John Mahoney: Flute Pilgrim, Shakuhachi Wanderer
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 08.24.2015
Cobden, Ontario


The Shakuhachi journey continues

Some years ago, back in Quebec, two of my musical buddies coalesced into the duo Country Subway. Their motto: "It's not going anywhere, and it's leaving right now..." And they made some fine music in those days.

Five years ago, when I was 75, I hopped aboard my own train knowing full well that I didn't have 10,000 hours left to become a halfway decent shakuhachi player. However, I reckoned that if I put in one to two hours every day I might be able to play a mindful Ro or three, learn to breathe, and experience Ma regularly before I take my last kick at the can.

Since then, I've try to make shakuhachi/meditation/mindfulness the center of my daily life:

There are three people I must immediately thank for helping me so far on this journey:

  • Brian Franklin of Norman, Oklahoma, who was so generous with his time and counsel, even though he was not a well man. In those early days, his encouragement helped keep me on the path.

  • Perry Yung of NYC. He made both my 1.8 and 1.5 Earth Model shakuhachi, and at my request generously provided me with notation for his piece "Autumn" and his lament for Myles Dobsen, both of which I play every day in my practice regimen. Autumn is the only piece my nearly 80-year-old brain has managed to memorize.

  • Jon Kypros of Virginia, with whom last year I had eight lessons and expect to have more. Once again, another kind, generous, and supportive shakuhachist who knows what he is about, willingly shares what he knows.
And there are several others whose flute music I listen to almost every day:
  • Riley Lee of Australia
  • Rodrigo Rodriguez of Spain
  • Bronwyn Kirkpatrick of Australia
  • Winson Liao of Taiwan.
On the wall in my corner dojo there is my framed mantra:

"Today I know nothing. Tomorrow, even less."

And I try to remember:

Be here now.
Ro, tsu, re, chi, ha, ee.
Not always so.

And so it goes as my day begins...

An agreeable suggestion of what some say comes from the Lakota Code of Ethics follows:

Rise with the sun to pray. Pray alone. Pray often. The Great Spirit will listen, if you only speak.

I make it a point to rise before the sun, usually around 4:30 a.m. I have a Keurig in my office space and I coffee-up right off, while doing my news surfing (I update my daily Log Cabin Chronicles website the night before -- I've been publishing the LCC for nearly 20 years.)

Normally, I start one hour of solitary practice between 5:45 and 6 a.m. I work at:

  • Autumn (Perry Yung)
  • Lament for Myles Dobsen (Perry Yung)
  • Honte Shirabe (Seien-ruy notation, via Jon Kypros -- a honkyoku he introduced me to)
  • Lament for Jimmy (I wrote this training piece in memory of my nephew who died suddenly at age 50)
  • Exercises from Tokuyama Takashi's Taki no Michi (The Path of Bamboo)
  • (Hinomaru, Kimigayo, Sakura, Amerifuri Otsuki-san, and others sometimes)
    I recently added Kyorei, to help me slow way, way down -- to feel/be the silence of Ma -- I often play this with a Key of C sunflower shakuhachi that I made this summer.
Every 15 minutes or so I take a break to do 30 arm stretches and toe touches, 50 arm reps with 8 pound weights, 25 reps of door-leaning push-ups, have a drink of water.

When weather dictates, I do walking meditation around my basement dojo/office/media room. Otherwise, some time the day I stroll/meditate up the lake shore path to the park -- I play one of my Native American-style flutes at the second jetty on the lake, then up in the park, overlooking the lake; while remembering the Nibachi people who once lived here are long forgotten by most.

Each day I make the same simple breakfast: a hot porridge of oatmeal/rye flakes/spelt or kamut flakes/spelt bran/wheat germ, hemp seeds, cashews or walnuts, fresh or frozen blueberries, ginger, cinnamon, chili powder, cocoa powder, olive oil, and Mexican hot sauce. Add 4.5 ounces of water, nuke for 5 minutes. Along with strong coffee, I have a cup of hot lemon water (I drink a litre of water mixed with the juice of a lemon every day).

More practice, listening to shakuhachi, trying to absorb the timing/feeling/space between notes.

Around 10 a.m. I have a homemade unsweetened oatmeal/dried cranberry "cookie" that also contains turmeric.

Lunch is also simple: Homemade soup (hot or cold), 2 rye crackers, assorted raw vegetables, an ounce or two of protein -- leftover bits of chicken, beef, pork, fish; or a little cheese or black beans.

Supper is meat, fish, or eggs for protein, quinoa/kasha/or some times boiled potatoes, vegetables, salad, and a glass of red wine. I eat red meat (about 4 ounce portions) 2-3 times each week, and kale almost daily, to keep my iron levels up -- I was a tad careless early on and my iron count dropped a bit too low. I corrected that with diet -- I dislike taking pills.

I have dessert at lunch and dinner: 1/4 cup of unsweetened blueberries with half a steamed apple at lunch, and at dinner 1/4 cup with two tablespoons of unsweetened Greek-style yogurt. I do not eat sugar nor maple syrup (which I love), and I never touch any of those poisonous commercial "sugar substitutes." And no added salt ever -- I used to do a salt shaker a week in the Bad Old Days.

Johnny-boy, why do you eat like this?

Because about 40 months ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, a fatty liver, gallstones, elevated blood pressure, and obesity.

Fast forward: Change in lifestyle, change in diet. I lost more than 50 pounds, was able to stop taking drugs for diabetes and blood pressure, got a new wardrobe, regained energy, and just felt a hell of a lot better.

Again, from the Lakota Code:

Search for yourself, by yourself. Do not allow others to make your path for you. It is your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.

So, be true to yourself first. You cannot nurture and help others if you cannot nurture and help yourself first.

Make conscious decisions as to who you will be and how you will react. Be responsible for your own actions.

So, there it is.

Like Country Subway, I'm onboard but I'm not going anywhere -- and I'm leaving right now...

First Episode: And so the Shakuhachi journey begins...

Series to be continued (hopefully)