A Ronin’s Journey: Chapter 14


In writing this book, I’ve had to watch for the all-too-human tendency to make myself look better. Like how that buck you missed had antlers that grow more massive every time you tell the story. Or the fight you won was against five guys on PCP instead of really being one guy who tripped and knocked himself out. Fortunately, I have the journal entries to keep me on course with what was happening and where my head was. I also asked my editors to help make sure I didn’t overdramatize. 

I was working on the November chapter with its two significant events that would be easy for me to look like I’m Batman. The things that seem little make substantial differences in the end but can easily be made more prominent. They’re things that need to be done and learned from.

One day, I had a reminder of my godson. I left next door when my goddaughter looked at me and cried as I got to the door. It reminded me of the times he ran after me, shouting my name. I stopped, turned, and went back to her to comfort her until I had to leave to pick up wire racks for Wicked Jester.

Later, I was thinking about what to wear when I got baptized. Maybe a Batman shirt so I could make a joke about the Dark Knight Rises. I thought it was hilarious. Tension soon dampened my humor as people around us were continually making bad choices and asking for help. In one such case, it triggered my monkey, showing me that the side I didn’t like was still there. It did teach the importance of personal boundaries. 

This carried over to tensions at work. Two times in as many weeks, our resident bully focused on me. Once he was bossy, and I ignored him; on another day, he loomed over me as I sat waiting on the time clock. I ignored him then too.

“Vance, what are you doing?”

Rory Miller, in a blog post, said they’re two ways to deal with a bully. Don’t be interesting or make them pay. This hadn’t escalated to that point, so I had a smorgasbord of options, working through the system.

Sunday night arrived with me in a Batman shirt because I couldn’t let the joke go. I’m not sure if I would’ve been in the water tank that night if my life hadn’t gone off the rails. The reason I did it was because of something I noticed while writing the book. Even though the circumstances were terrible, they had worked out some way. It wasn’t through my effort or planning. I had tried it on my own, and it didn’t work.

Everything that had worked in our favor was a gift, from our pro bono attorney, forgiveness, no real desire to prosecute, all the counseling we needed, jobs that worked with us, and so on. I was not sure if it was luck, serendipity, or God. I couldn’t see the reasons why in the heads of everyone involved. People like to build a narrative to explain things, to bring some order to it. I decided to go with God and stay on my current path.

I considered it partly as a rebirth, shedding the past, so to speak. It was something that my wife had wanted to do together for years. We have had many bumps in the road, and through it all, we had First Assembly with us. Their various counseling services, food, reaching out to our extended families at other times of loss, putting us in touch with people who could help, and interpreting for my wife during therapy. I wanted to be a part of that.

Everyone who was dunked received a Bible and a vial of baptism water as a keepsake. When I opened the Bible up, I found a note our pastor had written on the inside cover. The most striking part was where she had written that I had “a servant’s heart.” My head swirled as I thought of my pen name Ronin, which means masterless samurai, and samurai, which means “to serve.”

I had found altruism to be a useful coping mechanism, one that I enjoy a lot now. In front of the congregation, she noted the change in me during the past year, and I have to admit, I teared up a little. I was happy when she said that. I had worked hard to change myself into someone I would like. When your own inner-critic and those that refuse to let go of the past are trying to bring you back down, it’s nice to know someone is noticing the good. The walk to the truck brought a congratulatory shout from someone who came and was also encouraging. 

A few days later, the news arrived that a well-known actor had committed suicide. I awaited the various emotional outcries that are common on Facebook. I noticed one guy was amused, another self-righteous, and I didn’t want to let it go. I tried to reply in my logical human brain. However, my shakes returned as I detailed why they shouldn’t be judgmental.

They didn’t realize I was in a similar place not long ago. It did get through to a lot. 

We finished packing one room, with plans to work in the old bedroom the following day. I dropped off paperwork for our godson’s grandmother, with a host of other errands. I received a courtesy text about my wife going over her data plan with most of a billing cycle left. The last time that happened was a year and a half ago, and I lost my temper. This time, I hadn’t even twitched. I’m counting that as progress.

One night after picking up my wife from work, I stopped for gas. A car pulled up, and a guy got out, asking for a favor. I suspected he wanted gas, and he did. I still give first-timers the benefit of the doubt. 

I gave him $5 to get him home, and he didn’t ask for more. Later, I checked the address on his ID that he showed me, and it was right where he described it. Checked off my good deed for the day.

Days later, I checked on Casey’s old car. My friend at work wanted to buy it no matter how much I tried to talk him out of it. I showed him where the tire exploding sent the pieces of the fender across the interstate. I commented that I’m selling it to the scrapyard, but he wanted it. He paid off on it, and I wanted to make sure it ran.

It didn’t start.

I sold him a running car, so he was going to get a running car. I bought three spark plugs since a car needs three things to run: air, fuel, and fire. I tried fire first, and it worked. It cranked up with the new plugs. I was told I should’ve sold it “as is” since it took a while for the guy to pay it off. I couldn’t do it; that’s just wrong to me.

My irritation started to rise as the days passed, the limbic system steadily firing, or as I called it, “my monkey is annoyed.” I downloaded a mood tracker app so I could track it. It’s an issue I wanted to be over with, and I wanted a way to measure progress so I could use what works. 

One day at work, after watching another social conflict arise on Facebook and knowing my own nature, I wondered about the wolf mentality in action day by day. Thorin defined a “wolf” as someone who thinks for themselves, and he wrote several books on it. I published a compilation of essays on it with his help, then a solo book on my own. Now I was rethinking it based on my experience. 

In the context of the Triune Brain model, I was wondering how many actual wolves there are. The guiding principle to achieve it is critical thinking, which requires behaving by the rules of logic. It sounds easy enough. However, my observations filtered through the Triune Brain model from ConCom show me that it rarely happens. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The neocortex is the rational part of our brains; it’s an unemotional, unbiased problem-solver. Most of the time, we’re in the limbic system—monkey brain—the social/emotional part where emotions and beliefs reside. When we are operating from it, we react reflexively to feelings and perceptions. Small talk is an excellent example of this. We usually follow an unknown script rather than stopping and thinking through our replies.

A study was done to see which part of the brain lights up when discussing politics during an fMRI. It wasn’t the thoughtful, logical higher brain functions, but the emotional, irrational lower limbic system. When we are in this part of the brain, the wolf is dormant. In fact, you could say we are sheepish since emotional people are predictable and malleable. 

We argue about what we feel from the limbic system, where we belong, how to do things, and where others belong, and we label them. It’s tribal, dealing with where we are in the hierarchy of a group, rules, and those “outside the tribe.” All based on our view of how the world should work, not a logical look at what’s happening. 

I think to get started towards being a wolf, you would have to loosen your emotions’ control over you and your decisions. A person should acknowledge the feelings and then set them aside, so presuppositions are minimized and then approach it like a math problem. Definitive. 

Being adaptable, they can reason through the questions of ethics and beliefs. Staying cool-headed, they don’t devolve into religious zealotry or secular ideologues who respond in rage to any opposing opinion. The more emotionally invested or rigidly self-identifying with something we are, the less rational we can be, even with a code of our own creation. 

I think being a mature wolf is an ideal, impossible to reach 100 percent of the time. Much like a Stoic Sage or Zen Master who has suppressed emotion so much the color is removed from their life. At best, we’re cubs and juvenile wolves who are working to grow up one day.

I decided to expand my ministry horizons, firing emails to Outreach and Homeless Ministry again. At the same time, we got enough money saved up to get ready to move faster. Time to start packing the office and try to get rid of the cat Casey took in. Pet deposits are no joke. 

At this time, the Ice Bucket Challenge was happening for a good cause, and I was challenged. I planned to tape a video of me donating before moving on to the challenge itself. I had my list of people I was going to challenge before someone beat me to it, and I had to adjust. 

Casey did it with me, and she didn’t even get that wet before she ran screaming. It didn’t bother me as much; I had dumped cold water on myself as a health measure when trying to learn Systema. Plus, doing it during the hottest part of the day helped too. 

We had a timely sermon about our enemies, people, or issues we were dealing with. Tensions at home were rising again. It made me think, especially when he said to write them on our outline. I put two, a person and my issue with anger. He warned that when we’re focused on that, they dominate our conversations as we try to rally people to our side while we plan revenge.

A bit of introspection proved his point right. Then he got to the application—what to do about it. It was a list: Keep away from them and don’t fall for flattery, smooth talk, or guilt. Then he gave this verse: “Everyone has heard of your obedience, so I’m full of joy over you”that’s where I could be hurt, reminding me of my past, causing me to question if I was a good person” but I want you to be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil.” This is what made our pastor’s note in the Bible mean as much as it did to me.

Later, I was in Ministry Match looking for a ministry that helped people and the cleaning team. Outreach was one of them. I didn’t know a lot about that one. The other one was the Homeless Ministry, and I was still pursuing that one. It was tied to a part of the church led by the attorney we met with the days after the accident.

I wondered how awkward that would be. Then I had a team leader meeting to learn we were adding a service on the weekends. I already wanted to spread into the evening services, so it was just a matter of logistics. If anything, I could come to do just that on Saturdays. 

I thought back to the one organization I reached out to at the start of this. It had been a year, and I still wasn’t trained; all meetings conflicted, and I was thinking I may as well call it off. The church’s outreaches seem more organized. I just had to wait to hear back. 

I got home to find my truck full of trash. Casey had cleaned house, ruthlessly going through the kitchen and bathrooms, stripping them down to the bare bones. I was proud and a little tired after hauling off that load. Another step closer to moving.

The next night, I waited for Casey at the hospital doors, wondering what it is with me almost getting run over. On the way to the hospital to get Casey after work, a semi merged into the lane beside me and kept moving into my lane. I braked and moved to the median, but the retaining wall that ran along the interstate started to slope towards the interstate. 

I had to move back towards the road, and the guy in the big truck realized he’d run me off the road and made the room just before I plowed into the wall. I sent a heartfelt thank you towards the sky and then began deep breathing cycles to bring the adrenaline down. Casey told me that right before I had arrived, she had gotten a feeling something was wrong.

I have to admit that’s a little creepy. 

The library book I had been waiting for arrived. Emotional Vampires. As soon as I started reading, I took notes and put people in boxes, until it got easier to dog-ear the pages and come back later. I finished one section and then started skimming ahead to the checklists of every type of vampire. 

Then I arrived at one chapter and saw a reflection of myself in it. Even the self-help section on that type is what I had been doing. I slowly set the book down as my brain crashed. 

Later, tensions erupted when I snapped in frustration over drawing a hard line during a recurring issue. It’s like death by a thousand paper cuts. I vented on a topic that people agreed with and was turned into the bad guy.

Tribal monkey brain crap from all sides. I was so ready to move. I tried a Stoic technique of imagining verbally saying what was going on in my head. I still wasn’t happy, but it got me down to neutral. 

It took this line of thought to knock me out of my funk; in the past month, I had counseled, mentored, donated to a friend in need, donated to a war dog that needed a home, donated to ALS, donated to a program that provided Indian women a way out of human trafficking, and volunteered at church. 

I wasn’t being selfish. I was reaching my limit. When someone takes and takes, cutting them off isn’t wrong, especially in light of other altruistic ventures. Emotional Vampires is a book to help deal with difficult people in my life, so I ventured back into my book to find that way. 

One thing that stuck out was this warning: “Be wary of anyone who charms and appeals to you upon first meeting.” In a personal defense area, that could be a charm predator working their way closer to you. Alternatively, there is the antisocial type in the book who doesn’t think the rules apply to them. They groom their victims into making concessions, in behavior they usually wouldn’t do. Think of peer pressure for their entertainment purposes. I noticed a few fit that template. 

Another type is the narcissist who thinks they’re the greatest in the world and that the world and the people in it are at their disposal. Throughout the book were checklists of traits inherent in the types. I ran myself and others through the lists to find I knew at least two narcissists. The thing is, a little over a year ago, I was twice as bad as them. I was a narcissist with a mythology, which I’ll get into in a moment.

The types came with ways to protect yourself from them, and a self-help section if you had the awareness to find yourself in the pages. The self-help for the narcissist was everything I had already been doing over the past year while I healed. Following others leads to helping others.

The paths just matched, and it worked for me. According to the author, it takes years to deal with it. It took me a year after the world showed me that I wasn’t the center of it. The power I thought I had was fiction, and I was left broken. It was a major wake-up call for me. 

With one vampire staked and turned to dust, I found another hiding in the shadows, an obsessive-compulsive one. The author broke it down into two types: perfectionists and puritans. That’s where the mythology came in, that my way was best, don’t question it.

Honestly, I had a bit of both to deal with. I wrote down the tools needed to stake them and asked my wife to read the chapter to help keep me accountable. 

One of the tips is not to criticize anything for six days in a week. If you do, you must find two good things to say about it. I mentioned this tip on Facebook, and someone commented that most people’s heads would explode.

I actually found I was happier when I refrained from criticism or complaint. It was an excellent way to end the month with more self-awareness and more tools to combat my personal demons.


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