Let’s retake 9/11

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 12-09-2014

I was recently fortunate enough to travel abroad and explore wonderful places. While I was ambulating one of the cities, camera in hand, I had several opportunities to capture poverty, destitution, and pretty much the general worst of humanity. As I was about to capture some of it, I had the thought that way too many people already capture such images, and the world-at-large did not need me to add reminders of such examples of some of the worst that humanity allows to happen.

As negative as such reminders about what we are capable are, they do serve a purpose of exposure and awareness of some the realities that people endure on a daily basis.

However, humanity is also capable of many amazing things, and I therefor e chose to attempt to capture those images that help depict the potential of humanity, because we already have too many reminders of the worst of us. I want remember the best of us. I want us to think about Einstein, Galileo, Shakespeare. I want us to remember the music of the Beatles. I want us to dance without reasons. I want us to sing in our cars. (We all probably already do that one…)

On September 11th, 2001, our country suffered the effects of the actions of some cowards and caused the unnecessary deaths of thousands of our fellow citizens. That single day was a modern reminder of some of the worst that humanity is capable of.

Yesterday was September 11th, 2014. Social media was flooded with stories of remembrance and reminders to “not forget.”

And we shouldn’t forget, just as we shouldn’t forget many of the other atrocities committed at the hands of cowards. The Holocaust. The Munich Olympic Games. Countless others. Too many. I don’t want to forget. Lest it happen again.

However.

I want to remember in my own silence. I don’t want 9/11 to be the day that I remember our loss at the hands of those cowards. I want to remember every day, because it is no less a tragedy on September 12th, 2014, than it was on September 11th, 2014, and it will be no less a tragedy next Wednesday.

Instead of memorializing the tragedy and marking 9/11 as a sad day, I want to find reasons to make 9/11 a good and happy day. Please don’t misunderstand me; September 11th, 2001 was a horrible day. But must we make every September 11th a bad day?

September 11th is also someone’s birthday, someone’s anniversary, someone’s special day. Is it fair to tarnish their cause for celebration because of some assholes?

Let’s retake 9/11 from the hands of those murderous bastards!

Christmas: The Crusty Bread of a Shit Sandwich

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 27-12-2012

Let me explain…

Christmas is indeed a pretty cool time.  It is when we all become just a bit closer to each other, and not only are we visibly making efforts to be nicer to each other, we actually mean it too!

It is such a magical time, that some years ago, I posted how I believed that the “holidays should be practice,” exemplifying what our behavior should be during the rest of the year; our acts of kindness and benevolence during the holidays should serve as personal reminders of what we should be doing all year long.  This will be my “v2.”

However, in order for much of this to make sense, there are some things that need clarifying.

First, Christmas Day does not mark the end of Christmas; it is the beginning of Christmas.  I personally remember when “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was a holiday carol that meant something, and wasn’t just recited for comedic purposes.  (Mind you, I don’t mind and actually like the comedic versions, but not at the cost of the original.)  Well, it seems like even I had forgotten the meaning of Christmas, so I had to look up what the twelve days were.  (I mean…did Christmas really start on the 13th of December?)  Now, having been raised in Spain in a house of mixed ethnic backgrounds—yes, I can indeed “habla”—I remember a time growing up when gifts were given to us on the 6th of January, but since I had an American father, I also received some on the 25th of December.  (Bonus!)  There had to be a connection.  After not much research, it turns out that the twelve days of Christmas refers to the festive period commemorating the birth of Jesus, starting the 25th of December and ending the 6th of January.

Now, I realize that most people have “evolved” or in my opinion “devolved” into thinking that the Christmas season is that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day that all the houses are lit up and people are decking each other at stores to get the great shopping deals, and I would agree that it is a part of it, because Christmas in indeed special, and we should be preparing for it every year.  Sadly, thanks to commercial entities, Christmas has effectively shrunk from twelve days to a single day.  (If you’re one that believes that there is a war on Christmas…well, there was one, it wasn’t what you thought it was, and we lost.)

Even sadder, Christmas has become an excuse.  We view Christmas as a time where we need to be nicer to each other.  Although that can be construed as a noble sentiment, by using Christmas as an excuse to be better people, we are effectively justifying our cantankerous behavior the rest of the year, as if such behavior was meant to be the norm!

But anyhow, so we now know that Christmas is indeed a twelve-day season that begins on December 25th and ends on January 6th.  Because I am a nerd who likes numbers, I couldn’t help but realize that six of the days of Christmas are at the end of year, and the other six are at the beginning of the year.  I reveled at my personal epiphany that each year not only ends with Christmas, but also begins with it!  I have rediscovered the “Circle of Christmas!”

However, my jubilance was short-lived when I remembered that Christmas is our “excuse” to be better people.  Essentially, we have six days of “nice” at one end, six days of “nice” at the other end, and in between we stuff 353 days of “cantankerousness.” Yes, I’m afraid Christmas has become the crusty bread of a shit sandwich.

Why do we, as human beings, supposedly capable of sentient thought, accept this within ourselves?

We can do better.  We can BE better!

We don’t need excuses to be nice, we need excuses to be not-nice; being nice should be our natural state.  How we behave during the holidays should serve as personal reminders of how we should behave throughout the year.  If we can become better throughout the year by using the holidays to standardize what our behavior should be, then the holidays next year, we can become even better!

Most of us make plans all year for a single Christmas Day.  Let’s instead spend the year actively and mindfully planning for each day of the Christmas season.  It shouldn’t be that difficult.  Twelve days in Christmas…twelve months in a year…  (Remember, I’m a nerd.)  How about if we choose a day each month–off the top of my head, the ides seems the least intrusive–and spend thirty minutes planning for just one of the Christmas season days?  Each day doesn’t have to be a full-day celebration, just a mindful day.  Who knows?  If we make it a growing trend, we could eventually change the world, even if it only means eating fewer crappy sandwiches…

 

Zero

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Posted by admin | Posted in Buddhism, Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 03-09-2012

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I have been away far too long, but this evening, I feel somewhat inspired to put words down.

Four years ago, when I was initially exposed to Buddhism, I discovered a beautiful path that seemed to be eternally bathed in sunshine, and I had never known such a consistent state of happiness for such a lengthy stretch of time.  This was the first time in my life that I was cognizant of being on such a path.

After about two years of near-constant bliss, my life seemed to enter a monsoon-like season, where darker emotions began to surface with increasing regularity.  (“It’s Raining“.)  Yet, the memory of my time in the sunshine-laden path kept my hopes of reaching a similar path again.  What seemed to happen instead was that the monsoon season I was in slowly transformed itself into a diluvian-like period of which even Noah would have grown impatient of.

Such dark times are nothing new to me.  The difference this time was that I was able to cling to the memories of my time in the sunshine-laden path, and although I will never know for sure, such memories may have been what kept me from being crushed by the weight of the encumbering darkness.

For the most part, I have been able to shield those close to me from the effects of my trek through the darkest segments of my recent path, mostly via my own reclusion, but also through exclusion, pushing others out to protect them from the darkness.  Unfortunately, neither of those methods is sustainable long-term—the reclusion kept me alone (“Trekking Through Darkness,”) and the exclusion had me focusing on the knots of others instead of my own (“Lift Your Knot”).  I managed to alienate some good friends, and even lose others, which I sincerely regret.

I once heard that fish have such small brains that their memory capacity can be measured in but a few seconds.  In a fish tank, by the time a fish reaches a side of the tank, it is unable to remember the side of the tank it came from.  From the fish’s perspective, a fish tank is veritably the same size as an ocean!  When a fish is happy, it remembers only that happiness.  When a fish is eating, it believes it has been eating its whole life.  When hungry, the fish does not remember a time without hunger.  In pain, it has been a life full of pain.  If it is afraid, it has lived only in fear.  If the fish is dying, it has been dying its entire life.

Recently, I read a passage from one of Hatsumi sensei’s books:

Speaking of the oneness of things, the number one has a plus one (+1) and a minus one (-1), with the zero as the balance point, with the zero as the balance point.  If you understand the principle of one very deeply then the cosmic dual forces of In and Yō philosophy will become clear.

–Masaaki Hatsumi (Japanese Sword Fighting: Secrets of the Samurai, page 49.  ISBN10: 4-7700-2198-4)

I tripped over this passage while researching something else completely—namely, Kukishinden Ryu Happo Biken—but I had to look back and see what had caused my stumble.  I had heard similar concepts before.  I had even been exposed to the concept of In (陰) and Yō (陽), of which many may be more familiar with as Yin and Yang.  As a math geek, the numbers had made sense long ago.  But for some reason, that one passage brought it all together; not instantly—I had to come back to it several times—but there it was.  That one passage was like a thin but strong beam of sunshine breaking through the dark clouds.

To deeply understand sunshine, you must experience the lack of sunshine.  To understand sobriety, you must vomit on yourself.  To understand the Great Plains, you must feel the Rocky Mountains.  To understand freedom, you must know addiction.  To truly love, you must know hate.  To enjoy life, you have to accept death.

While on the bright path, I was so happy that I vowed that I would never succumb to negative energies.  I renounced the word ‘hate,’ and even blamed it for my past darkness.  It’s easy to do while on the bright path.  But to deny darkness is to consciously omit half of the universe, the “minus one.”

How can we achieve deep understanding of anything by only studying half?  Are we truly students if we purposely avoid the subjects that we fear?

To be clear, I certainly am not advocating seeking out the dark paths, because although I’m no expert, I do believe that such behavior will result in sociological and/or psychological damage.

I am advocating that we continue to follow the path that each of us has chosen, and take responsibility for it; own your path.  When our paths begin to take us through dark passages, instead of looking for brighter paths, instead welcome the opportunity before us to study the “minus one,” as such a study will help us understand the “plus one.”

Move forward with curiosity, but by all means, keep moving.  Trek through the darkness with an inquisitive heart, keeping in mind that by doing so, you are deepening your understanding of the brightness; such mindfulness will serve as your reminder that there is a brighter path.

Because we are not fish.

Phoenix

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Posted by admin | Posted in Spiritual | Posted on 20-10-2011

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This week, I started doing something again that I thought I had been doing all along, but realized this past weekend I wasn’t.

For the majority of the past 9 years, I have gone to Starbucks with my dogs and sat outside drinking my coffee, facing the Sun.  During my “coffee time,” I did nothing.  Well, visibly nothing, anyway.  What I didn’t realize was that such a ritual had turned into a daily meditation where I was able to work out several aspects of my life, ranging from daily routine issues to deep introspective epiphanies; the fact that I was also absorbing Vitamin D was merely a bonus.

For the past year, while I thought I was doing this, I realized that I really wasn’t.  My daily meditation had turned into a “Words with Friends” session and NY Times reading time, due to my ownership of a smart phone.  (Although I will not go into how technology bringing the world to our fingertips can potentially negatively affect our lives, it certainly is food for thought.)

 This week, I decided to put my phone away while in my “coffee time.”

In just the second day of “coffee sans phone,” the influx of thoughts and realizations has been overwhelming!

One particular thought that I wanted to ensure I didn’t readily forget was a gift I received from a dear friend several years ago.  It was a simple bracelet with a stone upon which the words “I am…” were engraved on.  What I understood the purpose of the bracelet to be was a daily personal reminder of who we are or like to be.  I’m certain others had different uses for it, but that was mine.  I distinctly recall that during my ownership of the bracelet—the string eventually wore down—I repeated to myself every day “I am…a knot on the net.”

“I am…a knot on the net.”

This went on for a couple of years, and it had become my personal mantra.  It had such a profound meaning for me that it was even the subject of one of first blogs, and the inspiration for this site.  (http://www.ownyourpath.org/lift-your-knot)

What troubled me this morning was that while I remembered the bracelet and the words on it, I couldn’t remember the words that I had added to it, the words that once were the core of my daily mantra.  It took me well over five minutes to recall the words.  Now, five minutes may not seem like a long time, but when referring to how long it took to remember something that was my core belief for nearly two years, it felt like an eternity.

When I look back at that period of my life, I can’t help but smile.  My life was bliss.  I distinctly recall thanking the universe for everything that I had, and felt extremely lucky for it.

I am far from that place right now, and I can feel it.  I am being dishonest about my situation, not only to others, but to myself as well.

As I scan through my past blogs and read about subjects that I wrote two years ago that directly apply to issues I find myself battling today, I can’t help but feel like a complete moron.

How far have I succumbed into the depths of personal imbalance?

I don’t know.

But I am aware now.

In coming up with an appropriate title for this post, I went through several iterations of thoughts, until I came to the one that offered me one additional epiphany.  A phoenix is a mythical bird, found in the Arabian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian and reputedly Phoenician mythologies.  They all agree on a simple premise:  At the end of its lifecycle, the phoenix builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix arises, reborn anew to live again.

What’s not intuitive but still implicit is that the in order to be reborn, one must be reduced to ashes first.

 While I was writing this blog, the building’s fire alarms were triggered, and I had to evacuate.  While I was outside, bitter about not being able to work on this blog, I uttered a comment like “some idiot doing something stupid.”  Within seconds I realized the negativity of my remark, which only further illustrates where I find myself currently in.  I vow to correct this; I just hope I can easily dust off the ashes.

Trekking Through Darkness

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 28-01-2010

The holidays are always tough for me.  I can’t pinpoint the reason why, but I think it has something to do with my family all being in Spain accentuating a feeling of loneliness.  I’m not entirely certain.

This last holiday season, however, has been especially hard.  Misbehaving dogs, testing deadlines, taskings, et al, all have simultaneously combined into a smothering blanket.

Adding to the stress was an inner voice telling me that I was deviating from the path I have been on for the past two years, which had somehow kept a smile on my face.

As the holidays passed, the new year came and went, and we progressed well into January, my condition continued to deteriorate.  I kept internalizing everything that was happening, allowing it to accumulate pressure to such levels that a mere touch would cause an explosion.  I had become a ticking bomb, waiting for the tiniest spark to combust.

My awareness of this condition only increased the pressure.  I had been repeatedly trying every method I knew to ameliorate this state, but none had worked.  I felt trapped and so “dangerous” to others that I completely removed myself from social events in an effort to protect anyone that may come in contact with me.

After one particular training session last week that had escalated to a somewhat volatile situation, not only feeling trapped but beginning to despair for not finding a solution, I approached one of teachers—Tony Griffin—and explained what my life was becoming.

Griffin Sensei, after listening to me, not only offered a different and objective perspective—one which I had been too preoccupied to even consider—but also a tool to assist me in alleviating incoming pressures.  The new perspective allowed me visualize the internalization that was creating the “ball” of pressure deep within me; the new tool (or exercise) allowed me to minimize or even eliminate any additional pressure from being accumulated.

After the discussion with Griffin Sensei, I felt better.  Although the “ball” still remained, the pressure had lightened up enough that I could once again objectively analyze the situation.

But the “ball” still remained.

If neither my new perspective nor the tool had alleviated the pressure, what had done it?  Why had the pressure decreased?

I am on a return flight from a business trip, where I had additional opportunities to further discuss with friends the events and situations of the last month.  With each successive conversation, the pressure within the “ball” decreased, until I recently realized that what alleviates the pressure is open and honest discussion of the issues.  Externalization.

Now, it sounds obvious, but what alleviates the pressure is letting it out; the release of pressure.  Honest communication is the safety valve that prevents pressure from accumulating to explosive levels.

We will never be able to fully avoid the events and situations that cause pressures to be applied against us.  Sometimes, we will be unable to fully mitigate the amount of pressure that is being applied.  In some situations, we will be forced to internalize it and carry it within us.

However, internalizing pressure should be a conscious decision that we choose, making us cognizant of the fact that such pressure exists.  Awareness of any internalized pressure should trigger the need for opening the safety valve, or “externalization,” allowing the safe release of stressful pressure that otherwise unchecked, will make us walking time-bombs.

Sometimes, our path will take us through dark, desolate, and/or dangerous places.  That can’t be helped.  But it is important that we don’t stop and remain in them for long, or the fears that such places cause will continually grow within us, to such levels that they will eventually transform us to something native to the dark, desolate, dangerous places, and we run the risk of staying in them forever.  It is imperative that we realize that the path is just that, a path between places, and that we should continue to move, striving to regain the path that keeps a smile on our faces.

Personal note to my friends and loved ones:

I shut down.

Several of my friends reached out to me during this past month, and I kept them away with dishonest communication.  I didn’t do it with any malicious or selfish intent.  After objective analysis, I am convinced my spirit was one of not burdening them with my friends and loved ones with my issues.  I did not realize that they were offering me a hand—a safety valve.

I was wrong.

I cannot and will not make any guarantees that this will not ever happen again.  But now I am aware of it, and (think) I know how to properly mitigate it from reaching the same levels.

That doesn’t change the fact that I was wrong.

I want to thank all my friends that over the past week have listened to me, and those who over the past month reached out to me.

I was wrong.  I was wrong, and I apologize.

The Holidays Are Practice

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Posted by admin | Posted in Spiritual | Posted on 24-12-2009

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Impeccability.

I’ve been working with this concept for nearly a year now.  We’ve all heard the word, but does each one of us apply it?

The literal definition of the word impeccable may imply perfection, but there is a subtle difference that pushes it beyond the boundaries of that box.

Impeccability is not perfection.  Perfection is a state beyond which no further improvement can be reached.  Perfection is rarely seen, and when it is, it typically is momentary—a slice in time—crossing our paths tangentially.  Sustainable perfection is unachievable.

If a continued state of perfection is so unattainable, why would we ever pursue it?

We pursue perfection because with each iteration, we learn and improve.  Although we realize that sustainable perfection is perpetually out of reach, we—consciously or subconsciously—know that the closer we are to it, the better we feel.

The word impeccable originates from the latin conjunction in (non) + peccare (sin):  without sin.  Impeccability is proper spirit.

Impeccability is not perfection.  Impeccability is not even the random instant of perfection.  Impeccability is the continuous striving for perfection, especially when aware that perfection is beyond our grasp.

Impeccability is not a quantifiable measure or state.  Someone trying anything for the first time will rarely get it right.  (If by some chance they do, they will usually lack the understanding of why it was right.)  Impeccability is the will to try something with the intent of improvement; proper spirit.

Impeccability—the spirit of continuous improvement—is what separates masters from practitioners.

As we prioritize what is important in our lives and select those areas in which we want to be “impeccable,” we should realize that in order for impeccability to be truly “impeccable,” it cannot be selectively applied.

If impeccability is not congruent, it is just a form of hypocrisy.

Congruency.  Congruency is a term most of us became familiar with during high school geometry.  Two angles that have the same “aperture” are considered congruent.  Let’s extrapolate that concept outside of angles and into our lives.

Congruency in our lives means approaching everything we do with the same spirit, regardless of what it is.  Congruency is applying and maintaining the same frame of mind in activities that we particularly enjoy—in my case, skiing and martial arts—to activities that we’re not as fond of—again in my case, cleaning up after my dogs’ “accidents.”  (If you specifically enjoy cleaning up after dogs, please contact me.)

Congruency is an essential component of impeccability.

The holidays are practice?  What does this have to do with impeccability?

The holidays are a fantastic time of year where the majority of people worldwide strive to be more tolerant, which is truly awesome.  (If I was an alien, the holidays is when I’d want to land on this planet.)  Physically, nothing changes during the holidays.  (Except perhaps our bellies.)  But we can all feel the spirit of the holidays.

The contrast between the spirit of the holidays and the “other” eleven months of the year is so marked that many of us yearn for the holidays the entire year.

Why?

Why does such a giving and tolerant spirit have to end?  After a single month?

The holidays should be practice.  Our impeccability during the holidays should remind us of how congruent our spirit should be throughout the year.  Then perhaps, the next holiday season, we can improve even further!

What world could we create if each year, we all improved collectively?

Happy holidays, and a happy rest of the year!

Better than Best!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Buddhism, Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu | Posted on 06-11-2009

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Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) is one of Japan’s most legendary warriors, credited with having never lost a duel.  By the age of thirty, he had already fought over 60 duels.  However, after thirty and until his death at 61—although his understanding of technique appears to have advanced exponentially—Musashi fought barely 10 duels.

What happened when Miyamoto Musashi turned 30?

“At the age of thirty, I reflected, and I saw that although I had won, I had done so without having reached the ultimate level of strategy.  Perhaps it was because my natural disposition prevented me from straying from universal principles; perhaps it was because my opponents lacked ability in strategy.”

Miyamoto Musashi (Gorin no sho: Writing on the Five Elements; ISBN-13: 978-0-8348-0567-5)

Miyamoto Musashi, considered the greatest warrior in Japan, was able to objectively look at himself and conclude that not only did he have much room for improvement, but also that his past successes “may have been lucky.”  Miyamoto Musashi had conquered his ego.

In martial arts, I have found that ego is the largest obstacle to learning.  When the teacher demonstrates a technique for us to learn, some students will:

  • Attempt the technique very fast, trying to demonstrate how instant they absorbed it.
  • Resist the technique, trying to show how that technique is ineffective on them.
  • Perform a different technique that they know, trying to show how successful they are, even without the technique being taught.

(The list above is not exhaustively inclusive; these are just some of the things I have observed not only in other students, but in myself as well.)

The source for all such behaviors is ego.  We are so good at what we do that we don’t need to learn any more.  I am better than you.

In a dojo, I have found three sources of feedback: the instructor, our training partner, and ourselves.  The first two are external, although students may tend to treat them differently.  Generally, students will always listen to the instructor’s feedback.  (Even then, ego will sometimes prompt the student to raise an excuse as to why the instructor’s feedback doesn’t apply to “them.”)  It is much more difficult to accept feedback from our training partner.  They just learned the same lesson too, and our ego tells us that we are smarter than them, and thus we know the lesson better.  Our techniques always work; we don’t fail.  Our ego tells us their feedback is incorrect, although only our training partner has firsthand knowledge of the effects of our actions.  In a large class, the instructor will seldom be able to simultaneously observe all students, but our training partner is a constant source of feedback.

The third source of feedback—ourselves—is internal, and can also be further categorized.  The first category is “extraspective.”  This is the feedback from our senses; our tactile and visual inputs usually, but all of our senses.  Our ego will sometimes interfere with how we interpret these inputs, but we tend to believe them outright.

But the hardest feedback source from which to eliminate ego from is introspective; taking a look inside ourselves.  True honest introspection requires us to admit that there is something about ourselves that could be better, that we are “suboptimal.”  It forces us to realize that there is such a thing as “better” than “best,” as Musashi was able to conclude.  With honest introspection, we realize that if we didn’t get the technique to work, it’s because WE did something wrong.  We realize that although we managed to take down our opponent, it was because we did something else, or applied extraneous strength and/or speed.  We realize that although we did manage to do the technique properly, we don’t know why it worked.  We learn.  We improve.

Ironically, being honest with ourselves first also makes it easier to accept external feedback.  Once we acknowledge that we can improve, we look for information that will help us improve.  The easiest sources are external, and we actively seek them.

If suspending my ego accelerates my learning martial arts, what other aspects of my life can it help me improve?

All of them!  Taking a hard, critical look at ourselves helps us discover—and acknowledge—those important areas in our lives in which we are performing suboptimally, and the steps we have to take to improve them.

The same sources of feedback apply.  A martial arts teacher is an “authoritative” figure, akin to a parent, supervisor, et al.  A training partner is a “peer,” akin to a coworker, a sibling, a friend.  The same tools are available!

But how do I eliminate my ego?

Begin by assuming that it can’t be done instantaneously.

A simple yet surprisingly effective tool that I have used in the past is the Tendai-Mikkyo meditation Sange Mon:

  • Warning:  Sange Mon is a meditation that can be done alone.  However, the exercise contains a subtle power capable of adverse effects when the mind isn’t completely open.  It is difficult to properly convey the full instructions—and the potential pitfall—of the meditation in written form.  I highly recommend finding a “guide” to lead the first iterations of the meditation.

1)      Clear your mind.  (Everyone has a method that works best for them.)

2)      Review your events and actions from a period.  (Usually the previous day.)

3)      Identify an event in which you acted suboptimally.

4)      Understand that each of your actions stems from a choice or decision that you made; take responsibility for those decisions.  Identify the decision and the point in which it was made.

5)      In your mind, relive the relevant actions that took place exactly up to the decision point.  Make the same decision that you made.

6)      In your mind, play out the consequences of your decision exactly as they happened.

At this point, you may be swarmed with negative feelings.  Regret, embarrassment, chagrin; these are all consequences of your decision, and are part of the meditation.  NEVER stop here.

7)      In your mind, once again relive the relevant actions that took place exactly up to the decision point.  This time, make the optimal decision for that situation.

8)      In your mind, extrapolate the consequences as they would have played out based on your optimal choice.

There are numerous effects to this meditation, and two people will never feel the same.  There is no guarantee that it will even work for you.  It is simply a tool.  I can only attest that it works for me.

It’s Mine! It’s Mine! It’s Mine!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 29-10-2009

In my short “life” as a martial artist, working with weapons is one of the most frustrating and ironically most rewarding training experiences.  The 6-foot bo staff helps me identify and correct my physical balance weaknesses.  The wooden sword helps me identify and correct my weaknesses in discerning the optimal angles.  All weapons help me judge appropriate distances.

(Best that I can tell, Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu is not a school designed to teach weapons, but instead uses weapons as training tools.  Nathan Paris—one of my teachers—once said “weapons show you how bad your taijutsu is.”  However, like any tool, if we’re going to use weapons as training tools, we must learn how to use properly use them.  I could be very wrong here…)

Working with weapons, I have found that I become so focused on the weapon and what I am doing with it that whichever technique I am working on seldom works.  On a few occasions, I am such a loss as to what to do, I end up ignoring the weapon and reverting to the basic taijutsu I am comfortable with, never using the weapon; at least I know that works better for me.  It’s not that the weapon is ineffective; it is ineffective in my hands.  I feel that because it is in my hands, I must use it.

A man with a weapon is the one at a disadvantage

“The man who pulls a knife on you is at a disadvantage.  He will clearly lose the fight.  The reason is very simple.  Psychologically, he only has one weapon.  His thinking is therefore limited to the use of that single weapon.  You, on the other hand, are thinking about all your weapons:  your hands, elbows, knees, feet, head.  You’re thinking 360 degree around him.  Maybe you’re considering some form of escape, like running.  He’s only got a lousy knife.  Now he might throw it at you.  Let him.  You still have a chance to avoid it, block it, or he may miss you.  You’ve got all the advantages when you think about it.”

Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do, p. 23.  (ISBN-13: 978-0-8048-3132-1)

In training, when I wield a weapon, I become so attached to it, that I forget my best weapon.  Me!  Body, mind, and spirit.  I am still available.  By attaching myself to the weapon, I reduce my effectiveness.  I should still be aware of the weapon in my hands and its capabilities—through training learn to also discern when the use of the weapon enhances my effectiveness—but I should rely on the basics of taijutsu, which always apply.

Becoming attached reduces options.

It’s not just physical attachments.  One particular class, we were taught a simple and effective technique, which we practiced one-on-one.  We then progressed to doing the same technique three-on-one.  Even though I felt comfortable with the technique, when it was my turn, it was a disastrous failure.  Based on the multiple incoming threats, I “selected” which one to do this technique on first, with the idea that I’d move to the next threat when I was “done” with the first one.  Even though I still feel I “chose” correctly, as I was performing the technique on the first threat, I became aware that the other two threats were converging on me from either side.  Because I was so determined to get the technique to work, I tried to accelerate it, which only contributed to me overlooking the proper distance, angle, and timing of the technique, thinking I could compensate for them with speed.  Result:  I was simultaneously struck on each side, with my hands on a third fully-balanced person.  (You don’t have to be a martial artist to realize my predicament; I’m just glad it happened in class.)

I had become so attached to the technique prevented me from realizing the simple option of just letting go and taking a step back.

Attachments can keep us in places we know we don’t want to be.

Within the context of martial arts, I discovered how “attachments,” whether physical—body—or mental, constrain my options.  Limit my freedom.

Analyzing my epiphany, other questions arose.  Do attachments affect other aspects of my life?  Can there be “spiritual” attachments?  If so, do they have the same constraining effect?

A single glance at my dogs revealed the answers to me.  I love my dogs, but am I “attached” to them?  Anytime I have to travel, I now certainly become aware of the physical attachment.  I am not “free” to make travel plans without ensuring for their proper care.  When I start to miss them during an extended separation, my emotional—or spiritual—attachment comes to light.  Yes.  I am attached to my dogs.

Could you detach yourself?
Could you detach yourself?

If attachments—and their effects—consistently apply to both martial arts and canine companions, what else do they apply to?  Relationships?  Religion?  Jobs?  Income?  Where we choose to live?  Social status?  Shoes?  What attachments do we have that we can identify?  How do they affect us?  Which ones are created by our egos?

I’m not advocating eliminating our attachments.  I’m certainly very okay with my attachment to my dogs; the benefits they provide me far outweigh the “loss of freedom” they incur.

I am advocating becoming aware of them and analyzing their benefits.  What happens after that is up to you.

(To triangulate my opinion on attachments, you should also read my redheaded friend’s rant about the round holes.)

Lift Your Knot

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Posted by admin | Posted in Spiritual | Posted on 03-10-2009

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We are all connected.  In some way, shape, or form, that person you see across the room—or the street, or on television—is ultimately somehow connected to you.  What varies between that person and someone you know personally is the number of degrees or hops away then are.

In this aspect of “connectedness,” it shouldn’t be too hard to visualize ourselves simply as being knots on the a net; each one of us is a single knot, directly connected to those closest to us, who in turn are directly connected to those closest to them, who are directly connected to those closest to them, ad nauseum.

Obviously, if we are all part of this net, this is a pretty big net!  Such a net could represent all of humanity.  (If we were to extend it beyond just “humans,” it would even be bigger.)

If this “humanity” net was spread across, gravity would make it drape on the ground.  As a sentient race, it is not only our responsibility but also our duty to elevate this net as high as possible; the higher we are off the ground, the closer we are to understanding the “universe,” however each of us may choose to currently define it.

On a net, lifting or lowering any individual knot will in turn lift or lower—to some extent—all directly connected knots, although never to the full extent of the original knot’s movement.  In other words, if a knot is elevated, it elevates all attached knots some; if a knot is lowered, it lowers all attached knots some.

Fishing net (stock image)As individuals, we can only affect a single “knot.”  The knot that we choose to affect does not necessarily need to be our own; we can focus on any one knot at any given time.  (Unattended knots will have gravity pulling them down.)

Being fully responsible for my path—making and taking responsibility for all of the decisions and subsequent actions in my life—of all the knots this “humanity” net, the single knot I have the most control over is “my” knot.  Of all the knots on this net, the one I can elevate the most is my own.

We can choose to work on any knot other than our own, but not only will we not be able to lift that knot as much we could lift our own, but since our knot is left unattended, gravity will lower our knot.  Unless our knot is somehow otherwise attended to, gravity will pull down not only our knot, but have a negative effect on all directly connected knots.

How often do we focus on someone else’s happiness?  Even at the sake of our own?  How consistent are the results?

As a “knot on the net,” the greatest universal impact we can have is focusing on our own happiness.  By elevating our knot as high as possible, we have the most positive effect not only on those directly connected to us, but to humanity as a whole.  It is through our happiness that we bring happiness to others.  By focusing on our happiness first, we make it easier for those around us to be happier as well.

It’s Raining!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 25-09-2009

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I live in Denver, Colorado.  Outside of this year—it’s been a freaky year—Denver averages over 300 days of sunshine each year.  We have so many fantastically beautiful days in Denver, that they become average and mundane.  Unnoticed.  Beautiful is just average, and average is just…average.  You know…bleh.

Suddenly, so random morning, it will be raining.  Not just a typical summer afternoon thunderstorm, but a pervasive all-day—perhaps even multi-day—rain that soaks through everything.  Such days are rare, but they do happen.

A much too common reaction to such rainy days is to swear up and down of just how downright crappy and gloomy these rainy days are.  They are.

However, if it wasn’t for the stark contrast such rainy days provide when juxtaposed with the “average” beautiful sunny days that typically prevail, we could easily forget how truly fortunate we are to live in a place where beautiful is so common.  The rain seldom lasts.  Soon enough—even though sometimes it may seem like an eternity—the sunny and cloudless mornings return, and memories of the gloom quickly fade.

I have a fantastic life.  I wake up each morning.  (That act by itself is already positive.)  I wake up, in my bed, with my dogs, in my house, with a job to go to.  I have friends, colleagues, a family that loves me.  I truly have a fantastic life.

A typical Colorado morning, with Quandary Peak in the background.  No clouds!
A typical Colorado morning, with Quandary Peak in the background. No clouds!

Even as fantastic as my life is, there are some days…  Do you ever have those days that feel like everything is collapsing?  Those days that you feel like you’re in a bog, surrounded by quicksand, and it isn’t even noon yet?  We all have such days.

During such days—the “rainy” days—it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  It is easy to think that a major change in one’s life is needed to get through them.  Sometime a change is needed; on rare occasions, the rain is a prelude to a major cataclysmic event, like a hurricane.  Most of the time, however, it’s just rain, and all that is really needed is to wait it out.  Soon enough, the prevalent “sunny” mornings will return, and so will the “fantasticness” of life.

Obviously, we don’t all live in Denver.  We all choose the locales—cities, towns, villages, et al—we live in for our own reasons.  (I recently heard someone staunchly defend living in Minneapolis…perspectives…)  Every locale is beautiful to someone in its own way.  (If you don’t feel like you live in a beautiful location, consider relocating.)  I happen to relate best to Denver.

Regardless of where we choose to live, life is beautiful—even if it sometimes doesn’t seem so.  We all have rainy days.

Instead of focusing on how depressingly gloomy rainy days can be, how about realizing that it is the rainy days that remind us of how beautiful sunny days are.  We NEED rainy days.  We NEED rainy days, or run the risk of forgetting just how beautiful our life is.