Boxes Are Good For Moving

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental | Posted on 05-03-2010

I recently received a joke via email from one of my best friends:

Retiree Bathtub Test

During a visit to my doctor, I asked him, “How do you determine whether or not a retiree should be put in an old age home?”

“Well,” he said, “we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the retiree and ask him or her to empty the bathtub”

“Oh, I understand,” I said. “A normal person would use the bucket because it is bigger than the spoon or the teacup.”

“No” he said. “A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near the window?”

I like this joke.  I find it funny.  When I hear (or read) good jokes, I work on how to reuse them, so I started doing the same with this one.

However, as I analyzed this one, I began to see that there was another lesson here, marginally more important than making someone laugh—something that I find to be quite important!

Boxes.

Boxes?  (Envision heads tilted like an RCA dog…)

Boxes.

There are certain parameters we all abide by:  We live on this planet.  Gravity.  Weather patterns.  You name it.  (Even such parameters can be worked around, but not regularly enough to be considered trivial.)

The parameters above are analogous to the sides of a box; the “box” we must operate within.

Given such parameters, that still leaves us with a lot of room to live in.  Our “box” is huge!  So big that we don’t even think there is a box.

From the time each of us is born, we are given new parameters that further define the size of our box.  Eat this.  We live in this country.  In this state.  We need an education.  We need a job.  Obey the laws.  [Insert your own parameter(s) here.]

To be relevant, each new parameter must be within our box, so each new parameter will reduce the size of our box.

In life, we will often be confronted with a situation, and be given—either explicitly or implicitly—a set of parameters to deal with that situation.  Several times, those parameters are real, such as the laws of physics, or even the laws of the government.

When such parameters are real, we must abide by them, due to potential repercussions by stepping out of the “box.”

However—and where the lesson of the above joke comes in—there are situations in which we assume our own parameters.  We create artificial boundaries for ourselves much tighter than the real parameters.  Over time, these artificial boundaries become so” real,” that we can’t even imagine what’s on the other side of them.  But they’re only real in our minds.

When we have freedom of movement within our boundaries, we feel relaxed and content, perhaps even blissfully unaware of any boundaries.  But as soon as we feel even minimally constrained within our box, we start becoming stressed.  Have you ever felt “boxed in?”  “Unable to move?”  With very little “wiggle room?”

Periodically, we must each examine the parameters of our “boxes,” including “rediscovering” what’s on the other side of them—investigate what’s outside the box—to determine if the parameter defining that particular side of the box was indeed a legitimate constraint, or did we just assume it was.  How can we make our boxes bigger?  So big that I can’t even see the sides?  HOW DO I BECOME FREE?

Life is already absurd on its own, without us making it even more absurd than it has to be.

Pull the plug!  (Or find a nice window for your box…)

Absurdities and humor

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Posted by admin | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 05-02-2010

In a relatively recent conversation, I was told that “contrary to popular belief, achieving true spirituality is not to remove oneself from the world, but is instead to become part of it.”  Such a resonating epiphany has triggered several thoughts, and once I work them all out and develop a perspective that I feel I can share, I will post it.  (Hopefully, I can intersect my perspective with yours, and better zero in on the subject.)

One of the thoughts on the subject I’m willing to share is how good-natured humor is a key aspect of spirituality.

Life is full of absurdity.  You know it is.  Being able to deal with such absurdities in a positive manner is essential to a joyous life.  (More on this soon!)

Although intellectually I understand the need for military action, I also believe that protracted war is the pinnacle of absurdity.  However, it is not incongruous to be anti-war and yet fully support the brave men and women sent to them.  Since our national leadership has deemed it necessary to deploy our troops—exceptional spirits who have volunteered to protect us, even at the highest possible personal cost to them—it is also their responsibility to bring them home as soon as possible.  (There is no implicit political affiliation with supporting our troops.)

As a tribute to our brave men and women, I want to share with you some photos I recently received via email that depict the good-natured humor that our troops display while dealing with the absurdities of war.

Support our troops by thanking them when you get a chance.

Disclaimer:  These are not my pictures.  I am assuming that since I received them in a mass-distribution email that they are now in the public domain.  I will gladly remove any or all of them if my posting them causes any issue.


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!

Scars Are Tattoos With Better Stories

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental | Posted on 04-12-2009

Earlier this week, as I was having lunch with a colleague, I observed a little girl walking on the stools that lined the front window of this particular restaurant.  Although these stools are bolted to the floor, the seats of the stools rotate freely, prompting me to casually remark to my colleague, “she’s going to bust her ass.”

Within five seconds of my uttering the words, the seat she was stepping onto next rotated, causing her to fall between the stools and hit her head on the steel footrest below.  Naturally, she started crying, upon which her parents, who were sitting a mere two tables away, picked her up and quietly began consoling her.

My initial judgement—and I now realize that’s what it was—was to think “that was dumb.”  But then I began to think about the lesson the lumpy little girl had just learned, and how she was unlikely to not only forget, but repeat the actions that had caused her such pain.

Growing in Spain, I use to spend my summers with my aunt (and godmother) in Gallur, a small village where my grandfather is from.  One particular season, shortly after arriving in Gallur for the summer, I wanted to ride the bicycle, one which I had always ridden, but the training wheels had been removed.  Upon inquiring about the lack of training wheels, my aunt just took me and the bicycle to a street, put me on the bicycle sans training wheels, and adamantly told me to go.  As bewildered as I felt, I was already wise enough to recognize her tone of voice, and so I went.  My aunt just turned around and went back home.

As I recall, the following hour was an especially painful one.  But the following hour wasn’t quite so.  The hour after that, I was going up and down that street at ridiculous speeds with a big grin on my face.  At the end of the day, despite the bruises and scuffs, I had just lived one of the best days of my life.  I had learned to ride a bike in two hours!

All of the mistakes, either due to poor judgement or just plain clumsiness, resulted in immediate feedback I was able to instantly apply.  To this day, I can get on any bike and pedal without even thinking about it.

The little girl’s parents could have tried to stop her.  Protect her.  Shield her.  Explain to her beforehand the risks of what she was about to do.  However, the fall from the stools, although momentarily painful, was far from potentially fatal.  If the little girl really wanted to walk on the stools, she was going to find a way to do so; no amount of warning was going to stop her.  Her parents were near enough to ameliorate any consequences.

My aunt did not take me to a busy street.  Not only was it essentially an alleyway with infrequent use, but there was full visibility to it from the house.  Even if I wasn’t aware of it, I was being monitored.  Actually, because I perceived that I was alone, thinking that there was nobody to console me as I took my lumps, I would simply just get up after each fall and try again.

Looking back over the years, the lessons I have never forgotten are those that were learned through direct “consequential” feedback.  (Don’t stand too close to the fire!)  No education or safety awareness program can cover the infinite “what ifs” that can realistically occur.  (The purpose of such programs is to generate an awareness of the most common potential consequences and provide us with a basic toolset with which we can hopefully mitigate “issues.”

The little girl was on the stools because she had no fear (or understanding) of the consequences of falling.  I was on the bicycle because the fear of angering my aunt was greater than the fear of falling.  Regardless of the motivation, we both learned valuable lessons in minimal amounts of time.

How often does fear prevent us from doing something we could potentially love?

Skydiving is an activity that inarguably has typically fatal consequences if something goes awry.  However, there are individuals with thousands for successful jumps.  Even though statistically it is still a relatively safe activity, we tend to call skydivers crazy, usually with colorful adjectives.  Yet, most of us have not experienced what they have.  The feeling of freefalling thousands of feet may well be worth the perceived risk.  I don’t know.  Yet.  Our perceptions, acquired from the opinions of others or through some form of education, may instill an irrational fear that ultimately prevents us from taking action.

There is no substitute for experience.

We have all heard or read this old adage, or some form of it.  But do we understand it?  What are we doing with our lives?  What are NOT doing with our lives?

Every new experience stretches our mind, increasing our capacity for understanding and tolerance.  To not do something because it is “too hard” or is “too much work” is the lament of the lazy and cowardly.

So take that trip.  Learn that skill.  Go scuba-diving.  Surfing.  Travel to a different continent.  Explore the Great Wall of China.  Divine the secrets of the Serengeti.  Climb a mountain.  Raft the Grand Canyon.  Hike a national park.  Open your eyes and your heart and DISCOVER.  Do it responsibly, but DO it.  FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!

Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you

Aldous Huxley

You’re Already Dying!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental | Posted on 20-11-2009

Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo.

“Each moment has the potential for us to reach enlightenment.”

In our dojo—and in every Bujinkan dojo worldwide—every class starts with these words.   Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo.

What does that mean?

(As I’m finding out, Japanese is a very contextual language.  Any word or set of words in Japanese can have completely different meanings, depending on the context.  But as I’m also learning, such “duality” also contributes to the “mystical” nature of the language—more than one meaning can be intended with a single statement.  With a single statement, not only can the “how” be communicated, but also the “why.”)

The first interpretation I was given for “Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo” was “each moment has the potential for us to reach enlightenment.”  Depending on who you ask, the words may differ, but the context is usually the same.

Beyond that simple translation, I wasn’t given much more instruction.  Sure, I’ve had discussions with my teachers on it, but it is usually left to me to find out.  As it should be.  Each one of us needs to take the concept, and make it our own, something that makes sense to each of us.

Initially, I used the statement to add focus to my life.  I interpreted it as becoming aware of what I was doing each and every moment, realizing that what I was doing at that specific moment was a choice that I had made, and ensuring that all my attention was focused on what it was that I was doing.  After all, I made the choice.  Why would I half-ass it?

Such an interpretation has helped me out immensely, and I still continue to see it that way.  But as with any concept, it’s meaning evolves as I evolve.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to watch Warren Miller’s new film “Dynasty.”  (Warren Miller produces a film about skiing—and sometimes similar sports—each year.)  I had seen some of the other Warren Miller films before, and I find them all to be quite inspiring, pushing me to be become a better skier by showing me what is possible.

In “Dynasty,” there was a particular segment that caught my attention.  This segment was about “disabled” athletes and how they had overcome their disabilities in order to do what they loved.  Ski!

Disable SkierThese guys were incredible!  What they can do on a slope was breathtaking.  However, as amazing as these athletes were, it was within one particular scene where it struck me.  In this scene, painted across the back of the seat of one of the “rigs” these athletes use, were the words “DIE LIVING.”

Die living?

From the moment we are born, we are already dying.  In geologic time, one could argue that we’re already dead.  Sure, our bodies go through several changes throughout our lifetimes, but the result is invariable.  We die.  Most of us, at some point or another, will imagine ourselves when we are in our golden years.  However, not only are we not guaranteed those golden years, we are not even guaranteed tomorrow!  Death reaches us all.  “Live dying” is more accurate.

How many of us feel caught in the same morose routine day in and day out, trudging along in this world full of absurdity?  Are we happy at work?  Are we happy in the city we live in?  The state?  The country?  Are we happy with our friends?  Our health?  Our dogs?  Our neighbors?  Are our dreams only dreams?  What if we died tomorrow?

We are dying.  Might as well be.  We have so little joy in our lives, that we latch on to every little bit of happiness so tightly that we cause it to fall apart.

Die living?

Is it that simple?  Can we just turn the words around and change our outlook?

Why not?  Why am I unhappy with work?  With dogs?  With friends?  Why am I not actively pursuing my dreams?  If my state of mind is a choice, why am I not choosing to be fantastic not only every day, but every single moment?

I don’t want to live my life in such a sterile environment that doesn’t have room for risk.  Risk is where the fun is at!  I want to enjoy my life!  I want to skid into death at 100 miles an hour, with body worn out from all my adventures, yelling “what a ride!”

Anything short of that, then I might as well be dead already.

I have a choice then:  “Live dying” or “die living.”

Guess which one I’m making.  Right now.

Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo.

Thank you!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 12-11-2009

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day.

It’s been nearly 13 years since I separated from the military, a fact that I had nearly forgotten.  Yesterday, however—for the first Veteran’s Day that I can remember—I was thanked for my service to my country.  (This year—again for the first time ever—I was also thanked on Memorial Day.)

It felt good!  Every single time I was thanked yesterday incurred a wave of emotion within me that made me proud of what I once was, and I appreciate the gratitude.

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day.

Today, I thank the soldier.  Today, I want to thank the airman.  Today, I want to thank the sailor—Navy or Coast Guard.  Today, I want to thank the marine.  Today, I want to thank all the brave men and women who are serving or have served in our country’s armed forces.  Ever.

Today, I thank those who are serving or have served in Afghanistan.  In Iraq…either time.  In Somalia.  In Panama.  In Grenada.  In Vietnam.  In Korea.  In Germany.  In Italy.  In France.  In Cuba.  In our own country.

Today, I to thank the volunteers that enter our ranks, who willingly sign on the dotted line that they will give their life if deemed necessary for a greater good.

Today, I thank those who were drafted for not running away.

Today, I thank the Air Force and Navy fighter pilots in the air after 9/11—without weapons—but with orders to fly into any plane that posed a threat to our country.

ChiefsToday, I thank cooks in the “dining facility” for ensuring I was nourished enough for my mission, as inane as it felt at the time.

Today, I thank the SP who guarded that plane in 5-degree weather.

Today, I thank the sailors who intercept torpedoes meant for the “big ships.”

Today, I thank the specialist who loaded the printer paper at the computing facility.

Today, I thank the submariners, the operators, the pilots, the tankers, the grunts, the swabbies, the zoomies…the staffers, the privates, the sergeants, the captains, the colonels, the generals…

Today, I thank every single member of the armed forces—regardless of their duty—because each and every one of you contribute—or have contributed—to the mission; every job is integral in its success.

Today, I thank every single member of the armed forces for preserving the freedoms granted to me by our Constitution—including the freedom to berate you.

Today, I thank our allied uniformed members, for their blood spilled next to ours.

Thank you!

Today!

Because today is Thursday.

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.)

The Big A

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental | Posted on 22-10-2009

Note:  I rarely have original thoughts.  As an engineer, I’m well suited to using established methods to develop solutions.  I don’t create.  My blog posts are not original thoughts.  What I do is take a topic I have learned, turn it upside down, inside out, push it, pull it, smash it, analyze each little piece, put it together again, et al.  Once I have gathered as many perspectives on a topic as I possibly can, I mix it with another topic that has already undergone the same process, and examine what such a mixture yields.  This blog is an example of that; the result of mixing two topics.  Without the topics, I have nothing.  I would like to thank the two people that shared each topic with me, Roger Choat and Ethan Capers, who also happen to be my teachers.  Thank you!

Remember learning how to write?  Back in first grade?  I don’t know about you, but I was given a rather large sheet of paper with several horizontal lines; some of them solid, some of them dashed.  I’m willing to bet that the first letter we were all taught was the “big A;” capital A.  Stay within the solid lines, use the dashed line to come across.  I’m certain that everybody’s first “big A” looked strikingly similar.

We are taught to write in such way because at that developmental stage—for the most part—we have no concept or perspective whatsoever of writing, and the “Big A method” is the best proven method that provides such perspective.  The Big A method is the simplest, quickest—the most efficient—method to get everybody writing.

When was the last time your written capital A looked like that “big A” you learned in grade school?  Since being taught that “big A,” we have “personalized” it, then learned the cursive form, and then personalized that!  Depending on how often you handwrite—an art that is being lost—your writing may have “evolved” to a mere chicken-scratch.  (Not only am I aware that mine has, I even know how and when it happened.)

Learning a martial art—especially for the first time—the rudimentary basics are taught first.  This can be tedious and boring.  Very boring.  The “big A.”  Not only is the “big A” taught, it is repeated numerous times until the importance of the impeccability of the “big A” is somewhat understood.  Then, once one thinks that they know all there is to know about the “A,” the “cursive big A” is introduced.  The “cursive big A” means exactly the same as our first “big A,” but it is done differently; a different perspective on the “A.”  The “cursive big A” is easier to learn than our first “big A,” because the concept of the “A” is already present; it builds upon the “big A.”  The “cursive A” introduces the perspective of how the “A” can “connect” or “flow” with the following letter, whichever it may be.

As the “writing” progresses, each one of us develops our own methods for making it more efficient.  Our personalized “chicken-scratch” develops.  We each feel that our “chicken-scratch A” is the most efficient form of handwriting an “A.”  (One of the dangers to keep in mind is that if our “chicken-scratch A” becomes so unintelligible that nobody—sometimes ourselves—recognizes it, it will cease to function as an “A” and hence be “A.”)

One of my personal epiphanies was that learning a true martial art not only a life-long devotion, the true “learning” doesn’t begin until the attainment of black belt.  All studies up to black belt are designed to prepare you to learn a martial art.  It is tantamount to the fundamental basics learned in grade school being the preparation for study beyond.  The “big A.”

It is easy to become frustrated with this process; especially in Western cultures, where we are increasingly becoming dependent on instant gratification.  Why put any effort into such a time-consuming process?  Can’t I just use money and get it now?  (Unfortunately, some black belts can essentially be purchased.  However, such purchased black belts don’t come with the experience, knowledge, and/or wisdom that come with one that was earned.)

Let’s extrapolate the “Big A method” beyond the context of martial arts.

I’m certain that the majority of us can recognize when the Big A method is required.  When looking at a near-vertical mountain that must be climbed, we recognize the value of a mountaineering class.  When looking at a river colored white by rapids, we see the need of a kayaking school.  Both use the “Big A method.”

However, we may fail to recognize that the Big A method is used in essentially every aspect of our lives.  Learning to drive.  Learning to parallel park.  Military basic training.  Swimming.  New job.  Engineering.  Mathematics.  Pretty much anytime we tackle something new.  We may not realize it because we may feel it’s menial or insignificant.

Expertise—in anything—is not something that we can create instantly, especially within ourselves.  If we truly desire to not only learn but also understand what we learn—not just the “how” but also the “why”—we must build a solid foundation of the basics.  We must learn the “big A.”

Now think of how many things each one of us jumps into without the basics?  Do we struggle with them when they get difficult?  How about the “big A” of relationships, communication?  Without fully understanding communication, do our relationships progress?  What else can you think of?