Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tools for the Journey #16 - What is to give light...

"What is to give light must endure burning."
- Viktor Frankl

Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Viktor Frankel survived Auschwitz to write the quote above, and his quote is a "gift" he gave me, a tool for my journey, though I never met Mr. Frankl.

On this blessed Thanksgiving Day I am mindful of all I have to be thankful for. I am also aware of the tendency to be grateful only for the "good" in our lives yet not the things which might be considered the "bad".

The "good" nourishes and sustains us, and this is a blessing. The "bad" or adversity in our lives can indeed devour us if we let it, but there is another possibility, another choice - it can instead be utilized as fuel to propel us forward...it can burn us and from there we become a source of light.

The roots of our pain may be deep but they are part of what is holding up the tree. Roots grow down, trees grow up so be mindful of directionality and which direction you want to focus your attention on.

We can find ways to alchemize our past pains, injuries, and sorrows into something new and useful. Just like a boat with a repaired hole - the point is it is repaired; it does not change the fact there was a hole but it renders this fact unimportant. The past should not be a place of residency - only a place of reference.

Our family and friends are a harbor for us, they are core to the "good" in our loves yet the "bad" or adversity, which may have caused some of the holes in our vessel, do not have to be an anchor. We alone get to choose how we look back and how we look forward. No one else chooses this for us.

Frankl said:

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's way."

Thanksgiving is a time to walk inward and seek out and hold up to the light one's blessings and gifts. For me it is both a time of appreciative remembrance and a time of anticipation...I have much to be thankful for and also much yet to come which I anticipate being thankful for in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. I am grateful for the harvest, for the bounty on my table today but I am also thankful for the seeds of things to come.

How do we measure the fullness of our lives? Hopefully we measure by the beautiful moments we have been blessed to experience...and even though human nature may compel us to want more of these "good" experiences (in whatever form) it is my prayer we each spend Thanksgiving Day residing in the place of feeling we have enough...and being thankful not only for the "good" things in our lives but also those things which "burn" us, those things which give us the increased capacity to be a light in the world...for what is to give light must endure burning.

Happy Thanksgiving.

"There are two ways of spreading light - to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." - Unknown

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tools for the Journey #15 - Fear of falling / Joy of Flight

There is an ancient Japanese koan which reads:

"Do not mistake the pointing finger for the moon."

As with all important questions in life...the answer is not as important as the path leading to it. However in this case I feel some explanation of meaning may be useful to what I want to say today, thus I have provided one interpretation of this age-old koan.

"Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger."

In the years I trained at Aikido of Tamalpias dojo I had the unprecedented blessing to have not just one extraordinary sensei, but three: Wendy Palmer, George Leonard and Richard Strozzi Heckler. Each gave me valuable tools for my journey which I still carry with me and use even after so many years.

As my family and I walk this journey of cancer and chemotherapy (with my husband) and all it entails...I have been mindful lately of a particularly indelible lesson from Richard which keeps tapping me on the shoulder.

On a sunny autumn afternoon while attending one of Richard's classes - when I was still a rank beginner - I was having an extremely difficult time with the rolling and throws which are an integral part of Aikido practice...I could not seem to get past my fears about falling and flying through the air and thus was making precious little progress on the mat.

After watching me flounder for a considerable period of time, Richard came over to ask what was causing me so much trouble. "I am afraid of falling and hurting myself", I told him.

His reply to me was simple, and he offered no long-winded explanation for what he meant. He looked me in the eyes, paused for a moment (in that instant there were no longer 20 other students on the mat with us - it was only student and sensei) and this is what he said to me:

"You don't need a map to get where you are going in here. Experience more, think less. Your fear is outside of your Self...and your work here is to shine the light inside. You must strive to turn your fear of falling into the joy of flight."
Richard's words so long ago helped me to better navigate my way to becoming a stronger more centered student, and those same words have been useful on the paths I have walked in the years since then. Today I find I am hearing his words anew at this particularly challenging time.

As much as I wish it were otherwise I certainly have some "fear of falling" at the present time on my journey. I am fumbling as I search diligently for a "map" which could help me navigate these terrifying waters...and Richard's words echoing in my head..."you must strive to turn your fear of falling into the joy of flight" are a map of sorts...or better yet a homing beacon back to center.

How do I transform my fear of falling into the joy of flight? How do I not mistake the pointing finger for the moon? Perhaps I can only get there through practice, just like those days on the mat in that beloved dojo. Maybe I need to think less and experience more...

Below is a quote from Richard Strozzi Heckler's book: Aikido and the New Warrior which expresses where I hope to be, but am not yet today, in my efforts to stay focused on the moon and not on the pointing finger and turning my present fear of falling into the joy of flight.

"When someone proceeds with an Aikido move they didn't think they could do, and then accomplishes it, quickly, with hardly any force used, that is transcendence. A person has done something not seemingly possible, by blending body and mind - and thus has revealed a bigger and probably truer self."

We know the words (the pointing finger) the doctors say about Paul's prognosis but the truth is not the pointing finger, it is the moon...and to look at the moon we must gaze past the pointing finger to a place further out in the distance.

If I want to see the "moon" in the distance more clearly I need to once again reveal a truer version of myself to myself. In order to do this I think back on all the skills Aikido practice gave me: centering, grounding, ki extension, blending, budo, relaxation, harmony, love, strong yet soft, breath awareness, embracing the attack, discipline, respect, sweeping circular motions and yes, how to turn the fear of falling in to the joy of flight.

We are in the presence of an "enemy" called cancer, we are on the battlefield under fierce attack, and it is taking all of my mental training to stay centered. My human instinct is to tense up, resist and fight the enemy attacking my family, but Richard's words and my Aikido training remind me there is untold power in non-resistance and if I "embrace the attack" I will have the force of the Universe behind me. From this place I have already won...and I will more clearly see the elusive "moon".

This does not mean I determine the outcome but it does mean I have power over my strength through the battle and my response to the outcome no matter what it turns out to be.

Blessings on your journey,

PS - If you'd like to know more about Richard's present work visit these websites: