Monday, November 15, 2010

Slow Down. Feel. Practice. Pt 1

Crouching next to the fire, Pappy Conpelo held a cup of coffee in his left hand. "The sad news is we are trapped by the very technology that was invented to liberate us. Video games become tomorrow's killing machines. On the whole the consequences of our actions no longer touch our muscle let alone our olfactory systems. At best, we are emotionally distant. We connect only on a temporary basis, and when we do we have no idea where the trajectory of our ill-conceived practices will take us. The samurai faced similar conditions, and they were not alone in history. You think we would learn. But then again, our schools rarely test for anything more than a regurgitation of names and dates and places. We study only to get a grade. But the real tests are not about achieving a score. Once you've made your mark, once you've obtained that desired income level and you own that certain car or have that dream home - then what? You think life is about success? Ha!"
(from The Life and Times of Pappy Conpelo)

Friday morning. October 1, 2010. San Francisco.

It's almost noon and time to board Flight 930. Again.

First boarding was yesterday. But four hours after settling into Seat 24H, an unsolved "mechanical" meant a few hundred of us headed off to overnight stays - sans baggage - courtesy of the airline. Security requires international flights retain already loaded luggage. We've returned now, our little neighborhood. Same folks. Same seats. Same clothes. What to do for the next twenty-four hours between in-flight movies, meals, snoozes, walking the aisles galley to galley, airport coffee shops, people watching and duty-free gazing?

My destination: Cairo via London. The mission: deliver a second round of leadership training at Alcatel-Lucent's new management school, dubbed "University", in the Mid East Africa region. My host, Mohamed El-Haw, is waiting. I'll meet him in time to shake off some of the jetlag and serve those assembled.

Mohamed is an intern, a candidate apprenticing for certification as a Samurai Game® facilitator. He will be the first Egyptian so certified. We met in 2006 in Amersfort, Ntherlands, then a year later at Ain El Sokhna, Egypt; both occasions for the AIESEC International President's Meeting. He, as part of the Egyptian contingency. I was the "external" leadership trainer for AIESEC's annual week-long event with 90 nations represented.

Recruited by Alcatel-Lucent, Mohamed El-Haw is now their Employee Learning Manager, MEA Region. Studious and Type-A, he sometimes gets ahead of himself. I relate. Last month he told me that he wanted me to bring three of the books about samurai or aikido for his study regarding the simulation. But he failed to get back to me about which three. And, in all fairness, I failed to call him back and ask.

Now on the way to the Gate 96, I stop at Pacific Gateway News for some hopeful shopping. Not one book about the samurai or a martial art. I do, however, find two of my otherwise favorite non-fictions: My Stoke of Insight (Jill Bolte Taylor) and Tuesdays With Morrie (Mitch Albom). Not only will these do - They Are Perfect!

A Saturday Morning. Summer 2006. Glendon Way, Petaluma.

It's a warm sunny day and I'm home from China. I stand out back of my tiny recently rented house. My last place (ten years on Daniel Drive) has been sold by the trust that owned it. I got word three weeks ago that I had to move. The pressing China trip gave me only forty-eight hours to scramble and locate another. Transitioning from 2,300 square feet of living space to 788 has been interesting, with two young sons under roof, each needing his own space, manage ongoing work, outfit the office into this cracker box.

This morning I hang laundry on a clothesline. A luxury not afforded on Daniel Drive. Luxury? Absolutely! Because I can linger in fresh air and meditate while dropping into a repetitive practice of pulling, stretching, hanging, clothes-pinning - each shirt, each pair of socks, every towel and every washcloth. ("The secret to a happy life," said Marcus Aurelius, "is all within yourself - in your way of thinking.") I slow my pace to attend item by item. My mind slows and attends thought by thought. Luxury. I won't use a dryer. Luxury. I recall (and somewhat relive) being a youngster, when backyard clotheslines were the drying technology-of-the-day. In those days our family clothesline was also the place dad stretched onto cloth strips of venison flesh, freshly cut to make jerky - the hardened dry nourishment we carried on our hunts.

My son Nick is rousting from bed. I ask him outside to introduce him to the clothesline; something he and a gazillion of his American generation have never witnessed. The wires and clothespins greet him as the screen door slaps shut. "Cool Dad. But, how does it work?"

I respond that yes, it is cool but - well - it actually doesn't do any 'work', though it is both effective and efficient at getting the job done. Nick cocks an eyebrow and speechlessly looks on. It will take a while for him to understand my meaning.

Friday mid-afternoon. Returning to October 1, 2010. Aboard UA flight 930

We've been airborne for some time, and arcing north over Midwestern US. Am taking in Tuesdays With Morrie a couple or three pages at a time. I've read it before. But you never know what was missed or forgotten. It's definitely worth reading again, before it becomes part of Mohamed's library. I'm on page 38.

One afternoon, I [Mitch] am complaining (to Morrie) about the confusion of my age, what is expected of me versus what I want for myself.

'Have I told you about the tension of opposites?' [Morrie] says.

The tension of opposites?

'Life is a series of pulls back and forth. You want to do one thing, but you are bound to do something else. Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn't. You take certain things for granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted.'

'A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band. And most of us live somewhere in the middle.'

Sounds like a wrestling match, I say.

'A wrestling match." He laughs. "Yes, you could describe life that way.'

So which side wins, I ask?

'Which side wins?'

He smiles at me, the crinkled eyes, the crooked teeth.

'Love wins. Love always wins.'

My eyes close. I drift back a week to my own September 25.

Saturday Morning. September 25, 2010. One week and a small lake ago.

I went fishing today. I have tons of things on my "to do" list. But today I went fishing.

Actually, I went watching and laughing. Granddaughters, Ava (she's 5) and Leia (she's 3) did the fishing. Well, actually, they did line tangling - which is just as much fun as fishing, maybe more. Grandson, Jack (he's 1), came too. He did mud balling.

Line Tangling. Swirling fishing poles in water, and stirring up weeds, branches and gunk, making wonderful messes. Followed by jumping up and down, and screaming "I got a bite!"

Mud Balling. Scurrying to the edge of the lake on legs new to walking. Find the biggest, most available patch of brown goo; plop down, roll around and become - well - a mud ball. Done repeatedly and with mindful practice (must be so to him, cuz he's one big giant smile) equals: mud balling.

Doesn't take a lot to have a great time. Pick up a stick along side a trail and it becomes anything you want it to be. Three poles, a few feet of mono-filament line - magic happens. Walk to a patch of abundantly water-soaked earth with plenty of weeds - Pure anti-bath! Add sandwiches, and, voila! Gravity and creativity do all the rest. You save some dinero otherwise spent on some have-to-have-had expensive micro-chipped-obsoleted-internetted-camerated-and-touchscreen-covered gizmo and you have some self-generated entertainment and amusement. And guess what - it will be remembered and loved forever. What could be better?

I imagine hearing someone's say that he has to check on some important email. And as I do images of Sir Kenneth Robinson float by as he (Sir Ken) admonishes us that something's killing creativity in our children. Google search "TED Talks and Kenneth Robinson" and watch something that will grab you good. But don't you dare do the viewing in lieu of Line Tangling and Mud Balling. Take time to do 'em both.

Friday evening. October 1, 2010. Still aboard UA #930

Somewhere over the Labrador Sea, off the coast of Greenland.

Just finished the in-flight film selection, "One Week". Netflick it. Not an action movie - so prepare to go slow. Canadian production. Young man. Discovers he doesn't have much time left. Decides to spend a week motorcycling across country. A quest to understand his life. Touching. My whimsical self-talk (given what I'm to be delivering in Egypt in a few days plus the book I'm reading that sits nearby), "Synchronistic - Eh? And me reading Tuesdays With Morrie, a few pages at a time. Eh." I'm now at page 84. Morrie is making a point about living to the fullest, and using his own soon-to-be-completed life as the example.

"Mitch," he said, laughing along, "even I don't know what 'spiritualdevelopment' really means. But I do know we're deficient in some way.We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don't satisfy us.The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take thesethings for granted."

He nodded toward the window with the sunshine streaming in. "You

see that? You can go out there, outside, anytime. You can run up and

down the block and go crazy. I can't do that. I can't go out. I can't run.

I can't be out there without fear of getting sick. But you know what?

I appreciate that window more than you do."

Appreciate it?

"Yes. I look out that window every day. I notice the change in the trees,

how strong the wind is blowing. It's as if I can see time actually passing

through that windowpane . Because I know my time is almost done,

I am drawn to nature like I'm seeing it for the first time."

I lean back and drift back - eyes closed - again to one week prior.

Back to Saturday. September 25. But, now it's a late post-fishing afternoon.

After all the fishing, mud balling, and line tangling I arrive home.

It's time for something on the never ending "to do" list: mow the lawn with a recently sharpened push mower. Push what? Push mower. Had it since long before moving to and then from the cracker box house on Glendon Way.

I'm in my front yard twenty minutes later. Job almost done. A faint voice over my left shoulder cuts above the clacking blades, "Hello. Excuse me. Hello? Helloooo!" I turn. There, across the street in neighbor Lynda's yard, stand five teenage girls - waving and grinning and curiously looking on. I stop.

Me: "Hi"

They, all together: "Hello"

"What are you doing?" asks the one who first spoke.

I look at the push mower and then back at them, "Mowing the lawn." They stare, somewhat aghast. Then turn to each other and start giggling. Then back at me. One sheepishly asks, "Can we come over and see?"


They skip across the street. Staring down at the ground at this antique contraption, they are totally baffled. No gas engine. No electric motor. No throttle. No powered wheels. What the heck?!?

"How does it work?" queries one.

"Well, you just --- ah, push it. Want to give it a try?"

In unison they jump up and down. "YES!" (no kidding this actually happened exactly the way I'm writing it) "OK," I say, "But (they are all barefoot) gotta keep your toes out of the way."

One grabs the handles and shoves. But mower budges not. Again she shoves. Still it stands - not one inch give. And then again; more of the same.

"Let me do it", demands another. Same. Then another. Then another. All the same. Finally, one gal gets it going. She's an instant heroine. Away she goes. Everyone else stands in awe and watches. Now they all suddenly want another go at it. I turn to the one who first managed to move it (she's now laughing like crazy) and ask, "Did you ever read the Adventures of Tom Sawyer?"

"Yes! We just read it as a summer assignment before starting the school year."

"So," I inquire, "who are you today? Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn? And whadaya think - should I charge you for mowing my lawn?"

They complete my work. All are laughing. Truly, a novel experience.

Push mowers. Cut the grass. Get good cardio workout. Create low carbon footprint. Meet neighbors. Look foolish? Maybe. Recall the genius of Mark Twain? Absolutely! What fun.

Saturday afternoon. October 2, 2010.

A soft morning landing and a nine-hour layover at London's Heathrow are now complete.

I'm aboard Egypt Air Flight 778. Fully loaded, we've been airborne for some time. Tuesdays With Morrie rests in the seat pouch. My microwaved meal has been delivered. The high tech touch screen video display on the seatback forward of me has at least fifteen options to chose from. I think, "Different airline, different films, I'll eat and watch."

I reach for the earbuds. They fall to the floor. This being the last seat in the very rear of the aircraft, up against both window and rear bulkhead I'm stuck - too jammed in to move - no wiggle room to find them. What now? So I open my window cover and my jaw drops, because there below me ---

(Continued in November's newsletter)

©Lance Giroux, October 2010

Slow Down. Feel. Practice.

Papi set the cup down on a flat rock, shivered and extended his weathered hands above the flames. He turned and looked squarely thorough me. His piercing eyes alone could have spoken everything, but he wanted to ensure that he would be heard. His voice rose above a low whisper and he continued, "We have two sides of the brain, you know. Those who attend to only one side lose big time. We exercise neither our critical self nor our feeling self. And as for the body here in this country - it's become soft; almost a lost cause."

(from The Life and Times of Papi Conpelo)

[Continuing from October. Where were we?]

Saturday afternoon. October 2, 2010.

A soft morning landing and a nine-hour layover at London's Heathrow are now complete.

I'm aboard Egypt Air Flight 778. Fully loaded, we've been airborne for some time. Tuesdays With Morrie rests in the seat pouch. A microwaved meal has been delivered. The high tech touch screen video display on the seatback forward of me has at least fifteen options to chose from. I think, "Different airline, different films, I'll eat and watch a movie."

I reach for the earbuds. They fall to the floor. This being the last seat in the very rear of the aircraft, up against both window and rear bulkhead I'm stuck - too jammed in to move - no wiggle room to find them. What now? So I open my window cover and my jaw drops. There below me extends the broad expanse of the Italian Alps. The sun, dropping fast somewhere over my right shoulder, paints its way through clouds sending deep shadows to who knows where. All right here.

The scene is stunning. I've flown countless times above the Sierra Nevada. What's to be seen there is magnificent. But I've never witnessed anything this rough or steep, dropping so far and so fast. I sit transfixed above terrain I may never see again.

By 6:20 p.m. Flight 778 is 2,400 kilometers from Cairo and flying southeast over the Dolomite Mountains. We're due north of Venice and west northwest of Trieste. The Croatian coastline and the beaches stretch out below. Our route will take us to Pula, then Zadar, then Dubrovnik.

Cloud covered patterns float faintly over the Italian boot out my window. The jagged pattern of islands west of Krk appear. "You know," I tell myself, "I could be watching the in-flight movie right now. But why?" How many moments ago did the earbuds fall to my, "Aggghrrrh!". Yet, had that not happened all of this would have gone unseen and unfelt.

Saturday afternoon. November 6, 2010.

Sunny Oakland, California. Am arriving home from a week being with family of my friend, Mac. His life halted sixteen days ago. No one saw that coming.

Rain was falling hard when I left Seattle a few hours ago. That's behind me now, but it will catch me again tomorrow. The predictable weather patterns at this time of year inform this.

Mac's going gave us all pause: we who are family and friends.

How much time do you have? To look everyday and notice what's there and what's passed you by? Knowing this, how much time do you spend actively noticing? And then taking time to consider what all of this is teaching you? Ant then taking effective action on what you have noticed? Can you read the patterns of your practices? How about the patterns of our collective practices?

Tuesday. November 2, 2010.

U.S. mid-term election day. My vote has been cast.

Wednesday. November 3, 2010.

The elections are over; the ballots counted. Those elected speak. From both sides of the aisle we hear today. "What the American people want now is for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work." Wow! How many times have we heard that after an election? Isn't that what the public servants were supposed to be doing since the last election, i.e. get to work?

Thursday. November 4, 2010.

Lots of news today! Our print and electronic media is on the job to inform us that the 2012 election is already in progress and well underway. Oh well -- so much for getting to work.

A dose of cynicism grips me. The lyrics of "Patterns" (Simon and Garfunkle) come to mind. These words trumpet our continuing politics here. Don't remember? Never heard? Try Another cynical thought floats by - sometimes, we really do live inside The Truman Show.

Saturday evening. October 2, 2010.

Egypt Air Flight 778 has entered Yugoslavian airspace. Sunlight splits the western sky above Italy. Below the world is gray. We are over Korcula and on track for Titograd. Someone has paid me to write this, but they don't know it. What I mean is: I wouldn't be sitting here today had not someone footed the bill. Would I? What about you, where would you be today if someone had paid different prices in your regard?

Another time zone. Another time. Two and a half hours behind is London. What remains of sunlight is blue on a far horizon. Names once legends in books are within view. Delphi to the west, and to the southeast lies Marathon. I find myself wondering, "What would the Oracle say of our world today, the way we live and respond?" I think of the original marathoner - Pheidippides - the Athenian herald who was sent running one hundred fifty miles over two days to Sparta when the Persians landed at Marathon, and then ran another twenty-five miles to Athens to announce a Greek victory. Who goes the distance today? Not the distance of running, rather the distance of practiced conviction and perseverance? Where would we be today without the GPS and the mobile phone, the iPad and our Facebook - and "You've Got Mail" ??. If we lost electricity for two days nation wide? If we had to communicate beyond the exchange of data? If we truly had to rely on our senses? We walk a fragile line - yet we don't respect how fragile the line is. We take tomorrow for granted.

A Friday evening. January 1975.

I'm sitting in the top floor meeting room at the Travelodge in Honolulu attending a seminar. It's almost midnight. Art Theisen, a large robust man with round nose, receding hairline and deep voice, is telling a story with great feeling. He talks of himself being a young brash pilot at the end of World War II ferrying aircraft across Europe: C-47's - the military version of the DC-3. Most of his planes were empty of passengers. But on occasions, he says, a person of importance would hop a ride.

On the morning of this particular story he gets word that two passengers will be his responsibility as he ferries a plane inbound to Athens. They are Helen Keller and Polly Thompson. He greets them as they board. Then he moves forward, goes through his pre-flight checklist, taxies and takes off. The flight will last many hours, taking an entire day.

Somewhere in mid-flight Art needs to relieve himself, so he walks the rear of the aircraft where a toilet is located. On his way back to the cockpit he passes his guests, glances down to consider what a pitiful life Helen Keller must live - not being able to see or hear or talk. Then he gets back to the controls and settles in for a non-eventful remainder of the flight.

Some hours later while he's sitting somewhat bored, Art feels the pressure of a touch on his right shoulder. When he turns to see what the pressure is he finds Polly Thompson.

"Hello", he offers.

"Hi", she responds. Then she continues, "Helen, is enjoying the trip. She just asked me to come forward to let you know. She also asked me to say how wonderful it must be to see Athens, and that the city must be golden right now in the rays of the setting sun."

Theisen sits is aghast. He doesn't know what to say He turns his face forward to look out the front of the aircraft. There below him in plain sight as it has been for many minutes (had he been paying attention), sits Athens ablaze in the light of a setting sun.

In the seminar I sit, listening to Art Thiesen finish his story. He says, "It took a blind, deaf and mute person, to communicate to this arrogant all-seeing pilot, in a way that I could see the beauty of what was there all along and in a way that I could hear."

What am I doing with the equipment (talents, eyes, ears, legs, feet, brain, voice, etc.) that is mine to use on this journey?

Saturday evening. October 2, 2010. A short while later. Egypt Air flight 778.

My face is against the plexiglass. Below, the coastline of Greece defines the Aegean Sea. Athens' lights glow brightly outside my window. On this course Cairo is not long off. I sit quietly staring. "You know," I say to myself again, "I could be watching the in-flight movie right now." A whisper offers, "But why?"

"Who are you without your toys? Are you paying attention? Do you care for and take care of yourself -really? When all becomes silent, can you tolerate the sound of your own thoughts?" I sat speechless. Holding me in his steely gaze, Papi persisted, "I asked you a question. Where is your answer? We have become addicted to toys and outcomes. Discipline and integrity, imagination and artistry, service and seeing what is there to be seen - we better watch out or these will become lost or totally compromised. And if that happens-we're screwed."

(from The Life and Times of Papi Conpelo)

©Lance Giroux, November 2010