As we grow more aware of who we are, we naturally notice that we are connected to all of life. We stop feeling separate, we stop feeling better than someone else, we stop our old patterns of “pushing through” life. Life itself becomes a song of love with its tenderness – because we ourselves have become softer, kinder, and more peaceful. This awakened life is naturally more gentle – like a whisper, like a butterfly kiss, like a pleasant cool breeze on a hot summer day.
I’ve never actively chased awakening or enlightenment. I never thought much about it. The first awakening happened by accident through an accident 10 years ago. Thinking back, I guess I’ve always known something BIG would happen in my life and I would die at a young age. I was okay with it. I was forced to have my hand read by old Chinese gypsies and wise monks when I was a child by my mother. Some of them warned my mother that my life line disconnects and there’s a strong chance I would not make it past my 28th year. The number 28 in I-Ching symbolizes a significant test in one’s life where the pressure of karma accumulates into a pinnacle.
Needless to say, the younger me was not at all gentle. I think there were many reasons why. Growing up, I was a “Tom Boy” and I climbed up trees and got mud all over my face. I think my mother guided me into being a “Tom Boy” because I was always afraid. The first time I got a cut on my knee and saw blood, I thought I was going to die. In order to toughen me up, my mother had me play with the boys and be one of the boys. It did help me to have more confidence in my own ability to survive. I was also a slow learner. My father was the orchestra conductor of Xi’an Academy of Music and he was surrounded by over-achieving excellence. And I was not excellent. So I had to be shaped into excellence. I did enjoy music, but I was terrible at following instructions. I found reading music sheets a form of torture. But I had to push through it with two hours of practice per night after school and after homework. I learned early on that life is a constant struggle, and that there’s only work with no joy. Perhaps it is also in the genetics of the Chinese culture that emphasized the survival of the fittest. Since I wasn’t physically strong, then I must become book smart and emotionally strong. Therefore I must adopt the type A personality structure in order to make it in this lifetime.
Yes, a type A over-achieving “Tom Boy” is definitely not a gentle being. But it was the way things were. It got me far in my career but it was exactly the sword that nearly killed me. This type-A-pushing-through-life attitude masked my true emotions and physical exhaustion during a half iron-man race – giving me the perfect opportunity to experience the accumulative pressure of karma.
Karma refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual influence the future outcome of that individual’s life. Karma means it was my doing that resulted in my own misfortune or it could also mean it was my doing that resulted in the wonderful fruits of my labor.
It was my karma that caused my cycling accident 10 years ago. It was this drive to do more, be better, achieve more in me that pushed me off that bike going fast down a hill. Karma is a bitch. And the person that created the bitch was ME.
Today, a bit over 10 years since my accident that nearly killed me, I am able to revisit some of the painful memories. In a way Life spared me so I can re-do my life. The old wounds of karma still hurt. But looking at the outcome as I was the one who caused my own pain is enlightening.
Today, the day after I trimmed the trees and flowers in my garden, the sunlight seeps through in the morning on my patio to greet the butterflies, hummingbirds, and snails alike. I opened my eyes after meditation to find Love – sitting – right there – within me.
Life is happening all around us.
Nature knows the fundamental process of creation
That is the source of you and I.
You don’t need to be better, strive more, or work harder in this very moment.
Relax. Enjoy… Life.
It has been four years since the occurrence of my awakening from the mind. That particular awakening felt like a big bang where my perception shifted forever. Like many individuals passing through the same terrain, I had thought that point marked the end of my journey, now looking back, I am humbled by the continuing movement that is still being graced into my life – knowing now, that big bang of awakening was just the beginning.
In one of Adyashanti’s books, he said that enlightenment happens in three stages – the mind, the heart, and the gut. Now that I have lived through the first two and am still deeply immersed in the third stage, I am able to look back from the very beginning and mark several key points through my journey.
1. Desire – As early as I can remember, I’ve always had an unshakeable desire to know. During my childhood that feeling was very strong, but I never understood what exactly I wanted to find. I spent most of my childhood searching through nature, Buddhist monasteries, and science fiction stories, hoping to gain a glimpse of a greater truth. Most of my free time was spent by myself gazing at flowers, sitting in meditation with the monks, and reading endless stories of alternate realities.
One of my favorite science fiction stories at the time was about the last human colony living in a space ship completely unaware that they were living within the ship’s virtual reality program. Everyone believed that they were still on the beautiful planet earth with endless harmony. By accident, a young boy found a glitch in the system and discovered the truth – yet people on that ship still chose to live in delusion – until a catastrophic collision was about to happen… Somehow I was deeply touched by that story as a child. And I too was determined to find an opening where I could discover the truth – into a greater world I knew I must find.
2. Choosing the Untruth – During my late childhood and into my teenage years, I had given up my internal search; instead I wanted to be popular and agreed with the judgmental selective preferences of society just to fit in. When I turned 12 years old, my family moved from China to America. The most shocking part of the whole transition was not the food or language, but the vastly different belief structures of these two groups of people. Feeling different and inadequate after the move, I completely let go my quest of internal inquiry and jumped into an external seeking of new beliefs and new gadgets. A need to fit-in became the most important drive in my life. Time after time I muted the voice within and followed the path of popularity.
In college and my career thereafter, I worked hard to gain approval. Somehow the path of seeking approval killed my internal voice all together. With each choice, I focused on what others might think of me. With each choice, I valued the superficial face value more than my core value. I became a popular young woman, but in my heart I felt fake and lonely. Always pushing down that nagging feeling that I’m living a lie, I continued to immerse myself into expanding my social life and working on the next big scientific discovery.
3. The Momentum of Suffering – There was a man I worked with who suffered in silence. No one paid attention to his pain, but I felt his suffering like my own. Externally he was excellent in every way. But I could sense he was breaking apart quickly as he struggled to keep his life together. He was like that child in the story – as he begin to discover the delusion of his choosen reality. I wanted to understand him because I wanted to understand myself. At that time I didn’t know the reason for our mutual understanding, instead, I entered into an endless discussion with him about life, psychology, relationships, suffering, religion, and science. We wanted to connect the dots as both of us felt a need for a greater perspective.
As our intellectual friendship ended, he gave me a book by Stephen Batchelor called “Buddhism Without Beliefs – A contemporary Guide to Awakening”. I read the book several times in my mid and late twenties as I struggled with his choice to end our friendship and had to make peace with losing a friend who also searched for what I seek. The suffering of impermanence took control of my psyche for the first time.
4. First Glimpse of Truth – The first posts of this blog were my first glimpse of Truth through a near death experience. Truth – call it God, Ultimate Reality, Bliss, Buddha nature, or anything you like – came as a shock. My perspective at the time seemed to float above the gravity of everyone else’s busy life. I was losing blood and on the verge of being facially disfigured when the hospital staff rushed me through X-rays, CT scans, blood tests, and surgeries. Everyone I encountered felt sorry for me. I was in bliss – no one could make sense of my euphoria as I knew for the first time in my life that my state of being can never be touched by my external circumstances nor physical conditions. To me, these several hours before heading into surgery made me feel safe – as if I had always been Home – in the way life has always been before I was born. The whole experience was more real than anything else I’ve ever experienced in this lifetime.
I told people I met God. But it was much more than that. I couldn’t communicate that the far-reaching, limitless, spaciousness of God is much more than their ideas of God. I tried to write about it but my attempts only ended up in disappointments as I could no longer embody the overwhelming sensation of God. I must tell people about God, and I must find God again.
5. The Quest – From my late twenties into early thirties I felt the urge to re-instate my quest. Initially I felt this nagging unshakable feeling inside me asking me to embark on something greater than myself. During the journey, I took many paths trying to find this glorious quest that would turn me into someone dazzling. I climbed the corporate ladder; completed marathons and century rides; embarked on new science/technology entrepreneurship; flaunted millions of dollars to invest in new ventures; mingled with the rich and famous; conquered the path of multiple personal development betterment; and even started my own daring undertaking to become “bigger than life” through a large format emotional support firm. At the time I was convinced I was chosen to become someone special and that I must do everything I could to meet this grand purpose head on.
Well, I was wrong. With every step in the external direction, I felt more and more fraudulent than the step before. I remember shaking the hand of a personal development guru as I signed up for his workshops – as I touched his hand I felt his cold, lost, empty sadness locked away from his own consciousness. I quickly took my hand back and wondered what just happened. Looking back, at the time I didn’t have the mental awareness to have faith in my own judgement and trust this deep-seated awareness. So I continued to walk on – hoping I would reach a point to conquer all that is – that is to conquer the external life and finally become SOMEONE.
6. The Awakening Mind – In a way, all the things I did were leading me away from my truth. Lucky for me, as I was convinced that I was in control of life, there was a barely noticeable undercurrent that was always present, flowing just beneath my perception. With every “wrong” step, I was greeted with a faint light of truth. With every external conquering, I was gifted an unnoticeable seed of internal potential. As my external conquering started to break apart rapidly, I was left with a broken heart – raw, open, and empty.
So it climaxed at the age of 33. After a rear-end car accident, my body, my mental health, and my life fell apart. I was in so much physical pain and negative mental chattering that I actually contemplated ending my life several times. Somehow something within me with a gentle strength always pulled me back to face my pain. I couldn’t escape the tears, the screams, the sadness, the loneliness, the heartache… All I could do was to witness my own suffering.
Such witness took place as I gazed upon what I called myself – body, mind, and emotions – and noticing my awareness was outside of “myself” – and this awareness was untouched by the action of witnessing the drama I called my life. There were several weeks I lost my will altogether. I just sat, stared off into the distance, cried and cried. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t make it to any of my appointments. With each spontaneous crying session, I felt lighter – as a layer of skin had just been stripped away. During that time since my life had completely fallen apart, my only job was teaching aikido to the children. Fortunately my boss, who is also my sensei, understood exactly where I was. There were days I didn’t make it to work at all and I couldn’t even pick up the phone to call. Sensei never complained. He only encouraged me with a smile – “trust the process,” he told me.
7. Naked Newborn – I lost count of how many weeks or lifetimes were spent doing nothing when the unseen current took over. One particular day I woke up and I knew to mark this date. July 7th. I was naked. I walked around and felt no shame. It is hard to explain what took place because at the time I had no mind. I was so clean, natural and filled with wonder. It was like my hard drive was completely erased and I was left with only this shell – and that shell was all I needed.
There were times I could not speak and make sense of words. Slowly, I regained my sense of how to behave in the world as I gradually started to socialize with those who might understand. One day I met up with my old friend Chris and told him about what had happened when I never returned his phone calls. I wanted to apologize but knew it wasn’t necessary. As I opened up and told him my experience, he calmly told me similar stories of Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle. As he explained to me, even though he never had experiences as such, he was however sensitive and empathetic to where I was. His sharing of simliar stories helped me to ground in my own nakedness with more solidity.
In the next several months, I slowly regained my ability to drive, to have a conversation, to reconnect with family and friends. I felt like I was walking on cloud nine, being completely one with God – and I have never been separate from people, nature, and life.
8. The Purge of stale Emotions – The spiritual honeymoon on cloud nine ended as I discovered the untruth within me still controlled my body and my emotions. This is where the real work begins. Enlightenment is not a one time deal of crossing some kind of invisible finish line, it is actually the beginning of something big – the beginning of life! I discovered in order for life to truly flow through me, I have to purge out all the untruth that is still governing my every move.
At the time as I was going through this during the first, second and into the third year of my awakening, I discovered an enlightened master who helped me uncover all the untruth I still carried in my body. His extensive list questioned nearly all assumptions that are common but untrue. We worked through categories concerning mother, father, society, self, and the collective archetypes. Things were getting pulled out of me I never knew existed – until I questioned the validity of the judgmental selective preferences of society I took upon myself to believe in. I processed non-stop as I looked at my life with a magnifying glass all hours of the day. There were days I discovered dreams carried my unconscious assumptions, and after a period of cleaning the “house”, I began to see I even respond differently in dreams. As in my daily choice, I found how much of my past conditioning governed how I walked through life – and how cleaning the “house” would free me from being tied down by belief structures.
9. Healing of the Physical Body through Movement – At the same time, I was battling with the physical neck pain of a pinched nerve from a car accident. During the internal healing work, I was beginning to see at this stage of my spiritual development that only I can heal my own body. In the last year, I had given up on all doctors attempting to help me to regain the movement back in my neck and spine. I used my own perception to accept the healing from the Source.
There were days I did traditional upa yoga and hatha yoga from Isha while finishing with the Isha Yoga’s Inner Engineering Shambhavi Maha Mudra. Usually near the end of my practice, a surge of energy would become alive in my body as my physical system and nervous system were completely relaxed. Other days I could not do my normal routine of practice, so I just sat. This was when the inner energy from the hollowness of the body started to guide my movements. I never moved unless I was taken over by this energy. Somedays I would just sit and nothing happened. Other days as soon as I sat, my body began to move in ways that mimicked animals or some strange rotation I could not logically understand. Nevertheless, I just went with it.
On multiple occasions, my neck would start to rotate by itself to one direction and another direction. The switching of directions happened by itself and the number of repetitions was dictated by the internal energy as well. My body would relax and tears would fall down from my eyes naturally. Sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes several hours later, my body came to a stillness, and after sitting for a while, I could finally open my eyes. Profound shifts happened during these spontaneous sessions and I experienced more healing during these sessions than all the lifetimes of doctors put together.
10. The Commitment a Life with God – Unfortunately the gravitational pull of the ego still takes over at times. One way to flow through dark moments when the ego is acting through me is for me to completely allow it to happen while watching every move consciously. Another way to flow through dark moments when my energy system is getting cleaned out is to just sit. In stillness, in the deep space of emptiness, things just wash though as the “I AM” is completely untouched.
The trick to go through any internal challenges is a full commitment to God. By now, you must see God does not refer to a old man watching us from the sky, God is the source of creation that is either alive or dormant within each and everyone of us. This commitment to God is a commitment to the source of creation. Jaques Payet sensei would always tell me to be in my center, move from my center, never resort to use the passive aggressiveness we all experience as a way to end conflicts. In aikido’s teaching, the only way to create peace is to be that peace yourself – to always move and act from the source of creation.
I have just recently received my nidan (second degree black belt) in aikido during a visit to Canada to train with Payet Shihan again. I was not particularly satisfied with my lack of knowledge of the aikido techniques during my exam, but I was very much content with the energy I carried out in my exam – I was in complete devotion to God as I moved from the source of creation. In a way, my exam felt like a passage leading me into the next phase of my enlightenment – always choose to be God.
11. Every Moment Choosing Truth – Choosing to be a living expression of Grace is the same as choosing to live in complete Truth moment to moment. If I can become the full embodiment of Truth, I become the embodiment of God consciousness. This sounds simple but it is not an easy task. As I choose to stay conscious, accepting, allowing, and committed, I am beginning to become more and more clear in my perception, and in my being. Life is no longer about doing, it is about being or better yet “doing the being”.
I am just at the beginning of my journey to live in the non-abiding expression of Grace, since I don’t have much experience with this section, hence I’m just going to leave you with a quote as you enjoy the journey –
“Enlightenment is not like a Big Bang – it is an ongoing process.” – Sadhguru
Years ago before Realization took root in me, I searched for a romantic love that holds the power to my happiness. At an early age, I had read about the power of a soulmate who can transform one’s whole entire life for the better. And the beautiful tales always ended with “they lived happily ever after.” I believed. I believed that someday someone will love me enough to transform my sadness into “happily ever after”.
Life didn’t happen for me the way I believed.
My first boyfriend from high school was athletically talented, academically brilliant, and a sweetheart who cared for my happiness. He always told me that “you belong to me”. I did feel a sense of security yet at the same time I felt as if I were just an object of his affection. It didn’t feel quite right. Later on, his jealousy pushed us further and further apart from one another. Eventually he couldn’t stand the fact I talked to other guys so he decided to go out with one of his female friends before I could get a chance to hurt him. I was heartbroken and didn’t understand how this could ever happen to me.
Year after year I ended up in relationships that echoed my first love. Eventually things hit rock bottom when my last romantic relationship ended in a pregnancy and miscarriage from rape. I found myself unable to speak of the abuse I endured. On the surface things seemed just fine as he accompanied me everywhere. But no one knew he watched my every move because “his girl” needs his protection. Whenever he was not happy with the way I interacted with another man, he would force me to have sex with him that same night until I was unable to move. I would cry myself to sleep quietly on the edge of the bed hoping he would not notice and place control over me again. On the day I stood up for myself regardless of possible danger, I took back my life.
A few days ago I met up with an old friend who I have not talked to in several years. She asked about my last relationship. In her eyes she thought he could have been the one for me. Over a cup of steaming coffee, I looked up at her upbeat anticipation and told her calmly that I am single. She seemed shocked at first but soon understood that I would rather be alone then be treated like an object to possess. Because an object can only be used, possessed, then tossed away. I told her nowadays I am strong and secure enough within myself that I no longer require the ownership of a man in order to feel fulfilled.
I often hear stories of domestic abuse and the hopelessness the abused feels towards one’s situation and the power to overcome the abuser’s control. Walking down the street, I can see the hopeless eyes in countless women. On this day – November 25th 2014 – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I want to speak up of the pain I endured and so many other women from all over the world are still enduring. According to The Independent “two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner and more than a third of women will be sexually or physically abused in their lifetimes.” Figures from the UN show 35 per cent of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime.
I read another article by the Isha Foundation published today about the underlying cause of such violence being a “fundamental mistake [that] somewhere in the minds of the youth, the male youth, we have put the idea that the female is an object, a thing that you can possess.” From the same article I found the following words to hold profound truth.
The fundamental thing is that one wants to possess, humiliate, and subjugate another human being. This is happening because of a certain level of inadequacy, a certain level of incompleteness from within – that only by possessing something will you feel a little better. Whether to fulfill this possession you go shopping or you go raping, it’s the same thing. Something is inadequate, you want to fulfill this by getting something. This will find all kinds of ugly expressions. It will not stop at one thing.
As women, are we powerless and hopeless from protecting ourselves against such violence? No! We as women have the ability to stand up for ourselves to make difference choices and find a way out.
In my journey, I have found I must begin to search for inadequacies within myself. Initially I found a false belief that I am not good enough – and only if I have the perfect body, a Gucci purse, a killer job, and a good man then I will therefore be good enough to be loved. I felt as if I NEED a man by my side to be worthy. At one point I even thought if I can be a trophy wife someday then I will finally be worthy. With all that in my subconscious system, I was broadcasting the signal it is OK for a man to use me and possess me. From my younger days the main male characters changed, yet I remained the same. When I did not change from within at a foundational level, I still attracted the same violence that escalated over time. I had to let go the idea that in order to survive in this world, I need a man by my side. Once I looked within myself, I found that sense of underlying inadequacy came from a false sense of who and what I am. It came from my disbelieving in my own capabilities. It came from my belief that only a prince charming will save me.
I could not be freed while placing the key to freedom in someone else’s hands. I had to dig through the gutters in my own mind to uncover all the untruth I sheltered myself from. With the assistance of meditation, I was able to face my internal lies and recognize the capability within myself to transform my own life. I had to be brave enough to further examine my behaviors, choices, and eventual consequences with a gentle, none-judgmental heart. Once I took on the responsibility that I held the key to my own freedom, and that my unconscious behaviors and choices created the painful episodes in my life, I begin to move in a different direction.
Over coffee, my old friend asked me if I had given up on love all together. “No! Not at all. But I did stop believing that being possessed means being loved.” I laughed, “and the rest of the story is still unwritten…”
One of the most defining moments of my scientific career occurred during my junior year in college. After receiving the highest scores on several difficult engineering exams, I started to feel arrogant in my ability to design complex systems through various published research and logical deductions. One day after my presentation in class, as I was basking in glory, my professor interjected me with several questions to inspect the quality of my assumptions. He was particularly interested in a key assumption I made using the data from a recently published paper. He was digging deeply into the details of that research which at the time I felt was completely irrelevant. After a period of agonizing cross-examination, it was clear to me that I had made a mistake in my design. As I packed up my computer to leave the lecture hall, he said something to me I have never forgotten.
“Do not believe in the things you read, you must do your own experiment.”
Years later I still felt awkward about the incident. Having not fully digested the significance of his words, I went on to make a mark through my science/engineering research and design.
I worked on a LED and photodiode based magnetic microsphere fluorescence system for infectious disease detection. Within our research and design group, we read lots of theoretical papers and countless research experiments. Not once did we take someone else’s experimental results as the ultimate truth. We always duplicated the experiments in the same and often varied conditions.
I remember one of the theories we researched was regards to the chemical and magnetic field effect on different sizes of magnetic microspheres. We theorized the chemical suspension of magnetic spheres would form dipole-dipole interactions which in turn would give us an amplified field for signal detection. The magnetic experts supplied us with their spec data, mathematical models, and prediction of outcomes, and also theorized the same phenomenon. With added mathCad prediction models we reached the same conclusion. Only upon the arrival of our expensive lock-in amplifier used in conjunction with phase contrast microscopy and other instruments along with endless experiments, we were able to detect and see our bio-chemically treated microspheres behave very differently than the expert opinions. They never formed chains of dipole-dipole interactions.
Time after time, in science we found someone else’s data is always just someone else’s data; if I have to find what is true for me, I must empirically come up with my own results. Now looking back, my science career gave me the proper foundation for my spiritual journey – to always find my truth through empirical inquiry.
During the days of my spiritual seeking, I read books, listened to talks, and attended many training events. The scientist in me never allowed me to take in anything second-handed without questions and empirical data. I only used what was fed to me as a point of reference. In the process I found myself diverging from popular opinions; in the process I had to give up what others believe to be true so I could remain faithful to my inner integrity; and in the process I slowly stumbled upon the Truth empirically through my own experience. Many people have tasted a single moment of awakening.
In movies, novels, songs, and even everyday conversations people speak of out-of-this-world experiences that came out of nowhere but somehow gave them the power to see and feel a moment of clarity. This is a great starting point to journey into the ultimate Truth through empirical data, as our first awakening experience is uniquely our own. However, many people grasp tightly to that single experience and never take another step forward into the journey. They would claim their old data is the ultimate truth and not just a speck of whole puzzle along the way. Like in science, each experimental result only makes a part of the whole puzzle, only through different sets of statistically significant experiments, looking deeper into the details, and our ability to put the pieces into a whole, are we then able to arrive at the clarity of the whole Truth and the ultimate expression of the Truth through us.
I’ve always enjoyed this quote from Adyashanti – “to take awakening into enlightenment requires a certain sort of fierce commitment to the truth.” That means we will not fake our data to make certain results happen. Just as in scientific integrity, we are committed to the unveiling of truth so we never lie and manipulate data to make the data match our theory.
In a way, my yoga and aikido is just my experimental ground. In yoga, the theory is if you “do” yoga, then you will be physically, mentally, and spiritually fit. Is that really true for you? I know for me, when I “do” yoga – meaning force my practice to be done as an exercise – I can feel more pain in my physical injuries along with a sense of deep sadness and a screaming out “STOP!” I could feel the movements becoming unkind and hence making me more tense. Other times when I stop the “doing”, I allow my body to come to a balance on its own time as I fall into a spacious place of deep peace, the movements somehow would just flow out of me. My physical injuries feel healed, loved and cared for. The unit of my body, mind are naturally in sync with the movement of the expressed energy – which all falls into a state of yoga – ending up giving me more clarity, flexibility and even deeper peace. Similar experiments apply to my aikido practice – which I will elaborate at another time.
If you are a logical person, use your logic to your advantage to find the truth for yourself. A strong scientific mind will not stand in the way of your seeking, in fact, it will enhance it. Don’t take what I say at face value, conduct your own experiments, repeat the experiments again and again – you will arrive at your own results. The Truth will not come to you through someone else’s experience, what you are looking for will find you if you commit to the path of scientific integrity – a fierce commitment to truth.
If I die today, then let me die.
I have lived well, loved well;
None will be missed as I take All.
My soul swells with joy!
Throbbing love with the pulse of my heart,
The whole universe resides within me – dancing, singing, laughing, and watching.
Love flows in my veins,
If I die I shall let all of me melt away,
Dissolving into the thin air you breath.
Breath in me,
behold me as yourself,
I am your Eternal Lover,
In light, in dark, in heat, in cold, in wetness and dry-land –
I shall never leave.
As I am a part of you, not apart.
As I dissolve away,
I will be Nothing but All of You.
Throbbing love with the pulse of my heart,
The whole universe resides within me – dancing, singing, laughing, and watching.
If I die I shall let all of me melt away,
Dissolving into the thin air you breath.
behold me as yourself,
I am your Eternal Lover,
In light, in dark, in heat, in cold, in wetness and dry-land –
I shall never leave.
As I dissolve away,
I will be Nothing but All of You.
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.
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.
“He has the right to experience the consequences of his actions,” said the wise young mother as she walked to the car. Moments later, a small boy ran out the door with open shoe laces, backpack in one hand and a half bitten waffle in another. He did manage to hop into the car seat with all of his belongings. He buckled himself in and without a word in the backseat, he finished the rest of the waffle while mom drove to school.
Her words struck me…
Years ago my family visited an old monk who served us tea in his temple. Grandma asked for a safely protected life for our whole family. The old monk looked around and laughed, “life is just a series of cause and effect.” I chuckled to myself as I caught a glimpse of his gaze.
“What do you mean?” mom asked sincerely.
“Well, if you drink tea now you will later have to use the toilet. The act of drinking tea is the action that causes the effect of using the toilet.” I held my head high and did my best to explain the little bit I knew about the source of karma.
“Yes. Just as such – an action will always cause a reaction. This is the law of nature. If you eat something bad, your stomach will suffer. This is not because buddha did not have compassion upon you, this is because you made a choice that is causing your suffering.” The old monk gently rinsed each of our tea cups as he spoke.
One of the reasons I studied science is because I was drawn to the exploration of nature, the exploration of cause and effect. In my tissue engineering class, we searched for various pathways embryonic stem cells transform into other types of cells in the body. Depending on the chemical environment, stress-strain conditions, cellular orientation, and other factors, two stem cells can have a very different destiny. Under the microscope a neuronal cell differs from an enteroendocrine cell in both appearance and function, yet they started from the same source. This is just the microcosm expression of karma – the starting point for both is neutral, the causes differ, hence the outcomes diverge.
In the macrocosm expression of karma, human destiny takes a similar course but with more layers of cause and effect. As we live our daily lives, each moment we incur “causes” in the forms of thoughts, words, and actions. And sometime later we experience the consequences of our actions. These consequences can be joyful or painful. Hopefully we use the consequences to learn if our actions are beneficial for us and those around us. From our learning we have a choice to do things differently the next time around.
In the case of the small boy who ran out the door with his half-eaten waffle, he ended up arriving late to school, which lost him the title “star student of the day”. He arrived home that day feeling sad because of his lost title. To feel better, he ate lots of candies. Unfortunately he later faced an awful stomach ache from his over consumption of sweets. A classic tale of cause and effect.
The boy learned the next day that he better not allow himself too much time to play while eating breakfast. He walked out of the door with his backpack on, held onto mom’s hand and walked to school. Having arrived 10 minutes early and maintained his good attitude throughout the day, he became the “star student of the day”. He joyfully skipped home from school and had a good rest of the day. This too was his creation, as he learned from the previous day, he made different choices with very different results.
Of course when there are multiple layers of cause and effect, the process of learning becomes more difficult. Sometimes I can get overwhelmed when the complexity of layer effects increase. In my youth, I often misinterpreted events and came up with wrong conclusions. Other times instead of taking personal responsibility to examine my own actions, I can play the ostrich or even blame the outside world for my own emotional dramas. Obviously, both strategies lead me nowhere.
Then I did something different.
I vowed for directness and honesty. In both what I reveal to myself as well as to others. I vowed to be truthful and direct the best I can each moment. No more trying to convince myself of the lies I’ve created, nor hide without looking deeply at my own actions. I vowed to stay on my path of truth. I can’t say it was always easy, but the more I practiced the easier it became to maintain my balance.
Nowadays I can disassemble the layers of cause and effect, recognize the cause of my suffering, learn from my past choices, make different choices, and live a life filled with peace and love as my natural state of being.
A few weeks ago I went home to see my 88 year old grandma. She held onto my hand tightly and said, “don’t go, just stay with me, it is safer at home!” I gently opened her grip, kissed her on her cheek, “don’t worry grandma, I am safe.”
A friend came to visit. He excitedly told me how the universe gave him everything he wanted from meeting celebrities to being on TV without the chance to allow himself to take a full breath. “I must be in such high vibration that everything’s working out for ME!”
Smiling, without a word, I served him a cold iced-tea with a piece of freshly cut white peach on the side. He pushed it aside and went on to tell me about how people everywhere are stopping with envious stares since he got his amazing six-pack…
In Southern California, there’s a culture of speaking of such things as “cleanse”, “mindfulness”, “detox”, “healing”, “meditation”, “organic”, “yoga”, “reiki”, “zen”, “juicing”, “being in alignment”, “high vibration”, “unity”, “love”, “enlightenment”… The list goes on and on. Lots of us here eat organic to be in a higher vibration – not as an aware expression but as a concept – for the purpose of becoming better.
In more ways than one, we use yoga, meditation or anything “spiritual” for our own personal gain. When I do an “OM” chanting practice, I can do it in several different ways – 1. I can use it to show those around me how peaceful and spiritual I am, 2. I can use it to open up my energy so my life can run more smoothly; or 3. I can do it with subtle awareness and witness the interconnections and changes as each “OM” progressively expresses through my body. For these three ways, these actions are exactly the same, yet the essence of each are completely different.
Consciously or unconsciously we are always asking “what can Enlightenment do for ME?”
Our collective ego structure is always interested in how to feel better. We find shortcuts in life and indulge ourselves in momentary pleasures often resulting in long drawn-out pain. We use alcohol, television, sports, sex, fashion, games, relationships, politics as ways to escape reality, as ways to turn away from looking within ourselves. As a result, we put on a false mask along with lavishly decorated armors to show the world who we pretend to be.
A young lady posts her intellectual achievements, re-shares the latest scientific discoveries, and shows-off how charismatically smart she is so she can gain the approval of her friends – only to find no matter how hard she tries to impress, she still felt like a black hole inside.
An older man got married to a glamorous “trophy” – only to discover 15 years later that he’s trapped in a marriage without ever experiencing true love.
Amy’s Baking Company asked Chef Ramsey to help improve their business, only to not take any feedback and decide that everyone else is wrong. The owners blamed the internet haters and never for a second quietly took a look to see if they themselves are to blame.
Like Chef Ramsey, Enlightenment is not shy to serve you a plate of truth. You might overlook and ignore it for a while, but eventually it will slap you in the face until you wake up to the reality you’ve been avoiding for years.
Yup, I’ve been there. I’ve experienced the personal ego structure to the most delusional level and felt the collective ego structure on the most fundamental level within my own being. Our ego structure cares feverishly about the outer appearances of things while pushing aside the gut feelings, and ignoring the simplest truth.
The last time I witnessed myself asking “what can Enlightenment do for me?” I didn’t expect the honest truth it served me in such a timely manner. I got to look within myself and saw how egotistical my whole life was. All aspects of my life had been contaminated by a self-importance, self-consciousness, fear of failure, fear of looking bad, fear of rejection, a need to be accepted, a need to show-off, and the list goes on and on. I was that young lady, I was that older man, I was the owners of Amy’s Baking Company, and I too once played all parts in these roles. When I looked for what Enlightenment can do for me, I had hoped for a chance to win a million dollars, a top of the line sports car, or a way to look young and beautiful forever. Instead, Enlightenment has a different sense of humor.
For me, Enlightenment was holding up a mirror to reflect where my life was lived as a way to put on a show. It unveiled the naked truth that I avoided for so long – in every area and every moment of my life. I could not run away any longer. This time, I was stripped naked by Enlightenment, with a magnifying glass to examine each and every part of my self, my belief structure, and my hardened delusions. Then it took a scalpel, and surgically removed each and every untruth as they are being revealed – sometimes with insurmountable pain, other times with gentle awareness. The surgery is not complete. It has to be done over time. A time reveals more truth when each moment presents itself.
So if you found yourself asking “what can Enlightenment do for me?” If you are not ready for the truth, run the other way as fast as you can. Because Truth has a way of catching up to you if you are not careful. For some people, they can run and hide until Death comes to claim them. If you happen to slip and fall, know that Truth in her naked form will come with her bright mirror held up high and show you the truth regardless if you want it or not. Usually after putting up a fight, most of us can no longer keep up turning the other way in denials. There is a point that Truth will bring the arrival of Judgment Day when you are least expecting – and blows your masks and armors away without an apology. Truth is not nice. She is Truth. And Truth always wins.
What can Enlightenment do for you?
Enlightenment will strip you clean layer by layer until you recognize the naked truth of who you really are – Empty, Rich, Simple, Love, and Beautiful.
(A special Thanks to this simple and yet honest blog from Dragon Rider One.)