Fake it ‘Till You Make It

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Mastery is a concept best left to the masters. Know any of them? Me neither, really.

Sure once you go on the deep six holiday it’s easy to be seen as a master. But if you are among the living then this is not really an option.

So what do we do?

We have to have a wide net of experience and friends. These friends with different experiences will force you to stretch yourself by adopting some of their positions.

Now, when I met my wife, fake it till you make it was not an option. I was very serious, focused and driven like a jackhammer. I poured myself into three careers: newspapers, teaching and medicine before turning 30 years of age.

That’s a lot of ground to cover. I felt really good and confident about myself. I mean who else has done all of this?

All of this fell completely apart when I met my first patient.

I was sitting in my office with no patients. Finally, like lightning on Olympus, the phone rang. I let it ring three times, so as not to appear desperate, and a woman said:

Do you do house calls?

No.

Oh, well I am friends with your mother and I know this is the first day your clinic is open and you don’t have anyone on the schedule. With that in mind do you think you could come over?

Hmmm, I said, looking at my schedule. Here’s the deal, I will only come over after regular business hours are over.

She laughed, gave me her address and hung up the phone.

At about 5:30 pm I show up at her house. Her husband is noticeably distressed as he opens the door.

She’s in here, he says, moving quickly down the hall.

I’m noticing the deeper into the house, the darker it’s getting. By the time we end up at the room we are going to, it’s almost hard to see.

Wow, I think, serial killed on my first day at the job.

He opens the door very slowly and quietly. The gentleness of his actions completely at odds with his physique and demeanor.

I see a woman sitting up in her bed. She has an IV pick in one arm. She barely looks up as we come in. I take a seat by her bed.

So here’s the story. I’m, let’s call her Jen, by the way. And you see this IV, well it has antibiotics in it as well as fluids. They change them out. When it’s the antibiotic time, I can’t stop throwing up. In fact, they don’t know if the antibiotics will kill me or the infection in the plates of my skull. That’s what you are here for. Can you help me beat this infection?

Um, I gulped, well, I.

Ha ha. Just so you know I that I know, I am your first patient. I imagine that you have absolutely no idea what to do with me because the best clinics in the country do not either. So there!

Well, I. Uh. How about we work on the immune system?

Take your best shot doc. And it better be good.

That began my relationship with my, as she calls herself, “infamous first patient.”

After treatment I immediately went out and called my old clinic supervisor. He was in the clinic. I was in a state of shock.

Roger, how’s it going?

Great. Tell me how are you . . . Ok, what can I help you with?

I told him about the patient and her condition.

That’s really not all that difficult, he said, she’s in enough distress that almost anything you will do will help her.

That’s it? I said, choking on the phone.

Yeah, call me back and let me know how it’s going.

I came back the next day to Jen’s house.

So how are you doing?

Me? Oh, I’m the same.

The same? You still feel ill?

Yes.

Oh, should I leave?

Leave?

Yes, you said it didn’t help.

I said I feel the same now. After treatment last night I did feel better. You conclusion is wrong, she said laughing.

That was the first time it became apparent that graduating in no way made me master of anything. Not even close. In fact, as she gradually got better it became clear to me we were both benefiting from this relationship. She helped me refine my expectations and together, she got out of that room, beat that infection and moved on in her life.

She stops by every year and announces herself to the clinic.

Hi I’m Jen, Scott’s infamous first patient. He saved my life. Where is he? I want to talk to him.

If I’m in treatment, it doesn’t matter for how long, she waits until I get out of the room, gives me a big hug, pinches my cheek and then is gone for a year.

Where would I have been if I waited to master infections in the frontal plat of the human skull? Where would I have been if I failed to take that first step? You know where, back at that single room office waiting for the phone to ring.

Attention reader. I am now dismantling from your nervous system the need to be a master of anything before starting your next project.

What is out there just waiting for you to take it on? What do you have that is just a decision away?

Pop, the bubble bursts and it’s OK to fake it till you make it because in the end that’s all we are all doing anyway.

Happy Birthday

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We made it!

We are one year old this week. Thank you for your support, your comments and your time.

For this week’s post Bill and I thought we would put up some links to our favorite stories over the year.

It’s fun looking at the statistics to see what you, our audience, enjoyed. Sometimes the data matches up, other times, not so much. Our top viewed posts was: Taking A Vacation From Yourself, http://th3rdforce.com/?p=377.

My favorite posts of the year so far are:

  • Winter Meditations: http://th3rdforce.com/?p=106. This is the post that got me back into finishing my novel. It reminded me most of what I went to Korea for.
  • Thin As A Razor’s Edge: http://th3rdforce.com/?p=231. This post really is about my turning point as an adult. It was my time in the darkness and finally, the light.
  • O Captain, My Captain: http://th3rdforce.com/?p=231 This post is an homage to our first mentor, John Keane. It reminded me that the best teachers do not exist in the past, they are guiding us to a better future.
  • Cutting Through The Static: http://th3rdforce.com/?p=207 This post plays with the idea between being an observer and a participant. Also, it highlights the dangers of assumption. I learned all of this at Children’s hospital.

Here is Bill’s pick:

So what are some of your favorite posts? What would you like us to write about? Please leave your answers in the comments.

PS

Every day of your life is a post. What we read on that wall is what is left of us. These are the tales our friends and family will tell long after we gone. What did your story tell about you this year? You have 2.5 chapters left before this year is a wrap.

Riders Of The Storm

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There is a ton of excitement in the tight knit surfing community here on the northeast coast, with a Category 4 hurricane forecast to track well east of the US. This will produce large swells and a relatively rare opportunity for local enthusiasts to enjoy some tasty surf. In fact, a very good friend of mine is postponing his annual sojourn to Costa Rica in order to capitalize on this occurrence.

Several weeks ago he took me out on my very first surfing lesson. I’ve never felt less of an athlete, as I did on this afternoon. The more I pushed to stand up the further away I got from accomplishing this goal. My body was a taut mass of aggravation and I was actually getting worse on each subsequent attempt. My buddy, who is a rather accomplished surfer patiently explained to me that I would need to relax and let the ocean do the work if I wanted to get to my feet. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I was able to briefly get to my feet.

To say this was a humbling experience would be akin to saying that Stephen King has published a few works of fiction. We here at 3F often talk about getting out of our comfort zones and doing something that makes us uneasy and well, this delivered on both accounts. However, as embarrassed as I was by my physical ineptitude, I was equally struck by a great sense of peace and recognition once I was able to get past my frustration and finally stand. A oneness with my environment began to develop once my ego and vanity subsided. I stopped fighting the current and let it go to work for me.

Afterwards, we sat outside and enjoyed a few Southern Tier IPA’s. He told me about a book, that an old surfer dude had referred him to years ago. It is called, Cloud Hidden Whereabouts Unknown by Allen Watts. He told me that it was an absolute must read, so I at my first opportunity Amazoned it. Watts takes a fascinating look at his retreat into the mountains of California and his discovery and following the watercourse way of nature, known in Chinese as the Tao.

Alan Watts helped create the Zen boom in America and which has become a popular theme with people seeking harmony with nature. Watts discussion of Taoism is particularly interesting. The Tao signifies the energy of the universe as a way, current, force, course or flow  which is as at once intelligence and yet spontaneous, but you don’t worship or pray to the Tao, because it is your own true self, your very energy and patterning of your bones, muscles and nerves. Lao Tzu’s  first statement about it is that it cannot be defined, for the simple reason that you cannot make what is basically you and basically real an object of knowledge. You can’t stand aside from it and examine it as something out there. Although then that we cannot define it, we must not assume that it is something bleary like the blind energy of 19th century scientists.

From our own point of view our heads themselves are blind spots but were it otherwise we should be looking at only neurons and dendrites and would never see mountains that meet the ocean. Of course when neurons and dendrites are seen from the inside they become mountains that meet the ocean.

Now, even though the Tao can’t be pinned down, it has a characteristic atmosphere that can be sensed in the lifestyles in people such as these surfing ethusiasts. It’s an ability to flow with or following with the wind or in this case waves. The whole object is generating immense energy by going with your environment. By following the gravity of the water and making yourself one with it. By applying this principle we learn the senselessness of trying to force ourselves upstream. Flow with the waves, it’s another way of saying chill out…get rid of tension and rigidity, bend with the wind and you’ll still be around after the hurricane is gone and the fair weather returns. It’s like the principles of judo, which uses the power and force of your aggressor to defeat him. He makes the move, you simply channel him using his own force and momentum to easily cause him to sprawl in the dirt.,

This idea can be applied to our troubles, our worries, surfing and situations that at first seem threatening and impossible, but which can if we flow with the storm, be turned into our advantage. A person with this kind of attitude and philosophy cannot be defeated. Even after he fails to stand up after dozens of attempts. He knows that he is a part of everything else, the very energy of the universe and that he can best live and achieve whatever ends he decides upon by going with the current. With ease and serenity never with tension, never with force or strain.

May the Th3rdforce be with you.

Your Guide To Breaking Free

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The attachment to beliefs is

The greatest shackle.

To be free is

To know that

One does not know.

 

Hsin, Wu (2011-10-19). The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin: Pointers to Non-Duality in Five Volumes (Kindle Locations 101-104). . Kindle Edition.

 

Whenever I get the opportunity I ask the people at the apex, how is life for you? I don’t care if they are in business, parents, barbers, or monks. Those that are in that top percent have great stories to share.

This week I would like to explore meditation. Go over some preconceptions and see if we can’t shed a little reality onto the subject.

I asked a friend of mine who spent ten years in India meditating in isolation for six months and then teaching for six months, what were some memories that stuck out.

I figured he would talk about pristine mountains. Skies so blue, topaz seems pale. Snow-capped peaks and meetings with great masters.

Fleas in the beds, he yelled out. They were awful, what little sleep we got was disturbed by those damn things.

But what about the view?

View? I hate going outside. What’s the point?

So much for my mountain-ringed Shangri La. Well what else did you learn?

Being part of a monastery isn’t the quiet retreat you would imagine. It’s pretty fucking far from that.

In the beginning it was easy to do the meditation. I would sit alone in my room/cell and twice a day someone would bring food or if I wanted to I could also just go down to the “cafeteria” and eat with the others. So there were definitely two groups, those that enjoyed company and those that didn’t – how’s that for unity? 

I didn’t like eating with the others. It was too loud with all of them.

As in, they were talking? My mind went instinctively to the cafeteria in high school. I was picturing the monks at their tables: the  monk jocks, the cool monks, the nerds and the ones that made them all nervous.

No, there is a lot of turbulence within people who don’t sit or haven’t sat for long. It’s a feeling real as sunshine. I can sit with someone and gauge not only how long they have been sitting, but how effective it is for them. Or rather their technique. It comes off of them in waves.

So that’s pretty cool.

No, not really. It’s uncomfortable to be around someone who is uneasy within themselves. It bleeds over the entire environment.

So then the monastery really wasn’t a place of quite introspection?

Quiet? That’s a joke. Couldn’t stand all the noise.

So what about the actual practice? What were some things that were hard to explain and really made you wonder about the whole process? There must have been some insider stuff people don’t know about.

The demons. They were tough. There was one part of the monastery that was famous for possessions. You would go up there and pretty soon your body would be thrown around. People would get scratched, chocked. The whole works.

And what happened to you up there?

Just like everyone else. But you see I was different. I was a teacher. So my teacher called me in to his chamber and asked me what I thought was happening. I went through the usual: torment by ghosts, demons, ex-girlfriends? 

My teacher replied, who is there to be possessed? If this body is just a shell housing our spirit who or what is there to take it over?

Well that made me think for a long while. I knew what was happening was real. I just didn’t understand the why or what of what was happening.

It was explained to me that the body de-stresses, not only the mind. That’s the strange part, it’s the body that goes through the process too. Deep stress is held in the muscles and connective tissue. To meditate is to release that stress from the body. It can get pretty violent. You can end up jumping out of your seat!

That actually made a lot of sense to me. As a kid, when I could, finally, get to sleep I would often wake myself up jerking awake. I’ve seen my kids do the same thing falling asleep: a hand shoots out there, a leg kicks. Animals follow the same path as well. Dogs jerk their legs going to sleep as well.

My own patients do it with acupuncture. They talk about a whole, body-wide twitch that once it has gone off, they fall into a deep restful sleep.

I asked my friend about how many people made it past that last wing in the monastery? Not many did. The toughest thing about that wing is that you are facing yourself disguised as something external. Nobody tried to squash the talk about demons etc. It served as a means to weed out those that couldn’t or didn’t want to face themselves.

In my own practice of meditation I was following the path of the clear pool. I had read the point of meditation was to conquer our emotions. By watching them like clouds I was aiming to be free from the tyranny of the emotions.

What I became was rather, boring and highly erratic. By silencing my emotions I began to wither. When I ended up in the temples in Korea there was none of the new-age Americanized meditation blather. Monks had emotions, disputes and they helped solidify my practice in reality. I had had enough of the books.

When I feel something now I go with it. I don’t always have to believe I am right or correct. But I do have to own up to my feelings and express them in a constructive way. If I make a mistake and blow a fuse, I apologize and move forward.
That was the problem. I shackled myself to a belief which only made my emotional life much more volatile and not very comfortable for me and those around me.

So looking at your life. What beliefs do you have that no longer serve you?

Take some time on this one, it will save you decades.

Throw off the shackles.

They didn’t serve you back then, and they sure won’t serve you tomorrow.

A New Lens, A New Way

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Once in a while we have to stand outside our culture and look at the norms. We have to see from a new lens, the world in which we were not only created, but help perpetuate.

I had my chance to do this a few days after being released from a Korean Hospital.

My immune system had tanked. They released me after a comical and frightening English lesson slash diagnosis.

The two doctors were maybe in their mid-30’s if that. They nervously stood at the end of my hospital bed. As they went from foot to foot they gently brushed shoulders from time to time.

“You have rhinitis!” they looked at me, hoping I would understand. I did, nodding. It seemed to spur them on. Enthusiastically, they made the rest of the speech: “Also, sinusitis. Bronchitis. Dysentery and . . .”

Let me tell you, there are few things worse than being in this situation.

“Unknown infections.”

They sent me home with the same medication that didn’t work last time. They didn’t work this time.

Let’s hit the pause button for a moment.

How did I end up here? Sure I was in a foreign country, in a foreign land. I didn’t have the emotional support and cultural bedrock to stand tall. And. . . . . . . .

And, that’s not really true.

My buddy Fitzy was only two hours away. We talked weekly on the phone and visited at least twice a month. I was also surrounded by very kind people in my new home town. Sure my boss was an ass, but that’s bosses working foreign laborers- just like they do here in the United States, they get every ounce of work they can knowing there is another body ready to fill in the hole.

So what was it?

I think it was that my paradigm was broken. I was taught to react to illnesses (and pretty much everything) after the fact. I didn’t do anything until it was too late. By the time I was heading to the doctor’s office I was already defeated.

So by always reacting, I was always coming in the game late. I was always behind. Not very good odds and certainly it was no way to live a life.

When I looked at it, my reacting was not limited to just my health. It spread across all areas of my life.

Here are some sample questions that if you have asked yourself, you are in the same boat:

  • I don’t know why she broke up with me?
  • I don’t know why I got fired?
  • I don’t know why we lost the project?
  • I don’t know why this keeps on happening?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, break it down. When did you check out and wait to see what happened? If you break the situation down and honestly can’t see what you missed then you have two options to wrestle with:

  1. You are in over your head. If this is true there is a very steep and painful learning curve.
  2. I think most of us will fall in to category 2. You are too close and have a blind side when it comes to the issue. If you have ever been in a relationship where all of your friends don’t like your significant other it’s because your friends can see that person for who they are, without the blind-sided optics of love skewing the view.

Take a stand back and tackle the problem again. Or better yet, ask for help figuring it out. I know you have a core of good friends who bring worth, experience and insight to the table.

That’s how I got out of the hospital and stayed out. I didn’t do it on my own. Not even close. I found a teacher who had enough skill as a doctor to help my physically and she had enough prowess as a healer to help quiet the unease of my mind.

A couple of days after getting released from the hospital I did get my chance to start doing things right. That chance was paid for with 48 hours of pain I can’t even begin to put to paper. I won’t be able to convey where I was and some things are not for public consumption.

The Chinese medicine doctor called me to her apartment and after passing some cultural literacy tests, deemed me worthy of help. She asked me, “do you have nough of this? The town thinks you are die. The town is worried you will die. If you want to do that you can’t do that here,” she said pointing to where I was sitting. I told her I was sick of feeling like I was. She replied, “I will treat you. But it is sure you can’t take care of yourself. You must eat every breakfast and dinner with my husband and I, then I will treat you. I don’t want to waste my time. So you have to learn to live. Deal?”

I took her hand and haven’t put it down since. So, dear reader, what will it take you to start responding to the problems in your life?

Lessons From The Mosh Pit

 

DC Space. Lights blinking on and off. Warm up band is already breaking eardrums. Bass drum kicking. Guitars chopping riffs like machine guns. A tidal wave of kids rocks the floor. We start bouncing into each other. Lights dim. It’s too warm. Adrenalin flooding through my legs, which are shaking out of beat with the music which with the lights, is now on and racing at full volume.

As the music hits and bodies roll it’s time to get moving. Letting the music fill me, I leave this earth for a while, a kinetic burst of energy streaking across the DC skyline.

From the outside it does seem like pandemonium. I mean seriously. The music is incredibly fast. But there is a logic in the flow. There are codes and meaning.

For example, the physical layout is not chaos. Bodies are actually sprawling around in two zones, two circles one larger surrounding a smaller core.

The larger circle starts at stage front and winds about the perimeter of the show. The inner circle starts just a few bodies back. It is the eye of this sonic storm. Unlike a hurricane though, it’s here that the action is the most intense.

That’s where we are. It’s a mosh pit. Bodies colliding into and off of each other driven by the maniacal drummer. Goaded on by the guitars and finally and absolutely whipped into an utter frenzy by the lead singer.

The band is called Fugazi and when they play a show, it’s going to get rough, wild above all else, real.

Here’s what I learned as a kid going to East Coast shows.

  • Law 1: For every Action There Is an Equal and Opposite Reaction: Even though the action is intense if you take it personal and actually hit someone the show is over for you. So you had to keep you cool and more importantly spot the danger zone and keep out of them.
    • Proof: Fugazi were notorious for stopping shows. I was at the 9:30 Club in DC when things got a little too rough. Ian MacCaye, the lead singer, promptly stopped the show and began, yes, interrogating the meathead who was throwing punches. The band refused to play until that guy left. What was so memorable was Ian’s language, “I hope my comments are falling on deaf ears tonight folks because we have a concert to put on and when you throw punches at my friends then you, sir, are not our friend and we want you to leave.” It was hard to come back from that kind of pressure. In fact, I never saw anyone do it.
    • I was at a Frank Black (Pixies lead singer) show with my buddy Fitzy. He asked if we were going into the pit. I said, the last time I got in there some neanderthal hit me. Not three songs into the show someone grabs my shoulder. I turn around and bam. Right in the face. It doesn’t knock me down. In fact, for his size, he should have been able to take me off of my feet. I didn’t do anything but laugh at the absurdity of the moment. Before I can react, the pit takes him under. He disappears in a flurry of kicks. The music sounds good. I turn facing forward and let it take me on that wave.
    • From the man himself, Brian Fitzgerald: “It’s amazing the similarities rather than the differences between, say, a mosh pit in Tempe, Arizona and one in a GI bar in Seoul, South Korea.   A mix of different types of people–genders, yes, but ethnicities, too–who are there for a good time.  As a group they get so caught up in the music that the mosh is just a physical expression of that, at once jarring and aggressive but within weird group-imposed limits.  In other words, there’s a Code of the Pit.   I love that the group knows when the rules are somehow violated, and works together to eject the offender.  
    • Two vignetttes:   A big Native American getting pissed at you at the Frank Black concert and taking a cheap swing at you, knocking your glasses askew.  Before you or I can react, the group takes him out and he’s gone and ejected and likely bruised a bit.  
    • Another:  South Korea, a pit filled with expats and big G.I.s stripped to the waist–big dudes with shaved heads.  A little punky Korean chick goes down, hits the floor.   Next thing, she’s picked up, crowd-surfed somehow to the edges and gently deposited there, ready for more, while the action goes on.  
    • The Code is universal….and it’s about harmony and keeping the flow going.  Any interruption just ain’t kosher.   
  • Law #2: Music can change the world, beginning, yes, even with teenagers.
    • Proof: I woke up politically not by listening to politicians make false promises, but rather from a little band called the Clash. Nobody rocked political beats like the clash. My first introduction to this band was the album Rock the Casbah. Shortly thereafter I heard an album that changed my life, London Calling. To my 12 year old mind, this was not making any sense, but I wanted to figure it out and so I did;

 

“Spanish Bombs”

Spanish songs in Andalucia
The shooting sites in the days of ’39
Oh, please, leave the ventana open
Fredrico Lorca is dead and gone
Bullet holes in the cemetery walls
The black cars of the Guardia Civil
Spanish bombs on the Costa Rica
I’m flying in on a DC 10 tonight

Spanish bombs, yo te quiero infinito
yo te acuerda oh mi corazón
Spanish bombs, yo te quiero infinito
yo te acuerda oh mi corazón

Spanish weeks in my disco casino
The freedom fighters died upon the hill
They sang the red flag
They wore the black one
But after they died it was Mockingbird Hill
Back home the buses went up in flashes
The Irish tomb was drenched in blood
Spanish bombs shatter the hotels
My senorita’s rose was nipped in the bud

The hillsides ring with “Free the people”
Or can I hear the echo from the days of ’39?
With trenches full of poets
The ragged army, fixin’ bayonets to fight the other line
Spanish bombs rock the province
I’m hearing music from another time
Spanish bombs on the Costa Brava
I’m flying in on a DC 10 tonight

Spanish songs in Andalucia, Mandolina, oh mi corazon
Spanish songs in Granada, oh mi Corazon

 

  • Proof 2: In DC when we saw a problem, AIDS, Homelessness, we righted the wrong ourselves. We had benefit concerts and gave the money directly to those in need. We didn’t need a middle man taking their cut for the greater good. We were strictly DIY.
  • Law 3: Do not multi-task. I asked Bill Donnelly for some help on this post and he reminded me of two lessons.
    • The first, don’t bring a drink into the pit. It’s going to end up on your shirt first, on the ground next and probably at some point used as a projectile when someone steps on it and sends it flying. That’s a great lesson. Ever the mathematician, here’s his version of the equation: Low center of gravity and hips…hip check+drinkie=problem
  • Law 4: Size is deceptive. One of the funny things about moshing is pit physics. People with a smaller center of gravity tend to stay on their feet, using their hips to check the tall ones. It’s not what you have, but how you use it that counts in this world.
  • Law 5: When Moshing Choose Your Friend Wisely: I have never co-written a post before. Why did I need help with this one? Because moshing and going to concerts is something best not shared alone. We all have people in our life that bring us equal measures of joy, thrill and why not, our inner mosh pit.

So take a look around you. Who would have your back through the decades, through the changing sound of the world, through the heads, shoulder, knees and toes? If you see someone in your daily life who doesn’t fit that criteria. Do yourself the favor of upgrading. Chances are you may just find yourself needing someone if not deep in the pit, then many years after those days have passed. Someone to not only listen to music with, but someone to bump shoulders with when the kids are asleep and the only sound is the world you have both temporarily returned to, if only for a song. . .

Fire on the Plain

 

Most of the summer Winthrop, Washington was on fire. By July almost 250,000 acres had lit up the evening sky, covering much of the Methow Valley in smoke, dust, evacuations and homes burning to the ground. When the rains came in August, they were a reminder to be careful what we wish for: lightning sparked new fires and flash floods rolled unchecked over the charred earth, burying homes and adding to the chaos.

All residents suffered. None escaped the smoke or the power outages. Many residents lost their homes, cut adrift like the very flames that set them into motion. Some ended up staying with neighbors. Others packed up and left. Most found a way to get by.

Every Labor Day I take my daughters deep into the canyons near Winthrop for a camping trip. My wife stays home to get prepared for the upcoming school year. I get a few days a year alone with my girls. It’s one of my favorite things to do.

This year the campgrounds were closed until the day before we left. We woke up on the day feeling lucky that our biggest concern was where we would stay. We saw online that the annual rodeo was not only a go, they were asking people to please come because the town needed the business.

When I called the ranger station the lady on the phone said, “Yep, campgrounds are open. We are not advertising it though. If you build a fire, we’re handing out $100 tickets. You got it?”

Yes I got it.

When we arrive at our spot there are only a few campers here. Most of the sites are vacant. The people next to us light up a roaring fire as the evening overtook the canyon.

I walk over to them and say, “What’s up? I thought there was a fire ban?”

As I get closer I get a closer look at them. They are shot through. Wasted. Whatever you want to call it, not ready for me being a smart ass.

“We’re exempt,” she says.

I look at her, eyes blinking, smile fading.

“Damn fire took our home.”

Her husband nodding into the fire, not even looking up.

“And we were evacuated from our house,” says a man in his 60’s with a face that says 70. “It’s all burned to hell around it. It’s not what we call home. So we are out here and yes, this fire feels good.”

After that they just kind of stare into the fire.

I see all of their camping supplies laid out in moving boxes, over a dozen spread out like toys in my children’s room. Walking back to my camp I hear a beer crack. I am happy they have that, at least. I don’t hear them laugh tonight. They hardly talk. Only drink and stare into the fire.

The next night we drive into town. For the first time in over a decade we find parking downtown. No parking by the red barn and doing the walk of shame into town.

If you haven’t been to Winthrop, here’s the skinny. It’s literally about a block or two long. No traffic light. Just a 90-degree turn on Hwy 20. The town is dressed up in an old-west costume. Brewery, tourist shops, bookstore. . . that’s about it. People don’t come here for the town. They come here for the lack of a town and a landscape worthy of any artist’s eye.

Eating dinner Friday night we sit outside in the one upscale restaurant in town, Arrow Leaf Bistro. Nobody out there until the end of the evening. Two couples sporting “ranch” clothing and slivered hair sit behind us.

As my girls drift on and off the deck looking for snakes I can’t escape their conversation. I sat out on the deck to get away from people. Not to eavesdrop.

“Well you know we sold off some of our properties and rolled them into a bigger yacht,”

“Ha. That’s bad. Now you have a bigger hole in the water to dump money.”

The sound of wind in the trees. Always the river, in the background. A gentle reminder of the glaciers melting deep in the canyon of the Cascades.

I’m trying to drown them out, but they are too close. The backs of our chairs touching as they sat down.

“You hear about Tim? He’s sold it all off. Besides, their house, down to just a condo. He and Kim are going to go travel.”

“Wait. Sold it all off?”

“Hell that’s bad as being homeless when you are just down to a condo.”

They erupt into laughter. I’m swirling the wine in my glass, wishing there was more. But I’m driving precious cargo. More will come later.

My kids start screaming. Apparently they have found a snake and are chasing each other with it. I sip my wine.

The people behind me, well their food arrives and so does their complaining: It’s over cooked, yeah, do you think they even know what saaaalsa verd is? This is nothing like we get in LA. . .”

I finish that glass of wine. Say goodbye to Winthrop for the year and head back to our own campfire – the ban was lifted earlier in the day.

They are still talking trash about the food when the wind comes up and sends them scampering indoors, holding their wine glasses as if their life depended on it.

We count deer driving home. There’s an unusually large number in the field, more then 20 eating peacefully, watching the traffic with one eye, the looming darkness of the hills with the other. We get back to the campsite after dark. Besides the cracking of cans next door, there is no sound, but the wind and the always that water and my kids drifting off to sleep.

I light a fire. The evening rolls out under my feet. I feel the warmth of the fire on my knees. It feels good to sit there for hours. Time passes. It occurs to me looking up at the Milky Way deep in the night, that maybe we are all not so different.

We each suffer loss in our own worlds in our own unique way.

I think the issue is in scale. To the restaurant people, a meal (let me guarantee you it was nowhere near bad) and selling your possessions is a form of abuse. It sounds pathetic, but to them, make no mistake, it is a form of suffering.There is still a loss that takes place, perhaps the drama dresses up the boredom of a life without need for struggle.

To the people next door, they lost everything, or so they told me.

As for me and my camp? To quote Barton Fink, I am a tourist with a typewriter. Just along for the ride, but not really. By now, I’m participating in the dance.

Through the starlight I see them next door. Knees almost touching each other. Soft murmur of conversation, not punctuated by laughter. A sort of mournful discourse losing itself in the currents or air playing in darkness.

Hell, I think, taking a sip of Laphroig, maybe they are forgetting that which is closest?

I tilt my glass to the fire and say prayers for those I love who no longer have the opportunity to overcome such hardships. I say thanks for giving my oldest daughter and myself, back to my family.

In the stark outline of trees against an evening sky it’s obvious there are lines that divide.

If you are on this side you still have a chance to fight. You have it in you to rage against the tide. You have the responsibility to burn brighter than a firestorm in a dry summer.

Grab the ones you love, because nothing in the world replaces that kind of loss.

Let them know how you feel.

Let them know that the fires of this world can come and go as long as they are there with you, sitting by a river, listening to the wind crackle through the same burning wood that took your home.

Image from: http://northwestnaturalmoments.blogspot.com/2012/09/smoke-filled-sunset-from-four-fires.html

Leaves Are Turning

Life is an odd thing isn’t it? We begin life as one thing. Change for a while. Adopt another thing. And then, in the end, find ourselves back at what we once were.

With change being the only constant, what should we focus on? People? The times? Our things?

When one of China’s greatest doctors, Wang Ji Wu, turned 100 years old, he was asked to write an article on what it meant to him.

My own history is from the end of the Qing Dynasty, through the period of the Republic to the People’s Republic, already over a hundred years.”

In this brief essay he told about his life and times. The short version is that he studied martial arts and medicine as a young person. He became quite famous as a body guard and doctor. He finished his life as a world renown fighter and doctor. Sounds good, huh?

“All of these events served as a means of of cultivating my sprit, and afforded me the opportunity to practice the “gung fu” of living in the world.”

The fact is in the old days if you practiced martial arts in China it was seen as a lower class activity. Why? It’s a Confucian ideal, that if you make your living with your hands then you are inferior. Confucian ideals glorified the mind, and denigrated the body and its efforts.

Even though people thought ill of Wang’s profession they desperately needed help during these brutal eras in China’s history. The streets were dangerous. The only way to be safe was to hire the greater threat to act on your behalf.

In his 20’s Wang began studying medicine as well. He fit the archetype of warrior/ healer perfectly. His fame continued to grow in not only the martial, but medical fields as well.

This was an interesting time in China. Successive wars with Japan left much of China unable to defend itself. Chinese government saw that the country was weak and lacking in pride.

After much deliberation the government of China hired people to intellectualize the Martial Arts. The goal was to make martial arts a package combining: physical, spiritual, and philosophical elements. They even got so carried away as to marry health and martial arts.

Martial arts taught people how to fight. There was no implication that fighting would somehow improve health – it’s in fact quite preposterous, isn’t it? You  don’t get healthy learning how to take people down. You know what you get? Injured. 

Health practices in China were called Qi Gong. Martial arts and Qigong are two separate disciplines. That’s usually a show stopper in the West. Most of us were introduced to martial arts as a philosophically inclined, often dazzling display of intellect, power and strategy.

Who knew this version of the martial arts was cooked up in think tank designed to militarize the population of a country reeling after too many years of continuous war?

And so the spin began. Martial artists moved from thugs to community leaders. To be adept in the martial arts meant more, now, than just fighting. They fused together the physical, mental and spiritual aspects into one highly sought after package.

Wang was put up on a national pedestal as a treasure for his prowess in martial arts.

Life was good. For a while.

Then came the Cultural Revolution. Mao Tse Tung declared war on martial arts and medicine.

“With the Cultural Revolution, disaster once again overran the country and I was forced out of business.”

After the Cultural Revolution was over martial arts, spirituality and medicine made a huge comeback. Guess who was put back on the throne? You got it, our man Wang. He finished out his life as a rock star for Western students. He lived, as he died – a national treasure.

“My life has seen its ups and downs, times of poverty and hardship, honor and dishonor, the changes of the seasons, all of which have left a deep impression on me. . .”

It’s September. The world is changing. One question worth asking: What are you paying attention to?

As for Wang, here’s his parting goodbye to the world: “With a clear heart, I do not contend with others or make demands upon the world, but rather seek to contribute what I can for the benefit of all, aiding those in need and protecting those in danger.”

Feels like to me, not so much of a goodby, but an introduction to the kind of life worth living.

 

 

If you are interested in Wang Ji Wu’s philosophy I highly recommend Xing Yi Nei Gong, by Dan Miller and Tim Cartmell

The Bell Is Ringing

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The line of cars snakes out around the school for a couple of blocks. No chance getting in there. Not today. Not like this.

Parking the car up about three blocks, my kids are vibrating with anticipation. My youngest is literally hopping sideways down the street. Horribly, it’s been over a year, singing out on max volume, “let it go, let it go”

My oldest has my hand clutched tight in hers. She’s talking low. Trying to figure out who will be sitting next to her. The catalog of names spreading itself out in front of us like falling leaves.

Last night an hour past bed time, both kids awake.

“Go to bed!”

“We can’t we’re too excited.”

“Yes. I am getting excited, go to bed!”

It takes them hours until finally they cave in. There is no trace of fatigue or sleep deprivation on them this morning.

It’s the first day of the new school year. And my kids are ready.

Dropping them off, I have to laugh. I feel the adrenalin rush, walking them each to their classes. Each of us going into that school are taking place in group thought. Instead of a concert or a sport’s game we were all heading to education, to learning, to meeting new friends and teachers.

And we are happy.

So what or when, in our adult life, did we hit the brakes on that one? At what point did challenging ourselves to learn become a luxury or a hardship. When was the last time you acquired though conscious effort a new skill?

Being as this is the first week of school for Washington state students, I put it out you, our readers, to take up the challenge.

Learn something new this week. Get a book on a subject you are interested in. Could be history, mathematics, logic, biography, the possibilities are endless.

Not a reader?

Then take an online class. The way they are set up these days it’s a breeze. Google, online course/class on whatever subject holds your interest. Audible.com and their parent company Amazon.com have many courses at very reasonable price.

I am currently finishing a course on great American thinkers. My kids and I have just started on a Beethoven class.

School is in session. Only this time you get to decide what you are studying.

What will it be?

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/7846338906/”>** RCB **</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

 

Alone Is A Long Way From Lonely

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It is a hot day. Climbing cutbacks in the mountain. Not a lot of water. Tired from a long night of work and thirsty from an even longer night closing down a pub.

Pollen from pine trees blows across the path, an airborne reminder that spring is here.

My friend Mongo is leading the way, puffing hard. He pauses for a minute. His eyes still red, foggy from last night.

“Wait. Wait. Must have my medsin.”

He pulls out a cigarette and lights it.

I have learned to wait these moments out. He pauses, sitting on his heels.

“Drink.”

He passes me his water bottle. I agree, downing what little is left.

“Are we there yet?”

He looks at me. We both laugh at the same time.

“Same Korea, America. We there yet? Oma! Opa! Drive us crazy. You get it? Drive. Crazy?”

We giggle for a while. He stands up and it’s off and up. About an hour passes. We’re clearly not cut out for this climb today I think staring at the mountaintops in the distance.

“We stop. Go cross now.”

He heads off to the side, leaving the main trail, for a smaller, much fainter one.

“Up here, monk live. People always think monk on top of mountain. Monk no like it on top.”

He’s grinning maniacally at me. Yes, I get it, I nod.

“What do they do up here?”

“Meditate. Eat. Drink. Use bathroom. Argue. Sleep. Eat. Meditate. Bathroom. Fight.”

“Fight?”

“Yes. Take long time to sit with just you self. In beginning too many people in your head. Talk. Talk. Fight. “

We come to a small temple. Mongo bows at the gate. I try to copy, instead end up mocking – the joys of being a foreigner. There is a small temple up ahead. Not big enough really to be called a temple.

“There. That’s where training monk live. They lonely. So spend most time with passengers. Us? They haven’t been here long. No not at all.”

In the hillside, further up, more temples. Each one further up the hill, further away from us.

“Who is up there?”

“How do you say, senior monk? Old monk? They live furthest away. They are,” he’s thinking hard, “all alone.”

“Lonely? Do you mean, that?

“No. Lonely for beginner. Lonely” he says, pointing at the monk who is clearly bothered by our presence, but doing his best job faking a smile, “is a long way from alone.”

 ________________

I didn’t really get what he was talking about back then. At the time I figured the one’s who didn’t see people would feel lonely. Hell, I felt lonely half the time I was with people.

Years later. Hundreds of hours in meditation. It began. The process of stripping away the chatter. First I tried to take care of the others. Spent a lot of time separating myself from people. Long hours alone. No peace.

I thought there were too many hostile voices in the outside world. That’s a joke, right? Most of us say worse things to ourselves than any enemy could even imagine.

I had effectively walled myself within myself with a deranged and very hostile prisoner. I taught him everything I knew. I was easy prey.

Thankfully, my mental self-mutilation gave way to opening up again to others. This time the tidal pull reflecting the compelling drives of sun (community) and moon (isolation). I began to be very selective with my company. Cut out the deadwood.

Know what that is?

Scott Paglia’s Dictionary defines Deadwood: They are the people who suck you dry. You leave them feeling worse than before. They are poison we are the delivery vehicle.

Make a list of the people you spend the most time with. See who adds or subtracts from your life. Not just today or this month. Look over the course of a year. The one’s who don’t give. You are not friends with them. You are both locked in a codependent relationship. Spend time with the good ones. No, not the ones who agree with you. The one’s who are strong enough that you have to up your game just to keep pace. The strong ones don’t care about your feelings they care about the truth. The kind ones put out a hand so you can lift yourself up. But they won’t do it for you.

Can you see it? Socializing with deadwood does nothing constructive for either party. It’s impossible to feel anything but alone in that fell company. The first step is easy: getting rid of the external noise.

Now the hard part. You are faced with a decision at this point. List all of your traits, good and bad. Take a hard look at them. Next, put the negative traits in the cross hairs. A good sniper shoots long before their mark even knows what’s happening.

A patient told me, retired SEAL sniper, that he never pulled the trigger until he got bored with his mark’s routine. That’s how well he knew them. He was famous for a shot he made through a window. I asked how he did it. His reply, I pulled the trigger before I even saw him. I knew where he was before he did. And I got out of there long before they knew what hit them. What happened next?, I asked him. I did it again and again. That’s what I do.

So take aim on the broken down parts of yourself. This is what matters most in life. Not the external fights, but the one’s inside. All the leaches and parasites in the world are meaningless if you don’t do the work that matters. The work on yourself. As the saying goes, one enemy within the walls is far more dangerous than thousands outside of the walls.

So you’ve got your list, right?

Let’s do one together. We will start small. Let’s say you are short tempered. Do something that stretches your emotional muscles. If someone or something tends to piss you off, try to think like them for a while. Walk in their shoes. See the world through their lens. It’s harder than it sounds. It’s also hard to hate something you understand.

Let’s try a harder one. Lets say you are a selfish bastard. The best cure for this? Devote yourself to a cause each week. Pick somewhere or someone to donate your time to. Want to earn bonus points? Donate your time helping someone who pisses you off.

Even harder. Let’s say in the end you correctly conclude that your chief complaint against yourself is that you are no longer in control of your mind, moods, or body. You have gained weight, act like an ass and your best days are behind you.

Now we have a problem here. Let’s get rid of the program. How? Simple, we have to re-populate the idea you have of yourself with something better. So start meditating, praying each day. Carve out enough time so you can think and feel the difference between the habitual you-the one with such easy buttons to push-and the best version of yourself. When we reprogram our perception of the world and ourselves we are capable of breaking new ground.

Stripped of the dead weight, both externally and internally, it’s possible to be alone and have so much to do, so much to explore that you will find yourself, just like those monks, seeking higher ground.

These days I choose solitude. No time to be lonely. No one to be alone.