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Monthly Archives: September 2013

“What is your automatic reflex to life situations, especially difficult ones? Do you think about yourself and how you might profit or escape from a situation? Or do you think about others and how you can help? Progress on the path, and a sign that you’re well prepared for death, occurs when the former changes into the latter, when you default not into selfishness but into selflessness.”

– Andrew Holecek

I have to start by admitting it. Addiction has been part of my life…well, for a good part of it. My “hungry ghost”[1] has found a home in school work, cycling, exercise, professional work, hobbies, reading, and the occasional 20-year-old scotch or pint of Guinness. I’ve come to accept that the “hungry ghost” is not just a visitor, but as much a part of me as my shadow.  Well, it has been simpler many days to just call it my shadow, à la Jung.

Addiction, I’ve come to believe, is more common than most would admit, based on my observation of attachment and lack of self-control when it comes to matters of work, drink, internet usage, TV watching – in short, mostly anything and everything external to our selves. Think of something external to yourself, and you can likely find an addict online somewhere – or maybe even a 12-step group.

So what is one to do with such a ubiquitous, insidious shadow among our midst? Ignorance and succumbing to the urge is always an option – and the one many unfortunately choose. Easy to choose when the villain is work or other socially acceptable forms – such as drink, popular media or food, for example. Not so easy when it transitions into the less socially acceptable, such as more drink, other intoxicants, false relationships, or worse.

Other alternatives to ignorance and succumbing may include 12 step programs, treatment, retreats, or other external modalities that seek to alter our weakness to the affliction in question. For some, this has served well, for others, a rotating door of trying and trying again.

Over the past few months, I have come to conclude that external modes of treatment are as much at risk of becoming a crutch as the crutch itself. This is not to critique or undermine the validity of such approaches – it is my observation that external modalities have become the home of the “hungry ghost” in many instances.

These observations brought me to the assumption that if external treatment risks becoming the target of our “hungry ghost”, then an internal treatment could be an option. This is when I blended my thoughts about addiction with the many lessons from the aikido mat, and the classical teaching of O’Sensei in “masakatsu agatsu, katsu ayame” – true victory is self-victory, right here right now.

If true victory is self-victory, would this not make the  “hungry ghost” the assailant, the uke, in terms of living with an addiction? The “hungry ghost” as a uke assailing one’s spirit, mind and body, living and thriving at the expense of a harmonious self, could become an internal practice worth considering.

“When I think of the Buddhist precepts, which are ethical precepts, they are all about relationships. I’ve boiled them down to one: vowing to live in a way that is not at the expense of other beings. In a sense it’s very grand and impossible, but it’s also a really powerful motivation.”

– Alan Senauke

So…what would meeting and defending one’s self against the “hungry ghost” uke be like?

Well, it would start as does any confrontation – with a bow.  All assailants, internal and external, deserve respect, for they are our teachers on the path to self.  When the hungry ghosts rears it head, observe it, notice it arising, do not react to its presence – for it is familiar, even if not welcomed.

As with all Uke, immediately take up ki slack from the universe. Either through one of the five principles (keep one point, relax completely, extend ki, keep weight underside, or detach from all), or by allowing ki to flow from the universe into all of you, taking up ki slack will establish the conditions and state for an eventual attack, if Uke wishes to escalate it. With taking up ki slack, Uke is already being taken off-balance.

With taking up ki slack, a state of total, deep relaxation occurs. Not relaxation that makes one mellow and inattentive. Rather, a relaxation that makes one fully attentive, fully aware, fully active in all senses. In such a state, Uke cannot detect any signs of aggression or defence – no evident reaction, even subtle.  Uke may be concerned by such lack of reaction, or may misinterpret it as Nage being oblivious to the threat at hand.
Uke then chooses to strike. The strike can be slow and calculated; it can be fast and aggressive. Blend. Sense Uke’s intent and energy. With the hungry ghost Uke, the energy is visceral, subtle, can be all encompassing.  Be aware of and feel Uke’s ki – a ki, which is familiar, for it is your own.  In such an instance, Uke is especially dangerous, for his ki is your ki – and your ki is his ki. Confusion can ensue.  Maintain coordination, harmony of mind, body and spirit – and feel Uke’s intent, Uke’s ki.

Execute the technique that best serves the moment. Visualize Uke being subjected to the technique. Execute it slowly – don’t rush. Uke is strong and deliberate – and knows you well. Pin Uke, or choose to throw him. Either one will do – but trust your visualization to guide you. Feel Uke’s energy and sense how weakened, frustrated or agitated he may be as a result. Irrespective of Uke’s state, maintain harmony of mind, body and spirit. Uke will strive to disrupt such harmony – for victory is found in such loss of balance and centering.

If at any moment you grasp to strongly, fail to maintain harmony of mind, body and spirit, become attached to Uke’s movement or intent, become physically detached, or fall as a result of Uke’s efforts, remember to perform ukemi.  Protect yourself in the fall, then return to harmony of mind, body and spirit. Return quickly. Return deeply.  The hungry ghost Uke is a shrewd adversary – defeat is always a risk. But the more harmony is cultivated, practiced and maintained, the less likely Uke will get the upper hand.

At one point, possibly after one attack, possibly after an endless number of attacks, Uke will learn to recognize that today, victory is not within grasp.  Uke may choose to return another day – this has been my experience of late – bent on further attempting to defeat and challenge the moment. Uke may choose to alter his tactics – a sound strategy given Uke’s intimate knowledge of Nage.  In all instances, harmony of mind, body and spirit must be called upon to respond to any such changes in approach.

In all such instances, remember to bow upon Uke’s arrival – and upon his departure, thanking him for the lessons and growth that he brings to your practice.

Eventually, after many battles and confrontations, the hungry ghost Uke may come to accept that victory is not within grasp.  Although I have yet to see such a day (although I remain optimistic that it is a matter of time and practice), I believe that at such a moment, Uke will surrender his weapon and simply step into nothingness. I envision the moment being one where Uke ceases to extend ki, or manipulate ki – and become emptiness – allowing ki to flow freely and effortlessly.

At such a moment, a final bow will be given to the hungry ghost Uke, and words of gratitude uttered to thank him for a journey of growth. All past and future will cease, and the pure present will manifest.

Throughout the conflict, remember to love the hungry ghost Uke, for he has lost the moment he expresses aggression.  Accept Uke, for his presence and the challenge he presents is practice in its highest form.

As O’Sensei was often heard encouraging – protect the attacker, protect Uke. The Art of peace is not one that seeks to destroy Uke, but to blend and enable a path to peace.  This is especially true with the hungry ghost Uke – one who’s making is intimately known – for it is us.

The addiction Uke, the hungry ghost Uke, is most likely one of your greatest teachers. Welcome him. Bow. Respect him. And practice, practice, practice in his presence.

The eventual harmony with one’s shadow, through love as O’Sensei had expressed, becomes true victory, self-victory.

“The problem with interpersonal love is that you are dependent on the other person to reflect love back to you. That’s part of the illusion of separateness. The reality is that love is a state of being that comes from within.”

– Ram Dass

[1]: the hungry ghost realm is often referenced when speaking about addiction. A great work whose title was inspired by this point is Dr Gabor Mate’s “In the realm of hungry ghosts“. It is highly recommended.

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“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”

~ Blaise Pascal

.

.. a meditation about the infinite space that is the pure present moment …

In the pause

Lies the grief

That has plagued

Many days

And where sits

The silence

To hear

The truth absolute

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything”.

~Suzuki

Every moment in life is absolute in itself. That’s all there is. There is nothing other than this present moment; there is no past, there is no future; there is nothing but this. So when we don’t pay attention to each little this, we miss the whole thing.
– Charlotte Joko Beck, “Attention Means Attention”

Aikido can only be done in the present moment, if you put the mind beyond the past horizon or the future horizon, aikido becomes nothing but physical movements. Only in pure and infinite presence can one point be kept, weight underside be felt, ki extended and pure relaxation found. In that pure and infinite moment, future and past can come to visit, without disrupting the balance and centering that occurs in the present moment.

When we face the limitations of our power and control, all we can skillfully do is bow to that moment. The conceit of self is challenged and eroded not only by the circumstances of our lives but also by our willingness to meet those circumstances with grace rather than with fear.
– Christina Feldman, “Long Journey to a Bow”

O’Sensei was repeatedly quoted as saying that the purpose of Aikido was masakatsu agatsu, katsu ayame – true victory is self victory, right here, right now. Through masakatsu agatsu, the conceit of self is challenged and eroded by the eternal truth which is pure perception of endless, infinite emptiness, forever present in the present moment – pure presence. With eternal truth, one meets circumstances with grace rather than with fear.

A hallmark of a genuine Buddhist practitioner is a truly peaceful mind. Advocating peace is not enough. One must have a mind that remains unflustered and nonaggressive even in extreme circumstances, including when one is provoked.
– Rita M. Gross, “Buddhism and Religious Diversity”

With eternal truth, response becomes a choice, and reactions, both emotional and mental, are no more. Pure perception of the eternal present becomes the peaceful mind, a mind manifesting from harmony of the physical, mental and spiritual self.

Maybe we think that nirvana is a place where there are no problems, no more delusions. Maybe we think nirvana is something very beautiful, something unattainable. We always think nirvana is something very different from our own life. But we must really understand that it is right here, right now.
– Maezumi Roshi, “Appreciate Your Life”

The eternal present is the infinite emptiness that surrounds physical, mental and emotional secretions. Delusions and suffering come from planting secretions in past memories or future desires. Secretions of the body, mind and heart cannot grow in the eternal present, for only emptiness exists, within which purity abides. Right here, right now, is the eternal present – katsu ayame.

If one puts his mind in the action of his opponent’s body, his mind will be taken by the action of his opponent’s body.

If he puts his mind in his opponent’s sword, his mind will be taken by that sword.

If he puts his mind in thoughts of his opponent’s intention to strike him, his mind will be taken by thoughts of his opponent’s intention to strike him.

If he puts his mind in his own sword, his mind will be taken by his own sword.

If he puts his mind in his own intention of not being struck, his mind will be taken by his intention of not being struck.

If he puts his mind in the other man’s stance, his mind will be taken by the other man’s stance.

What this means is that there is no place to put the mind.

~ Takuan Soho

Within the pure present and infinite emptiness, if one puts the mind in his past regrets, his mind will be taken by his past regrets. If he puts his mind in his future desires or fears, he mind will be taken by his future desires or fears.

Within the pure present and infinite emptiness, one cannot even put the mind one millisecond behind or ahead of the infinite present – otherwise, the mind will be taken by the past or the future. One must therefore not only be wary in what one puts the mind, but when – past or future.

With the mind in the pure and infinite emptiness of the present, the mind will have no place or time to go.

And harmony of mind, body and spirit will manifest.

“Any notion of time takes you out of presence.”
– Ken McLeod, An Arrow to the Heart

The past cast with one’s flesh
Memories and recollections echo
Images and sounds, shadows and light
Etched in emptiness

The future painted with one’s mind
Desire and curiosity create
Wind and currents, space and time
Projected into nothingness

The present manifested with one’s soul
Impermanence and change resides
Infinite space, timeless breath
Forever fleeting

The infinite point from one’s harmony
Endless and eternal light
Flowing waves, dark torrents
Comes to know without knowing

“One must be deaf to the conceptual articulations and rely on the indefinable experience of knowing itself”.
~Ken McLeod

“I choose not to project my past onto my future”
– Jonathan Lockwood Huie

So what if my past has been about science, logic, efficiency, formal training and schooling, and the ongoing search for truth.

I choose not to project my past onto my present, hence my future will not be my past…

But with no past or future – and just pure present moment – I am what I make of the current flow and choices at this exact timeless point. At this infinite, yet finite point, where choices, decisions and energy converge.

By choosing not to project my past on my future, I choose the pure present moment within which to breathe, express life, flow, and be. No past, no future, just what we do infinite moment by infinite moment, present moment by present moment.

Time, past and future, are illusions created by mindfulness of moments – and memory. But as memory is frequently flawed, and mindfulness is frequently fleeting, time becomes a distorted illusion – the worst of illusions – where neither the memory of moments, nor the record of the moments, is fully accurate.

“When I’m anxious it’s because I’m living in the future. When I’m depressed it’s because I’m living in the past.”
~ Shaena Strubing

Like a film that sputters from frame to frame, our life becomes an illusion of movement, rather than a mindful creation of discrete frames – each frame being thousands’ of a second if our awareness is at the vibrational level; each frame being fractions of a second if awareness is at the sensory level; each frame being minutes or hours if our awareness is purely at the mental level, where attachment and left-brain rationale logic thinking dominates.

Focus on the frames, and the film will unwind itself. Past frames will be past frames, done and complete, fleeting and degrading. Future frames are future – yet to be taken, with no point in trying to take those pictures just yet…their moments will come.

“How do you move a mountain? One stone at a time.”
~Ken McLeod

The movement from ordinary states of self-concern to selfless giving always involves a gradual transformation of character, not a sudden leap. Like any form of strength, generosity needs to be intentionally cultivated over time, and everyone must begin in whatever state of mind they already happen to be.

– Dale S. Wright, “The Bodhisattva’s Gift”

change is occurring. cannot be stopped. cannot be prevented. must be accepted. must be lived. It is happening. question – do we know where it’s taking us? Do we spend our energy trying to know where it is taking us, or do we spend our energy “surfing” the wave?

Do we accommodate change through knowledge, or through action? For many years, the focus has largely been through knowledge. if you understand theories and data, information and knowledge, the change will be less scary – you might even be able to change the change…

all of this is nothing without action

If you know dharma but do not apply it, then you have more regret than if you had never learned any dharma in the first place. If you are not going to apply dharma knowledge to your life—better not to know it at all.

– Kyabgön Phakchok Rinpoche, “Keys to Happiness”

change does not occur from knowing…it occurs from doing. change is life. change is every moment. knowledge, mind committed to the understanding, does not change change. it will happen. changing change is a spiral into suffering.

“Do or not do. There is not try.”

-Yoda

in change, there is no trying. there is simply listening, observing. then doing. or not. not trying to do. doing. or not. knowledge is not doing – it is knowledge. knowing is not doing. it is knowing. doing is doing. not doing is not doing.

trying is the mind convincing itself that it can alter the change, if enough effort is provided. trying is based on the assumption that the self can be protected and saved. the ego can be triumphant. no such luck.

What disintegrates in periods of rapid transformation is not the self, but its defenses and assumptions. Self-protection restricts vision and movement like a suit of armor, making it harder to adapt. Going to pieces, however uncomfortable, can open us up to new perceptions, new data, and new responses.

– Joanna Macy, “The Greatest Danger

to get there, we must explode. explode our ego, our structures. our beliefs. our mind. we must destroy and kill what is our ego and identity, and resort to the purest form. ki.

such a change is daunting. it is a form of suicide. a killing of the self, leading to the traces of the past, but fully charged to take the moments in full possession of our purpose and mission. not in a goal-related way, but in a purpose, like I must breathe to live, and so I must take this path to live.

It’s essential that we at least understand that the built-in resistance is proportionate to the scope and speed of the change.

-George Leonard

the rate of change, and the extent of change will define the pace at which we can change. constrained by scope & speed of change.

as it is on the mat, if there is no apparent pressure or force to change, or speed that is no faster or slower than the change that is self initiated, the technique will be effective.

Only because of emptiness can things change and flow. Emptiness is not a vacuum, a black hole, but the possibility of endless transformations. There is no more grasping, or self-created barriers and limitations. The Buddha-nature can shine through and express itself fully.

– Martine Batchelor, “The Ten Oxherding Pictures”

in emptiness, all change, fast and slow, large and small, will occur. emptiness is permanence. emptiness is infinity. emptiness is silence. emptiness is where ki resides and breathes. where ki flows.
in this emptiness, our purpose and path will manifest. and whatever change is required to bring us there, is possible. not only is it possible, it is where the change comes from. when we accept the silence and the emptiness, all is possible, all is possible. all ceases to attempt to become, and we become whole, in mind, body and spirit.

“In order to be full, we must be empty. If our emptiness is total, we become supremely fulfilled.”

~ Robert Rabbin

Over the past few weeks, I’ve explored to some length meditation on emptiness. Although I’ve dabbled into this question on and off, I was recently inspired by comments on the Heart Sutra by Ken McLeod. I was inspired by the vision that form is emptiness…a fact that I have taken for fact for some time, but within McLeod’s words, I saw a glimpse into something more elusive – the predominance of emptiness above all.

Form is emptiness; emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form is not other than emptiness. In the same way, feeling, concept, mental formation, and consciousness are emptiness.

~ Ken McLeod

This observation coincided with the lessons from the aikido mat, where I was struggling (and continue to struggle) with reducing, if not seeking to eliminate, an over-intellectualization of my practice. Non-attachment, detachment from all, complete relaxation – all practices aimed at reaching no-mind, no space, nothingness – just being.  Takuan Soho said it best, when he articulated it as follows:

“The effort not to stop the mind in just one place – this is discipline. Not stopping the mind is object and essence. Put it nowhere and it will be everywhere. Even in moving the mind outside the body, if it is sent in one direction, it will be lacking in nine others. If the mind is not restricted to just one direction, it will be in all ten.”

~ Takuan Soho

Put the mind nowhere and it will be everywhere. So the following thought came to me: what if “nowhere” was “nothingness”? What if the stillness, silence, needlessness in emptiness was “nowhere”. Rather than think of “nowhere” in the material sense, I wondered how my practice could evolve if I re-defined “nowhere” as “nothingness”, “emptiness”?

What if practice led us to notice that all happens within this stillness and silence – within nothingness and “nowhere”. What if practice led us to see all our thoughts, mental secretions and consciousness as products that float and are carried by emptiness, nothingness?

What if practice led us to observe all of our words as existing within an eternal, endless silence and emptiness?

What if practice led us to become fully mindful or our actions and movements occurring within eternal, infinite space and time – boundless, timeless emptiness, nothingness?

What if practice brought us to an awareness of everything, all things, all moments, all, existing within infinite, empty, nothingness.

What if practice brought us to an observation that love happens within this space – O’Sensei’s definition of love – a definition not dependent on external conditions, matter or time?

“What is absolute love? Love without an object is absolute love. Love means unity of perception and action.”

~ Kenjiro Yoshigasaki

Over the past few weeks, I have begun to visualize emptiness, nothingness, and have found two sources that have been interesting to say the least, and insightful in creating a sense of the emptiness and nothingness that is our existence.

The first is the Power of Ten video. Although dating back from years now, this classic video revealed the extent to which our universe, internal and external, is, for all intents and purposes, eternal, infinite, endless. It also demonstrated in the most sobering way that most if not all of it is emptiness – nothingness, “nowhereness”.

A second source was a website entitled Cosmic View – the universe in 40 jumps. Although similar to the Power of Ten video in message and method of presentation, one notable exception was when it introduced the nature of our self at the most smallest.  Of particular note: -6 was the most revealing to me – which presented the space between the nitrogen and oxygen molecules that compose the air we breathe. In short – what is the space, the emptiness, the nothingness between the molecules?

This space, this nothingness, this emptiness is the same space that fills the atoms which compose our very being and world; the same space that fills the gap between the endless galaxies and solar systems that is our eternal universe.

With these images as guides, meditating on emptiness then becomes meditating on the eternal, the endless, the boundless infinite space and time that is the “nowhereness”, the nothingness of all reality.  Meditating on infinite nothingness brings one’s practice to a point where the self and all meld; where space becomes boundless, within which all form can manifest and no longer manifest; where time is irrelevant for nothingness is timeless and permanent.

Knowing emptiness is to know that which is within our self, and within all other things. Knowing nowhere is to know all that is possible – past, present and future. Knowing nothing is knowing ‘no-thing’ – knowing that which is eternal, infinite and timeless – within which all is, and is not.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

~ Socrates