Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

freedom-1125539_640The sequence of events was odd. Saturday night, my wife encouraged me to watch a documentary. I did, not to educate myself but basically to placate her. She suffered through many a Systema clip. My turn.

The documentary was nothing I normally would have been interested in. The subject matter was about 2 individuals who went into an Alabama prison to teach inmates meditation. As the show progressed, I found myself in deep reflection about some of the comments and the overall content. As mentioned, I initially had no interest and never really considered “the other side;” that is, the prisoners who genuinely were guilty created their fate. End of story.  Now, I saw things differently and felt a sense of compassion for many of the prisoners, regardless of the issue of deserving their fate.

The next morning, I received a call from a woman whose son wanted to know more about Systema. Pretty common occurance if not for the fact that he was. . . . you guessed it. . . in prison serving a life sentence. 12 hours ago I would have deleted this email, giving it little to no thought. Now, after the documentary, I felt compelled to answer and offer assistance. What a difference a few hours makes.

I have been writing back and forth with the prisoner whom I will call Joe. In the beginning, there was a blend of trepidation sprinkled with a sense of opportunity. Perhaps I can say the right words and he would somehow response in an enlightened fashion. Maybe I would offer the right suggestion and his life would become more tolerable. Or dare I say, even happy. A few more “gems” were swirling in my fertile brain.

It has been 3 months of regular communication with Joe and the strangest thing has happened.


In fact, I would describe our conversations as ordinary, kind of like writing to an old college friend or former baseball teammate. Pleasant but very banal. No deep insights. No magical transformations. Just 2 people communicating about life via the written word.

In many ways, our art of Systema is similar to this. We do tons of pushups, leg raises and squats. We stretch. We take punches, defend against kicks, parry knifes and wake up the next day to do it all over. Yes, there is the seminar or trip to Toronto which is out of the norm and extremely enjoyable, but they are the exception, not the rule.

Most of the time, we just train. Most of the time, it is ordinary. We do not channel the great warriors of the Cossack days. We do not become mysteriously filled with the vibrations of Michael or Vlad. We do not “get it finally” as there is no end to this art.

We do push ups on our knuckles on a hard floor and it hurts, just like it did last time. We work with our teachers and our partners and make countless mistakes, week in and week out. We improve by way of struggle and effort. For those willing to endure, there is more of the same to come. Many cannot deal with the repetition and humdrum approach and soon join the ranks of the quitters.Others will stick with it and slowly improve, moving through our mountains of mistakes like a terminte slowly working its way through wood.

sunset-913350_640There was a story I heard once about a grandfather who took his grandson out on a boat. They had to row about hour to get to the ideal spot to see the sunset. So they rowed and rowed and rowed.

And rowed and rowed until they finally reached the spot. The sunset was one of the most spactacular sights either had ever seen. It lasted 9 seconds.

The grandson began to complain. “We rowed out for an hour just to see the sunset for a few seconds and now have to go back. A whole hour just for a few seconds!!”

The grandfather replied: “I did not bring you to see the sunset. I brought you out to learn to row. See son, life has a lot more rowing than it does sunsets. When you learn to love the rowing as much as the sunsets, then you will truly understand the meaning of happiness.”

I have not yet learned to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I loved the fireworks but not always the drive to get there. I love the Toronto seminars but not always the push ups in my back yard.

How do you learn to see the great in the small, the uncommon in the common. Truthfully, I do not know.

So, I am just going to keep doing my pushups. Eventually, all mysteries are revealed. The only question is if we have the patience to allow it.