This is going to be a short series- where I started and went and am… There are stages that people go through- martial artists, cops, everyone who grows and matures. Some of these are paradigm shifts, profound changes in the way you look at and relate to the world. The thing is, before a paradigm shift, you can be pretty sure that you have a good handle on things. You “know” things. After the paradigm shift, not so much. You still know stuff, but you also know that the stuff that you “knew” before was dead wrong- or maybe not, maybe just limited, blind in a way. Do it enough, have enough “knowns” exposed as myths or guesses or wishful thinking and you become skeptical of your own certainty. That’s a necessary stage. Without it, it’s very hard to open your mind to other people who have had different shifts than you and have much to share. It seems that a part of the human condition is an inability to acknowledge that your “it” or “truth” might be an old and primitive stage to someone else. A necessary step, but an early one.
Background: born in a thriving community with extremely intelligent parents. My father was a contractor, road builder and blaster; a former army (Korea era vet) and Golden Gloves boxer, a bar brawler and a legendary tough guy (he once sat politely through a dinner party with a crushed foot, unwilling to disturb the guests until mom saw the blood oozing from his crushed steel-toed boots). Also an alcoholic with little time or patience for children who did actually teach me to swim by throwing me in a river and telling me I had no choice. Mom was a former ballerina, fencer and gymnast, a yoga teacher and a legendary barroom brawler in her own right. Both were raised pretty hardscrabble, by parents who made it through WWII and the Great Depression.
Hunting and camping were family events. Bike riding in the desert, exploring caves and climbing were things I did alone or with a small group of friends. Somewhere in early childhood I got the habit of being the first to do the dangerous things. Not because I was brave. I wasn’t. It was just easier for me to deal with the risk of being injured or killed than it was to deal with the possibility of watching someone else be injured or killed
Then the move. Since the world was supposed to end we became homesteaders on a good-sized piece of land. From the time of twelve on, I was raising and killing most of my own food. Mom and dad did a lot of the butchering and dressing, actually.
I was pretty sheltered before this. My old school had been very progressive and I had been trained that I was a pacifist, a higher order of being. Being transplanted into a school in a town of 210 that averaged one murder a year (not counting the serial killer who was arrested while we were living there); where a good high school fight involved upward of four broken bones and a “fair fight” involved a confederate wrapping a coat around the victims eyes and throwing him to the floor where the fighter would be waiting to kick until the victim stopped moving…
It was an experience. My early exposure to violence was that a moral and righteous truth was meaningless to anyone willing to use violence and must be backed up to be real at all. That ‘fair’ was a word that ignorant people used and evil people twisted. That no adult cared. That no one had a solution. That a righteous rage could overcome numbers and strength, but at a cost. That plans disappeared when you felt a boot slam into your face.
It made me quick and alert and strong and quiet. It made me capable of being harsh. So the first paradigm shift from this was that, “Violence is the last resort of the ignorant,” was a platitude that people hide behind and it swirls into mist when the violence is right there.
There was another paradigm shift too, a moment when I was very scared and had been told I would be killed and I decided and acted and watched a big (man? boy? Fifteen years old at most but 220 pounds, at least 130 pounds more than me) on his knees trying to scream and making no sound. I’d slammed my fingers into his throat and he couldn’t breathe. I still remember his eyes sometimes, and sometimes I let my mind play with “what ifs.” What if the first teacher there had not been a medic in Vietnam? What if charges had been pressed. What if. The possibilities make an abyss.
Enough on violence. There was a spiritual side to it too. I spent more hours alone in a year than I imagine many do in a life time. This was the essence of my spiritual training: If you have a question, go into the desert. Don’t eat or drink. You will get an answer or you will die. You will always get an answer if you have the strength.
And meditation, constantly. It became my normal mode NOT to have any voice in my head. I lived in a constant state of what some consider a fairly deep meditation. I vision quested on my own (fastest on record, since I fell off a cliff on the way to the place I had chosen and got the whole experience in the second or so of free-fall). I considered, and still do, taking lethal risks as a form of religious sacrifice: Do you want me, Sif, Tyche, Athena, Odin? Have I failed? Here’s your chance.
This was the ground-work. Before I had an opportunity to study martial arts my spiritual grounding was solid; I’d seen enough violence to have a perspective; I had parents who set (by example) a very high bar for competence on all levels; and I had the work ethic that gets formed by cows that have to be milked and hay that has to be brought in.