Guitar larceny

Craig and I caught up for a few hours on the long weekend. We had quite the adventure, driving around with no real idea where we were going, driving the wrong way up one-way streets and making turns based on intuition rather than a map. It took us twice as long to get to his house so we ended up having lunch around 3:30, too hungry for drive-through so (since getting my licence) I’m still a drive-through virgin.

While we were at Timezone we were looking around for games to play. Craig swiped his card twice on the Guitar Hero Arcade machine, but before he could play it, a little Asian kid (maybe 6-years-old, about a 80cm tall) ran out from behind him and picked up the guitar. Craig-kun and I grinned at each other and the kid grinned up at us as we (I) tried to take the guitar off him, but man that kid had an iron grip. And while we (I) was fighting over the guitar with him, he was pressing random buttons and managed to get most of the way of setting a game up. Eventually I knelt down and looked him in the eye and demanded he let ‘me’ play ‘my’ game, which made him run away, all of this without a word. Unfortunately, the machine we set up so there was no "Back" option, so Craig had to play the song he had set up, the little devil. Apparently he was quite talented. Tiny as he was, Craig saw him crouching on the ground with the guitar in hand playing on easy or medium.

I wonder if he just lurks around games, waiting for people to pay and then rushing in and grinning up at them so they think he’s too cute to kick off. I have to say, I nearly caved but was victorious in the end.

Ahh long weekends. We should start celebrating the Queen’s unbirthdays as well.

Kuro Obi

What do the martial arts mean to me?

Sensei lent me a DVD called Kuro Obi, or Black Belt. It is the journey of three students of karate that try to understand themselves and the art when their master dies. One of them, who’s skill is not as great as the other two, considers himself weak and cowardly and only ever fights once where he is sorely defeated. Another of them never strikes his opponent, only defending though his skill is tremendous. The third of them fights only to improve himself until there is no one left to better.

I know from the jedi that purity of heart is unrealistic and even destructive. There can never be a vessel that contains pure goodness- the nature of the universe defies the possibility. Never to fight back, when people you love, your life is at stake… It is noble, but foolish.
To fight only for the sake of fighting… What value is there in beating those lesser than you? You are your only worthy opponent. To defeat yourself is the ultimate bliss.
And not to fight at all is indeed the coward’s way- to have power but to be too scared to use it to change the world… The influence neither adds to yin nor yang, it is stagnant and useless.

So why do I study the martial way?
Partially to be stronger, to improve myself so that I might best others. And not only for self-defence and the defence of others; there is a very large part of me that wishes to know my strength. To be challenged and to do battle, as I have never done before. All rules aside, could I defeat another in combat?
To seek purity of body, mind and spirit. I condition my body and focus my mind so that I might be at spiritual peace.
For discipline. Again, to train the body and mind to harbour strong spirit.

As I go stronger, my influence in the world increases. I might yet conquer dojos and reshape Japan, just because I can. Why am I training? What is my goal? Black belt? No, there is no end to improvement. So why do I keep training? Why do I gain strength? Never to wield it is cowardly or impotent, and to use it incorrectly may well be evil. So what do I do?

I wonder why the Tibetan monks trained so hard every day of their lives and still never went mad from the skill they possessed. Maybe their studying Buddha had something to do with it.

On learning and living

Since last week’s interview fiasco, I’ve done a lot of thinking and received a lot of advice. I’ve realised a number of things. Firstly, I am not the same person I was last year. Nor last semester. Nor even yesterday. I am constantly changing, in little ways if not overtly, and I will always be able to learn more about myself and the world. Secondly, I’m human, and being human, I make mistakes. And those mistakes aren’t faults or failures, they are simply and purely mistakes. And if I make mistakes, I can learn not to make them, so in many ways, uncomfortable as they might make me, I’m doing myself a favour. Thirdly I am not perfect. I realised a few months ago that I am not always right- this was a challenging notion for me. I’ve since come to the view that I have my opinion and everyone has different opinions, none more correct than another. I am respecting different views more readily, but still have more work in this area. Anyway, I’m not perfect by nature, and I need to accept that rather than deny and limit who I am. I must learn to give myself permission to accept who I am, faults and all.

I also learned that I write a whole lot of crap about the same stuff. I need to distinguish between the relevant and irrelevant and how to be more concise and less repetetive. Like I’m being now. *sigh*

Meanwhile, here’s another article from Care2, by Isha Judd.

Have you ever really wanted something in your life? Something you
put all your heart into achieving? What happened when you finally
achieved it? Was there a rush of adrenaline? A feeling of triumph? Ok.
Then what happened? Chances are, you started working towards a new
goal. Maybe something more challenging.

It seems that no matter what we achieve, it is never enough. There
is always something more. Got the car of your dreams? Now you need two.
Why are we always waiting for something more?

Most of us spend our entire lives waiting. It has become such a
habit, that even when the things we are waiting for (the promotion, the
marriage, the children) finally arrive, we are incapable of enjoying
them in their entirety – we are too busy waiting for something else
(retirement, the vacation, the divorce). This is because we don’t
really know what we want. We think we want things, but in reality, we
want to feel satisfied. We think we want something that is coming in
the future, but in reality, we simply do not want to confront our
reality and embrace the present moment. This moment, right now, is the
only thing we ever have. The rest is speculation and illusion, but it
is here in the present where life is actually lived. If we are
incapable of embracing the perfection of this moment, we are incapable
of enjoying life. In reality, it does not matter how much we achieve
materially; if we are rich but unable to be present, we will simply
have achieved a more expensive form of misery.

You can create what you want in your life. And then, when you have
what you thought you wanted, you can again create whatever you feel is
still missing. You can go on doing this forever, until finally you find
that it will never be enough. That is when the real adventure begins;
the joy of discovering your true self. Loving yourself is ultimately
the only solution to discontent, and that comes from expanding internal
love-consciousness; an innocence, peace and joy that we had
when we were children. To start embracing ourselves exactly as we are,
letting go of the things that we don’t like, and polishing the aspects
that we admire and enjoy, until we feel such an intrinsic joy that
bubbles up from within, for no apparent reason. This joy, this love,
will be mirrored externally, and it will reflect in all our
relationships. We will start perceiving magic and beauty in the present
moment, instead of discontent, yearning and eternal searching.

To accept the workings of the universe

Article by Ed and Deb, from care2.

were just with Deb’s mother, Anne, in England. On the third day we were
invited for tea at the House of Lord’s (more of that below) and were
preparing to catch a train to London. In a bit of a rush we were
quickly downing breakfast when the toast got burnt. We watched in
amusement as Anne took a deep breath and simply said, “Oh dear, burnt
toast,” calmly tossed it in the trash and put a fresh slice of bread in
the toaster.

Few of us usually have such a reaction to burnt toast, especially
when we are in a hurry. But Deb’s mom displayed the same attitude of
calm acceptance later that day when we were having tea in London. Now,
being invited to the House of Lords does not happen every day, but we
were there to discuss a meditation project with one of the younger
Lords. It is a stunningly beautiful old building, seeped in history and
tradition and was a real treat for Ed, who grew up in the Bronx. We sat
in the chambers and listened to the debate; we walked through the
Queen’s robbing room where her throne sits; and then we went for tea.

Tea in the regal Tea Rooms sounds quintessentially English and we
fully expected it to be of good English quality. The room was
spectacular, the service was everything we could have wanted, but the
cakes were not—they were boring, dry, commercial and cheap—not good
Brit fare at all. All we could do was swallow distastefully and
continue our conversation.

Accepting and simply being with what is, is a quality that Deb’s
mother has perfected. It showed itself as she delicately ate her most
unappetizing chocolate éclair. It is a quality that we can continue to
learn in every moment that does not go our way. But, instead, we
usually spend most of our time wishing that things were different –
whether it is the big things like our partner or job, or the smaller
things like the weather, burnt toast, or chocolate éclairs.

When we resist what is then we create more suffering for ourselves,
as there is a constant, underlying dissatisfaction, otherwise known as
the “If Only…” syndrome: if only this, that or the other happened, then
I could be happy. If only so-and-so would change his or her behavior /
lose weight / find a job, then I could be happy. If only I had more
money / a bigger house / went traveling / had a good lover, then I
could be happy. We were teaching a workshop and a participant, Mary,
said she could only be happy when her children were happy. The list is
endless. You can fill in the blank spaces for yourself.

Accepting what is, as it is, does not mean that we are like doormats
and get passively walked over by all and sundry. Rather, it means
recognizing that what happened even just a second ago can never be
changed, it is letting the past be where it is so it does not take over
the future. We make friends with ourselves and our world. At the same
time we can also make changes wherever necessary, working toward a
saner and more caring present. We can either make a song and dance
about burnt toast and get even more stressed, or we can take a deep
breath and put a fresh slice of bread in the toaster.

Long update is long

I think it’s about time for another update. A real-ish one, if I can manage it.

Full time placement isn’t particularly easy. It’s just a pain to get up early (7ish) to go to work for eight hours without pay. On Monnights, Wednesnights and Frinights, I’ll generally add a four hour shift at Coles on to that. I don’t particularly mind it, I enjoy having money and the work is usually reasonably satisfying, but it leaves me very little time to do anything other than work. Tuesnights and Thursnights I’m at karate (having the time of my life I might add), and I’m working at least part of Saturday. So basically I have a few hours to myself throughout the week and a few hours on Saturmorn to do anything other than work, eat or sleep. And it does wear down on you. I don’t want to be one of those people who work 9-5 every day, waiting each day for the weekend until the weekend comes, only to dread the return of Monday and another week to crawl through. Full time work is just stupid. I’d much rather work part time- long hours I don’t mind, but not five days in a row two days rest. Mix it up a little more, make it easier to go shopping during weekdays and run errands. I’m still puzzled how people are expected to work full time as well as meet all their obligations when everything closes as soon as they stop work. Ah well.

Placement itself is… well, easy and difficult. Every fortnight, the students placed at various Centrelinks meet up for reflection on how things are going. And I’ve heard stories of people interviewing and doing all this research and contacting all these agencies and… I haven’t really done any of that. It makes me feel like I should be doing more, but I know that’s not fair on myself. Most days I follow my supervisor whenever he has an interview, I take notes, I occassionally offer a sentence or two in empathy or advice, and return to my desk to research the next interview or do readings. I’m currently trying to summarise an index on drug and alcohol use, compacting 80 pages to about 5. But it’s more than halfway through placement now and I feel as if I should be doing more, even though I don’t want to. I’ve let myself become comfortable with my role as a student, not having to do much real work. So yesterday I attempted to lead my first interview. I researched the customer (as they are called in Centrelink), checked out the relevant government legislation regarding what she wanted, called Homeswest to talk about priority housing, and went to see her.

Personally I think it went horribly. When we called her, Elsie walked one way and I walked the other and she stood in the middle not knowing who to follow. When we sat down, I didn’t ask her how she was, or talk about the storm outside, or even introduce myself. I asked her what I could help her with, and she explained what she needed: a letter of recommendation to get priority housing with Homeswest. I asked her what I could put in the letter, and she very concisely said she’d moved from Darwin to Perth with her two-year-old son to escape domestic violence and was now having difficulty living with her brother and his wife. She was highly very and very strong, showing clear thought and acknowledged emotion without giving into it. I sat there for about ten seconds trying to think of what next to say: she’d given me everything I needed and I didn’t know where I was supposed to go. As the seconds ticked on I became more and more tense as I panicked and struggled to fill in the blank. At this point I gave a desperate glance to my supervisor who took over and talked about how she was feeling regarding the violence, how her son was doing, clarifying the sort of issues she was having with her sister-in-law and why she had to leave, any other resources or family the woman had, any other information Homewest might find useful in the letter of support, going on and on and on about everything I could have asked.

So no I’m not ready to interview yet. That is to say, I feel like the spotlight is on my interviewing skills so I’m worried about what I’m doing rather than helping the person in front of me. In my panic I forget everything I’ve ever learned in uni. I kind of shut down after that, walking around like a zombie for the rest of the day, unable to think or work, just drowning in the extreme stress of my failure. But I know it’s not a failure, it’s experience. It’s going to be hard getting back on the horse on Monday, but I’ll try again eventually. There’s still time yet.

On a lighter, happier note, I sat in on a grading. Sensei recommended I miss this one and go for the next one so that I get a higher rank once I’ve learned more kata’s (patterns) and ippon (series of defensive moves to avoid punches). But watching, I learned a lot. I think I would have done well if I had known more kata’s- even the ippon the 1st kyu’s were doing I recognised. It’s dangerous territory talking about how good I am, but I believe with more knowledge, I could become a black belt within a few months. But as Elsie made me realise, striving for perfection limits a person: once they believe they’re perfect, they no longer feel a need to improve. So I’ll never be perfect (a disappointing realisation that undermines everything I do) but I can be the best I can be. I’m looking forward to training more, developing greater flow and controlling tenseness  in order to maximise the power of my techniques without sacrificing their fluidity. To draw energy from the ground as well as within and to become one with my opponent rather than focusing only on myself. As well as many other things, like having a strong core and being aware of my breathing. And after all, Shodan (I think) is the Japanese word for black belt, and means first rank. It is considered that once you have the foundations and earn a black belt, you are ready to begin learning true karate. I thought that was awesome.

And, because I’m not going for grading, I’m still a 10th kyu (the lowest rank, the white belt). This works well for me, because I just signed up for a tournament and I’m being enterred as a novice. I’m in the adult division but that’s all right, and I’m not sure if there are weight-classes, but… I should pretty much dominate ^^ I know it’s not very humble, and I’m actually hoping I get to spar with higher belts (even black belts), but I’m really excited about the prospect of testing myself against so many people in medium-contact sparring. That’s on Sunday October 18th and I can’t wait!

Just randomly, I also met a black belt whose choice of weapon is tonfa. I like him a lot. He reminds me of Bert in that he knows a lot of random but cool trivia, makes a lot of jokes and, while he can be awesome, he just wants to have fun and be cool.

Oh! I also found this video which, I believe, demonstrates why karate is superior to Taekwondo. You probably won’t find it interesting at all, but the more I analyse both styles, the more clearly I see the inherent strengths and weaknesses of each style.

Also just randomly, I’m reconsidering studying karate after last week when a black belt pointed out to me I was focussing too much on power. I wanted the techniques to be as effective as they could, but my rigidity limited them. She demonstrated how "tough power" is not real power and how flowing is more effective. It made me want to leave karate to stop training with the wrong mindset and join taichi. Or, perhaps, aikido. But I’ll keep at it for now and try and integrate flow into training.

In terms of my love life, things are going beautifully. It’s so wonderful having a car to drive. I’ve visited Bethwyn numerous times on the way to various places, and even out of the blue. It’s been highly satisfying, though it’s starting to hurt more, not being able to see her every day. We kind of eased into the pattern of seeing each other once a week until that became bearable, but now that the frequency is increasing, all I want to do is call in sick every day and spend my life with her. I wonder if there will ever be enough time, or if I’ll forever want more. Buddhist philosophy tells me there’s something very wrong with this greedy, obsessive, attached way of living, but I just love her more than anything, and she makes me happier than anything ever has ever. Such is love, I suppose. Can’t wait for the holidays though ^^

Speaking of holidays, I’ve so many people to catch up with. To any of you reading this, please be patient, I’m strung for time as it is but will see you as soon as feasible.

All righty then, I’ll be off. Got a Resort to visit and many games to play ^^ Ja ne!

The wisdom of whales

Self-acceptance is inherent in all animals and can be best
understood by observing nature. At Puerto Madryn in Argentina, for
example, dozens of right whales come to breed in the calm waters
surrounding the Valdes Peninsula. It is amazing to get close to such
enormous creatures. They are the biggest animals in the world and
surely among the most powerful, yet all they do is radiate love. It’s
incredible. It’s all you can feel. They are pure peace, pure love, and
yet they are so big. They look at you lazily through the shimmering
water as if you’re some rare breed of insect, and then down they go

The whales come with their babies, and those babies drink two
thousand liters of milk a day. So poor Mom spends most of her time
nursing. All the baby wants to do is feed – he’d be happy to drink ten
thousand liters of milk a day. When she gets tired of feeding him, she
rolls over onto her back so he can’t reach her nipples. The baby starts
slapping Mom with his tail in an attempt to make her roll over. It’s a
relatively powerful thing to have a baby whale slapping you with its
tail, but Mom just lies there in perfect peace. She lets him have his
little temper tantrum and continues to rest, even when he’s getting
annoyed. She doesn’t judge herself; she doesn’t think, I shouldn’t get tired so easily. I’m not giving enough to my children, poor things. Animals never judge themselves. To them everything is perfect.

When the mother has rested, she teaches the baby how to jump out of
the water. When Mom jumps, it’s magnificent. It’s poetry in motion.
When the baby tries to copy, he’s a disaster! He does big belly flops
and isn’t impressive at all. But his mother doesn’t say,”Oh my God,
you’re not doing it properly! You’re embarrassing me in front of the
other whales! I mustn’t be a very good teacher…” No. She just keeps
leaping, and he keeps practicing, until they are in perfect union,
perfect synchrony.

Nature doesn’t judge. It’s pure love, pure being, perfectly in the
moment because it’s not thinking all the time. Such is the nature of