Labaroche and the Monk

In Labaroche Yves asked me why I blog…
Yves is the one responsible for most, and also this year’s Labaroche Aikido pictures on the site of the Aikikai de Strasbourg. If that was not enough, he is also the site’s webmaster, occasional essayist and transalator. I have always admired the fact that he manages to both take pictures during the technical demonstration, practice Aikido and always look cool, calm and collected.

On at least one occasion Yves has made one of those interstitial remarks to me while on the tatami that has pushed my buttons, and made me think. I have noticed that on a few occasions those interstitial remarks that are dispensed without request on the tatami by some, do have something to contribute and whether I like them or not, they are part of my life. Those interstitials can also go unnoticed and unregistered, like so much more around us.

The diatribe that follows has nothing to do with Yves. He just inspired it with his question of why I started blogging while a group of us sat in Mireille’s Auberge de la Vielle France’s garden waiting for lunch to be served before leaving Labaroche. I want to make it clear that I have nothing but admiration for Yves. This is also not an umpteenth attempt at reinventing the reasons for my blogging.

So, what was it like?

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Those interstitial remarks, not just the ones from Yves, do make me think. I am not sure that any of it has anything to do with blogging, or why I blog, or the fact that after asking me the question, he proceeded to answer it, and I was much relieved to not have to answer and just keep my silence. Yet, right now what I am dealing with is a fair amount of frustration, aggression and facing my impatience straight into its ugly and pious face.

This year’s Labaroche had me off the tatami, and it made for an altogether different experience of Aikido. On arrival I had a short interaction on greeting Michael Orlik. He kindly asked how I was doing, and I gave him a sketch of my physical health. Michael very quickly summarized the situation in observing that Aikido is not just technique. If I did not know! But knowledge is somehow not a sufficient condition for wisdom, and while I have a lot of the former, I often lack in the latter. This conversation with Michael this year immediately brought to mind one of those interstitial remarks made to me by Kiros last year also in Labaroche, after an incident while taking ukemi from him. I hurt myself on that occasion, nothing serious or lasting, within an hour I was back on the tatami and without pain. Kiros, after apologizing, also told me that I do not take care of my body. When I heard him say that, gave him a puzzled look, and inside I was ready to punch him in the face. I dare he tell me that I do not take care of my body! Damn it, he was right. Why is it that I did not listen then?

Being an active observer of Labaroche’s tatami this year, besides more photo opportunities than I could have dreamed of or was physically capable of taking advantage of, had me discover aspects of both myself and Labaroche itself that I could not have imagined. But what does it have to do with blogging, and why would it be not politically correct? Who invited the monk in anyhow?

I will start with my own living arrangements. Barbara and I each had a room at a private home in the village, and within hours of our arrival I was feeling at home. It was not the first time that my Sensei and I share living space while attending a course, but it was the first time that we did spend most of the time together starting at six thirty with zazen. Our hostess Nenette, and her daughter Eva, both regular residents of Marseille, invited us to do as if we were home, an invitation that neither of us hesitated in accepting. We ate what was in their refrigerator including the excellent home made jam at breakfast, the chocolate in the cupboards, disposed of spoiled food, and I ventured into the Alsatian cookbooks and baked Kougelhopf. Eva and I had a few good discussions over a relaxed and prolonged breakfast after Barbara went to morning training. Barbara and I took turns on opening the door to “Whiskey” the dog when he started yelping begging to be let out. Now, Whiskey is a 13 year old dog, almost blind and very orphaned as his masters, Nenette’s parents, have just passed away within the last six months. Letting out Whiskey did cause Nenette to worry as the danger of him getting run over was rather high. However what he has lost in sight, he seems to compensate with the olfactory, and somehow does find his was around the village.

The weather was glorious that week, however I was supposed to keep away from the sun, and did limit my time outdoors. The few times that I walked in Labaroche I was always surprised by the fact that everybody, young and old alike, greeted me with a smile and a friendly “Bonjour!” It could be that I have gotten used that around Berne where people rarely greet each other while on a walk along the Aare. In Berne I am the one rather fond of those monologues that involve the occasionally “Grüsse!” and the subsequent silence of no response. During the Spring Course Week life in Labaroche centers around Mireille’s Auberge – where we ate lunch everyday – and the Aikidoka. Both Mirelille’s two daughters, Nenette and Eva help out in the kitchen and serving the meals together with a few others with whom I did not talk much. It is community life, and it is about friends helping friends and making life somehow work. I was born and lived the first few years of my life in a village that reminds me a bit of Labaroche, to me it is no surprise that I would feel so at home in such provincial periphery. Being the week before the presidential vote in France, you may imagine what the local debate was all about. I observed, and French politics are always good to observe.

On Sunday night my friend and colleague Harald stopped by at Mireille’s in the company of his brother Andreas after they had cycled around the area. To me it felt that I was witness to two worlds of mine meeting: that of Aikido and that of Physics. Seeing Gabriel speak with Harald was like seeing a bridge being built across two continents. I can not imagine one without the other, yet, up to that moment one world had never met the other although at a theoretical level there was knowledge of the other’s existence. It struck a chord with me, and I have no idea of its significance. It is a bit like the blossom of a pretty flower, you look at it in awe, it displays its beauty for a moment and then fades and disappears. All that remains is the memory of the moment’s beauty, inconsequential in all its form, real only in the experience itself.

Two things are however in my mind today, and they have to do with blogging and not blogging, or just with the inconsequence of my mind. One has to do with the contents of my email inbox and another with a dream that I had this night.

The dream is freshest, and the email inbox is loudest. While working on a project that I have began years ago with a scope that lies within the philosophical frontiers, I came across a specific scientific paper that I wanted to read. Online without an academic institution’s account I could not download the document, so I wrote to the author and asked for an electronic reprint. Nothing unusual here, this is how the world of academics exchanges information, one exchanges reprints. Exchanging paper reprints in the times of complete electronic preparation of manuscripts is however a bit archaic, so we go for the electronic version. It is however not the sore point of open access barriers and the publishing houses monopolizing learned journals that strikes me about this one case of requesting and having my request fulfilled for an electronic reprint. I have read the said article sent as PDF to me by its author, and it is a fantastic article. It is however the first article that I read by this author, whom I feel I should know a lot more about a long time ago. So I decided to check out who this person was, and I was not ready for the what I found. He is one of the recognized authorities on the subject, one human being with a most inspiring biography, and a faculty member at one of the most recognized universities. There is something about fortuity here, and I like it. I just blundered into him because there was information on the article’s abstract that made me very very curious.

I really am not much into analyzing my dreams, yet some stick out like milestones, not like a sore thumb. I do not recall many of my dreams either, and I do not even know if it is because I do not dream, or plainly because I do not recall them on waking up. Still in the last six months one person has been recurring in those few of my sleep dreams. Tonight it was for the third time, and the dream’s story did hit me, once more, like the first time, and the after image that it has left in my mind does not want to fade. It could be that it all means nothing. There are essential details of my life that I am not ready to write about, and as a matter of fact I am becoming increasingly bored with even the pretense of exposing those details of my life, yet I know them to be fundamental. There is something that I am struggling with with… and that brings me back to Labaroche and what my biggest lesson was this year, and that not just in Labaroche.

This monk is not treating her body well, and this monk is not treating herself with the respect that she needs. This is not a mea culpa bit either, it is an observation. It is time to learn. Crashing twice within two months in a hospital emergency room, not being able to train for almost three weeks, and postponing or not doing that which I know is both a source of well-being and pleasure does send me a message. It was pleasure what I felt to each morning while in Labaroche to do zazen at 6:30 in the morning. While sitting I also felt the state of my innards, and I was reminded of the time of the Sesshin in Strasbourg in January when I was feeling my bowels in a knot and already then they were telling me that something was not right, that the energy was not flowing freely. Strangely enough, this was also part of the equation of what I was feeling in Geneva in February, however given the emotional overload of those days, I was indeed having a tough time deciphering what my body was trying to tell me.

The monk sits for pleasure. That is the only truth that I recognize. Indulge I must. Let me file this under the category: “Lessons off the tatami”