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“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.

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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.

…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

… we only grow by being defeated constantly, decisively, by constantly greater things …

~ Rilke

As we grow in our practice,

We become more confident,

And believe that we can now achieve some higher level of greatness, of mastery.

But there will forever be something that we have yet to master.

Something that we have yet to contemplate,

Or has yet to enter our consciousness.

The illusion of mastery will fuel our ego,

Leading to hubris.

In hubris, greed will thrive, in place of growth,

Leading to our defeat.

Illustrating that we have not truly mastered anything,

Proving that as we grow,

We will forever be challenged by greater and greater things.

And the only victory that will matter upon our last breath,

Is Self Victory.

 

If we take something to be the truth, we may cling to it so much that even if the truth comes and knocks at our door, we won’t want to let it in. We have to be able to transcend our previous knowledge the way we climb up a ladder. If we are on the fifth rung and think that we are very high, there is no hope for us to step up to the sixth. We must learn to transcend our own views.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart Sutra”

“be yourself- not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.”

― Henry David Thoreau

Our truth is not found in the words or journeys of others.

Others can share their journeys, their observations, sensations and experiences.  Many write eloquent prose to lure others to believe that their way is the way, more often to the detriment of the reader, and benefit to the writer. Through other’s words and images, we can find ourselves taken, attached to their success, their path, and ignore our own.  The words within books and blogs, reflecting other’s stories, are helpful when we remember that, like a picture, they are but a rendition of another’s truth.

When we seek our own truth through experience and insights of others, we may find in those words confirmation or insights into our own journey. Beware!, for we often seek out words that confirm our “truth”, and not words as food and water for our own cultivation.

Other’s words and insights should be like rain – watering our own seeds of truth and exploration, and not become the seeds themselves. To take others words as our seeds is to ignore our own deep seeded truths (no pun intended). In so doing, we may one day wake up and find ourselves in someone else’s garden.  And as pretty and luscious as that garden may be, it will be another’s – and not our own.

Masakatsu agatsu katsu ayame – true victory is self victory – is allowing our own seeds to grow – and allowing rain from other’s journeys to water our own seeds.

Read, learn, study and explore without never forgetting that a great temptation will forever exist to substitute another’s wisdom as our own. Wisdom can never come from outside of ourselves – it is cultivated through patient observation, equanimous being and loving acceptance of every moment.
Others have more eloquently, and succinctly, said the same thing.  What nicer way to close.

 

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – E.E. Cummings