Heart Opening Moments

BLOG of a Spiritual Stripper

Facing the Place of No Escape

In aikido, I find myself often wanting to escape an oncoming strike. In the back of my mind I somehow believe if I can just avoid getting hit or avoid any possible pain, then I will be unharmed. Somewhere within my consciousness I believe escaping a confrontation is the best resolution.

Unfortunately on my spiritual journey, there are moments within myself that I must face an oncoming strike without the possibility of ever running away. A few days ago I had an encounter that brought back waves of old unresolved pain. I knew I was feeling unbalanced, angry, and sad. Yet I still used my meditation as a way to escape the uncomfortable feelings. Needless to say, trying to force peace upon chaos only leads to more chaos. Soon enough I found other strategies such as running away to take sunset photos, watching educational PBS series, eating a heavy meal to mentally checkout, and feeling the onset of a cold so I can just sleep away. All the strategies worked briefly only to lead me back to an even louder scream of discomfort within myself.

Eventually the strike caught up with me and I found myself facing the place of no escape.

In this cramped place I feel checkmated, and the only thing I can do is accept. Accepting the discomfort, accepting the internal scream, accepting the defeat, accepting the silence beneath the chaos, accepting everything just the way it is. The moment frozen feels like time standing still in the eye of a storm as I face the demons hidden beneath my consciousness. When the movements of jarring attempts to run away arise, an unwavering response of quiet acceptance, tender compassion, and intimate understanding softly penetrates my ground of being. Waves of sadness washing over me… Tears falling down… Bottled up old pain releasing… Violently, gently, tenderly – emptying, cleansing, renewing.

The place of no escape.

Years ago I thought Enlightenment will give me the promise of “happily forever after,” now only to discover Realization solely lays the groundwork for an inner revolution to take place. This life flowing through me now is no longer under my control – it has a movement of its own – breaking through a new pathway – restructuring, reorganizing my body, mind, emotions, and energy. This ongoing emptying out the old and rebuilding the new can often feel scary, chaotic, and triggers an instinct to fight or flight. Facing the GREAT UNKNOWN at each moment can be overwhelming and frightening. Yet my instinctual “need-to-escape” or “resisting-the-change” will only delay my transformation and make the process much more difficult to endure. It is a challenge to keep on going – to make the choice to be brave, to stand alone – naked, accepting, and willing.

On the path after Realization, there can only be places of no escape. Realization might have been a sudden existential awakening, but the path after Realization must be a commitment to continue the discovery and renewal of our chosen path. I have met many individuals fortunate enough to experience a moment of awakening but they never took another step beyond that experience. So many of them still talk about that old experience that happened long ago but nothing new blossomed as a result of their realization. I didn’t want to be one of them. I didn’t want my awakening to be just an old memory. Day in, day out I make the choice to walk with Truth – no matter how it reveals itself. This journey is simple – serve Truth even when it is difficult to do so.  I don’t suppose it will always be an easy choice to make. I do know that I will find the bravery within myself to walk the path. Are you willing to walk with me?

  'You must want to know the truth more than you want to feel secure in order to fully awaken to the fact that you are nothing but Awakeness itself. '  ~ Adyashanti

‘You must want to know the truth more than you want to feel secure in order to fully awaken… ‘ ~ Adyashanti

“But our potential lies beyond the known, beyond the structures of the past, beyond anything that humanity has established. Our potential is something that can flower only when we are no longer caught within the influence and limitations of the known. Beyond the realm of the mind, beyond the limitations of humanity’s conditioned consciousness, lies that which can be called the sacred. And it is from the sacred that a new and fluid consciousness is born that wipes away the old and brings to life the flowering of a living and undivided expression of being.
One must be willing to stand alone—in the unknown, with no reference to the known or the past or any of one’s conditioning. One must stand where no one has stood before in complete nakedness, innocence, and humility. One must stand in that dark light, in that groundless embrace, unwavering and true to the reality beyond all self—not just for a moment, but forever without end. For then that which is sacred, undivided, and whole is born within consciousness and begins to express itself.”  © Adyashanti 2008 
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December 11, 2014 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Choices, Death & Rebirth, Emotional Freedom, Enlightenment, Inner Growth, Self Realization, Tears | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Aikido’s Path Beyond Awakening

Battle of the Samurais by Mariusz Szmerdt (used with permission from artist http://sumi-e.pl)

Battle of the Samurais by Mariusz Szmerdt (used with permission from artist http://sumi-e.pl)

Last Sunday I had the privilege of being in Gankashu training with an aikido master Utada shihan. 学習 (gankashū) in Japanese means learning or actively studying a subject. In aikido, we emphasize 修学 (shūgaku) which is beyond the superficial intellectual understanding and as a way to commit to the depth of true knowledge. 修学 (shūgaku) is similar to 修行 (shūgyō) or 修道 (shūdō) which is often used in martial arts training to describe one’s lifetime devotion to the path.

The path prior to awakening is similar to the path prior to attaining a black belt. We often aim our direction in such a way in order to achieve, to conquer, and to make the ego successful. It is not to say there’s no value in such an aim. It is just that the path after awakening is substantially different even though the outward expression of the path might hold certain similarities.

A few months into my aikido training years ago, I asked both of my senseis how long it would take for me to obtain a black belt. Back then, that was my aim. I thought if I made it to a black belt then I have made it onto the ladder of success. I remember clearly the older sensei just laughed while the younger sensei smiled and sincerely answered me in such a way that was fit for my level of understanding at the time. I could sense that I was blind to a greater knowing. I saw it on their faces that for me to even ask such a question I must only have had superficial understanding but really was essentially ignorant.

Life worked out in such a way that my sustained awakening synchronized with my training for my shodan (first degree black belt). My training partner invested in aikido mats for a home dojo where he aimed to obtain his black belt no matter what. We trained during normal class times as well as in his home dojo and by ourselves. He held a purpose to obtain just as I lost my obsession to obtain. I didn’t know what was really happening within me at the time. All I knew for certain was that I had lost the drive to ace the test, yet I still trained and trained with every ounce of my heart not at all concerned with the outcome. The interesting sensation was that I felt more truly devoted to my path without holding any agenda at all.

Samurai sword bushido - artwork by mariusz Szmerdt (used with permission from artist http://sumi-e.pl)

Samurai sword bushido – artwork by mariusz Szmerdt (used with permission from artist http://sumi-e.pl)

Utada shihan told us a story of a samurai’s search for Enlightenment. This samurai set his course to be the best. He did end up conquering and defeating even the best samurais around him yet he did not find what he was looking for. He decided that a warrior’s path cannot lead to Enlightenment so he switched his path to become a farmer. Years later still not able to find what he was looking for, he then switched his path again to become solitary and lived in a cave no one would ever find. Legends told that he never found what he was looking for.

Stories of samurais or warriors in search of one’s true path are often told in great detail and variation in many cultures.  They are all the same story in essence – a hero’s journey. Initially the hero wants to obtain skills for a grand purpose. There is much hardship and resistance internally and externally. This is symbolized as the fight, often times a duel to the death. Death is also symbolic where an old way must completely end in order for the hero to truly discover oneself. We project out our own inferior qualities onto others in the world and in such stories these inferior qualities must be “killed” in a duel so only one True warrior can live on. Unfortunately for some stories like our story of the unfound samurai, even winning the duel cannot bring a deeper understanding of Truth, Self, and  Life. Fortunately for some others, we dig deeper than just the superficial appearance and find a whole new world of being. There does come a death, more dramatic than the physical death is the death of the old, the death of our tinted beliefs, and the death of the psyche. In the physical death, the energy of the old way of being will still carry on and the psychological death does not allow any old parts to carry on – EVERYTHING must go, must be cleaned out.

The moment of awakening is the realization of “oh, I now know what I am.” Just because this realization takes place it does not mean all of our cellular memories, hardwired beliefs and reactions will shift in a single moment. The clearing out process takes time. The new neuronal network takes time to disengage and rebuild. And the new DNA transcription and new protein expression also takes time to re-educate. And these times of the post-awakening can sometimes be very clear while all of a sudden we sink into the mud again of confusion. This is because our system is rebuilding, readjusting, and relearning. Anything that no longer fits the new system will be brought to the surface, examined, and evaluated. There are times of blissful oneness followed by unshakable darkness. The path after awakening is that of purification. It does not happen by us, but it happens to us. Grace takes care of the majority of the work, we just are just along for the ride – hence 道 is written as a the “one who emerges” riding a “carriage”. Like my 初段 (shodan) is written as the beginning of a path – the road after awakening is  where the journey truly begins. This path is 修道 (shūdō) – the path of complete devotion to the life after realization.

Utada shihan shared several points through aikido to help one orient the focus in a constructive manner. These points will help aikidokas and freshly realized beings alike.

I) 道場とわ (dojo to wa)
“how to conduct oneself in the dojo environment”
In aikido, one must start from the self, once our inner space is cleaned then extend that onto our gi and into a cleansed and open space we call the dojo. This is also true for our spiritual journey. First we must hold what is realized, then embody what is realized and be what is realized. We take the realization into the world.

II) 心技体の稽古 (shin gi tai no kei ko)
“the importance of the body and mind/heart training”
In aikido, the enemy is the constantly changing and wavering mind. The wavering mind unbalances the body. A unbalanced wavering body is already defeated. In aikido, we train to unify. In our spiritual path after realization, the mind can still try to take center stage and take along the body, emotions and energy with it. The training is to become “no mind”, where movements are simple expressions from spirit not thought.

III) 二つの目付き (futatsu no me tsuke)
“two ways of witnessing”
There are two ways to witness, one way is 見 and the second way is 観.  The first way is to view something with sight. It is only a superficially physical way to witness. The second way is to deeply see and intuit the completeness of something. It is often said 観 is a deeper way of truly seeing with one closing one’s two eyes but opening the third eye and turning it inward. It is the first word in the Heart Sutra – the beginning of truly seeing. Life after awakening demands us to no longer rely on 見 but we must look inward and view life by its completeness with our own depth through 観.

IV) 伝統と継承 (dento to keishou)
“tradition and succession [of the art]”
In any type of martial arts, we base our training in the grounded-ness of tradition. Aikido is an evolved form from the way of the sword, jujutsu, and other forms of martial arts. Because of tradition there is training. Yet it does not become capped but a life-form that keeps evolving to higher and higher levels.  O sensei said in an interview: “In my opinion, [aikido] can be said to be the true martial art. The reason for this is that it is a martial art based on universal truth. This universe is composed of many different parts, and yet the universe as a whole is united as a family and symbolizes the ultimate state of peace. Holding such a view of the universe, Aikido cannot be anything but a martial art of love. It cannot be a martial art of violence. For this reason Aikido can be said to be another manifestation of the Creator of the universe.”

And that too, is the path after realization.

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Chinese, Death & Rebirth, Enlightenment, Fine Arts, Inner Growth, Self Realization | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Exploration of Enlightenment

Chances are, if you are a spiritual seeker, then you have heard of enlightenment. We were told Buddha was an enlightened master, so was Jesus and a few selected individuals throughout history. There are others such as Muhammad Rumi, Albert Einstein, Joseph Campbell all exhibited such inherent passion for life and ease of living that they too might possess something mystical. Even various cultures throughout history have shifted into a space that completely transformed human reason to redefine the quality of our very existence.

Enlightenment Period Art – Time unveiling Truth, 1733, Jean-François Detroy (The winged figure of Time, holding a scythe in the sky, reveals Truth, his daughter, who unmasks an old woman personifying Fraud. The four Cardinal Virtues kneel in tribute at Truth’s feet. Fortitude rests by a lion which symbolises her courage, while Justice carries a sword and scales which refer to her power and impartiality. Further back Temperance carries a pitcher of water which signifies abstinence, and Prudence carries a snake, an allusion to her wisdom. In the top right-hand corner is a building which recalls the Pantheon in Rome.) http://tinyurl.com/ae6ywb3

What is the commonality between various categories of enlightenment?

Look up the term in google, the definition comes to be 1) the action of enlightening or the state of being enlightened; 2) the attainment of spiritual knowledge or insight that which frees a person from the cycle of [karma]. The Buddhism root of the term translates into “awakening” and “understanding”, which then allows us to break the bondage of suffering. Spiritual enlightenment promoting individual well-being in the Western civilization leading into the twenty-first century are often called a new age idea drawing on Eastern cultures and philosophies. Hence spiritual enlightenment is thought to be an “achievement” all individuals seek to obtain.

A more well-known use of the term is the “period of enlightenment” roughly span the early seventeenth century through the eighteenth century where traditional hierarchical political-social structures such as the French monarchy were violently overturned. The “period of enlightenment” occurred with a shift in thinking. Unvoiced in the past, individuals were encouraged to criticize the corruption of the monarchy and the aristocracy. At an earlier time in the late fifteenth century a parallel force of the scientific revolution triggered a yearning for new science, new experiments, and individual searches of intellectual freedom.

This wave of scientific revolution also helped to shape “enlightenment thoughts” in philosophical discussions. Against popular beliefs promoted by religion, Before the mid-sixteenth century, Descartes joined Galileo in advocating a heliocentric solar system. To avoid the Inquisition, his books in science were mostly published anonymously. Yet this undercover passion shaped his philosophical inquiries of doubt and knowledge, which allowed his skeptical arguments to penetrate the court of Queen Christina. In the mid-seventh century, Voltaire stood out to question popular believes by his words against myth and superstition taught by religious authorities. At the same time, Hume’s inquires into the sometimes false perceptions of the mind, Kant’s aim to unite new empirical experiences with established rational reasoning all propelled a shift in thinking – this shift is known as the Enlightenment.

In a sense, no matter how unrelated each categories might seem, various forms of enlightenment somehow point to the same direction – a question, a reassessment, a revolution, an awakening, a transformation leading to the freedom of true knowledge. In essence, enlightenment is a shift in perception, a shift in being that sheds light on something, illuminating what was in the dark to making it stand out and absolutely clear.

What does enlightenment have anything to do with you? And why would you want a piece of it?

Have you ever thought there might be more to life? One time or another in our lives we all strived to be happier, live deeper and experience more. What we’ve been taught by society is to achieve more in life and possess more materialistic things. We would purchase a bigger house, a more expensive car, exotic vacations, marry a handsome husband, earn a good living, yet somehow all these achievements quickly lose their attraction and we still feel unfulfilled. Some of us might turn to addictions such as food, drugs, sex, TV shows, video games to fill the hole yet still not able to find the happiness we yearn for. We don’t see a way out of this darkness, we yearn for more…

Second, like most human beings you have probably experienced suffering. If you are lucky, a tragedy in life might have brought pain to your awareness – physically or emotionally. From an early age we often cry in response to unpleasant events. Later in life, we tend to spin our wheels and try to solve various life’s dramas only finding ourselves unable to break free. For some, this suffering is always screaming and leaks into every part of our existence. Such as a solider who lost his legs in battle later found himself unwilling to take part in the simplest daily activities due to his overwhelming sadness, anger and shame. For others, this suffering is unconscious yet dictates all the choices we make in life. Like a young woman who believed she is not pretty enough so she spent hours each day to prepare herself, endless hours in the gym, purchased new breasts to feel better, dated hot guys to validate her own self-worth. For her, all of her energy is spent in this endless loop of the believe that she is not pretty enough, nevertheless she is trapped in a subconscious suffering.

Third, no matter if you are a scientist, a historian or a psychotherapist, you care about truth. As the Enlightenment philosophers once explored, truth can be very difficult to come by. As a scientist, I would form a theory of the world and then design experiments to examine the validity of my theory in an attempt to find truth. As a historian, you might research paintings, literatures, personal documentation in attempt to find what were the true forces responsible for a radical global shift. As a psychotherapist, it is your job to help individuals to discover which mental perceptions are faulty and how to form reality-based knowledge without the effect of delusions. Or if you are anything like me – a skeptic of everything you read or hear, you are tired of being living in other people’s structures of life and you want to use your own experience to feel life as it truly is.

No matter if you are yearning for fulfillment, seeking the end of suffering, or needing the clarity of truth, enlightenment holds the promise to set you free. It literally unmasks an old belief like the painting “Time unveiling Truth” – resulting in a break-away from the endless loops our old conditioning. It is difficult to describe what enlightenment is if the actual experience has not yet taken place. Everything you read here and elsewhere is only a finger-pointing to enlightenment, it is just a map hoping to get you closer. That is when Kant’s argument of external knowledge and reasoning might be helpful leading one to an actual internal experience. Upon the union of both – external knowledge and internal experience – Truth can then be attained – cycles of suffering or karmic ties can then be broken.

But, what the heck is enlightenment?

It is often referred to as “awakening”, “self-realization”, “freedom” and more. Like the word “enlighten”, it literally has the quality of shedding light onto an area of darkness. The contrast of this event is so great, it is like day and night. Once enlightenment happens, you cannot deny it. Just like dawn might still be very cold and dark, and upon the arrival of the day, the sun shines brightly you know you are no longer in darkness. It also has the quality of waking up from a dream. As we were once asleep, life’s problems were hunting us and we drive ourselves mad trying to come to a resolution. As we wake up, we realize all that suffering was just a dream. In fact, after awakening we realize all is well. Like the word self-realization, it is a realization of who you are, and that dream was all the untruth, that dream was everything you were not yet you just didn’t know it. Upon awakening you will know you are not your thoughts, you are not your body, you are not emotions, you are not your intellect, you are not your personality, and all that’s left over is you are space, you are pure awareness.

You are free to go beyond your past conditioning so each moment greets you anew. You are no longer dictated by the monarchy of your karma. You get to experience life fresh, without trying to focus on the moment, the moment simply just is. You are no longer controlled by your mind or by an external standard of right or wrong. You realize all the knowledge you accumulated before was somehow not of your own, it was passed down to you from other authorities, and you have somehow believed to be Truth.

After awakening you profoundly understand Truth spoken by Jesus when he said “the kingdom of God is within you.” You realize that the God you once prayed to as an old bearded man in the sky was just a mental imagine of what God might be because you didn’t know better. Upon enlightenment, you know with empirical experience that the essence of God is within you, God is omnipresent, and God is all there is. You know who you are, you know who everyone else is as well, and magically you are no longer separate, you are no longer sad or lonely, somehow, you are naturally happy. Then the you that was once the center of your universe disappears into a heliocentric solar system where God is the sun. You no longer aim for achievement to make yourself look better, instead, you naturally care about the well-being of the whole. After enlightenment you will know that God lives within you, and you are joy, you are Love. And you are glad that there’s no more you, there is only Flow. life literally becomes magical and everything happens between time, space, and in the perfectly harmonious order.

How does it happen?

Like the “period of enlightenment”, a personal enlightenment is also a revolution. It starts with a profound discomfort that you are not living your full potential and something must be done. You might feel that something different is taking place but you can’t pin-point exactly what is going on. Often times deep suffering can be the birthing place that promotes such revolution. Like a society, when old structures no longer work in the current context, something must change. Many individuals feel an unrecognizable fear as if life is no longer mapped out. Each and everyday becomes a struggle as our old way of operations is shedding away and we no longer how what to “DO”. Some people might feel as if suddenly their whole life is falling apart in the traditional sense. Some might feel their own masks of individual identity has being ripped off by external events. Others might feel chucks of their memories are missing or being re-invented. All these are indications of an under current of a powerful internal transformation.

Enlightenment can happen by a traumatic trigger such as a near-death experience or diligent hard labor such as a monk’s daily devotion. For most, it happens somewhere in between. It requires a personal willingness to let go everything we once were taught to be true and search for our new inner science (hence Sadhguru’s Isha Yoga is an inner science towards self-realization and his beginner’s program is called Inner Engineering). It also requires a softness to perceive beyond the logical mind and receive whatever God has in store for you – however, whenever. Sounds simple yet it may not be easy. Most people are stuck yearning for the grace of God to unveil Truth yet they are not willing to let go their self-centered personal identities. It is often called letting go of the ego – meaning letting go false identifications of who we believe yourself to be (as in the painting by the old woman with the mask, she is old outdated and her mask must be lifted off by Truth).

Similar to the “period of enlightenment”, once enough momentum is gathered to start the movement of a revolution, it can no longer be stopped. It becomes a rolling snowball, so anything that is untrue will be violently overturned and destroyed in the process to pave way for Truth. Yet at the time of war, your days can become extremely unpleasant, yet this must take place to bring-forth a transformation. One day you might realize that you are dying and there’s nothing you can do about it. What’s dying is your old perception of who you are, this death of the ego in painful but it will not kill the real you. It destroys the impostor who posed as you only to give space to the who you really are.

Like a caterpillar “dying” in the cocoon, it does not know what’s on the other side of the death only that he can no longer be a caterpillar. When this happens, the revolution has been well underway and it can no longer be reversed. An incubation time will begin in the darkness of deep self-reflection and fierce inquiries of truth. You might wonder how long you must watch yourself melt away… Then another day might arrive on this continuous stream of journey that suddenly you are no longer dying but rebuilding as a new part of nature. Your vision somehow seems brighter, you no longer get bothered by other people’s comments or your own internal dialog, you notice the way you view things is completely different from everyone else around you, and you KNOW who you are. You might laugh, cry, or both at the same time. But suddenly you will KNOW – you will KNOW who you are, you will KNOW who everyone else is, you will KNOW what the Truth is and what are merely masks. Slowly like a newborn butterfly, you will find yourself navigating in a brand new world, testing our your new wings.

Like aikido master Nev Sagiba said, “Enlightenment is like getting a shodan – AFTER ENLIGHTENMENT THE WORK BEGINS! After enlightenment, life truly begins.

Common misunderstandings of enlightenment…

“Enlightened people never cry again.” – NOT TRUE! After enlightenment we are more open to the vast collection of emotions, we no longer shy away or judge our organic emotions. We might laugh, feel frustrated when the computer didn’t auto-save, we might cry – yet somehow even the tears become sweet.

“Enlightened people experience perfect health and never feel pain.” – NOT TRUE! Some pain and illness are just another natural aspect of life. However, pain does not equate to suffering. One might feel pain and become intimate with that pain yet never suffer a minute through it.

“My life should work out exactly the way I plan to when I’m enlightened.” – NOT!!! After enlightenment there’s no more I, nor planning. “I” melts into nature and planning no longer applies when you are a part of God. Therefore you do whatever is needed whenever it is needed – as a part of harmony, a part of nature, a part of God.

“I was doing great with amazing mystical experiences then suddenly I’m lost in a black hole with no more amazing experiences. What’s wrong?” – NOTHING IS WRONG. Many people chase after experiences they label as “good” believing these experiences will get them closer to enlightenment. In actuality, everything life hands to you is exactly what you need and when you need it – designed for your growth, with sufficient awareness, you can awaken.

“I must be a nice and happy person in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.” NOT TRUE! You must be a truthful person in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. We were often taught what is nice and not nice. We often suppress our “negative” emotions to be nice. Not facing whatever arises within us, we lose the opportunity to be truth. By stuffing away what we judge to be “bad” or “not nice” can only delay our progress. Pretending you are not sad or angry when indeed you are will only lead you further away from the truth. The key is to meditate on such feelings before we act out unconsciously.

“The ultimate goal of life is enlightenment. After that, I can rest and never have to work a day in my life ever again.” – NOT TRUE! Enlightenment is a rebirth, before enlightenment our vessel is too dirty to be an instrument of God, after enlightenment true work can finally begin because we have finally become emptied of our own desires and are now instruments of God. After enlightenment we still need to continuously polish our vessels to remain pure and free of optical illusions.

How do I become enlightened?

It all starts with a desire. Dedication. Devotion. Shugyo. Consistently devote to truth and commit to the demolishment of untruth.

How does individual enlightenment translates into collective enlightenment?

History is a beautiful illustration of a collective transformation, like the “period of enlightenment”, through individual efforts, seemingly unrelated events at the time can result in a whole movement to bring forth a whole new world. Like a fractal, the macroscopic social enlightenment can manifest from the microscopic bursts of individual enlightenments. In a sense, from the smallest metamorphosis of consciousness can result in an boundless global transformation. As Mahatma Gandhi once said – “be the change you wish to see in the world!”

November 5, 2012 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Books, Death & Rebirth, Emotional Freedom, Fine Arts, Inner Growth, love, Self Realization, Tears, World Transformation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Gift of a Black Belt

Last Saturday I tested for my shodan in aikido and was awarded a black belt. People asked me how it feels. To be honest, I feel no different because getting a black belt was not my aim. At the same time I feel deeply touched because I have devoted myself completely through sunshine and rain, and in a sense, to have come this far without giving up along the way is what I’m most proud of.

Looking back there were numerous times I questioned my sanity when things got tough. Especially when it came to the aikido forward roll. I was never talented at being up-side down nor I enjoyed it very much. The forward roll seemed to me like purposefully tossing myself onto the ground and hoping my body will be round enough to carry me through so I can make it to the other side and be back on my feet again. In a way, I thought I had to be at least a little crazy to attempt such a stunt. I was – a little crazy – priding myself as a good athlete I didn’t want to back down from such a challenge. Wanted to protect myself I often closed my eyes, held my breath and prayed I won’t get hurt. I suppose my teachers were amazed at times that I’m willing to try and other times I would tremble in fear while everyone else proceeded before me. There were times I walked out of it all together. Not to mention injuring my right shoulder a few months into the training when I tossed myself too high off the ground with my eyes closed, and later only to discover that I have landed on the weakest part of the shoulder that was not meant to support such weight. I cried my tears and swore I would never put myself through another ordeal again yet somehow there was another force quietly pushing me forward.

The Aikido Forward Roll

Four years have gone by that I rarely missed any training at all. I selflessly worked on anything else the dojos needed from mopping the mats, updating the website, hosting oversea guests, to teaching the kids class. There was never a day went by I didn’t at least think of aikido. Why? I really can’t say. After years of training my goal-oriented ego has been washed away slowly. I could no longer say I train so I can look good in other people’s eyes because I no longer care. I don’t do it for the money, I don’t do it to gain approval, I don’t do it to even be physically fit. Unknowingly the subtle flow slowly pushed me forward through my sadness, through the obstacles, through sunshine and rain and somehow I found myself on the other side of the forward roll – landing on my feet continuing to walk forward.

What did I give up? A lot. I had to give up fear. I had to give up aggression. I had to give up the need to be perfect. I had to give up indulging in my neurosis. I had to give up forcing a particular outcome to suit my needs. I had to give my limited view of separation of humanity. … The list goes on.

What did I gain? Even more. I gained true self-confidence. I gained a disciplined mind. I gained the awareness when I’m acting from ego. I gained the ability of acceptance and peace. I gained a keen sense of focus amid emotional turmoil. Most importantly I gained love and compassion for myself and the ability to expand that love outward.

The truth is, the black belt itself has no meaning, yet this black belt is a symbol of my perseverance. This black belt reminds me to stick to my path through thick and thin – knowing I will land on my feet and walk forward again each time I fall.

September 29, 2012 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Death & Rebirth, Self Realization, Tears, World Transformation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Life’s Desire within You

nature flowers

Natural desires are the most basic foundations of life. The key is to recognize what desires come from ego and what desires come from God.

There’s a saying in Chinese – 心同日月 – the direct translation roughly equates to “heart with sun and moon”. The real meaning lies beyond the metaphorical image and hints to a desire so deep so strong that it stems from the desire of nature itself.

When we speak of desire, the mind can often grasp onto ownership – asking something from life – a demand in terms of “what I want is…”; the emotions can often feel the sensations of longing – yearning for something I have yet experience – a wish in terms of “only if I can feel that…” Most of these desires come from us, the little egos – thinking “only if I have that I would be happy.”

There is another kind of desire – something more basic and more instinctual. A desert flower desires the kiss of raindrops. The crops desire the gentle gaze of sunlight. A wife desires being in union with her husband. These are the kinds of desires that stem from life itself. Such life desires are in the form of energy that creates more life, more nature. Without these desires life cannot sustain itself.

The beauty of awakening is seeing the difference between the two. The choices we made as unenlightened beings are often based on the desires of the body, mind and emotions. These choices only lead to suffering and entanglements. Then we spent much of our energy trying to untie the knots we trapped ourselves into – often with little or no success. The gift of awakening allows us to see such entanglements are counter-productive to life, we work against ourselves, against each other and against the natural flow of life. We often stand in the way of what life truly desires within us. Upon the grace of awakening we are beginning to see there is no need to fight against what is natural. We can see there is no need to protect ourselves from the illusions of fear. All is well – even these instinctual desires we might have judged in the past are really just another form of pure love. As we open ourselves more to what is true within us, we can listen more deeply, sense our 道 (Tao) more distinctively and follow the path that is uniquely meant for us.

This is when life becomes magical. We no longer require a set of circumstances to be happy, we are naturally blissful. We no longer need to own anything to feel valuable because the entire universe is throbbing within us. A sense of overwhelming gratitude arises within us without us reminding ourselves to be thankful. Things just happen not because we have set it as a goal but because we are being true to ourselves and in harmony with all that is. Life becomes a breeze. The manifestation of such desires is unique within each and every one of us.  As you might have heard, O Sensei – the founder of 合气道 (aikido) felt a sense of duty to bring-forth the art of peace into the world. He cannot NOT do it. Through his poetry he expressed the desires of the heaven so strong within him, guiding him, and later in life, the desire of the heaven became him. He became 合气道 – in complete harmony with the energy of his unique path melting into all that is…

It takes tremendous courage to recognize our untruth, our entanglements and our resistance. It takes a warrior to follow the path of aiki, letting go the desires of the ego and be in complete harmony with life itself. To follow such deep desires will undoubtedly lead you to your unique path of self-actualization.

March 21, 2012 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Chinese, Inner Growth, love, poetry, Self Realization | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Just Be Yourself

“Just be yourself. Everything else will happen naturally.” – Jacques Payet Shihan, 7th dan, Yoshikan Aikido

blossom effortless being

The foot of the trees are tied to earth. For I have blossomed so much, I am the envy of the gardens. - Rumi

This was one of the lessons from my week-long training with Payet Shihan. When I started training in aikido back in 2008, I couldn’t understand the miracle behind effortless power. There was something fake about aikido that my mind could not grasp. Small framed woman taking down a two hundred pound drunker in the Japanese Riot Police seemed far-fetched for me. I used to believe results can only be achieved through endless hard work and the man with stronger muscles will win the fight – until I experienced the touch of Jacques Payet.

He walks with an effortless strength that is paradoxical to the mind. He contains an unshakable core, soft demeanor, and tireless expansion of ki. He embodies aikido.

I walked with a stiffness in my neck and shoulders. I hold an uncertainty in my core, protective hardness in my demeanor, and uncontrollable expansion and contraction of ki. I embodied fear yearning for grace.

When Payet Shihan adjusted my basic aikido stance I felt a sense of natural freedom. As he asked for my upper body to relax and helped me to push my feet to take a stronger root into the earth, I felt an effortless balance in my body that is naturally strong. No matter how hard someone pushed me I did not need to resist. I was me and the push helped me to root stronger into the ground. No matter how hard someone pushed I did not loose my balance. I was me and the push helped me to define who I really am. The freedom of being naturally arises without consciously driving towards a specific way of being – it is natural, all encompassing, and all accepting. I was able to sense the teaching of ancient spiritual text of “let go, let god” in my body. And it was pure bliss.

As I spoke to Payet Shihan later during the week, he helped me uncover the cause to my recent personal difficulties as well. It seemed the cultural tendency of adjusting to someone else’s needs has been strongly engrained in my psyche. I would often let go of myself to make someone else more comfortable. I would stay in the background and force myself to be passive because I believe it is better for a woman to appear weaker. I have even gone as far as modeling after individuals I find embodying particular qualities so I can aim to cultivate these qualities in myself – even when it became unnatural for who I am. Often in aikido training, a student will imitate sensei to learn a movement too precisely in the mechanical form but in the end it was unnaturally for his own body. According to Payet Shihan, aikido training is the training to be natural. Natural for you is not always natural for me. It is about being perfectly balanced for the individual. Too much imitation can be dangerous. If we only focus on the blossom and forget to tend to the roots, a flower cannot share it’s true beauty. In my experience, only when I have a strong connection to God (being perfectly grounded in who I am), naturally I know exactly what to do and perviously seemingly impossible results blossomed miraculously. It is the classic process of “Being, Doing, Having”. Sometimes we can get so focused on the results of “Having” then we loose our connection to our core as we reach for an external goal. The key is being grounded, being balanced, and being natural.

As I embark on this journey into aikido, I am in deep appreciation of the inner beauty of nature. Everything about aikido contains an intrinsic grace that is effortless and non-pretentious. Everything about spiritual freedom is being natural.

Below is a video of Payet Shihan helping me falling into grace.

February 27, 2012 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Inner Growth, Self Realization | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Aikido Reference to Spiritual Meaning

Aikido

Strength + Softness + Flow of Ki = Aikido

“As long as you perceive that anyone is holding you back, you have not taken full responsibility for your own liberation. Liberation means that you stand free of making demands on others and life to make you happy. When you discover yourself to be nothing but Freedom, you stop setting up conditions and requirements that need to be satisfied in order for you to be happy. It is in the absolute surrender of all conditions and requirements that Liberation is discovered to be who and what you are. Then the love and wisdom that flows out of you has a liberating effect on others.” – Adyashanti (Zen master)

Responsibility = continuous commitment on the path

Liberation = ability to move about freely, powerfully

Stand free of making demands on others and life = keep yourself balanced, free of external support as in a strong kamae

Freedom = ease in movement, not muscling through techniques but using the grace of inner strength, soft sensitivity and the flow of ki to dance through techniques

Happy = extension of energy as an expression of love

Surrender = let go expectations if a technique will work or not

Discovered = realization of how the technique has miraculous worked with NO EFFORT

Who and what you are = the technique worked because it was a part of who you are, you are ki, your ki is the universal ki

Love and wisdom that flows out of you = the expansive energy unrestrictedly expressed in all movements

Had a liberating effect on others = this is when uke took a hard fall but it didn’t hurt at all, and he stood up with a huge grin on his face!

That was something fun to share. Now re-read the first paragraph and think aikido. Cheers!

December 16, 2011 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Inner Growth, love, Self Realization | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Ride to Mastery

yoga mastery

Rich rewards through a journey of step-by-step learning and growing - we call this journey MASTERY.

How do you balance a graceful yoga pose on a mountain top OR become a world class speaker? Think MASTERY. According to George Leonard’s book Mastery – to be good at anything, you can’t take a magic pill, but you can definitely enjoy the ride into a process toward mastery. What is the secret behind achieving your highest potential? The modern world tries to convince us we can achieve instant successes, find quick-fixes to long-term illnesses, or become overnight riches without putting forth time and energy. This is why we find ourselves impatient when we embark on a path toward greatness because unconsciously we started to expect quick results.

The bad news – it is very improbably you will achieve anything great without putting enough energy into the process.

The good news – you don’t need a special ticket to achieve your greatest potential, all you need is complete willingness and devotion to the path.

According to George Leonard that there are different types of learners. Some of us are dabblers – we learn things quickly but once we meet obstacles we give up and attempt our effort with something else. Some of us are obsessive  – our learning curve is also steep and we put ourselves into the learning through extra training, books and tools in order to get faster results but end up burnt out in the long run. Others are hackers – they also learn quickly and they don’t need extra information or instructions, they are perfectly happy to stay on the level they are, if there’s growth, then great; no growth no problem! Whereas the master learns quickly, she doesn’t stress when she plateaus, she walks forward with her practice knowing the rise and fall of her growth is immanent and she trusts learning happens at a deeper level and she will raise to a higher plateaus when she is ready.

What type are you? As for me… YUP! You guessed it right, I’m an obsessive dabbler. I’ve lived my live learning many different things but never quite became good at anything. I’ve been seriously obsessive to the point of finding multiple ways to push myself without ever taking a break. I was the super type-A who thought she could stand against the world with her unyielding will. Sounds familiar? Well, the devastating effect is my learning process put me into burnouts after burnouts. I was dead-tired and usually ended up quitting. Even though I know how to snowboard, surf, dance, sing, paint, swim, run, write, skydive, scuba, etc but I was never really good at anything. Doing one thing after another no longer gave me any fulfillment. I was chasing after testing the water without ever feeling a true sense of accomplishment.

The cure? Nowadays I take great pleasure working in the process toward mastery. Being on the path of aikido I realized that there’s so much joy getting into the depth of a Budo. I’ve also found great insights from the five keys to mastery in Leonard’s book. 1) Instruction – the preciousness in having a sensei or any other kind of instructions is we learn from other people’s mistakes and insights. Using an instruction book to begin any kind of practice can give us the foundation to further our learning in a structured manner. I remember the days I tried to learn swimming on my own. Let me tell you it was painful. Once I joined a team with a swim coach, I learned quickly and had more fun. It reduced the length of my plateaus. 2) Practice – duh! Of course in order to get good at something we need to repeat what we learned over and over again. We’ve heard the saying “practice makes it perfect.” Well, actually “perfect practice makes it perfect.” We have to put all of our mind, body and spirit into the practice and treating it like our life depends on it. Only when we focus our practice instead of practice mindlessly we can then improve. I’ve seen several kids in our aikido program that don’t seem to progress at all. That is because they are not present during their practice. The kids who always pay attention and do extra work after class, they enjoy the fruit of their labor quickly. 3) Surrender – what? Yup. Let it go. Let go and let God. When you are in a process, instead of becoming obsessed with “when will I get better” I have to let go and watch the process to unfold. The unconscious mind is always working even when you are not. During your relaxation times your unconscious mind actually integrated all the learning for you. So lay on the beach or take a nap. You will be surprised that tomorrow you might just graduated to the next level! 4) Intentionality – your directed thoughts, images and feelings will amplify your success. Athletes often visualize an event picturing themselves winning prior to the actual competition. In order for any growth to take effect, you have to really want it. Your directed intention will set your unconscious mind work towards your desired outcomes. 5) The edge – always be on the edge, push yourself pass your boundary of comfort, stretch a little. With each edge you will soon find comfort and reach a higher ground. Then push yourself pass another boundary again. The feeling of breaking through boundaries alone can be blissful enough to keep you going. With each boundaries you break through you will feel a new sense of achievement, confidence and drive toward greater mastery.

So friends let’s join hands and walk toward the summit to view a new horizon. We don’t have to quit in the face of difficulties, we don’t have to give up because things got tough, and we certainly don’t have to beat ourselves up toward restless obsessions. All we have to do is to be willing and live on the edge. All we have to do is be willing and practice to achieve our greatest potential – our own personal mastery.

(This is the speech I gave today. They liked it. yippie!)

May 24, 2011 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Choices, Inner Growth | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fulfillment through Extension

Kihon Dosa Aikido Kids

Extension through Kihon Dosa (Aikido Del Mar kids during a Kids-4-Japan Relief fundraise demonstration)

Recently I’ve been working on extension in my aikido training. One Sensei told me to extend further while the other sensei told me that I’m over-extending myself. Confused, I felt more clumsy than ever. Instead, I began to watch for the missing pieces in my movement. I noticed that when sensei extended, his body was in perfect balance. He was rooted into the ground. The centerline was strong. He is relaxed. Nowhere was his body twisted. He also radiated this blissful joy from his center of gravity. The quality of this positive energy extended into his knees, his elbows, then through the bottoms of his feet and out from his finger tips. His center felt like the source of a supernova, giving off life by giving away the life energy within himself. Whereas when I extended, I either put too much weight on my front foot and lose my balance or I tensed up where my energy cannot flow through.

Ack! Aikido is hard. What is even harder is that I know there must be a mental block and I was determined to find it.

After teaching a morning aikido class, I found myself in conversation with a student. He was a teacher of A Course in Miracles (ACIM) and I often described aikido movements in terms of ACIM for his benefit. That particular morning my body was experiencing so much pain post my car accident and I instinctually contracted my movements. From the students’ reaction I realized I was out of integrity as I taught extension while I did the opposite. I said a silent prayer and relaxed more into my feet while trusting the extension will radiate through as a result. Holding onto that intention, I felt more peaceful and was able to calmly finish class. Afterwards the ACIM teacher wanted to give me some feedback. “Oh shit,” I thought to myself, “he’s going to tell me he can’t learn anything from me and I totally suck…” Holding onto my breath, I listened. To my surprise he wanted to tell me that he felt my energy when I guided his hanmi. That the energy from my body extended into his and for a few seconds he was able to completely let go his struggles and be in Divine Love. He told me how he had forgotten how real peace felt like and for the first time in a few months he found himself in Truth again. By Being in my Truth, he was able to find his Truth. By Being authentically within myself, he found his Being.

Wow! Profound. I was speechless.

“Only you can limit your creative power, but God wills to release it…. Do not withhold your gifts to the Sonship, or you withhold yourself from God! Selfishness is of the ego, but Self-fullness is of spirit… Being must be extended. That is how it retains the knowledge of itself. Spirit yearns to share its being… It does not wish to contain God, but wills to extend His Being. The extension of God’s Being is spirit’s only function. Its fullness cannot be contained, any more than can the fullness of its Creator. Fullness is extension. The ego’s whole thought system blocks extension…It therefore blocks your joy, so that you perceive yourself as unfulfilled. Unless you create you are unfulfilled… Your Self-fullness is as boundless as God’s.  Like His.  It extends forever and in perfect peace.  Its radiance is so intense that It creates in perfect joy, and only the whole can be born of Its Wholeness.” – ACIM Ch.7 The Gifts of the Kingdom IX The Extension of the Kingdom

After listening to him and reading the above chapter, I saw the play of my own egoas the mental block to stop my extension. My ego needed to establish a “show that I am good enough” persona. For some reason the ego doesn’t believe that the authentic Being is good enough. Just as I’m typing these words, the thoughts of “don’t say that, they will think less of you” or “that can’t be grammatically correct!” When these thoughts come to mind, I no longer stay on the path to extend my idea, instead I hold back and not give my all. The selfishness of the ego thinks it is safer to hide, safer to hold back. It is the same as I “put on a show” in aikido. Whenever I think the movement should be a certain way, I act it out, and I lose touch with my core. From there I am only able to extend with my shoulder and my arms giving the quality of inauthenticity. Whereas when I allow the principals to guide me, I feel the root from my feet deep into the ground, I feel a warmth within my hara, I naturally extension from my core because it feel TRUE and it feels GOOD. The Self-fullness comes out through my elbows and knees and extends from my fingers as an extension from my core. When I allow this authentic Being to extend, allowing the flow without expectations or judgments, I feel fulfilled.

As part of my aikido practice, I extend through my core whenever I can – especially when I feel I must contract instinctually. Friday was another day to practice. Our dojo was invited to give a demonstration at a local school to raise money for Japan. I am happy to report that I was able to maintain my extension throughout the day. Whenever I felt the need to contract, I relaxed more into my feet and I rooted into the ground. As a result, all parts of our demonstration were completely harmonious from setup to followup. The best part was to watch our little ones on their best behavior by extending from the bottom of their hearts.

With tears streaming down my face, I felt the bliss, the fulfillment and the extension.

Note *, ACIM uses the word ego in a different way than we are accustomed.  For ACIM, it is the false self created from the vacuum or need to establish an identity separate from the only identity we actually have, but have no conscious connection to, until we do.  That true identity is established by our Creator, and therefore inextricably part of God as a timeless, unchangeable, invulnerable, eternal Self.  That true identity has the characteristic of complete non-separation from anyone or anything, while also maintaining individual will, or choice. Choice in this context is fully harmonious with each and all things.  Well, all things in terms of their true identity.  The recipient of this singular connection, that is not connected to their true identity, may reject, abuse, negate, and yet cannot help but receive this light, or consciousness of true self from true self in you.  Very much like someone attacking my Senpai will not realize that your capacity to lovingly connect to them to gently resolve their attack does not require their complicity, but they cannot help but comply.  You are the more connected force to the truth, and so the laws of energy serve you, as they are the laws under which we have creation, consciousness and existence under God.

May 15, 2011 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Choices, Inner Growth, Self Realization, World Transformation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Importance of Being Humble

"Who needs thorns when you have meek?"

"Who needs thorns when you have meek? See Beauty born...from Darkest Deep." - SanctusSilva

I’ve always thought strength was demonstrated through un-yeilding boldness. Having had a successful life in my 20s, I resorted to getting things done by my uninhibited determination. I stepped on toes. I made people cry. I was relentlessly running toward the finish line while knocking over anyone stood in my way. Of course I celebrated every win. And I didn’t care if I treated people as means to an end. I thought I was so smart and so tough that even life had to yield to me.

Oh boy, was I wrong…

Life offered me several chances to breakdown my pride and come back to earth.

Years later, I now find joy in humility. Today I choose the path of being humble.

“In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your piece of heart. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities and there is no joy in things that do not exist.” – Thomas Merton

The word humility refers to the quality o being humble, which stems from the Latin words humilis and humus and is also related to the Greek word chamai meaning “earthy, be on the ground.” We often confuse humbleness with being inferior. Today I invite you to examine the meaning of “modest and unpretentious.” To me, humility is a quality of true understanding of suffering. Bestselling author Caroline Myss in her book Entering the Castle explains that being humiliated by someone can activate our shadow side that foster feelings of vengeance or resentment. By maintaining an attitude of humbleness we can then transcend to the level of healthy detachment to feel the feelings of our shadow side yet still be liberated from the urge of shadow actions. Like a lotus flower, we can experience the pain of growth stemmed from a bed of mud yet still radiate love as we bloom. A lotus flower endured the pain of becoming yet it chooses to maintain its un-competing soft modesty. By gazing upon a lotus flower you might discover the grace of humility with expressions such as: understanding, endurance, resilience, compassion, patience, wisdom, forgiveness, gratitude, etc.

I knew of a man who was filled with pride. He was not balanced. One day another car took the parking space we waited for, he nearly pulled out a gun. The smallest disagreement can set him off into a nuclear explosion. He pretended to be a peaceful man while secretly lived in emotional turmoil. He had to dress up in suit and tie to maintain an image. If someone made a humorous remark at his expense he would threaten to inflict physical pain on one’s family. Nevertheless he always told me that he is a peaceful man and I had to agree or else… I also know a meek man who is filled with compassion. He is grounded in his integrity. The day he was deeply wounded he chose to walk away. He did not have to had the last word. He wore t-shirts from fifteen years ago without any sense of shame. Humility gave him the strength to help the one who injured him. He is never too prideful to say sorry. He walks through life with his chest forward and shoulders relaxed. And he always greets people with a sincere smile.

Looking at these two examples I wonder who can bring-forth peace on earth…

If you too choose to walk the path of humbleness we can embark our journey with one another. Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves to remove the blocks of being humble as suggested by Caroline.
1) How does fear of being humiliated control your life?
2) When have you been humiliated?
3) How have you humiliated others?
4) List ten positive and ten negative associations with humility.
5) Why being humble is difficult for you?

I gained much perspective by working through these questions. I also gaze upon paintings of blooming lotuses to remind myself the beautiful of soft modesty. Today I choose the path of being humble. Thank you for sharing your journey with me as I leave you with this quote from a true master Bruce Lee – the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.

March 14, 2011 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Choices, Death & Rebirth, Emotional Freedom, Inner Growth, World Transformation | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments