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Relax Completely

We cannot live in the past; it is gone. Nor can we live in the future; it is forever beyond our grasp. We can live only in the present.

– S.N. Goenka

A little under two years ago, I was fortunate to attend a 10 day vipassana retreat north of Montebello Quebec, Canada. Although my reasons for attending were largely driven by various life challenges at the time, I was surprised to discover, and not, that there were many similarities between vipassana and my practice of aikido at the time. Since that 10 day retreat, I’ve been pretty regular with my daily vipassana practice, putting in on average one hour per day on the cushion. Over those many months since the retreat, I’ve come to draw parallels between vipassana and my aikido practice, notably in relation to the various aikido principles, as well as some of what I consider to be core lessons and values of Ki-aikido practice.

Equanimity

In vipassana, seeking equanimity to internal sensations becomes a battle with ones own thoughts and mental secretions, in addition to any sensations that come from through the five physical senses. How surprised we can be when we observe the intensity by which our own physical and mental sensations can simply overpower our will, leading us to various unforeseen reactions. Sitting on the cushion becomes a dojo of the mind and body, where our consciousness trains to become equanimity to whatever arises – internal, or external.

In aikido, we seek equanimity at every moment, most notably when we are being attacked physically, mentally, emotionally or even spiritually. Such attacks are not really the attack that concern us, but rather they become the triggers for our reaction to the threat – the fight or flight which can so dominate our mental and physical reactions. Like the cushion, the mat becomes the training ground to develop an equanimity in response to whatever arises externally or internally, at any time.

In both the cases of aikido and vipassana, equanimity brings us to a state of ongoing response to the discrete sequence of moments that compose our lives. Through equanimity, response – and not reaction – becomes our way of being.

Sensations

One of the most dramatic occurrences during the 10 day retreat was becoming aware of the depth and range of sensations that are continuously playing throughout our bodies. Some sensations are subtle and soft, others hard and harsh. But all have the potential of attaching the mind and leading to actions which are largely, if not primarily driven by the sensations in question. To discover that our bodily and mental sensations are just simply just that – sensations that come and go – we practice by simply observing without attachment so that we may slowly make our way to freedom.

In aikido, sensations are in many instances what hinders us, challenges us, scares us, and forces us to react to moments when we either feel actual pain from a hold or pin, or when we fear that we will be harmed. Sensations at first become our master, but then become our teachers, our guide, our mentor for how to act and respond to the current moment. Sensations become not only those isolated to individual limbs or extensions, but become those that are the whole of our physical selves – sensations that in some instances are not the reflections of the senses, but rather the reaction to a trigger or conflict brought to us externally, or in many instances, internally.

Sensations are in the cases of aikido and vipassana the uke which truly trains us to become centered and free – free from the sensations themselves – at which moment we become connected not with our sensations, but the with universe entire.

Balance and centering

Towards the last few days of the 10 day retreat, a sense of balance and centering started to emerge – a sense that was not sensory or sensations per se, but rather a vibration, a settling of the troubled waters of the mind and spirit. Upon those settled waters, our physical and mental sensations begin to be reflected and our ability to choose to respond becomes more acute. With each additional hour of practice on the cushion, our ability to act from a point of balance and centre – a single point, one point – comes to be our way of being.

In that moment, balance and centering becomes the result of equanimity, and not the source of equanimity – equanimity is detachment from sensations per se. With equanimity as a settling, an evenness of the spirit, body and mind, we find the tranquility that manifests in the harmony of ones mind, body and spirit. In equanimity, we become connected with the infinite stillness that is Ki, the essence of life, the light of the eternal universe.

In equanimity upon the cushion or the mat, we find that the breath settles, the body relaxes and the mind expands to the edges of the infinite, where the spirit can fully reside.

…when I say watch, don’t TRY to watch, otherwise you will become tense again, and you will start concentrating on the breath. Simply relax, remain relaxed, loose, and look…because what else can you do?

-Osho

Relax completely

Meditation can often be confused or equated with relaxation. I don’t consider meditation relaxation – quite the opposite – there are days that it is downright draining. But it is on those days that the practice becomes true practice – a practice of extracting and reshaping the habits, the deep rooted habits that form the patterns of our reactions and the responses to those moments which compose our lives.

This is why vipassana, like aikido, lead us both to the moment where the important lessons is in relaxing not in response to the world, but in spite of it. At our core resides our true essence, our complete lightness from which each moment can manifest as our purpose of being. Many challenges arise when we either mentally, physically or spiritually attach our selves to an outcome, a desired result, a wished way of being. Attachment becomes our downfall, and we emerge overtaken by our mental or other cravings.

In aikido, like vipassana, our training encourages us to find ways to become relaxed, and remain relaxed, irrespective of the internal or external challenges that come our way, at any moment. Relaxation, in both cases, is an outcome of the practice, not the prescription to arrive at the practice in the first place.

Coordination of mind, body and spirit

Coordination of mind, body and spirit, as my aikido training has shown me, is the whole purpose for the practice. In practice, we strive to arrive at a harmony of mind, body and spirit which provides us with the centre, the relaxation, the flow to respond to whatever attacks, threats or challenges we may face – on or off the mat.

In vipassana, the time spent on the cushion becomes the training by which we similarly exercise and develop our ability to respond to whatever challenges, threats or attacks from our own mind or the sensations it can trigger. It was during day 6 or 7 of the 10 day retreat that I found myself in an intense battle with the sensations which were the product of my mind’s desire to not sit and observe the sensations themselves.  In a moment of surrender, I released the desires to control and attempt to the change the sensations of the moment, and simply allowed the whole to come together – a moment where the spirit became fully harmonious and equanimous with both the mind’s and body’s sensations. At that moment, all illusions fell away, and the only moment that ever existed became the present moment – no past, no future, only the infinite present.

True victory is self victory

After 10 days of sitting, it became clear that my training had only begun, and that I would have many hours to sit on the cushion and simply observe the various sensations, strong and harsh, cold and fear-engaging, warm and loving, or ego-driven. In essence, the 10 days of sitting on the cushion taught me that the only victory to be sought was the victory over one’s own sensations and illusions, victory over one’s own beliefs, aversions and adversions, if arriving at such a state can be truly called a victory.

Rather than victory, it could be called developing an awareness – an awareness of the possibility that we each possess the means by which to discover and maintain equanimity over our self emotions, our mental and physical sensations, and have the ability to choose our responses according to reality – including our full range of sensations – strong or weak, good or bad.

As with aikido, where we train to become the way (do) of harmony (ai) with the flow of the universe (ki), vipassana emerged for me over the 10 days, and remains today, the training to come to be the required response to both the external and internal world in the absolute present moment.

Although I draw the parallels between aikido and vipassana, I am convinced that many, if not all spiritual paths ultimately and inevitably lead to the same door – the door to freedom from illusion, the door of harmony of mind body and spirit, and the door of pure and absolute love in the infinite presence.

Given that no single path can get us there, may we all find the few paths we each are called upon to take our few simple steps.

Therefore no effort is more worthwhile for a human being than the exertion of all one’s faculties to take steps on this path.

– S.N. Goenka

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When you plant seeds in the garden, you don’t dig them up every day to see if they have sprouted yet. You simply water them and clear away the weeds; you know that the seeds will grow in time. Similarly, just do your daily practice and cultivate a kind heart. Abandon impatience and instead be content creating the causes for goodness; the results will come when they’re ready.
– Thubten Chodron, “Meditator’s Toolbox”

Abandon impatience. Abandon the attachment to the quick, rapid reward that society so excellently provides us, in the name of progress and growth, for it is false growth. Abandon the belief that mastery is a destination, and accept it more as a journey – mastery as journey, not as destination.

On the mat, if there is one lesson that has served me well off the mat, it is unlearning impatience. Impatience with others who are either too slow to learn or to quick to wait up. Impatience with concepts too complex to decipher, or too simple to impress. Impatience with techniques who should always work, and techniques who never work.

But of all the impatiences that have visited me on the mat, the most revealing is the impatience with self. Impatience with my own abilities, physical and coordinated, arising from an inability to master a movement at first glance. Impatience with my spirit, wanting to capture and grow, without giving it the time to evolve, naturally, spontaneously. Impatience with the mind, root of most if not all impatience, who thinks that thinking can result in all mastery, given enough intellectual prowess and commitment.

Foolish was I to ever think that impatience would triumph over the natural ways of the universe, and that I would be immune to the struggles and barriers that have come before all those who have chosen the path of aikido.

Your practice should be strengthened by the difficult situations you encounter, just as a bonfire in a strong wind is not blown out, but blazes even brighter.
– Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, “Teachings on the Nature of Mind and Practice”

Aikido, and the time and space of the mat, is a mirror. A mirror that reveals when you are not centred, balanced and coordinated. A time and space that reveals clearly that one’s difficulties are nothing but a mirror of one’s weakness and challenges that require continuous practice.

As with every mirror, it presents itself with absolute patience, for the mirror cannot be without patience. It has infinite patience for it exists but to reflect. Reflect the absolute moment, without past or future, absolute moment with form and without form, an absolute moment with emptiness, stillness and silence as it’s only truth.

In such absolute truth, impatience is revealed in its fullest furry, with nowhere to migrate but upon the canvas of the spirit. Through aikido, full and complete harmony of mind, body and spirit is practiced, where impatience is cornered by the stillness, revealed by the silence, and quenched by the emptiness. One cannot be impatient with true emptiness, stillness and silence.

“Do not become annoyed when faced with difficulties. To do so merely adds difficulty to difficulty and further disturbs your mind. By maintaining a mind of peace and nonopposition, difficulties will naturally fall away.”
– Master Sheng-yen, “Nonopposition”

Impatience is fuelled by our past regrets, our past attachments, the roots of our history and unfed desires. Impatience is harboured by our future wishes, our unbridled and hungry ambitions, our rational and irrational fears. Impatience is not possible in the absolute, infinite moment, for nothing exists in the infinite emptiness, the endless silence, the absolute stillness.

When impatience presents itself, it is a symbol of one’s loss of absolute presence in the infinite moment. When desire, fear or greed defines our breath, we have given impatience a home. When time becomes the absolute master of our thoughts and emotions, we have given the past and future authority over the present. In these rushing moments, impatience becomes the current within which our existence and value is defined. Lost is the balance and harmony arising from the absolute presence, and chained we become to the illusions that mind, body or spirit creates to sustain the current of impatience.

Only is stillness, silence and emptiness can the current of impatience cease. To arrive at such a place, we must remember that we are not, nor ever have been, in the current of impatience – we are the current of impatience, unable to release from the attachment to the comfort that the strength and energy that the current brings.

“We suffer because we marry our instinctive aversion to pain to the deep-seated belief that life should be free from pain. In resisting our pain by holding this belief, we strengthen just what we’re trying to avoid. When we make pain the enemy, we solidify it. This resistance is where our suffering begins.”
– Ezra Bayda, “When It Happens to Us”

If we are the current, and not in the current, how does the mat teach us about releasing the current, not becoming the current? It teaches us by showing us how very little can trigger the current, how very little can create the small currents that grow into larger current, eventually engulfing us whole. It shows us how the slightest motion of another can trigger tension and vibrations in us that unleash currents of regret or desire. It shows us that the slightest tension in our own body, the smallest fears and desires within the deepest recesses of our mind, or the slightest ripples in the ocean where our spirit ebbs and flows – all can contribute to the sustaining the currents of impatience, by way of removing us from the stillness silence and emptiness of the infinite moment.

Our practice on the mat is the practice of life, but is no match for the practice outside of the dojo. Life, in its infinite depth and scope, is the ultimate uke, able to trigger all unforeseen reactions at any moment, for an infinite number of options by which to respond.

In all instances, only one response is truth – response with harmony of mind, body and spirit, response from the infinite present of stillness, silence and emptiness.

Only in silence, stillness and emptiness can the seeds of patience grow, for patience is silence, stillness and emptiness.

“We should be especially grateful for having to deal with annoying people and difficult situations, because without them we would have nothing to work with. Without them, how could we practice patience, exertion, mindfulness, loving-kindness or compassion? It is by dealing with such challenges that we grow and develop.”
– Judy Lief, “Train Your Mind: Be Grateful to Everyone”

“When you fill a room with furniture, where does the space go? When a sound breaks the silence, where does the silence go? When a thought disturbs the stillness of your mind, where does the stillness go?”
– ken mcleod

Emptiness is form, form is emptiness – so often has this phrase been uttered, yet only recently have I begun to integrate it into my practice. As stated by ken mcleod, where does the stillness go? Where does the emptiness go when we fill it with thoughts, emotions, things, events, hopes, desires, fears?

It goes nowhere. It stays, happily present and ubiquitous. We imagine it gone once it is filled. But as with all things, impermanence is the norm, and the only permanent state is emptiness and stillness.

In other words, stillness and emptiness is always there for us. Always. It does not come and go on a whim. It does not appear only in states of deep mediation or serenity. It is always there. We just forget to notice it, we fail to observe it. We choose to fill it. Fill it with sensations, emotions, information, experiences, fill it as we would fill an empty glass with water.

But what of the moment when the glass is filled to the brim, and overflowing. Where does the emptiness and stillness of the void that makes the glass useful go?

“You completely when you rest and do nothing at all. Instead, you follow meticulously and exclusively the cycle of teaching on ignorance, interdependence, and samsara.”
– Jigme Lingpa, The Wisdom Experience of Ever-present Good

The glass remains a glass as long as the void within the glass is recognized and kept in one’s awareness. When the awareness of the stillness and emptiness is replaced by a desire to overfill the glass, to overfill the emptiness and the stillness, then we become not the stillness and the emptiness, but we become that which fills it. We become that which attempts to fill the void, we become attached to that which fills the void.

In our life, so many things can fill the void, fill the stillness and emptiness, fill the silence. Work, drink, the pursuit of knowledge, affection, moments, events, physical items, food, sensations…the options and opportunities as endless. In essence, all of the endless things by which we so frequently define ourselves, and others.

Endless things, but not as endless and infinite as the stillness and emptiness itself. When we become that which fills the emptiness and stillness, we succumb to the illusion that we can fulfill the void, the stillness and emptiness. But there can never can be enough work, enough friends, enough drink or food, enough experiences, enough money the world over that can fill the infinite stillness and emptiness.

As such, from where does stem the desire, the will, the volition to fill the infinite? If our mind can be aware of the fruitlessness of the endeavour, why does our whole essence succumb to the insanity of an unachievable goal?

“…the real notion of victory is not having to deal with an enemy at all.”
– Chögyam Trungpa

Through my experiences on and off the mat, I have come to believe that our suffering stems from our inability to accept, our blindness to, our ignorance of, the emptiness and stillness that is our true nature. We are from the infinite stillness and emptiness. We will return to the infinite stillness and emptiness. We are, at every infinite moment, of the same emptiness and stillness that makes the whole of the universe entire.

It is fear, fear of the nothingness, that pushes us to vainfully fill it. It is the fear that for all that we do and own, we are nothing in the beginning, and we are nothing in the end. It is out fear that in nothing, we are nothing, that we are useless, valueless, insignificant, empty.

Fear, denial, rejection, avoidance, of the emptiness, stillness and silence within, is our biggest battle, our ultimate conflict, our spiritual war.

On the mat, whenever the emptiness and stillness is ignored, replaced by the volition of mind and tension of the body, the result is a failure to blend and find harmony with all. At that moment, harmony of mind, body and spirit is substituted by mental prowess, physical expressions of strengths, or spiritual arrogance.

O’sensei taught that Budo is Love. Not love in the amorous way, defined by emotions and states of bliss. Budo as Love is Love of the emptiness and stillness in ourselves, and in others. Love of the infinite stillness and emptiness, the infinite silence that is the universe and all that is within it. Love of the absolute truth revealed when we accept that we are from nothingness, and will return to nothingness.

Budo is Love, Love of the infinite stillness, silence and emptiness that is within us, and in all. Such a Love becomes your sword, your spiritual weapon to confront fears and desires leading to the mindless volition to disrupt the stillness, to overfill the emptiness, to drown out the silence.

In the moment that the sword is drawn, the enemy is silenced, and detachment from all will occur. A relaxation will emerge, deep from within. A feeling of profound balance and harmony will surface. A wholeness will become apparent, and we will become one with the infinite stillness, silenced and nothingness of the universe.

Harmony of mind, body and spirit manifest. The Ki of the universe will makes itself known, for the eternal Ki lies within the stillness, the silence, the emptiness of the universe. Only when we become one with the infinite stillness can we enter into balance with the Ki of the universe.

At that moment, Ki will come into us, and Ki will flow from us, not clinging to us, not building up or stagnating around us, but freely flowing, from near and far, timeless, endless, boundless.

In such a moment, the fear of the emptiness, the stillness and the silence will, like a lifting fog, dissipate, revealing an open and endless sky, within which you will find true peace, equanimity and Love.

“When your mind is trained in self-discipline, even if you are surrounded by hostile forces, your peace of mind will hardly be disturbed. On the other hand, your mental peace and calm can easily be disrupted by your own negative thoughts and emotions. The real enemy is within, not outside.”

– The Dalai Lama, “The Enemy Within”

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.

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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”

“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.

…observations from the mat – july 2013…

There’s no secret to balance. You just have to feel the waves.

~ Frank Herbert

it begins by approaching in a relaxed state, with no tension at Hara of in the vicinity of Hara, such as the hips or lower back.

it then evolves by taking up ki slack, taking up, blending with Uke’s ki, and putting it to Hara, which, if relaxed, is like a pond into which a ki waterfall empties itself.

it then becomes a flow of ki, an extension of ki to begin the movement. with ki focused, and coordinated, let ki be the start of the motion. lead the motion and follow the motion, but do not push the movement (or pull it). it starts with the other. if the other does not start the motion, then focus on ki yet again.

When you’re rigid it’s because inside there’s uncertainty. When you’re confident about something you stay relaxed.

~Ken McLeod

do not push or pull to start the movement. once and only once the movement begins, only then can some action like weight underside become valuable. but never with the tension, only with weight underside or natural movement. like leading or following with more weight – but just enough weight.

the sequence is like so…

…two hands on the wrist
…relax completely
…pick up ki and blend into a relaxed Hara and Hara space
…extend ki from Hara into direction of movement
…sense and feel the movement begin from the Uke
…with movement initiated, weight underside accelerates – not muscle tension
…let weight fall and ki extend down to the ground
…the movement is done

“I do not know the way to defeat others, but the way to defeat myself.”

~Yagyū Munenori

“Our hold on the things we cherish is like our grasping the blade of a knife; the tighter we grasp, the more pain and damage when it is pulled from our hand.”

When Buddhists Attack – J.K. Mann

Attachment. The one thing we can count on. Like the sun and the wind – always there. Always ready to act. Attachment is the one constant most of us can speak to with some experience. Anyone who claims having found how not to be attached is very likely attached to ego – or has truly reached enlightenment – at which point they would not likely claim it as such.

Attachment is ubiquitous. Attachment to work, and the belief that success and wealth will bring happiness. Attachment to health, and the hope that prolonged life will bring moments yet to be experienced. Attachment to power, and the desire to control what can never be controlled. Attachment to fear, and the worry that issues and events will destroy our plans. Attachment to words and the false wisdom that owning and speaking words often falsely portrays.

Attachment to desire, and the craving that leads us to seek externally what can only be discovered from a journey within.  We are born into desire, desire for life – but not into attachment and tension. Attachment and tension arise from wanting, from craving, from desire beyond a desire for life. From wanting more than giving.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

~ T. S. Eliot

Over time, we grasp and hold so strongly to things, to people, to moments, to memories – that we choke the very life out of the life which surrounds us. We grasp through craving. We grasp through wanting. We grasp through endless desire. We grasp through a vicious circle of grasping for the sake of grasping, for we are taught and observe in others the fruits of grasping – the spoils of craving – and the belief that more is better.

At one moment, all that grasping and wanting fails – and we fall. And when we fall, we choose. We either fall into fear and anger, and choose to re-emerge stronger, hungrier. Most who fall choose this path, for it is expected by society.

Alternatively, fall into a bottomless well of wonder, unknown – but relieving. A relief from years of grasping, for there is nothing to grasp as we fall. We enjoy the fall and the relaxed feeling of knowing that grasping would only harm our hands and get in the way of enjoying the journey. Observe the fall. Notice the sensations of the fall. Enjoy the peace that comes from flowing and being fully present in pure perception.

At one moment, the pain and grief that comes from grasping becomes as clear as a blue sky – we have grasped without conscious thought. We have programmed ourselves to grasp, want and crave.  We have been tense and tight due to the many years where we thought that holding onto something – or someone – would keep them from leaving, changing, ending.

At that moment, we discover death arising from our own grasping, craving and desires. Death of moments of beauty. Death of friendships. Death of honest work. Death of our own health. Death of life itself.

In relaxation lies life. In detachment lies flow. In releasing tension lies peace.

“The only thing that Ueshiba Sensei taught of true value was how to relax”
~
Koichi Tohei