Letters: Follow the Recipe

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Dear Friend,
The ability to follow a recipe to the letter is one of the most valuable skills in life. The groundwork for your life lays in the repeated execution of a simple recipe, successfully of course. It translates into other areas of your life. For instance, as long as you have instructions you can create anything from bookshelves to home remedies to Broadway musicals.

There is power in following a simple recipe. Once you understand a recipe, then you can move on into deeper knowledge. You can begin to experiment, teach and create your own methods. You start to master techniques and the broader concepts behind those simple instructions. Epiphanies happen. As you obtain mastership, wisdom follows. The power over your journey through this life comes from the underrated skill of following a recipe. Cook on my friend, cook on.

Sincerely,

J. R. Lowe

 

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Twinkle Lights

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Gift giving and sharing epitomizes this time of year. To me, when I envision the Christmas Spirit I think of sharing a part of myself. Every person has a talent or skill that can better the world for those around them. It does not matter if your abilities are baking, woodworking, singing or just making people smile. The importance is using those talents to bring joy to the ones in your heart.

For instance, on Christmas Eve, my little family braves the cold to deliver festive bags or plates of baked joy to persons or families who have made a positive difference in our lives throughout the year. It is our way of saying, “Thank you” to those individuals. The action of creating a gift with thoughtfulness means so much more than the giving and the receiving. It brings a more profound sense of community. It evokes humility and appreciation in both parties. Making gifts takes time, patience and perseverance, especially when the list of receivers is long. I admire anyone who endeavors. I am humbled they would take the time to create something for me. And, most important of all, it opens your heart. The Grinch with his heart two sizes too small comes to mind.

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Am I saying that presents bought in a store are bad? No, I am not. I am not a purist by any stretch of the imagination. The bulk of the gifts underneath the tree for our kids come from some retailer. Nevertheless, I try to keep the quantity in check. Also, my husband likes a good bottle of single malt scotch. Seeing how I do not have a distillery in my backyard, (How cool would that be?) purchasing the said bottle is required. However, his face lights up like a Christmas tree when he unwraps a bottle of 18-year-old Glenlivet.

Even though some joy-giving gifts can cost a bit of dough, we should always remember the holidays are not about spending tons money, which the Hallmark movie channel likes to remind us each year (that and my pocketbook). It is about sharing a piece of yourself to lighten the dark winter for those in your sphere. Think twinkle lights. Be the strand of lights for those in your life.

 

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Thank you for reading.

J. R. Lowe

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The Old Master

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A long time ago in China a small old man with a long beard was walking through the woods, leaning on a gnarled walking stick. At a turn in the path he found three bandits attacking a poor peasant who was on his way home from the market. The old man approached the bandits slowly and said in a soft but firm voice, “Stop. Leave that man alone.”

“Go away, old man. Mind your own business! Commanded the leader of the bandits, a towering bearlike man.

Calmly the old man replied, “Don’t you know that if you do evil, evil will come back to you?”

“Stop preaching, old man, or I’ll smash you like this,” said the huge man, and kicked at a nearby tree, smashing it in half.

The old man smiled faintly. “I do not fear you.” he said.

With that, this headstrong bandit lost his temper and kicked out at the small man. Seemingly without effort, the old man brushed aside the kick, and the bandit went crashing on his back in the dust.

The second bandit, a tall wiry woman with piercing eyes, drew her sword and rushed forward toward the old man. She slashed at the man’s head, but before she completed the move, the old man had already moved out of range. The woman turned around to see the third bandit, who had tried to tackle the old man’s legs, go flying through the air and land in a big puddle of mud.

The three bandits, now outraged at this humiliation, growled, cursed and made fierce faces, and attacked the old man all at once. But the little man could not be touched, and the three bandits landed in a heap, one on top of the other.

Realizing that they were in the presence of a master, the three fell to their knees and begged the old man to forgive them. “Take us as your students, please, teach us what you know. Teach us how to fight.”

“I cannot teach you my fighting art,” said the old man, “for this art cannot be given to those who will use it to bully other people. The martial arts are for those of good character who will protect people from bullies like you. In fact, if you do not have the right attitude, I could teach you for the rest of my life and yours, and you still would not comprehend this art.”

But the three bandits continued to plead, and promised they would change their ways and give up their bandit lives. After they apologized to the much-relieved peasant, the bandits and the old man walked off into the woods together.

 

Story taken from The Martial Arts by Susan Ribner and Dr. Richard Chin.

 

A great lesson for today’s martial artists.

Thank you for reading.

J. R. Lowe

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A Beautiful Moment

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Life has a way of creating beautiful moments at the most unexpected times. Every weekday, I engage in a four-hour commute from where I live to the University of Washington. To break it down briefly, that is two hours of transitioning from car to ferry to train to light rail to foot twice a day. Today, after persevering through two midterms and drafting a paper, I started my trek home. Stepping off the light rail onto a crowded platform, I moved my way to a creaking escalator. I am never quite sure about the integrity of the contraption, having witnessed it out of order several times in the past month. As I slowly crept upward, I braced myself for the sights and smells that hallmarks Pioneer Square in Seattle today. With at least one mission shelter close by the profusion of homeless is profound. My heart is wrenched at such sites every day. Almost to the mezzanine notes of lilting beauty wafted around me in waves. The instrumental strains captured my imagination. Who was the creator of such an enchanting oasis of sound? I walked out onto the mezzanine still unable to see the source of the music. Curiouser and curiouser, I rounded the corner. I am not quite sure what I expected, certainly not what greeted my eyes. For a split second, I found myself transported to an Ireland where I have never been. A short, broad-shouldered man with a full beard glinting red and moss colored eyes smiled at me. I smiled back sharing with him the impact of his playing. Then, I did something completely uncharacteristic. I dropped whatever money I had from my pocket into the open fiddle case at his booted feet. It was only a trifling. However, he smiled kindly and thanked me. I turned and let the music follow me up the stairs to the street where the smells of fresh urine, booze, and pot awaited. Pockets of beauty are everywhere even in the most dismal of environments. The question is, do you see it?

 

Thank you for reading. It is good to be back!

J. R. Lowe

 

Hiatus

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This morning sitting at the kitchen table I find myself enveloped in chaos, the moving kind. It is an insanity that comes after squatting in one location for nine years. Layers of stuff accumulate after that much time. And as the sifting process proceeds, you tend to ask yourself more often than not, “Do I need that?” The specter of moving boxes keeps the answers honest. In all honesty, the physical move across the state is not the scary part. I have been there and done that before. It is the time crunch. I start fall classes at the University of Washington in eight days. The worst part is I am not quite sure where we are moving. We have a couple of places lined up. However, as every veteran of reality knows nothing is for sure until it happens. So, in light of the chaos of the next two weeks, The Thoughtful Ninja will be on hiatus. Courage.

Thank you for reading.

J. R. Lowe