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“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

“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