This begins my year long series of looking at how we can use tenkara as a teacher in our lives. Wherever you are in your personal tenkara story, beginner, novice, or veteran, I hope that you will benefit from this year’s blog articles and that you will be inspired to explore what I am going to playfully call “the tenkara way.”
Beginning your path - Meditation and Tenkara
Before we proceed, I would like to ask that we get rid of our preconceived notions and imagery of what meditation is. Please set aside the stereotypes and exaggerations that have been fed to us by the media and our western culture. We can better practice meditation without those tropes and with an understanding that fits and suits our modern lives.
Beginning a Basic Daily Meditation Practice
Meditation really is about putting yourself into a place where there is nothing but the moment. Like any exercise we do it strengthens us. In this case the muscle it strengthens is our “quiet mind” or "no mind". With enough practice in seated meditation, we can begin to apply meditation to any action we are doing such as washing the dishes, walking the dog, spending time with our families and friends, and yes, fishing a stream. Seated meditation practice is where we create focus, attention, and stamina to being present. Meditation helps us find that place of being where our minds are not dominating our every thought.
The instructions that follow are a great way to begin your seated meditation practice.
Create space and time to sit.
I have found that the early morning is a good time to start my seated meditation. I start most mornings by taking my dog for a walk, when we get home, I put the tea kettle on to get it hot, and and I go and sit. Over time, seated meditation gives us a familiar centering point to count on. With this practice we discover that we can nurture and cultivate the state of "no mind" and come back to it as needed as a default place of being. This gives us the ability to clear our minds in any situation and just be present to what is in front of us. This is specifically helpful in stressful situations but also helps us appreciate the details of joyful moments in our lives too.
It is important to be comfortable while you sit. You are going to be sitting still for several minutes at a time and need to be able to maintain a seated posture for that time. You can choose to sit crossed legged, kneel with a pillow or cushion under your legs or, just sit in a straight back chair with your feet flat on the floor. Whichever way you choose, you want to keep your backbones stacked on one another, keeping a straight and upright posture. In keeping your spine straight, it may be helpful to imagine you have a cord that goes up from your tailbone, through your spine and up out of the crown center of your head. The cord pulls everything up slightly and that makes your spine strait. Adjust your hips as needed so that your torso balances on top of your cushion or chair, “like stacked stones.” If seated on a cushion or bench your knees should touch the ground as a foundation for your posture. If your knees are up off of the floor there is a potential to roll or lean left or right.
Relax your head, neck, and shoulders.
Your chin can drop slightly down towards your chest. Your shoulders should remain straight and can be lightly shifted back allowing your arms to fall naturally down your sides. Sit gently now and let your eyelids rest, not closed but peering out softly to a spot on the floor 3-4 feet in front of you. I try to have the floor in front of me and around me clear of distracting things.
Find a stillness in your body.
Sitting still is really all that meditation practice needs to look like. Over time you will adjust as needed and be able to get into your sitting position with little effort or thought. Then you will find your place of stillness very easily. When we find our stillness, we are in a place of reduced physical stimulation, and our mind can begin to quiet itself too. In the beginning you will at times feel your body protest. A little itch on your nose, a sneeze, a cough, a cramp maybe? etc. Often this is just our mind kicking in to distract us a little. Its okay to scratch an itch, or readjust your position, just don’t be controlled by it. See what happens if you don’t scratch your nose…. Does it go away on its own? In stillness we are watching our mind and observing our bodies.
Learning to breath...again.
You may not know it but most of us do not breath correctly. Something changes in how we breath over time and be become more "mouth breathing" than "nose breathing". I can recommend a book called “Breath: the new science of a lost art” by James Nestor. If you want to learn more.
For our meditation practice I want to suggest you start with simply taking air in through your nose, filling your lungs. At the top of your breath, hold it for just a second (or two?). Now slowly begin to let the air go out through your mouth which is resting with our teeth apart and tongue floating lightly in place against your upper palate. Open your lips just enough to let the air escape. We breath the air all the way out and can hold again for a second before we begin to inhale again.
Meditation is simple...
...Our minds on the other hand, are tricky.
This practice takes time to really fall into with consistency and clarity where we only follow our breath. Our minds are so good at creating stories, thoughts, and questions. To this day I still find myself getting lost in some wonderful adventures of the mind while I am sitting. Other times you will feel other less positive or desirable emotions come up. Anger? Frustration? Impatience? When this happens, watch those emotions for a second or two. Identify them as sensation and just go back to paying attention to your breathing again.
How long should I meditate?
At the beginning try a week of sitting for just 10 minutes every morning (or mid-day, or evening.) Then the next week move up to 15 minutes, then 20 the next week. You can set a timer with your smart speaker, or I like to use an app called “Mindfulness Bell”. The app allows you to set a meditation timer that gives you 30 seconds to get into position before giving you three bell chimes starting your meditation period. At the end of the period there are two chimes ending the session. Over time you can extend your time sitting to even longer sessions. You can even take a break after a 15–20-minute session and just walk, drink a glass of water or tea and then resume for another 15- 20 minutes. This kind of resolve takes time to build but has great benefits.
Why do we do this?
Our motivations will all be different I suppose, as will the experiences we each have. The common thing about this practice though is seeing our minds and thoughts for what they are. We are so used to listening to our minds that we don’t even notice it slipping in where we don’t want it to. We become confused that our thoughts are “reality.” Thoughts happen in our minds and are not tangible in the physical world. Meditation practice though lets us identify and understand those thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a way that really lets us live in the moment and reality of our lives. One of my Zen teachers used to refer to "no mind" (or as she and her teacher called it "Don't know mind") as being like a clear button on a calculator. You hit the clear mind button and it zeros out all the mind noise and input. You are left then with clarity and an understanding of relationship to the situation before you. Having proper relationship to our lives, we can stop making decisions based on the things our mind wants us to believe and instead understand what our true situation is.
.Taking your practice to the river
Sitting meditation is the foundation for building connection to all things we do and even the interpersonal relationships we have. As we nurture it and build our practice of meditation, it settles into our active lives and becomes a natural way in which we live, work and see the world. Stillness meditation becomes active meditation.
When we go out on the water to fish tenkara it becomes an active meditation. Our process becomes one of watching one moment transition into the next. From standing in the water, to watching the stream, to looking for where we are going to cast, casting to that spot, watching the line move through the zone, and then maybe a strike, maybe no strike. We will see ourselves follow life while we become aware of our breath through all these steps. Sometimes this whole process of fishing meditation will lead our attention into a moment of pause, feeling the water around our legs, the wind on our face or the beauty of the scenery around us, appreciating the colors, patterns and life of the fish we just brought to hand.
I do hope that you will give meditation practice a solid try. It seems easy enough to do on the surface, but sometimes when we sit our minds will stir up thoughts, or possibly feelings of boredom. Remember that the time you spend practicing seated meditation is like any skill. The more we practice the easier it is to just be there present and aware. Don't beat yourself up for feeling challenged or for even "falling off of your cushion" for a few days, or weeks even. be gentle with yourself and get back up on that cushion again.
Finally, when you go fishing make time to stop, take a break, and practice seated meditation under a tree or in a meadow somewhere. Listen to the water, smell the breeze, and feel that connection to the world in front of you.
This was a longer than usual post I know but it was hopefully one that you will value and use. I look forward to hearing your comments below. Please take a moment to share a comment, thought or question and I will reply. Until then lets practice through the winter months so we can be sharp for the spring and focused in our practice of "The Tenkara Way".
Goodbye 2021 and hello 2022.
A new year, no matter how arbitrary in its history, should be a celebration of hope and possiblity. A new year gives us motivation to do new things or to do the things we have been doing better. I am every bit as vulnerable to the sentiments that it stirs in our cultures.
A year of adventure and learning awaits.
This coming year I have decided to take on really applying the principles that tenkara teaches to my life in a way that I have never done. It is my hope that I can share this journey with others interested in seeing tenkara as a personal practice. Tenkara offers us a great model for living, thinking and being. To be clear, I am not writing anything as an expert. I am by no means as enlightened as I would like to be… but rather I write this blog as a fellow traveler on the journey. I want to welcome discussion and hear other’s perspective along the way. My posts for this new year will be heavily influenced by the art, culture and teaching of tenkara as well as the practice of meditation and mindfulness. We will explore tenkara as a meditation and see how the practice applies to and inspires our daily lives too.
We need to get lost a little.
I learned in my 20’s with the help of a friend, that sometimes the best way to learn and experience things when you travel is to get lost a little. I am not talking about getting lost in a reckless way, but in a way that is safe and still challenges us. You must give yourself permission to get lost because this gives you the freedom to explore, see and learn about your world and how you fit in it. “Getting lost” is both literal and figurative. It is about taking a different path or going beyond where you usually go. The whole purpose of getting lost is really to slow down to the speed of life. We stop taking our lives for granted. These experiences make us stronger
My goal is to do at least one post a month.
Goals are always a good thing and while I hope to do at least one post a month I will try to add even more to my blog this year with interesting content including food and fly recipes, book reviews, and I will look at doing some interviews along the way too. Whatever comes up in my experiences, I hope that we can all learn together about ourselves, about living a good life and about challenging ourselves to go beyond our perceived limitations and about finding a healthy and connected way of living.
I wish you a happy and healthy new year!
Some snapshots to catch you up on my busy summer...
I don't know about you but this summer I have felt the need to go and do as much as I can. Maybe its a side effect of dealing with COVID last year. I have been aware of the need to live and do things while I can. So, I've been pretty busy and I have had quite a bit that I have experienced in those days, weeks and months. I am going to try and do just a quick blog post to maybe catch myself up as well as you my readers.
Adventures with Fezzik!
Fezzik, my amazing river pup just turned 6 months old and I have been working to train him to accompany me on my camping and fishing outings. He is doing a stellar job at sticking close to me and sitting at my feet while I cast to runs. Only occasionally does he slip close to water for a drink or to test the water temperature. He is a great companion at night in giving me someone to talk to and share the excitement of each day. One other thing he is good for is waking me up so he can go out and pee and I can see the open sky full of unfiltered stars. He does great on our trips but is a bit more trouble at home. One thing you don't take into consideration when you get a puppy is how much damage they will do chewing up things. His potty training has been a challenge as well. He is doing okay but the days we don't have to wipe up or pick up a mess are fewer still than the days we have to. He certainly has more training to do in the socializing department. Being mostly German shepherd he acts really protective of the house and seems to think he needs to bark at every stranger he meets. I foresee more training for him in a few weeks. I have learned a lot about dogs from the training classes we took. I suspect there is a lot more to still learn.
Learning Japanese Calligraphy for Fun and Meditation
I really believe that we need to keep learning new things. We need to spread our interests in ways that enrich our lives. I had the oportunity to take a couple of Japanese calligraphy classes, on-line through the Student Arts League of Denver. The instructor, Mamiko Ikeda, was a fantastic teacher. I learned a lot about brush strokes, the order they are done in and I am excited to work in practicing calligraphy as a meditation too. Those who have purchased spools from me recently have each received one of my practice sheets as a packaging wrapper for the spool. I just had so many pages from practice that I hated to just dump them off into the recycling bin. If my skills improve I will look at posting some originals on my etsy page. I have ordered a couple of books already on kanji to continue my study and I am learning to really appreciate both the symbolism of Kanji as well as the practice it takes to brush symbols correctly and with a natural flow.
My NEW Favorite Camp Stove!
I have made many of my own versions of an alcohol camp stove in years past. Most worked pretty well. They are fairly simple to make but the effectiveness of them is sometimes less than perfect. I am doing more backpacking and camping this year and when I was surfing etsy I came across a seller "Whatsinmypack" who had a design I had not seen before. At just $12, the price was great So I made the quick decision to purchase one... Well, I was impressed with this mini alcohol stove! The design was new to me from other designs I have made and the function of it was superior to anything I have ever used before. I will let you check it out here for yourself. I used "grain alcohol" for my trips recently but you can also use 91% rubbing alcohol and get equally good results. Denatured alcohol is also a good choice. I prefer the grain alcohol because it is slightly safer in that it can be ingested. It can also be used for cleaning wounds. If you have ever purchased "Everclear" brand grain alcohol in the liquor store, you will know that it is relatively inexpensive and easy to find. I used about an ounce each time I fired up the stove and it boiled a couple cups of water at elevation pretty quickly.
Well Wishes to My Friend Daniel Galhardo.
I would like to give a very special thank you and best wishes to my friend Daniel Galhardo. Without a doubt, we in the tenkara community owe so much to him and his company. He was the pioneer who had the vision to bring tenkara to the rest of world outside of Japan. Daniel took a passion and made something amazing from it. I consider him a very good friend. Over the years, Daniel has been a wonderful teacher and has supported my work in my writing and in my spool turning. Recently he announced on social media that after 12 years he decided to sell his company, Tenkara USA, to a new owner and will be moving on to do other things. I must admit that I felt a little gutted and beside myself at the news. There was a rush of mixed emotions. I am foremost happy for Daniel starting a new chapter in his life. I am saddened a little reminiscing about the experiences, events and community surrounding Tenkara USA. It was an honor to write both for the Tenkara Magazine as well as a an article or two for the Tenkara USA Blog. I think Daniel has accomplished all he set out to do and now will have the time to enjoy a new adventure ahead. Good luck Daniel and I hope that we cross paths again soon on a stream or off.
South Dakota Here I Come!
I feel a little rushed to complete this post so that it doesn't fall by the wayside in my busy summer. This Sunday we travel to Custer, South Dakota and I will be fishing one of my most favorite streams, French Creek in Custer State Park. It has been a few years away from those waters. I expect I will be documenting the trip a bit while I am there. It is always a great trip with my family and there is certainly a lot to do when you aren't fishing too. In the past we have camped out and stayed at simple cabins. This year we are hitting the Airbnb's for our lodgings. One for sure stop will be the "pie shop" in Custer. (If you know, you know and if you don't you had better find out.) Look for a future post and trip report in mid to late August.
Okay then! I will close out here with this classic quote from Ferris Beuller.
"Life moves pretty fast.
If you don't stop and look around once in a while,
...you could miss it."
The minimalist approach of tenkara doesn’t require you to put on the whole “Captain Angler” superhero wardrobe. Nobody needs a 106-pocket vest, filled to the brim with stuff you will never use. It is simply fishing, and not a fashion show. Your choice of gear should be, above all else, practical. Every item you carry should serve a purpose if not two or more.
Gear management on the stream is a big deal to me. Most times I leave my sling pack behind unless I am going in deep and want the security of certain extras. I usually just stick to the basics and keep my tackle stowed in my shirt pockets. We all fall in love with fishing shirts, don’t we? I like the ones with the vertical, side access, breast pocket. But even these have their shortcomings.
Near the end of last year’s season, I was fishing the shallows in a side stream. After landing and releasing a fish, something in the water caught my eye. Three feet from where I was standing, I saw something small and rectangular at the bottom. A familiar light green color… “Uh-oh, somebody lost their driver’s license.” I pulled it up to see the face of the “loser” on the license…. Yup, it was mine. I forgot to zip the pocket up and the license fell out at some point. On another occasion, I dropped my phone into the stream in this same way. Thankfully, my phone is water-resistant to a foot or so. Shirt pockets are nice but are not perfect.
A simple design…
The whole unit is compact and can be folded up when not in use. It can be worn on either side of your belt or even close to dead center of your belt depending on your belt buckle. The basic design of this pouch Puts everything in one pocket that is easy to access and yet also can be closed tight with its drawstrings, so nothing falls out.
Easily attaches to your belt with snaps.
The utility of this pouch is in its simple design consisting of a few straps of leather with some snaps attached all connected permanently to a waxed canvas bag. The leather strap is designed to attach to your belt with two solid ½” snaps. The snaps open and fit around your belt so that you can add and remove the pouch easily. When not using the bag you can fold it into thirds and then thirds again and snap the pouch closed into a nice square packet.
Waxed canvas pouch with drawstrings
The bag is 9” deep and 8” wide. Sturdy and well made. It can easily hold a sandwich, your phone or camera, line spools, water filter straw, etc. The wax adds a level of water resistance as well as a stiffness. On the version I purchased there is a double drawstring set up with small leather leaves at the knot ends. Pulling on these tightens the mouth of the pocket and closes the bag. I made one modification. I felt the drawstrings were a little longer than they needed to be, so I trimmed them down. Now when the bag is fully open the strings are inside the bag with just the leather leaves hanging out. When they are pulled the bag closes and the tags and cordage is longer. The cordage that came with my bag is probably going to get changed out for some paracord down the road, but for now I am happy with the ones that are on there.
A field test
I took my tenkara pocket out to field test it and it worked better than I could have imagined. I previously had a 18”-20” length of paracord that I had tied my hemostat to one end and my nippers to the other. I was able to attach this line to the cover flap that snaps inside the bag when in use. (See photo.) My hemostat stayed in the pocket and my nippers could dangle out until I needed them.
Where to buy a tenkara pocket?
I mentioned earlier, I found mine on an ad on social media. I have since done a little research into sources for these “foraging bags.” I figured I might want to add them to my etsy store. I found several by doing a google search for “foraging bag” including etsy, ebay, and Walmart’s website. Walmart had the best price I could see at just $12.99. I can't compete with that kind of pricing and there are already a few places to get these. I try to keep items on my etsy store "unique" to me. In my search I found some different colors that I liked better than the olive drab one I purchased. I may get another for comparison or to loan to someone who I am introducing to tenkara. Wherever you purchase yours from, look closely to make sure about what you are getting. Look for quality leather and a double draw string. I hope that you find this new idea useful. Let me know what you think in the comments below. These really seem like a "no-brainer" hack that everyone could find useful.
See you on the stream!
Ahhhhh! Springtime in Colorado. Well, one of the many false starts to springtime that is. This morning I woke to 5+ inches of snow in my yard. But this isn't a freak snow, this is the norm. I have been fooled every year I have lived here into believing that spring was happening. You would think that after more than 20 years living here that I would be a little more used to to the springtime here. My wife has lived here her whole life and I think gets a little satisfaction (or is it irritation?) at this point of reminding me that "this is how spring is in Colorado".
Just last week we had t-shirt weather and I even got out for a few hours to cast a line and get the smell of a creek in my nostrils and the sound of water rushing in my ears. It was a good day. I brought along my new puppy and future river buddy, "Fezzik" to get him used to riding in the car. Maybe the problem is that I love spring so much that when it arrives I fall under it's spell. I get drunk with the green grass popping up and the blossoms that start to pop out on my peach tree. But this is Colorado. We have temps in the upper 70's and then a drop to 50's then up to 60's and down to 40's. The days get warm and I start doing yard work, planning out the garden and my thoughts wander off to flowing streams and mountain hikes and colorful fish. But springtime comes to Colorado like waves that bring warmth in and then suddenly take warmth out, over and over again until the tide is all the way in. Each wave of spring taunts me and plays with my hopes. I don't like this game.
I wouldn't trade living in Colorado for anything though. It is truly my "home". I have now lived here longer than any place I have ever lived in my lifetime. Roots are planted firmly. I will have a good late spring and a great run though summer fishing. While the population increases here I get frustrated with the crowds in the "usual places" I fish getting larger, but I also know that most won't go the extra distance to seek out the deeper high country. Tenkara is made for those mountain streams and therefore so am I. In just a short few weeks I can expect my biggest struggle to not be the weather and with figuring out not "Can I go fish?" but rather "where will I go fish?" I have already started a notebook of new places I want to explore and blocked off days on my calendar.
Flowing with the seasons is a practice in patience worth observing. Knowing I can rejoin the streams again soon is comforting to me. There is time at hand still to organize a few things, tie up a few more flies (just in case), patch my leaky waders and break in my new river shoes. The pandemic is waning here slightly too it seems. I have my vaccination and with that I feel better about my life and the future than I did last year. When we watch the seasons as our main calendar I think time goes by smoother and our troubles are less burdensome. Keep looking to the basics of life. Keep connecting with it in a natural world kind of way. The modern world offers little in the way of peace and comfort.
Thanks for your continued support. I hope our paths cross on a stream some day soon.
Little did I know that after saying this we would quickly become the (proud?) fosters of a mamma dog and her SEVEN Puppies. I was thinking at the time she mentioned it that it would be a mamma and like 4 pups. As first time fosters we learned a big lesson. It was work but had its share of rewards. The experience is one that we know we only want to do once. In the chaos that it was I was drawn to one puppy who stole my heart. I knew immediately that I would not be able to let him go anywhere. So now here I am 12 weeks later, still picking up poopy piles and learning all I can about training a dog. I expect he will learn the limits and rules for going fishing and that he and I will have some great trail adventures.
TenkaraPath Braided Level Lines
Many of us have spent a bit of our time learning to read the river for its clues. We read its surface, judge its flow and look for places a fish may be taking refuge. We look for undercuts, shadows, obstructions, rocks and boulders. These features come together to tell a story in our minds and draw a picture about the stream we are fishing. How much of this do we do with our lives though?
In my life, I know there are times when I don’t slow down long enough observe the important details. What is the flow? What are the obstacles? Where are the snags? How cloudy is the water? Where are the opportunities that I need to cast to? I sometimes even forget that I am not fishing alone, that I have people I can turn to and who can maybe offer advice on my technique, or tell me about the water up or down stream.
Our lives have these similarities to a stream. If we don’t slow down to read the stream, we will inevitably find those snags and get hung up and find ourselves casting aimlessly. Only when we slow down can we get an understanding of life's flow, we can see those subtle opportunities and become better in tune with it's challenges.
For several months this winter I have been struggling to slow down enough. This winter, like many winters, I find myself with a case of acute, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the Mayo Clinic this is “a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.” SAD symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Our winters run funny in Colorado. We get hints of spring early in the year that are quickly dashed away when winter says “Not quite so fast spring. I have one or two more fits to throw.” Learning to slow down and be accepting is the real challenge.
The moodiness we feel often affects those around us too, in less than positive ways. This darkened veil in our minds taints our perspective on life and is certainly seen and felt by others around us. An outward facing, bad attitude can make us horrible people to be around. We lose our ability to let things go and we dwell on the latest snag or inconvenience of the world in front of us. We internalize the world we see and make broad brush judgements. We only see the negative and fail to see the beautiful. The worse part of this type of moodiness is that it doesn't support our health or allow for positive things to happen in our lives.
Whenever I feel this way I know that I have NOT been “reading the water of life” very well. I am told that one of the best things we can do during the winter months is boost our vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and get our butts outside into the clean air and sunlight. I think though that there are also other things we can have immediate effects IF we recognize ourselves as being disconnected from the river. If we stop long enough to slow things down we can change our perspective and let go of the negativity.
Listen to the sound of the stream.
How much noise is being made in your life? When I speak of noise, I am talking not just bout audible noise, but I am also talking about mental noise we are listening to. We tend to trap our thoughts and feelings in a cage of analytical thinking. Meditation practice has been a great help to me. I try to meditate every morning I can. Meditation lets me recognize, stop and release the negative feelings occurring in my analytical thinking. Practicing any form of meditation to quiet our minds is a wonderful tool to have. When we can remind ourselves that thoughts and feelings only exist in our heads and are temporary sensations, we become familiar with a process of releasing them and not allowing them to push or pull us in any direction. When we find those noisy conditions, we can use a short meditation to slow down and get right with the relationship to our surroundings and situation. We can be mindful of our own noise and mindful of the noises around us.
We can also find an actual quiet place to just be.
"The wind has settled, the blossoms have fallen;
Birds sing, the mountains grow dark --
This is the wondrous power of spiritual practice."
~ Ryōkan Taigu (1758-1831)
Watch, learn and appreciate the stream.
There is a lot to be said for stopping to appreciate the view. We so often become focused and zoned out on the big picture of things that we forget that the world we live in is much bigger than our limited view. We can’t always see around the next bend and we may not even pause to see the snow on the mountains above that hold promise for a healthy stream in the months to come. Are you making a point to be grateful for the way the river flows through your life? Are you appreciating its finer features? Who do you share the stream with? I enjoy some days fishing alone, and some days I share the river with someone else. It is important to have our personal space, and occasionally a little solitude. But it is equally important to have others there to connect with too. Acknowledge the stream of life as a gift and blessing to be aware of and a part of. Give mindful thanks to those who are there with you with moments of gratitude. Gratitude is important and we express that gratitude through actions and not just words.
Keep your own stream clean.
I am overwhelmed by the amount of litter and junk that falls into the cracks and crevices of the rocks along the banks of some of the streams I fish. Stuff that is placed there by the stream itself but that is inevitably traceable to the negligence of others. Life is like that too. Sometimes it seems like a futile process of picking up after others. But we are each guilty in some way of adding to the problem. It is important to look at the things you have in your life that you are unintentionally allow to fall between the rocks. Where are the rocks in our lives holding all the trash? Look no further than your bookshelves, closets, drawers, garages etc. We may be careful not to litter the stream but we are still guilty of overt consumerism, wastefulness, and hoarding. How much garbage needs to be picked up out of your stream? Where does our garbage (both figurative and literal) go? The only way we can keep our lives and our life streams clean is to make mindful decisions on what we buy, why and how we will dispose of those things. We have to realize that others are not going to do the right thing every time and so we will have to pick up the slack. This is our service to the planet and it can be the service we have to our immediate world as well.
As spring in Colorado approaches, I am starting to thaw out and I am breaking free of my fight with Seasonal Affective Disorder. I am waking up from a slumber of sorts, like a grumpy bear coming out of hibernation. As I leave my cave of darkness, I want to be sure to take notice of the stream that is there before me. I need to accept it just as it is and not be overwhelmed by the changes the winter has made to it. I need to also be patient and not let my imagination get caught up in the things that “might” be under the snow yet to thaw. I hope that this week is the last week I will have to shovel my driveway of snow. I hope that spring will actually show up. I can be sure it will in time.
CRAP! It is mid -February already and I still don’t have a first blog post for the year. SIGH… well…until now. I could go into a lot of the reasons I have not been posting. Top among them is that I have been doing some soul searching and assessing what I want for this next chapter of my life.
For the month of February I have been doing an exercise in digital minimalism. More or less it is cutting off my social media habit and finding other things to focus on instead. I could do a blog post on that sometime down the road. I am observing in myself some disturbing programing that I am sure you too likely are affected by too. I will eventually return to my social media hopefully with a different relationship and approach to using it more like a tool than as entertainment or as I have come to think of it "info-tainment."
Though you would not know it by the lack of new blog posts, I have been writing a lot. Sometimes though when you sit down to write you find yourself down a rabbit hole that starts as a question and then turns into a messy blob of self-discovery and mental detritus. That said, I have learned a lot about myself writing these things out, but I don’t believe that you, as my readers, need that kind of peek inside my sometimes-tangled brain. I want to write about things I think you will find helpful, relevant and in line with to purpose this blog serves for me. So sometimes we wait.
Let me share a little bit about what I have also been looking at with my own changing life. Thanks to COVID-19 I have, for now, retired from my work as a magician. Leaving any career is difficult but leaving your career performing magic has a lot of challenges of its own. There is a lot of identity wrapped up in owning and living the title of “magician”. You get used to the attention and the reaction of disbelief you get from others when you say what you do for a living. I admit that I liked getting a little ego boost for having that title. Magic is something I do though and not something I am. That has been the main lesson. None of us should be wholly defined by our occupation or any one skillset that we are notable for. There is a deeper person inside. I will continue performing magic casually, but will not be performing for hire for a while it seems. So what fills that vacuum?
While I used to say that “magic is my real job” now I will have to be cool with my other job being my “real job”. The work I do at the University of Colorado Health Sciences is creative and rewarding in other ways. I am technically on the front line of medical school workforce as I work directly with medical students. I am a clinical educator. I teach communication and exam skills to medical students through simulation. Not as sexy as "magician" but maybe as unusual?
I have been able to find a lot of sanctuary and security in my world of tenkara. Tenkara continues to be a guide and center point in my life. It does infuse and influence my work in the wood shop as well as my lifestyle and goals. I do really enjoy working and creating in my shop. My tenkara line holders, fly bench spools, and tenkara level lines, continue to be available. I have also started working on some other products that I hope to offer in the spring. My dear wife also has plenty of work for me to do in my wood shop too to support her Etsy store. I expect that with the down time ahead still I will be updating my Etsy store
I am hopeful and intent on approaching a post-COVID world with a new outlook. We all have an opportunity to create some positive changes our lives. We are well beyond the point of needing just a little healing. We need some deep healing, fresh air and a fresh outlook. This is a good time for change in our personal and/or professional lives. We can focus on what is important and give those things our attention. We can change our outlooks and remove the negative practices and habits we have picked up and replace them slowly with healthier living. I hope that you will join me in discovering how to live our lives better and with more intent and responsibility to each other and the planet.
I close here for now but will be filling this blog with lots of good stuff. I hope you will join me on this journey and I also thank you for your support over the years. I return to instagram in March and I am planning a big sale of all the cool things I have been making in my shop. Let's take on this new year with renewed hope, healing and a clear direction for the future.
The Winter season is here once again. Every year I find myself trying to end my blogging year with a few words about winter. This year the task feels even more important to me than ever before. Through the winter months I try to reflect on the past months and think about the new coming year. I like the idea of keeping in sync with nature and the seasons. Here in Colorado you can see the retracting of all living things in nature. The trees are bare and dormant, the grass dies off and the waters flow thin in the creeks. The fish are likely hiding deep in undercuts and wherever they can find shelter and conserve energy over the cold winter months. While we have had an unseasonably warm winter in Colorado so far, we have also had some fronts move through and drop snow which still sits in patches in cold spots and shadows.
As I take stock of the last year I realize that we have all had to make some pretty big changes in our lives and so I think it is even more important this year to do some deep work in examining our lives going forward into the next year. For myself, the pandemic has made me rethink my vocation and career as an entertainer. My magic business has come to a full stop. I was fortunate to have a part time job doing communication work at the University of Colorado that has been able to provide me with more work than before.
The hardest hit of the new year though for my family and I was loss of my father in law this last October. We continue to grieve and mourn his passing. His death left me with much to think about. He was a great man who lived a full and valuable life. He loved his work and was a leader in his specialized field of genetics and identifying inborn genetic disorders. He was in his 80's and continued to work and refused to retire He was one of the smartest people I have ever met. He was also a lover of the outdoors. He spent his free time doing wildlife photography and traveled all over the United States and the world to capture some really amazing photos. In tribute, I have included a few of his pictures on this post as well as a slideshow of his work.
I think we tend to put so much trust in things being secure and we mistake things in life as being permanent. The reality is that nothing is safe from change. It is however how we face those changes that matters. Do we fight the changes or do we flow with them? Can we embrace change in such a way that it doesn't control us. I believe we can actually take the moment of change and make it our own. We can learn and grow along the way. Pain and suffering does make us stronger and more resilient. We do not need to seek suffering though. It will find us on it's own.
Change can be catalyst for adventure. But before we get too ahead of ourselves in that adventure we have to be aware of our current situation. We need to take stock of the resources we have and then we can better plan for that new journey into what we want our lives to be. As fortune would have it, the winter is a good time to do this. If we follow the examples of nature and try to sync our lives to the seasons we can find a rhythm. Following the seasons we can hunker down, think and conserve our energy like the deep hiding trout. This is the time to plan for the new year, rest when we can and decide what kind of lives we want to live.
Winter has a way of naturally reminding us that we can be happy with less. How the things that make us most happy aren't really things at all. The joy comes from family, friends and experiences. This year we are going to be forced even further to consider our relationships and values. We won't be pushed as hard to attend holiday gatherings. We won't have to overspend on our holiday gifts. Large family gatherings will (and should) happen online over "Zoom" and not in person. But this isn't going to a torturous or regretful winter season as a result of those limitations.
These limitations should be seen as a challenge to ourselves to reassess what matters most and could be a time for changing our habits of following consumer trends and saying "no" to those social expectations that we don't really enjoy anyhow.
Looking ahead to 2021
The new year will be the beginning of a new chapter of living my life.
I will continue to write a lot more here and in other publications to share my thoughts, ideas and experiences. My focus over the next few months is to find a path for myself and with that perhaps one that others can learn from and follow as well. I will share my thoughts and observations along the way. My intent is to use my blog as a guide of sorts and to also document my own journey. I am not writing here to "exhibit" my life, but rather to have a place to record my journey.
I will be sharing my own path and offering the skills and ideas that I have learned in meditation and mindfulness practice. I can share adaptations I have made to these practices to make them less austere and more approachable and more importantly, Practicable. Join me on this journey to adopt some new thinking and maybe discover a new way of looking at how you live your life. The choices along the way are your own. Choose what you want to try along the way and leave out those things that do not resonate with you. We can take this journey together.
I am optimistic about the new year. For now I hunker down for the winter and spend time with my thoughts. This is the rythum of living with the seasons and the world. Be where you are and meet life where it is. If the sky is stormy, seek shelter where you can and be with yourself and your thoughts. Enjoy the opportunity to reflect on your life and your choices. Make loose plans or even full commitments for what you will do when the spring months arrive, the streams rise and the fish come out of their own resting places.
Happy holidays to all and a Happy and hopeful New Year!
It has clearly been a year of frustrations. The challenges we have all endured with Covid, politics, the economy and just finding socialization where we can have been unlike anything ever before. Each of our lives have been turned over and shaken about. Some of us might have even lost loved ones to the pandemic. Add to this all the other day to day challenges and life events that we must face it becomes easy to lose track of our sense of center and balance in life. For me, tenkara has continued to serve and has been a great place of refuge from all these challenges.
As I try to use tenkara as a model for my own life as much as I can, I realized that I haven’t stopped lately long enough to just watch what is going on around me without judgement. Autumn for me is about looking deeper at the person that I am and at my relative relationship to it all. These insights can help us to see what we can work on thought the winter and help guide us towards planning a new season's path. We can take stock in what we have learned from the months past.
Our perspectives can be tainted by the thoughts that arise. It can be skewed by our misconceptions of who we are. The overwhelming feeling of emotions, fear, struggle, and anger can have a detrimental effect on our sense of well-being. We can feel helpless and that life is living us and that we are out of control with how to live our lives.
I have been swimming in this stream of troubles, fears, and emotions myself. I know that I need to reflect on my life and look to see where I can do better and where I can find some sense of control without feeling I need to control everything. To have some control would be better than floating without any control. But that idea of control is limited. We must understand that we make only small ripples in the water compared to the current.
Just as when we cast our fly out to the waters we are casting to the situation in front of us. We don't get to decide what the stream does but there it is before us. Then, as we cast to the spot we want, the current also has a way of saying what will happen to the fly next. The more we know about the current and how it is most likely to function the better we can assess where to target our cast. To do this, we must stop and watch the water. We must appreciate how fast it is flowing, how deep it runs and what other things are affecting it’s current. Yes, it is a bit of a guessing game. But if we stop long enough to watch and just be in that moment, we can see what we “might” need to do to compensate for the situation.
Our day to day lives have been very much like this these days. Each news cycle, each update of information and each external influence is supposedly there to inform us. But can we trust this all enough to really know we are in a place of stability? I would argue that too much information can cloud the waters and not let us really see where we need to stand much less allow us to feel where we need to stand.
We do have control over how complicated the waters are that we want to cast our lines to (or that we want to wade out into to cast?) It may not seem like it sometimes because we have already stepped out into the current and are feeling the full weight and pressure of the stream on our very foundations of support. So, there is a step that we must take if we find ourselves in this position. We must move to slower and more shallow waters. Maybe we even should consider moving back to the bank so we can move up or down stream. While we may be able to cross a heavy current, we cannot maintain our balance under the constant pressures. Maybe we need to just sit at the side of the stream for a while and just breath. Appreciate our surroundings and connect again with what is basic and simply before us.
My life lately feels very much like I am standing in a river with the current trying to knock me over. Some days just when I feel I am holding my own a gush of current sweeps me off balance again.
Winter is just ahead and as I have closed my autumn season of fishing. I can reflect on a good season in spite of the chaos that was 2020. I am committed to embrace the near future with great intent and contemplation. I will find my moments of joy and happiness in other places away from the water’s edge and wait for the spring to come again. I will work to understand myself a little better. I will work on things that interest me and continue to learn and grow in other places of my life. I look forward to working in my wood shop and I look forward to writing about my process through the next few months.
We are all struggling these days in some way. I can only ask you to take pause. Notice where your feet are planted, how stable you are, and if you can lend a hand to someone else you see struggling near you in these torturous waters.
"Stay in your lane and enjoy the ride."
I spent almost a week traveling to and from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was rare occasion where I got to work out of town AND have time to fish on both ends of the booking. A sweet, but rare occasion for sure that I took full advantage of. I had a marvelous time camping out, chasing blue lines for better and worse, and successfully logging in not only some great spots but pulling in some nice fish. But the specifics of the trip I will have to write about maybe later.
This post is not a trip report. It is about me finally, breaking my own long held myths about tenkara. I think many of us love tenkara so much that we will sometimes take our passion to the edge. I am guilty of this brand of self-delusion. But the truth remains, “tenkara is not for every situation.” I know that this has been said by many however, I think I have subtly kept in my head the idea that I could at least try tenkara in situations. But arrogance is not pretty or fruitful and ultimately results in a “fool’s errand.”
On my trip I had the wonderful experience of seeing and stupidly trying to fish the Snake River. This behemoth of a waterway is amazing. I camped out near it one night and waking up to it the next day, I fantasized places I could fish it; and from a distance it really did look like there would be places to fish. Of course, as I approached the actual places, I found myself flustered and feeling like buffoon.
I see now and forevermore that to use tenkara on larger waterways is a misuse of its “rightful purpose” by design. To borrow an art analogy from my wife, “I was trying to paint a large, oil canvas with my watercolor set using only my small brushes.” A large canvas requires different tools and the right medium. Painting with watercolor has its own style, techniques, and tools. Both watercolor and large canvas oil painting create art but only when you follow those specific techniques that make each unique.
I had several hours of drive time to think about this. Why do we do this? Perhaps it is an ego-based need. The need to “measure up” to western fly fishing? We want to be acknowledged as equals more than we want to just appreciate the merits of our individuality. Or maybe it is about the size of the fish we see others catching on western gear? I really don’t fish for size but somehow still fall into a little “fish envy” when I see photos on social media. When I fish with tenkara I am not looking to hook into and wrestle a 24” trout.
I know that there are those who have had success using tenkara for larger waterways. I see the fish they are catching; I have watched them lecture at fly shows, and I respect their fortitude to test the limits of tenkara. When I see a large fish caught with a tenkara rod it may give me confidence that my gear could do the if needed. Not to brag, I have caught some monster trout on my tenkara rod and can provide witness statements if needed. The truth is, tenkara is not about the fish or size of fish as much as it is the spirit, approach, and experience of where you fish with it.
What I do know thought is that when I stop to think about it, the times that I enjoy fishing tenkara most is on those smaller mountain streams. Those places with boulders, fallen logs, pocket water, narrow canyon walls and inviting cascade pools. I think that I would rather spend a day catching many fish of moderate size in these places than I would catching only a few larger fish on the larger spans of flowing water.
Maybe the smaller streams feel more like a fit to me? I can relate to them and become more intimate with them in a way that the larger rivers just don’t allow me to. I would not presume to set rules for others as to what is “true tenkara.” I can only speak to where tenkara works best and to the traditions it comes from. Even in Japan there are different approaches to fishing those larger rivers, such as keiryu and honryu if you want to still use a fixed line system. Perhaps some day I will pick up one of those rods myself. But until then I have made a promise to myself to seek out those streams suitable to tenkara. My trip included a few great fishing stops with exactly that standard.
My final thoughts:
I can honestly say that I certainly wasted time trying to fish those larger waters. Those are full days that I will not get back and those regrets I take as the price for my lesson. I can only encourage you to not make the same mistake. That’s me, making the mistakes so that you don’t have to. I know many have said it and I accept the truth now. Just because you can fish a larger river with tenkara, doesn't mean you should. Make it about the place, the experience and the water terrain that tenkara was meant for. Your fish may not be giants, but you will catch some nicer memories and be less likely to break your rod in the process working for social media "bragging rights". Fish for you and fish from the soul of what tenkara is. Anything else is just your ego wanting to prove something that doesn't need to be proven.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a smart older dog, a new river puppy, and a very lucky cat.