Return To Your Territory

Castle
When things get hard, and your mind’s in a spin, the best thing to do in the moment is, if you can, return to your territory.

Are you a writer? Write! A musician? Play your instrument. A runner? Go on, hit the road now.

Things may be difficult, but just make a little bit of effort to edge back into the zone of your expertise, and you’ll realize that the skillset of yours that you’ve been honing? It’s actually a territory in itself (complete with hedges, boundaries, an awesome castle and a moat, because, what’s a castle without a moat). The drawbridge may be a bit rusty, and the gate keepers may have forgotten your face if you’ve yet to enter in ages; but give a call anyway, get them to lower the bridge – the owner of the castle is here! Stride right in – or walk, if the mood doesn’t quite allow it – nod to the familiar faces, marvel at all the beautiful things therein (even if it’s for the umpteenth time), and find your place. That place is yours. Let me repeat, that place is yours.

The cultural resource of territorial skillsets actually comes from one of my most inspiring reads ever – the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. To Pressfield, there ain’t such thing as hierarchy to an artist; he hones his craft first and foremost, and worries about where he stands way lat… make that never. Or at least that’s the way it’s ought to be!

As real people though, we tend to get lost in the human tendency to make endless comparisons between ourselves and the “competition”. But that’s okay, because we all know that while being “better” is a reality (higher skills up to a certain level, gets paid more, period), the most conducive mindset to improving in a personally meaningful and sustainable way is to do your art by your own standards. It’s an issue of territory and not heirarchy; while a heirarchical mindset can put you at the bottom of the food chain, a territorial mindset says that the piece of art-land you own is yours; no one can take that away from you, and most importantly it nourishes you. When you just don’t feel like you’re cutting it, and you need a reminder of your place in the world and what you’re here to do – go back to that territory and you will be restored. Your soul will be fed, your chin will be lifted, and you will end up stronger.

That is the whole point of this post really, to remind you that when you’re feeling trashy, go back to your territory and regain your center – you own that place, the seeds you’ve planted there are going to feed you, your lifeblood has been poured into that special dedication of yours and it’ll empower you to face the world with strength when you finally leave your castle and return to the Great Beyond.

For me, that little plot of land is writing. What’s yours?

Creating Cultural Worlds

Worlds

Have you ever read a book that challenged the way you saw the world and lived your life? I’m quite sure we all have. For me, a good book like that can tend to make me have a whole host of things that I want to start implementing and changing about myself and my life, but it’s just impossible to do it all at once. Sometimes I let it slip and forget about it after awhile.

Yet inevitably, the kind of calling that is derived from the spirit of the book, or the voice of the author (whichever makes more sense to you), just returns to me in very unexpected ways. Sometimes a huge change in my life frees up resources, or gives me a worldview that enables me to start exploring those thought-provoking themes that drew my attention in the first place. Sometimes it’s during the routine of daily living that I am suddenly awakened to the realities described in some long-forgotten perused-through book.

This may lead to my decision to implement certain lifestyle changes or it may not, but to potentially influence another person in this same manner is one of the reasons why I write.

I see writing as an act of creating an entire cultural world. We may be adding onto another’s world, building bits of our own, or creating an entirely new one, but it is a creation that has so much potential to transform.

What do I mean by a cultural world? Well, just like the normal world, a cultural world contains an entire ecosystem of resources and organisms. Say if we decide to learn a new skill, we are drawing from pools of cultural resources that teach us how, when, and even why we perform it. After trying it out, we realize that this method may or may not be good for us; we write a review, a comment, or a blogpost – and add another bit of substance to that pool. We are the organisms that participate in a growing cycle of resources that contribute to that particular cultural act, and through our contributions, we affect other organisms who draw from our resources too. This cyclic activity is reminiscent of how a world works!

Building on that, a world has different continents and ecologies to go with them. Some parts of the world are more pertinent to the “why” of our actions. For instance, blogposts that explore our reasons and intentions, our foundations for living and doing. Other are catered to the emotional side of us (think art blogs, webcomics, poetry… and plain ol’ relationship or heart-centered content!), and it either directly or indirectly influences our emotions towards a particular “world” of being. There are so many parts (perhaps just one more example; the practical side of things – such as wikihows, to-do-lists, efficiency and effectiveness blogs etc.) to a single world, and each part has its own way that we the organisms may relate to the resource pools. For example, we might be more open to just feeling through the heart-centered “continents” of that world, or maybe contributing to it via our own creative work, while the more practical “continent” would demand that we engage more of our minds and bodies by practicing, engaging, and critiquing.

Once again if you’re a bit lost (pardon my idea-rambles!), a world could be something like “Exercise!” and the various continents could be the emotional side, such as motivational videos, pictures of superfit people doing cool things to get us pumping; the practical side, such as how our metabolism works, what kind of exercises are good for building which part of the muscle; the foundational side, such as why we exercise – to look good, to feel good, or to do good (carrying heavy things around, saving kitties from trees, saving people from fires)? Each of these continents have different ecologies which demand different kind of responses from us!

Finally, just like the real world, cultural worlds have habitats and food chains too. We have to learn how to find our own place to dwell in, and how to hunt our food. Say if I’m learning about drumming, I’ll have to know which skill sets I’m looking to improve, and where I could go about to find these resources e.g. youtube to search for bass-drum techniques? Not all videos are going to be effective for me, so I’m going to have to be more selective, and hunt down only the food that I need. It might take a bit of trial and error, but eventually I’ll probably find a couple of tasty ones and pry off the meat till there’s only bones left! After awhile I’ll learn what are the kinds of resources that are really useful to me (it’ll probably change over time), and collectively, it becomes like a habitat to me, a place where I know I can find food easily, and rest safely while digesting all these tasty information.

So… back to writing! In essence when we write, we create ways to think, do and feel that gives others a platform to develop their own, and also resource, nay, an entire world to share in. The very fundamentals of writing itself in fact draws from the cultural worlds of language, and formatting, and idioms. In other words, we are always interconnected. To contribute to somebody’s ability to see the very world around us, and to act in it – that just feels very powerful and connecting indeed; we don’t write into our little bubbles of thought, but it enters into someone else’s reality, pierces through the veil of disconnect, and transforms them either now, or sometime later. Alternatively, they enter into the landscape and atmosphere of our words and begin to inhabit it, growing their own populations of living, breathing ways of seeing, doingand feeling that makes it very much their own as well.

So next time you write, do pause a moment and think of the kind of powers you wield – we are building new worlds here, you and I!

Warrior of the Soul

“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” – Proverbs 16:32

A warrior is a person who has dedicated his entire life to the art of war, in service to a person, a nation, or an ideal. His life is defined by discipline and constant growth; a little carelessness during training, a little indulgence during preparation could mean death on the battlefield. His death on the battlefield could mean the loss of a war, the defeat of a nation, and the destruction of everything he believes is right.

Perhaps more so than the metaphorical warriors of this age whose battles remove them far from the threat of physical death, the literal warrior feels the Sword of Damocles hanging so precariously over his being. His martial prowess exposes him to the martial prowess of others, and all his strength is for the sake of war. So every breath and every cell must be trained to submit to the will – the slight disobedience could be the last mistake that snips the thread which binds Death from falling onto his head.

In war, down one man, and the platoon is weakened, down the platoon and the defensive lines are shaken, overrun the defensive lines and the army is broken, break the army and the war is lost. When the war is lost, men, women and children become slaves to another ruler, whole nations and societies are subjugated, ideals are broken down and reconstructed in the image of the victor. There may be much to lose with the loss of one man, and so every man must stand his ground and tame his being to his will.

Greater than the army of warriors who train daily for their cause is the man who commands the army. Each of his warriors are the cells of his very being – he must ensure that every part is connected to the supply lines, able to function in desperate times, and subordinate by whatever means to his direction. Like each warrior who trains their limbs to obey mental commands, the General builds up his men so that they can transform his vision into reality on the battlefield.

Wealth is required for the training of men, expertise for quality training. Honour and respect is necessary for morale, and trust is above all, that which subjugates each man to the commands of the General. To take a city will require an army of diverse talents, machines that can perform sieging operations, supplies that fuel the soldiers, and a General who can oversee the entire operation.

The General must be a mighty warrior, unafraid to take a risk, humane enough to abstain from foolish assaults, and inhumanly calm in the face of discouraging news. He is the one man upon whom the burden of success and failure lies; the grief of many families, the pride of an entire nation – this is the warrior who bears the pain in his body and acts, regardless.

Yet, greater than this mighty, incredible warrior is the man who turns the act of warfare within. He discerns in his soul, the fortresses and strongholds of internal powers that can influence the entirety of man’s seeing and being. The fortress of greed that cannot be satisfied and risks every safety for the allure of more. The castle of selfishness that puts out patrols on all four walls, refusing passage to any merchant who goes in or out. The kingdom of rage that demands speedy and overwhelming vengeance for every perceived slight cast upon itself. There are countless strongholds to be named, and the greatest warrior trains the armies of his soul to wage war against them.

A General conquers a city, and in due time, he is conquered, or death conquers him and another takes his place. History reveals the rise and fall of mighty men. Within the battle-scape of the soul, a second is a day and a day is a year. Wars are won in pivotal moments and lost just as quickly. And so the victories and losses in man’s internal being reveals the same topography of hills and valleys – there is no permanent victory. Every capture demands an unflinching defense against the upcoming counter assault; the battle rages on continuously at every moment. Hence, more so the importance of vigilance, of discipline, of wisdom, for the warrior of the soul.

Soft Muse of Old

Sit next to me,
soft muse of old,
your voice is ever-young.

Warm my frosted
fingers, without catch for
so, so long,
wriggling through
all the world’s
word-spun ether,
in search for worthiness –
worthiness that inspires
ink to spill.

Yesterday’s parchment
peel dry in your absence,
and today’s crumble
in thirst.

Come dip
your genteel feet into
those black pools
and dance upon the sheets-

Until the crusty papyrus
is washed,
until upon it, life itself unfolds
unfettering-

Sit next to me,
soft muse of old,
and be so ever-young.

Moving On

CLF - Olmstead Parks

It’s usually a numbers game; everything in life, that is. How does a tree ensure that baby trees take root and grow? It spreads many seeds. Many, many seeds. After all, most of them land in disadvantageous spots. Some of them don’t land at all. In the end, perhaps only a handful get to sprout. Of these, only one or two really become trees.

When we first start in anything, we tend to be pretty darn horrible at it. We fail so many times, it feels so terrible, and we’re tempted to give up, and throw in the towel completely. But it is at this stage where seed propagation is effective. We’ve nothing much to lose anyway! So go forth, and accumulate as many failures as possible (within understandable boundaries of course).

Like trees we also grow, and learn. Over the course of many centuries and thousands of years, trees would learn what genetic expression would lead to more successful propagation of offspring. Thankfully, we learn a bit faster than these verdant ancients. Our session of failure accumulation was not just for the sake of racking up numbers, but with the experience we’ve gained, we are now able to sit down and analyze what went right and what went wrong. Bit by bit we change, and slowly (or phenomenally, if we hit onto a jackpot strategy!) we see our results improve.

Even then, we still fail. Every once in awhile, we fall hard from quite a height, and it hurts. We could even abandon everything and choose to give up. But if there’s one lesson to bring with us from our newbie days, that’s to keep moving on. If we could pick ourselves up after so many humiliating failures then, why can’t we now? Granted, the stake are higher. Yet, like Rudyard Kipling says,

“…you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss”.

So indeed, if we have gotten that far before, we can do it again, and get even further. All we have to do is mourn and weep for awhile, then dust off that dirt, and keep moving on; because one day, that beautiful tree – that’s going to be us!