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“One with the eyes open sees things at a distance, the attention is distracted forcibly and the heart thrown into confusion. When the eyes are closed there is a fall into darkness, and no clarity in the heart. When the eyes are half open the thought does not rush about, body and mind are at one”

-jk mann

I am a visual person. Always have been. Ever since I was old enough to read, I enjoyed the books with lots of pictures. Words were never my favorite part of a book. I took more from the images, the colors, the shades and shapes. I loved leafing through a new book and taking in the pictures and shapes more so than the narrative and logical arguments. I still do.

I’ve come to accept that I’m a visual person, and that what I see dominates my thinking, my thought patterns, my reaction to things.

This is why eye contact is sometimes difficult, and why I prefer listening to someone who looking at them directly when they talk. This behaviour has been interpreted as rude by some, less intrusive by others. For me, it has been a natural defence mechanism in response to reacting to the glance from someone who emits strong facial and body language.

Over the past months, how and why I look at something or not has begun to permeate more forcefully my aikido practice, as well as my days at work. I don’t know if this is the result of becoming more at ease on the mat. Maybe it is an age thing – by the time you reach 47, old habits begin to wear thin, and one begins to question why these habits, good or bad, were even given some much weight.

The habit I have decided no longer serves me, on and off the mat, which I have chosen to reteach is how I see the mind, how I see the world, how I see others.
In essence, how I look at things, figuratively and literaly.

“To think only of winning is sickness. To think only of using the martial arts is sickness. To think only of demonstrating the result of one’s training is sickness, as is thinking only of making an attack or waiting for one. To think in a fixated way only of expelling such sickness is also sickness”

-jk mann

There are thousands of ways that we can look at the world. Our eyes are but one way that we can look and see the world, but, as noted above, our eyes tend to dominate the mind for many, leading the mind onto journeys that it was not anticipating.

Images attempt to capture our minds and our ki in an endless array of still and moving pictures. Be it books or magazines, which have made photoshop a verb and a norm for altering the actual. Be it movies, which captivate our senses for a few hours, bringing us on journeys of fantasy, love, or social commentary. Be it television, that ubiquitous box that captivates many a soul, frequently into narratives and moments  short on substance, and long on distraction.  Be it the endless stream of images, pictures and pictograms on the internet – a bottomless ocean of incessant images – numbing our ability to accept and appreciate the beauty and truth captured by every image.

Every image is, for me, pure perception, a capture of an infinite moment, where irrespective of the content or beauty, a finite sliver of reality is forever captured.

And so it is for me when I’m on the mat, a series of moments to capture an image or two, as complete and whole, as present and complete as any perfect camera could capture.

Movement, as many have expressed, is but a sequence of endless moments. When we cease to see the moments, and become captured by the sequence of moments, the moments cease to exist – and we become captivated by the motion, the action, the speed by which things happen. Our mind becomes attached to the motion of images. Our ki and spirit become captured by the endless cycle of actions and pictures – the illusion of motion becoming the only reality we can accept.

So what is one to do to not be taken by the motion, and become one with the moment, moment after moment? What is one to do to maintain harmony of mind, body and spirit, most notably when the eyes and glance can so easily succumb to the allure of the movement?

Of late, I have chosen a practice where I go panorama – where my glance is as open, wide and far reaching as I can make it. Two aspects of the practice are present – the physical observation, and the mental. In the physical aspect, looking becomes one of seeing all and seeing one simultaneously. Seeing starts with observing the task at hand, be it the dishes, the book in question, the driving, or the computer screen. Easy to observe these mind-attracting tasks, and loose our sense of the wider world. And so the glance expands, to go beyond the point of focus, to envelop the world entire, as if our visual field was filled with light and an energy. In these moments, we can see clearly our task at hand, yet notice the world surrounding us, appreciating the many shades and angles, yet not taken by any of those elements. When everything is within our field, nothing takes our field of view. Our view becomes viewing all and one, one and all. Our mind ceases to be taken by the single image, the single moment, and begins to flow from moment to infinite moment, and we become like the mirror – reflecting all that is, without attaching to any of it.

Our physical visual world can so easily take our mind that we often spend much of our time with our eyes closed in order to avoid the traps. Easy to do so when meditation, sitting in a meeting or at a coffee shop with a dear friend. However, our mental imagery can be even more mischievous.  Our mind is unable to know the difference between an imagined image – an image imagined – and a true image. Hence the power of visualization. So the practice of taking the whole of the world also needs to be taken to the mind. Our mind can create its own images, leading to the mind being captured by its own illusions – for mental images are nothing but illusions, images which in many circumstances, are being generated by the same mind seeking to detach from all.

The physical images can be quite easily deleted by closing ones eyes, or more easily balanced when expanding the visual field to take the whole of the world. The mental images is quite another matter – where images may only be within one’s consciousness, and their purpose is simply to keep the mind occupied, subdued, pleasant through a movie of its own.

Yet, the mental images can be as easily approached as the physical – if one detaches from all, and accepts all mental as other mental constructs – impermanent and not a reflection of one’s self.

Deleting the mental images is not by closing the eyes – this often makes it worst, as if the mind now chooses to substitute the lacking physical images with a myriad of mental ones. One deletes the mental images by being, and accepting that any and all images that come from the mind are impermanent, temporary and will come and will go – as real, as alluring, or as mysterious as they may be. One can drop such mental images by not attaching to them, allowing them to come and go a clouds come in the sky.

As for taking the whole of the images, through expanding the field of view to all mental images, the same practice comes into play. Detach from all images, and all images come into view. Detach from all mental images, and all mental images come into view – past, present and future images.

The mental and physical image that results is one of pure, infinite, still emptiness, within which is presented a movie, fast, slow, many changing moments, or a slow gradual change of tones and shades. In both the mental and physical realm, the images become products of the stillness, the emptiness, and ones focus becomes whole when the emptiness becomes the sky – the only image that never changes.

“we are not to be detached from the world, alone in our own minds, nor have our mind caught by any one thing. Our eyes express this.”

-jk mann

“When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is. We put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. We just see things as they are with him, and accept them. This is how we communicate with each other. Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself. You are actually listening to your own opinion. If it agrees with your opinion you may accept it, but if it does not, you will reject it or you may not even really hear it.

– Suzuki, zen mind, beginner’s mind

We spend hours, days, even years not listening. It starts young. It starts when we become aware that the world does not behave like we wish it would…or is it when our desires emerge to see it differently? We increasingly become defined by the desires and cravings to want the world to be more like us – we defend our ideas, we defend our habits, we defend our decisions, past and future. We defend our illusions and constructed existence.

Such illusions and constructed existence is vulnerable however to one thing – truth. Our illusions and constructed existence eventually encounters the impermanence and non-self that is truth. Reality has a cruel, yet compassionate way to remind us of what is truth. It might be a life altering experience that wakes us up. It might be a life milestone that makes us reconsider our script. It might be the simplest of moments which provides an awareness of what is – the pure, unfiltered truth.

But usually, it is a malaise which wakes us. A discomfort, lingering and below the surface, incessantly scratches at the veneer of our constructed existence. We ignore it for days or even years, arguing that the sensation is our lack of commitment, our laziness, our undisciplined self – a feeling that is to be mastered, controlled and denied air.  We make choices, we take decisions, we say or not say things to deny the malaise room to speak, to stunt its growth.

But like the death, the malaise will inevitably dominate our thoughts, feelings and sensations. The malaise will emerge to direct our life. The malaise will show itself as the one truth that we have always known, but have relegated to the proverbial closet.

The malaise is our true self, ignored and denied the chance to fully live.

“Vipassana teaches the art of dying: how to die peacefully, harmoniously. And one learns the art of dying by learning the art of living: how to become master of the present moment.”

– S. N. Goenka

At the moment the malaise is fully born, fully brought into the present moment, death occurs. Death of the illusions and the constructed existence that has been our so-to-speak life. Such death is beyond any death experience we may have experienced before, for it is not death of a loved one. It is not the death of a dream or a great job. It is not death of a loving friendship that has run its course. It is death of the structures, thoughts, images, beliefs and commitments that have formed our own identity. It is the death of our foundation, our frame, our façade and structure.

It should not surprise anyone that the response to such an awakening is to bury the malaise under even more illusion and constructed existence. The moment the malaise shows us even a glimpse of an alternate possibility – a deeper more pure truth, seismic tremors emerge. Seismic about how deep they reach into our past and our self. Seismic in the fears and feelings of denial it can generate.

At that moment, there is only one choice, one decision to take. Defend the illusions and constructed existence, or surrender. Surrender to the truth. Give up to the malaise and the path it opens to you. Stop trying to keep up the illusions and constructed existence.

Give in to the malaise, not in the same way you have given to the illusions and constructed existence. Just give without expectation, without greed. Give yourself over fully, to your true path.

“To give is nonattachment. That is, just not to attach to anything is to give. It does not matter what is given.”

– Dogen

Giving up and surrendering to our malaise is to give to our true self. To give ourselves fully to our true voice is to give without attachment – for it is our true self. We have no need to attach to our true self for it is us. We simply become our true self.

Our illusions and constructed existence is not our true self – so we attach to them, like a shell is attached to the frame. We have no choice but to attach to something that is not us – it is the only way it can become part of us. But it is not what we are. It can never be what we are. As we expend our energies into growing and giving life to the illusions and constructed existence, those energies do not come from our true self. Those energies come from our desires and dreams, they are from our past memories, and our future hopes and wishes.

The most potent and real energy – the energy of the pure present moment – is shorted and redirected into the past or future, to fuel the illusions and constructed existence which we call our self.

But like a smoky fire, the energy does not consume our full self, only the shell that is the illusion – leaving a lingering malaise within, eagerly looking to be consumed by the present moment. The malaise is the ache that comes from our true self not burning bright, but rather smothered by the burning embers of illusions and constructed existence.

On the mat or the cushion, practice is the path to harmony of mind, body and spirit. This path is the way – the way for the malaise to emerge slowly, safely. The practice is the way for the present moment to be our true moment. The practice is the way for our malaise to speak to us in ways that otherwise would not be heard.

Practice is our chance to bring mind, body and spirit together, and begin to trust that our malaise is not to be feared or buried, but to be listened and fully accepted. Practice is the doorway to fully being.

Our alternative is to burn but a shell of what we are, or could be, leaving at the end of the journey embers of what we could have been.

“In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do. You will have something remaining which is not completely burned out. Zen activity is activity which is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes.”

– Suzuki, zen mind, beginner’s mind

Most of our suffering comes from habitual thinking. If we try to stop it out of aversion to thinking, we can’t; we just go on and on and on. So the important thing is not to get rid of thought, but to understand it. And we do this by concentrating on the space in the mind, rather than on the thought.

– Ajahn Sumedho, “Noticing Space”

Over the past few weeks, my meditation practice has taken a turn towards exploring nothingness, emptiness and silence. After much visualization and other content-focused practice. I’ve turned my attention to non-content. To emptiness.

At first, practicing on emptiness sounds simple, no? Just meditate on emptiness. Yet, we live in such a material-laden world, it is quite difficult many days to imagine nothingness. True, pure, silent nothingness. And so, my journey began with trying to imagine

what nothingness could be.

I quickly converged on the scientific approach and took direction from the observation that most matter, if not most of the universe, is nothing. Some have reported that over 99.9999999999…..% of all matter is empty (yup, lots of 9’s ). So empty in fact, that others have claimed that all of what we consider to be solid matter could fit in something the size of an ice-cube. And given that all matter is effectively energy (courtesy of Mr Einstein’s E=mc^2), there is really no solid matter to work with.

When considering gases and liquids, which are even more void-rich th

an solids, it was further evidence that most of what we know and sense is nothingness and silence.

Practice is the spaces and the silence, not in what fills the spaces and the silence.

– dan

Without getting too metaphysical, or entertaining the concept of dark matter (a topic for another time), practice began to focus on the emptiness so pervasive around us. For a while, the emptiness was visualized like the matter which surrounded it. Emptiness also became as much a part of what surrounded me, and inherently a sub-component of matter. Emptiness was not empty.

20130919-225644.jpg

Then during one session not so long ago, and interesting observation of the breath revealed a different sensation of emptiness. While practicing Vipassana, and noticing the sensations on a tiny portion of the upper lip, it was clear that the space, the emptiness, the nothingness, the silence that was just adjacent to that sensation, the emptiness through which air molecules traveled to eventually enter my lungs, traveled through an emptiness that was no different from the emptiness within the molecules and atoms. My own body was composed of emptiness no different from the emptiness of the universe. My thoughts existed within an emptiness no different from the 99.999999….% of emptiness that composed all the known and unknown consciousness.

Allowing myself to rest in the infinite, timeless, silent emptiness, it became further and further clear with every breath that the only constant within an ever-changing cosmos, micro and macro, was this emptiness. An emptiness within which all sensations, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, manifest. An emptiness that welcomes all, and releases all. An emptiness so still and silent that we may live entire lives never aware of its ubiquitous nature. A still, silent emptiness within which comes and goes every moment, every sensation, every memory, every dream, every fear, every desire, every thought, every word.

In this silence, there is no fear, no desire, no wants, no needs. Nothing. There is nothing but peace, acceptance, non-attachment, love.

In this nothingness and profound stillness, the gap, the space vanishes between self and the world entire. We become one with the world and the universe, for we are all basically nothing. Essence of the eternal sea of nothingness.

Floating in an eternal, infinite sea of pure silence and emptiness, a calmness overcomes, and all tension subsides. All tightness dissipates. All becomes one with the eternal stillness.

Within this eternal, infinite stillness flows, I increasingly feel, the Ki of the universe. Coming to know the stillness intimately, is to come to know the silence and emptiness in its purest form. Within nothingness resides the stillness, silence and needlessness that is the foundation of achieving harmony of the mind, body and spirit.

The eternal stillness permeates the universe entire, planets, galaxies, bodies, solid, and not. The eternal stillness is infinite. It is timeless. It is boundless. It is without need, purpose or mission. It just is. Simply still, silent, empty.

And so should our practice be, on or off the mat.

Silence is something that comes from your heart, not from outside. Silence doesn’t mean not talking and not doing things; it means that you are not disturbed inside. If you’re truly silent, then no matter what situation you find yourself in you can enjoy the silence.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart of the Matter”

“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

“Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing.”

~ Rachel Naomi Remen

Upon the mat, as well as any other moment of the day, silence is always with us. Much of our world, however, seeks to interrupt our silence, fill our silence with sights, sounds, sensations – noise as I sometimes like to call it. Our world is sensations, sensations which are cast upon the silence that is our true essence.

Recently, I have found my meditation practice shifting to simply being in the silence, and listening, deeply. Listening for the thoughts that come and go. Listening to the sounds that traverse the neighborhood at the earliest hours of the morning. Listening to the cravings that speak to desires and wishes past and future. Listening to the mind who often seeks to convince that thoughts are silence.

Nothing other than sitting – silently – is required to being in the world – the focus being the word “being”.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Blaise Pascal

Being is not popular in a world where we are unfortunately often measured, loved or hated, liked or disliked, by what we do or not do, what we own or not own (as a result of what we do), what we say or don’t say, what actions we take or not take.

But rarely are we simply accepted, simply respected, simply loved, for just being. In just being is the silence, the space, the essence that is pure love. Not the love associated with things, events, or other external objects. Love associated with the acceptance and respect of the essential essence that resides in all beings – the silence – where the soul and spirit calls home.

But are we not “doing” when we are “doing nothing”? Are we practicing non-silence when doing? In the moment of pure silence, whatever we “do” is non-doing, for we are not attached to the “doing”. We simply do, detached from the past memories and future dreams, in the silence that is eternal.

I think this state is what was meant in part when some speak of “when you walk, just walk. when you eat, just eat, when you….”. You get the idea.

In pure silence, we do what we are called to do, not because of what it may bring, what it may resolve from past errors, what it might gain us, but because it is what we are called to do – simply.

So sit, quietly, and practice listening to the silence. Doing will then become simply doing.

My father taught me that we are what we do, not what we say.

~ David Suzuki

When you talk, say not a word
A white flower grows in the quiet. Let your tongue become that flower.

—Rumi (1207-1273)”

In 2006, I traveled to Seoul, South Korea for a business trip. At that point in my life, I had studied Buddhism for the better part of 8 or 9 years. For some reason, the proximity to the far east, likely combined with jet lag, led me to the most oriental of rituals – a Starbucks in downtown Seoul.

Over a latte or venti bold…it’s been too long to remember…I sat down and told myself that I would not rise from the seat I was sitting in until I produced a triad – a summary, in three verses, of what Buddhism had taught me up to that point. It was a point where I needed to summarize for me what Buddhism brought into my life, in simple and condensed thoughts.

Then, without much effort, the following verses came to me as an instruction of how to practice at every infinite moment:

Be silentwork triad

in thought

in speech

Be still

in glance

in movement

Be without need

in heart

in mind

I sat, stunned at the simplicity of the words, and the truth that they spoke to me. I looked out at the window, throngs of Koreans walking by, and was struck by the non-nondescript place and context within which such words came about. I also envisioned that they would come when visiting a major temple or shrine – never a Starbucks in a busy Seoul business district.

So what of these simple thoughts? I still study them often, and return to them in moments of difficulty on or off the mat. Many interpretations and ideas have I attributed to them, some in an attempt to over-analyze, others in an attempt to convince myself that these thoughts are filled with flaws. At this moment, I take them as follows.

Be still, in movement, is for me movement without movement. Movement required, no more. Movement with grace and peace. Be still, in glance, is to look at the world in a quiet, serene way. Not shifting, nervous eyes, but the eyes that come with coordination of mind, body and spirit – gentle eyes. In essence, stillness of the eternal nothingness.

Be silent, in thought, is the quieting of the mind, the chatter, the clutter that is our modern mind.  Be silent, in words, is to speak only when words are needed, and even then, with few words, reflecting patience, serenity and peace. Both are not to be interpreted as silencing all thoughts and words, but in seeing the thoughts and words against the silence of the eternal emptiness.

Be without need, in mind, is the quieting of desire, of craving, of neediness. In our consumerist society, our craving mind is a calculating foe – practice expends much in addressing this adversary. Be without need, in heart, is the quieting of desire, of craving, of neediness that is rooted beneath the mind, deep within our emotions and heart. Being without need, in heart, is not being heartless, but in being with unbounded love, for we can give, and fully expect nothing in return.

And so these words have been an inspiration and guidance for me over the years. I have two calligraphies that remind me of these words that uttered from my years of practice. One is home, the other at work. I often explain to those who ask what the calligraphy represents, and I try to explain. Often, gracious acknowledgement is given. Frequently, discomfort from some who seem to be surprised by the personal nature of the message.

Home triad

For me, the message is universal. Although it was the product of study, I consider it nothing more than the product of my understanding and decision to summarize my studies in a way that could be easily remembered, understood, and shared.

And my guideposts for when moments are fleeting or challenging my practice. I’ve come to accept that if only these three practices are sustained – silence, stillness, needlessness – practice will forever be rich and engaging.

Neither the past

Nor the future

Can injure or harm us

Only the present

And if our mind

Is unable to manage only that

Then we are truly without peace

 

– Dan, 2007

 

“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.

“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