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

– Suzuki, zen mind, beginner’s mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

– S. N. Goenka

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

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

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

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

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

– Dogen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Suzuki, zen mind, beginner’s mind

“Zen practice is always about returning to that place where there are no words. Early on, I realized that to use words, you have to live life beyond words, before words, without words. Only then do you have the right to speak.”

– Seido Ray Ronci, “No Words”

Many months have passed since my last blog posting. A significant absence due – in large part, to a long term illness that is on the way to being addressed – in part due to confusion about where I wanted to take my writing.

I started the blog as a way of intellectualizing my aikido learnings, observations and thoughts, and how they overlapped with my Buddhist practice. However, the past 5 or 6 months have been some of the most transformational in my life. Transformational not in the “clouds have parted, and I see the light” kind of way, but rather the “I’m starting to understand in my body what I’ve always understood in my head”. A few events occurred that challenged my modus operandi – good and bad habits developed over 30 years of relying primarily on my mind, intellect and rational thought to guide my life.

The fist event, in late December 2012, was a diagnosis of depression – along with some form of fast cycle bipolar condition. The diagnosis is inconclusive at this time, but the symptoms are quite real, and being fully aware of, and managing, them has been my focus over most of 2013 to date.  Dark, heavy, brooding depression consumed both my mind and my body, shutting down entire bodily systems for days on end. Although I’ve struggled somewhat with the darker side over many years, this recent bout was different – a clear signal to change course in order to avoid rougher waters ahead.

The second was, as a side effect of the depression, coming face to face with my addictive tendencies towards work and career, and the underlying sensations and emotions that accompany it. Courtesy of a ten-day Vipassana retreat in March of 2013, a major shift occurred in the lens through which I’ve seen my life to this point. Much work remains to be done, but like a lost traveller, I’ve found a “map”, a “torch” to guide my way – and now need to use it to guide my journey forward. Finding the “map” or “torch” gave me the hope that there are lands where darkness subsides, and light can fill our days.

The third event was on the aikido mat, an episode one Sunday morning many months ago now. During an especially difficult session, my Sensei, Peter, upon observing yet again my persistent and repeated attempts to overly intellectualize and rationalize what I was experiencing on the mat, said some simple words that he had uttered many times before, words that I mentally understood very clearly, but words which had failed to resonate with my whole being prior to that moment.  “Don’t think so much!”, Peter directed my way. In those four words was the simple truth that I was doing, and had always done my aikido from the mind – an intellectual exercise that could be mastered the way organic chemistry or differential equations were mastered in my engineering degrees. But aikido is fundamentally not, and never can be an intellectual exercise. Although countless Aikido books have been written, and will continue to be written, the uttering of those four words at that moment shifted my practice, and my life forever.

Time had come to begin the work towards true harmony of body, mind and spirit – not harmony of an intellectual nature, but harmony of a deeper, more fundamental and spiritual level – deep work, work that from the outside is largely invisible, but within is profound and foundational.

Part of this work has been to rely much less on words and images from outside of myself – books, stories, videos, etc., and spend more time being attuned to the sensations my body, my mind and my spirit manifest – sensations that tell me much more about what is happening in the moment, and provide a much more accurate and interesting guide for where I should take my aikido practice in the next moment, and the next.

My aikido, like my Buddhist practice, is shifting away from attempting to develop or master some tools and techniques per se, and is now more interested in further enhancing and developing harmony.  We often prevent ourselves from embarking on such new journeys due to our past digressions, commitments and efforts to date, or through fear that we will deeply regret those past decisions, in the event that we discover a better path. In response to this fear, I’ve decided that it is better to have one day on our own journey, than a life on someone else’s.

My blog and writing will change as a result.  Although this entry is wordy, the focus of my writings for the coming weeks and months will be fewer words – ok, I’ll try – and simple reflections of the sensations and moments of what I perceive to be my journey, both on the mat and off, towards harmony of mind, body and spirit.

I look forward to sharing the journey with you – and extend my gratitude to all those who join me along the way. To close, here are some words which attempt to describe what I can’t describe at this time. Enjoy!

Words arise from thoughts.

Thoughts based in our memories of the past, or dreams of the future.

Hence, words are not the product of harmony of mind, body and spirit.

For harmony of mind, body and spirit is the product of pure perception, in the present moment.

Yet many will continue their attempts to describe this state of harmony in words.

Many will expend countless hours and boundless energies convincing others of their descriptions as correct.

Many may even resort to aggression and anger to defend their representation of harmony and peace.

Yet, without words, only the state of peace, balance, harmony and love remains.

And so should your practice be.”

-Dan