Inner peace comes from inner and outer balance, a state of being natural, open, with no judgement, and without attachment. One of the reasons I study aikido is to be able to spot my own “errors” as well as help others spot the same.
What I call an “error” is when our own perception becomes clouded by the needs of our ego. Events and external happenings are neutral until our ego places a value-judgement on them. We get fearful, we get angry, we get sad, we get aggressive as we tell ourselves a story we made up about what is actually happening – AND we want to get even! The ego becomes obsessed on fixing the external world while completely ignoring the self – hence we give up our own physical/emotional/psychological/spiritual wellbeing by giving up our inner peace. The ego believes we must FIGHT for what we believe in, we must DO something to make a difference, we must STRIVE to be noticed. And that someone else must be “BLAMED” for the circumstances, and we must “PUSH” to make things happen.
The study of aikido along with my Isha Yoga meditation has allowed me to be sensitive enough and honest enough to notice my own “errors” before my ego leads me astray. The words – “FIGHT”, “DO”, “STRIVE”, “BLAME”, “PUSH” can give you a sense of the feelings they illicit in your body. Do they have a balancing effect or unbalancing effect? We can be the scientist and try the different feelings on for effect – do they bring peace in our bodies OR do they make us top heavy so we can be tipped over easily? Now the real question comes next, “can I truly trust my own perception and actions when I’m off balance?” and “can I trust another person and his/her decisions at the time when he/she is off balance?”
Small children are naturally very perceptive. Whenever I am off balance internally while trying hard to keep my body balanced, they know, and they act out. They don’t listen, and they become loud and disruptive. However when I am naturally open, happy, and balanced, they all work together naturally in a loving and caring manner.
The real work begins after a spiritual awakening. This is when we can actually be non-judgementally honest with ourselves. My daily Zen practice is to watch whenever I am unenlightening myself. Enlightenment is not a haphazard deal, it is up to us to notice when we give up our own inner balance hence giving up Enlightenment. Personally, I have to be vigilant to keep an eye on my actions and micro-decisions so my ego doesn’t run the show. I have no control over other people and external events – but I do have a choice of what I align myself with. It is up to each of us to choose to either 1. bring emotional pollution to the world that can create war, or 2. bring a scent of sweetness and love to the world that can heal all wounds. The choice is ours.
Your laptop needs to be charged. Your phone needs to be plugged in. Even your winter electric blanket needs to be connected to the outlet or else it doesn’t provide heat. Have you thought about charging YOUR batteries?
This has always been a hard lesson for me. I have a tendency to use my newly gifted spiritual power to burn the candle at both ends. During the times I have power, I can accomplish many things for a long period of time, sleep only a few hours and get by with extra energy to spare. Sometimes I can even go on like this for days or even weeks.
Until – I crash.
I get irritated. I get annoyed. I get agitated. I get sick. I get tired of my own pattern.
I-Ching #5 is a card I draw often. It always reminds me of the art of waiting – and to shower oneself with the proper nourishment.
Often times when we think of nourishment we think of nutritious food. I sometimes run to Nekter Juice Bar to nourish myself with a big green smoothie or the superfoods acai bowl. I drink tea when I need to take time and slow down. I make myself a big pot of vegetable soup on these cold windy nights. Yet, that is still not enough. Then we wonder if we are getting enough rest. We think if we just get enough hours of sleep that can be nourishing. Or even better – when we get enough good quality sleep that can be nourishing. Yet, that too can still fail you.
Unfortunately for the individuals walking the spiritual path, nourishment is beyond rest and nutrition. Our batteries must be charged with that extra zest called the spiritual power. Spiritual power comes from several different sources for me.
One, if I become meditative – enter into the quality of meditation, I get charged. If I DO the ACT of meditation without an inner stillness, then this quality of mediation does not occur and I DO NOT get charged. BEING the meditation is more important than DOING the meditation. It doesn’t matter where I am, and what I am doing, if I can get quiet enough and intimate enough within, I come “home” to that inner stillness. The best part is, I can be completely exhausted and hating life, but now with just five minutes of listening to the Heart Sutra in the car, I can completely charge my battery and renew my senses. For this to be effective, I find it best to be alone.
Two, when my body is exhausted, I cannot push myself into DOING more physical activities. Instead, I must lovingly move the body like a mother rocking her newborn. For me, any pre-determined set of yoga or aikido techniques will become damaging at this point. For my body and where I am, I unroll my yoga mat, light a candle, offer a prayer, and sit with a cross-legged position and allow the body to move itself. Sometimes the body starts to move in a circular motion clockwise and the movement changes direction by itself into counter clockwise circles. Sometimes, the neck releases itself by combining strange primitive movements and leading the body into past memories. Other times, as soon as I sit down, tears start to flow and a new compassionate understanding arises about the self and the collective emerges. I don’t try to control it. The body stretches itself in way I am not able to accomplish on my own. The energy guides the stretches. Whatever goes, goes. All I can do is give time and space to allow this healing to happen to me. I am present, and non-judgmental. I allow the energy to move through my body however it needs to.
Three, when I get into the same routine for too long, I feel a dimming of my own light. With my aikido schedule, I teach at two different schools and offer private spiritual and physical healing support to several students outside of group class. I put on parties and cook large dinners for my friends and students. So when I have given so much consistently I do not need anything in return from them. But I do need to charge my own battery. I find I need inspiration. That is one of my surest ways to charge my battery with that spiritual zest. For me, I can easily find that inspiration by a change in my routine. Recently, the mountains, clouds, and even just the wind can renew my senses and awake my spirit. Many years ago, my fractal arts sustained my spiritual zest. Then it was my painting. In the past year, my photographs of vast spacious flowers gave me energy, and always, the energy of creation guides me into new territories. If I just simply follow the guidance, I gain salvation and fulfilment beyond my wildest dreams.
By no means am I asking you to follow my path. As we embark on our paths together, perhaps we can share some similar points we can all benefit from. This writing is a little reminder for myself to charge my own battery. And I hope my experience can help to remind you to charge your battery at least a few minutes everyday. Be gentle my friends, Be Love, and Be Well.
Every Wednesday in Encinitas Aikido, I teach a class called “Aikido for Adults – Applied Spiritual Practice.” Nearly every week we have someone new trying out aikido because they heard wonderful things about its philosophy. It has always been in my heart to share aikido not as a way to strengthen the ego, but as a way to strip away our pretence, our fears, and our desires, so we may uncover our most natural, most powerful, most authentic self.
Aikido is not easy. It might look graceful and smooth but the learning process itself involves the complete commitment of all of you – your entire being. Many spiritual seekers practice aikido to occasionally feel the “magic” of a true aiki-moment, some are drawn to the insight into one’s own spiritual development, others come to seek out and break their own barriers to freedom. There are many seekers, but not as many followers. Aikido is not easy, it is especially not easy when one has to give up an untruth she/he has carried for so long.
Yesterday, a new student asked innocently, “is uke the victim?”
She walked in for the first time yesterday 1o minutes before class telling me about all of her injuries and why she will never be able to do an ukemi (aikido falls and rolls). She too had a whiplash like I did from a car accident. She also shares a similar experience of a bike accident. I can feel the tension and the fear she carries all too well. Due to the nature of this particular class, I told her the most important thing is to respect her body and accept where she is as long as she takes away the spiritual practice of aikido to apply in her own life.
During class, we worked on neck and shoulder exercises as a way to find union with the breath as movement and movement as breath. The energy in the dojo was slow, tender and calming. Then we moved into a relatively complicated technique. The energy in the dojo shifted to a playful yet thoughtful nature. Our new student giggled as she found such simple joy in a “back break-fall” as she was able to quickly regain balance on her feet again after falling. Later, towards the end of class, we explored a few rounds of fast paced high intensity hajime training. Suddenly the stress level increased in the dojo and my loud voice caused the new student to retract more into her fear. During the last round of hajime training, the new student asked innocently, “is uke the victim?”
I was surprised to receive such a question. I know the Japanese terminology so well that I never even thought of a different perspective. Uke (受け) literally means the one who receives. To me, receiving is like being given a gift. I hadn’t thought of uke as a victim. Yet I could see the validity of her question.
At the end of class, as we calmed down to a normal breathing pace, I gathered the students around in a circle to address the question. Being guided, I began by telling them a children’s parable called “Little Soul and the Sun” by Neale Donald Walsch. One day, the little soul wanted to go to earth and learn about forgiveness. But he couldn’t do it alone. He had to find a friend who would help him to learn forgiveness. So another brave soul volunteered to share the journey to be born on earth and help the little soul to learn forgiveness. It was such a gift that the brave soul would even consider to share this journey and become so dense and dark in order to help the little soul learn forgiveness. The little soul was overjoyed and felt very thankful to have this opportunity to forget who he really was so he could truly learn about forgiveness.
I never answered her question directly. But I saw the awe in her eyes as she tried to hold back the tears.
I want to inspire a great vastness and spaciousness within you.
Often times we are completely caught up in filling any open space with loud music and endless chatter, with news and politics, with food and alcohol, with exercise and external activities; we are even obsessed with creative production and intellectual stimulation.
We forget to rest, we forget to return to neutrality, we forget to appreciate stillness, balance and this beautiful vast spaciousness within us.
This place of vast spaciousness is the source of our sanity and the source of true healing.
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.
Happy World Health Day Everyone! お元気ですか? (Ogenkidesuka)
Today is April 7th, World Health Day. I would like to explore the translation of the above Japanese greeting regarding your health.
When someone asks you “お元気ですか”, they are asking, “how are you?” Well, loosely speaking. The English translation is usually “how are you” or “how are you doing” or “how is your health?” The Japanese word 元気 (genki) stands for health. But it has a deeper meaning. 元 is pronounced (ge-n), it stands for the source of origin, the source of prana, or the place of wholeness. 気 is pronounced ki, as in 合気道 (aikido). 気 stands for energy – which includes your body, your emotions, and your spirit. The literal translation of 元気 (genki) is original energy. This is actually the most foundational, and most precise description of health.
In the western world, when we speak of health, most people would assume that of the body. Major hospitals are dedicated to the health of individuals by treating various bodily ailments. Then there is the emotional side of health, where psychotherapy is used for the healthy mind of individuals. Nowadays holistic medicine recognizes that health is psychosomatic – bridging the gap between the mind and the body is becoming a standard practice. In the eastern world, stemming from the yogic tradition and Buddhism, the energetic aspect is greatly emphasized. And nowadays, holistic healers can use energy to heal the body as well as to bring peace of mind.
During my lifelong research of health – starting with preparation for medical school, then deviating into bioengineering, then adding psychology and NLP, and ending up in the origin of spirituality – and from my personal experience, I know that the body, mind, and energy all play a part of my overall health.
I would like to share a short Sadhguru talk which reminds me of the core of my aikido practice – 元気, health comes from within.
Sadhguru: The word health comes from the word whole. When your body, your mind, your emotion, your energies are in tune with each other and you feel wholesome within yourself, that is when you feel healthy. A large number of people in the world, including many who are considered medically healthy, are unhealthy. They may not need any medication but their system does not know any wholesomeness. There is no sense of peace or joy in them. You think you are unhealthy only when you get depressed beyond a certain point, but you are unhealthy if you are not bubbling with joy. There is no wholesomeness in terms of the internal composition of who you are.
This has happened because you never paid any attention to it. This whole attitude of trying to fix everything from the outside has to go. No doctor or medicine can ever give you health. They can assist you when you have fallen into ill health and help you out of it a little bit, but health has to happen within yourself.If health has to come from within, we definitely have to do some inner engineering.
Health is not just a physical aspect. Today modern medicine says that man is psychosomatic. What happens in the mind naturally happens in the body. What happens in the body in turn happens in the mind. So the way we are living here, our attitude, our emotion, the basic mental state, the level of activity we are going through, how streamlined our minds are, all these are very much a part of your health.
Health is a side effect of spirituality. If you are complete within yourself, being healthy is natural.
Today, on this World Health Day, I would like to invite you to discover when you feel the most healthy. How does your body feel overall? How do you feel emotionally? How smooth and full is your breath? How relaxed or joyful do you feel? How grounded and loving do you feel? And for the extra sensitive individuals, how is the expression and expansion of your ki?
Thank you friends for walking with me on this journey of life. May your find the natural health, beauty, and joy is already part of you. The next time I ask you “お元気ですか?” you can smile, and say “my original energy is with me – 元気です.”