Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"I Reach Out from the Inside"

... but the outside is inside, too, no?

Yeah, that's delirious Zen-speak. You guys know what I mean, right? [Wink and secret handshake go here.]

I've been sick and at home for a few days, away from the office, away from the dojo and zendo, even away from the coffee shops. It's left a notable vacuum in my routine and interactions, including both the pleasant and the irritating. "Part of me misses them all," I reminisce as I swallow another NyQuil tablet...

Suddenly, I wake up in a familiar but alien land. All other things being equal, once the shock passees, do you suppose I would instinctively seek out something like an office, a dojo, a zendo, a coffee shop, and so forth? Would you further speculate that I would seek out both those pleasant and irritating interactions I've come to expect?

Those things I seek never existed in this new place... So, where are all of these things I'm looking for?

There is a reasonable, self-help-ish type of answer to the question: All of that stuff is in your head--that is, your brain, the stuff between your ears, or maybe even distributed elsewhere throughout body. Your habits, your recollections, your perceptions--all of these are just a skewed overlay above the physical world, our reality. If we see through or see beyond our concepts, ideas, and so on, we can finally see reality clearly. Now it makes sense, right?

I wouldn't be so sure if I were you...

If you go off beyond the horizons of time and space to where all the Zen masters, the gurus, the Buddhas, God Almighty and you all concur with one mind that this is truth, you have arrived in Hell's innermost circle and surrounded yourself with the most perverse of demons feasting on your flesh...

Fortunately, from there the actual truth is within your reach.

Find the answer beyond their answer. I have faith in you.

... just don't get stuck looking for the video with that guy holding the boombox along the way.

Disclaimer: No NyQuil was consumed in the production of this delusion.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

No Rhyme and No Reason

Traditionally, I use this space to sort through my own thinking. Since my exploration gravitates toward the practices of Zen and Aikido, it's natural that my writing reflects any insights--however minor--I find there in the overlap. Going back through the posts, two things are fairly clear:

  • I want to find the unity of these two studies, using Zen to deepen Aikido practice, using Aikido to deepen Zen practice, going deeper and deeper; and,
  • I want to show how those insights might be useful--whether inside or outside of either study--to Everyday Life.
There really is no rhyme or reason for the activity except perhaps to understand myself through my own "karma"--through my own habits, likes, dislikes, and the unique circumstances of this life (including language and diction). Consider that one culmination of the activity itself is the words that I have placed on the screen for me to read, using my karma--my living in this particular time and place where blogging is possible--to show me my own mind in reflection.

It is a curious cycle, no? Two activities which are outwardly very different sit in juxtaposition, one very physical requiring some mental dexterity and one almost entirely mental but occasionally taxing the body: Could they possibly be the same? As long as there is doubt, there is room to explore, finding deeper and deeper insights, continuously generating new blog posts and experiments for the dojo...

We will get this mind and body unified eventually... one way or another.

* * *

It is said that there was once a (mostly) congenial debate between two schools of Zen: a doctrinal school, focusing upon study of the scriptures, and the other patriarchal, focusing on the study of the koans. The debate went on and on, each side questioning and answering from within its own frame of reference, maybe saying the same thing, maybe saying something different, maybe being understood, maybe not--who knows? But I imagine they had to stop for lunch or a bathroom break eventually...

Anyway, once a student came to Master Pa-Lung and asked: 
Are the patriarchal teachings and doctrinal teachings the same or different?
Master Pa-Lung replied:
When a chicken is cold, it climbs up into the tree; when a duck is cold, it goes under the water.
It may seem as if the Master answered the question almost reasonably, but I am not so sure he answered the question we believe he was asked. We followed the Master's trail to the fork in the road, but now there are no footprints in any direction!

So, where do you go from here?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Has your Greatest Problem already been Solved?

Have you ever considered that the biggest problem in your life--the one haunting your every waking moment, the one defying every attempt to escape--has already been solved?

Let's go back a few thousand years to this classic bit wisdom of from Ecclesiastes (1:9, NIV):
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
If you're in a bad situation, reading those lines might make you feel worse. Maybe we read "This sucks, it's always sucked, and--guess what?--it's going to suck again." Trust me: I understand... and really, I know you do too. We all know that when we're in a bad mood, we see more of it all around us. We are prone to look at the flip side of whatever pithy quotes our chipper friends offer, even recasting the friend as an annoyance. We'll argue to maintain our point of view. We'll even make winning the argument more important than solving the problem. Maybe we're just not done exploring the problem...

But really, is it even remotely possible that there is a message of hope in that verse? If so, would it not be worth exploring, even if just for a little bit?

Read the verse: this thing your suffering with? It's appeared time and time again in one form or another. It's also been resolved, time and time again and in any number of ways. Sometimes maybe that means the problem is eradicated once and for all; sometimes it means a mechanism has evolved--or is ready to evolve--to handle it.

Just like "nature abhors a vacuum," nature is not too pleased with accumulation either. When something appears frequently enough, the way to deal with it evolves as well. By "something," I don't necessarily mean something tangible--your problem qualifies as a something--and by "deal with it," I really mean "transform it." That problem that you're holding on to? Somewhere there's probably a person or a system that's starving to help because you're not feeding it.

So, have you two met?

Sometimes you really don't know that there are options available. Sometimes you don't know all of the options. Sometimes you know the options but resist them. Sometimes you believe you have no other options.... In the end though, time continues to march and the problem evolves or resolves. Even if you move to release the problem's hold on you through extraordinary means, we know the problem only transforms and continues on like a wave...

Let's focus on the two pieces here that you can control, whatever the circumstances: belief (or, attachment) and resistance. Can you imagine a tree that resisted falling so as not to inconvenience the forest floor? Resistance and attachment come hand-in-hand; we don't have to consciously know our attachments, but they are evident when we resist. Resistance--your conscious attention to some kind of exertion--is your call. It's not right or wrong, per se--the system is ready for you either way--but if it doesn't matter, perhaps it's not necessary to resist at all? Releasing resistance is ultimately releasing a belief... so, okay, maybe there was really only one thing you could control after all :-)

If we needed to choose beliefs to hold, perhaps it would be better to choose the likes of faith, hope, and charity. Know that things will be better even if the path is unknown, know that there are people who can help, and--given the choice--be willing to err on the side of helping others. Trust that in the end the right things will happen, the right people and relationships will be in your life, and so forth. See what comes, what goes, and what remains when you are effortlessly you.

With a subtle doubt in your belief that all is lost, you create an opening to find solutions. Believing that a solution must exist, you can set off to engage the world and find it. Without resistance associated with trying to maintain an existing situation, saving face, saving relationships, and so forth, you can freely state your need.

Still, one day your body will die. As for how you live along the way as you "wake up" in all of these precarious situations? That's entirely your choice... and maybe you can pick up some of the wisdom mentioned elsewhere in Ecclesiastes as a result :-)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Job Seeker Zen

Why did I spot this quote in my Google+ timeline last night?
"A job seeker is a masterless slave." ~Steve Pavlina (blog)

Career, job hunting, work-life balance, difficult workplace situations, making ends meet, ... These are actively on my mind these days. We know from our studies that when an idea takes root in the mind like this, we begin to see it all around us. Throughout the day our different observations, conversations, and so forth each bump up against everything from our habits to our beliefs and onward to whatever else we are holding in our heads, regardless of whether we are conscious of them. Before we know it, it's the topic of the day in Zen class; it's shared conversation with friends over lunch; it's taking note of the economic and unemployment reports; and it's spotting serendipitous nuggets like Steve's quote resonating with us. Suddenly you see that everybody else was in the same boat with you all along? Maybe the problem was worse than you thought... Before you know it, you are giving an instinctive response from within your capabilities and circumstances, perhaps writing a blog post about the phenomenon itself. ;-)

Now if life were moving along as expected, would I have noticed Steve's post at all? It may have been in the timeline, sure, but would I have really seen it? The mind is continuously inundated with sensory input and thought, but most of it arguably goes unnoticed. Just consider for example that even when your eyes are closed, there is still seeing happening even if it's only the back of your eyelids. So, what is it when something as simple as a short Google+ post hooks your conscious attention? What circumstances were ripening inside me, ready for an encounter with such a random trigger? How much pressure must have been building to have me change course from my regularly scheduled day and write this essay in response?

Pause and consider:

  • Did I have any choice in how I responded?
  • What does my response show about my mind?
  • How would a different mind have responded?
  • Can you change your mind?

For the jobseeker, those are particularly poignant questions. After all, is this not the nature of the interview process itself? Have you ever considered what happens if an interviewer senses desperation in your responses--that is, when you are more focused upon needing a job--the scarcity or lack-- rather than evaluating the job in front of you? How are your answers received?

Steve has written about an exercise I believe he calls "manifesting pennies." In short form, we do this: Absolutely know that there is spare change lying on the sidewalks in plain sight, review the sensation of how happy we would be to find some of those coins, release those very thoughts trusting that they will take care of themselves, and then set off on a carefree walk. Over time, we undoubtedly begin to spot the spare change. Each successful find brings joy and reinforces the belief, spurring on the activity. Occasionally we may hit a dry spell and question whether the experiment is working, but we don't get stuck in that doubt; we revisit the belief and the feelings and try again another time.

Now, if we secretly hold the suspicion that the experiment will not work but set out to debunk it, will we be more likely to be happy finding a coin or proving ourselves right in finding no coin? Either way, the function--confirmation bias--is the same: Both people will get busy with their beliefs and tend toward eventually having a jar that confirms their beliefs.

Consider a different potential problem: Suppose I fail to let thoughts about that penny quest go before setting off on my walk? If during my walk my mind is focused upon the details of the experiment, when will my mind have time to scan for coins? Can it really do both? (Remember the desperate interviewer?) Is it necessary to consciously direct the search for coins with thought, or is being open to finding coins sufficient? Can't we just trust the body and mind to do the search without supervision? When my mind is locked onto a thought or pattern that is taking away from the "idle cycle" tasks at hand, how can I release the thought and get back to business?

Just like Steve's quote, I can only take note of a coin on the street because my mind was "tuned" to recognize it. It would not have been any more there or less there either way--meaning my belief did not cause it to appear in any mundane sense; however, it would not have been there in any esoteric sense unless I was predisposed to see it. The quote hooked my conscious attention. I "manifested" Steve and his quote when I gave them meaning.

We should see that faith in the "manifesting pennies" exercise creates a change in mind which in turn spurs a change in physical habit. It may take some training to adopt the new programing, but it is doable. When not otherwise distracted, your mind will have your eyes scanning the sidewalk for shiny things in hope of a find (or a failure to find, depending on your disposition). You may even change your habits further to take longer or more frequent walks than you otherwise would. In essence, incorporating the new belief and everything associated with it fundamentally puts the auto-piloted aspects of your life on a new course in potentially unpredictable ways. After all, you might miss a potential mate's gaze if your eyes are watching the ground; similarly, people who might otherwise engage you might think you too strange if you suddenly break a conversation to pick up a penny. Then again, you might find someone who appreciates your thriftiness or your pragmatism! There is no way to tell...

Now, can we extrapolate and see how all of this this might apply to the job seeker? Did you see the parallels?

The worthwhile Zen masters and the personal development specialists alike make a deep study of these functions and share their insights, giving others the opportunity to free themselves with their examples. While all of this is a concern for me, expect to see more posts delving deeper into the study and the applications. I'm working now to take our insights from our Zen and martial studies and to make them applicable to the job hunt, giving job seekers different tools and perspectives to shake free of past problems and to put success back in motion.

Do you have a story or some insight to share? Would you like to learn more? Comment on this post or email JobSeekerZen@SwordMountain.org with interest and inquiries!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Irimi, Kuzushi, and a Dragon in a Pink Dress

Someone states emphatically:
Kuzushi is achieved through irimi. That is to say, I must always enter to connect to my partner's balance structure before I can perform waza. (AikiWeb)
In perhaps over-simplistic terms, irimi is a very direct entry to seize control of a situation, overwhelming an attacker; kuzushi is off-balancing; and waza is the application of technique. In essence, in the situation of attack, the defender responds in a way to overwhelm the attacker, off-balancing him and creating an opening to apply a technique.

The poster is concurring with another fellow who dismisses the principles such as leading into a circular path without first taking such action as fantasy.

Keep your eye on the ball now, Reader. Are we following this fellow's argument? Does it make sense?
How about if we reconsider the assertion in a less martial, more marital example?


If find yourself as the focus of another's attention--call it an "attack" if you like--then the there is already a connection in place. Irimi occurred when something about you--an idea, an emotion, your perfume, your bank account, whatever--entered the attacker's mind--and do note that you may or may not have had any direct involvement in that. And the kuzushi? That occurred when the attacker surrendered to whatever it was that held his attention--his attachment--resulting in some physical effect.

So, a question: Must irimi precede kuzushi? Is a fellow randy because a girl is dishy, or vice versa? Consider how we may juxtapose me having bad day with your nose being a suitable target for my fist. These are cases of dependent arising--types of balanced equivalences, or balanced equations--we can't have a cause without an effect and vice versa.

We can chat more about that another time. For now, let's return to our martial example: Suppose I suddenly find myself in a situation where I need to irimi. Could it be that noticing the situation itself was an irimi that caught my attention? That my need to respond in a particular way to the circumstances was my own off-balancing (kuzushi)? What is seizing control here if not your simple, practiced response to your own perception of a vacuum of control? Are you not simply falling into a hole you dug for yourself? How can you escape this cycle?

So, some homework questions for you. Tell me:
  • What happens to the dance if the dragon stops chasing the ball? 
  • How can the dragon cease pursuit without becoming the ball? 
  • What becomes of the dragon when he discovers there was no ball at all?

Go ahead, show me your waza!