Monday, January 18, 2010

Cycles of Learning

I have been through many phases of learning. What I thought I was learning at the time, wasn’t always what in retrospect I now think of as the major learning.

High School and College

In high school and college I was doing many things right. I was passionate about what I was studying. I was learning a great deal of varied things (calculus, English, science, art, history, German, PE, sailing, social skills, leadership skills) in a way that was exciting and worked for me. At the time, I thought the details of what I was learning were the most important thing. In retrospect, I see that it was more about learning how to learn, learning how to establish life patterns that work well for me.

Graduate School

By the time I was in graduate school for a few years, I’d realized many important things that were harder to swallow.

One, intellectual freedom outside very narrowly confined subject areas wasn’t a priority there. Thinking and learning with a narrow field of specialization was the name of the game.

Two, much of my desire to excel was tied up in an unhealthy way with trying to please others.

Three, following my genuine passions and enthusiasms did little to please my thesis advisor, my professors, or anyone on my PhD committee. They were pleased by large amounts of narrowly focused work that would advance their own work. If it didn’t help get them grant money or more published papers, it wasn’t very exciting to them.

Four, if I wanted my life back, I needed to leave that system. The day I left was one of the best of my life. I felt so liberated. I was no longer an indentured intellectual servant, whose skills and brainpower were already spoken for.

Five, living passionately and in accordance with my own interests and values is critical to my health. I left graduate school because I developed a chronic debilitating illness that forced me to withdraw. Finding workable ways to live out my passions were critical to my recovery.

What I thought I was learning while in graduate school was a specific career. In retrospect, I was learning how to understand the primary medical literature and developing research skills and habits I would need to regain my health. That has lead to a career, but not at all the one I thought I was training for.

Post Graduate Education

Much of my post graduate education has been self study and learning at seminars, retreats and workshops. In some ways it isn’t that much different than graduate school, except that the subject matter is different, I have chosen it at my own pace, and each step of the way has been deeply aligned with my own interests. Because of this, it has been deeply healing on all levels, including physical.

In terms of content, first I spent many years in libraries researching what it would take to restore my health. Then for several years I learned mostly business skills through community college courses, The National Translators Association, Toastmasters, and the National Speakers Association. Then I spent many years going on many vipassana meditation retreats. Then I started doing ceremony and getting teachings through Harley Swift Deer Reagan and the Deer Tribe Metis Medicine Society (DTMMS). All of this was and still is interesting and precious to me.

I suppose what I thought I was learning was ways to make a living and better ways of living. Even in retrospect that still rings true. In retrospect, I’d also say the biggest lesson, in so many different ways, has been the healing power of accepting the past and forgiving.


I suppose on any longer journey there are many phases. After many years of focus on programs offered by many different organizations, I’m rediscovering how delicious it is to step back a bit and reconnect with other aspects of who I am.

I own a house, and I’m getting immense pleasure out of doing much of the necessary maintenance and repair work. It draws on skills I learned as a child. I’ve rediscovered some of my old college and grad school text books. It is so gratifying to be feeding those particular interests again through self-study, after many years away. I also own and operate a business. More than ever, I’m getting a big kick creating new products and showing up strongly to the work of improving every aspect of the business.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’m learning now, is that I really do get to be captain of my own ship. I really do get to chart my own course. Life really does get to be this fantastic. Nothing has been lost. Everything I have learned and done so far in my life is a resource I can draw on. Not only do I get to say yes to great opportunities, I also get to say no to great opportunities that are not likely to take me where I most want to go. My own inner compass is a darn good guide, even when it conflicts with the desires of my family, teachers or mentors. Not everything needs to be pursued at full intensity all the time. I get to have balance in my life, including downtime.

In five or ten years, who can say what I will think have really been the most important lessons of this phase. I’m curious, but since to everything there is a season, the wheel of time will have to turn a little further before I have that answer.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

How Martial Arts Helped Me Express Love and Caring for My Brother, the Felon

have a brother who is in jail.  He has been in and out of jail and prison for several years now. 

My brother is an angry, obsessive and sometimes violent man.  I have very little contact with him.

Last week I visited him in jail for the first time ever.

This all started because last fall I heard myself tell a friend that there was nothing I could do for my brother except pray. I realized after I said it, that that wasn’t true.  I decided to do more.

I have studied Kenpo Karate for several years with Harley Swiftdeer Reagan and the Deer Tribe Metis Medicine Society dojo.

In deciding to "do more" for my brother, I kept three martial arts principles in mind:

1) Never focus on moving your opponent, only ever focus on moving yourself.

2) Your opponent is never the other person, it is merely patterns that are out of integrity.

3) It is only possible to perceive something outside of yourself that you already have inside of yourself.

What I decided to do was EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) that uses accupressure points and body awareness of physical and emotional pain, in order to release dysfunctional and entrenched emotional patterns.  It is possible to do this remotely for another person.  For about six weeks I spent a little time each day doing surrogate EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) for him.

I found this practice resulted in healing for me, and probably for him as well.

From what my parents said, at the time it had a surprising and noticeable effect on his behavior for the better. My guess is that whatever benefits he got are still there, but mostly hidden by other problematic layers that are still present.

However that might be, for me the surrogate EFT work was profound. In my willingness to touch into whatever was going on with him in the moment (for a couple weeks it was primarily anger and hatred and then for about a month it was despair), I touched into some deep pockets of my own that I had been carrying as pain in my head for as long as I can remember.

It is amazing to have been able to tap into my pain and release it. It is amazing to have a tool so readily available for releasing each new layer of pain I discover. It is also amazing to be able to tap into places within myself that are largely hidden from myself, using someone else’s more obvious (to me at least) stuck places as a more readily accessible point into that feeling tone.

Once I connect to a feeling tone, I can feel the resonance in me where I also hold that pattern. It is quite a turnaround for me to feel so grateful to my brother for making my own healing easier.

Lately it seems like the best way to proceed with external problems is to look for how I carry, contribute, or help hold in place those problems and then do whatever I know to release my contribution.

These three martial arts principles have made me more aware of how I can still love my brother and express care for him, even though I have stopped wasting my energy attempting to remedy his external situation.  My guess is that until he releases some more of his internal demons, he will continue to recreate the problems he is experiencing.

Even though releasing his internal demons is still his responsibility, because I love him I am willing to pitch in now and again to do what I know to make it a little easier for him to release them.  I also stay humbly aware based on martial arts principle three, that since I can percieve these demons outside of myself (in him), I have them inside of me.  Any aid I render must, first and foremost, begin with me taking personal responsibily for releasing my own version of these demons.

Mainly, I do what I need to do to take care of myself and stay physically safe.  Almost anything else seems like a such a waste of time and life force. 

The more I study martial arts, the more deeply I know that it really is most effective to focus on moving myself, not my opponent.  If I do that well, my opponent has very little choice but to move.

And since my opponent is not a person but patterns that are out of integrity, when I take responsibility for moving myself, my movements are really about bringing myself into greater integrity.  The more effectively I can do this for myself, the more impact I have. 

Indeed, the steps I have taken to heal myself, seem to be the only ones that result in any healing whatsoever for my brother and his situation.

I can only give what I already have.