In every form of practice, whether meditation, medicine, or mixed martial arts, the external challenge or opponent disappears and we are left with the internal opponent, our own patterns of reaction that prevent us from effectively meeting or facing what is arising. From this perspective, courage consists in being able to endure the patterns of reaction without being immobilized or carried away by them. Thus, in daily life, when you run into problems, regard the problems simply as features of the landscape that have to be negotiated and focus your effort on meeting the reactive patterns that prevent you from doing what is effective, appropriate or necessary.
If you try to hold a cup of water absolutely still,
It won’t work.
How can you still your cup if thoughts, without any ripple?
Just put the cup down, and let it take its own course without interference
– Sri Ananda
A vibration is usually the first sign of the stillness coming forth and expressing its full presence. Not a truck rumbling kind of vibration. But more like a motor – a pulsing, quickly turning motor that peers just above the consciousness, if you let everything else just fade away for a while.
Thus vibration is the color of the stillness, it’s texture, it’s odor. I call it it’s texture for stillness is otherwise elusive in description, for words come from stillness. It is like the proverbial fish describing the water. It just is, the fish would say.
Our stillness is the water. It just is. It is our breath. Our light. Our life. We emerge from the stillness, and we return to the stillness, interrupted only briefly by the shortest of journeys we call a life. Yet, we quickly forge a path that is composed of everything but the stillness. We maintain that our path, our life cannot be full without filling the emptiness with the makings of reputation, opinion or desires. If we do it long enough, like the glass, we fill it to the point where nothing can be added, where the glass overflows and nothing new is retained, and only the old attachments become our existence.
Like the silence that remains even when noise overtakes our senses, the emptiness that is the infinite stillness remains, awaiting the tipping of the proverbial glass.
So what are we to do first? Empty the glass, but leave the tap open? In so doing, we just keep filling the glass. Maybe even more quickly if we discover that the glass is empty, a feeling we can’t recall feeling maybe since our conscious memories, or shortly thereafter.
We just turn off the tap. We must stop. We must cease to fill the emptiness with emotions, sensations, reflexes, fears, wants, mindless actions, acting out…
Doing nothing is essential for thinking to occur. Many of the most important thoughts are unintentional—they can be neither solicited nor cajoled but have a rhythm of their own, creeping up, arriving, and leaving when we least expect them. It is important to cultivate the lassitude of mind that clears a place for the arrival of what cannot be anticipated. Idleness allows time for the mind to wander to places never before imagined and to return transformed.
—Mark C. Taylor
We must stop. Just stop. Just stop, knowing that it won’t empty the glass, it won’t bring forth the stillness and the infinite emptiness. It will simply cease to fill the emptiness, letting the same happen as with the glass, letting it just sit empty, slowly leaking and draining the vessel.
Although one would be tempted to tip over the glass and make it empty as quickly as possible, this would be the same as filling the glass with stuff. The action of emptying the glass more quickly than it can empty on its own is an act of filling the glass. Emptiness and stillness cannot be emptied and returned to its original form. It can only be left to return to its original nature under its own ways.
Only by returning to the stillness and the emptiness can you empty them of their baggage. Only by letting the stillness and infinite emptiness rest, just rest, can they float to the surface of the noise, the stuff, the actions, thoughts, feelings, sensations that have overfilled it for so long.
It is convenient therefore that simply being in the stillness and infinite emptiness is what is needed to both stop filling the emptiness, as well as emptying the emptiness.
How many days does it take to empty the glass? I guess it depends on the size of the glass, how much stuff is in the glass, and how leaky is the glass. It also depends how serious you are about stopping to fill the glass with more stuff.
Well, the glass is large, it’s many years worth of filling. It’s lots of stuff, large and small, sticky and runny, old and new, good and bad. Let’s say it’s full.
Perhaps we all carry an immemorial wound, an infinite loss, a self-exile we perpetrate on ourselves. It turns us into isolated entities stalking the earth in search of what we think we need—the temporary stays against ennui, despair, loss, and terror. But sooner or later, the wound can carry us toward its own remedy, if we only let it.
How leaky it is puts forth an interesting observation. If you are attached, sticky, clingy, to the many things in your glass, you may very well have described the importance of non-attachment, as attachment is effectively the recipe for making your glass water tight. You want a leaky glass? Bask in no-attachment. Then your glass will begin to leak, and empty itself of its contents.
As for adding new things into the glass, such things can only come from outside the emptiness and the stillness. The fewer these things are brought into your consciousness, the books and the media, the thoughts and the emotions, the wants and the fears. Both our world and our minds will find ingenious ways to continue to seek cracks and fissures to fill our space. Attaching to preventing them from entering is not the answer, as with attachement comes the clinging and glue that this external stuff needs to stick.
We can’t stop the mind from attempting to fill the emptiness, no different than we can prevent the external world from trying to sell us corn flakes.
So, rather than resisting, allow them to try. Invite them to try. Openly tell them that they are more than welcomed to fill the glass. Tell the world. Tell your mind. Not just tell them, invite them. Warmly greet them and observe them wanting to fill your emptiness and silence.
Then let go. Then detach. Not dettach as in surrender, detach as in non-attachment. Just don’t stick to them, and let the vessel stay empty. Let the vessel get really leaky, just letting these thoughts, ideas, sensations and emotions just come, and just leak out of the boat.
If you truly detach from the all, you will find your vessel as leaky as a sieve. It will just offer a bit of resistance in letting it go, but it will let it go, for it can’t do otherwise.
And you will find yourself left with not much. Only stillness, silence, infinite emptiness, and nothing left for which to cling or attach to.
This is another way you can consider the words
Be without need
You become without need when you have nothing within you to cling to, to grasp, to attach to. For you become infinite stillness, infinite emptiness, and the voiding silence that accompanies them.
In stillness and silence you will find the infinite emptiness within which needlessness rest.
Buddhism teaches us that desire, for all the agony and ecstasy, is no match for the truth.
– Joan Duncan Oliver
We cannot live in the past; it is gone. Nor can we live in the future; it is forever beyond our grasp. We can live only in the present.
– S.N. Goenka
A little under two years ago, I was fortunate to attend a 10 day vipassana retreat north of Montebello Quebec, Canada. Although my reasons for attending were largely driven by various life challenges at the time, I was surprised to discover, and not, that there were many similarities between vipassana and my practice of aikido at the time. Since that 10 day retreat, I’ve been pretty regular with my daily vipassana practice, putting in on average one hour per day on the cushion. Over those many months since the retreat, I’ve come to draw parallels between vipassana and my aikido practice, notably in relation to the various aikido principles, as well as some of what I consider to be core lessons and values of Ki-aikido practice.
In vipassana, seeking equanimity to internal sensations becomes a battle with ones own thoughts and mental secretions, in addition to any sensations that come from through the five physical senses. How surprised we can be when we observe the intensity by which our own physical and mental sensations can simply overpower our will, leading us to various unforeseen reactions. Sitting on the cushion becomes a dojo of the mind and body, where our consciousness trains to become equanimity to whatever arises – internal, or external.
In aikido, we seek equanimity at every moment, most notably when we are being attacked physically, mentally, emotionally or even spiritually. Such attacks are not really the attack that concern us, but rather they become the triggers for our reaction to the threat – the fight or flight which can so dominate our mental and physical reactions. Like the cushion, the mat becomes the training ground to develop an equanimity in response to whatever arises externally or internally, at any time.
In both the cases of aikido and vipassana, equanimity brings us to a state of ongoing response to the discrete sequence of moments that compose our lives. Through equanimity, response – and not reaction – becomes our way of being.
One of the most dramatic occurrences during the 10 day retreat was becoming aware of the depth and range of sensations that are continuously playing throughout our bodies. Some sensations are subtle and soft, others hard and harsh. But all have the potential of attaching the mind and leading to actions which are largely, if not primarily driven by the sensations in question. To discover that our bodily and mental sensations are just simply just that – sensations that come and go – we practice by simply observing without attachment so that we may slowly make our way to freedom.
In aikido, sensations are in many instances what hinders us, challenges us, scares us, and forces us to react to moments when we either feel actual pain from a hold or pin, or when we fear that we will be harmed. Sensations at first become our master, but then become our teachers, our guide, our mentor for how to act and respond to the current moment. Sensations become not only those isolated to individual limbs or extensions, but become those that are the whole of our physical selves – sensations that in some instances are not the reflections of the senses, but rather the reaction to a trigger or conflict brought to us externally, or in many instances, internally.
Sensations are in the cases of aikido and vipassana the uke which truly trains us to become centered and free – free from the sensations themselves – at which moment we become connected not with our sensations, but the with universe entire.
Balance and centering
Towards the last few days of the 10 day retreat, a sense of balance and centering started to emerge – a sense that was not sensory or sensations per se, but rather a vibration, a settling of the troubled waters of the mind and spirit. Upon those settled waters, our physical and mental sensations begin to be reflected and our ability to choose to respond becomes more acute. With each additional hour of practice on the cushion, our ability to act from a point of balance and centre – a single point, one point – comes to be our way of being.
In that moment, balance and centering becomes the result of equanimity, and not the source of equanimity – equanimity is detachment from sensations per se. With equanimity as a settling, an evenness of the spirit, body and mind, we find the tranquility that manifests in the harmony of ones mind, body and spirit. In equanimity, we become connected with the infinite stillness that is Ki, the essence of life, the light of the eternal universe.
In equanimity upon the cushion or the mat, we find that the breath settles, the body relaxes and the mind expands to the edges of the infinite, where the spirit can fully reside.
…when I say watch, don’t TRY to watch, otherwise you will become tense again, and you will start concentrating on the breath. Simply relax, remain relaxed, loose, and look…because what else can you do?
Meditation can often be confused or equated with relaxation. I don’t consider meditation relaxation – quite the opposite – there are days that it is downright draining. But it is on those days that the practice becomes true practice – a practice of extracting and reshaping the habits, the deep rooted habits that form the patterns of our reactions and the responses to those moments which compose our lives.
This is why vipassana, like aikido, lead us both to the moment where the important lessons is in relaxing not in response to the world, but in spite of it. At our core resides our true essence, our complete lightness from which each moment can manifest as our purpose of being. Many challenges arise when we either mentally, physically or spiritually attach our selves to an outcome, a desired result, a wished way of being. Attachment becomes our downfall, and we emerge overtaken by our mental or other cravings.
In aikido, like vipassana, our training encourages us to find ways to become relaxed, and remain relaxed, irrespective of the internal or external challenges that come our way, at any moment. Relaxation, in both cases, is an outcome of the practice, not the prescription to arrive at the practice in the first place.
Coordination of mind, body and spirit
Coordination of mind, body and spirit, as my aikido training has shown me, is the whole purpose for the practice. In practice, we strive to arrive at a harmony of mind, body and spirit which provides us with the centre, the relaxation, the flow to respond to whatever attacks, threats or challenges we may face – on or off the mat.
In vipassana, the time spent on the cushion becomes the training by which we similarly exercise and develop our ability to respond to whatever challenges, threats or attacks from our own mind or the sensations it can trigger. It was during day 6 or 7 of the 10 day retreat that I found myself in an intense battle with the sensations which were the product of my mind’s desire to not sit and observe the sensations themselves. In a moment of surrender, I released the desires to control and attempt to the change the sensations of the moment, and simply allowed the whole to come together – a moment where the spirit became fully harmonious and equanimous with both the mind’s and body’s sensations. At that moment, all illusions fell away, and the only moment that ever existed became the present moment – no past, no future, only the infinite present.
True victory is self victory
After 10 days of sitting, it became clear that my training had only begun, and that I would have many hours to sit on the cushion and simply observe the various sensations, strong and harsh, cold and fear-engaging, warm and loving, or ego-driven. In essence, the 10 days of sitting on the cushion taught me that the only victory to be sought was the victory over one’s own sensations and illusions, victory over one’s own beliefs, aversions and adversions, if arriving at such a state can be truly called a victory.
Rather than victory, it could be called developing an awareness – an awareness of the possibility that we each possess the means by which to discover and maintain equanimity over our self emotions, our mental and physical sensations, and have the ability to choose our responses according to reality – including our full range of sensations – strong or weak, good or bad.
As with aikido, where we train to become the way (do) of harmony (ai) with the flow of the universe (ki), vipassana emerged for me over the 10 days, and remains today, the training to come to be the required response to both the external and internal world in the absolute present moment.
Although I draw the parallels between aikido and vipassana, I am convinced that many, if not all spiritual paths ultimately and inevitably lead to the same door – the door to freedom from illusion, the door of harmony of mind body and spirit, and the door of pure and absolute love in the infinite presence.
Given that no single path can get us there, may we all find the few paths we each are called upon to take our few simple steps.
Therefore no effort is more worthwhile for a human being than the exertion of all one’s faculties to take steps on this path.
– S.N. Goenka
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” ~Chinese Proverb
An unfettered mind is a mind free to respond. No reaction, no urgency, no rushing – calm, flowing response. Like a river rushing, it rushes no faster than gravity or the river bed will permit. The river doesn’t react, it responds to the forces of the earth, the curves of the ground, the winds overhead. And when the winds cease and the ground levels out, then the river returns to its original state – just water.
Our practice is to slow down and return to our original state, so that we can know it when we revisit the torrential river.
Our practice is to cultivate attention to the point where we can experience whatever arises, without reacting, by remaining in the original state of relaxation and complete awareness.
“the practice of meditation is the study of what is going on”
– thich nhat hahn
Our practice is to become fully aware, fully mindful of the absolute present, with complete acceptance, for when something arises in your experience that you cannot experience, you go to reaction rather than response. When the moment is not accepted as the result of all the moments which came before it, you cease to respond to the reality that is the absolute present, and move to the past or future minds, where fears, wants and desires reside.
Our practice needs to cultivate a level of attention so that we can experience whatever arises – thereby not needing to fall into reaction. Our practice needs to cultivate not only our ability to see and sense the experiences around us, but to see the, at the pace at which they are occuring, at the times that they are occurring – and not at the pace or time that we wished they occurred. Wishing them differently is attachment. Attachment is tension. Tension is the root of reaction.
Accepting them as they are is detachment. Detachment is relaxation. Relaxation is the root of responding.
As Ken McLeod expressed, our practice is to experience we are free to respond to what the situation actually requires – not what the situation is provoking in us. All situations are gifts, for they all can provoke a reaction from us. Mild reactions and severe reactions. Harsh reactions and pleasant reactions. Our practice should be a practice of equanimity – one where our reactions are replaced by our responses. From the outside, our responses may appear the same, if not identical to our reaction – but it is not a reaction.
And in that moment, as inspired by Ken McLeod, we can then become an ongoing response to the pain and suffering of the world.
Our practice is to find the harmony, the balance, the equanimity to become an ongoing response, a continuous set of responses, moment after moment, second-by-second responses to each infinite moment.
And when you find yourself reacting, having broken the ongoing response, slow down, breathe deeply, and return to your practice – thereby returning to the journey of becoming an ongoing response to the pain, the suffering, the truth of each moment presented to us.
“Restore your attention or bring it to a new level by dramatically slowing down whatever you’re doing.” – Sharon Salzberg
“There is a very simple secret to being happy. Just let go of your demand on this moment.
Any time you have a demand on the moment to give you something or remove something, there is suffering. Your demands keep you chained to the dream state of conditioned mind. The problem is that when there is a demand, you completely miss what is now.
Letting go applies to the highest sacred demand, and even to the demand for love. If you demand in some subtle way to be loved, even if you get love, it is never enough. In the next moment, the demand reasserts itself, and you need to be loved again. But as soon as you let go, there is knowing in that instant that there is love here already.
The mind is afraid to let go of its demand because the mind thinks that if it lets go, it is not going to get what it wants – as if demanding works.
This is not the way things work.
Stop chasing peace and stop chasing love, and your heart becomes full. Stop trying to be a better person, and you are a better person. Stop trying to forgive, and forgiveness happens.
Stop and be still.”
All that appears comes from an illusion of the mind and the mind itself is from beginningless time without inherent existence, free from the two extremes of manifestation and beyond all elaboration. To understand this nature and not to conceive of subjects and objects as really existing is a practice of the bodhisattva.
-Translation from Tokme Zangpo Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices
A recent practice session with the bokken revealed a truth that has started to redefine my interpretation of time and space, and my practice on both the cushion and the mat. One morning, following one hour of Vipassana mediation, I proceeded to reach for the bokken to simply swing the weapon for a few strokes in order to loosen the shoulders and upper body. After swinging the bokken for a few moments, I was struck by the awareness that each stroke was a metaphor for the absolute present moment – the only moment we truly have.
The bokken had been my training partner for over three years, and for the first time, its presence was felt more intently than ever. Unlike previous sessions where each stroke blended from one to the other, this time a new awareness arose.
Each stroke, each cut, was the manifestation of the present moment. No strokes came before. No cuts were to follow. The only cut that existed was the one being executed. Good or bad, swift or sluggish, tight or loose, each cut was done, observed, felt, sensed, then released. I was no longer attached to the previous cuts – proud of the good ones, upset with the bad ones. I was not attached to the cuts to come – worried about fatigue creeping into the movement, or the grip needing constant adjustment.
There was only the cut being executed. There was only the fraction of the second that it took to cut down. Only the present moment existed. defined by the brief motion of the cut.
A deep , peaceful detachment from the past and future emerged – with the full present moment being in the cut. One cut. One moment. The present became a pointed, infinite knife edge upon which all past slid away, and all future had yet to arrive. Even the beginning and end of the cut became distinct, with each finite moment of the down stroke becoming increasingly transparent and existent by itself. The end of the cut was no longer subject to the quality of the beginning. The beginning of the cut was no longer concerned with how it was going to end.
In such a cut, there were no past errors or pride of success dictating movement, or no future desires or hesitations undermining the commitment – there was only the cut.
The point of power is always in the present moment.
– Louise L. Hay
Putting down the bokken, the exercise then surprisingly continued with the breath – where the breath became the sword, the action of the cut. With each in-breath – a raising of the sword. With each out-breath – the cut of the sword. Each breath became like the cut of the bokken – detached from any previous breath, detached from any breath to come. Only the present breath was mindful, filled with awareness and ki. No past. No future. Only now.
One breath – one cut. No past , no future in the breath. Only the present breath.
In the mindful present moment, only one cut can be executed. Only one breath can be taken. It is all that we have when you stop and deeply examine the present moment. One breath to take. One cut to make.
There is nothing to attach to when you fully immerse yourself in the cut. There is only the cut.
Each breath is a cut within the eternal silence and nothingness that is our infinite existence.
One breath…one cut.
Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present. He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life in remembering the past.
-Henry David Thoreau
When you plant seeds in the garden, you don’t dig them up every day to see if they have sprouted yet. You simply water them and clear away the weeds; you know that the seeds will grow in time. Similarly, just do your daily practice and cultivate a kind heart. Abandon impatience and instead be content creating the causes for goodness; the results will come when they’re ready.
– Thubten Chodron, “Meditator’s Toolbox”
Abandon impatience. Abandon the attachment to the quick, rapid reward that society so excellently provides us, in the name of progress and growth, for it is false growth. Abandon the belief that mastery is a destination, and accept it more as a journey – mastery as journey, not as destination.
On the mat, if there is one lesson that has served me well off the mat, it is unlearning impatience. Impatience with others who are either too slow to learn or to quick to wait up. Impatience with concepts too complex to decipher, or too simple to impress. Impatience with techniques who should always work, and techniques who never work.
But of all the impatiences that have visited me on the mat, the most revealing is the impatience with self. Impatience with my own abilities, physical and coordinated, arising from an inability to master a movement at first glance. Impatience with my spirit, wanting to capture and grow, without giving it the time to evolve, naturally, spontaneously. Impatience with the mind, root of most if not all impatience, who thinks that thinking can result in all mastery, given enough intellectual prowess and commitment.
Foolish was I to ever think that impatience would triumph over the natural ways of the universe, and that I would be immune to the struggles and barriers that have come before all those who have chosen the path of aikido.
Your practice should be strengthened by the difficult situations you encounter, just as a bonfire in a strong wind is not blown out, but blazes even brighter.
– Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, “Teachings on the Nature of Mind and Practice”
Aikido, and the time and space of the mat, is a mirror. A mirror that reveals when you are not centred, balanced and coordinated. A time and space that reveals clearly that one’s difficulties are nothing but a mirror of one’s weakness and challenges that require continuous practice.
As with every mirror, it presents itself with absolute patience, for the mirror cannot be without patience. It has infinite patience for it exists but to reflect. Reflect the absolute moment, without past or future, absolute moment with form and without form, an absolute moment with emptiness, stillness and silence as it’s only truth.
In such absolute truth, impatience is revealed in its fullest furry, with nowhere to migrate but upon the canvas of the spirit. Through aikido, full and complete harmony of mind, body and spirit is practiced, where impatience is cornered by the stillness, revealed by the silence, and quenched by the emptiness. One cannot be impatient with true emptiness, stillness and silence.
“Do not become annoyed when faced with difficulties. To do so merely adds difficulty to difficulty and further disturbs your mind. By maintaining a mind of peace and nonopposition, difficulties will naturally fall away.”
– Master Sheng-yen, “Nonopposition”
Impatience is fuelled by our past regrets, our past attachments, the roots of our history and unfed desires. Impatience is harboured by our future wishes, our unbridled and hungry ambitions, our rational and irrational fears. Impatience is not possible in the absolute, infinite moment, for nothing exists in the infinite emptiness, the endless silence, the absolute stillness.
When impatience presents itself, it is a symbol of one’s loss of absolute presence in the infinite moment. When desire, fear or greed defines our breath, we have given impatience a home. When time becomes the absolute master of our thoughts and emotions, we have given the past and future authority over the present. In these rushing moments, impatience becomes the current within which our existence and value is defined. Lost is the balance and harmony arising from the absolute presence, and chained we become to the illusions that mind, body or spirit creates to sustain the current of impatience.
Only is stillness, silence and emptiness can the current of impatience cease. To arrive at such a place, we must remember that we are not, nor ever have been, in the current of impatience – we are the current of impatience, unable to release from the attachment to the comfort that the strength and energy that the current brings.
“We suffer because we marry our instinctive aversion to pain to the deep-seated belief that life should be free from pain. In resisting our pain by holding this belief, we strengthen just what we’re trying to avoid. When we make pain the enemy, we solidify it. This resistance is where our suffering begins.”
– Ezra Bayda, “When It Happens to Us”
If we are the current, and not in the current, how does the mat teach us about releasing the current, not becoming the current? It teaches us by showing us how very little can trigger the current, how very little can create the small currents that grow into larger current, eventually engulfing us whole. It shows us how the slightest motion of another can trigger tension and vibrations in us that unleash currents of regret or desire. It shows us that the slightest tension in our own body, the smallest fears and desires within the deepest recesses of our mind, or the slightest ripples in the ocean where our spirit ebbs and flows – all can contribute to the sustaining the currents of impatience, by way of removing us from the stillness silence and emptiness of the infinite moment.
Our practice on the mat is the practice of life, but is no match for the practice outside of the dojo. Life, in its infinite depth and scope, is the ultimate uke, able to trigger all unforeseen reactions at any moment, for an infinite number of options by which to respond.
In all instances, only one response is truth – response with harmony of mind, body and spirit, response from the infinite present of stillness, silence and emptiness.
Only in silence, stillness and emptiness can the seeds of patience grow, for patience is silence, stillness and emptiness.
“We should be especially grateful for having to deal with annoying people and difficult situations, because without them we would have nothing to work with. Without them, how could we practice patience, exertion, mindfulness, loving-kindness or compassion? It is by dealing with such challenges that we grow and develop.”
– Judy Lief, “Train Your Mind: Be Grateful to Everyone”