Sunday, February 23, 2014

Awareness & Seeing: Delusion

We very commonly believe that our eyes are our windows to the world; that what we see is reality.
It isn't' and they aren't.

Our eyes are limited to seeing a narrow spectrum. We cannot see ultraviolet light (bees can!), or infrared, or x-rays, microwaves, gamma rays, or the whole majority of the spectrum. Se we don't see reality for what it is. Only partially.

But these are physical limitations. If we had bee's eyes we could see ultraviolet light and communications from flowers, for example. However, I'm not talking about physical limitations though. Our eyes - even within the boundaries of their limits - are not our windows to the world.

An experiment had been done on frogs' eyes.
It seems that frogs have eyes that have features in common with ours. They should be able to see as well as we do. However, micro electrodes implanted in the frog's eyes reveal that only select bits of information are being sent from the eye to the frog's brain. From the richness of our visual world, only very basic kinds of messages are being relayed to the frog.

"The frog does not seem to see or, at any rate is not concerned with the detail of stationary parts of the world around him. He will starve to death surrounded by food it it is not moving" J.Y. Lettvin, H.R. Maturana, W.S. McCulloch, and W.H. Pitts, "What the Frog's Eye Tells the Frog's Brain", chapter 7 in The Mind: Biological Approaches to Its Functions, William C. Corning and Martin Balaban,eds. (New York: Interscience Publishers, 1968), pg. 233-258
The reality we perceive is not all there is out there. At least that's what the experiment of the frog's eyes suggest.

To honestly think what we see is reality is naive.
I wonder sometimes if we are much different from the frogs. Of all the information we have available, we simply do not take it all in. But we constantly make decisions based on the limited view we have of the world through they tiny slit we call reality. Ultimately, decisions must be made; we cannot go through life making none.

If a frog's eye shares features with our eye and what a frog is aware of is different than what it actually sees, it stands to reason that we may suffer the same.

Did you ever wonder why some things catch our attention more than others? Have you ever bought a new car? I have a Mazda 5. When I first got it I began to notice numerous Mazda 5's. They were everywhere! All of a sudden the world's filled with Mazda 5s. Of course, they were always there, I just wasn't noticing them.

Our sense are able to process only a narrow band of information that represents the visible and audible spectrum. This tiny opening we call "reality". It's a good think that there's a system filtering out information that apparently we don't need so that we are not overwhelmed.

The Reticular Activation System (RAS) is a filter of the brain. The RAS receives a multitude of information. Everything you see, smell, touch, and hear, goes through the RAS and the RAS decodes which pieces of information gets filtered out and which catches your attention; just as the frog's eyes can't or won't see food that isn't moving. Even our center for higher thinking, cognition and thought (the cerebrum) is useless unless the RAS allows the information to pass through.

Our eyes are not our windows to the world; our mind is. I don't just think it's possible, I know it is.
Here's an experiment. Give it a try! Think about hats today. Let your RAS show you all the hats out there you've been missing. See what happens.

So, if our (and our frog friends) eyes are not our windows to the world and reality; if the Reticular Activating System is a filter to our reality, and if our mind is the window to the world and the reality we perceive, it would seem to me that an emphasis be put towards making sure our minds are healthy, sober, and clear. That we put effort to purge confusion, illusion, and delusion. Because if our minds are inflicted with delusion, our entire perceived reality will be delusional.

How do we combat this delusion? How do we help the frog become aware of the still and silent food all around it?

We naturally notice things that interest us and are important to us. The RAS will pass through information even if it is remotely associated with what we hold as value.

As a person acts, so he becomes in life.
Those who do good become good;
those who do harm become bad.
Good deeds make one pure;
bad deeds make one impure.

We are said to be what our desire is.
As our desire is, so is our will.
As our will is, so are our acts.
As we act, so we become.

- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

What is a priority to us literally shapes our perceived world. It literally becomes our reality. We must avoid allowing (willingly or not) confusion, denial, and delusion into our lives and minds. Beliefs are fine to have so long as we acknowledge them as such. When we mistaken our beliefs as facts we enter into delusion.

The Buddha said,
"We are what we think.All that we areArises with our thoughts.With our thoughts we make the worldSpeak or act with a pure mind -And happiness will follow you."From The Dhammapada, translated by Thomas Byrom, Vintage, 1996, Chapter 1

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Christian Criterion: Lines of Division

Inevitably I am often asked (or questioned) whether I am a Christian or not.
I don't like that question and generally I don't answer it. (I don't self-identify as one, but that means little).

Give me your clear-cut definition of what a Christian is and I'll give you a clear-cut answer.

YouDo you believe in Jesus?

Me: Far too general. What do you mean?

  1. Do I believe Jesus existed historically?
  2. Do I believe Jesus was a great wisdom teacher?
  3. Do I believe Jesus was the incarnation of God?
  4. Do I believe Jesus was the unique incarnation of God?
  5. Am I part of a congregation?
  6. Do I regularly attend church every Sunday?
  7. Do I regularly tithe?

You: All those questions.
  1. Yes, I believe the heretical rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth existed historically.
  2. Yes, I believe he was a great wisdom teacher.
  3. Mu. This question is irrelevant. (You don't have to agree with me.) (See Above and Beyond Christianity: Hidden Worship)
  4. See above, or theoretically, no. (See "Most High God" Part IV: Incarnate State)
  5. No.
  6. No.
  7. Absolutely not. (See Repairing the Torn Veil).

Now, having said that, I think these questions are a little lacking. In short, they're asking the wrong questions.
I think one of the most important questions is number 2: Do I believe Jesus was a great wisdom teacher?, because there are 2 important questions that follow it. Far too often I am never asked these questions.

  1. What do I think his core message was?

The heretical Rabbi, Yeshua of Nazareth, spoke of a strange and elusive concept he called The Kingdom of God. Something that was yet to come, yet strangely present in the Here and Now; within ourselves (Luke 17:21). An unrealized potential.

Yeshua was an exemplar; he was a Revealer rather than a Redeemer. It is religion, religiosity itself, that keep us ignorant, captive, and slaves to Fear, Envy, and Delusion.

What I believe Yeshua truly taught wasn't the advent of new religion (Christianity), but a heightened awareness - a sort of freedom and enlightenment, rather than a salvation. Yeshua's Kingdom of God wasn't a new religion, but the end of all religion. The escape hatch from this Edenic Birdcage; emancipation from the Entrapment of Religiosity itself.

(And, yes I am aware of Lewis' Trilemma. See Lord, Liar, or Lunatic, or even C.S. Lewis and the Jesus Trilemma, by Austin Cline - although I am not interested in the argument of whether Jesus was or wasn't God).

     2. Do I try to follow the wisdom of this great teacher?

Well, that's really the question we're here to explore and put into reality, isn't it?
This is the position I hold and where I am on this topic. It matters little to me whether this makes me a "Christian" or not.

- continued on Misconceptions - 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Spirit of a Martial Art

What is the purpose behind Martial Arts?

Many people will give various answers suited to their person wants and needs. I'm not talking about that.
Yes, there are benefits and 'perks' associated with taking a Martial Art. Conditioning, cardio, physical and mental health, self-defence, and many more. But these are bonuses, or byproducts, not the actual purpose underlying the Martial Art itself.

My Master* makes a sharp distinction. He will unapologeticly say before a group of mixed students that a MMA fighter is a Technical Brawler (his choice of words), while a Taekwon-do student is a Martial Artist.

My profession background is in the Print Media. I have been in the industry for 27 years and I see this distinction of tech. and art play out well.

Digital Print is a science. CTP plate making is a science. Offset Printing is a craft.
The differences? A craft (and thus a craftsman) is a combination of science and art.

I think this is a good distinction to carry over into this conversation regarding the Martial Arts. Art is something that does not lend itself well to being analyzed or studied by a scientific model or mindset. An art is something else. We might even argue spiritual.

Many scholars believe that the martial arts practised in eastern Asian have been influenced by the teachings of the Buddha, with notions of enlightenment and spirituality intricately woven into the very fabric of the martial arts themselves. It would be extremely difficult to say that the Buddha teachings promoted war-like (martial) actions.

Yes, “Martial” means or relates to military or combat, or most specifically, war.
The term, or name Martial Arts” is a Western (English) one; sort of a catch-all category that “we've” created. Since we've created it, we define it by our understanding or misunderstanding of it. Although “Martial Arts” has become associated with the various fighting styles of eastern Asia it was originally used in the early 1550's in relation to combat systems on Europe, often specifically to the “Science and Art” of swordplay. So, ultimately, the term “Martial Arts” is a misnomer.

If we go back in history to various times and locations when and where these various “Martial Arts” find their origins, we will not find the term “Martial Art”. What we most often find is various forms of the term “-do”. It means the way of, in the same context as the Tao means the way.

These Martial Arts are not a learned and acquired skill set as we Westerners understand it, but a way of life. 
Granted, we may very well have bastardized it and dissected it into its various components and forced it into what it might be today. But that is our subjective wants picking and choosing.

I don't believe the purpose is to create fighters. I believe the purpose is to create a better (moral) person.
In fact, I would seriously question a Martial Art whose purpose is to create fighters.
Yes, there is definitely a combat aspect within most (all?) Martial Arts, but I'm not convinced this is the purpose behind it.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has focused near exclusively on the combat aspect of Martial Arts, I fear, at the detriment of Martial Arts' spirit, because, ultimately, when a student is trained in MMA, what is being created is a fighter. The spiritual aspect, the growth and betterment of the individual and the world is forgotten or forsaken. How does a MMA fighter stand for freedom and justice and how do they build a more peaceful world?

Maybe the focus shouldn't be on MMA specifically.
I'd be painting with a broad brush to make this statement. Maybe I should focus on the industry of MMA (The UFC makes for a good example). I should include its fighters, coaches, teachers, promoters, and especially its fans, collectively.
I'm not convinced it's a sporting event. Granted there are numerous opinions as to what constitutes a sport. Competition, a sense of sportsmanship, a learned and trained skill set, as well as a degree of athleticism are how I would define a Sport. (ie, darts, chess, and golf are not sports).

Martial Arts would definitely fall within this definition of “Sport”. But, contrary to popular opinion, I'm not sure MMA (or the UFC) does. Where is the sportsmanship of continuing to strike an opponent once they are down, fallen, or even unconscious?
A great example is Ronda Rousey dislocating Miesha Tate's elbow (warning: graphic video). The question should be asked, was Miesha Tate at fault for not tapping out? Was Ronda Rousey at fault for going through with the arm bar to its conclusion? Was her training at fault for teaching her to continue this in the name of “sportsmanship”?
Or was the industry (fans included) at fault to creating this gladiator type entertainment?

We need to take a far step back and ask the question: What is the purpose and spirit behind Martial Arts?

Choi Hong Hi (founder of Traditional Taekwon-do) states in his JungshinSooyang,“This moral culture is uniquely tied in with Taekwon-Do, not only for the eventual attainment of the highest goals in Taekwon-Do and the promotion of power, technique, and self-confidence, but also for the cultivation of character.”, and as reflected in the oaths of Taekwon-do, especially the final two,
“I shall stand for freedom and justice”, and “I shall build a more peaceful world”.

It forces me to ask the question, what is the Spirit of a Martial Art, and have we lost our way?

* 7th Dan Black Belt in Traditional Taekwon-do, Certified Muay Thai Professional Trainer-Kru, Brown Belt in Brazilian Jujitsu, MMA Instructor, and original student under Choi Hong Hi – founder of Traditional TKD, and one of the few legitimate Martial Arts Masters

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Face of Mindfulness; The Watcher

In several earlier posts I had mentioned - either directly (The Watcher, The Dreamer, The Other, and Myself, Our Own Worst Critics) or indirectly (Tidal Pool, Mindfulness, Personal Mara) - an elusive and mysterious persona that I have experienced named The Watcher.

Having not given it much thought, its nature was recently questioned on a discussion forum, and I'm glad it was. It is something that needed to be unpackaged and better explored.

Although I could clearly recognized The Watcher when it was in ascendance, I realized I knew very little about it.

The one thing that I do know of The Watcher is that it sees clearly. It is most lucid.
Of course everything that I see and experience is through the filter or lens that is me, I don't think The Watcher suffers from delusions.

Ultimately The Watcher isn't a separate entity, or distinctly different aspect or facet. I think it is that rare state when I perfectly slip into Mindfulness.
Yes. That's a better way of viewing it. It shouldn't be personified. It's just a state of mind.

Although it manifests itself in my consciousness as a different persona, I think I personify it simply because of the alien-ness of it.

It is only a state of mind. I think, in my practice of mindfulness meditation, it is actually having 'achieved' or 'reached' that state. (I hate to use these words because it sounds as if there's a goal to reach). On hindsight now, I don't suppose it is what I expected. Maybe I was expecting or 'looking' for something else. Maybe that's why I missed it; didn't pick up on it; didn't readily identify it.

It is entering that state of Mindfulness. No, it is Mindfulness. That is The Watcher. I don't think I've recognized it as such before.

Because The Watcher doesn't judge, it doesn't see a given situation as good, or bad, or as anything at all for that matter.
Once in that state that is The Watcher, I don't believe I can suffer.

The Watcher is part of me that I often cannot connect with. It is evasive and those rare times when it is in ascendance are my only experiences with it.

It simply - and in the simplest of ways - observes. It does not analyze or interpret. It does not assess or judge. It does not see a situation as good or bad; benevolent or malevolent.

Because of that, I worry that it is incapable of compassion; and by implication, I might be incapable of compassion.

On a side note, I must make careful distinction between Pity and Compassion. Pity feels sympathy for another's plight and pain and suffering. Compassion does something about it.

Generally Pity avoids Suffering (even another's), fearing that it is somehow contagious. Compassion understands that Suffering is a choice -whereas Pain is inevitable - and holds no fear to take action.

Therefore, Pity is passive where Compassion is active.
The Watcher, by its very nature and non-judgmental state, cannot have or express compassion.

I have never experienced The Watcher taking action (although as I said earlier, I don't have a lot of experience with it).

Once I'd realized that The Watcher was a state of mindfulness rather than a distinct persona, then my concern over its lack of compassion was relieved. Other 'states' or facets of me are capable of potential growth of compassion where The Watcher is not.

Of the three features of The Dharma Entanglement, what The Watcher brings to the table is that of Dharma. (But this Dharma cannot be taken in its traditional sense. See Dharma-Ocean).

I have learned that on those rare occasions, for for ever so brief periods of time, that I have 'attained' a state of perfect Mindfulness.

Now I know it's possible to move towards that direction, however far away it may now be.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Personal Mara

Between the end of Oct. 2010 and early December 2010 I got my latest tattoo.
It was a 25 hour ordeal (two 9 hour sittings, a 5 hour sitting, and a final 2 hour 'touch-up' sitting).
All of my tattoos have deep and significant spiritual meanings and this large piece is no different. However, it was not a simple and easy tale to tell. After been asked by numerous people (especially those not local) I wrote and posted a blog. Primarily it tells of an ongoing battle against worry, anxiety, and Fear itself. (For those of you interested you can read it at Tattoo:Solace in Pain 

It was very shortly after writing and posting this that I had this dream... although I'm not overly sure I could call it a dream. I wasn't really asleep, but in a very deep state of meditation...

I'm somewhat hesitant to share this one because there are SO MANY significant symbolisms (to me) that have developed over those 20 plus years; so many other dreams; so many fears and trials, I fear the full weight of this dream might be lost.

~ ~

I watch this dream from some sort of third party, disconnected, disembodied perspective.
Everything was so detailed, so real. It was (quite literally) like watching a movie in HD, 3-D, Technicolor.

From an aerial point of view I watch what I can only imagine was some sort of pilgrim walking.
He wore only a pair of white pants. No top, bare chested, and bare foot. He carried nothing with him. The only other article he possessed (or wore) was some sort of brown – or possibly red – sash around his waist. Possibly made of silk. The colour was difficult to determine because of an odd thick mist that swirled and danced about the landscape; dulling all colours; seemingly sucking the life out them.

He walked alone upon a built up path or road. This road stood about 2 to 3 feet above the grassy plains through which he traveled. The path entered – and continued to pass through – a large hedge-enclosed area. My guess was slightly smaller than a football field.

The sky was overcast and obscured due to this fog. The thick mist moved with an ever so light breeze. And on those rare occasions when this breeze became slightly stronger, the mist would take on the appearance of a hard wind driven blizzard-like snow... and then return to its twisting quiet mist... but some some strange reason it was never cold. Never cold like the hard tiny snow it appeared as.

As this pilgrim walked, my camera-angle (you will have to forgive me here because so movie-like in quality was this dream I am forced to describe it in likewise terms) rotated around him, and as I passed before him I saw his face, and it was me. And as the angle of view returned to his back, he stopped, and I saw what he saw.

I lone figure wading its way through the lowlands of the fields through the mist. Details were nearly impossible to descry, even from this short distance. But as the figure go closer it was obvious that it wore a robe with its head covered with a hood and cowl. It walked with what looking like a large cane or staff. The breeze that swirled the mist made its cowl flutter, but its face remained hidden in that gray misty shadows. 

When the figure was within 10 feet of the traveling pilgrim it twisted its walking staff to a sight angle to reveal that it was a green stone sword, its hilt hidden by the angle the robed figured held it at.
My blood ran cold as I recognized the weapon. It was the same sword from the 8th dream all those 21 years ago. And the details!! I could clearly see and trace the patterns that ran its length. I could see the pits and chips and cracks through the strange green stone...

...and as the robed figure raised its head, the breeze that caused the mist to eddy blew back his cowl and his face became visible, and his face was mine. It was my face, but as it smiled I realized it was as alien as could possibly be. Its eyes were empty as it smiled... and the breeze became slightly stronger and the flesh on his face lifted and flew in small circles in the wind – looking identical to dry dead autumn leaves caught in the wind, and his face with nothing more than a grimacing skull. 
And as the breeze slightly calmed down, the dead dry autumn leaves found their way back and reformed him human-like disguise.

It was at this point that that third-party, disconnected, disembodied perspective ceased, and I became the pilgrim wearing only the white pants and red/brown silk sash around his waist.

The robed figure (me?) quickly flipped the stone sword right-side-up and charged.
The pilgrim (me?) countered and attacked using only martial arts.

I was vaguely aware that I had freedom within this dream. Although I could not avoid this combat, I was in complete control as to the fighting itself. (In the real world, at the time of this dream, I held a Red Belt in Taekwon-do – that's 2 belts short of Black).

I'll gloss over this longest part of the dream. In short, it was these two fighting. But I will repeat what I had said earlier. It was like watching a movie in HD 3-D!

But every time the pilgrim scored a (brutal) hit, the stone-sword-wielding robed figure's flesh would explore off, carried by the wind like dead autumn leaves, only to return and reform it's skin. But still the two combated one another.

It went only like this for some time (And like ringnut's description of rage-dreams, that is very similar to what I was emotionally experiencing – rage, yet controlled. Although the words were never spoken in the dream, the underlying 'message' or 'feel' was this far and no farther!.

The battle changed at one point. The two broke away from each other as the pilgrim stood legs apart and braced with his fists at his side. He seemed to be summoning some sort of energy or power. (As embarrassing as this sounds, it seemed very much like Goku's Kamehameha attack).

Unbeknown to the pilgrim, from behind him came this monstrous dragon. (The exact dragon of my tattoo!) It would seemed to have been 'swimming' through the ground, if such a thing were possible. Every time it arched out and boomed back into the ground was like thunder! And as it slammed into the pilgrim's back he glowed with power! He thrust his hands forward and a gale force wind blew towards the sword-wielding robed figure.

His hood and cowl completely blew back as he fought this wind. His skin stripped from his bones, but this time didn't spin in circles and reattach. This time it left his as nothing but bones; a bare skeleton and skull. And then the pilgrim charged and attacked!
He hit the skeleton with a flying side kick and this time it was shattered bone that blew away.
The sword-wielding figure still struggling against the winds, it's dead dry leaf-like flesh long since gone, and now its bones be shattered with every hit.

I returned to that third-person, disconnected, disembodied perspective and the camera-angle (you must again forgive me) began ascending, giving a more and more bird's eye view of the battling two, the sounds of their combat and the screaming wind becoming smaller and smaller until they would out of sight.

~ ~ 

I then came out of my 'meditative' state. (I woke up) 

Feb. 1/13
I think it is important to identify that there were three aspects of myself present within this dream, not two.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Mirror

Recently (since Sept. 2013) there has been quite a few changes and restructuring at my work. I have taken on quite a bit more work and a much more progressive and active roll in the company's new restructuring.

I have been met with quite a bit of animosity from some co-workers, and in some cases outright confrontations. Some I can understand.

Two individuals were laid-off and I had absorbed their rolls. I can understand their resentment. It doesn't make it any easier, but at least I can understand it.

 But I have been met with animosity and even to some degree hostility by certain others. The way I see it is that in this new direction there is only 3 directions one can actively follow:
  1. Embrace the changes. Step up to plate.
  2. Status Quo. Continue doing your same job and nothing more or nothing new. (Let's see where that goes...), or
  3. Resist change. Become an obstacle. Actively or passively sabotage.
Those who have been 'difficult' belong to the 2nd or 3rd mindset.

But still, that nevertheless didn't sit well with me. (I'm not the only one who has  absorbed new rolls or belongs to the 1st 'position').  I've struggled with the desire to do something about these individuals, but it has always struck me as wrong and out of place.

Recently I stumbled across an old book I read by the Taoist Master Ni, and it was there that I coincidentally found his wisdom and an answer to this mystery.
"...there is the subtle law that rights all wrongs. You can only live your own life honestly and let people be aware by seeing the mirror of their ugliness. You do not need to attack people or correct them by attacking..."
At work you will be judged by your superiors and co-workers. Right or wrong, it will inevitably happen.

At work, you can only be judged with two things: your work ethic and your workmanship. Anything else is inconsequential or petty.

These two things are a mirror.
What these people hate isn't the mirror.
They hate and fear the reflection they see within it.
There is no need to coerce (take action).

I don't know if that makes any easiler, but it helped me out greatly. It was the answer and wisdom I was looking for.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tide Pool

Our dreaming mind has access to certain imaginative abilities  not fully realized by our waking minds.
It can 'take' us places as seemingly real and memorable as our actual experiences.
Recently, while in a deep state of meditation, I had tapped into this ability.

To my back was a smooth sandstone cliff. It passed onto my left and angled away around a point. There was no rubble or scree, and at the base of the cliff the red stone turned into a shallowly submerged floor of wave-rippled sandstone. It was ocean water and salty. When I slipped into the shallow water it was as deep as my chest and warmed by the noon hour sun.

The only waves on the surface was caused by myself. The water was otherwise smooth and still. I could see, further out (200-300 feet?) some sort of nature stone breaker and could faintly hear the ocean lapping against it. I suppose it was where the sandstone floor abruptly rose and dropped off into the ocean. I'm not sure. I didn't give it much thought. I was more focused on the feel of the rippled sandstone floor on my bare feet and the colour of the clear water over the red stone. Slightly greenish it was - or maybe it wan an optical illusion.

It was comfortable and unbelievably refreshing. I was calm and at peace. I also know that, not only did I create this location, but that I was in complete control of it. I didn't 'happen upon it' and gain control - I chose it.

But real?! When I looked at the sun I would squint. I could feel the water, its temperature; I could smell its freshness and warmth; I could feel the air and breeze; the goosebumps across my bare shoulders and upper back when I came too far out of the water.

It was all real yet totally within my imagination.

I was not asleep. It was early morning, about 6:30 am, and still dark out. It was cold that morning. Somewhere around -30 degrees (C) with the windchill... and I was on the bus, going to work, meditating.

I chose when I left the large sandstone tide-pool. I was awake on the bus, deep in mediation, and acutely aware.


We are not our memories.
We can't be our experiences.
Because we remember and experience our dreams.
I was never at that tranquil tide-pool; but I have the experience and memory of it.