Friday, September 28, 2012

Liberty and Security

On September 11th of this year, I wrote about a terrible day my country had experienced eleven years before, and shared some of my experiences from that day.  As everyone knows, that tragedy (the attacks, not my blog post, lol) has changed this country and the world in more ways than anyone probably realizes.

For one thing, we Americans showed the world once again that we won't be kept down, we won't be oppressed, and we will not be victims anymore. The heroes of Flight 93 demonstrated that spirit on that same day, sacrificing their own lives rather than allowing themselves to become weapons against their own people in the hands of terrorists.  Since then, there has not been a single successful airline hijacking or attack that was not thwarted by other brave men and women acting in that same spirit, and I think it's a pretty safe bet there won't be for a very long time.  That ship, as they say, has sailed.

On the other hand, I remain suspicious about our government's response to the attacks, especially here at home. While I fully agreed with and supported the invasions of Afganistan and even Iraq, I have always been suspicious about the domestic responses like the so-called "Patriot Act," the creation of the DHS and TSA, etc.. I also really hate having to travel anywhere by air. So far, I have managed to avoid having my private parts groped (that's a "pat-down" for you sheeple out there) in the name of national security, but I have been forcibly irradiated on one occasion ("body-scanned").

What I am seeing in America today is the mindset that preventing another 9/11 is worth sacrificing just about anything, including our constitution and bill of rights - the very freedoms the terrorists hate us for, as we were once told. Sure, we ought to protect innocent lives. But I am one of the apparent few who believe we, the people, can do, will do, and have already done a far better job of that than our government can or should. And, we can do it without abusive random body searches, warrant-less surveillance, expensive (and completely ineffective) body scanners, and allowing ourselves to become subjects rather than citizens.  Flight 93 proved that, and those people did it without the Patriot Act or the TSA.

At this point, I only hope the trend reverses itself soon enough so that we can get back some of the liberties we've lost without having to endure the same kinds of struggles in which we won them to start with. Otherwise, by the time we're done "defending freedom," there might not be any of it left and we will have done bin Laden's (may he rust in pieces) job for him.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Beginning the Journey .. Again

About 5 years ago, I began a journey that has changed my life more than I ever could have imagined it would. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that at one point along the way, what I had learned actually saved my life. With everything that has changed since then, I guess it's no surprise.

The journey I speak of began when I walked into a nondescript dojo in Ann Arbor, Michigan and earned my white belt in To-Shin Do, a form of Ninjutsu brought to America by Stephen K. Hayes - a martial arts legend I had never heard of until that time.  I'm not going to spend time here covering the history of the art. I've left enough keywords in this paragraph that anyone interested should be able to find whatever they want through some creative Googling.

For the first few months, the training was hard for me. This was the most athletic thing I'd ever done. I'd never played sports or exercised on a regular basis before, and initially my body was not at all happy with the change. Eventually, though, it became easier. I began to lose some weight and feel better in general, and the techniques and mindset started to become familiar, even natural. I slowly learned things about myself that amazed me as I began learning how to do things I never thought I could. What's more, I found that the techniques and mechanics of body motion I was learning didn't apply only to fighting, but to many other things as well. Moving large pieces of furniture became easier, and if I got clumsy and fell, I could roll out of it and be back on my feet without getting hurt.  The latter is an especially amazing thing for a 6 foot tall, 250 pound nerd, let me tell you!

About a year or so into my training, my personal life fell apart as I went through a bitter divorce. I won't write about the details here, but suffice it to say that the mental training I had received through To-Shin Do played a significant part in my getting through the situation with my sanity intact. I kept at it for a while, but balancing everything was now suddenly a lot more difficult.

Finally, when the divorce was finalized, I was forced to move very far away from the martial arts community I had grown to love so much.  I kept at it for a while longer, but eventually finances and the pressures of life forced me to put my training on hold.  I had just advanced to the rank of green/white when I made the decision. I was 10 belts in, and another 6 away from a black belt. That was 2 years ago.

Today, it feels like everything is different. I like most of the changes that have happened over the last 2 years, for sure. I've re-married, and we're very happy together. We have a beautiful baby girl and a decent place to live. I've changed to a much better job than I had before, and the financial situation is getting better slowly but surely.

I miss my friends and training, though, and my body certainly misses it too.  I've gained a lot of weight back, old aches and pains have returned, and I'm sure I'm no-where near as agile as I was. With all that come lots of regrets and things I wish I had done differently. Mostly, I wish I had just stuck with it. I regret making the decision to go on hiatus, even though I still feel I had no choice at the time. This all adds up to what is basically a profound sense of loss.

But .. today, in a couple hours, I plan to start over.  I'm going to a new dojo where the same art is taught, and I'm going to start training again. This time, I'm going to stay with it - especially now that I know first hand the consequences of stopping.  Still, I can't help but feel a sense of trepidation in this. It won't be the community I was used to. It won't be the same instructor or the same people .. it just won't be the same, and that worries me. I'm also about to find out just how far I've fallen off the bandwagon and how much of what I've learned I will now need to re-learn. It's not going to be pretty, and honestly, I'm worried about finding and keeping the motivation to continue at all.

What I must understand, though, is that the situation simply is what it is. The only way I'm going to change anything is to actually do something - it won't get any better if all I do is think about it and worry. I must act deliberately and with consistency. I must focus my intention and attention on what needs to be done rather than what should have or could have been done in the past. The past is done and immutable .. but the future remains to be written, and I hold the pen in my hand, trembling as I move to set it to the paper.

In To-Shin Do, we have 14 "codes of mindful action," each one corresponding to a rank above white belt. We're supposed to memorize and mediate on them, and find ways of applying each one to the way we live and think. Some, of course, are easier to internalize than others. The one that's speaking to my heart today is still a few belt levels ahead of me, but still appropriate:
"I strive to be so strong that nothing can disturb my peace of mind. I avoid the negative effects of worry, doubt, and regret." -- To-Shin Do code of mindful action #13
I'm learning that this does not imply that we are to avoid worry, doubt, and regret themselves, but rather the negative effects of those emotions. From now on, I need to avoid allowing my legitimate worries, doubts, and regrets from becoming the kind of fear that keeps me from moving forward. And if they do become fear in spite of that, I need to maintain the courage to act in spite of that fear. As has been said, courage is not the absence of fear .. courage is doing what is right despite your fears. Courage, therefore, is peace of mind in the face of worry, doubt, and regret.

Five years ago, in a moment I remember vividly, I stood in front of my friends and fellow ninjas at the end of a class. I held what will one day be my own black belt over my head, affirmed that "I will be a black belt," and began the journey of a lifetime thinking I could make it on my own.

Today, I look to my friends and family for the support and encouragement I know I will need, especially in the weeks to come, as I start that same journey once more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11 - 11 years later

Oddly enough, I'm starting this post at 9:11 am on September 11, 2012.

As everyone undoubtedly knows, eleven years ago this very moment, the world was changing before our eyes.  Thousands of lives were lost or in the process of being lost, and we were all staring silently at television screens or the sky above in horrified disbelief.  That day was my generation's Pearl Harbor - our very own 21st century Day of Infamy.

Lit Candle, Up Close
I'm sure there will be thousands upon thousands of blog posts similar to mine today. Some will be peppered with images of the attacks themselves .. mine, however, will not. Frankly, I don't want to see it all again - it was bad enough the first time. The first image I'm going to post today is one I've used before .. a single lit candle, up close.  Today, I'm sitting in my cubicle, sipping a cup of now-lukewarm coffee and tapping away at my keyboard. Just another day at the office. Probably the same thing everyone was doing at the WTC and Pentagon 11 years and a few minutes ago.

Now, I was planning on launching into more of a political-oriented speech at this point, but I just now decided that sort of thing will be more appropriate tomorrow.  September 12 was the day the political fallout from the attack began. Today was the day America came together as a nation to stop a 4th attack, to save as many as could be saved on the ground, and to just help each other get through the rest of the day with our sanity intact. I will leave you now with the one image from that day that I feel summarizes how We, The People responded that day...
The Girl with the Flag