth, and if the truth is taken away what do we have left to stand on?

We can’t breathe because early on we disconnected from our collective breath, the breath of the planet, which has done her best to impart her wisdom since the dawn of humanity. That is when she—and we—started dying.

We can’t breathe because we can’t face our grief here at the deathbed of our known way of life. Grief, if felt, if allowed, is the pathway to something new, but if we don’t let our hearts break that metamorphosis isn’t going to begin.

We can’t breathe because we don’t know what is to come. We need to know, we strain to know, we frantically grasp and rearrange the few pieces of certainty left to us to formulate a story we can swallow—one that ends happily. That lets us know that everything is OK.

We can’t breathe because we won’t surrender into grief that comes with acknowledging that it’s not OK. It won’t be again for a long time, not until we learn what we are supposed to. That may take generations.

And so?

This morning I step outside and smell smoke faintly, grateful that there is any air at all. Eye my little air purifier and tabletop fan with reverence. Amazed that even a few years ago I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever stop taking air for granted.

I feel my own directive being re-awakened. I can’t breathe, my body is in pain, and there are things I can’t ignore any longer. It is time. It is time — as I’ve known for a while — to consciously bear faithful witness to our dying world. Become a hospice worker of sorts. Keep turning toward what is happening, powerless though I am to stop it. Be as kind as I know how to be to myself and others. Face what I have done and continue to do to contribute to our hurt, our disconnection, our brokenness. Do what I can to repair it.

It’s not a passive activity, grieving. We must stay awake as the parade of emotions barges through our being. We have to say what we need to say before it isn’t possible any longer. We have to face what is broken, hidden, unresolved.

To grieve is to let go, yes, but it is also to repair what we can, remove the wreckage of what we can’t, and prepare for whatever newness that clearing makes way for.

We don’t like this year because it’s getting harder and harder not to grieve, so we’re holding on tighter and tighter. Constricting our collective breath. As with our culture’s approach almost everything, it is completely unsustainable. It is the opposite direction of healing and growth.

Sounds like giving up, I imagine, to willingly let go in this time when all there seems left to do is fight for our lives, and in a culture that knows no other way. Perhaps it is not for us to go down swinging, but rather breathless and in awe.

Train on

Train on, friends, and dedicate your practice to this time of great change. To all that is being brought to light. To the thrum of calm and rightness beneath the panic. To what we as a world are being invited to see. 

Train on, trusting the wisdom of your body and heart to know what is safe and what is harmful. Extend your broad, soft gaze beyond self-preservation to the wellbeing of the community and to the world. Trust your instincts, warrior.

Train off the mat, but don’t stop your training. Keep one point. Extend ki. Stay grounded. Invite. Receive. Maintain a clear, calm, well-boundaried, ever-expanding container for all you’re capable of, all you have to offer.

Train on, staying mindful of the world of precautions and breakdowns. Have compassion for those with no training, whose spheres only have enough room for fear.

Train on for love of the planet, compelled as it is right now to align with what is right and true and inevitable. Honor the those who will fall in the wake of our collective waking.

Train on with this question in your heart: “what is Life asking of me?” Know that your response to whatever you hear in answer is your training in action. 

Train on, whether you’ve been training for days or decades. You’ve been called onto the path of the warrior so you can be of service in times like these. Likely your role is something beyond crisis management. Your training connects you to a deeper part of yourself—one who orients to a larger sphere of truth, a longer horizon of time. Who can see where this is all leading. Hold that knowing for those who can only be afraid. 

Train on, aware of how effortless it is to know what is right. See how you already know where you’re supposed to be and what you should be doing. Notice the gravity of the ‘yes,’ the certainty of the ‘no,’ and the flimsy static of the ‘I don’t know.’ The truth is evident, waiting patiently for each of us to turn to it. There’s far less rummaging necessary than we ever imagined.  

Train on, feeling into how this time of imbalance is necessary to bring us all into greater balance. Recalling how training through your fear has brought you to where you are, and will only keep going, as long as you train on.

Death and right action

Beings come into the world and they leave it. They do so on their own terms—or would, if we let them. But … usually we don’t. We are constantly interrupting the natural rhythms of life with our own thoughts about how things should go. With our fear of loss and of mystery. With our attachment to being able to see and understand what’s happening. With terror of heartbreak.

My dog is dead and I am in the middle of that heartbreak. I was prepared for her to die but not for her to be gone. Her absence is excruciating. This is the pain that we do our best to avoid and I can understand it in this moment. This is why the medical profession is devoted to keeping beings alive—to put off, for as long as possible, having to feel this.

That’s why we, our dog’s humans, attempted to divert the direction in which her life was clearly headed. Well-intended, loving and right-seeming as it was at the time, I will regret this forever. I’ll regret the vet visits, the two days in the hospital, all of the torment that trying to ‘help her feel better’ put her through. I regret every morsel of food I offered her after she clearly told us she was done with it, that she was done with her body. I regret not being kinder to her while she was in my life, the moments I chose my own comfort or convenience over her joy. Or when I chose what was “best” over her requests for something quite different. Most of all I regret pretending I didn’t hear those requests.

But I heard them. I heard this one in particular: “I am dying; just don’t leave me.” But we did. I did. Rather than keeping her in close and familiar surroundings, letting her sickness unfold and helping her leave when it was time, we subjected her to fear and stress because we wanted to ‘help her feel better.’ What we were really up to was delaying the pain we’re feeling now: the pain we were always going to feel. She did ultimately come home and die peacefully here, but it was not the lead-up to her death that she’d asked for—that she’d asked me for because she knew I could hear her. It was the opposite.

There actually is a natural order, a very clear direction in which life flows. It is apparent if we attune to it. Easier said than done, of course. For one thing, it’s so damn subtle, and it really requires that we turn the volume of our conscious mind way down and raise the antennae of our body awareness and emotional intelligence if we’re going to hear anything at all. Plus it’s not always blissful. Colluding with the flow of Life means opening ourselves to shocking loss, severe pain, blinding disorientation, discomfort, inconvenience.

The thing is, though, that it can actually lessen suffering when we cease our attempts to dam all that flows naturally.

This is aikido, of course: cultivating our ability to feel / hear / see how life wants to express itself in any given moment and, at super-advanced levels, acting in accordance with it. That last part is precisely what I didn’t do. The excruciating truth of this points to the next phase of my practice: closing the gap between perception and action. Integrating what I know to be true with doing the right thing in response. I’ll come to peace about all of this, one day, hopefully, through practicing that, getting better at that, on the mat and off. I’m headed back to class today, for the first time after she died, to begin my practice again with this intention, this commitment.

Actually, though, none of this is all that super advanced. Yes, aikido teaches our bodies to attune to the universe at the cellular level. But we can all, always, be up to this. We can listen for what our critters, plants, friends, elders, children are asking of us. Asking ourselves if we really do ‘know better.’ It’s not so complex. Usually all that’s being requested is kindness. I bet we can all hear it more clearly than we think or admit. The world is in the state it’s in because we’ve been trained to override this simple truth to avoid inevitable pain, inevitable endings.

This is my biggest regret, and biggest learning. The painful moments teach us the most, after all. It’s just that much more torturous to realize our mistakes when we’re out of time to put things right. When it’s literally life and death. No matter what reasonable, comforting things anyone says, I know that I not only betrayed that wonderful little being, but I disregarded and disrespected Life. And not for the first time – more like the millionth – but certainly the most immediate and significant. A tiny lead weight of this knowing is attached by a string to each shard of my shattered heart. They’ll stay weighted thusly until this all moves through, until I find some peace around it. If I do.

I am grateful to my dog for being my teacher in one of the most agonizing lessons I’ll ever learn. I know she forgives me and that I will eventually forgive myself. This raw wound will turn into a scar that will always hurt to the touch, reminding me to act from knowing, from truth, and from love.

I love you Paloma, and I’m sorry.

I thought I was better than this

Commitments

Commitments are always tested. Have you found that? Stuff we promise to ourselves and to other people—resolutions, relationships, recovery, things that don’t start with “r”—are constantly challenged, called into question. When they are, we’re often faced with a choice: abandon ship, stagnate, start all over… or step in and get better.

A commitment to practicing aikido is a commitment to that last one—getting better. It’s a path of impeccability. (Thankfully I noticed this when I was too far along the path to turn back. I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to say ‘yes’ to this kind of thing sight unseen.) If you’ve been practicing for any length of time, this might be becoming clear. Whatever your highest calling is, however your body and psyche need to expand in capacity and strength: that’s the path you’re on, and that’s what’s going to get tested. Year upon year, layer upon layer, it’s an overt, nonstop challenge to get better. At the deepest, most authentic, most profound levels of mind and soul and body.

Shutting down and melting down

My core challenge has always been—will always be—conflict. My particular nature/nurture cocktail dictates that being in the presence of a fight—not even in one, just near one—feels like the threat of death. My patterned response to this has been to shut down while it’s happening and melt down later.

This isn’t why I chose to start aikido, but you better believe it’s been getting worked on subtle and overt levels all the time, on the mat and off. Without being fully conscious of it, when I began my practice I committed to developing my ability to stay upright and mobile in the face of conflict.

The test

The other night I found myself in the literal middle of an argument: two people I love and respect, seated on either side of me at a dinner table in a nice restaurant, began a heated debate. My body went into its automatic response: I drilled my energy down into the ground, got very still, stopped breathing, and willed it all to end.

Ironically, we’d just been talking during appetizers about the various ways my aikido practice has helped me become more powerful. And now, moments after speaking about this, this claim was being tested. I recognized it as such, and watched in despair as my body went into freeze. Why wasn’t I speaking up, stopping this, doing something to make the situation different? Why wasn’t I being more powerful?

I was disappointed and distraught, to say the least. I thought I was better than this.

But then …

But then, fascinatingly, during the car ride home—the window of time generally reserved for post-freeze meltdown—I noticed that I …. I wasn’t melting down. Quite the opposite actually. I was pissed off. I was furious. Fuming. Mind you this wasn’t the most rational response to the scenario—the argument had been a perfectly reasonable and necessary one. It shook things up and opened eyes. Still, I was mad. Mad at the debaters for having such strong opinions that they had to air at the potential expense of a nice evening. Mad at myself for always seeing the truth on all sides and not having stronger views of my own. Even madder at myself for not having done anything to calm this down—especially since I’d been sitting right between them. And so forth. I was furious for a million reasons.

The point, though, isn’t what I was angry at, but that I was angry: a far more powerful response than the weeping, resigned pile of goo that would have been me in a past scenario. The anger empowered me to do things: follow up later with the folks involved, air my feelings, put the parts of it to bed that I could. Step into what I needed to learn from it. Resolve it in myself, rather than let bitterness and resentment stew in my cells for goodness knows how long. Anger can show us the truth, you see. It spurs action. It may not be the most enlightened reaction, but for many it is an unquestionable step on the path toward true equanimity.

I was better than this, I came to see. I did do something different when faced with the choice, it just didn’t play out as I expected. It wasn’t on me to change the reality of the situation—conflict is a very necessary reality of life (another huge lesson I’m learning over and over)—but to respond to it in a way that was more grounded, empowered, and fluid. That happened. It was subtle, but it happened.

We don’t have to think about it

And the part I celebrate most is that it was automatic. Over time, our aikido training rewires our nervous system to instinctively respond to situations with power and equanimity. That’s the piece of my training that kicked in in this scenario. It didn’t change how I thought I should have behaved in the moment. Rather, it roused me to action that would prevent the moment from becoming a lasting bit of trauma.

So many subtleties and complexities to all of this, but one big reminder here is this: something is happening, even if you don’t think it is. On the mat and off, in moments that feel like failures, like backslides, like stagnation, deep in your cells a warrior is developing. You don’t have to be running into burning buildings or leading charges, fending off half a dozen ukes with ease or even doing a perfect technique. You’re on the path of impeccability, shedding layers and layers of dry old skin, being perpetually tested, and finding out again and again that you are, indeed, better than you’ve ever been.

Attending to our practices as the world breaks around us

Even as a devoted practitioner and advocate of ongoing self-development, I’ve had moments in recent months when I’ve second guessed the point of it all. With so much of the world in dire emergency, it’s to the point that I’m literally forgetting to check in with friends in the path of fires or with family members in destroyed cities because I’m too preoccupied with concern about a close friend at a violent protest or my sister having to evacuate her neighborhood.

Between trying to figure out where to send emergency relief funds, scanning the news daily to make sure nobody I love is in jeopardy (and being heartbroken for the millions who are), trying to gently educate relatives about the unconscious beliefs that are harming our world, putting attention on my and others’ self-development seems … extravagant. Questions of who I am and what my life is for are eclipsed by the urgent call from a world in crisis.

How our practices can shore us up

On a particularly tough day recently, smoke thick in the air from the fires burning a few dozen miles from my home, I began an evening of aikido—my central physical and spiritual practice. It was through an eerie indoor haze that I watched sensei take his place at the front of the room. We began as always, sitting seiza, taking a few moments to gather ourselves. Sirens shrieked outside—not fire-related, and not especially uncommon in our corner of the world. Still, it added to the air of something-not-quite-right-out-there as we bowed in.

In all the thousands of times I’ve commenced practice this way, it’s never felt holier to me. I sensed our group’s collective steadiness and inner quiet as the world was literally burning around us. The goodwill that we summon and send outward with every movement felt more significant; our connection to one another and the wider web far more precious and necessary.

Building capacity

This underscored a feeling I’ve consistently had in quieter moments: the element of my life that needs me most, that feels most necessary and right, is attending to my physical and spiritual practices. None more than they have given me the capacity to be where I’m needed. And what is needed, I’m finding—as many are—has to do with attending to those around us in more loving ways. Recognizing each other as human, listening to each other’s stories, and sharing what resources we can—both tangible and intangible.

In terms of my own development, my practices have given me a physical sense of my own core, my own strength, and my own ability. Giving to others from this place feels less like an exchange of limited resources, and more like a decision that comes from a place of autonomy, abundance, and connectedness. I can offer kindness and help in ways that don’t deplete me or call for something in exchange. This feels extremely useful, to say the least, at this moment in history. Almost like it’s all been leading to this …

It’s a process that will never be complete and is rife with backslides and frustration, but it is happening. It’s an often unconscious yet undeniable unfolding.

What is yours to uncover?

Naturally the direction of everyone’s development is unique. Maybe our times call you out beyond the realms of simple, local acts. Maybe you are driven to activism, warriorship, craftsmanship, heroism, education, divinity. Whatever it looks like, there is something that each of our lives is constantly building towards, and layers we can continually shed to get closer to whoever and whatever that is.

Now is definitely not the time to abandon what keeps us most centered. We actually have to keep turning back to ourselves, keep digging up what is cluttering our souls in a devotional pursuit of the place most steady and true.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑