Tokyo Life

… Luke!

Today is my son’s tenth birthday. I cannot believe it! It’s gone by so fast. Is it because we had our son later in life? My wife and I were in our mid 40s. And because of that, it feels faster? While I cannot compare having a child in my 20s or 30s, I can say it definitely has gone fast.

I am fond of saying, “Every year my son gets older, I get old.” Don’t worry that doesn’t bother me in the least. I am loving “mid-life fathering.” In fact, I cannot imagine it any other way. Being way too selfish and caught up in my own “stuff,” there is no way in hell I would have been ready. It wasn’t until I got all of what I wanted to do out of the way and setting down roots, in of all places Japan, that I was ready to have a child. I cannot speak for my wife, but I think she feels the same way.

Of course carrying a watermelon size package inside you for nine months and then figuring how to get it out in the light of day is a helluva lot more work for my wife than me. Add to that all kinds of worries and potential complications carrying and giving birth at forty-five, I will forever be grateful to her.

Presenting to the world ten years ago today, February 15th at 9:46 in the morning, (six minutes from the time I am writing this) a beautiful boy we named Luke. Naming this bundle of joy came easy. Even though my wife is Japanese, thinking she would prefer a traditional Japanese first name, she came up with Luke. My contribution? If it were a girl we would have called her “Lilly.”

This feller changed our lives forever in more ways than I could have imagined. All of it amazing, some of it without its challenges. Confronting my own cultural expectations and child-rearing based on my own experiences being raised in a culturally different place than Japan made for a trying first few years. All sorted out, I am a better person for it.

There are many unforeseen gifts Luke has given along the way. Unconditional love being at the top. We don’t have to be doing anything in particular when we are together. I just enjoy being in his presence. Although we do many things together, lately skiing, dual masters card games, monopoly or just hanging out watching YouTube episodes of “Dude Perfect.”

He is coming into his own as an individual with a character not unlike his father, sorry mom, he may be a handful in his teens. I am looking forward to seeing how it all manifests for him in the future.

Living in Japan can be a challenge if you are not willing to learn the language and pay attention and adjust to the social mores. For many it can be a very lonely isolating place as a foreigner. Luke coming into my world has had the opposite affect by expanding it. With his interest in soccer I took to co-coaching his team for a few years and have become friends with many of his teammate’s parents. It’s not uncommon while walking down the street in our neighborhood when off in the distance I will hear a “Ohayo gozaimasu Aren coachi” translated as, “Good morning coach Allen.” No longer coaching I am still coach.

I feel a part of the community in a culture where many people feel it is closed off to foreigners. I can only hope to give back even a little of what Luke has given me when he made his presence in this world ten years ago today.

This post is inspired by the movie “Dark Waters” directed by Todd Haynes I saw the other night. Without giving too much away, the gist is about one single lawyer going up against the behemoth DuPont and the product they created Teflon. Teflon has a chemical called PFOA that has been proven to cause cancer and a number of health issues. And a well known sad fact PFOA is in nearly every human being on the planet thanks to this corporation.

Do you want to let the few live a life of power and money at the cost of so many millions of people. To not get angry, to not debate, to not speak out, to not call out power, to not tell the truth is doing a disservice to the world in which we live. I don’t care any more if I offend someone by stating the obvious truth. Just because an older person is going to most likely die before a younger one does not dismiss one from not being responsible. It’s irresponsible to let the narrative hijacked by the rich and powerful.

Average people are being hoodwinked into believing the narrative. It is an engineered form of creating a passive society. Using the mobilizing force of other much smaller issues and the money being spent to go up against the rich and powerful is a far more important pressing issue than many of the others. I do not mean to make light of the other issues, but priority is key. Otherwise, those other issues will no be around because we will not be around. I am motivated to action by writing about this.

I do my little part each and every day. A little fuck you to the man by participating as little as I can. This is done in little ways. I don’t own or drive a car. I ride my bike, walk or take the train. I don’t own a dryer to dry my clothes, just a washer and hang my clothes to dry. I only buy natural healthy food and I eat it all before going shopping again. I use small pocket hand towels to wipe my hands instead of using paper towels. I ask for mug cups when available at any of my fav coffee shops. I no longer work for corporate America. I minimize my news viewing to about twenty minutes a day, less than half of a soap opera, which it has become. And just like a soap opera I can leave the news for a long period of time, come back and very little has changed.

It is true we are all being sold a bill of goods that will come due in the coming decades. American’s are notorious for instant gratification and not planning for the future. And live a life of for the most part manufactured by fear. The irony is that the real fear is being played down and that is climate change and your loss of freedoms to name two of many.

There is more loss to come.

Skepticism weighing heavy as I began my journey to the consultation with a personal trainer (PT) we will call Jim. My first time entering the world of PT, I did not know what to expect. I kept my mind open a crack.

Waiting to greet me at the door his head peeking around the corner with a common not often seen Minnesota smile and greet I entered his space. And what a space it was. Nearly the size of the gym I would frequent in Minneapolis. This was not Minneapolis it was Tokyo and I was impressed. This must cost a fortune in rent considering it was central Tokyo, a prime real estate area. That right there was my first piece of evidence, this guy must be the real deal.

After changing into gym clothes, we dove right in. He had me doing all kinds of what to the casual observer seemed like odd exercises – squatting with my heels on a bamboo pole. Oh so Japanese. Or sitting with my butt against the wall and legs askew stretching my arms in opposite directions. Put me on a bike, no problem. A weight room, piece of cake. Static stretches, I can do them in my sleep. That’s old school, 20th century old. We are well into the 21st and I was clearly out of my element.

I was dare I say, among what I can only say as genius. More on that later. I kept my mouth shut and let him prepare to work his magic. And magic it was. He broke the silence by explaining that what he was doing was testing my strength and mobility on a muscular and skeletal level. There were clearly weak areas that needed work, but not horribly so as in having to start over and rebuild me like Steve Austin had needed to become the bionic man. I’d rather not be him, but at the very least be able to get my body to a sustainable point that will take me into old age with little to no pain. Is this even possible?

Let the magic begin. After his explanations he put me on a massage table. He started moving my legs in directions they had never experienced, feeling the stretch in muscles I didn’t know I had. He told me to hold my breath and push against the force of his hands on my leg, then relax and then would move my leg around as if twisting a pretzel. I was hesitant to let go and let him work, but he moved it in such a confident way I knew he knew what he was doing and let go. He did the same with both legs and arms.

Then Jim had me stand up to assess what he had done. Then back down to askew my legs and arms in new directions. Then back up to assess. A few more tweaks here and there and I felt the pain in my knee go away and the lactic acid built up from the morning bike ride dissipate. Then he had me go back to the same initial squat-like exercises.

Here is where I knew I had tapped into the real deal, a genius. I squatted on the same bamboo pole he used initially to assess me. This time, the lowest squat I had ever done in years, maybe ever, with no knee pain whatsoever. “Wait, WHAT?” This is not possible in less than an hour!” I wanted to scream.

Calmly, he explained in detail what he had been doing, the problem areas and how it is all tied to breath and the nervous system. He was firing a different level of my nervous system and engaging it with my muscles and massaging and working out areas that were tight.

To say I was impressed was an understatement. The last person who blew me away like this was someone I ended up studying with for many years, and who also changed my life. This might be the next level only in a slightly different way.

We went on to discuss diet and he sent me on my way with a vitamin C recommendation, Olive Oil and two stretching exercises I do every night.

One would think that after one consultation session it would have minimal effect at best. Not the case. I am sold.

If Jim can do what he did to me in less than an hour, think what can be done in a matter of weeks or months.

Meeting someone I haven’t seen in more than fifteen years has had a profound impact on my life. Add to that we are like-minded, resulting in an afternoon conversation of empowerment and affirmation.

We have been on very similar paths, late in life with kids, both teachers after having previous careers. The only difference, he is in Minneapolis and I am in Tokyo. The final un-canniness, we were both raised catholic and reconciled with the religion turning towards a mindful Buddhist approach that includes meditation.

We spoke for three hours and it could have gone on longer. It’s refreshing to connect on a deep level touching on a myriad of subjects. And I was able to thank him for putting me on a path many years ago when I was having issues in my life. He knows now what he has done for me and I will be forever grateful for it. We had an instant connection and history, and look forward to our continuing our friendship if it is meant to be.

It is affirming to know that there are like-minded people. It helps bring clarity to the path I am on feeling like this is where I am supposed to be. I will keep on keeping on still not knowing where it will lead. And knowing full well that there is ultimately no destination except a life of experience, service and a meeting of like-minded people along the way.

Well I was never really offline just using a different site for my postings. A site called Coil. I have been there posting for the last few months.

Coil is a cutting edge beta experiment in monetization and micro-payments. The catch? We are paid in cryptocurrency. That’s right! The other catch, while anyone can access the site and read some of the content there is a paywall that allows you full access if you subscribe and pay $5.00 per month. A great deal for content creators like myself to get paid to write, but not so great if all you want to do is read for free. While we want to grow this burgeoning community of content creators and supporters, I am offering up an alternative for you.

While I will continue to post on the COIL site, I realized I have a limited audience who may or may not be interested in what I am writing about. I would rather cover as much territory to get a following. Paid or not, I want to get what I have to say out there.

With that said, moving forward I will be posting regularly again on this site.

If you like what I have to say, spread the word!

I wonder if I will ever really run out of ideas or topics to write about. It does seem as long as I am alive ideas will come to mind. I like this idea of living in the now to “find out”. I have a whole slew of mantras I say in the morning and evening as reminders all pointing to the moment: what is life asking of me now; If death alone is certain and time of death certain what should I do now; Yes to this moment; I vow to meet others on equal ground; Freedom is knowing I can go to a different window to experience and respond to life; Am I at ease and the last one – Let’s find out!

All of these are different ways of practice and bringing me back to the now. I wonder how many times per day I am brought back to it and how much I live in my thoughts without even realizing it? Each one of these sayings may point to the now, but offer up a practice in a slightly different manner.

What is life asking of me now? That is a question I sit with and being present the answer comes in time in that moment of readiness. The answer comes.

If death alone is certain, time of death uncertain, what should I do now? I am reminded of the word squander in this passage. Death is inevitable and we don’t know when that will be, so why allow oneself to get caught up in the pettiness of life, the self created dramas, emotional entanglements, and other things that we use to squander our life. I do, but far less it seems. Yes to this moment.

When I get an extreme feeling of emotion of some kind, one in which may just be a natural occurrence or one in which is self created, either way, Yes to this moment informs me to breathe, and is a reminder that just like when I am sitting in meditation observing this phenomenon to simply let it happen, don’t grasp and let it pass. And inevitably it does.

During those times that it is an all day event, I say these over and over which is very much in line with Buddhist mantras reminding us that there are things that can be changed and others that happen outside of our grasping.

Is there ease? I have not used this much, but like all of these I know that there will come a time in which I will need this saying for my practice. Is there ease? A question that signals me to search within to determine where there is dis-ease, or suffering. And I may ask the question after that, What is life asking of me now to figure out the cause of the dis-ease. Maybe I am holding on to something or creating drama. Whatever the cause, scanning for dis-ease and asking the question are the practice.

The newest “Let’s find out!” I put an exclamation point after because I am excited and passionate about life. This saying reminds me that there is no need to have expectations. Expectations are a sure fire setup for suffering. Because most likely nothing comes the way we exactly envision. And also that takes us out of the moment and into the future.

Living in either places future or past creates a fertile ground for suffering. Let’s find out is about living in the moment, be in the journey and what’s there later is out of our grasp. It also has an implication of wonderment and curiosity. I awaken in the morning. Whereas many dread the day or get right into their thinking and plans, I prefer to sit, get into the moment and then with a sense of vigor greet the day with a let’s see what’s in store attitude. The same goes with writing, life plans and goals. It is in the doing, that “first foot forward” that will inevitably lead us somewhere.

We may have a sense, but it is never exactly what we envision.

I coined a phrase, the “Star Wars Principle.” I googled it and nobody has used the phrase. Sure I know what you are thinking, some obsessed fan. Well truth be told, I am not a fan and in fact I have only seen the first three. The reason why I came up with this phrase is because I have been pondering for quite some time the idea of the phrase made famous by the franchise – “the force.” In my humble opinion this is nothing more than an embellishment of a simple concept for the sake of drama and the continued storylines. Don’t get me wrong I think the earlier stories were brilliant, however over time it has become convoluted and contrived.

In real life, the force is nothing more than an understanding of how to shape the moment. In order to be able to have the skill to call forth the force one needs to be present and have a keen understanding of how human character, including one’s own works. This is not an easy undertaking. It calls for one to practice some form of meditation for long periods of time, in addition to studying character and mind. This then gives a sense of clarity to determine what you need to do to get out of your own way in order to be present enough to have the skill to shape the moment.

This force is really something that we all have the ability to do, but do not because we go about our day on autopilot not living in the moment. When someone does realize they have this ability and use the “force,” the other person is unaware on a conscious moment-to-moment level that something is happening. As is clearly stated in the Star Wars films, with this ability comes responsibility not to abuse the powers that have been cultivated, and in fact work to helping others to achieve it. This is very much in line with Buddhist vows that “beings are numberless I vow to save them.”

At this point it all sounds so esoteric, which is why the Star Wars storylines about the force is so brilliant. They have taken this concept and turned it into a tangible form for entertainment. But this force can be used in very simple day-to-day ways. One such example is working a room. When working a room full of people it begins the moment the moment you step through the door way or onto the stage or any other place that one encounters a group. It starts with how you see the moment, how you connect with others, how you let the nervousness and habits fall away to make room for the moment so that you can see with utmost clarity and subtlety. What you say and how you say it is never the same, because if you are truly in the moment, you will shape how you say what you want to say consciously. And what you might have planned on saying is not what is being called for in the moment.

This still may be unclear. Let’s try another tact – the individual and a handshake. The moment you shake a hand or greet someone, that moment it is in your hands (pun intended) to be able to shape how you want it to go. Ironically, it is a difficult thing to do while at the same time simple because all you need to decide is how you want to convey that moment and occurring moments afterward. I used to say that when I was living in NYC and dating I could tell just from the introduction, usually a handshake with a woman how the date would go. If it felt masculine or hard, then it was something that would not go beyond one date or in some cases cut short.

Also it is not just a one-way street, rather it goes both ways. What I mean by that is that one must also make room for the other person’s feeling and experience knowing that they too are playing a part in the shaping. There is a sense of responsibility to shape it, which is being open to the moment between the other, not just from one side. Controlling comes when other people are not taken into account and just comes from one side. There is no room for the other person to move within the moment to be shaped. Control has sharper edges and far less malleable. Shape has soft softer rounder edges and moves with the moment on an organic level.

I am reminded of this during an acting exercise back in my days in NYC. We each had to stand up say the line, “to be or not to be, that is the question” multiple times. And each time it had to be different, because no two moments are ever the same. We had to feel out the moments based on simple movements like taking a step or raising a hand up while we spoke the lines. This is nothing more than the force, shaping and being present with each moment.

May the force be with you all.   

I 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.

Now 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.

I 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.

I must 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.

I am 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.

I 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 tricks.

Because 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.

The 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.

How 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.

For 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.

I do 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?