Many treatises, reflections and words of advice have come from the world of warfare. Numerous historical pieces are mandatory reading and re-reading in leading military schools and academies.

But what of the world or work, notably one where collaboration is not the norm?

Many of those principles apply more than ever in a work world where adversarial, hyper-partisan and, in some cases, physically violent environments exist. Although the later is thankfully rare, the level of mental, emotional and verbal aggressive behaviour – what would be called bullying by any other name – remains all too prominent. Just watch a few minutes of any modern democracy’s parliament or seat of power to get a flavour of what is considered “normal” behaviour – behaviour that would send any child to the principle’s office or in suspension for a week.

Such aggressiveness in our common moments at work leaves one wondering : what classics can one consider to becoming a warrior in a business suit, a warrior who does not become part of the problem, but rather brings stillness, harmony and peace to every moment.
A few books I’ve found inspirational range from the spirit of war to the spirit of peace – yet are all routed in the spirit of victory over an adversary – which in all instances, once you’ve removed the focus on the external enemy or adversary, leaves one facing the most daunting adversary of all – ourselves.

The Art of War
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the quintessential war literature classic. Covering the breadth of warfare, it is rooted as much in philosophy as in strategy and tactics, if not weighted more on the former. Somewhat difficult to approach for the non-initiated, repeated visits to this historic text will slowly pay off in broadening one’s toolbox of stratagems, tactical approaches and principles for honourable victory. A definite must have in any leader’s library.

The Book of Five Rings
Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings is less well know than Sun Tzu’s Classic, but no less influential. Musashi is considered Japan’s greatest ever swordsman, and his reflections on conflict, strategies and tactics reflect a more philosophical core than one of battle stratagems. As with The Art of War, The a book of Five Rings is ultimately a treatise of philosophy, and will require multiple visits to begin to fully appreciate Musashi’s insights into the art of the sword – the soul of the samurai.

On War
Clausewitz is the modern Art of War, routed in Clausewitz’s extensive experience, and deep knowledge of the art of strategy and tactics. Although, like the other works, it can be mistaken as a technical text, Clausewitz does commit considerable attention to the moral and political aspects of conflict – in essence acknowledging that peace is the ultimate aim of war. His most famous quote remains “the best developed plan never survives first contact with the enemy” – a core stratagem in any strategic context – and one that merits much study in our modern age.

Hagakure
Yamamoto Tsunetomo drafted this as a “guide for life” for the samurai partly in response to their slowly eroding role from warriors to servants. Quite difficult to approach at first, the Hagakure is filled with many concise, yet deeply reflective, almost koan-like passages that can keep one contemplating the deeper meaning of life, death and service. Although more typically reserved for the martial artist seeking a treatise from a zen-routed samurai, it does present some valuable insights for the executive seeking guidance in balancing life and conflict-laden work.

The Unfettered Mind
Yagyu Munenori, major samurai rival to Miyamoto Musashi, was provided by a zen monk named Takuan Soho, what some consider the least known, but arguably the most relevant book on warfare. Although it does not come across as a text book on war and strategies, it is effectively the most important treatise on warfare – a guide to how to master the self, the mind – the ultimate challenge in any time of conflict and adversity. The Unfettered Mind requires, like many comparable works, repeated reading and subsequent introspection, but the results of ones efforts in learning to master the mind in times of conflict are nothing short of life altering. The Unfettered Mind remains of the few classics on self mastery yet to be discovered as a classic.

The Art of Peace
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of the art of Aikido, was, in the end a man of peace, a philosopher and one who embodied peace – in the true sense of one who lived peace by way of harmony of mind, body and spirit. Although many of his writings and reflections have been captured in various forms, Ueshiba’s the Art of Peace is the antithesis of the Art of War, not only in title, but from the basis that ultimate victory is about self mastery, self control, self victory. The Art of Peace is, like Aikido, short on content, but deep on substance and meaning, with each passage first appearing harmless, yet filled with koan-like brilliance. If the Art of War is about warfare facing outward, the Art of Peace is about warfare facing inward – providing a way to masakatsu agatsu katsu ayame : true victory is self victory right here right now – the answer Ueshiba would share when asked “why do you practice Aikido”?

Although many other classics could be included, such as Machiavelli’ The Prince, the above amount to my personal “desert island” picks which would keep one reading, reflecting and re-visiting for many lifetimes, all in the pursuit of masakatsuagatsu.

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“Those who are attached only to the result of their effort will not have any chance to appreciate it, because the result will never come. But if moment by moment your effort arises from its pure origin, all you do will be good, and you will be satisfied with whatever you do”
– Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind

What is pure origin? Pure origin is emptiness, silence, nothingness. Pure origin is that from which we come, and to that which we become at the end of our brief journey. We come from nothingness, and we return to nothingness.

Even when we are here for a few fleeting moments on earth, we are largely, if not mostly emptiness, mostly nothingness. We are emptiness of space, emptiness of thought, emptiness of senses, mostly pure emptiness.

Our challenge is that our senses are not attuned to detect the emptiness, the silence, the stillness, the nothingness. Quite the opposite – our senses are there to detect images, sounds, smells, aromas, tastes and sensations which permeate the emptiness that is pure origin. Even our mind is tuned to detect the mental sensations that fill pure origin – thoughts, emotions, mental chatter, and all other forms of mental traffic.

So what are we to do to sense the pure origin, to sense nothingness and silence, to sense emptiness and stillness?

The best technique is none at all
– Henry Miller

We sit. Just sit.

We sit with the focus on the one point, the Hara – center of our perception. We sit with mind becoming one with the Hara. We sit with Hara, for the Hara is the only place where pure origin can be sensed. We sit with Hara, for the Hara is pure origin – the Hara is stillness, silence, nothingness, emptiness.

From Hara, we can grow the stillness, the silence to envelope us, then slowly to envelope our home, our city, our country, our world, our universe.

In each breath, we can grow the Hara to envelope the space around us with stillness, with silence, with nothingness. And when enough breathes have been taken, we can sit within the sphere which the Hara has created for us, and within the sacred space of pure origin see the images our eyes capture, hear the sounds our ears observe, smell and taste the molecules the environment submits to us, and sense the temperature and breeze our bodies detect.

But unlike when we simply sense, when within the Hara, we sense all against the backdrop, the totality which is pure origin, pure emptiness, pure silence, pure stillness. Pure nothingness. As such, pure nothingness is not filled, it is not replaced, it is not substituted by the senses – it becomes the vessel within which all occurs.

Pure origin therefore also becomes the space within which thoughts and emotions, urges and impulses – all mental sensations also manifest.

And in the moment that you begin to sense against the totality which is pure origin both your physical and mental sensations – without eradicating pure origin – you remain pure origin. You remain stillness. You remain silence. You remain nothingness.

You remain what you have always been, and always will be – your pure origin.

Your practice must bring you in touch with your pure origin. If it does not, it is not practice rooted in pure origin.

Practice being one with Pure origin, with your Hara enveloping the universe entire – and you will sense and perceive with detachment, with harmony, with pure and total perception.

Practice being one with Hara, and you will become the ongoing response to the truth of the world.

Practice, and you will begin your journey returning to your pure origin, your absolute truth – the stillness, silence and emptiness within which the Ki of the universe manifests.

Just sit. And practice.

“Action does not depend on thought, feeling, emotions. Actions depend on your perception at every moment”
– Kenjiro Yoshigasaki

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” ~Chinese Proverb

An unfettered mind is a mind free to respond. No reaction, no urgency, no rushing – calm, flowing response. Like a river rushing, it rushes no faster than gravity or the river bed will permit. The river doesn’t react, it responds to the forces of the earth, the curves of the ground, the winds overhead. And when the winds cease and the ground levels out, then the river returns to its original state – just water.

Our practice is to slow down and return to our original state, so that we can know it when we revisit the torrential river.

Our practice is to cultivate attention to the point where we can experience whatever arises, without reacting, by remaining in the original state of relaxation and complete awareness.

“the practice of meditation is the study of what is going on”
– thich nhat hahn

Our practice is to become fully aware, fully mindful of the absolute present, with complete acceptance, for when something arises in your experience that you cannot experience, you go to reaction rather than response. When the moment is not accepted as the result of all the moments which came before it, you cease to respond to the reality that is the absolute present, and move to the past or future minds, where fears, wants and desires reside.

Our practice needs to cultivate a level of attention so that we can experience whatever arises – thereby not needing to fall into reaction. Our practice needs to cultivate not only our ability to see and sense the experiences around us, but to see the, at the pace at which they are occuring, at the times that they are occurring – and not at the pace or time that we wished they occurred. Wishing them differently is attachment. Attachment is tension. Tension is the root of reaction.

Accepting them as they are is detachment. Detachment is relaxation. Relaxation is the root of responding.

As Ken McLeod expressed, our practice is to experience we are free to respond to what the situation actually requires – not what the situation is provoking in us. All situations are gifts, for they all can provoke a reaction from us. Mild reactions and severe reactions. Harsh reactions and pleasant reactions. Our practice should be a practice of equanimity – one where our reactions are replaced by our responses. From the outside, our responses may appear the same, if not identical to our reaction – but it is not a reaction.

And in that moment, as inspired by Ken McLeod, we can then become an ongoing response to the pain and suffering of the world.

Our practice is to find the harmony, the balance, the equanimity to become an ongoing response, a continuous set of responses, moment after moment, second-by-second responses to each infinite moment.

And when you find yourself reacting, having broken the ongoing response, slow down, breathe deeply, and return to your practice – thereby returning to the journey of becoming an ongoing response to the pain, the suffering, the truth of each moment presented to us.

“Restore your attention or bring it to a new level by dramatically slowing down whatever you’re doing.” – Sharon Salzberg

The following is fully inspired by, and heavily borrowed from, the 5 principles of a profound workday, courtesy of Leo Babauta. I highly recommend Leo’s words for inspiration and solace.

‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.’ ~Laozi

The Profound Visit to the Dojo

1. Empty: In Silence and Solitude. When your mind is full, you have no room for change. When your thoughts are full of noise, you have no space to think.

Empty your mind. When you have an empty mind, you can fill it with anything. Only with this emptiness can you create something truly different.

Clear your thoughts. Find space for silence and solitude. With this space you’ll be free, free to see the truth, to create beauty.

2. Slow and Mindful. Rushing paradoxically leaves us with less time — speed means we don’t pay attention, and so the moments on the mat disappear rapidly and leave us before we notice.

Slow down, and pay attention. You’ll be able to focus on your movements more, and though you’ll do less, you’re technique will be more profound.

Be mindful of every movement, small or large. Enjoy every motion.

3. Profoundly Creative. Don’t use the gift of your visit to the mat for mindless repetitive tasks. Don’t end the visit with nothing to show for your work.

Start each visit by creating. Make the space at the beginning of your visit to the mat to create, before you get lost in rushing, urgency, or the desire to see the end of the class.

Create something amazing. Delight your Sensei and your ukes. Leave them amazed, wanting to not end the session. for you.

4. Simplified. The principles for a profound visit to the dojo might seem difficult to most people, because there just isn’t the instinct or desire to do less. The only way to create this type of visit to the dojo is to simplify.

It’s the key to everything else. Subtract. Pare everything down to its essence.

What’s on your mind right now? What are the principles that actually need to be present in your practice? Remove everything else.

What do you do every time you visit the dojo? How many of those things can be eventually pared down? Be simplified?

Simplify, and you’ll be able to find emptiness, solitude, silence, slowness, and mindfulness in your practice.

5. Flexible and Natural. This type of visit to the dojo might start to sound rigid, but in truth when you create space you also allow yourself the flexibility to deal in the moment with any change, any attack.

The natural flow of things is change, and if we are rigid we aren’t able to deal with changes. We become frustrated, anxious, angry, flustered.

If instead we have no expectations of what will happen each visit, and deal with changes as they come, we let go of that frustration and anxiety.

Be open to whatever happens. Be flexible. Deal with change as it happens, and you’ll find true profoundness doesn’t come from within us, or from external sources, but in the space between the two.

It comes from the eternal space between all things.

It comes from the universal Ki.

‘Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’ ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“There is a very simple secret to being happy. Just let go of your demand on this moment.

Any time you have a demand on the moment to give you something or remove something, there is suffering. Your demands keep you chained to the dream state of conditioned mind. The problem is that when there is a demand, you completely miss what is now.

Letting go applies to the highest sacred demand, and even to the demand for love. If you demand in some subtle way to be loved, even if you get love, it is never enough. In the next moment, the demand reasserts itself, and you need to be loved again. But as soon as you let go, there is knowing in that instant that there is love here already.

The mind is afraid to let go of its demand because the mind thinks that if it lets go, it is not going to get what it wants – as if demanding works.

This is not the way things work.

Stop chasing peace and stop chasing love, and your heart becomes full. Stop trying to be a better person, and you are a better person. Stop trying to forgive, and forgiveness happens.

Stop and be still.”

~ Adyashanti

In order to see a fish you must watch the water

– Bodhidharma

… which inspires…

In order to see a man you must watch the Ki

– unfettered hara

Even in close relationships, spending time with a friend, even while helping others or doing other good works, if your attention is on what you are feeling, on what you are getting out of it, then you see these relationships as transactions. Because your focus is on how you are feeling, consciously or unconsciously you are putting yourself first and others second. This approach disconnects you from life, from the totality of your world.

– Ken McLeod, “Forget Happiness”

Thoughts of where, why, and how I place my attention has dominated my thinking of late. You could say that my attention has been on my attention.

Through these reflections, I have started to consider that there are two minds, two places from which this attention can come: the remembering mind, and the experiencing mind; thanks to Daniel Kahneman for triggering this thought thread.

The remembering mind is the self defined by the mind of memories – past and future. Memories of past experiences, past moments, past wishes and past regrets. The remembering mind is the mind that lives away from the present, for it longs for, and sometimes lives from, the past pleasant memories. Similarly, it also seeks to avoid remembering or admitting to past unpleasant or undesired memories.

As a result of its attachment to memories, good and bad, the remembering mind is also the mind of the future, the mind consumed by trying to recreate past pleasant memories, or consumed by trying to avoid the creation of unpleasant memories. The remembering mind, ironically, can spend more time consumed by what might or could be, and to its own detriment, fail to recall or learn from past memories.

The remembering mind, I believe, is possibly the dominant mind of today. It is the mind overly influenced by our internal thoughts, aversions, adversions, or imagination. It is the mind which the external world seeks to manipulate, influence & control through imagery, illusion and beauty. The remembering mind is the mind of nostalgia, the mind of ambition, the mind of revenge, the mind of fear.

We have a very narrow view of what is going on.
– Daniel Kahneman

Unlike the remembering mind, the experiencing mind is the mind without time or space. It is the mind that observes and listens, without filters. It is the mind that senses all the senses, physical and mental. It is the mind that exists in the moment, the infinitely thin present moment. It is the mind, unlike the the remembering mind, which can detach itself from all – emotions, desires, aversions, fears. It is the mind that experiences flow, when flow is experienced.

The experiencing mind is, I suspect, could be considered the mind that many refer to as the physical mind, the mind within the body, the seat of the mind…the hara. The hara as the experiencing mind opens a myriad of ideas that are worth considering.

With the hara as the experiencing mind, the hara becomes the seat from which all experience and moments are observed. It gives the hara the lead in how we interact with the world, and how we can respond. Unlike the remembering mind, which is the realm of reactions, the experiencing mind can be viewed as the realm of responding. With the hara considered the experiencing mind, the five principles of aikido can be viewed in a different light.

Being at one point, the hara becomes the infinite point within us where all experiences are first received and sensed. It is the point where the remembering mind serves the experiencing mind. It is the point where sensations and experiences are pure, unfiltered and accepted. It is the point from which all experiences are initiated, without ambition, fear or tension.

Being with weight underside, the hara becomes the experiencing mind, grounded in what is, accepting the vibrations and energy that is all encompassing, resonating with the source of all harmony and balance. The experiencing mind is fully open, observant and accepting.

Being fully relaxed, the hara becomes the calmness, silence and space within which the experiencing mind breathes and floats. Tension is the realm of the remembering mind, for tension comes from desires or fears, ambitions or prejudice. The experiencing mind is the realm of no tension, no currents, just calm waters.

Being detached from all, the hara is the experiencing mind devoid of space, time and outcomes. It is devoid of a path, concerned not with the goals, ambitions or desires, nor the aversions or fears that can be deeply ingrained within our self. It is a remembering mind devoid of influence or coercion from outside of our self, foe or allie. It is a space where all that is experienced – memories, desires, fears, thoughts, opinions – are but experiences, like the wind that flutters, or the waves that crest and fall.

Being with the extension of Ki, the remembering mind is the hara immersed in the infinite ocean of Ki, the energy upon which all creation is born, the energy by which all comes and goes. Being with Ki places the remembering mind in touch with the infinite spirit, the endless source of light and flow from which each moment is defined. Each moment is ultimately the manifestation of Ki – a manifestation the experiencing mind can be called upon to deeply sense and be fully aware of.

The experiencing mind, like the hara…

Is being
Nothing else
Just being
Just the experiencing self

Through the experiencing mind, through the hara…

Space is infinite
Matter is nothingness, empty of all but Ki
Time is an illusion, the creation of the remembering mind

The notion of time is a wonderful place to close this reflection. If the remembering mind is the realm of memories past, and the desires and aspirations of memories to come, then arguably the remembering mind must live within time. It is the fabric, the canvas upon which time makes sense.

The experiencing mind, however, only lives within the present moment, the experiences of sensations, thoughts, and feelings. The experiencing mind resides within the very narrow sliver of time where time becomes the present moment, where it becomes non-time. If so, what is the present moment? Is it still time? Is it void of time? So have said it lasts about three (3) seconds either side of this exact moment. Others have said it is 1/75th of a second long – and hence below our threshold of common observation. Others think it lasts a few minutes either side of this exact moment – correlated with short term memory.

I like the definition that is given to the word Setsuna (刹那), a Japanese word meaning “a moment; an instant”. The word comes from a Buddhist term: せつな meaning “split second”. You can reflect on what “split second” might make most sense for your practice.

These days, I visualize my experiencing mind living within about 6 seconds – about 3 seconds either side of this absolute exact moment…and practicing to stay within these 6 seconds.

When I wander beyond those three seconds either side, I become aware that my remembering mind may be gaining influence over the experiencing mind, leading to ego clinging, attachment to self, and believing the illusion that our memories past and future is our existence.

In those moments, I surrender, I detach, and I accept that the experiencing mind is the core of the self, and practice – practice returning to those 6 seconds that are my present moment.

Spiritual change is precisely a process that is bigger than you. You don’t control it. You surrender to it. You don’t reinvent yourself through spiritual work. You face yourself, and then you must let go of all the ghastly things you find. But there is no end to these ghastly things. They keep coming. The ego is a bottomless pit of suckiness. And so you finally let go of the self that clings to itself (one definition of ego). True freedom comes when ego goes.

– Shozan Jack Haubner, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Enlightenment”