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Meditation Reflections

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.
—Ken McLeod


A pattern of reaction. 

Are we all subject to patterns of reaction? Or am I alone in the experience of my mind drawing me back and forth, away from the present, into the regrets of the past or the aversions of the future. I read Ken’s advice over and over, yet this morning something shifted. It was not a “sky’s have parted” kind of shift, but rather a settling, like the moment when you watch a silted beach settle following large waves, and the bottom starts to become clear. It is a precious observation for the silt is slight, and any currents from waves or torrents will easily disrupt the silence. 

Yet, the bottom is always there. The foundation is always here. The centre is always the centre. The illusion of the bottom, foundation or centre disappearing is just that – an illusion. Yet we believe because our senses are presented an alternate picture, that the centre is dissolving; the foundation is shifting; the bottom is collapsing. 

Yet the bottom is always there. The foundation is always here. The centre is always the centre. 

So why do we succumb to the illusion? Why do we believe the illusion when we’ve experienced the return of the centre numerous times before? Why do we doubt the infinite nature of the light that is ki – the source of all moments?  

We succumb, for the illusion is the most insidious of illusions – an illusion that does not lead us to believe, but IS a belief. The illusion is a belief. A belief that the centre has dissolved, the foundation has eroded, the bottom has crumbled. The illusion is not an illusion of senses. The illusion is an illusion of belief. 

Illusions of senses, although powerful, do not shift the beliefs of the mind. They challenge them, trick them, mislead them. 

But illusions of belief are beliefs that attempt to replace, substitute or displace those beliefs that we have come to rely upon to frame our world, frame our view, frame our reactions. This is why illusions of belief are so much more powerful, for they not only frame our view, but more critically, they frame our reactions. As such, if they can frame our reactions, they become our reactions, and in become our reactions, they become — come-to-be — us. 

Such a view begs the question that are not all our beliefs illusions, projections, patterns? And if all our beliefs are projections, how are we to know which are “real” and which are “false”?  Are we not solely able of defining real and false by our preference, desires and aspirations?  What is the alternative? What is the basis upon which we can test our illusions of belief against a broader truth, a more universal truth?

The absolute present. Setsuna. The infinite now. 

Illusions of belief can only reside in the memories of the past, or the aspirations of the future. Illusions of belief can only thrive, grow and root in the regrets of the past — even the past of a few seconds ago — or in the fear, worry or desires of the future — even if the future is but a breath away. 

Illusions of belief cannot reside in the absolute present, in the infinite now, for in the now —setsuna— there is no illusion, there is just experience, just sensations, just connection with the infinite possibilities of the absolute. Illusions of belief cannot thrive in ki, they cannot live or contact ki, for illusions of belief are tension. They are tension of the mind, tension of thought, tension of consciousness. 

In setsuna, there is no tension for there is only experience, there is only absolute presence, there is only sensations underpinned, guided and created by Ki. 

And in no tension of thoughts, there is peace. In no tension of thoughts, illusions of belief dissolve, for there is no ground upon which to root, for there is no ground. There is nothing, for there is but emptiness and silence. There is nothing, including no illusions of beliefs. 

Our battle emerges from the incessant nature of our illusions of belief to drag us to the past, or rush us to the future, for the illusions of belief need air, need the tension of though to breath and thrive. 

Hence our battle will forever exist, for we cannot eradicate the past or future. Or is that but another illusion of belief which ensures that we will forever attach to the shores of the past or future? What if choose to head out to the endless ocean, where we loose sight of the shoreline, and have but the absolute present as our existence?

 In that moment, our battle would cease, for we would cease to keep close to the shores of the past or future, and would become immersed in the absolute moment which only the endless ocean of Ki can provide. In that moment, we would have expressed an absolute faith in Ki, for we would become immersed in the ocean of Ki — and we would abandon the desire, the aspiration for a shoreline. 

Then we would truly sail on the ocean, the waves, the eternal Ki. 

Then we would come to be but the infinite moment — setsuna — and all reactions would forever end. 

“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

“ki flows from the breath. Inward and outward, deeply into and out of the hara, breath brings forth ki, and returns ki to the whole of the universe”.

-namaste

In the fullest moment, words emerge from our soul, from our spirit, and not our mind or our thoughts. These moments are the most enriching, the most fulfilling, for words are no longer words, but they are vibrations, they are our spirit speaking in symbols and images through which we hopefully connect with others.

For what other purpose are words, spoken and written, but to connect with others?
Words, when spoken or emerging from the hara, in the case of the written form, take on a weight, a flow, a meaning that words spoken from the mind and thoughts cannot have. I have written many words from the mind, words to convince, words to convey frustration or desire for change, words to request something. Words which, like noise, are sent into the world looking for somewhere to land, somewhere to be heard, and wishfully accepted, respected, acknowledged.

These are not the words I speak of at this moment. The words we speak of emerge from ku, vacuity, from silence, emptiness, voidness, nothingness. These are words that are resonances of our soul, our journey, our path, our dō. Such words are filled with Ki, born of Ki, infused with Ki, and therefore seek not to influence, alter, distract. They are words which reflect the eternal truth, the truth that we all seek in one form or another.

Unlike moments that fill the space with endless dialogue, I speak of words that are few, words that seek not to overwhelm the intellect with impressive logic, or rarity of use, but rather words that come from the pure present moment. Not words which are weighted down by the past, or words that seek to form the future. Such words are from the present moment, from the infinite present where all words always emanate, but fall prey to ambition, greed, fear or attachment. True words emerge from sensations of lightness and light, not weight and darkness.

In the fullest moments, words are spoken with a breath that exhales deeply from the hara, words that are spoken with the spirit of kiai. All our spoken words can be words filled with kiai, for all words are the products of exhalation – too frequently not from the hara, but from the mind, the ego. In the same way, written words can be created from the exhalation of the spirit, from the hara, where the key strokes or pen strokes are not from the mind or ego, but from the body and the spirit, the whole of the body engaged in the action of the symbols being stitched together. In such moments, words, like song, emerge as a flow of consciousness, a product of the infinite present being the source of the energy and spirit. Such words, like songs, are infused with life – for no true words, like music, can emerge only from mind and ego only.

Many moments and days interfere with this state of creation, overcome by the emergency of wanting more, the rush to nowhere, the pressure to busyness, the distraction as modern currency. Attention, the essential ingredient for the concentration of ki, is rarely found, and if so, threatened by the addiction to distraction.

“What is concentration? The ability for harmony, to put all one’s ki, all one’s energy into every single act one performs”
-Deshimaru

From harmony of mind, body and spirit, words are not required, not essential, for harmony is the state of being with the emptiness and nothingness of the universe – being with the energy of the cosmos, Ki. In harmony, the mind empties of the need to articulate words and finds truth in vibrations and resonance. Words become the conduit for such vibrations, bringing forth the truth deeply within.

So how do we know if words, spoken internally or posed externally, are infused with Ki?
Listen. Simply listen, deeply, patiently, with the spirit and the whole. Listen with the mind, the body and the spirit, not only the body, or only the mind, or only the spirit. Words which speak to only one of the three are words not infused with Ki – they are words which seek to please the body, impress the mind or appease the spirit. Words which are infused with Ki take on the world entire, and bring the universal truth before one’s moment.

Listen, deeply, for the silence and emptiness within the words, for words infused with Ki are in essence empty. They are empty of ambition and desire, empty of greed or want, void of all desires of the mind or body. They are, like the light of the sun, or sound of the wind, purely the emanation of life itself, which brings to emptiness no more than emptiness is willing to allow. Such words do not overfill, they simply speak the truth of the moment, leaving much silence and emptiness, given the listener much space to reflect.

I fell that there are few words today that are filled with Ki. So many words fill the space, yet are the products of the mind. So few words are the natural product of the harmony of mind, body and spirit. So few.

And so it will remain, for few words can be filled with Ki. Few spoken or written words can be infused with Ki. So listen, observe and notice when such words find their way to you.

Listen, deeply, and remind yourself to speak from the hara, and write from the hara. That way, your words will be a small attempt at bringing more Ki into the world.

For the most powerful words are those filled with Ki.
But they can be identical to words that are NOT infused with Ki.
Only tranquil, mindful awareness will enable you to notice the difference.

Listen.

“Zazen cannot be expressed in words because that would be fooling people, like offering them a painting of an apple and telling them it is good to eat”
–Deshimaru

‘When the wind of change blows, some people build walls and other people build windmills.’
Chinese Proverb

Walls are solid, windmills are both solid and empty – hence why they work. Windmills are not only empty…they are both empty and not empty. Walls are not empty. In the emptiness is the space and openness to be within the wind of change, and flow, be in harmony, with the change that, along with the emptiness, are the only two permanent truths. The truth of infinite change, and the truth of infinite stillness, silence and emptiness.

The permanence of emptiness and non-emptiness, stillness and non-stillness, nothingness and non-nothingness.

Resistance to change is the result of ignorance of the absolute truth lying within the infinite stillness and nothingness. Once the infinite stillness and nothingness comes into full awareness, change of any sort, change of all sorts, is possible. Even death, the ultimate form of change, is warmly accepted and allowed, as death of any form is but the truth of the universe, the impermanent nature of all, within the infinite, timeless emptiness and silence of eternity.

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“Shugyō is a tricky word to define. At a basic level, it is a mental and physical discipline one undertakes for the sake of self-cultivation”
– Jk mann

Self-cultivation. Is there really any other reason to practice? Not self-improvement. Self-cultivation, the practice of simply being, and growing, is like when we cultivate crops, cultivate students, cultivate relationships, cultivate patience.

On the mat, a sense of calmness and flow occurs when we practice with the intent of self-cultivation. This is because there is no goal in cultivation – only being. Being with the growth that is intrinsic, and not extrinsic. Being with the moment that is pure and present, for all growth and cultivation goes through the present. Being, not doing.

You can’t do cultivation, you are cultivation. It is in the patience and awareness of simple being, simple, endless change, that manifests shugyō.

Shugyō is non-attachement, keeping one point at the hara, flowing ki, relaxed with our body weigh fully extended in all directions, an infinite awareness temporally as well as spatially.

Shugyō is without desire, without fear, without greed or expectation. It is the infinite awareness.

“With interest and investigation there’s wisdom. Effort alone, without wisdom—the way people generally understand it—is associated with strained activity because it is usually motivated by greed, aversion, and delusion. Effort with wisdom is a healthy desire to know and understand whatever arises, without any preference for the outcome.”
– Sayadaw U Tejaniya, “The Wise Invesigator”

Shugyō cares not for the outcome, for we are what we are. Shugyō is effortless for it is what we essentially are, once the fullest of illusions is subsumed. Shugyō is infinite for all is emptiness – all is infinite.

Shugyō is not learnt, for it is present. Shugyō is not mastered, for we already master our own spirit, when expressed.

Shugyō is silence.

Shugyō is pure presence, basking within the flow of ki ofthe universe.

Shugyō is just being.

Practice on and off the mat accordingly.

“Awareness cannot be taught. Awareness simply throws light on what is, without any separation whatsoever. Activity does not destroy it and sitting does not create it.

It is there, uncreated, freely functioning in wisdom and love, when self-centered conditioning is clearly revealed, in the light of understanding.

When the changing states of body-mind are simply left to themselves without any choice or judgment, a new quietness emerges by itself.

This new mind that is no-mind is free of duality—there is no doer in it and nothing to be done.”

~Toni Packer

Practice and being is not about control
It is about surrender
Surrender of the concept
That we control our world
And those around us

Practice and being is about katsu
It is as O’Sensei spike
About self victory
Surrendering the concepts
Of ever controlling the external
And becoming fully aware
And mindful
As the stoics spoke as well

The warriors battle is with the self
The world is your mat
Every moment is your mat
For your training and your practice
To control the self

True victory
On the mat that is the world
Is self victory

“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

“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

Art distills sensations and embodies it with enhanced meaning.

~ Miguel de Unamuno

reflections from a recent meditation session…

a feeling of pressure and entrainment carries me on an almost unconscious level. like being in a running river, life jacket well cliped on, but being entrained nonetheless. it is a feeling, a physical feeling.

sensations in the body can be the root of our actions, our behaviors, our feelings. what if the sensations were so pervasive, and so interlinked with our thinking patterns that we had created an endless closed loop?  like gravity, you cannot know the feeling of not having it unless you go out of your way to eliminate it, or happen to experience by accident, the absence of it, if even for one moment. no amount of reading, re reading and research can substitute for the experience itself – experience, fully lived, can shift ones thinking – ones view of the moment. mindset is not changed by lectures and words – although they have served the purpose in some instances – but by experiences that shift the sensations in the body even for a second.

so how to know what of my thinking creates the sensations of being in a rushing river? when sitting, the imagined fear creates the same sensations as the real fear, acute, localized and real sensations.

“Do not look upon this world with fear and loathing. Bravely face whatever the gods offer.”

~ Morihei Ueshiba

but what if the overall sensations were so pervasive, ubiquitous and transparent that we don’t even realize or are aware that they are the result of our thinking? not the result of real experiences – the result of our thinking!

thinking that is not only conscious – but more insidious, our unconscious thinking!! those scripts that run in the background that keep the conscious scripts running. if sitting reveals the effect that our conscious thinking can have on our physical sensations, can sitting reveal our unconscious scripts and thoughts?

if sitting seeks to tune into the vibrations at all levels, then only through deep listening can the unconscious script be observed, and maybe even heard.

listen, deeply, and follow where the mind flows. the conscious can be swayed by the unconscious, but the unconscious cannot sway ki. ki leads all – conscious through the unconscious.

ki, coming, going or sitting still for a moment, leads the mind (conscious, through the unconscious), which leads the body (sensations, movement, speech, glance and attention).  if the mind, both conscious and unconscious, overtake the moment, ki can be taken, directed externally and lead the body.

if your spirit – the realm of ki – is immature, or undertrained, having succumbed to the mind’s power and strength, then our ki is at risk to being taken and moved. our mind is a vicious adversary, one that will never hesitate to grab the upper hand at any time.

In extreme situations, the entire universe becomes our foe; at such critical times, unity of mind and technique is essential – do not let your heart waver!

~ Morihei Ueshiba

training the spirit to give, take and hold ki, will prevent it from being taken by anything, anyone, or any moment. even the mind then becomes no different than any other antagonist – one to be watched, observed, listened and gently asked to play the role it plays – not one of spirit, but one of mind – the master of the body and its biological functions.

watch your mind, conscious and unconscious, always attempting to control ki through taking, sending or holding it.

in some instances, the mind can mimic or even pretend to be the spirit. do not fall spell to this trick. you will know that the mind is mimicking the spirit by the quality of the body. the mind cannot mimic the spirit without the body being engaged. the body will show signs of engagement, of attachment, and will prevent ki from flowing as a result of the background tension that resides. when the spirit is truly present, the five principles manifest, for coordination of mind body and spirit has manifested.

your own mind is your deadliest enemy. your body is the mind’s accomplice. your spirit, with ki as the currency, is truth and life. train the spirit, and ki will be tamed. tame ki, and the mind will no longer be autonomous in its decisions and actions. tame the mind, and the body and its many manifestations as inputs and outputs – manifestations from the mind (movement, glance, listening, touching, speaking and thoughts) – and manifestations from outside (sounds, light, sensations, thoughts, taste and smells) become just that – manifestations.

Always keep your mind as bright and clear as the vast sky, the great ocean, and the highest peak, empty of all thoughts. Always keep your body filled with light and heat. Fill yourself with the power of wisdom and enlightenment.
~ Morihei Ueshiba