Karate Belt and Yoga Mat

Belt and Mat

I’ve had many thoughts and reactions to the weekend events in Orlando, FL. But I couldn’t fully articulate them until I engaged in the Martial Art of Listening.

My overwhelming reaction was shock and sadness. And initially I was also frustrated because I had no one to talk to about it. I had been driving home alone from a great weekend event at the YMCA Camp Takodah in New Hampshire called MAGMA – the Massachusetts Gathering of Martial Artists. The radio reception in my car wasn’t that great, so I could not get many stations very clearly.

Finally, I was on the actual highway, and I could pick up more stations. I have no idea from which station I actually heard the news, I think it was some kind of top 40 pop music. What was also a bit unsettling was that the realization that it seemed like none of us at the YMCA camp this morning had heard anything about this.

We had been blissfully learning new martial arts techniques, or enjoying each other’s company, and then slowly cleaning out our cabins and preparing to say goodbye.

As I began to absorb the news, a thought popped in my head, “what good did all that neat training do to help those people in Orlando?”

I know. Not a very rational thought, but there it was.

Since Sunday, I’ve had other thoughts, memories especially, of when I was at a different martial arts weekend, this time out in Sacramento, CA. Except, making that trip was filled with anxiety. This Gathering was just a few short weeks after the planes hit the World Trade Center in Manhattan, an attack that shattered to the core. At that point our country was just as blindsided as on December 7th, 1941.

So, boarding a plane from New England to California was eerie. Essentially, we were carrying the same payload in fuel as on 9/11. But we flew anyway.

The weekend was fun, exhausting, inspiring, and more. On Sunday morning, as we were in the middle of learning some kind of technique, one of the organizers of the event announced in the microphone, “Yame!” which basically means “Stop” in Japanese (And pay attention). We stopped.

“The United States has invaded Afghanistan.”

I don’t remember what he said after. It was so unreal. We hugged each other, I know I cried a little. We also had hurried discussions with our friends from our own dojos. Was flying home going to be risky the next day? Would we give up our plane tickets, rent a van, and drive home instead? Eventually we went back to training, and even managed to enjoy ourselves as the day went on, but it was with a weird sense of both déjà vu, and determination.

The determination is what must stick with us. It must.

Training in the martial arts, writing a sonnet, welding a piece of steel, smiling at customers, comforting a child…these are things that we must keep doing, as well as we possibly can.

Working towards perfection, and knowing you’ll never achieve it means that you are learning about life, learning about yourself, improving Body, Mind, and Spirit.

Consider though, having a strong body, strong mind, and open spirit might not do you much good against sudden gunfire. As we discussed over this last weekend, one good defense against attack is to not put yourself in an area of harm. But a nightclub? Your school? Out to dinner, at work, at worship?

Shit’s gonna go down in some way. Evil can disguise itself, snake its way inside a building, or inside your heart. It isn’t easy to find total protection. But we need to keep trying. We may ban all assault weapons, we may not. We might build big walls, or not. We might segregate and deport those who we don’t trust. Or not.

I’d personally like to see a ban on assault weapons for private citizens. I don’t understand the need. But you know what, since this tragedy, I read a very thoughtful post on Facebook about NOT encouraging this kind of ban. My friend who wrote this post is smart, caring, tolerant, and knows a thing or two about weapons, he’s an Army veteran. He also considers himself “gender fluid” and bi-sexual. So he won’t be defined as “gun-toting right-wing uptight conservative” NOR as “pansy-assed bleeding heart pacifist liberal.” He’s just himself, and worth listening to.

The thing is, not many of us fit neatly into those stereotypes. Yet these labels are perpetuated. What’s my point here?

One is that my friend J. does have a strong body, mind, and spirit. He’s continually trying to learn and improve himself. Becoming the best version of ourselves should be our ultimate goal. Because I believe ultimately that a good dose of honest introspection will allow us to hear each other. Which brings me to my second point.

Equality Rainbow Flags on Church

Mercy, Justice, Beauty

I would love for people to listen to each other. Really listen. You know, there’s a great quote by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, “People will listen to you only when they know you’re dying, otherwise they’re just waiting for their turn to talk.” I’ve done this, I still do this. I think I have something beautifully profound to share, or something I think will help, or something funny, and I can’t wait to open my trap and say it.

It’s not so awful when all I want to do is hurry up and tell a funny joke before I forget it. It is awful however, when we interrupt each other, literally or figuratively, and insist that our opinion is the only true and correct one.

It is awful when we treat whoever else is in the conversation with contempt, just because we think they come with a particular label attached. It is terrible when we will not read what the other person has written, or posted, because we assume that what they are saying will be wrong, because of that label, because of a perception.

A few years back, I used to write for Blogcritics and for the most part, it was fun. One section of the site was for politics, and as you might imagine, was full of strong, and often unyielding opinions. I never really got into politics, so I would rarely spend much time on those pages. But every now and then, a subject would look interesting, I’d read the article, and think, “huh, not bad. They made a good argument.” I’d then – God help me – jump to the comments section and sooner or later, I’d be astounded at what I’d read there.

Sometimes there would be a counter opinion that was filled with so much vitriol and ignorance that I was convinced that the commenter could not have read the actual article. It was amazing.

Whether they did or not didn’t matter. These people came with reactions already in place. It’s frustrating, but there wasn’t much I could do.

This stubborn refusal to discuss and be open-minded has continued into my Facebook feed. No one calls me names or insults me personally, and pretty much everyone I know is decent. But there is a persistence in sharing information that is either inflammatory or not researched well and contains half-truths or lies, and continually perpetuates more misunderstandings and more intolerance. I’m pretty sure I’m guilty of that myself, but I have tried to be more aware of what I post.

I want to train in the Martial Art of Listening and not add to divisiveness. I don’t want to add to something that makes us believe that there are only two sides to a story, and whatever yours is – is wrong.

I do want to add to more loving, helping, and of course, listening.

Won’t you please join me?

Shanti and Shalom.