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Monthly Archives: June 2013

… we only grow by being defeated constantly, decisively, by constantly greater things …

~ Rilke

As we grow in our practice,

We become more confident,

And believe that we can now achieve some higher level of greatness, of mastery.

But there will forever be something that we have yet to master.

Something that we have yet to contemplate,

Or has yet to enter our consciousness.

The illusion of mastery will fuel our ego,

Leading to hubris.

In hubris, greed will thrive, in place of growth,

Leading to our defeat.

Illustrating that we have not truly mastered anything,

Proving that as we grow,

We will forever be challenged by greater and greater things.

And the only victory that will matter upon our last breath,

Is Self Victory.

 

If we take something to be the truth, we may cling to it so much that even if the truth comes and knocks at our door, we won’t want to let it in. We have to be able to transcend our previous knowledge the way we climb up a ladder. If we are on the fifth rung and think that we are very high, there is no hope for us to step up to the sixth. We must learn to transcend our own views.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart Sutra”

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The best way to deal with excessive thinking is to just listen to it, to listen to the mind. Listening is much more effective than trying to stop thought or cut it off.

– Ajahn Amaro, “Thought Like Dreams”

Ever since I’ve started aikido, I have struggled with the art of thinking. Too much thinking. Lots of thinking. Think. Think. Think. So much intellectual training in my professional career that I take the fine art of over thinking, planning, goal setting, contingency anticipation, and all other cerebral capabilities to the mat.

Every single time, there is a moment when the thinking does me in. My mind decides “this is not going fast enough”; “this is going too fast”; “I can take him”; I’ve never done this technique…I’m going to flub it unless I … (insert favorite corrective action here)”…well, you get the picture.

Imagery, metaphors, recollections of sessions past, anticipations of sessions to come…every mind-based secretion is sure to find its way on the mat. After so many times on the mat, I’ve met days when the frustration of not progressing in this regard leads me to question my own abilities, my dedication, my commitment, my raison d’etre on the mat…

In those moments, the most popular remedy is … read! Read more…more books, more websites, more blogs, more anything that can offer with some insights on how to progress past the current blockage. Ironic, therefore, that the recourse is to an intellectual means, ideas, thoughts and imagery of others to help me with eliminating my own mental framework on the mat.

All of the ‘words of wisdom’ are in your own heart, so why waste time listening to someone else speak them? The Buddhadharma is the same. The principles in the sutras come from our own hearts. The wisdom and happiness of all buddhas comes from our own minds.

– Heng Ch’au, “Bowing”

We are surrounded by words. Words of others. Words of the masters. Words of the “experts”, who may not be really experts. Words of the pundits and critics, who are drawn to comment as a way to convey their own fears of not knowing the experience themselves.

In so many regards, the excessive reliance on the words of others has reduced our ability to generate and produce our own words. Blog posts like these are the ultimate in word generation. However, they are my words. Not submitted to impress or attract. Simply produced, the way my mind produces a thought, or the way my body produces a sensation. Produced not in response to another’s thesis or theory, experience or observation. Produced simply as an act of self-listening. Listening to the thoughts and feelings that cross my self. Listening to the echos that these secretions create in the mind, leading to the generation of internal talk, internal words that can be submitted to the page.

In this deep place that is the self, words are not mental. They are physical, emotional, spiritual. And they are not words, but echoes of the sensations and the vibrations that our existence is built upon.

Sounds, like everything else, arise and pass away. Just by listening, you can experience the insight of impermanence, an understanding the Buddha taught as crucial for the development of wisdom.

– Sylvia Boorstein, “Sound Meditation”

But like all vibrations, they come and they go. Moments produce them. Sights produce them. Sounds produce them. All sensations are some form of vibration, energy that is either sensed or detected, felt or observed. And these vibrations are impermanent, they fade, like the ripples on a pond. Like the sounds in a valley.

Each moment is the vibration of the universe that comes through your own existence. And only by deeply listening, observing, and not judging, can the color, the tone, the beat of the vibration reveal itself. And even then, our senses may be tricked into believing that we’ve seen blue, when in fact the color is red, for our own experience with the vibrations is ours alone, and can never be shared or fully described. Words cannot convey these sensations for words are vibrations in and of themselves. Vibrations of the mind and of the world. Harmonies of the real vibrations, but harmonies nonetheless. Reflections of reality, and not reality itself.

Listen. Deeply listen, with your ears, your eyes, your senses, your body and it’s many sensory means. Your hara, who has as many nerve endings as the brain, so researchers are slowly discovering. Listen to all the vibrations that are within you. Slow vibrations of the mind waves and heart beat. Fast vibrations of the neural signals and electrical pulses that maintain our nervous system. Infinitely fast vibrations that are the spinning of electrons and vibration of sub atomic particles.

Taking in Ki and allowing it to flow is listening, listening to the universe and the spirit which is the energy of creation. Ki is life. Listening to Ki is listening to life. But how does one listen to Ki. By being one with Ki. By taking in Ki. By allowing Ki to flow through one’s body, mind and spirit.

Taking up ki slack is the ultimate form of listening, for all of life is Ki. The present is but Ki manifesting in an impermanent form. A form that will change from moment to moment. Listen to Ki and the present will be fully revealed.

The problem with listening, of course, is that we don’t. There’s too much noise going on in our heads, so we never hear anything. The inner conversation simply never stops. It can be our voice or whatever voices we want to supply, but it’s a constant racket. In the same way we don’t see, and in the same way we don’t feel, we don’t touch, we don’t taste.

– Philip Glass, “Listening to Philip Glass”

But to achieve such a state, we must ignore the noise. We must simply observe the noise, listen to the noise as we listen to anything and everything else. Listen to the self-deception. Listen to the past mistakes. Listen to the fears of the future. Listen to the doubts that our words will ever mean anything to anyone else. Listen to the anxiety that our life will amount to less that our dreams and hopes. Listen to the pain that our bodies exhibit as it ages and erodes. Listen to the pain of the world and the hopelessness that we will be unable to alter its course.

Listen to the hope that the simplest of gestures can be the beginning of a new way. Listen to the warmth that a morning coffee can bring to a homeless soul. Listen to the spirit that the day brings a chance to alter our journey, even if only for a moment. Listen to the voices that wonder why we never call, but accept that our journey leads us to our place of exploration and doubt. Listen to the vibration that is unconditional love for three souls that have come through my own, and have already begun to resonate into the universe.

Listen to the silence that is the reality that all experience is based upon. Listen to the silence that is the space within which sound and light can propagate and transpire. Listen to the silence that is the emptiness that carries our tastes and smells, filling the many spaces between wonderful meals, or the fragrance of spring. Listen to the silence that is the void between the many endless thoughts that ripple throughout our conscious and unconscious mind.

Listen to the silence that is the space within which Ki flows. The space within which Ki comes to us, and leaves us. The space within each particle and molecule. The space between the endless planets and galaxies. The space that is infinite, fully and truly infinite, which has been there for eternity, and will be there for eternity, for in the end, there will be emptiness. Ki will exist within this space, this empty void which is eternity. The void is reality, is the only truth, for within it Ki flows and creates life, impermanent and fleeting life, but life that we cherish and engulf, inhabit and love.

To be free within this silence, you simply listen. You receive the world and the whole. To paraphrase a wonderful writer, Leo Babauta, you walk with open hands.

Open hands. Walk about in the world with open hands. It’s a simple practice. Your hands are open, and they are empty, ready to receive the world and all that comes, as it is.

– Leo Babauta

You breathe with an open heart, and an open mind. You see with an open soul and open beliefs. You hear with an open spirit. You sense all the vibrations of the world, the Ki of all things, with a harmony of mind, body and spirit. You resonate with the Ki of all things and all moments, the Ki of all actions and all intents.

You listen, not as an observer, but as the universe itself. You become a conduit, a means by which Ki simply flows and vibrates through you. Into you and out. From all directions to all directions. In every moment, infinitesimally small and present moment. Like the edge of a sword – one side as the past, one side as the future, but the present sharp and infinite, fleeting, but cutting through the noise that is everything but the pure present.

Walk onto the mat with open hands, and listen. Listen to, and receive the Ki of the universe through your open spirit, open mind and open body. Welcome the Ki as you welcome the breath. And allow the Ki to flow, as you allow your breath to leave.

Control the departure of Ki no different from how you control the departure of your breath. You release it, and it goes where it must, and chooses to go.

And so it is with an open spirit, open mind and open body. Listen to the Ki visit. Listen to the Ki leave. Listen to the silence that is eternity of space and time within which Ki exists.

And be.

‘Walking along the edge of a sword,
Running along an ice ridge,
No steps, no ladders,
Jumping from the cliff with open hands.’
~Zen verse

The techniques of the Art of Peace are neither fast nor slow, nor are they inside or outside. They transcend time and space.

-Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace

Detach for all, as silence, stillness and needlessness.

Wanting is attachment. Attachment to an outcome, to a result, to a state of being that is not within our control. Wanting is needing with bite. Wanting is living with tension and desire to have things a specific way, expecting the world to be a certain way, and basing our experience more on the way it should or could be, rather than on the way it is.

Only through detachment from all can true change come, for change through attachment and want, is change that is not natural, but rather contrived, architected, designed. True, long lasting and real change is natural. Like the tree that takes a certain bend because of nature, the wind and flows of the place where it exists, forcing change although possible, is not change that will reflect presence and being.

Detachment is total perception. In detachment for all, there is no desire to change the moment, no need to change the experience, no desire to alter the experience. It is fully experienced, fully sensed, fully perceived and felt deeply.

Detachment from all is fully listening, truly listening, with all senses, with all of my being. Detachment is taking up the ki slack of the universe, sense the ki of all living things, near and far, past and future.

Like when listening to music or another, you are not truly listening if you are talking, verbally or virtually (through your smartphone or other texting device), or talking to yourself in your own thoughts. Words, emanating from yourself in any form, internal or external, indicate that you are not truly listening. Total perception of the moment, including sounds coming from others perceived as structured words, or symbols visually perceived as letters strewed together in logical order – that is “listening”, with total and complete awareness.

Detachment from all is total perception – pure, simple attention of the moment. From that point, anything is possible, everything is free.

A weight settles deep in the pit of your hara when starting to take up ki slack. The space around the shoulders starts to settle, gaps in the inches around the body start to collapse, and an openness in the breath emerges. Parts of the body begin to settle and dissolve quicker than others, and the whole finds harmony, as when one watches the clouds diffuse in the sky.  Some dark clouds take longer than others to disappear, but eventually, one is left but with an open and vast blue sky. Those parts of the body that are still solid reveal something about your state and your balance. Pay attention, not in an attached, “go away will you” state of mind, but rather a “well, would you look at that. I wonder what this is telling me?”

Interesting to notice that when presented as a question, a gentle curiosity emerges, without attachment to the outcome, whereas, the former is attachment, goal oriented, and with tension to boot. Paraphrasing Tohei Sensei, “The one thing o’sensei taught was how to relax – nothing more”.  If a relaxed state is lost, then what is left is tension in the moment, moment to moment, and a feeling of heaviness and “stickiness”.

Our attachment matters much significantly from the inside; attachment to our thoughts, our feelings, our sensations, good to bad, hard to soft, hot to cold. These are always with us, and test us from second to second, hour to hour, year to year, and will be there for as long as breath is present.  Another great challenge, and a battle to welcome, for it is a great foe, are the attachments that the world around us present to us every waking moment.

Pretty things, sexy things, a passing glance, a smile, a frown, a look, an ugly moment, dark places, loud or odd sounds, smells, a hard chair, a cold floor or wind – a good book! Endless are the moments and signals (vibrations of all sorts, at all frequencies) that intersect our senses and our field of awareness. Any and all of these can intersect with our own vibrations, our own natural resonance – and either harmonize with ours for the moment, or attempt to shift our resonance to another frequency. This leads us to loose our center, and rely on external signals and vibrations to define wellness, peace and happiness.  In all of these instances, our ki is taken by the external actor – leading our mind, then our body, our voice, our movement.

When taking up ki slack, our ki is not taken, cannot be taken, preventing our natural resonance from being altered. We then may choose to extend our ki to a moment, an issue or an outcome – but it is by choice, not as the result of it being taken.

When taking up ki slack, the five principles of Aikido then arise.  These five principles at that moment describe the state of coordination of mind, body and spirit. They become not doors, but representations of the result of having harmony of mind body and spirit.  They then are a description, rather than a prescription.

True victory is self victory, right here right now.

Such a victory is the practice of non-attachment, as described above.

The totally awakened warrior can freely utilize all elements contained in heaven and earth. The true warrior learns how to correctly perceive the activity of the universe and how to transform martial techniques into vehicles of purity, goodness, and beauty. A warrior’s mind and body must be permeated with enlightened wisdom and deep calm.

-Morihei Ueshiba

Detach for all, as silence, stillness and needlessness.

Wanting is attachment. Attachment to an outcome, to a result, to a state of being that is not within our control. Wanting is needing with bite. Wanting is living with tension and desire to have things a specific way, expecting the world to be a certain way, and basing our experience more on the way it should or could be, rather than on the way it is.

Only through detachment from all can true change come, for change through attachment and want, is change that is not natural, but rather contrived, architected, designed. True, long lasting and real change is natural. Like the tree that takes a certain bend because of nature, the wind and flows of the place where it exists, forcing change although possible, is not change that will reflect presence and being.

Detachment is total perception. In detachment for all, there is no desire to change the moment, no need to change the experience, no desire to alter the experience. It is fully experienced, fully sensed, fully perceived and felt deeply.

Detachment from all is fully listening, truly listening, with all senses, with all of my being. Detachment is taking up the ki slack of the universe, sense the ki of all living things, near and far, past and future.

Like when listening to music or another, you are not truly listening if you are talking, verbally or virtually (through your smartphone or other texting device), or talking to yourself in your own thoughts. Words, emanating from yourself in any form, internal or external, indicate that you are not truly listening. Total perception of the moment, including sounds coming from others perceived as structured words, or symbols visually perceived as letters strewed together in logical order – that is “listening”, with total and complete awareness.

Detachment from all is total perception – pure, simple attention of the moment. From that point, anything is possible, everything is free.

When an opponent comes forward, move in and greet him; if he wants to pull back, send him on his way.

O’Sensei

Like the body, the mind and spirit also need an immune system. But unlike, the body, it is not biological, with t-cells and macrophages to attack foreign bodies and other invaders.  Rather, the immune system of the spirit is ki.  By deeply developing one’s ki, the spirit can be immune from ills and cease to be subject to mental and spiritual “viruses” and other ailments.

This immunity comes in two parts I believe. First, it comes through the state of complete relaxation more commonly felt through the taking up of ki slack – sometimes also considered as allowing the ki of the universe to enter and flow into our one point when it is fully relaxed.

The second component is extending the ki wherever it wishes to go, and as far as the spirit believes is necessary at the moment.  At rest, ki should extend slightly beyond ma-ai, maybe a few inches or so; with a bokken or Jo, a few inches beyond their reach when fully extended. Not at rest, well, the reach is as far as ones spirit chooses – the end of the universe – infinity – being a good starting point.

On the question of the one point, one should consider that it is not fixed, nor is it self-defining.  One’s ability to position it, and extend it, is defined through the extent of one’s training and practice.  A safe assumption is that the one point defaults to the seat of the hara, at which time it is infinitesimally small, but no less effective.    With practice, the hara can be put to any place within the body – and without – or be asked to expand and envelope the whole body, mind and spirit.
Such an enveloping and flow of ki I experienced some months ago. I awoke one night and found myself being enveloped by a glow that was like my one point had expanded and become the corona of my dynamic sphere. Within that sphere, I felt not only space and light, the flowing of ki like a warm stream, but a calmness and peace that allowed me to observe a mental state that had possessed me for quite some time – a hungry ghost.  This ghost, emerging from the darkness just outside the visible horizon, took the form of an eight legged creature – not surprising given my fear of spiders – incessant in its hunger to attack my spirit and mind.  Within my sphere of flowing ki, made slightly larger with a bokken at my side, a fully relaxed one point gave me the basis from which to take a quick upward stroke with the bokken to stop the beast in its advance.  Complete calmness was required to allow the creature to get close enough for a bokken. A rapid downward stroke severed the creature – which I now saw as the ego, the hungry ghost, the shadow which had haunted me, and would likely be forever a part of my existence.  As such, just beyond the horizon, another creature emerged – another upward strike followed by a downward strike – another kill.  And another, and another.  For several minutes, the creatures emerged from all directions, quicker, larger, more determined. Maintaining the expanded one point of flowing ki gave me the space to simply accept, wait patiently – then strike.  Another upward stroke, another downstroke for the kill, and another, and another.

Then silence.

In the silence, I reflected on what had just occurred.  I noticed that the courage, ability and strength to draw the bokken came from a point of peace and love. I reflected on the observation that if I had drawn the sword from a point of physical strength and energy, of fear, I may have succeeded in striking the first few creatures, but I would not have maintained the stamina to withhold the repeated onslaught. Only from the one point would the energy and space emerge to repeatedly strike the creature – the shadow, the ego, the hungry ghost.
The eight legged creature has been my own archetype for my worries, fears and phobias – a symbol of an enemy, a foreign body after not my body, and not really my mind, but more specifically after my spirit and my essence.

In the moment described above, the flow of ki, from a one point enveloping my whole being, became my protector.

Aikido, the art of peace, was my spiritual immunity.

Your spirit is the true shield.

O’Sensei