Monday, July 19, 2010

My experience with Harley SwiftDeer Reagan

Harley Reagan, also called SwiftDeer - he's a controversial guy.  If you've ever Googled him, you may have found some pretty derogatory stuff, along with the good stuff.  I've had the opportunity to work with him in several arenas over the last few years, and here's what I know.

He is undoubtedly an experienced and skilled martial artist.  I know this because I have been on the receiving end (in teaching moments) of some of his seemingly effortless but stunningly effective techniques.  I have also seen him work with high-level black belts from other disciplines, and have observed the respect they give him.  I can only imagine that the folks who doubt his skills have never visited him in his dojo.

The man loves to shoot.  The Deer Tribe Gun Club, which he founded, holds all-steel matches every month, and has been doing so since before 2000 (when I first learned about it).  Harley Reagan is an NRA training counselor, and runs NRA classes throughout the year.  That takes dedication, and to more than just shooting: to learning and passing on the art and science of safe and skilled gun handling.

His curiosity is boundless.  I don't know many people who read as much or as widely as he does (nor who encourage others to do so much as he does).  His knowledge base is really quite impressive.

He is extremely generous in private arenas, and often (though not always!) compassionate in a grandfatherly way.

His teachings in spirituality are both broad and deep, and useful in practical ways.  The body of knowledge and ceremony that is the Sweet Medicine SunDance Path (at least, the parts of it I've seen) is profound.

And, on top of all that, it is absolutely impossible to lose sight of the fact that SwiftDeer is human.  He's just a guy.  Anyone who forgets that (that is, who tries to see him as a "guru") is quickly reminded of his human-ness as soon as they spend a little time in his presence.  He can be cranky, obtuse, opinionated, stubborn, frustrating, and funny as hell.  And, like any teacher, you can't take everything he says at face value.  You are responsible for what you do with what he says.  But he, at least, is completely up-front about that.  Anyone who has heard him teach has almost certainly heard him say, "Don't believe anything I say.  Validate it for yourself."

That's something I appreciate in a teacher.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Being of Service

Recently I've devoted a significant amount of my time to volunteering - a richly rewarding activity that, with inattention, can become a hungry monster eager to devour as much time as I'm willing to give it. In order to take better care with myself, and bring more integrity to the time I do volunteer, I've had to look more closely at the notion of service.

At first I looked at it all pretty practically, setting a specific number of hours per week that seemed reasonable. Time was a useful feedback system, but gave me no sense of how to set priorities. Indeed, there were some weeks when the priorities at play made time a meaningless measure - either because my work and personal life demanded all my attention, or the volunteer work rightfully compelled my attention beyond the allotted time.

Recently I had the opportunity to devote two weeks to being in service, volunteering my time and skills to an event that is precious and important to me. This experience turned time upside down, demanding more attention and less sleep than I even knew was possible.

Coming out of that experience, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. My time bound mind was worried - had I gone too far? done too much? On a practical level, I've needed significant recovery time in the days after the event - physically, emotionally, mentally. In fact, it was a bit of a struggle to get back into the swing of my regular life.

Spiritually, though, I was elated. I had faced a big challenge - a whole series of them, in fact - and had brought my very best to the table: calling on all I had, putting as much beauty in the space as I knew how, making mistakes and not letting them stop me, learning new skills and ways of being, asking for help, taking care with what I needed and stalking in each moment how I might be fed by it, and continually connecting to the ways that my individual pieces were a part of something greater.

That's what the Sweet Medicine SunDance path teaches about service through the concept of maku. (Here's a full article on the topic, a message from the elder ThunderStrikes.)

From the article:
"Maku is not so much a sacrifice as it is a full offering of one’s self without expectation of return because to not do so is not an option."

Without the spiritual thread of my service experience, it would have been sacrifice (and even now I know I have more to learn about this difference so that these experiences are more maku, less sacrifice). Through spiritual determination, however, this service becomes a lesson in how to live my life.

It's not about how much time I give here, there, or the other place. It's about giving the time I'm giving in any moment because it is the best I have to bring to whatever is most needed, be it my dishes, a client's problem, a ceremony, or caressing a loved one. It's discerning what is true and real, within me and within the spaces I inhabit, and honoring what matters most.