In 1991, I met George Burr Leonard, one of America’s profound learners, teachers and writers. A combat veteran of WWII and the Korean War, Leonard was one of the most prolific contributors to Esquire Magazine. He was editor for Look Magazine and traveled Eastern Europe with his photographer to document what would be called “The Iron Curtain”. His coverage of the Civil Rights Movement won him and Look Magazine worldwide acclaim. In mid-life he began studying Aikido, an evolutionary and highly disciplined Japanese martial art that in practice focuses one to peacefully attend to the intervention of destructive habits. By the time he died he was a well-known “Sensei”, having co-founded and led Aikido of Tamalpias (a northern California dojo), and having become one of Aikido’s greatest advocates via the written word.
In 1994, George Leonard and I began a conversation that would unfold to connect us professionally and personally. Sometimes co-teaching workshops, regularly strategizing, meeting often in person and by phone, lunching and supping together with his wife Annie who was integral to the aim of our conversation, enjoying glasses of fine wine and cups of great tea. Like possibility stricken wide-eyed kids tempered with heads and hearts that had survived hard knocks, we planned and executed a vision to spread a positive idea around the world in order to constructively impact the human condition. The story of that is for a different writing, but it’s enough to say here that along the way we laughed and grimaced, shared our writings and concerns, worked through personal joys and sadness, the pain of loss and the fun of winning. He died in 2010, but our conversation is still alive: present minded, future oriented, it remains an open-ended dialogue. His voice challenged me (and challenges still) to be mindful of daily thoughts, emotional reactions, physical sensations and actions. Of the many topics we traversed perhaps the most profound was and is the depth of what it means To Practice as well as To Have A Practice.
You are, I am, we are always practicing something all of the time – that this “something” changes now and then does not diminish the fact that whether or not we are consciously aware of it – some of our practices are constructive, and others are not. All practices have shape and all have impact. Our lives revolve around the construct of practice. The willing act to “create and have a practice” – even if for only a short time – helps one illuminate the power and depth of practice.
Where, when and why to start a Practice study? Here’s an example.
As the 1990’s were ending a lot of talk abounded with Y2K fears – when all computers automatically shifted to the number 2000 would the world’s economies crash, would almost all forms of transportation come to a screeching halt, would planes fall from skies? What would happen? The entire planet was widely wondering.
With that in mind, on Christmas Eve 1998, I shared with my daughter, Caroline, that I’d been mulling an idea: wouldn’t it be a fun challenge for me to write a daily haiku in order to document and journal the entire year 1999 as Y2K approached. I’d have to stay aware of what captured my attention, where I was, what I was doing or seeing, who I was with, what I and others felt and spoke, etc. I told her I would start on January 1st and then be challenged to stick with it for an entire year. I added that I would include a sketch now and then.
Caroline loves me. With her love comes a keen eye and challenging wit that keep me on my toes. Quick as lightning she replied: “That’s great Dad! Do it!!! But (her voice lowered to near hush) why would you wait until January 1st? Why not start now?” She grinned and looked me straight in the eyes. Her burst of words illuminated (but didn’t exactly say) that one of my practices had been (and sometimes still is) to over analyze and procrastinate before simply taking a leap. She attached no emotional judgment, just simply said those words. Of course, no matter what action we take there’s always a cost and always a benefit.
Why had I considered HAIKU? It’s:
- Expressive … can reflect all five senses and the unconscious ones as well
- Simple … only three lines total
- Structured … line 1 has 5 sounded syllables, line 2 has 7, line 3 has 5
- Profound – seventeen syllables can speak an infinite amount
- Short … evokes one moment and in grander scheme, one’s life
- A practice of attentiveness, action and effort
A sample of Haiku that unfolded as part of my 365 day Practice (which by the way interestingly continued well past one year)
Christmas Day, 1998
Warm sun, sounds that calm
The sand becomes the ocean
Cliffs – A friend – Cool air
(written while walking Dillon Beach with an old buddy)
March 15, 1999
Egg, oil, water mix
Happy faces on the boys
Into mud he falls
(reflecting on breakfast cooked for sons Nick and Alex .. one of us fell in the mud that day)
May 28, 1999
River House Jazz man
Three cooks Two boys One father
Piano man boy
(had breakfast at Three Cooks Café, then introduced son Nick to Peter Welker of jazz horn fame)
May 31, 1999
Remember the dead
Sonoma apple land fur
Many colored rose
(while spending Memorial Day at Sonoma cemetery… there were lots of flowers)
July 17, 1999
John John’s plane gone
A small crowd hears future dream
Late night Priscilla
(an evening with the Nagao’s home on Oahu when we heard John Kennedy Jr’s plane had crashed)
Sept 12, 1999
Finally a nap
State fair in Puyallup land
Booker T surprise!
(after spending a long workday and then going to WA State Fair to enjoy Booker T)
Oct 30, 1999
Racecars round the track
Of a gray line, seven talk
A brisk nighttime walk
(at stock car races in Petaluma, and answering friends’ questions about my days at West Point)
Dec 31, 1999 –
Crisp air, bright lights. Boom!
On Lafayette’s hillside steep
Breath in Life. Breath out.
(while celebrating NY Eve on a hillside watching fireworks and anticipating the actual what-could-be-happening-right-now Y2K)
Haiku can be an excellent way to develop and attend to Practice. Anyone can do it, including you. What can you discover? What can you lose? What can you gain?
In May 2000, I started my own study of Aikido, which continues now here in Lake County. In 2002, to honor my first two years of effort and discovery I wrote this:
Old youth. Tall bamboo
Straight, flexing, firmly rooted
Water Fire Blend
© Lance Giroux, 2020