IF I like this word. A simple two-letter word used in a myriad of ways. I think it has a deeper more poignant meaning than the other two-letter word IT for example. It is kind of a lazy word to use. People substitute it instead of explaining something in details. IF like my friend said the other day is an active word. It, the word IF that is, can be used in mathematical equations, one of my least favorite school subjects by the way. That still does not prevent it from being used in equations. For example, if 5 is added to three what is the answer, of course 8. Now that is a very simple example and the word can be used in much more complicated math problems, but the problem is the moment I start to get into those types of problems I break out in a sweat and my breathing becomes shallow – the beginnings of a panic attack. So I will leave it here with one simple math example.
The real reason I wanted to bring the word IF to your attention is that for me it is related to life. In fact as I typed it I noticed they are the two letters in the middle of the word life. how cool is that? Much like a math problem except it is not an equation in that sense, rather in the sense that there is an IF equation in our lives, and each person has their individual equation for what I call a life of well-being. What does this possibly mean you might ask? Well I will answer that question for you in the form of an IF example that pertains to my life. If I make health, creativity, community and spirituality a priority in my life I can live a balanced life of well-being. Now on the surface the equation seems quite simple, but like many things it is more complicated than that. Let’s break each one down. If I want to live a life of balance and well-being and if I make health a priority then I need to eat healthy food, exercise daily and get a decent amount of sleep. Let’s go even further. If I want food to be part of the equation then I would eat less carbs, more natural foods such as veggies and cut out any form of processed foods and refined sugar. If I want exercise to be part of my equation, then I need to ride my bike, run and go to the gym or any other form of exercise. The IF to the equation of health is also sleep. And that is at least 6 hours or more of sleep. Then we add to the equation of spirituality, this part of the equation is very personal and can be in the form of organized religion, meditation or just a personal philosophy and relationship with the world. My equation consists of daily meditation and a few interesting readings related to Zen and other thought provoking books that continue to help me find balance. And the final equation to the IF word is community and friends. Recently I wrote about community and had a count on the number of communities that I am connected to and the total is 14. I will not list them here, but the point is that community is very important for many reasons besides just well-being. And of course nothing more need be said really about friends and how that fits in the equation.
Now I have laid out a a simple IF equation. The main word here is simple. It, there’s that word again, is really that straightforward. Seriously, it is not rocket science. And yet so many of us complicate it or put obstacles in the way. Our ego is a tough nut to crack and cracking it is the key to well-being. And that key is to not listen to it. Just do it! That is IF you want to.
It is quite amazing how our past experiences inform what we do and who we are today. We are not the same people and yet they do collectively make us into some sort of character. After watching a four part series on Punk Rock I was taken back to the days in which I was a punk and realize in many ways still am. Outwardly I struggled as a teenager with the usual being uncomfortable in my skin and internally with the raging hormones and philosophical battle of having grown up in a catholic family with all the guilt that came with it.
Along comes PUNK just at the right time. The words and energy conveyed in the music, and countless number of shows I attended were just what I needed to break free of the rules and all that shit that was bogging me down internally. It needed to be expressed. Fueled with music, energy from others and alcohol it was a perfect concoction. I still felt uncomfortable in my own skin, but I could blend in and let the music take me away. I spent countless hours lying on the floor of my bedroom with headphones on cranking and disappearing into the music. It was freedom. After a period of time the lyrics and attitudes associated with the movement sunk in and really became a part of me. I still had to sell out and do all that one needs to do to sort out what fits best in life, all the while being informed by my punk rock roots. I still had it. I had to go through the phases of feeling too young to be a punk, but knowing deep down I still had the attitudes without the look.
Fast forward many decades and the roots of my character are still connected to punk and have informed my decisions to not participate on certain levels any longer in the American dream, which I tried, corporate life, which I tried, car culture, which I have not done in quite some time and even paying taxes. I pay them, just not in the country of origin. I was on some level informed by the experiences of my punk days and the decision to move to Japan and no longer participate in the American culture. In Japan, as ironic as this may sound, I can blend in and not participate in the way that one would be expected if living in the US.
While watching the last segment of the punk series I was moved to tears (I know, how punk rock. In my defense I’ve softened with old age) listening to the older punks of my generation who still have the attitude, albeit with maturity. Some still look the part, not my cuppa tea, although I am by no means typical in the way I dress. As they were speaking I could hear how punk continues to inform the way in which they choose to live their lives, and on some level not participate in the typical way. I was also moved when I realized that I too am the same way with a modicum of wisdom and a whole helluva lot of life experience between then and now.
I would not have traded my punk rock experience for anything even knowing in hindsight how difficult and awkward it was at the time. I am grateful it continues to inform my life and besides that it is still great music I listen to.
I have been thinking about instinct lately. We all have it in and it comes in different forms. For some it is a feeling, others a voice and others see it in words or pictures. It really depends upon the type of character and how we are wired. I am sure most have experienced it and never knew what it was. I do think it is something that comes from the heart. And yet so often we all live in our heads intellectualizing everything. This may in part have to do with habit, and rather than feel it out, wait for an answer and guidance from the heart we go to our heads – a direct line to our egos. The result, we allow our egos to guide our lives. Then everything we do reinforces the stories of who we are, and we hold on to them throughout our life building up a fortress against instinct.
Instinct is a
part of our lives and yet so often we squelch the feeling. Even if we get that
inner urge, we turn away from it and put ourselves up in our heads. We get the
feeling and then boom up in our head to intellectualize, justify, rationalize
or defend. Of course I am speaking from direct experience. I realize these days
that I really do not want to speak of anything I know nothing about. I used to
be able to talk a good game about anything. I am finding it is more skillful to
just speak of things I have experience with. It serves others because they can
feel the place in which I am speak from. Just like building up a habit of
avoiding instinct, we can find a way to get back to the place of the heart and
develop a skill of paying attention to it. It takes work, practice and presence
in order to be in that place. The key is to know how to discern when you are in
your head or not. For me it starts as pressure and a feeling in the heart that
eventually leads to words, but on occasion it can be visuals as well. And when
it comes it feels like jumping into a river and riding the wave for as long it
is meant to be. It is an invigorating feeling being in touch with the heart. It
is a place I would like to live in as much as I can, and wish this for
everyone. There is on occasion experiences of weak moments in which I want to
please the intellect or what my friend in NYC would say, “the lower chakras.” I
find that if I want to continue to do that, and it is my choice, then I would
over time slowly squelch instinct by constantly overriding it.
I believe that many are out of touch with instinct for a variety of reasons. Everything from having dug a rut of habitual routine day after day and feel that is all there is in life and given up, others find that change is too difficult and say this is who I am and some have issues that need to be addressed to clear the wreckage of the past in order to let instinct see the light of day. It could be anyone of these or a combination. In my experience long ago I had to put down an addiction in order to start the process of getting in touch. It was a spiritual crisis at the time motivated by experiencing death first hand. Scary at the time, but in hindsight it was what was needed to wake me up. After settling down, I realized early on that it was all about the head and heart. Everything I have done up to this moment has allowed me to open up that portal to allow instinct to direct me. I must be in the moment and once I am out of it I drift ever so slightly away. And when I am off that beam I care just a little less for the world around. And who wants to live a life of not caring?
Do we just delude ourselves on a daily basis? How much of what we actually do has any meaning to life at all? And yet we must do it. Are the choices we make just another way to reinforce who we think we are? Who do I think I am? Is there I in this equation? So many questions and yet even as I reread these questions I think how contrived they feel. I really begin to feel that there is no I and that it is being in relation to the world and people that really creates experience, and to think that there is something that exists inside is really not it. We just make moment-to-moment choices, grab those things to help reinforce who we think we are. But that is not to say there is anything wrong with it. I think that is part of the human condition.
I may be writing in such a manner that feels like judgment, but in fact is really more just an observance and acknowledgment of something that is very much a part of life. I look around and observe people, letting the feeling and notice the little things in people, and you can see just how much of their character shines through. Everything from the way they walk, look in their face, clothing and if it is someone I know the way in which they speak, the choice of words, mannerisms etc. Most people do not notice these kinds of things as they are all caught up in their own little world on the inside or outside, me included. We all do this, caught up in our thoughts as we walk, multi-task, or are ready to answer a question or speak instead of listening and feeling out what the other person is saying.
I just want to be present as much as I can throughout the day. There is a simple richness to being awake to the moment without getting caught up in the thoughts or emotions. It is like a river flowing from moment to moment. Some images are just apt for a description and do not need anymore explaining than that.
Living in the place of the heart is a really different experience when walking through the world. And one thing I am beginning to understand is the sense that we need to be responsible if we are awakened to the world, responsible to helping others to awaken to the world and help them to realize their own delusions. Each person is different in how this is and so there is not a one way for all. Some people may be ready to hear it and others will not or may fight it or intellectualize it or do what it is their character is designed to avoid. If awake to the moment you can begin to feel that out and not go too far into delusion and very quickly awaken yet again.
High noon Tokyo, two men
fifty paces stare each other down like a scene from the shoot out at the OK
Corral. One dressed in black tights resembles an engorged tick with a silver phallus
shaped weapon at the ready. The other short and frail is dressed in a white
workman’s outfit with a bandaged right leg, holding a cane concealing the
octogenarian weapon of choice – a mini Samurai sword. Squinting
like Clint Eastwood, the centenarian sizes up his opponent – who at half his
age happens to be me the tick. Tension mounts while waiting for each to make
the first move. As cruel as this scene looks, odds
are in my favor that I am about to check off a bucket list item I had no idea
On my trusty steel steed enjoying an early morning ride around Tokyo, I am closing in on a red traffic signal. My joy is short lived and shattered by the deafening sound of a car horn. It’s not one of those polite short beeps signaling, “I am here be careful.” This was a long blare implying “get the f __ ___ ___ out of my way or you will die.” At least that was my interpretation of it.
I now would like to justify my next series of actions with the
following: The sidewalk width road was packed with cars going in both
directions, I got a glimpse of the grim
reaper in my rear view bike mirror so swerving into oncoming traffic was a bad first
choice. To avoid experiencing the sounds of bone crunching and metal on metal,
I opted for slamming into the fence – The offending car just missed me by a grain of
rice. A tangled mess, my anger welled and I screamed, “What’s the point of
the horn?” My only conclusion, this was some old geezer having a massive heart
attack and the weight of his limp head hitting the steering wheel caused the
car to swerve and horn to blow. The quick thinking passenger grabbed the
steering wheel and took control of the car just in the nick of time. In
hindsight I wasn’t too far off.
untangling myself I immediately went into NYC mode. NYC stands for New York
City, and if you have ever been to NYC then you will know what I am talking
about. If not, I will ask you to imagine life on the streets as an urban wild
west – where humanity meets the road. Instead of gunfire and hoots it’s horns
and insults. Think of it as a modern day gunfight in which split second verbal
and finger reactions are fired off in response to car horns. Who wins, depends on the mettle of one’s
character. This lethal mix of bikes, pedestrians and automobiles makes for an
incendiary combination in which tempers flair at the drop of a hat. And having
lived in NYC for 8 years I was well trained relying on my voice and middle
finger – The chosen methods of response in this current situation.
from the fence, I was back on my bike quaking with anger. Thanks to the narrow
road I was within arms length of the car window of my offender and yelled at the
top of my lungs the good ole “You Mother F__ ___ ___ ___ ___ ” followed up with
a “F___ ___ ___ you,” to drive the point
home. Even if English wasn’t there second language, there was no doubt the
driver and passenger understood what was being communicated. In tandem with the
verbal reply, my well-trained middle figure really put the cherry on top. I
thought to myself, “It’s like riding a bike, you never forget.” Suddenly, I was
filled with rapturous moments of NYC rage! I loved it!
the waning moments, I rode my bike towards the cross walk and stopped to wait
for the light to change. Out of habit I turned around to make sure that the
driver or passenger were not coming my way. This move is also part of my NYC
tutelage. You see in NYC it was not uncommon that the driver of a taxi or car
would get out and start yelling in hopes of a physical altercation. Not being a
fighter by nature it was always a yelling match for me. To my surprise when I
turned around the driver was walking in my direction with a sense of brave
purpose. Stopping fifty paces apart I sized him up as he squinted in my
direction. “If we were to duke it out I could use his limp to my advantage,” I
thought to myself. His emanating rage evidenced by clenched fists threatened my
existence as I reached deep inside to call forth my evolutionary need for
survival. Readying myself for a rumble my body trembled. However, there was one
problem, I am a MAMIL – A Middle Age Man In Lyrca, or the tick if you recall. From
his vantage point I must have looked like an easy mark considering my cycling garb.
That is until he got a closer look at my face and beard.
I was a foreigner and not yet backing down he looked over his shoulder to his
car and stoplight to confirm it was still red. I surmised that he was using
this fact that there would a driverless car if the light turned green to save
face. He reluctantly took a step backward in the direction of his car. This was
indeed his excuse to back down in order to save face rather than to start a
street brawl with a gaijin (Foreigner). Tension released after retreating to
our respective corners – car and cross walk, I waited for the light to turn
green. As the light changed I darted across knowing he was turning left and
could have easily clipped me had he timed it right. Within a safe distance I
sat up on my bike with a feeling of satisfaction soon followed by disappointment
thinking to myself, “I could have made Wyatt Earp proud.”
rarely get nightmares. Come to think of it I don’t dream very often either. I
wonder why that is? I like to think that dreams and nightmares are our psyche’s
way of working stuff out on the inside, and what we experience when it hits our
consciousness are the stories we see while we sleep. I am not sure and I don’t
think anyone is 100% sure of this. If it has in fact been proven to be true,
then because I have not had dreams of any kind in over five years, I must have
it all figured out.
that in and of itself is a scary thought. Can you imagine having it all figured
out by age fifty-four? Then what do you do? I mean after you have all the
answers what do you do with your life from that point on? Walk around as if you
have all the answers? What fun would that be? Really what would be the point of
going on living? Now don’t worry, this is not some kind of suicide note, just
because I wrote “I got it all figured out,” and “What’s the point of going on
living.” I have far too much to live for and love life. Besides that, I did
have a nightmare.
will say the nightmare was scary. So scary that when I started to tell the
story to my nine-year old son the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Describing
it to him, I conjured up the image of my childhood home where the story took
place. He picked up on the vibe of fear and started to feel the impact of the
nightmare and became scared. So much so that when asked by his Mom to go to his
room to get dressed for soccer practice, he refused. That is a testament to the
strength of this nightmare or my storytelling ability or both.
confess that I have not gone into grave details yet about the nightmare for
fear of raising the hairs on my neck again. I cannot promise that it will be
all that scary to you because it originated in my subconscious and not yours, Anyway,
I will try my best. And yet still I hesitate, frozen in fear. Ok, not really,
but hesitant, that’s for sure. Okay now here we go.
the same age I am now and find myself in my childhood home, a small postwar
3-story home in a middle class suburb of Minneapolis. Built for a family of three
we were a family of five – Mom, Dad and three boys. As we got older the house
felt more and more cramped. The reason, there were only three bedrooms – two on
the first-floor and one in the attic. The attic was where the three of us slept
for the first ten years of our lives. It was an interesting place. The sharp
angled ceiling thanks to the V shaped roof made for a peculiar feeling. The L
shaped room ran the length of the home and yet large enough to accommodate the
three of us – a bunk bed for my younger brothers and a single for me. Windows
on both ends of the room allowed for both morning and afternoon light, which
made it bright and cheery throughout the day. I am not quite sure who chose the
carpeting, but it was a small block shaped pattern blue tone color. It was an
odd combination when contrasted against the typical 1970s light wood paneled walls.
It did add an overall pleasantness to the unique space. And then there were the
four doors that opened into the rarely used storage spaces. These tiny rooms when
opened emanated nothing but blackness. At the time, our imaginations went wild
whenever we opened them thinking ghost or goblins resided behind the doors. We dared
one another to go in and stay as long as possible with the doors shut. I do not
recall anyone ever going over the one-minute mark. When reaching our fright
threshold we signaled to one another with a loud scream when it was time to open
the door. I remember that all-encompassing feeling of dread once the doors
shut. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. It was comforting that
I could still hear brothers voices, but not enough so to make it past
one-minute. To this day I do not know if it was our imaginations or there was
some unseen entity lurking behind the doors. This is why I believe my nightmare
had such an impact. Well that and the storage space at the top of the stairs was
the scariest of them all. I cannot speak for my brothers, but this particular
space’s creepiness factor was off the charts. Whenever I had to open those
doors to put something in storage I would get so spooked and threw whatever it
was slamming the door as quickly as possible.
will continue from this point on with my horrific ordeal that took place while
I slept. I stand before the bedroom door with a cardboard box in hand. I open
the door and start to walk up the stairs leading to the bedrooms and storage
space reaching the top without incident. As I closed in on the storage space door fear began
to seep in. I am not sure if it was my childhood memory causing this or
something real lurking behind the door. All I know is the objective is to put
this box in storage. Reluctantly opening the door, at first glance I see nothing
but darkness. As my eyes adjusted I could make out a blue quilted blanket lying
on the ground in the shape of a body. I shrug that off as my mind playing
the storage space is small the entrance is as well. Now that I am an adult I
have to get down on my knees and wiggle my way in so I don’t hit my head. I’m on
my knees breeching the threshold where darkness meets light. I just need to get
myself in about a half a foot. Once there I can put drop the box, get out, shut
the door and be done with it. Just as I am about to put the box down, the
blanket in front of me moves ever so slightly. “It’s my imagination again,” I
say out loud. As I move to put the box down, the blanket is whipped off on its
own accord in a violent manner revealing within inches of my face the face of a
decomposing corpse. Blood oozing from the white cranium like hot lava from a
volcano only to be sidetracked by dark patches of greasy hair. The face was pus
white contrasted by the surrounding blackness. The piercing deep black lifeless
eyes revealed the true nature of this evil entity. I know in that moment, had I
locked eyes I would have surely lost the stare down and my soul. With no time
to waste I dropped the box, slammed the door hitting my head and screaming out
in pain and fear.
moment I stood up and backed away from grisly ghoul was the moment I found
myself standing at the foot of the stairs again with the cardboard box in hand
and no memory of what had just happened. I began my journey again walking the
stairs to the storage space. Again I opened the door, and before opening the
door I had that same dreadful feeling blaming it on my childhood. Opening the
door I saw the very same blanket in the shape of a body. And like the first
time the blanket whipped open revealing the same evil entity. And just like the
first time I backed away in fear slamming the door shut, hitting my head,
screaming and finding myself at the foot of stairs yet again with the same
cardboard box. This continued over and over becoming a twisted horror version
of Groundhog Day. That is in and of itself the real nightmare. Can you imagine
having to relive that level of fear and evil over and over again for the rest
of your life? No strike that there is no rest of your life in this scenario –
it just continues ad infinitum.
Fortunately, it was my nightmare and my eighty-year old bladder residing in a 54 year old body saved the day by signaling to my brain it was time to relieve myself now or risk wetting the bed. And I don’t want to relive that childhood nightmare again.
I was out for an early morning run around our local park the other day located in a sleepy suburban town on the outskirts of Tokyo. Early morning runs are the best! I get the park all to myself, it’s peaceful and mid February temperatures have a slight nip in the air, which reminds me of Minnesota. After fifteen minutes of warming up, I kick into gear, not that high of a gear, just a notch faster than my warm up. When I hit my stride thoughts floating around my head ratchet up as well. Usually I do not grab them. Most are just trivial and related to politics, resentments or plans for the day. If I am in the midst of working on my book, ideas tend to float in. On this occasion it was none of the above. Having breached my 50s a while ago and weathered the mid-life confrontation, I still get the occasional residuals. On this particular morning what hit me was the word – mortality.
many of you think of your own mortality? That inevitable truth we cannot
escape. You can be the richest man in the world, what’s his name that owns
Amazon? He will die. You can be the most famous actor or actress in the world
and you know what, they will die. The president of the US will die. In short we
all will die. How many have even said these words? – I will die someday. This
does not have to be morbid in any way, it just is. Knowing this truism I choose
to live my life like I may die today. What the heck does that mean? Or maybe
you’ve heard that before. I certainly did not coin the phrase, but I do on a
regular basis try to live that way. How I interpret the phrase “Live like
you’ll die today,” or I believe another way of saying it is, “Live like it’s
your last day,” is that I try not to get caught up in the pettiness of life,
treat everything with at least a modicum of love and respect for everyone and
everything and take risks. I am not perfect at it and I know I never will be,
but I try.
those results oriented people, what is the payoff of admitting one’s inevitable
extinction? It’s peace, serenity,
clarity, joy, lightheartedness, compassion and love. The list of positives goes
on and on and on. Really, I find it comforting knowing there will be an end and
that I get to live my life on this planet in the best possible way.
want to add one caveat, and that is this is coming from someone who is in his
50s and well over the halfway mark. So it does seem to make sense that this
whole notion of the inevitable has planted roots in my psyche. If there were
only a way to teach those under the halfway mark the concept of mortality. I
wonder how it would affect our world?
Bodies strewn about writhing in pain, with blood splatter canvasing the ice like a Jackson Pollock painting, ladies and gentleman it’s broomball!
Once a week from Japan I Skype a family member in Minneapolis to say hi and see what’s up. The first topic of conversation is always the weather. Lately it has been about how much snow there is in Minnesota – a lot! After a recent call I started reminiscing about Minnesota winters and how much I miss them. Winter exists in Japan and I go skiing twice a year with family, we just have to get in a car, bus or train for a few hours to reach it. What I miss most is the easy access to winter sports such as cross country skiing, hockey and my favorite, broomball. Ask anyone who has never experienced life in a winter wonderland what broomball is and 100% will be clueless.
To the untrained eye broomball looks like a trailer trash form of hockey in which participants unable to afford to buy the necessary equipment like skates, hockey sticks and a puck opted for dumpster diving and came up with brooms, old winter boots and a volleyball. This is not the case. In fact broomball is a legitimate sport with teams, leagues and tournaments. There are commonalities with hockey such as six players to a side, an ice rink and goals. Other than that it’s a game all its own.
Made with rubber soles, the boots do not mix well with ice causing extreme slippage adding to the danger factor. The lethal combination of rubber soles and a lack of head protection increase the chance of a noggin cracking. The broom is the centerpiece of equipment and used to bash the volleyball. The object of the game is simple, put the ball into the opposing team’s goal. This is not an easy task due to the slick ice and the opposing team trying to slam you into the boards. Like passing a hockey puck, passing the ball to a teammate is next to an impossible task.
This game is about timing and team members overshooting their position sliding past an incoming pass is common. With skates you can stop on a dime thanks to the sharp edges. Boots offer no stopping power whatsoever. Besides timing, it comes down to speed, balance and an understanding of physics. I failed out of physics in college and ended up relying on my speed, which explains why I nearly always overshot my mark. Like Usain Bolt in the 100 meters, at the ready in my starting position at one end of the rink hoping this time physics and gravity work in my favor, my starter pistol is a teammate screaming at the top of his lungs “Unleash the fury!” At that moment I start my dash gathering speed as I go from one end of the rink to the other with an aspiration to remain on my feet for the duration before getting the pass. Receiving the pass just as I reach top speed, shooting and scoring was a rare occasion. Most of the time the ball would end up behind me and at bone breaking speed I would crash into the boards surrounding the rink injuring my shoulder and pride, or the next best thing run headlong into the opposing team knocking them down like a set of bowling pins. Whenever that happened spectators would yell out in unison STRIKE!
Hockey fans go to games to cheer on their favorite team, but we all know the real reason is to see fights. Fighting is the highlight. Hockey fights are barbaric and brutal in which tempers flare at the slightest infraction. Loyal broomball fans of course support their teams, but what really puts butts in the seats is the promise of seeing cracked skulls. To the tried and true, it doesn’t matter win or lose the rallying cry of both teams is the same – “Victory is ours only when enough blood is spilt!” Weary and woozy from a well fought battle and concussions, we enter our local watering hole to glorious applause knowing we did our best for our diehard fans and Jackson – leaving enough blood for his next masterpiece.
I am amazed at how comics use timing to get a laugh. It is truly an art form and a skill. Some have it naturally, I believe they call it “funny bones,” which I think is one component of having talent. Others have to cultivate and practice for years in order to learn how to use it. Actors use timing when saying lines during a scene. An example is pausing after a saying a line to build tension is one such use – “You talkin to me?” But timing does not just have to do with the world of comedy and acting.
I have had a lot
of friends during my lifetime. Only a few are still around and most others have
faded away. What I wanted to write was “I have a lot of friends and still do”,
but that is just not reality.