We Live in the Empty Space

A house is not useful in its walls, roof, and floors.  It is only valuable for the empty space it creates.

The purpose of a doorway isn’t about its frame or arch, however grand or rudimentary it may be.  No; the doorway is a passage from one place to another.  It’s value is in the possibilities it provides.  Without the doorway’s empty space, it’s just a wall.

Without silence, there is no music.  Without pause, there is no dialogue.  Without the emptiness on a page, there are no words.  Without Ozzy, there is no Black Sabbath.  Just sayin’.

The application of a cup is not in its material or its shape.  It’s about what it can hold.  The value is in the empty space and the quality of what fills it.  It’s about who and what is in the room and what takes place there.  It’s not about the brick and mortar of the corporate building, a dojo, or a studio, but the atmosphere, culture, philosophy, and approach therein.  An art gallery is nothing without the art inside.

While the tangible can increase the monetary value of the space it creates, it cannot elevate the quality of whom or what fills it.  Oak over pine.  Leather instead of cloth.  Stone and marble; not plywood and stucco.  Craftsmanship and design also play their part.  Given the choice, most of us prefer high quality tangibles.  Nothing wrong with that.  I’ll take a Bentley over a Chevy any day.  But … who’s driving?

We have a weird relationship with empty space, don’t we?  Even when it comes to time, we want to fill it with busyness.  Even when it’s quiet, we put on some music.  And it’s Depeche Mode telling us to “Enjoy the Silence”.  That’s … not confusing at all.

Instead of focusing on doing, we should learn to embrace and enjoy being.  We need to ‘sway through the crowd to an empty space.  Thank you, David Bowie.  Now that there’s room, “Let’s Dance”.

The empty space is where creativity happens, relationships are made, deals are done, music is created and played, conversations take place, poems are written, and thought manifests into ideas, solutions, and maybe even enlightenment.

It’s where we learn, eat, sleep, relax, read, watch, listen, breathe (metaphorically too), dance, play, gather (not too many), work, and laugh.  It’s where we move.

Life is lived in the empty space.

Photo by Jez_Timms on Unsplash

 

Life: Let’s Not Be So Guess-So About It

“Walk on the road.  Walk right side, safe.  Walk left side, safe.  Walk middle; sooner or later, get squished just like grape.  Here, karate same thing.  Either you karate do yes, or karate do no.  You karate do guess-so, squish, just like grape.  Understand?”  Mr. Miyagi; circa 1984.

This is true everywhere in our lives, right?  We get up from the couch to go to the kitchen to do whatever, but our mind is on a completely different subject and we slam our shin into the coffee table.  Squish, like grape.  When we’re not fully present, we burn ourselves while grilling, spill our drink, and forget to get off at our exit.  Sometimes  we end up in a room and forget why we went there.  Relax, we’re not losing our memory; we were never fully engaged in the first place.

While we like to think we can multi-task, there are a number of recent studies showing that we actually suck at it.  Our brains just don’t work that way and things go sideways.  But, we continue to try at our own peril.

To get the most out of an experience, keep our shins intact, and actually complete a project that doesn’t need to be redone due to errors, we need to be there completely.  Or, at least the greater majority of our brain does.

We should never do karate guess-so, which is why we need to center ourselves.  At the beginning of Hapkido class, before physical warm-up, we practice Ki breathing.  Ki, in Korean or Japanese, is like Qi or Chi in Chinese.  Hapkido, Aikido, Qigong, Tai Chi.  Ki is the universal energy that binds all things.  It is our life force; our breath.  In yoga, it is Prana.  And pranayama is the controlling of the breath.

At the beginning of yoga class, we take a few minutes to center ourselves by focusing on our breath.  It switches our brain from the strobe-light effect to just on, while getting our brain ready for the practice to come.

To balance on one foot or to hold a twisted pose takes concentration, effort, and attentiveness; complete presence in the here and now.  These poses (asana), along with controlled breath, brings the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of our being into a state of harmony.

When performing Ye Ma Fen Zong in Tai Chi, Osotogari in Hapkido, Vrikasana in yoga, or the infamous crane technique in Miyagido Karate, that physical task demands our full mental focus.  This brings a stillness to the mind, allowing our consciousness to expand and access a higher state of awareness.  Strength, flexibility, and other health benefits come as byproducts of the practice.  Bonus!

Wait: A higher state of awareness?  Expanding our consciousness?  Am I getting smarter?  Uh …

Does it always work?  No.  “What was that move John Wick did to that guy?”  “What are we doing this weekend?”  “Ooh, frozen yogurt sounds good.”  And … it goes on.  This happens in martial arts as well.  It happens in basketball, driving down the highway, and playing poker.  “Why did I go all in with a Jack-Seven off-suit?!”  Well, at least now you’re out of the game, giving you freedom to think about that crap you were thinking about when poker was getting in the way, right?  Jack-Seven off-suit gets you squished, like grape.

Guess-so is okay, when its okay.  But when life matters, let’s not be so guess-so about it.  Squished grapes aren’t bad either.  I like a nice red blend.

Photo by Tianshu Liu on Unsplash

What Do We Do When Passion is Half Dead?

Half-life is a term commonly used in the world of nuclear physics and pharmaceuticals; the time required for a quantity to reduce to half its initial value.  And from there, it’s all downhill at an exponential rate.

But what about that doughnut.  Yesterday it was fresh, last night it was edible, but today its dried wood.  Other perishables like thoughts, emotions, and leftovers have a half-life as well.  I was going to use milk as an example, but that just seems to die the day after the expiration date.  It’s good, good, good, then bloody horrific.  No half-life on milk.

Passion has a half-life.  It’s an intense and barely controllable emotion.  It burns like a new star; a sun engulfing our thoughts, responsibilities, and our lives with heat and light.  Nothing escapes uncompromised.

Some advice from Ben Franklin; “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”  Just sayin’.

But then … the fuel begins to run out, the core contracts, and things begin to cool.  Now what?  What do we do about this?  Can we do anything?  Should we do anything?  Passionately speaking.

There are so many articles, books, and blogs on how to stay passionate, but they use words like dedication, work, perseverance, and goal-setting.  What?!  Logical advice to fix and emotional problem?  That’s like flipping the light switch on the wall to get water from the faucet.

Other advice from these same sources, address dwindling passion in terms of you as if you are the problem.  No shit!  Of course we’re the problem and its natural.  Even skydiving can get mundane and routine after the one-thousandth jump.  Nothing has changed with the activity.  Everything is exactly the same as day one, except us.

But our passion didn’t die, it just changed.  And this isn’t such a bad thing, because now we’re able to think a bit clearer, see the road in front of us, and make better decisions.  Oh shit, our neo cortex is communicating with our limbic system!  Love and logic, passion and responsibility, excitement and rationality; cats and dogs living together.  What is going on!?  Well, if we turn on the light switch, we can see the faucet.

Balanced intelligence.

So you’re not all over each other like it’s your third date (Hey, I’m old school; shut up).  But now, five years into marriage, the passion is still there, but its not searing your eyebrows off.  It’s changed for the better.  Seriously, have you seen anyone without eyebrows?  Eww.

When the adrenaline rush, hormonal overload, and nitrous oxide injection taper off, we’re able to drive better, control the vehicle, and relax into the experience.  Hey, are these seats Corinthian leather?

Whatever the passion, a relationship, a car, skydiving, yoga, martial arts, a new job, or playing an instrument; they all start out pretty hot, but when things begin to cool, we think we lost our passion.  No, the passion didn’t die, it’s just reshaping itself.  For some of us, we recognize the goodness in that.

And yes … stars burn out.  It happens.  That milk aint’ coming back.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash.

Why Do We Grasp for Dead People’s Possessions?

I never understood why, when someone dies, people flock to the scene to claim possession of the trinkets of the deceased.  I just don’t get it.

I remember when my grandmother died and four people were fighting for her punch bowl.  A fucking punch bowl!  When the hell are you ever going to need a punch bowl?  Is there a Happy Days-themed prom you’re expecting to have at your house?

“Oh, it’s a family heirloom.”  From the old English, “loom”, meaning tool.  And heir, of course meaning, the next family member to lay rightful claim to that “tool”.  A punch bowl.

I’ve heard the argument that “it’s” something to remember them by.  Um, if you need a tool to remember them, then I’m guessing they didn’t mean much to you in life and if that’s the case, why do you want to remember them now?  By the way, Walmart sells punch bowls. I don’t know why, but they do.

For many years, following my father’s passing, his brother believed that my dad threw away their mother’s pocket bible.  Maybe he did.  No one knows.  No one.  He couldn’t let go of this.  Still hasn’t.

Maybe two or three times a year, we’d talk for a few minutes on the phone and no matter what the conversation was about, he’d have to mention it.  “Your dad threw away your grandmother’s pocket bible.”

Okay, so what do you want me to do about that?  It was always an accusatory tone and it got old very quickly.  He was blaming my deceased dad for something he may not have even done.  My uncle wanted that pocket bible as if his life wouldn’t be truly complete without it.  He’d never find contentment without fulfilling this attachment.

No Santosha without Aparigraha.  Just sayin’.  

It’s just a book!  A very small, mass-manufactured version of the bible by some now-defunct corporate publisher.  It’s nothing.  God, however anyone wants to define “God”, is NOT in that book.  My grandmother is not in that book.  It’s just words on cheap paper.  He’s clinging to this object as if it’s some kind of talisman.

And then, this happened.

A few weeks back, I was cleaning out our garage and came across a box of old photos from my parents.  As I was going through it, I found a pocket bible.  On the back, inside cover, was my grandmother’s maiden name and signed by her.  “I found it!”  I put it in a cinch bag with a note to my uncle and mailed it to the other side of the country.

And … nothing.  No call.  No message.  Two weeks went by.  No response whatsoever.

Out of concern and to make sure it arrived, my wife called him.  Yep, he got it.  He was quick, because he was busy, but said, “That’s not the bible.  Bob (my dad) threw away the one I’m talking about.”

Okay then.  And that was pretty much the end of the conversation.  No thanks for the thought or anything like that.  Not that I need thanks or appreciation to validate what I did, but still.  You know what I mean.  Maybe acknowledgment; I don’t know.

So, I don’t do the anger thing.  Maybe I’m weird, but I don’t hold grudges or get angry with things like this.  Grudges are heavy, weighing like sandbags on our shoulders.  I don’t want to be hunched over when I’m 100.

I do get disappointed though.  Hey, I’m human.  But, this wasn’t even disappointment for me.  It was a realization about my “relationship” with my uncle.  There really isn’t one.  He doesn’t know me, nor I him, really.

While I don’t misplace value in inanimate objects, like a punch bowl or pocket bible, I do value people and the relationships I have with them.  My fathers efforts, hard work, tolerance, wisdom, and guidance he provided on my behalf is what I value.  I can never forget that.  Possessing his microwave isn’t going to keep him with me.  Like, every time I make popcorn, I would feel his presence.  No, I sold his microwave to help pay for hospice.

Anyways, the value my uncle places in this book and the negativity associated with its mysterious disappearance, permeated whatever little contact we had.  Ugh.

And for that reason, I’m out.  Sometimes, you just have to give the microwave away, because its too heavy to keep moving around.  Besides, I make my popcorn on the stove top.

Peace.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I See Human Beings

My apologies.  I know I’m taking a risk here, but I posted this the other day and then I took it down.  I’m torn.  I want to leave the past in the past and so I thought I’d put it out there and let it go, but then I thought, by putting it out there, it regains energy.  I had a great conversation with a wise person, who told me its okay to put it out there, let it go, and be done with it.  So, here it is again.  I will not take it down. Namaste.  

Charles Bukowski once said, “I walked around the block twice, passed 200 people and failed to see a human being.”

The block I grew up on was pretty bad.  I walked around it countless times.  I witnessed and experienced things I shouldn’t have at an early age.  At any age, really.  I greeted the prostitutes on the corner as I walked by, witnessed horrible violence and incredible kindness.  A bloody lifeless body on my sidewalk and a two-year old boy innocently playing with a toy truck.  I went to sleep to the cacophony of gun shots, sirens, the elevated train, people yelling and screaming, and … a dog barking.  You get used it.

I learned street diplomacy in my single digits, got into and out of violent confrontations and maintained a delicate relationship between decent people and the criminal element.

Mentally, physically, and psychologically processing that stuff has its effects.  For so many, the atmosphere becomes them and I completely understand.  The pressure to align with this group or that group, because standing alone is dangerous.  So is aligning with a group.  Catch 22.  What does it mean to be a man?  As a young teenager, successfully navigating that atmosphere was next to impossible.

Due to the surrounding violence, my dad enrolled me in martial arts when I was twelve.  Real martial arts.  Not kiddie karate.  Blood, pain, injury, and a bit of Zen.  I could have gotten three of those on the streets at no cost.  Actually, I did.  Something I asked my dad was … “Can’t we just move, instead?”  But that wasn’t in the cards.

That neighborhood heightened my sense of awareness and information processing speed.  My decision making skills are quick and quite decisive.  I learned to read situations, verbal exchanges, tone, demeanor, mood, movement, and things that just don’t feel right. I don’t recommend it.

And the martial arts?  That militaristic dojo taught me how to embrace the suck, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and focus.  It helped me to see myself.  And because of that, it helped me to see the human beings.

Back to the Bukowski quote.  I saw the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful on that block.  I saw the humans.  All of them.  A person.  A life.  I think that’s what helped me navigate those streets.  I genuinely saw the person and they saw that I saw them and so … they saw me.  Some didn’t, no matter what.  That’s just the way it goes and that relationship got handled differently.

Whatever, whenever, and wherever the block; literal or metaphorical, seeing the human beings helps a lot.  It can hurt sometimes too.  But, the alternative is just going through the motions.  No feeling to it.  No soul.

I know what Bukowski was trying to say and I get it.  Life, atmosphere, circumstances, and shitty people can cause us to lose our faith in fellow humans; jaded, frustrated, guarded, and disheartened.  It happens and we all have our days, but we can’t live there.  That would be a miserable existence.  No joy.  No peace.

I see human beings, but I first had to truly see myself.

Photo by Fredy Martinez on Unsplash 

That One Time, On Barney Miller

When I was a kid, one of my Dad’s favorite TV shows, was Barney Miller.  My dad was a hard-working kind of guy.  Old school.  He came home dirty every night and times were tough.  But, when he watched Barney Miller, he would laugh.  So, I watched with him.  I liked seeing my dad laugh.

But, one particular episode left me thinking for the rest of that evening.  It’s where detective Chano accidently shoots and kills a kid and he’s left devastated.  His Captain, Barney Miller comes to his apartment to visit him and talk.  As Captain Miller is leaving, he stops and says to Chano, “Did you ever wonder why, the sperm whale, which is one of the largest mammals on the face of the earth, has a throat about that size (with one hand, he makes a circle with his fingers and thumb)?”

Chano replies, “Yeah, I always did wonder; why is that?”

And Captain Miller says, “Because that’s the way it is.  And there ain’t anything you can do about it.”

It’s funny how certain things resonate with even a kid of my age, at the time.  And obviously, that scene is still with me today.  At first, I felt betrayed; like, this show is supposed to be funny, not tragedy and drama.  You’re supposed to make my dad laugh.  What are you doing?!  But, the next episode was funny again, so we all moved on.

Back to Chano though: We tend to torture ourselves with what should be or could’ve been, longing for a reality that doesn’t exist.  We’re complicated emotional beings with empathy and a soul, but at the same time, we’re logical.  Simply saying, “… that’s the way it is”, is a logical approach, but it’s not very comforting.  It’s not comforting, because of its closed-ended finality with a zero percent chance of hope.

But, hope can be a form of torture as well.

Dealing with tragedy is a process and even if we successfully pass through all five stages of grief, including acceptance, it’s never actually over.  Captain Miller’s logic was to skip over denial, anger, bargaining, and depression to acknowledge reality; “that’s the way it is.  And there ain’t anything you can do about it.”  Get your shit together and move on.

I understand Captain Miller’s approach.  If I see a nail sticking out, I grab a hammer and bam!  The nail isn’t sticking out anymore.  Fixed.  That’s how most guys function.  We want to fix things, so that we can move on.

But, why was that nail sticking out in the first place?  “What?!  Do you want the wall to tell me about its feelings and its relationship with the nail?”  Sort of; yeah.  Because, nails don’t just push out of a wall for no reason.  A plumbing pipe shifted inside the wall, pushing the nail forward and when it was hammered back in, it punctured the pipe and now there are bigger problems.  Oops.

Anecdotally, we’ve all been there, done that.

“Did you ever wonder why humans have a yin and yang brain, where the limbic system operates on emotion and instinct, yet the neo cortex is all about logic and calculation?”

“Yeah, why is that?”

“Because that’s the way it is.  And the best we can do is learn how to operate both systems in harmony.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m still working on that.

That Time I Met My Childhood Self

One night, in Yoga Teacher Training, our instructor took us through meditation.  Nothing unusual, but this time, we were to go back and meet our childhood selves as we are right now.  I never thought of doing this before and I thought, “Oh, this will be a fun experiment.”  Maybe, I’d give him a high-five and ask him how school is going; that sort of thing.

But, then I saw him and it hit me in an unexpected way.

There I was; eh … me.  He.  We.  Whatever. When I came up to him, I immediately realized that the high-five thing was a dumb idea.  Neither one of us said anything, but he knew who I was and just looked at me with no judgement.  Just observing me, with a welcoming expression.

And this bothered me, because it was like I wanted him to judge me.  I expected it.  He should, dammit!  I felt unworthy of his acceptance and it made me uncomfortable.  Then it made me sad and I did my best to hold back the tears.  I was among my classmates and they can’t see me like that.  You know?

That kid was awesome.  He was naïve, innocent, and okay.  I felt like I fucked that up and that he should push me or punch me or something!  But nothing. He was cool.

I wanted to give him all the excuses about life, reality, circumstances, and survival.  I felt like I should vomit explanations: The first time I saw my parents have one of those fights where they throw shit; and then … the twentieth time.  All those fights I got into.  That time I saw my first dead body.  I was way too young to see a bullet-riddled bleeding corpse.  That time I got jumped and beaten in the projects.  Oh, and that other time and what I had to do to make it home.  That time my cousin died in his sleep.  That car accident.  That time I had to decide to put my mother in hospice and then have her cremated.  And then my father as well.  Or, that time I had two guns pressed into my skull by bank robbers?  Are you kidding me?!  Fucking bank robbers!

And … you know; a bunch of life, multiplied by decades.  I lost my hair.  His hair.  Sorry kid.

But, he just looked at me with that face.  Like … as if he liked me.

So then, I realized where I am now, which is a pretty damn good place.  It took a lot of work, sacrifice, loss, pain, setbacks, eating ramen noodles, self-responsibility, letting the bad shit go, striving for the good things, loving and being loved, and trying to be a better version of myself this day than I was yesterday, multiplied by decades.  I have a soul to protect.  I’m grateful for that, every day.

He saw me.  For real.  All of it.  And he’s proud of me; eh … himself. Us. Whatever.

Thanks buddy.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash