Refining Goals or Not Doing So Much It’ll Kill Me

so don't sit back and watch the days go by
are you ever gonna live before you die
and when things fall apart
the world has come undone
leave it all behind
leave the loneliness alone
you wait forever blind

Days Go By - Lifehouse


Ok, I have only a finite amount of time (4 months 1 week) to accomplish the following:

  • Test for Ni Dan in Naginata
  • Finish the Kaplan course and take the GRE
  • Run the triathlon in June (and all the work involved in getting my lazy fat ass ready for that)
  • Finish the basic running sequence at least twice (5 weeks each)
  • Start taking tango lessons with the Stanford tango club
  • figure out if I can take classes at Stanford to finish my BA in anthropology before I can apply for an MA in anthropology.

in talking with my trainer, he pointed out that I am trying to do too much at one time. It took a week of being continually exhausted to realize that he’s right (don’t you hate it when someone is right about your own actions?)

So I’m having to pair down what I want to do… and do it drastically.  The question is what to take out and what to keep till the end of the spring semester (sometime in March)

  • Test for Ni Dan in Naginata
  • Finish the Kaplan course and take the GRE

These two have to get done both because the timing is not my own and because they are important enough that any delay will be dangerous both personally and in terms of reaching the goals that they each mean.

  • Run the triathlon in June (and all the work involved in getting my lazy fat ass ready for that)

This is an ongoing objective that will be met shortly before I am to leave for UGA. I am keeping this positive attitude that I will be accepted, it’s one of the things that keep me going forward with a smile.

  • Finish the basic running sequence at least twice (5 weeks each)

This is just for fun (and who the hell thought I’d say running is just for fun). Running is helping me get in much better shape than I thought it would, so it’s worth keep the pace up. It’ll also help me for the triathlon so it’s another reason to move ahead with it.

  • Start taking tango lessons with the Stanford tango club
  • figure out if I can take classes at Stanford to finish my BA in anthropology before I can apply for an MA in anthropology.

These 2 can wait a little longer. They are the backups to what I’m really wanting to do. The tango is another way to stay busy and the classes at Stanford are a way to keep my brain from rotting.

Dad played golf and drank—a lot. But he taught me a lot too.

Carlos’ Note: This article from ESPN the magazine touched something very deep and very buried. As I’ve grown older, I have learned a lot about my dad and from him and I’ve come to respect and admire him in a way that I never thought would be possible when he passed away in 2002.

Now I am struggling with some of the same issues he did (as only now I’ve become open enough to accept that he was flawed as all humans are and as I am) I have a level of empathy that I could never have had before. Don’t know if it’s because I’m learning to live with my mistakes in a different way than he did, or maybe because struggling in my relationship with my mom has given me a level of humility that I haven’t done before.

Since this is my first column for The Magazine, I figure I should introduce myself. And maybe the best way to tell you who I am is to tell you about my dad, Jack. He was an Irish tenor, a yarn spinner, a songwriter, a father of four, a crack golfer and a first-class drunk.

As kids, we blamed golf. We thought the game made him meaner than a dyspeptic rattler. We were sure it was more important than we were, or why was he never around? More than once he asked me, "What grade are you in again?"

He'd always come home drunk after playing golf, except for the times he'd come home dripping drunk. Then he'd be looking to bust something, maybe a lamp, maybe somebody's nose; my mom's, once. To this day, the sound of spikes on cement sends a shot of ice through me. That was him coming up the sidewalk.

In alcoholic families, the youngest kid becomes the mascot. That was me. I became the funny one, comic relief, third-grade vaudeville—anything to keep the furniture where it was. When he'd eventually stagger into bed, the rat in my stomach would finally stop gnawing.

When I was about 10 or 11, I started working through the thing backward. If I could play golf with him, maybe I could keep him from drinking. I'd be the hero! So I started asking him to take me. He did once, but my fear of him was so paralyzing that any instruction he gave sounded like a shotgun blast in my ear. After about three holes, I stormed off the course in tears and waited in the car.


I didn't play again until high school. I did it partly to understand what was so wonderful about a game that would keep a man from coming to his kids' games and piano recitals and birthday parties.

And I was happy to find out it wasn't the Titleist clubs that made him so mean, it was the Canadian Clubs. It was the whiskey. Golf was this green-and-blue launching pad for little white rockets. Golf taught me the lessons my dad never did, including the best one: You play life where it lies. You hit it there. You play it from there. Nobody threw you a nasty curve or forgot to block the defensive end. I learned that my mistakes were mine alone, not my boss', not the cop's and, as much as I hated to admit it, not my dad's.

And then one day, out of the blue, maybe 25 years ago, my dad went to one AA meeting and quit drinking. Never had a drop after that.

It was five more years before I finally believed it. Then I invited him to the Masters. He was 70, I was 30. And it was on that two-and-a-half-hour ride from Atlanta to Augusta that we finally met.

He told me his life story, how he drank and fought to get the attention of his distant father, how he'd kept from us that he'd been married before, and how sorry he was to have let his family grow up while he was holding down the 19th hole with his elbows.

He apologized and cried. I forgave him and cried. I never dreamed I-20 could be that emotional.

Suddenly he understood. He went home to Boulder, Colo., and apologized to my mom and my brother and two sisters. They finally got to tell him how much he hurt them. He wrote us a poem about his love for us and his shame and why nobody would cry the day he died.

It took a lot of guts and a lot of courage, and the only lousy part was that it came so late. By the time I saw him for who he was—a strong man who took most of a lifetime to understand his crushing weakness—I was ears deep into my own family and career. So we didn't play much golf together before the warranty on his heart started to expire. I never got to really see the swing that won all those trophies. By then, the only time he used his putter was as a cane.

Two months ago, on the final night of his life, I sat alone in a chair next to his hospice bed, holding his hand and a box of Kleenex and proving how wrong poems can be sometimes.

As I looked at him, I realized that for better and worse, he'd shaped me. I think I'm a good father borne of his rotten example. I'm a storyteller out of surviving him. I'm a man with more flaws than a 1986 Yugo, but I try to own up to them, because a very good Irish tenor showed me how.

And that's what I call a very good save.

President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address: Full Text

Jan 20 2009 12:25 PM EST

By MTV News staff


Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States just after noon on Tuesday, January 20. After taking a slightly awkward oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, he followed with a sober but uplifting speech. Here is the text of that speech, as prepared for delivery, according to The Associated Press:

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the
vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

There’s still the gift of hope

Life of Reilly

There are some games in which cheering for the other side feels better than winning.

by Rick Reilly Originally from ESPN

Melinda Wright
Gainesville State players douse head coach Mark Williams in celebration.

They played the oddest game in high school football history last month down in Grapevine, Texas.

It was Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School and everything about it was upside down. For instance, when Gainesville came out to take the field, the Faith fans made a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through.

Did you hear that? The other team's fans?

They even made a banner for players to crash through at the end. It said, "Go Tornadoes!" Which is also weird, because Faith is the Lions.


It was rivers running uphill and cats petting dogs. More than 200 Faith fans sat on the Gainesville side and kept cheering the Gainesville players on—by name.

"I never in my life thought I'd hear people cheering for us to hit their kids," recalls Gainesville's QB and middle linebacker, Isaiah. "I wouldn't expect another parent to tell somebody to hit their kids. But they wanted us to!"

And even though Faith walloped them 33-14, the Gainesville kids were so happy that after the game they gave head coach Mark Williams a sideline squirt-bottle shower like he'd just won state. Gotta be the first Gatorade bath in history for an 0-9 coach.

But then you saw the 12 uniformed officers escorting the 14 Gainesville players off the field and two and two started to make four. They lined the players up in groups of five—handcuffs ready in their back pockets—and marched them to the team bus. That's because Gainesville is a maximum-security correctional facility 75 miles north of Dallas. Every game it plays is on the road.

This all started when Faith's head coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to do something kind for the Gainesville team. Faith had never played Gainesville, but he already knew the score. After all, Faith was 7-2 going into the game, Gainesville 0-8 with 2 TDs all year. Faith has 70 kids, 11 coaches, the latest equipment and involved parents. Gainesville has a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery—many of whose families had disowned them—wearing seven-year-old shoulder pads and ancient helmets.

So Hogan had this idea. What if half of our fans—for one night only—cheered for the other team? He sent out an email asking the Faithful to do just that. "Here's the message I want you to send:" Hogan wrote. "You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth."

Some people were naturally confused. One Faith player walked into Hogan's office and asked, "Coach, why are we doing this?"

And Hogan said, "Imagine if you didn't have a home life. Imagine if everybody had pretty much given up on you. Now imagine what it would mean for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you."

Next thing you know, the Gainesville Tornadoes were turning around on their bench to see something they never had before. Hundreds of fans. And actual cheerleaders!

"I thought maybe they were confused," said Alex, a Gainesville lineman (only first names are released by the prison). "They started yelling 'DEE-fense!' when their team had the ball. I said, 'What? Why they cheerin' for us?'"

It was a strange experience for boys who most people cross the street to avoid. "We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games," says Gerald, a lineman who will wind up doing more than three years. "You can see it in their eyes. They're lookin' at us like we're criminals. But these people, they were yellin' for us! By our names!"

Maybe it figures that Gainesville played better than it had all season, scoring the game's last two touchdowns. Of course, this might be because Hogan put his third-string nose guard at safety and his third-string cornerback at defensive end. Still.

After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and that's when Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. "We had no idea what the kid was going to say," remembers Coach Hogan. But Isaiah said this: "Lord, I don't know how this happened, so I don't know how to say thank You, but I never would've known there was so many people in the world that cared about us."

And it was a good thing everybody's heads were bowed because they might've seen Hogan wiping away tears.

As the Tornadoes walked back to their bus under guard, they each were handed a bag for the ride home—a burger, some fries, a soda, some candy, a Bible and an encouraging letter from a Faith player.

The Gainesville coach saw Hogan, grabbed him hard by the shoulders and said, "You'll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You'll never, ever know."

And as the bus pulled away, all the Gainesville players crammed to one side and pressed their hands to the window, staring at these people they'd never met before, watching their waves and smiles disappearing into the night.

Anyway, with the economy six feet under and Christmas running on about three and a half reindeer, it's nice to know that one of the best presents you can give is still absolutely free.


Love the column, hate the column, got a better idea? Go here.
Want more Life of Reilly? Then check out the archive.

Personal FUD

Rush (Roll the bones)

If we burn our wings
Flying too close to the sun
If the moment of glory
Is over before it's begun
If the dream is won
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost

When the dust has cleared
And victory denied
A summit too lofty
River a little too wide
If we keep our pride
Though paradise is lost
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost

And if the music stops
There's only the sound of the rain
All the hope and glory
All the sacrifice in vain
[And] if love remains
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost

Don’t plan in advance…

Plan your life and go for it…

Don’t let your dreams die because you didn’t do anything about it…

At one point or another I’ve heard all the lines above and enough permutations to write a book. But lately I’ve been feeling a little adrift, like the plans don’t really matter and that I have no frigging clue as to where I’m going and feel pulled in so many directions that it’s not even coming close to amusing, let alone funny.

Let’s see. Where do I start?

Oh yeah, after 10 years I finally gathered the courage and the determination to apply to a PhD at UGA. Doesn’t matter that I’ve said I’ll do this since I started my MA at San Jose State; Doesn’t matter that I’ve had the application packet 4 times in the past 5 years and I sat on it.

Now that I have pretty much everything done I’m realizing that doing things at the last minute is not the best way to do them.  particularly where long term impact is known or suspected.

I’m worried about the GRE results. While it’s true that I’m not that far away from the minimum goal I want, It’s definitely becoming a vicious circle… I’m getting frustrated because I’m not understanding a lot of the GRE stuff and the frustration makes me do worse and understand less.

What else?

My relationship with my mom has hit a rough patch. I’m working hard at understanding her but she’s making it really difficult and I don’t really have the energy, physical or emotional, to deal with it. We had a talk today (1/17) and I think it’s going to have an effect.

New Insanity: Sprint Triathlon

I was convinced last night to run a sprint triathlon, the Silicon Valley Mountain Bike Triathlon.

I had to think about it, but, in the end, I don’t think I would ever forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to do it… I may last only one section of it, maybe 2 (I’m thinking the swim and the bike are not so tough) but I will never know if I don’t try it, right?

As I’ve realized recently, it’s all in the attitude. It’s all in how you approach life, right?

I never thought I was going to be able to loose any significant weight and here I am, down 24 pounds from my September ‘08 weight and the next 20 look easier than eating a cookie 🙂

There’s got to be a will to do things in order for things to happen. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few months is that will is as important, if not more important, than action in getting things done.

Here’s a map of the event. If you’re interested is going to be held by Lake Almaden.


Map of the Sillicon Valley Mountain Bike Triathlon

Will post more as the race gets closer.


And YEAH, I’m 24 pounds down from my September weight!!!!

The end of the beginning

I’ve always been a slow learner. How else could have this particular beginning have taken 34 years and change?

Carpe Diem

Mario Valdovinos – Several times between 1991 and 1992

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Winston Churchill - November 10, 1942

But 2009 is here! It’s time to move on with all the resolutions implied in reinventing yourself and the bucket list.  It’s like a high stakes poker game; you’ve won some hands and have lost some others but the next big pot is on the table and the other players are all-in; now it’s the time to call the game and see if you had what it takes.

In a way it reminds me when I tested for shodan in Naginata. I was so worried and upset until I realized that all I could do was my best. If I didn’t do my best then none of the stress or harshness with myself would have helped.  So I let go, and you know what, it was one of the best tests I’ve ever taken in martial arts.

Same here.  You did your best, or what you thought was your best, and now all you can do is wait and find out if your best was good enough or not.  It’s not on your hands anymore, which is both freeing and scary as hell.

I’m starting my Kaplan GRE course tonight (1/5/2008) and will take the GRE the week of February 6 (taking it the day after I finish the course…)  I achieved 2/3 of my initial goal: my verbal score is above 500 and the combined score is above 1000. All I have to do is to get the math score above 500 and then to improve both scores to the highest I can get them.

There are so many things that to do. The trick is getting the organized in a way that they can be accomplished. Otherwise I’ll go nuts.

Let’s try ballroom dancing first. There are only so many places where I can learn to tango and I think that’s a goal that is accomplishable in the time I have when I’m accepted to UGA (and yes, I’m keeping up with the thought that I will be accepted).

I may run, no... I will, at least one sprint triathlon before the end of the year.  I think that’s one healthy challenge to strive for and it’ll be fun as heck to get ready for it. As usual, the journey is where I’m concentrating in… whether  you finish first or last is immaterial.

Then let’s see if we can test for ni dan in Naginata in February/March as well

I want to close by referencing Seth Godin’s Blog entry today about goals.  It is tempting never to have goals and to just cruise by life but who wants to do that when the end result is mediocrity?

The Day At The Beach

Originally taken from Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul.

Experience is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards

Vernon Saunder’s Law

Put your troubles in a pocket with a hole in it.

Old Postcard

Not long ago, I came to one of those bleak periods that many of us encounter from time to time, a sudden drastic dip in the graph of living when everything goes stale and flat, energy wanes, enthusiasm dies, The effect on my work was frightening. Every morning I clenched my teeth and muttered: “Today life will take some of its old meaning. You’ve got to break through this thing. You’ve got to.”

But the barren days dragged on, and the paralysis grew worse. The time came when I knew I needed help.

The man I turned to was a doctor. Not a psychiatrist, just a doctor. He was older than I, and under his surface gruffness lay great wisdom and experience. “I don’t know what’s wrong,” I told him miserably, “but I just seem to have come to a dead end. Can you help me?”

“I don’t know,” he said slowly. He made a tent of his fingers, and gazed at me thoughtfully for a long while. Then, abruptly, he asked, “Where were you happiest as a child?”

“As a child?” I echoed. “Why, at the beach, I suppose. We had a summer cottage there. We all loved it.”

He looked out the window and watched the October leaves sifting down. “Are you capable of following instructions for a single day?”

“I think so,” I said, ready to try anything.

“All right. Here’s what I want you to do.”

He told me to drive to the beach alone the following morning, arriving no later than nine o’clock. I could take some lunch, but I was not to read, write, listen to the radio or talk to anyone. “In addition,” he said, “I’ll give you a prescription to be taken every three hours.”

He tore off four prescription blanks, wrote a few words on each, folded them, numbered them and handed them to me. “Take these at nine, twelve, three and six.”

“Are you serious?” I asked

He gave me a short honk of laughter. “You won’t think I’m joking when you see my bill!”

The next morning, with little faith, I drove to the beach. It was lonely, all right. A northeaster was blowing; the sea looked gray and angry. I sat in the car, the whole day stretching emptily before me. Then I took out the first of the folded slips of paper. On it was written: Listen carefully.

I stared at the two words. Why, I thought,  the man must be mad. He had ruled out music and newscasts and human conversation. What else was there?

I raised my head and listened. There were no sounds but the steady roar of the sea, the croaking cry of a seagull, the drone of some aircraft overhead. All these sounds were familiar.

I got out of the car. A gust of wind slammed the door with a sudden clap of sound. Was I supposed, I asked myself, to listen carefully to things like that?

I climbed a dune and looked out over the deserted beach. Here the sea bellowed so loudly that all other sounds were lost. And yet, I thought suddenly, there must be sounds beneath sounds – the soft rasps of drifting sand , the tiny wind-whisperings in the dune grasses – if the listener got close enough to hear them.

Impulsively, I ducked down and, feeling fairly ridiculous, thrust my head into a clump of seaweed. Here I made a discovery: If you listen intently, there is a fractional  moment in which everything pauses, , waiting. In that instant of stillness, the racing thoughts halt. The mind rests.

I went back to the car and slid behind the wheel. Listen carefully. As I listened again to the deep growl of t he sea, I found myself thinking about the white-fanged fury of its storms. Then I realized I was thinking about things bigger than myself – and there was relief in that

Even so, the morning passed slowly.  The habit of hurling myself at a problem was so strong that I felt lost without it.

By noon the wind had swept the clouds out of the sky, and the sea had a hard, polished and merry sparkle. I unfolded the second “prescription.” And again I sat there, half-amused and half-exasperated. Three words this time: Try reaching back.

Back to what? To the past, obviously. But why, when all my worries concerned the present or the future?

I left the car and started tramping reflectively along the dunes. The doctor had sent me to the beach because it was a place of happy memories. Maybe that was what I was supposed to reach for – the wealth of happiness that lay half-forgotten behind me.

I decided to work on these vague impressions as a painter would, retouching the colors, strengthening the outlines. I would choose specific incidents and recapture as many details as possible. I would visualize people complete with dress and gestures. I would listen (carefully) for the exact sound of their voices, the echo of their laughter.

The tide was going out now, but there was still thunder in the surf. So I chose to go back twenty years to the last fishing trip I made with my younger brother. He had died during World War II, but I found that I closed my eyes and really tried, I could see him with amazing vividness, even the humor and eagerness in his eyes.

In fact, I saw it all: the ivory scimitar of beach where we fished, the eastern sky smeared with sunrise, the great roller creaming in, stately and slow. I felt the backwash swirl warm around my knees, saw the sudden arc of my brother’s rod as he struck a fish, heard his exultant yell. Piece by piece I rebuilt it, clear and unchanged under the transparent  varnish of time. Then it was gone.

I sat up slowly. Try reaching back. Happy people were usually assured, confident people. If, then, you deliberately reached back and touched happiness, might there not be released little flashes of power, tiny sources of strength?

This second period of the day went more quickly. As the sun began its long slant down the sky, my mind ranged eagerly through the past, reliving some episodes, uncovering others that had been completely forgotten. Across all the years, I remembered events, and knew from the sudden glow of warmth that no kindness is ever wasted, or ever completely lost.

But I was not prepared for the next one. This time the three words were not a gentle suggestion. They sounded more like a command. Reexamine your motives.

My first reaction was purely defensive. There’s nothing wrong with my motives,I said to myself. I want to be successful – who doesn’t? I want to have a certain amount of recognition, but so does everybody. I want more security than I’ve got -- and why not?

Maybe, said a small voice somewhere inside my head, those motives aren’t good enough. Maybe that’s the reason the wheels have stopped going around.

I picked up a handful of sand and let it stream between my fingers. In the past, whenever my work went well, there had always been something spontaneous about it, something uncontrived, something free. Lately it had been calculated, competent – and dead. Why? Because I had been looking past the job itself to the rewards I hoped it would bring. The work had ceased to be an end in itself. It had become a means to make money, pay bills. The sens
e of giving something, of helping people, of making a contribution, had been lost in a frantic clutch of security.

In a flash of certainty, I saw that if one’s motives are wrong, nothing can be right. It makes no difference whether you are a mailman, a hairdresser, an insurance salesman, a stay-at-home mom or dad – whatever. As long as you feel you are serving others, you do the job well. When you are concerned only with helping yourself, you do it less well.  This is a law as inexorable as gravity.

For a long time, I sat there. Far out on the bar I heard the murmur of the surf change to a hollow roar as the tide turned. Behind me the spears of light were almost horizontal. My time at the beach had almost run out, and I felt a grudging admiration for the doctor and the “prescriptions” he had so casually and cunningly devised.  I saw, now, that in them was a therapeutic progression that might well be valuable to anyone facing any difficulty.

Listen carefully: To calm a frantic mind, slow it down, shift the focus from inner problems to outer things.

Try reaching back: Since the human mind can hold but one idea at a time, you blot out present worry when you touch the happiness of the past.

Reexamine your motives: This was the hard core of the “treatment.” This challenge was to reappraise, to being one’s motives into alignment with ones’ capabilities and conscience. But the mind muse be clear and receptive to do this – Hence the six hours of quiet that went before.

The western sky was a blaze of crimson as I took out the the last slip of paper. Six words this time. I walked slowly out on the beach. A few yards below the high-water make I stopped and read the words again: Write your troubles on the sand.

I let the paper blow away, reached down and picked up a fragment of shell. Kneeling there under the vault of the sky, I wrote several words on the sand, one above the other. Then I walked away, and I did not look back. I had written my troubles on the sand. And the tide was coming in.

Arthur Gordon

Submitted by Wayne W. Hinckley