Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Teacher

I learned yesterday that my bagpipe teacher of many years, Winter Taylor, suddenly passed away in Atlanta.  I was heart broken and saddened beyond words at the news.  Winter (I refused to call her Winnie) had spent countless hours with me in her basement studio working on fixing my great lack of musical talent.  She was kind, supportive and most of all truly patient.  A better teacher I could not have had.

I picked up my practice chanter yesterday evening and ran through some of the tunes that Winter had helped me with.  Her words echoed in my mind as if she were sitting right next to me, admonishing me to make every note clean, crisp, and clear.  She was a great proponent of simple music played well instead of flashy tunes played sloppily.  

As I played, working through our favorite piobaireachd- MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart's Lament, I came to understand the special relationship between a student and his teacher, and that her words and spirit continue to live within me and my sometimes sloppy fingering.  I can't help but smile.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Yagyu's Answer

Peace & Serenity
I recently listened a group discussion that vilified "the militarism of society", which I took to mean the military, it's culture, and other supporting cast members that surround it.  I listened thoughtfully to the words and ideas that flowed from the participants, careful not to interject my own experiences of uniformed service so as not to damper or influence the conversation in any way.  The prevailing tone was that of liberation theology, the political theory which interprets traditional religious teachings in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. This is to say that the participants were highly critical of government, capitalism, corporate culture, popular news media, or pretty much anything that could be widely interpreted  as adding to the disenfranchisement of the poor and suffering. 

After the talk closed I spent a day considering what I had listened to and arrived at the conclusion that the participants lacked any real, direct experience with the military, and were simply regurgitating thoughts and ideas that they had absorbed from others who had little or no direct contact either.  I feel that in many ways I should have spoken up, that I had betrayed my own experiences through my inactions.  

The obvious rebuttal is the the story of Yagyu Munenori's life-giving sword. Yagyu was a widely renowned sword instructor to two Tokugawa shoguns during their reign over midevel Japan.  His spiritual mentor was the Zen Buddhist priest, Takuan who assisted Yagu in the realization that a sword can both take a life as well as give one.  The life-giving sword is the idea that it is best to control an opponent by the spiritual readiness to fight rather than during an actual fight where lives will be lost.  From this idea grew the saying that we utilize today, "If you have to fight, you have already lost".  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Four Reliances

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a public talk given by a very learned man; one who has spent a great deal of his adult life in serious study on the subject of his discourse.  In listening I realized that I had many deep and  fundamental objections to what was being said, his points, most shaded in political dogma, I found distasteful. 

Clearly I had my own hard-fought experiences on the subject matter and believed that, while the speaker was well-versed, he was simply wrong on so many points.  I searched within myself and identified my attachments to my own points of view, and it was these attachment that were causing my discomfort. I suppose the take-away for me was simply the process of recognizing my own attachments and then letting them go, listening with an open mind to what was being said instead on playing "point, counter-point" in my mind. 

Tonight in my reading I ran across The Four Reliances:

Do not rely merely on the person, but on the words;
Do not rely merely on the words, but on their meaning;
Do not rely merely on the provisional meaning , but on
      the definitive meaning; and
Do not rely merely on intellectual understanding, but on the direct experience.    

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Long Way To Go

Ironman triathlon training is taking up a good bit of time these days.  I'm swimming, biking, running and lifting 12-14 hours a week, working on building a solid aerobic base for when the training begins in ernest in late February leading up to a June race.  This is such a crazy sport, the time and monetary investment is massive, and it changes your entire life.  Everything is effected; diet, sleep, job, family.  You live in a constant state of mild soreness and fatigue.

Its not the fact that a triathlete can race 140.6 miles in 10 hours that is impressive, but rather he or she has juggled every aspect of their life over the preceding several months to successfully get themselves to the starting line.  The race, as many experienced athletes will attest to, is actually a relief.  In the forefront of your mind you know that it's the last time you will have to don a pair of goggles and dive into early morning cold water, or worry about maintaining the appropriate running pace for a very long time. For now, at least, that relief is far away.  There is a ton of work to do between now and late June.  Heading out on a bike ride now before it starts to snow. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back on the Cushion

Sunset on Hayden Lake, Idaho
I'm planning on getting back on the cushion tonight, having let myself get away from my practice  over the past year or so. I'm a bit nervous but plan to attend a sitting at the the Ancient Dragon Zen Gate Soto Zen Center in Chicago.

In the past I've been astonished how easy it is to pick up my zazen practice having gone weeks or months without actively sitting.  It's almost as if you accumulate a familiraty with the practice, and it abides quietly inside of you waiting for your inevitable return.  The feeling reminds me of a faithful pet waiting patiently at the door for its owner to return home from work.  There's a bit of elated tail wagging, forgiveness, and then its as if the owner never left; comfort and peace prevail.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lives of Lobsters

I spoke with a friend of mine the yesterday who is serving as a contractor in Iraq.  We were discussing compassion and how all life is precious.  He is confronting himself with the fact that he's carrying a gun for a reason and one day may be asked to use it.  If all life is precious what about the person that he may have to shoot?

We chatted and both came to the conclusion that the life of a mass murderer and that of a three-year old child are equally precious, one in the same in fact.  Carrying it further I relayed that I took the lives of three lobsters the other night while preparing dinner.  I did it mindfully and with respect and humanity (odd word there).  There is no difference between the lobsters and any other living creature… they are one in the same.