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

1 comment:

kingofla said...

Am enjoying the presence of your blog. It is a nice access to you. On the Sir Ken category - the latest game changer in education is Salman Khan, founder of KHan Academy. His TED talk was posted on Tuesday - on innovation in education - 20 minutes of history being made and the future is here, now.