Monday, June 26, 2017

Deception Pass

I've been so painfully uninspired lately; Unmotivated to do even those things that I love the most, that usually save me from all the other things I don't want to do at all. I've had zero inspiration to write or even hike. Even in pulling myself together long enough to do these things or other forms of self-care, I'm not reaping the usual benefits.

I was going to drive down to Hood River on the Columbia River this past weekend to check it out more in depth as a possible destination for moving, plus to hike a few trails I've had on my list forever, but the extreme weather warning (105 down there!) held me back. I'm not built for all that. 92 degrees and humid in Seattle was bad enough and honestly would have been unbearable yesterday if I hadn't squatted in my mom's air conditioned apartment. I did at least escape to Deception Pass on Saturday to feel some ocean breezes. Hiked through and around the crowds to find a moment of peaceful solitude on some lichen covered rocks by the sea, but it didn't last nearly long enough.

We all have times like this where nothing feels right and nothing seems to fit. Where the veil of funk refuses to be lifted and daily life just kind of stinks. I know it's not forever. Depression itself is a deception that tricks us into fearing our feelings of emptiness or foreboding will be permanent. This always proves untrue eventually, but wading through the interim sucks none the less.

Forever being reminded time and time again of how much I rely on nature and exercise to make me feel better. I know it's a tough time when even those things aren't getting through to me.

 "Feelings are just visitors, let them come and go." -Mooji

Friday, June 9, 2017


Seven Samurai, written and directed by Akira Kurosawa

I've mentioned on this blog before that I have a passion for Samurai history and Kung-fu films. Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa is my favorite movie of all time, and one of only three DVDs that I own. Typically, I don't buy books/movies or hold onto them after I've enjoyed them. The only material things I like to collect or even keep around are vinyl records, but overall  I'm a clutter-free person. I'm also wildly obsessed with the library. I always try my best to live as close to a public library as possible (currently, less than two blocks). I keep an ongoing list in my phone of every movie or book people recommend to me, and then I go on rapacious ordering sprees on the Seattle library website. I haven't even paid for an internet connection since I graduated from college in 2010. If I really need it beyond looking something up on my phone or shooting off an email, I go to the library. The library has always been my happy place-indoors, at least.

In most Ancient Japanese historical texts, including the seminal Hagakure, you will find a description of Bushido, or the way/code of the Samurai Warrior, as the mastery of seven virtues. In 1899 Author Inazo Nitobe later popularized an eighth virtue, which was Jisei: Self-Control. Certainly an admirable addition to the notion of self mastery but not an inherent part of the original, historical code.

1. Gi-Rectitude (Justice, Moral Righteousness)
2. Yu-Courage
3. Jin-Benevolence (Compassion)
4. Rei-Respect
5. Makoto-Honesty (Sincerity)
6. Meiyo-Honor
7. Chugi-Loyalty (Devotion, Duty)

My first exposure to Samurai history and the concept of Bushido was through Rza, creator and producer of the Wu Tang Clan. He developed the concepts behind the Wu Tang imagery off of Kung Fu characters, plots, and names. Fast forward a couple of years to when I was about 19; My boyfriend at the time had a zealous passion for Kung Fu movies, Japanese manga comics, and the surrounding culture. I was going to the U.W. and came across a course listing for an art class on Kung Fu films. Between that, Juan, and the Wu, I greatly deepened my exposure and knowledge.

The cross-mingling of Samurai artistry and Rap music is epitomized by Rza & the Wu Tang clan. Their debut album was named "36 Chambers of Shaolin", which is inspired by the title of an incredible 1978 film by the movie mogul Shaw Brothers (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, to be exact). I cannot recommend this movie enough. Although it is not as visually stunning as Seven Samurai, the story and message are one of my absolute favorites. The main character levels up through three dozen chambers of physical and mental mastery at a Shaolin training temple.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, from the Shaw Brothers

Over the next couple years I started to intake and absorb as much Japanese history and art as I possibly could. I found myself inherently drawn to everything that came out of this country, like it was speaking to a familiar memory inside of me. Their ancient wisdom and  traditions: Samurai and Bushido, dozens of films, comics like Lone Wolf and Cub, manga, art by substantial masters like Hokusai... The list goes on.

Rza remained a huge influence for me throughout this unraveling of a deep and natural fervor I have for the culture. His dedication to bringing elements of Japanese art and history into main stream rap music was so enlightening and fresh. I guzzled up everything he touched or even talked about. I watched every movie I could that the Wu Tang clan referenced in their songs and promotional interviews. I was not the only one noticing either. In 1999 Jim Jarmusch came out with Ghost Dog, a movie starring Forest Whitaker as a man living by the warrior's code in the hood, with original music by Rza. A few years later, Quentin Tarantino sought him out to compose music for the insanely popular cult classic Kill Bill. He then went on to score all the soundtracks to the incredible TV and film adaptations of the Afro Samurai manga. In 2012 he wrote, directed, and acted in his first full feature martial arts film, The Man with the Iron Fist. He also wrote two books, my favorite being The Tao of Wu; So I literally learned about Toaism for the first time through rap music. I went on to read other books by Lao Tzu as well as The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, which I highly recommend as a really easy beginners guide.

Afro Samurai

Now, let me rewind back to Bushido. This strict moral code wasn't for the faint of heart, and separated the warrior from the average man. It required adhering to a path of otherworldly discipline and black and white extremes (perhaps why Akira chose to shoot the entirety of Seven Samurai in black and white?). No retreat, no surrender, no fear of death. It was the preservation of honor and integrity over the human body. For a Samurai, their word and their duty reigned above everything. Yet, this concept of honor of self wasn't meant to cast aside those who could or would not take on the rigorous way of the Bushido. As you can see, the third virtue is Benevolence, or compassion, which was not meant to be forgotten in the individual's work towards self mastery.

“The first person you have to resurrect is yourself”-Rza

All in all, Bushido acted as a philosophical and spiritual tempering of the violent life of a Samurai warrior, and as an oracle of wisdom in dark times. It brought necessary duality and humanistic meaning to the Warrior's time on Earth, in these physical and temporary bodies. My goal and daily effort is in transmuting these conceptual extremes from a bygone era into a guiding wisdom for handling the insanity of modern living. I like to practice my own form of Bushido, which I call H.A.I.L. (Honesty Authenticity Integrity Love). Like with everything in our lives, the practice is non linear, with good days and bad; Valleys and peaks.

“A way of life that keeps saying 'Around the next corner, above the next step,' works against the natural order of things and makes it so difficult to be happy and good.”  -Benjamin Hoff

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Live Above

Diablo Lake
 "We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them"

One of my favorite movie lines and it sure seemed fitting for my adventure around the aptly titled Diablo Lake this past weekend. It's a quote from Doctor Strange by the way; one of many comic book adaptations that I have developed a super geeky passion for (thanks Rich). Speaking of which, excited to see Wonder Woman tonight! If you live in Seattle and you aren't seeing epic movies like this at the Cinerama downtown, then you probably don't know they have the best sound system in the city, epic chocolate popcorn, local beers, anddd you can reserve your seats ahead of time. Get with it!

Diablo Lake is a man-made reservoir created by a dam on the Skagit River. The obvious question most people have when they first see this place in photo or person is 'How is the lake so damn turqouise?' The surrounding glaciers of the Cascades mountain range grind rocks into a fine silt that is carried into the lake through the surrounding waterways. This fine powder stays suspended in the lake, giving it the memorable color that varies slightly throughout the year between deep jade and frostier green hues.

There are a ton of worthy hikes along scenic Highway 20 as you pass through Newhalem, Diablo Lake, and Ross Lake. Newhalem Campground is actually one of my favorite places in the state to camp and I have such great memories from group trips there with friends. It's only a 20 minute drive from Diablo Lake itself, so there is an abundance of stuff to do within a short distance. I've never jumped in the lake to be honest, but I'm nowhere near courageous when it comes to cold bodies of water. Incidentally, I once fell into Baker Lake during Fall while trying to pee off the back of a canoe (I was far from shore and have the smallest bladder around).

Since this time I brought my ten year old pup Macaroni, we opted for a visually rewarding and less physically challenging trail: Thunder Knob. [] I was so proud of the little guy, who has only been on one other actual "hike" in his entire life. He got hit by a car when he was about three and since then he's been real limited in his physical abilities. I didn't start hiking until a few years ago, so by that time he had already developed arthritis from his previous injuries. However, with enough supportive coaxing, sweet potato treats, and constant water breaks, he was able to complete this short but sweet lookout trail.

Awesome "Old man's beard" lichen on these trees

Endless, beautiful views of the surrounding Cascade peaks as you climb up the short 700 ft grade. The lake doesn't make itself visible through the tree coverage until the top, but the surrounding 360 degree views feel almost too good for such little work. Every hue of green and blue on the spectrum is reflected in Diablo.

As always, I have my favorite roadside stops for each highway. On 20, I have to stop by the Cascadian Organic farm stand for fresh, local, organic ice cream. This time it was Raspberry with chocolate chips. Even Macaroni got a kid's scoop for all his hard work! The only bummer of the trip was finding two ticks on him as soon as we got back in the car, despite checking him after we finished the trail. Ticks are literally my least favorite creature on Planet Earth.