Archive for June, 2012

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

image-source: jnkhoury.blogspot.com

Life happens–despite whatever plans we might have been making, to paraphrase John Lennon. When we find ourselves upended by a change in our circumstances, our relationships, the ripples caused by the need to adapt or accept what wasn’t our choice can reverberate to our very core understanding and identity of ourselves. We are not ready. We can’t handle it. We are shocked and upset and overwhelmed. Much, if not most, of our reactions are based on old emotional conditioning, associations to old wounds which occurred when we had far less capacity to fully understand or process what was happening to us. And indeed, in earlier years responsibility rarely lay in our hands, though it felt that way.

And so, being creatures of adaptation to our (real or perceived) environment, we become habituated or adjusted to whatever limited response or meaning we created in the past. This can be partly understood by understanding the nature of the ‘default’ or ‘narrative’ network of our brain/consciousness. What Freud indelibly defined as Ego, the narrative network is the ‘story’ of who we are. It is the construct of ourselves that guides us through the world, contains our sense of self in relation to others; it monitors and scans the world for ways in which we need to respond or avoid situations. The alternate operating mode is the ‘direct’ network, which as it suggests, relates us to the world through the direct stimulation of the senses. It is our tactile and perceptual sense of being in the moment. We are now starting to better understand the continuum of anxiety and various mental ill-health disorders as they relate to the imbalance of these two interactive networks or modes of consciousness. As might be surmised, over-operating in the default network, to the extreme, would be associated with being completely immersed in our narrative story and any associated overreactions and thought-distortions: paranoia, schizophrenia, delusional thinking, etc. We cannot distinguish what is mind, and what is reality.

To some extent this is the fundamental predicament of the human experience. Being entirely subjective, we are constantly having to gauge our reactions and feelings against prevailing consensual reality. So when that consensual reality shifts, as in a relationship, job, our sense of security in our life or health, it can throw us into great disarray. But truly, for many of us, we are operating within a highly filtered and distorted world of illusion. This is referred to in Buddhism as Mara. More specifically, Mara is portrayed as a demon who tempts us from spiritual commitment towards our more base impulses. Fundamentally, the demon is our own inherent attachment to the notion of a fixed ‘self.’ From that perspective, this self needs to be placated, defended, to be ‘right, ’ to be protected at all costs. It keeps us stuck in the illusion of separateness and duality between self and other, between ‘us’ and ‘the world.’

When we encounter unexpected change, or change which manifested despite our persistent denial, it is this self that resists, reacts and becomes aggrieved. We become sharply aware that our entire identity has become shaped around this sense of entitlement and dishonour. But when we step back we realize that nature itself is full of impermanence, that we are part of a natural life cycle, then indeed it is our own fear and resistance that creates struggle.

One of the greatest figures in Tibetan Buddhism was the yogi and saint, Milarepa. Born to nobility, his relatives stole his inheritance as a young man, after which Milarepa is said to have exacted his murderous revenge viciously and cruelly upon a wedding party of relatives, thus setting off on a course of violent rampages. Such the story of his transformation goes that Milarepa, while walking along a road, encountered the great translator Marpa, credited with bringing the precious teachings of Buddhism from India to Tibet. Upon seeing Marpa, serenely having a drink in a field, Milarepa remarked: “Don’t you know who I am? I am Milarepa– murderer, scoundrel, thief and menace throughout this region! Why do you not tremble at my sight?”

Marpa replied: “Yes, I know who you are. And precisely because of your reputation I also know that you have equal potential in your self and your deeds for compassion and kindness, should you choose to humble yourself and alter your ways.” And thus, Milarepa began a gruelling and life-altering course of change under the tutelage of this great teacher, eventually emerging as a revered figure himself for the ages.

What Milarepa’s story teaches us is is that despite our actions, we all have the capacity for change. It is not what he have done, it is whom we choose to become. This is the gift of shame. When are able to engage vulnerability and encounter our own suffering, perhaps through our shame that we are struggling with changes, should have seen them coming, feel powerless, etc—or, in our regrettable actions against others, (and ultimately ourselves)—then we have begun the transition towards enlightenment. We can not undo what we have done, however we can also not un-know what we know, and this gives us tremendous potential to draw insight and compassion through our own vulnerability to transform our world. We are all familiar with the cliche ‘everything happens for a reason.’ Perhaps what is more apt is to remind ourselves is that:  ‘In everything, through reason, we can find wisdom, meaning and letting go.’


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Thursday, June 14th, 2012

IMG_0566In Aikido, the central principle of nonresistance might easily be misconstrued as passivity. However, as with nonviolent communication, openness and acceptance of hostility or tension is not tacit validation. Rather, it is about being steadfast, calm, and thus powerfully present with what is. By doing so, we can acknowledge the reality of a moment in its true manifestation and form. Sometimes what is required is no action at all. How can this be?

When we are connected to the world through non-attachment, without limitation, doubt or ego, and extending from this virtual center in all directions at once, we move from a pivot point of infinite possibility, variable response. This is the invincibility of spirit—one which embodies and integrates us wholly in the dynamic, spiral movement of the universe. In quantum physics this is expressed through the observation that all potential possibilities exist at once in particle ‘superposition’–until quantum field collapse brings about the conditions for one probability to occur. This becomes our conscious, manifest consensual reality.

To make it our habit to be calm and positive in our intentions with all our being allows us to, in one moment, sense, absorb and harmonize with all points of contact with even the most volatile aspects of experience–both inner and outer. Truly, conflict is dissolved before it begins, because we have neutralized the seed of aggression before it can grow—from our aggressor’s mind to their potential actions, and more importantly, from our own. When we experience the universe as a vast and expansive field of love, it enfolds all disturbances within—that energy cannot sustain. When we remain in the center of that expansive field, the impulse or force of aggression from another cannot survive, because it has not disturbed our minds and thusly nor has it our capacity to respond with “minimum effort and maximum efficiency” in whatever way is necessary to diffuse the situation. When we operate from this space, we cease to see any separation from ourselves and ‘other, ’ or ourselves and the external. This is non-duality.

As it is said, the aggressor is a mirror of our own capacity and resolve to remain true to non-violence, because ‘what we resist, we become.’

Aikido is not a discipline of martial prowess; it is the path of spiritual purification and peaceful imminence in the world, the integration of the relative and the absolute–above and below. When we dedicate ourselves to the Way, we bring it more forcefully, protectively and lovingly into existence for all living beings. This is the fulfillment of the Budo principle of Senshin.

Sensei Michael Gordon, Founder & Senior Instructor
Senshin Ki Aikido (senshinkiaikido.com)

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Saturday, June 9th, 2012

japanesewaveThere is no inner peace without outer harmony. There is no outer harmony without inner peace. So where do find balance? What brings us into accord?

It is the habitual nature of the mind to search for some kind of solid ground, security: that object, person, feeling, situation or place that will allow us to feel settled and without fearful or desolate emotion. The problem is that our environment becomes a mirror of our minds, and we enter into a feedback loop with that which we see we’ve created. If we feel trapped, we begin to fixate on the encroaching conditions around us. If we feel lonely, we fix our emotional bearings on the bleak landscape and scarcity of our world.

When I counsel clients who are in emotional/psychological distress, I encourage them to foster a sense of courage and resolve. The phrase I use is to ‘stay at the helm.’ Much like a sailor in a storm, our survival is inextricably linked to the stability of the ship. When we feel it thrown about in the rising and falling swells it induces a sense of panic. But being on a vessel upon the sea, we have to remember that we have intrinsic knowledge about the way of the ocean. We know if we encounter unexpected weather or potentially capsizing waves, that it is the nature of the universe within which we must navigate.

So where do we find our equilibrium in such unpredictable waters? First of all, what is helpful is to remember is that we are on a journey; though we cannot control the weather, we can determine our course to avoid trouble and to make calculated choices based on risk and reward. Where do we want to go? How much is it worth to us to get there? And thus we can embrace the consequences with a much stronger sense of purposefulness and stewardship of our inner values (and re-chart our courses!).

Secondly, we must remind ourselves that our vessel is much sturdier than we might think. It is not the physical structure on which we sail through churning waters—it is our spirit, our limitless consciousness. So, we begin to develop a tremendous sense of confidence and trust in ourselves. We begin to relate to the fear–the uncertainty and doubt, the lonliness and feelings of irrelevance in the great ocean—with an abiding sense of assuredness and steadfastness. Hold the wheel, stay the course, steady as she goes.

One of the familiar teachings on the Buddhist path follows thus: To a tiny boat, a wave seems overwhelming. To the ocean, the wave seems insignificant.

And yet, without seemingly inconsequential tides and currents, great swells would not arise in the ocean. “Emptiness is form; form is emptiness.” Thus is the experience of our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations; they define our experience, and yet, they are not us. We are all sailors upon the sea, and have the potential, birthright, and immediate and everpresent capacity to greet the sun, wind and rain with equal regard and response.

From the upcoming book, Mindful You: A Guide To Living & Loving Fearlessly, Consciously And On Purpose


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Thursday, June 7th, 2012

buddha_birdAs human organisms we are defined by our capacity for self-reflection and higher consciousness. At the same time, we are the inheritors of a 30, 000 year old neurophysiology/brain which predisposes us to scan for threat and negativity. We are sensitive creatures, and we derive our learned responses and self-meaning from our early life conditioning and associations. We are often guided not so much by our conscious, integrated choices but by our unconscious (fear-based) drives.

Why is this so important to understand? For one, we operate at our best when we connect our identity and thus the meaning of our lives with an open, curious and compassionate state of mind/being. The aforementioned pervasive state of threat and defensiveness presents a difficult foundation from which to embrace a ‘groundless’ way of being and thus interact directly and neutrally with our subjective reality.

Ultimately, what serves us best is to be mindful of these unconscious patterns, to work with them, and see that in transcending our own perceived sense of limitations and ‘stuckness’ that we can have a purposeful, spiritualized life. By spirit, I don’t mean anything ethereal or mystical. I mean that we might engage the world in the myriad ways it moves us–with the intrinsic knowledge that we are inextricably part of the universe, of the matter and energy of stars, galaxies and light particles. When we get a glimpse of being able to transcend the sensory biases that, though necessary for functioning as a physical organism in the world, keep us ‘stuck, ’ then we get out of our own way, let ourselves vibrate with being. We are more open to possibility, to limitlessness, to love.


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