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.

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.