Category Archives: Prayer

Eulogy for Lost Dreams

A friend of mine was a young genius, admitted to college two years younger than was the norm – had also applied and been accepted to Julliard Music Conservatory on the virtue of his love for and proficiency on the trumpet.

His parents knew what was best for him, though, and lovingly decided that he should join a good computer science program at another reputable university.

He found himself able, but not motivated, took solace in the thought that he could do well in class if he tried, turned instead to playing Counterstrike (a first-person shooter computer game), slept irregular hours, and flunked out of school before he finished his first year.

His name was Winston. I lost touch with him.

I wonder if he has found his muse, or if he labors in quiet desperation at a job that he doesn’t much care for, a victim even now of an insidious homogenizing strand of thought that would discount genius and force people to be average in favor of a nice steady job, in a cheapening of what is artisitic, passionate, or interesting. Fuck. That. Shit.

However much we sell ourselves short in order to gain the good opinion of others, or for material wealth, we cannot take any of it with us when we die.

Old friend, you must have lost your way for a long time. Do not die with your music inside of you. I pray that you have found your way.


With a co-worker, he was explaining theory. I wanted to know about application. I had been trying to ask a question, initiating with body language and verbal grunts. “Does that mean…” “um…” “hey…” “well…” with increased frustration, until I said to him firmly. “I have a question – do you want to hear it?” And he said “No.”

“You don’t want to hear my question.” I said, stating it more than asking it.
“No.” He shook his head.
And this was a bit of a relief. He had helped me understand the theory, which I had not done on my own, but he was not interested in understanding its application. I’ll take what I can get, I reasoned, and find the rest somewhere else.

I recalled Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Huit Clos” in which the characters involved make each other miserable because of their personalities. Compromise is not possible because they cannot set their self-image aside. I recalled James Nalepka’s “Capsized,” where three crew a boat that capsizes in a storm, and they drift, surviving on fishing, gathering rain, and food stores until they hit land again. Their personalities bump against each other because there is no way off of the boat, but they are united by their common goal.

The latter is how I like to think of my company – united by a common goal.

The boat has been weathering a storm recently, but letting go of the urge to protect myself has enabled me to see more clearly.

Two weeks ago we were in a meeting. My boss called in. We hit a rough spot. My boss panicked, jumped in, and took control of the meeting. A few days later, my boss told me that I was being taken off the customer. I was upset, but agreed. We made plans to transfer the customer to my boss, and I offered to remain as backup help, internally working with our engineers to get answers. I viewed it as nothing personal – just a judgement of my ability to culturally handle this customer. The next day I was reinstated to the account. I now have a co-worker (not my boss) playing the role of cultural intermediary. He’s a top gun, switching in and out of dialect and talking the exact style with the exact phrasing that the customer wants to hear. We can say exactly the same thing in terms of content and get two very different reactions from the customer. They love him, which is fine. All I have to do is get him what he needs to answer questions.

I have been working overtime to get those answers from our engineers. They have been working overtime, too. Everyone is under pressure due to the product launch, but I handle it by being unattached to the outcome at this customer. Maybe we win, maybe we lose – I’ll give it my best shot.

That’s what Japanese warriors would tell themselves. They would train for life and death encounters, try to avoid conflict if at all possible, until for reasons beyond their control – shifts in balance of power of the land that led to war – they had to face off with an opponent who had also trained similarly. They would train to face this with equanimity. Maybe he’d lose, maybe he’d live, but he’d give it his best shot.

Giving it one’s best shot is all that matters. Accepting where you are. For example, not being ashamed of your current capabilities. I have a friend getting married in Japan to an accomplished martial artist. She practices, too, but has not yet attained a high level of training. To celebrate the occasion, their teachers will be present. With teachers and students all counted, there will be some seven black-belt Aikido practitioners, four of which are 4th-degree black belt or higher, and there will be a martial arts demonstration as part of the festivities. We were talking about this, and finding this really funny – “It will be less a reception than… ‘Sensei presents – team Aikido!'” My friend has asked me to be the “uke” – the “follow” – so to speak for her fiancé as he performs. Why not you? I asked. She’s afraid that she’s not good enough – and wants someone more skilled and better matched to her fiancé’s level. I told her that that was the wrong reason – that we are the sum of our training, and that for the amount she has trained, she has nothing to be ashamed of. I would do it to help her celebrate, but not because I have trained more. This leads me to another thought – why we do something does not have to be for the same reason that someone believes we should do it. The action is the same, but the narrative that we assign to it can be different. Maybe I’ll write more on this later.

Accepting where you are includes being in the present moment. Fear or striving both bring us out of the present moment. Anything that takes us out of the now leads to poorer results. Dancing makes this very clear. If I am dancing, and trying to play it safe, it’s boring. If I am trying to impress, I’m forcing it, which leads to loss of harmony.

The ego is the source of the should-bes and might-have-beens that cloud our judgement and separate us from the reality at hand. Strength is not in the rocks that can stand against the river. It is the river itself – water that flows, finding the easiest way moment by moment, and in time, wearing down the rock. This is a prayer that we might be less like the rock, and more like the river. At moments of conflict, or more frequently, let us let go of the ego which projects us where we think we should be. Let us see ourselves and others where we are. Only then, relaxed and with power, can we give it our best shot.

The Expanding Frontier of Experience

I had told him to enter into the form, by leading him with my body. In so entering, he would be moving with good posture and extended arms, and be controlling my center of gravity through my elbow. I had told him not to pull. I had told him three times. The third time, I became frustrated.

“If you pull, then I feel like I want to go where you are pulling.” I said, whereupon I stood up with good posture and advanced my body, connecting with his and shoving him backward. He fell back several steps and placed a hand by his cheek.

“What happened?” I asked.
“I bit my tongue.” He said.
“Is there blood?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Show me.”
He stuck his tongue out. No blood.
“Ok. Fine. Rest for awhile.” I said.

I felt remorse. Maybe I had been too insistent. Maybe there was another way to teach the technique. Yet, I couldn’t tell him not be aggressive with pushing and pulling because that’s how I learned. I did a lot of pushing and pulling before discovering it was much easier to do things in a relaxed way.

Then, I the lesson to learn came to me. I told him: “When practicing, keep your teeth in contact with each other and your tongue against the roof of your mouth. I have bitten my tongue, too. That’s how I learned.”

We want to protect those in our care. We want them to learn faster, and not have to go through the same pain that we did. Yet I have often remembered when I was a child, that I would often hear the words “I told you so,” or “I told you to be careful” and thought that it was not much use to have been told. I have been cut, burned, I have fallen, I have done innumerable stupid things that I had to learn through experience.

Moving to Taiwan has given me all the more opportunity to do stupid things. I have been working through different cultural assumptions. People in Taiwan are simply not paying attention to their environment to the degree that Japanese people are. Ten years in Japan has led to certain habits that manifest as opportunities for disappointment or danger. Slowly, I am learning to cover up vulnerabilities, not to depend so much on others paying attention, both on the road, on the job, and in my day-to-day life.

We cannot learn for other people, we cannot teach, we can only provide the opportunity to learn. We ourselves cannot learn much past the slowly expanding frontier of our experience. I am continuing to discover how to learn in a relaxed way, to make the cost of failure low, to get more feedback, and to be more sensitive to feedback as it comes. I previously wrote (in Japanese) about how, in the rain, I almost got hit by a man on a motorcycle. Since then I’ve taken a good look at the people on motorcycle when it rains. Their helmet visors are down, and often fogged with condensation. They must be uncomfortable and in a rush. Now, I pay special attention to traffic when I’m walking in the rain, but I had to have that close call in order to know.

Though we may read or study to get ahead, though society constructs maxims to pass down knowledge, to a large extent, we have to start from the beginning. Each generation must reinvent effective technique. When we are receptive, it is said that we are young, or young at heart. When our rules calcify, we are said to be old, or old before our years.

Let our learning be quick, and the cost of learning low. Let us be relaxed and aware of what is going on. Let people around us not suffer for any carelessness on our part.


2013年 8月 22日に熊野塾の庵野先生からの頂き物。ある仏教のお供えの方法の本の序文。





Advice to my Busy Self

Not enough time?
We are all given the same 24 hours.
Do not seek to forestall the future,
Nor re-live the past,
But drink in today while welcoming tomorrow.
We cannot create more of the present,
But can live with more presence of mind.
Generations before have perished, generations will come after.
Now float and swim with greatest ease,
Enjoy the scenery while it lasts.