Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel
It’s that time of year again – another turn of the wheel, a page of the calendar, the continued revolution of our planet around the sun. The Winter Solstice gave way to Christmas and the Yuletide Season and then New Year’s festivities. The days are getting longer again, and there’s a sense of renewal, growth and motivation in the air about the New Year 2014.
Neil and I celebrated New Year’s Eve by driving up to Manning Park to take a guided 2 hour nighttime snowshoe tour that we booked at the last minute. We had so much fun! Our guide brought our group into the forest and to a shallow section of the river and encouraged us to leap over it onto thick chunks of ice. Only half our group managed to get across, so we all walked down along the snowy, icy banks of the river, with the water separating us, to an ice bridge, where we all joined-up and then bushwhacked through tight scrubby brush towards the main trail. The trail was hard-packed and icy in sections. It was much easier on the knees to trudge through the soft untouched snow off the trail. About an hour into the hike the guide stopped us in a small wooded area and had us play a game of “Camouflage.” One person (Neil) was the Lynx, the rest of us were woodland animals. Neil stood in a clearing inside a 2 metre circle drawn in the snow. Then he closed his eyes and counted to 25 and we all ran and hid nearby. We had to be able to see him. If he held up his fingers we had to be able to see them clearly and yell out how many he was holding up, so we were never far away.
So, he counted to 25 with his eyes closed, we all ran off as quickly as we could in our snowshoes and hid behind trees and brush and snowdrifts or whatever and then turned off our headlamps. Then Neil looked around to see if he could spot any of us using only his headlamp, but he couldn’t leave his circle. Our guide got us to change places in the middle of the game and we had to bolt from our hiding places to another spot in 15 seconds. If the Lynx was allowed to leave his circle and actually look for us, we would have all been caught very easily!
We also walked for awhile without any light at all. Our eyes adjusted to the dark and the ambient light from the forest and stars were enough to comfortably light the more open sections of the trail. Neil and I couldn’t take our eyes off of the stars. We kept falling behind, and I almost toppled backwards as I craned my neck upwards marveling at the beauty of the night sky. There are so many stars! It was easy to identify the Milky Way, Cassiopeia, the Seven Sisters (Pleiades), Venus and Mars. The next time we go, we’ll bring a star chart and do some good old-fashioned star gazing. It’s easy to forget how many stars there are when living in the city, because the lights of the city drown out the lights of the sky. Seeing the sky as you stand in the snow in the forest on a cold winter’s night makes you feel so connected…. to something… and happy. It is a gift and a privilege these days to have such an opportunity.
Here’s a picture of some of the people in our group crossing the river. Our guide, Toby, is in orange.
This is a blurry picture of Neil and me, tired but happy, after a fun walk in the forest!
After our invigorating trek, we drove back home to get some sleep for the next day’s adventure!
And what a wonderful annual adventure it was!
Today, Jan. 1, 2014, Sensei Holmes and his posse of karateka gathered on the beach in Ioco at Old Orchard Hall for the annual New Year’s Day training. If you’ve read this blog in the past, you might have seen pictures we’ve posted from previous New Year’s trainings on the beach. This year was a good turn-out. Including Sensei, there were eight participants, all black-belts.
If you haven’t read our blog before, I’ll explain what this crazy New Year’s training is about:
A slightly nutty group of people who take karate, aka “karateka,” gather together in their gis (the white training ‘uniform’ they wear) on January 1 every New Year and stand on really cold, wet sand on a beach until their feet go numb.
Then they kneel for awhile until their lower extremities go numb. I think they’re nuts, but the reasons they give is that they’re showing respect to the founder of their martial art and to the “dojo”, which in this case is the great outdoors. Let’s humour them and go along with that…
Then they bow to the Sensei, who respectfully bows to his students. Andrew Holmes is the inspiration behind this tradition. He’s the lead nut bowing to the line of nuts.
Below, you can see we attracted quite a few spectators. Given that our merry band of karateka looked like loonie-bin escapees in pajamas, it’s a wonder the police weren’t called. Then again, one of the posse is a police!
Stretching tight muscles is a good distraction from cold feet.
“Oh, look! Cold feet!”
“Yup. They’re cold, alright.”
The onlookers look a bit bewildered, as if they’re asking themselves, “Who in their right mind would do this?”
That’s a very good question. 😉
Stretching some more…
Sensei Holmes leads by example…
This is what you’d see if you happened to be going for a New Year’s Day stroll along the beach in Ioco. They’re aiming for a strong stance, anchored with power through the torso and arms. Balanced tension – not too relaxed and not too taught.
The next three pictures remind me of Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks!”
Sensei Holmes is an inspiration to his students. He is focused, strong, controlled, and committed to and passionate about Karate. In the pictures below, you can really see this in his face.
Despite the cold, our heroes are warming up…
And are ready for another kata…
Every movement has a practical application. This isn’t a reverse “peace” sign.
This look is Andy’s invitation that it’s time to go into the water…
I overheard Andy saying that it wasn’t too bad. He was very upbeat and almost convincing. Neil seems to be scratching his head wondering if this was such a good idea or not, while Garson seems to be hanging back wondering about his and his friends’ sanity. Even the bird flying above seems to be thinking the same thing.
If you’re going to lead, you must lead by example… This is Andy, the lead nut, taking the first nutty step into the water…
The tradition is to count their way in, one step at a time, into the frigid water…
“Ichi! Ni! San! Shi!….”
Time to take the plunge!
This is not for the faint of heart! It’s COLD!
Garson still looks like he’s questioning his sanity…
Andy looks like he’s quite comfortable with the fact that he lost his sanity years ago…
… Chuck thinks he just spotted his sanity from last year kicked up in the sand over there…
…Kyle thinks it’s funny that Chuck thinks it’s his sanity that’s been unearthed, when it’s actually Kyle’s…
…Neil thinks it’s cool that Chuck and Kyle think they’ve found their sanity, when it’s obviously some dog’s old chew toy.
The group concluded by showing respect once again to the founder of their art and to the dojo by taking a few minutes of quiet meditation and centering and then bowing deeply to it and to their sensei, and their sensei bows also to his students. Mutual respect and gratitude is key to success.
Then there’s my favourite part of the whole tradition, the “hand thing.” I love this part – the camaraderie, the sharing, the exchange, the warmth, the smiles. Individually, yet together, the group heralded in the New Year with vigour, positive energy and determination.
Then some of them took another dip! Their excuse: To wash off the sand from their gis. Let’s humour them again and go with it.
Then these crazies changed out of their white pajamas into street clothes, on the beach, in the winter, in front of complete strangers. To any sane person one could only conclude they must have been nuthouse escapees…
…until one of the nut’s daughters decided to take a plunge herself! Pretty spunky young gal! She’s one tough cookie. The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
This is her second dip. I missed her first dip and so she went in a second time so I could take pictures. She’s pretty cool… literally!
Life is filled with hardships and pleasures. They co-exist. Depending upon our perspectives, attitudes and judgements, events in our lives may bring us joy or sorrow. Yet, there can be joy in deep sorrow and sorrow in joy. Like extreme cold feeling like a burning ember, or extreme discomfort bringing with it a sense of accomplishment, it is not what happens to us that matters, it’s how we manage our emotions during these events that matters. If we can train ourselves to develop a strong stance, anchored with power, to develop and maintain balanced tension – not too relaxed and not too taught – then we can manage the most difficult and joyous times in our lives, in every moment, day and year that lies ahead of us. And we can inspire others too.
To quote Oprah Winfrey, “Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”
Happy New Year and happy new and old journeys!
Ingrid & Neil