A Poem for National Poetry Day: Enough

Enough

 

Though the road is long and I am far from the end

I have a glimpse of what it means to be the man I dreamed of being

I have a window to the wonder in my soul

And in moments

I find

I can be content with this…

This warm-hearted

This soft-eyed

This broad-shouldered

This deep-rooted

Man

I breathe

Deep and wide

And know the ancient longing

The friendship of pain and joy

The companionship of melancholy and grace

And I feel

Where the past and future meet in me

And I can be proud

Of what I have done

And who I have become

And how

From this place

I can face the challenges yet to come

With dignity

With vulnerability

With wildness and tenderness and strength.

 

I know now

That my capacity for love and hope

Is greater than my tendency towards fear and desolation

And I can look back when the world turns its gaze upon me and say:

“This is enough.  I am enough.”

Radical Embrace

Here is a taste of the book I am working on:

Radical Embrace: Integrating Leadership, Embodiment, Compassion and Sustainability - A Philosophy and Framework for Changing the World

It's about taking the radical act of really loving the world.  Let me know what you think and if you want to be told when it's out sign up for my newsletter.

I frequently feel completely overwhelmed. When I look reality in the eye and honestly reflect on the state of the world around me I feel swamped. I can drown in the combination of the very real danger of environmental collapse, the hazardous imbalance of the current financial system both locally and globally, the all-too-often petty and self-serving political climate, the immediate challenge of keeping food on the table for my family, and the very real potential that I will burn myself out if I don’t manage the pace of my work better. Facing all of that I feel totally overwhelmed and I’d be very surprised if I’m the only one. Optimist that I am on a good day, I like to think that at least some of these challenges will shift and be addressed or resolved in the not-too-distant future. Obviously the smaller, more personal ones I have more control over in some ways but all of these difficulties on all of the levels feel to me so utterly interconnected that while I am earning a living today that could all come crashing down as a result of some aspect of the larger picture tomorrow. Looking after myself feels like a short-term solution, especially as I have a son and I don’t want my legacy to my child to me a broken world, too far gone to repair.

Can you recognise this picture? My guess is, that if you are reading this, then at least some of it will be ringing true for you too. I want to be clear early on that I don’t have a magic bullet. I am no political, financial, or environmental expert here to offer you and the world a five-point-plan for fixing everything. What I do want to offer here is some of my thinking about how we can positively turn towards these many difficulties that lie before us rather than running away. In many ways I am a creature of structure so I have been working this stuff out for myself, trying to make sense of the world and my place in it in these troubled times. So I want to offer it to you for two basic reasons: firstly out of compassion and in the hopes it may help you to feel less overwhelmed when looking modern life in the eye, and secondly because it is my conviction that if we don’t all start taking a deep personal interest in taking care of our world then it may soon be too late. I’m not convinced that some kind of super-hero leader is going to come and tell us all what to do and make it O.K. If we find solutions to our problems then I think it will come from a groundswell of concerned and caring individuals and I’d like to be one of them. I hope you do too.

I have been considering 4 aspects: Power, Posture, People, Planet - a flow from self to world. As well as finding structures or models like this useful in giving shape to my thinking, I also think structure is a useful metaphor in how we consider our approach. Different movements tend to emphasize different aspects of this flow but I believe that if we don’t work through an integrated whole then our approach to our challenges will be structurally unsound and liable to collapse. This is one possible meaning of integrity: that the structure of our approach is sufficiently connected and coherent, the different aspects not just balanced but integrated with each other, that it becomes a strong whole rather than a combination of parts.

The first layer, the intra-personal is about me relating internally with myself, this can happen through thinking, reflection, meditation and other internally focused processes.  I seek to access my power to lead and influence the world. The second layer, the personal is the bridge between this internal world and the outside world which I am seeing here primarily as the body. However, I am viewing the body through the lens of embodiment, as my subjective experience of my body as me, not the body as an object which I ‘use.’ The third layer, the interpersonal, is where I interact with other human beings through relationships - with compassion. The fourth layer, the trans-personal, I am defining a little differently than it’s normal use. It is usually used to describe an awareness or sense of extending beyond (trans) the ordinary to encompass wider aspects of the psyche or the cosmos. The way I am using it here is not dissimilar but has a subtle distinction. I am using it to refer to our relationship with that which is greater than ourselves. This can include a concept of God, spirit, or the Divine if those aspects are meaningful to you but as you can probably guess from the fact that I have also labeled this layer ‘Planet,’ I am seeing the planet Earth as a being which is greater than us. I consider there to be literal truth to this in terms of viewing Earth as a huge organism, an integrated whole, as well as being made up of many disparate parts. There is also a spiritual aspect to this for me which comes from earth-based spiritual traditions whereby nature (the Earth) is seen as the visible face of spirit and we as humans belong to the Earth rather than the Earth belonging to us. I will explore this further in the chapter addressing this ‘circle of concern’ but wanted to give you a basic sense of what I meant and how I am using the word ‘trans-personal’ in this context.

In many ways this model is not new. Ancient wisdom traditions such as Yoga, when you look at the whole system, had models or methods for integrated action which spanned the internal through the social, to the external world. However, many of these traditions have been only partially learned, passed on or practiced in their transition to the modern world. They also require a certain level of acceptance and commitment to the associated religious or spiritual beliefs. What I am seeking to do here is offer a model or way of seeing our choices for action in a way which honors the wisdom of these ancient traditions while setting it in our modern context and, as far as possible, making it as accessible and free of specific belief-systems as I can.

I can’t promise salvation for you, anyone or anything else, or this beautiful planet we inhabit. I don’t have definitive answers about where we most need to use our finite resources to right the potentially sinking ship of humankind’s survival on planet Earth. However, I can offer a framework, a guide to a way of being that is helping me to face into the difficulties and pain in the world rather than turning away from them. One thing is for sure: pretending nothing is wrong won’t work, numbing ourselves to the pain and distress in the world or living in denial will only narrow our window of opportunity for effective action. We may be facing more and greater challenges than ever before in human history and it is my conviction that we need to do something. So, this philosophy, this framework is my contribution. It is not another argument for a particular cause, it is a way of being which as well being a framework for certain kinds of action in and of itself is also intended to help you to work out which are the battles you wish to engage in. I don’t believe there is a single battle we can all lend our weight to and thereby resolve the difficulties we are facing. I wish there was. I wish such a simple conclusion was something I could offer you and myself but it’s not. If we can all find a graceful way to turn towards the conflicts in the world and in ourselves, however, I believe we can all also see clearly which battles are our battles and by taking our place in the bigger picture perhaps the collective action on multiple fronts will make the difference needed to usher in the kind of planetary healing that is needed to build a better world for future generations.

This then is Radical Embrace. I think we must have integrated action in ourselves, fully inhabiting our bodies, with each other, and in the world. We must embrace ourselves, each other and the world if we are to have the integrity to face the profound challenges of our time. We must take the radical and difficult step of really giving a shit. We need to find that place of absolute care and compassion deep down in ourselves and make the radical choice to bring the world with all it’s pain and difficulty closer to us. And this embrace of the world cannot be limited to only the small immediate picture of our own healing and development, or the big future picture of the world’s healing and development but must be an embrace that starts within us and ripples out-wards.

 

I am a Chimaera: Wildly Imaginative and Implausible

I have long searched for a tribe.  A place of belonging.  Somewhere I ‘fit.’  And I have come to the conclusion that there is no clear place for me.  It’s been too long a search and no category, place, group, field of study, practice, spiritual tradition, community, or profession I have explored has ever felt like home.  I feel a growing acceptance of this: I am a beautiful mutant, a monster with a heart, a fusion of reclaimed oddities.  I am a Chimaera.

The Chimaera was a mythical beast of ancient Greece made up of parts of several animals, and as the Wikipedia entry puts it:

“The term chimera has come to describe any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals, or to describe anything composed of very disparate parts, or perceived as wildly imaginative or implausible.”

I like the idea of being wildly imaginative and implausible. 

I feel heartened by what Joseph Campbell, who many would consider a specialist in studying mythology, says in talking about his own life and work as an academic:

“In our sciences today – and this includes anthropology, linguistics, the study of religions, and so forth – there is a tendency to specialisation.  And when you know how much a specialist scholar has to know in order to be a competent specialist, you can understand this tendency….

Specialisation tends to limit the field of problems that the specialist is concerned with.  Now, the person who isn’t a specialist, but a generalist like myself, sees something over here that he has learned from one specialist, something over there that he has learned from another specialist – and neither of them has considered the problem of why this occurs here and also there.  So the generalist – and that’s a derogatory term, by the way, for academics – gets into a range of problems that are more genuinely human, you might say, than specifically cultural.”

Although I have studied a number of topics to significant depth, I don’t think I am a specialist by nature, I am a generalist.  And I think that is often harder for others to understand, not least of all because it’s very hard for me to accurately describe.

To put it in a positive light, I have been blessed with a life which has been rich and diverse.  I sometimes joke that I have a checkered past  - not legally but in terms of my ‘career path.’  I remember having a chat with my friend, Kate, when I was applying for a job once and the conversation going like this:

 

Me - “Who’s going to hire me?  My CV looks like I have no direction whatsoever!”

Kate – “That’s what a CV is for isn’t it?”

Me – “What do you mean?”

Kate – “Taking the mess of your life and making it look like you did it on purpose.”

 

So perhaps this is me creating my tribe like Kate suggested making my CV:  taking this messy creature that I am and saying “THIS is where I belong, I am my own home.”

On a bad day I can feel like a creature cobbled together from clunky and ill-fitting hunks of experience, a monster without a home.

But on a good day I know I can be a fascinating and fascinated bundle of wonder able to dance across many domains, to find connections between people and subjects others can’t see, to be a gifted generalist helping make the world more whole.

 

I have found my new prayer:

 

I am a Chimaera.

Wildly imaginative and implausible by nature,

Perfect and problematic,

Wonderful and terrible,

Fabulous and flawed.

I am my own home,

This is where I belong.

 

With Love.

Death and Life

You are going to die

You

Are going to die

There is no avoiding it

Pretending it won't happen won't prevent it

And more than that,

Everyone and everything you love will die too.

There is no solace in this world, no legacy great enough to ensure your immortality.

You are closer to death now than when you started reading.

Take another step my friend,

There is no avoiding it.

There could be misery in these thoughts...

Terror,

Disillusionment,

Pain.

But there is a gift as well:

It is only by embracing the reality of death that we truly learn how to live.

There is a fierce urgency that is yours to claim,

A freeing knowledge of your own doom

That waits

Like death

Just around the corner.

Many imagine the knowledge of imminent doom

To bring a rush

Of hedonism,

A selfish 'fuck you' to the world as you pursue your own pleasure.

...But that is not what I see.

That is not what I feel in myself as I contemplate my own demise,

No.

I want to share,

to give,

to love.

I seek belonging

Not belongings,

I welcome simplicity and peace, not a chaotic feeding of my inner glutton,

I seek substance not substances,

Because.

In confronting my death

I have to confront my life,

In facing the fact that I could disappear at any moment

I have to ask the question

"What if I could appear at any moment?"

What if...?

What if...?

What if I stepped out from behind the cloud of my own inhibitions and really lived?

What if I grasped the opportunity in my life

Not for fame,

Or greatness,

Or money,

Or any of the other egoic delights

I may pick up

Incidentally along the path,

What if I grasped the opportunity in my life

for ordinary wonder?

What if seeing death could help me to see life?

What if the marvel of life lies not in the marvels but in the minutiae?

The light on my cup,

The moment of satisfaction after eating a meal,

Or speaking to a friend.

What if I could appear to myself at any moment?

What if I could see myself with fresh eyes now, and now, and now

And know:

This is who I am.

And tomorrow I will be someone else,

And that is wonderful and terrible.

Wonder-full and terrible

To have to face

My own death

Every day,

The possibility of my physical death

And the reality of dying to myself every moment,

Because I am not the same person now as when I started writing this,

You are not the same person who started reading this,

You are not only dying but dead.

You are dead.

You are dead already.

You don't owe anyone anything,

And you owe a great legacy in every moment

Because you are your own ancestor.

Are you going to let the million you's who died so that you could live

Die for nothing?

Knowing that you will die anyway, can you sacrifice yourself in this moment

So that the you who is being born

Might receive a legacy of choice?

 

Can you embrace death, dear one,

so that you might learn how to live?

Spiritualising the Body

Often in the modern dialogue around spirituality we can be disconnected from the body. For various reasons with roots ranging from certain periods of Christian teaching, to Descartes' philosophical mind/body divide, right through to very contemporary ideas about spiritual 'transcendence', many of us seem to have ideas that the body is somehow less spiritual or even not spiritual at all. I have observed many times in many people some version of the thought that in order to be spiritual we need to disconnect from the physical. While materialism and fear of physical threat can be traps which keeps us from really focusing our attention on our deep values and higher ideals, if we are ever to reach towards enlightenment or any other kind of spiritual development, we must do so in our bodies, with our bodies, and through our bodies. I would suggest that our dissociation with our own bodies is a large contributing factor in creating the behaviour which has damaged and is destroying our planet. If we dismiss our own bodies as 'un-spiritual' and therefore not worthy of care, then how likely are we to bring deep care and attention to the 'body' of Mother Earth? I would also suggest that while we need large scale cultural change around how we relate to our environment, large cultural change can begin with small personal change. One way to approach this is to Spiritualise the Body. It doesn't need 'spiritualising', it is full of beauty and spirit already, so really this is more about remembering that. Remembering is a wonderful word in this context. We have been dis-membered, taken apart by these ideas of an 'un-spiritual' body and it is time to put ourselves back together – to re-member. This exercise is a first step towards that by taking something we do all the time – washing – and turning it into a spiritual practice.

 

In many traditions there are ways of physically cleansing the body which are also considered to be deeply spiritual acts. This can take the form of internal cleansing or external cleansing.

 

A number of shamanic traditions from around the world feature some form of 'purging' which often literally involves spitting or vomiting up matter which is considered to be linked to negative energy. Perhaps the best example of this is the Ayahuasca traditions of Brazil where they are ingesting a 'teacher plant' which has both hallucinogenic properties and purgative properties. The plant brings the shaman or practitioner visions which are considered direct interactions with the spiritual realm and at the same time the body is purged of negative energies, sometimes through vomiting - you don't need to worry that I'm going to get you to do that! A less extreme example of internal cleansing might be the use of fasting. When you fast, typically toxins are purged from the body, that's part of why you often get headache's and bad breath during a fast – that's the nasty stuff that's collected in corners being swept out of the body. While this has physical health benefits, in some of the traditions which work with fasting, the evacuation of physical toxins from the body is also seen to have a spiritual correlation so that your spirit or energy body is being cleansed by the process of the fast as well.

 

An example of external cleansing can be seen in the First Nation (or Native American) tradition of the sweat-lodge. The sweat-lodge is one of the most common traditional ceremonies that I have come across in the North American tradition and there have been suggestions that similar ceremonies may have been used in Europe too. The sweat-lodge is a small dome built from bent branches and then covered with hides or blankets with a pit inside to put heated stones in and a fire outside to heat the stones. The precise construction of the lodge and it's alignment to the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) varies but is always considered to be of great importance. This was a sacred place, not unlike a church. The symbolism of the sweat-lodge is that it represents the womb of Mother Earth and you go into the be ritually 'reborn' after the ceremony. The emphasis that I have experienced is always on the spiritual dimensions of the 'sweat' but there is a reality that this is a very real physical cleansing process too. Not unlike a sauna, the heat makes you sweat and by sweating you are releasing toxins from the body, on top of that the steam in the air means that once you towel off after the ceremony you are actually pretty clean, not just caked in sweat! Another example of external cleansing can be found in the Hindu tradition. Within Hinduism it is considered that each of us carries a seed of the divine within us so if we don't take care of ourselves then we are failing to take care of the divine within. As such, personal hygiene (for instance) is of great importance. You have probably at least heard of Yoga, and may know it was originally a Hindu discipline. What is less well-known is that what we commonly call 'Yoga' is actually only one of the 4 primary Yogic paths. What we usually call 'Yoga' is Raja Yoga. There is also Jnana Yoga which primarily involves exploring the nature of being through certain types of dialogue and enquiry; Karma Yoga which involves engaging in good works in the world; and Bhakti Yoga which involves devotional practices (ritual expressions of loving the divine). One of the traditional devotional practices of Bhakti Yoga is bathing statues of Gods and Goddesses, sometimes just bathing the feet.

 

So... what I want to invite you to do draws on the principles expressed in all of these traditions but most directly on these last aspects of Hinduism. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a ritual out of having a bath and bathe yourself like you are bathing a God or Goddess! Once you have done one really special one, you could make your daily shower, bath, wash, teeth-brush or anything else into a small personal ritual or spiritual practice. However, I really recommend doing one really special one and setting aside time to do it with great care and attention. If you can, I suggest a bath because showers tend to be quicker and more functional so a bath lends itself more to slowing down and taking greater care. Rituals or ceremonies typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end – like a story. The beginning tells your mind and being that something special is about to happen and helps to raise your levels of awareness and attention. The end lets you know when you are done and can step back out into a more ordinary awareness. The middle is whatever journey you want to craft for yourself in this special space of heightened awareness. So for this ritual you need to find a way to mark the beginning – this could be anything. Some simple ones could be the 'ding' of a Tibetan singing bowl, playing a special piece of music, or lighting a candle. At the end you can just do this same thing again (the 'ding', play the music again, or blow out the candle) – or you can find some other way to mark the end point such as writing a list of 5 things you are grateful for, reading a beautiful poem out loud, or a moment of silence. Then in the middle your task is to make your bathing as nurturing, loving, beautiful, present, and aware as you possibly can. Light lots of candle, use scented oils, have a lovely soft towel waiting afterwards, or even without any special 'stuff' you can bring deep care and attention to how you wash every part of your body. Slow down and take sensual pleasure in it all. As you pour water over your feet, pour love over them too. As you rub soap into your hands and face, be gentle, loving, kind, and deeply attentive to how it feels and how you could make it even lovelier, more caring, and attentive. Move through it all at least a little slower than you usually would and love every part of you, encountering it as if for the first time: with fresh eyes and wonder in your heart. Allow yourself to be newly amazed at this wonderful bodied being that is you, this awesome embodiment of your consciousness, this body that does so many amazing things – moving, and healing, feeling, sensing, touching, stretching, breathing, eating, connecting you with yourself, your loved-ones and your world. Love every inch of yourself, especially the bits you usually struggle to love, with the idea that this body-being is a vessel for the divine. God, the Goddess, spirit, soul, Love, the Tao, Buddha-nature, or Christ-consciousness – whatever name you give to that ineffable thing from which all things come, all things return, and which connects all things, play with the idea that some part of that divine awareness lives in you and by this act of loving and caring for yourself, you are loving and caring for the Divine.

 

Wishing you a beautiful time!

 

This article is an excerpt of the online Spiritual Exploration course I will be releasing soon.  Sign up to the email newsletter to get access to a 30 minute guided visualization which is also part of it along with many other free resources.

Environmentalism and our relationship with the world

I’m a city boy.  I also love nature.  The tension between these two things is not always easy, especially as nature doesn’t always seem to love me.  I have bad hay-fever and pale skin so I burn easily in summer.  The times when most people spend most time in nature and when many people state frequently that  “it’s a lovely day,” I find myself most often responding by saying “well, it’s a hot day.”  I am to summer what the Grinch is to Christmas!  I am however passionate about caring for our planet.  I love Mother Earth and I have spent enough time studying shamanism and indigenous tribal cultures from around the world that my world view is heavily influenced by animism.  I see the world around me as deeply alive and I am one of those people who sees the destruction of our rich, natural environments by the steady progress of unthinking industrialisation as deeply concerning.  However, unlike many of the people who are seeking in some way to save the planet I also love cities.  I don’t subscribe to the view that some people of the earth loving persuasion seem to have adopted that human beings may just be the worst thing that has ever happened to the planet Earth.  I love people.  And there is a reality as far as I can see that more people live in towns and cities, and in the future even more people are going to live in towns and cities.  Short of a mad Max-style apocalyptic Armageddon lots of people are going to continue to live in cities.  I deeply admire the people who are caring for our wild natural environments, and leading others out into this wilderness to experience its beauty.  However, while all of our attention in caring for the environment is focused on caring for the wild natural environment then for those many people like me who live in a town or city, we are at best stuck caring for something that is all too often distant, abstract, and insufficiently integrated into our daily lives.

The distinction is frequently made between what is natural and what is man-made and while I understand the making of this distinction I think it may be our biggest problem, our biggest barrier to really transforming our global attitude towards care for our beautiful planet.  It’s interesting to me that this distinction is so often used in the language of those who seem to care most about the preservation of our planet.  I would suggest that this language, this distinction, is the language of separation and it is this separation which is the enabler or even creator of the tragic human mind-set which leads to relating to the planet as a resource to be used, a thing to be objectified, and an environment to be conquered and dominated.  As long as we see man as separate from nature we support a view of nature as other, and as long as nature is other we can be better than it, above it, instead of recognising our total interdependence with this beautiful entity that is planet Earth. Mankind is not separate from nature, it is a small part of nature, perhaps a growing part but the oceans, mountains, forests, the great mass of animal kind in all its beautiful diversity are still pretty substantial members of this grand collective entity too.

Returning to where I began this article, within the language of separation cities are often seen as the embodiment of the man-made.  As long as this attitude continues even those of us most concerned with the preservation of nature unconsciously continue this language of separation and in doing so sustain the very attitude of arrogance which has led to mankind’s use and misuse of our beautiful natural home. While most people who are aware of our global ecological situation would agree that the march of urbanisation cannot continue with its current trajectory if the human race is going to find a way not to wipe itself out, a total rejection of urban environments seems unlikely to be a viable option short of catastrophic, mass destruction.  My hope, and to some degree my faith is that the transformation of these environments is what is necessary, and possible.  Like I say, I’m a city boy, and I think if we are to see this necessary transformation then we need to reclaim our cities as part of nature. Other animals than us build things. I have yet to meet the ecologists that look at the giant termite mounds with the distaste they might look at cities saying “what a shame they chose to build there, it’s ruined the landscape!”  Of course, I know what we create is not the same as what termites create.  What I am wanting to illustrate is how distain for the city, no matter how well intentioned in terms of environmental impact and ecological concern, is just as much an expression of the mind-set of separation that has led us to this mess, as the executive who looks on our countryside and sees only its potential to provide fossil fuels.  The intention is different, but the underlying assumption of separation is the same.

John Perkins in one of his beautiful books relates the story of a first visit of an elder shaman, who has lived all his life in the Amazon basin, to New York City. This elder who would speak of great trees, mountains, and rivers as having genders, characters, and names; on first seeing the Empire State building made the comment “very beautiful, very feminine.” The irony of such a statement regarding so phallic a construction is quite a thing in itself, but something else stood out for me when I read this story.  What was transformational in terms of my view of the world, was the fact that this elder shaman, this man who would have every right to come to a great Western city such as New York and see its industrialised opulence and be critical, instead saw this great building in the same light as he would look upon a mountain, a great tree, or a river. What this says to me is that so deeply rooted in his psyche is a total identification of himself and all mankind as just another part of nature.  It is my conviction that if we are to successfully shift our trajectory in relation to our ecological crisis, then we must change the deep assumptions in our psyche’s which set mankind and our creations as separate from nature instead of merely a part of that great entity. Yes, we need change, I think we must change the way our urban environments operate and coexist with the wild and natural environments that surround them, but if we do this out of distain for those urban environments we continue the story of separation and domination, we continue to conquer instead of collaborating. To change your cities I think we must love our cities. I don’t think it’s going to be enough to take people out into wild nature and help them to love that. That work is wonderful, and beautiful, and necessary, and close to my heart but we must take the work of nature awareness, we must take the work of mindful interaction with our environment, and apply that to our cities just as much as we apply that to our parks, Forests, or places of natural beauty.  It is said that part of why, when Europeans arrived in America, it was so easy for them to rob the indigenous tribes of their land is because the idea of land ownership was a nonsense to those indigenous tribes.  The land did not belong to them, they belonged to the land.

Even if we managed to completely transform our way of relating to natural resources, unless we change the story of separation, at best we will become beneficent dictators and I suspect that all we will do is delay the inevitable.  If we see ourselves as rescuers “saving the planet,” I believe we will fail to save the planet.  I passionately believe that we need to tell a new story, the story of community, belonging, and collaboration.  And maybe if we can learn to become loving, trustworthy, contributing members of the communal entity that is this beautiful blue green planet, then maybe that community, this planet will see fit to save us.

The 7 Days to Spiritual Enlightenment Game!

 

OK, so the likelihood that your crown chakra will spontaneously combust with spiritual go-go juice and you’ll become an overnight guru and world-saviour as a result of playing this game is slim, but this game could help you breathe more deeply, love more fully, see your everyday world in a new light, explore life more freely and live more vividly.  If that’s not worth investing a little attention in then I don’t know what is.  Just take it one day at a time and know that as long as you put in a bit of effort, there is cake at the end of the rainbow… mmmmmm … cake…..You will need a notebook and pencil, or phone (etc) to keep note of your score on each day and the following instructions for the 7 days:

 

  1. Dolphin Breathing:  Did you know dolphin’s have to consciously breathe so they don’t drown? Crazy huh?!  So on day 1 your mission is to pause and consciously breathe as often as you can during the day (without it becoming debilitating!).  Score a point for every time you pay attention to your breath.
  2. Hello:  Day 2’s mission is to say hello to each new experience, space, moment that you can.  So, for e.g. when you enter a room, go outside (having been inside), see someone, sit down at your computer…  Just internally say a really present and aware “hello” to as many things and people as you can.  Score a point for every time you do it.
  3. Gratitude:  This one is simple, but not easy… Notice and be grateful for all the gifts in your life.  Big things like home, friends, job, etc… And the little things like lunch, the traffic or crossing light being green, a spring in your step.  Score a point for every moment of gratitude.
  4. Counter-Blessing:  People think certain words with asterisks where letters should be are curses (like F**k) but they’re not really.  The real curses are the million ways we trash-talk the world in our thoughts.  All that negativity builds up!  Today is for counter-acting that: every time you have a negative thought (even if it is a justifiable one like “Man, I hate that political policy”), counter it with a positive one (it doesn’t have to be the same thing, it’s about the balance.  So you could counter the politics comment with “look at that beautiful flower!”).  Score a point for every curse you notice and counter.
  5. Blanket Blessing:  Next step is to just bless the bejeesus out of the whole world!  Choose things as you make your way through the day and get really specific about what it is you appreciate about that thing.  What qualities make it fantastic?  It’s great practice to choose things you either don’t like or that you find mundane or boring.  Ask yourself what makes even these things wonder-full.  Score a point for each thing you bless today.  Everything has value, if can’t see it yet, keep digging until you find the gold!  Score a point for each blessing.
  6. Breaking Enchantments:  You may by this point have noticed in your mind a negative story you carry about yourself (usually some version of “I’m not good enough”).  Today is for turning these around.  Choose one of your personal enchantments and invent a phrase that’s the opposite (like “I am wonderful”).  Whenever you hear that curse in your head, break it wide open by asserting your opposite statement – your self-blessing.  Score a point every time you do it.
  7. Goodbye:  The end is here so it’s time to practice endings.  Just like the day saying hello only this time you are saying “goodbye.”  Whenever you are leaving something behind (even if it is just leaving a room) pause inside yourself and say goodbye.  Score a point for every time you do it.

 

If you score 70 points or more then you rock – go buy yourself a piece of cake to celebrate your own awesomeness!  If you score 140 points or more then you rock da house, go and buy yourself cake and ice-cream!  If you score 280 points or more then buy a whole cake, invite some friends round and share your wisdom – you are clearly a spiritual legend!  If you score more than 350 points then you are about to transcend this life, turn into a beam of light and join the enlightened masters in the heavenly realm of cake-y wonder.  Hang tight where you are, cake, and eternal life as a bodhisattva is coming to you.

For more games and resources to make life more awesome visit www.fudoshin.org.uk and check out www.ask-the-rev.net for spiritual responses to life’s questions.

Things my friend taught me…

A friend of mine died recently, left this world for the next and while I feel strongly that she is nearby, just over the border into the spirit world I miss her.  Whatever the larger truth of the spiritual life, I cannot now go and sit with her while she makes things out of clay, or have dinner with her and her family, or share a hug.  I learned many things from my friend.  She carried such a powerful commitment to love and being loving in the face of every situation.  That’s not to say she was perfect – part of what made her so much fun to be with was her humanness, and humour – but I saw some amazing social transformations as she stubbornly radiated love towards awkward or obnoxious people.  She was a witch, an artist and a mother, and in all these things (along with many others, I’m sure) she was incredibly skilled.  I learned a great deal from her about myth, magic, creativity, and parenthood, but the learning that stands out for me most is to do with yearning.

 

            I’m going to offer this story with an open heart.  If you have particular beliefs about the way the world works or doesn’t work, whether it is a magical place or an entirely pragmatic one, I invite you to lay them aside for a little while and see this story as just that – a story.  It’s my story and in my own small way and my own life it is part of my personal hero’s journey.  So please, if necessary, suspend your disbelief for a while and join me on my adventure with an open mind and open heart for a little while.

 

I’m a yearner.  I think I probably always have been and certainly I have been for many years.  I couldn’t have told you what I was yearning for, precisely but it most commonly found expression through my falling in love.  As the band ‘My Life Story’ say in one their songs, “I don’t so much fall in love, I dive”.  I don’t know if you who are reading this know that feeling of yearning, that ache in the heart, the melancholy of the stargazer, but it’s painful.  It is an aching which is hard to be with.  Through my studies in theatre, personal development, shamanism, spirituality, meditation and other fields I had tried to find the centre of this yearning, the cause so that I could face it and relieve the pain.  The most common guidance I received from teachers was to do with looking underneath the yearning, to find where it came from.  I think this was essentially good advice - therapeutically sound – but when I looked underneath the yearning all I found was…. More yearning!  I continued searching, questing, healing, growing and developing and still the yearning was there.

Then, after many years of having been out of contact, my friend and I were back in touch.  Our families are connected so there was a sense of parallel tracks and shared history that meant we could be close again quickly – like family.  She was soul-family.  She had deeply studied witch-craft and I had studied shamanism so there was lots of common ground.  So one night after a party we were sat on her sofa talking and I talked of my yearning, how I had never found the bottom of it, and she offered a different perspective.  She said that in her tradition that yearning simply meant that I had a soul-mate.  The yearning was my compass to keep me on track, to keep me seeking for the companion of my heart.  This was a revelation to me!  For the first time this yearning was not a pathology to be healed or fixed, it was a sacred gift: a guiding light in the darkness.  There was a subtle permission in this view to let the yearning be – even to embrace it.  There was also the promise of the possibility that there was someone out in the world waiting to meet me too, just as I wished to meet that someone. 

From this turning point conversation many good things in my life sprang.  I got clear in myself that while I had no evidence that the concept of ‘soul-mates’ was true, I refused to live in a world where it couldn’t be possible.  As such I began to engage with the world as a magical place where profound and miraculous things can happen in a much deeper way than I had before.  I opened my mind to possibility and I opened my heart to love.  In the coming months I received numerous omens (magical signposts from the world) which helped to lead me to the relationship which blossomed into my marriage, to my beloved, and much more recently the birth of our son.  That’s another story, as JRR Tolkein liked to say “to be told another time”.

That alone would be learning enough, but there has been more to it than that.  The yearning has not gone away… it has become a great gift.  That yearning I have learned is a kind of bitter-sweet melancholy which holds within it the possibility for great joy and deep grief.  In the holding of these apparent opposites I have found a state where I can deeply embrace mystery and have a real experience of loving the world just as it is – broken and perfect.  Embracing this yearning rather than trying to fix it has become the gateway for me to be more present, flowing, compassionate, connected, human, and loving than at any other time.  The yearning was my gateway to the divine.  Smack-bang in the middle of my yearning is where I am most creative and most effective.

So… my friend taught me many wonderful things, but more than anything she helped me open the doorway to living life in Love.

 

Thank you dear one.  May your spirit fly freely and your body rest in peace.

 

Love

God is a difficult word

God is a difficult word…

It is loaded with so much cultural baggage, so much heaviness of meaning, so much poe-faced seriousness – both from those who love the word and those who hate it.  God has become this figure of judgement, marker of seriousness, and symbol of patriarchal oppression.

I feel sad about that.

I have a relationship with the divine that I really enjoy and because I grew up with a Christian mum, God is the word I most comfortably use for that divine presence.  When I talk to myself, I say God.  But… I sometimes feel uncomfortable using it even with my friends because it is so weighted with meanings I don’t agree with, and don’t want.  My sense of it is that I’m not the only one. 

I read this poem today from Daniel Ladinsky’s ‘Love Poems from God’ (a beautiful book of translations and transliterations of devotional poetry from many traditions, although Ladinsky is best known for his Sufi poetry) and it inspired me. 

 

First He looked Confused – by Tukaram

 

I could not lie anymore so I started to call my dog “God.”

First he looked

confused,

 

Then he started smiling, then he even

danced.

 

I kept at it: now he doesn’t even

bite.

 

I am wondering if this

might work on

people?

 

 

It feels to me like many of us have abandoned the word God, but what if we didn’t?  What if we reclaimed it instead and used it for our own purposes? 

 

What if it became once more the most beautiful thing you could say to someone, a gift so great it even stops dogs biting?

 

What if, like the Sufi’s, God became for us the name of our beloved?

 

What if the word God could drip from our mouths like sweet nectar from exotic flowers overflowing with sticky abundance?

 

What if there was no confusion in our minds about God and we each lived in a personal and glorious relationship with a sense of wonderous un-knowing-ness and love of the great and mysterious nothing-that-is-everything?

 

What if, when making love, we cried out “Oh God” and really meant it because sex felt divine and the divine felt so tantalisingly, viscerally sumptuous?

 

What if in prayer, we spoke to God like one of our best friends who can’t always change the situation for us, but it feels great to talk to them about it anyway?

 

What if no book could tell us what God thinks because it’s so sublime and subtle?

 

What if, once in a while, a piece of poetry, or art, or something in nature seemed to nudge us towards an understanding of how God feels about the world?

 

What if speaking of God wasn’t controversial but was joyful?

 

What if God wasn’t masculine or feminine?

 

What if God was common ground where we could all connect rather than where we come into conflict?

 

What if loving-ness was the closest thing to Godliness?

 

What if we could build a bridge of my “What if’s” and dance out across it together with joyous, clamorous shouting that comes right up from our bellies and out through our hearts?

 

What if…..?



The Art of Dad-Fu

 

Not long ago I became a dad.  There are lots of things that come with being a dad both wonderful and challenging much of which I was kind-of expecting.

 

On the wonderful side I have got to see my wife blossom into motherhood, I got to witness her awesome strength in giving birth, I get to play with and generally enjoy my gorgeous baby son, and perhaps most importantly we get to put various cute and funny hats on him and take pictures!

 

On the tougher side of things it was not an easy birth and it was very difficult to see my wife work so hard and not be able to help, I have occasional bouts of terror about providing financially for my family, and it’s hard running my own business to find the right balance between work and family time.

 

One thing that I didn’t expect when becoming a dad was to put on weight.  It is apparently very common though and it has happened for me.  I’m a stocky build and am never likely to be either skinny or conventionally ‘Buff’ but I keep in reasonable shape through martial arts training and walking.  I am now heavier than I’d like to be.  During pregnancy when the mum-to-be is being flooded by hormones, the man does often have hormonal changes too.  In many men their testosterone production goes down (the hormone that makes you manly, active, lusty, and when there’s too much of it – aggressive!) and progesterone production goes up (progesterone goes up in women too and is often associated with ‘nesting’ tendencies).  This shift tends to bring with it a weight gain.  Also once the baby is born it’s common for a new dad to gain between half a stone and one stone just because you end up eating more and being less active.  So while I didn’t expect this change, it looks like I’m not the only one.

Now, pre-baby I would have got back into training Karate and Kung-Fu with my teacher, upped my solo training and not worried about it too much.  That was what I first set my sights on.  However, finding an hour or so a day plus the 2-3 hours I would spend with my teacher each week doesn’t seem very realistic in the post-baby new world.  That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on my training, but it’s clearly something I’m going to have to find my way back into more slowly than I would have hoped.  Right now, I need to up my exercise… so what do I do?!  If I take time out of my work day then I get less hours at that when my time already feels squeezed; if I take time out of my family time then that’s less time with my wife and child and my wife having to manage without my support more than is the case already.  It’s a bit of a rock and a hard place.  Well, it was… Until I invented the art of Dad-Fu!

 

Anyone who knows me or my work will know that I am passionate about creating practices – taking regular activities and making them conscious and meditative processes to engage in.  I even have a book coming out soon on this very subject: A little book on finding your Way – Zen and the Art of Doing stuff.  Watch this space for more news if you’re interested or get in touch and we can put you on the mailing list.  The art of Dad-Fu is a practice.  What it involves is taking my son, Samson out for a walk for an hour every day in the sling.  Doesn’t sound like such a big deal?  Let me explain…

 

It meets my need for getting some good basic exercise (walking is great cardiovascular exercise providing you walk swiftly enough to raise your heart rate slightly and keep it raised), Samson is perfectly happy wrapped up in his furry super-suit (and usually goes to sleep within about 10 steps), and my wife gets an hour to herself to do with as she pleases!  It meets everyone’s needs and I get some more bonding time with Samson.  If he’s awake I often talk or sing to him (I don’t look any more crazy than your average blue-tooth headset user!) and if he’s asleep then at least he’s still in my energy field.

This has taught me a valuable lesson about developing practices: whatever high ideals we might have and as wonderful as some practices may be, sometimes what’s most important is that the practice fits your life not the other way around.  If your practice is not supportive of you taking this one precious life you have and making the most of it then what’s the point?  That’s not to dismiss taking special time out to meditate or do Karate or have a tea-ceremony or whatever floats your boat.  That can be vital to living a fulfilled life too, but right now my highest priority is being the best dad I can so I practice Dad-Fu.  I think the key question to ask ourselves here is: “What is this in service of?”  It’s a big question and one that comes up a lot in the Samurai Game when I run it.  ‘Samurai’ translates as ‘One who serves.’  I see the warrior archetype as an archetype of service.  The warrior serves the ruler or King, so what rules you?  Negative habits and addictions can rule us whether that is alcohol or shopping or too much TV (and I’m not against any of these things per-se, see my previous article on TV as a practice!).  Equally, apparently positive practices can end up harming more than they help if they rule us.  A meditation practice, or going to the gym can be great for your spiritual or physical health but if it takes up loads of your time and damages your relationships, is it worth it?  You need to take into account the fact that devoting time to a solo practice may be what makes it possible to be really present in relationships so it is not a simple equation to solve but definitely one worth considering.

 

You may be wondering “Why Dad-Fu?”  Well partly because I think it sounds cooler than “The art of going for a walk in the cold with my son” but also I think there is a valuable parallel between Kung-Fu and being a dad.  Kung-Fu can be translated many ways from the original Chinese but one of those translations is ‘time and hard work.’  I find it a heartening reminder of the nature of committed practice whether that is to a martial art or to being a father.  It is going to be hard work sometimes: deal with it.  It also takes place in an extended time period and while that means that the hard work keeps going, it also allows lots of time and space to make mistakes (and we’re all going to), to learn from them, and to heal from the disappointments (and these will happen).  Taking up any form of committed practice is both a burden and a gift – I think that’s doubly true of parenting – and that is the wonderful, mysterious dichotomy of life. 

As with any new practice, Dad-Fu has had some unexpected delights.  Brighton is really quite beautiful at night in a way that you just don’t see during the day.  The sea-front is wonderfully quiet and peaceful, the sea dark and mysterious in its murmurings.  I also get time to just ponder things as I walk.  An hour largely devoted to pondering and walking feels like quite a treat!  I have also discovered hidden architectural delights, sometimes just on regular houses, sometimes in more obvious places like the beautifully repaired bandstand on the sea-front (the pictures throughout this article are from my walks in the last week or so).  It feels like a really magical space to be mostly on my own, Samson asleep on my chest and find a spot, view, or moment which conjures something in my imagination or sparks a story in my mind.  I am really enjoying my new practice.

 

So what can you take away from this article?  Maybe just consider your own practices (and whatever you’re doing again and again is a practice) and have a think about what you want to be in service of and whether those practices are the best use of your time.  There is a saying which has been attributed to various people over the years (right back to a Latin version from ancient Rome):  “Necessity is the mother of Invention.”  I have certainly found that to be true in creating ‘The Way of Dad-Fu.’  Perhaps you have necessities which are calling for your creativity…?

 

Whatever you practice, I hope it brings you joy in the easy times, strength in the tough times and growth all the time.

 

Warriors for Peace

It may seem odd to some to consider the Warrior archetype in conjunction with an orientation towards peace, however, I see the 2 things as not only linked but necessary to each other.  One symbolic way of looking at the connection would be through the lens of Taoist beliefs that opposites create each other, as shown visually in the Yin Yang symbol – the black half contains the seed of the white half, and the white the seed of the black.  In a slightly more concrete illustration, when I say yes to one thing I am simultaneously saying no to many other potential options.  Yes and No are opposites but are interdependent upon one another.

To deal more specifically with the matter of the Warrior and Peace, a perfect example can be seen in The Samurai Game®.  George Leonard who created The Samurai Game® was a senior grade Aikido practitioner and former World War II fighter pilot.  This was a man who had seen war and had deep experience of martial arts.  He originally created the Game after he had met with a bunch of his old war buddies.  They had all been reminiscing about their time together during the War and most of them had been saying that life had seemed dull by comparison since.  This was not George's experience but it did set him to thinking about a question he had pondered often before:  Why, when we know the consequences, do we continue to make war?  There are many possible answers to this question ranging from the surface of any political considerations which are specific to each conflict but can be categorised as essentially being questions of power and control; right through to much deeper considerations of fundamental aspects of human nature.  After many years of sitting with and experimenting with this question, one of the possible answers George came up with was:

Maybe it's just the Juiciest game in town!

This could seem light or even crass, but pause for a minute.  There is a part of the human psyche which craves vivid experience and as we have become increasingly 'developed' and 'civilised' this has become less and less nourished as time has gone on.  When aspects of us which need expression are suppressed or ignored they will find ways to leak and burst out on their own.  This is the nature of the human shadow.  Maybe part of what keeps human beings making war is a basic craving for vivid experience.  I think this is part of what George Leonard learned from running The Samurai Game® for many years, with all different kinds of groups.  Certainly, part of what I see people coming into contact with through the Game is not only a deep connection with their own Warrior selves, but an experiential understanding of the consequences of war.  This runs the range of very positive in that they have lived brightly, vividly, profoundly and completely connected to a higher purpose; right through to the truly terrible consequences of massive loss of life and ultimate futility.  Here we have a fascinating dichotomy: a game about War where we learn profound and lasting lessons about Peace.  In the modern world this is a rare, example of the beautiful balance of being a Warrior for Peace.  Some martial arts dojo’s manage to embrace and explore this but even there it is not as common as you might think.

In ancient times and indigenous cultures I think this marriage of Warriors working for Peace was more common. In many indigenous, tribal societies in recent history there were ritual ways of doing combat that limited the danger of loss of life.  These were used to settle inter-tribal disputes but were often invoked and enacted at certain times of the year whether there was a conflict to settle or not.  I see The Samurai Game® as being similar to this, and part of George Leonard's work to create a more vivid peace in the hope that we can one day relinquish war-making.  When your community is smaller you notice the loss of one of you much more keenly – this is clear in The Samurai Game®, as I think it would be in smaller tribal village communities.  I suspect death was in some ways a weightier matter in these communities than it is today in a world where we have such phrases as ‘collateral damage’ and ‘acceptable losses.’  In the arena of mass war, leaders have to numb themselves to the casualties or they will be overwhelmed. 

Examples of the old ritualised combat forms are still visible today whether we draw a parallel between the mass bonding and vivid experience of war-time and sports events like football games, or we look to extant tribal communities and practices closely derived from them.  Lacrosse began as a warrior game amongst first nation American’s and was very much an arena for the young bucks of the tribe to let off steam and work out their aggressive urges in a contained environment.  Many rites of passage and initiatory experiences were designed with a similar intention.  As the saying goes “If the young men are not initiated they will burn down the village for warmth.”  I think this can be particularly true of young men but I think it is true for all of us that we need places where we can let our wild sides out of the box for a while.  If we can find safe, contained ways of exercising our wilder nature, and aggressive tendencies then that is far preferable than risking hurting ourselves and others on a regular basis.  This then becomes a conversation not just addressing external peace-making, but being at peace in ourselves – an issue which to look at the statistics about drug abuse, alcohol abuse, overeating, compulsive shopping and street violence is clearly a pressing issue for us to address both individually and culturally if we are to create a genuinely healthy society.  To see some other examples of ritualised combat we can look at the Dundunbar rituals of West Africa (please forgive me if I have spelled this incorrectly, I have only heard it verbally described).  Young men come together to do ritual combat with sticks.  A great deal of pride and social recognition is at stake and while injury’s can be serious it is nothing like the damage they would do if they were left to create real combat with heavier weapons.  Capoeira is a martial art from Brazil that may have it’s roots at least partially in the ‘Zebra Dance’ of Africa and is generally practised to avoid physical contact with a strong emphasis on ritual and an exercising of aggressive and competitive tendencies without doing harm.  Part of the tradition of Capoeira is a dance called the ‘Maculele’ which is a ritualised dance-combat with sticks.  One story I have heard about it is that originally it was a ritual created by 2 tribes who lived on either side of a valley.  Once a year the 2 tribes would meet at the bottom of the valley and ‘do battle’ through the Maculele.  Whether this story is historically correct or not, it is another example of ritual combat being used to alleviate the Warrior’s call for real combat.  

Whether we are looking at promoting inner peace or creating outer peace, it is clear to me that a healthy embrace and inclusion of the Warrior archetype in all of us is not only preferable but necessary.

For people who are seeking to be peace-workers themselves, I would see it as particularly important that they have not only studied peace but have learnt about and embraced their warrior selves.  Otherwise, the potential that they will repress their aggressive tendencies is much greater.  Aspects of ourselves which are repressed or ‘left in shadow’ in my experience not only leak out unconsciously in many small ways but also have a tendency to explode out at the most unfortunate moments.  Imagine if you are working on a mediation case and one of the emotional dynamics pushes your buttons… It would be the worst possible moment for you as mediator to have an emotional explosion yourself!  However, when our warrior tendencies, our need for healthy expression of anger, our need for vivid experience, and our need to be able to say “No” and draw hard boundaries when necessary have not been listened to, exercised and understood for long periods of time an emotional explosion is exactly what we are likely to get.

Even without the potential for unfortunate emotional outbursts or subtle emotional leakage, I think the Warrior has a fundamental role to play in creating Peace.  To truly choose Peace we must be coming from a position of strength, other wise it is not something we are choosing, it is our last remaining option for survival.  This idea is beautifully articulated by Paul Linden in his book 'Embodied Peacemaking' and by Daniele Bolelli in his book 'On the Warrior's Path.'

 

“If Attila the Hun comes riding over the hill all set to pillage your village, the first, civilized step is to say, “Excuse me, Mr. Hun, but I’d really rather you not pillage my village.” Of course, we know what he’d likely say. So the next step would be to make a clear statement of the negative consequences for him of his trying. And of course, we know what he would be likely to do. So the necessary last step would be physical self-defense. Without the capability of bottom-line, practical self-protection skills, other conflict resolution skills rest on a foundation of sand.”

                                                -Paul Linden

 

“You can only renounce what you are able to do. Peace is a choice only for those who are able to do battle. Otherwise, it’s the desperate pleading of someone who has no alternatives. Unless you are a mean, violent bastard with murderous tendencies to begin with, renouncing violence probably is not to the main thing on your mind when you pick up martial arts. Renouncing violence, anger, and aggression is a by-product of growing as a human being, of becoming more confident and secure in yourself. Once you are confident enough, you can afford to be sweet and open up emotionally to others because you are no longer afraid. Ultimately, mastering combat is a path to face one’s fears and, at least partially, overcome them. Abandoning violent tendencies is only one of many transformations that take place when fear lessens its hold on us.”               

                                                                                    -Daniele Bolelli

 

The Warrior and the Peacemaker may be apparent opposites, but like the Yin Yang symbol they are completely necessary to each other if we are to be whole people and if we are to create a more peaceful and loving world.  They are not enemies, they are brothers.  I think this is why so many great teachers through the ages have embraced the Warrior archetype while essentially teaching us to be more peaceful and loving: Chogyam Trungpa, Gichin Funakoshi, Morihei Ueshiba, George Leonard, Paul Linden, Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Paulo Coelho and many others.  This too is why I do the work that I do.

 

If you’d like to know more about The Samurai Game® and Warriors of the Heart workshops, or would like to work with Warrior Leadership in your organisation, please do check our calendar for upcoming events, or get in touch.  Thanks for reading.



There is no first strike in Karate

This is the second of Gichin Funakshi's 20 principles of Karate.  This has often been interpreted as meaning that while Karate is primarily a form of self-defense (not offense), the true Karate practitioner will be so aware and so fast that as soon as they detect an attack, they strike with such swiftness and certainty that while both combatants move together, the Karate-ka strikes the winning blow.  I think this is at least a little shallow, and considering Funakoshi was a Confuscian scholar and deeply contemplative individual, I'd like to think he intended a deeper reading of it too.  So here's my interpretation...

There is no first strike in Karate

 What this means to me is that Karate is about relationship.  When I sit in a place of judgement I can say “you started it, it's your fault!”  or “I struck first, I won.”  But if I see everything as a form of interconnected relationship then there is no blame and no winner: somehow 'we' create the moment where conflict or achievement occurs.  Karate should be first and foremost an awareness discipline.  The teaching of 'self defense techniques' is, I believe, misleading.  There is the whole issue of what a fight really looks like (which is frankly very ugly) as compared with what is often taught (which is choreographed).  I have often seen people (including myself at times) walk out of a dojo with a greatly inflated sense of skill when dealing with 'real fighting.'  This is dangerous because this attitude will tend to make you more, not less likely to get into a fight.  It is important to gain a sense of physical self confidence, and some studies have been done that seem to suggest that career criminals instinctively steer clear of people who are grounded and centred regardless of their size or sex (these are cited in George Leonard's book 'The Way of Aikido').  So learning to be grounded and centred, to have sufficient physical awareness and confidence that your physicality does not say “victim” is an important learning and may prevent trouble in the first place.  The attitude that goes with “I can take care of myself” tends more towards some arrogance or even mild aggression – which is more likely to attract the attention of a certain kind of trouble-maker.  In these examples the 'first strike' has gone from being a physical act to an attitudinal stance.  Without necessaily being aware of it, in thinking 'I can take care of myself' I walk around projecting subtle 'what are you looking at?!' vibes.  I have been very fortunate to train with wise and subtle teachers (both physically and through reading some excellent books) who have encouraged me towards a deep kind of physical awareness rather than focusing on the fight.  I believe it is this kind of physical awareness which should be at the heart of what we learn in Karate (or any martial art for that matter), and is also at the heart of what I consider to be 'self defence.'  Even once someone seems to have engaged with us aggressively (which most commonly begins verbally), how we respond to that mentally, emotionally, and physically, can have a huge impact on whether the situation escalates.  In this way, there is no point we can call the 'first strike' because every situation is an environment where many subtle forces are interacting moment to moment.  This interaction begins at the subconscious level so the more aware we can be of what is going on in ourselves, in the world around us and the interface between the two, the better we can become at ensuring a first strike never becomes necessary (whether that 'strike' as an act of aggression is physical, mental or emotional). 

          The Kanji (Japanese writing) for Budo which means 'warrior way' is made up of 2 other Kanji:  one which means 'halberds', the other means 'to stop.'  So the root of the warrior path is to stop combat happening.  This gives us a different idea of what it means to be a warrior than most of the popular films portray for us, and it is from this perspective that I interpret  Gichin Funakoshi's second principle.  With this at the heart of our understanding of the warrior way, we become warriors of compassion, warriors of peace.

First post: What does this Soul long for?

I have prevarricated.  Some of you may know what that is like.  I have been busy - that's true, but more than anything I have been wrestling with what my first post should be on this blog of mine, this new venture in internet communication: What is sufficiently substantial and representative of my intended writing to come to take this pride of place as the first thing I write here?

I don't have an answer to that.  While soul and spirit and heart-focused living are all definitely part of it; and 'human business' as my friend Mark Walsh describes it is also connected to what I want to write here; and Warrior living is at the heart of what I am offering in many of my workshops; it is all of these things and none of these things and something else as well.

So, it will be what it is and perhaps others will define it for me as it forms.

For now, instead of only offering you my prevarrication, I offer you a poem.  It is a wish, for my own soul and perhaps it will resonate with yours as well. 

 

 

What does this soul long for?

 

Love

Love

Love, Love, Love

And Loving

And Loving

And Loving

And longing's end

With space to grow,

And flow

And support

And manifest safe reality

Held

In the hands of Mother Earth

And in the hearth of my own home

And own work

And knowledge of integrated expansion

And magic

And continued learning

In enjoyment and immersion and pleasure and recognition

And tactile, rolling, tumbling fun

And walk, walk, walk

The sea

Hills

Shore

Rising

Woodland waves

Hand-in-hand

Heart-in-heart

Sharing

Wonder-eye-sparkle connection

Without and within

And everything done

And everything yet to do

And

Adventure, adventure, adventure!