With Star Wars being back in the news in a big way, it got me thinking about how grateful I am for Star Wars. Not to George Lucas in particular, although I wouldn’t deny him mad props for creating the thing in the first place. But I’m specifically grateful for the entire Star Wars phenomenon: the vast media, cultural and merchandising empire built around the six movies. The giant sandbox where media, games, toys, clothing and various bric-a-brac (Star Wars Pancake molds?!) all lay scattered about, waiting for creative geeks to play with them again.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been rekindling some of my love of Star Wars. I’ve played the video game Knights of the Old Republic and am almost done with its sequel. I’ve listened to the recent novel, Darth Plagueis, and revisited the soundtracks, and I’ll top it all off by viewing all six of the movies. Probably not all in one day. What has always delighted me about Star Wars isn’t the detail of the particular story I’m experiencing when I play, listen or watch. Instead, it’s that feeling of expansive possibility and youthful optimism that accompanies any Star Wars related experience. Because Star Wars first came out when I was a grade school larval geek, only just starting to discover my true destiny as a nerd, the movie and everything associated with it is inextricably linked with a childlike sense of discovery, of freshness and possibility, that not nothing–not critical opinion, not Jar Jar Binks, not the Holiday Special–can destroy. When I watch, listen to or play Star Wars, I’m 8 years old again, learning about the ways of the Force so I can become a Jedi and fight injustice in the galaxy.
And that feeling is better than making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs.
From stories in my newsfeed recently:
- Video of a brain in action, creating thoughts in response to external stimulii
- Pictures of famous landmarks…FROM SPACE!
- Our science robots have gathered more evidence for flowing water on Mars
- The age-old story of power, the gain and loss of, updated for the age of a vast global network of information, accessible instantly from nearly ubiquitous devices.
- One of those devices? A pair of eyeglasses that will speak to you via bone conduction
But enjoy the future, folks. You’re living in it.
Our dojo hosted a seminar with Mary Heiny Sensei last weekend, making the sixth year she’s been out to see us in Austin. In addition to being a wonderful person and a great aikidoist, Heiny Sensei has a wealth of stories about training in Japan in the early 70s. Her status as a foreign female meant she had a lot of obstacles to overcome, and she speaks of those experiences with candor and familiarity. I learned so much from her on the mat thanks to her skill as an aikidoist and an instructor. But even more than the training on the mat, her stories have stayed with me, and reopened a train of thought that I’ve considered on and off through the years: lineage.
By “lineage,” I mean more than simply the transmission of technique from master to student. Although that is encapsulated in the concept, I’m also thinking of the continuity of experience that personal contact allows. Even more than books or video, having a living, breathing human relate her experiences gives those stories an immediacy that allows them to sink in. They make a home in my brain, changing how I think and how I view the world.
On the other hand, when I visited Saotome Sensei’s Aiki Shrine in Florida a couple of years ago, he also spoke of lineage, calling us assembled students the third generation of aikido: O Sensei to him to us. He meant it to instill a sense of responsibility for carrying forward the art to successive generations. But his charge to us wasn’t personal; it was an admonition, not an anecdote. It lacked story. But for all that, his skill and instruction were clear, and insistent: you have a duty to continue this. Learn it, and pass it on to others.
Two facets of lineage, expressed by two very different people. Heiny Sensei’s stories and Saotome Sensei’s formidable skill, laid out before me, drawing me down the path to continue my practice, to bring it to others.
Our teachers, whoever they are, have written an epic, astounding poem of life and training and adversity and sweat and joy and pain, and invited us to add our own stanzas. I hope to write something worthy of their company.
I’ve been practicing yoga for a little over a year, and it’s made a big difference in how I view, and relate to, my body. I still can’t bend over backwards and touch my nose to the floor (oh dear god, why?), but I have noticed a slight increase in stability, balance and flexibility; a stronger lower back; and most importantly, an awareness of my own body that even aikido hasn’t given me. For someone who engaged in basically no physical activity until he was in his mid 30s, it’s quite an accomplishment to talk about two physical activities now.
I still prefer the spiritual side of aikido and its focus on connecting to others, and the way it prepares me for conflict. But yoga has helped me develop an inner focus, which not only complements my aikido practice, but stands as a worthy practice on its own.
In the game of Gratitude Journal Bingo, “Spouse” is practically a free space. If you have a spouse or partner, it’s trivially easy to be grateful for any of a hundred things about them. So, rather than just say, “You’re really great, you know? Just really, really…great,” I prefer to focus on a particular quality that demonstrates what is so amazingly kick-ass about the person. In my wife’s case, I’m focusing on her enthusiasm, and specifically, her enthusiasm for planning vacations.
I’m the type of vacationer who wants to get a general idea of the activities I would find interesting, pick a few “must haves” and leave the rest to chance. My wife is far more…detailed. For her, the planning is an intensely enjoyable part of the experience, and it allows her to get excited for the trip long before the actual departure date. That excitement can be a bit wearing at times, especially when the trip is months away yet, but overall, it keeps the entire family interested and engaged. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s one of the countless things I’m grateful for about her.
I help teach the kids class at our dojo, and it never ceases to amaze and humble me how much energy those li’l ankle biters have. Thankfully, the class is only 45 minutes, because by the end, both Jay and I are usually sweating and panting after trying to keep up with them. I’d like to say I’m grateful that their energy and enthusiasm keeps me young, but that would be a dirty lie. In fact, their energy and enthusiasm are overwhelming and exhausting. You know, in a good way.
What I am grateful for is their open mindedness and willingness to try new things. When I teach adults, I often find that although the spirit is willing, the mind is weak: adults often have to overcome preconceived notions on how something should be done, despite repeated admonitions to the contrary. Once a kid understands what you’re asking them to do, they just do it.
That’s a refreshing way to approach new situations, and something I try, with greater or lesser degrees of success, to keep in my practice on the mat and my life off the mat. So although I often wish I could siphon off some of their energy into my batteries, I’m grateful for their fresh, uncluttered perspective and open and accepting spirits.
Even though I don’t really do New Years’ resolutions, I enjoy it as a milestone. I particularly like the opportunity it gives for reminiscing about the past year, and looking forward to the year ahead. Normally, I cultivate a present-focus: I try to remain aware of what is happening now, rather than worrying or anticipating the future, or regretting or gloating about the past. But from time to time, I let myself indulge in a bout of unapologetic nostalgia for the year that has passed, as well as a bit of daydreaming about the year to come.
I hope you find some time in the midst of your celebrations to spend a few minutes in contemplation of what has gone by, and what will come ahead.