Death: Science vs. Religion

Christopher Bullock, a British actor once said, “Tis impossible to be certain of any thing but death and taxes.” And this much is inevitably true. If there’s one thing that every person in this world has in common, it’s the fact that we’re all going to die someday. I was exposed to death at an early age, given the passing of my brother before I had reached my teen years. From that point on, my perspective and interest in the topic of death has followed me throughout my entire life.

Most people in general avoid the topic of death as they prefer not to think about the prospect of their lives coming to an end. For the most part, this is because of the fear that accompanies the unknown circumstances surrounding death. After all, no one truly knows what happens once the body dies. The thought of simply ceasing to exist is frightening, to say the least. It’s frightening, even to me. And I’ve had a LOT of experience witnessing and dealing with death.

So what’s the real deal? What happens after death? The physiological results are well-documented and well-known, so I’m just going to go ahead and ignore those since we’re focusing on what happens to the PERSON after death. Not the body. I read a great blog post over a year ago, where the author went into detail about how at this point we should be acknowledging the existence of an afterlife, based on how many accounts there have been from people who have reached the brink and peeked through. The post explained how it should be a foregone conclusion of SOMETHING that occurs after death, as opposed to wondering IF.

Some have even come back with information and details that they wouldn’t have known otherwise, unless they had spoken to passed relatives and such. Could some of it be coincidence? Maybe. It wouldn’t be the first times that a person was made privy to information that they heard on a subliminal level and only remembered when hitting a comatose stage. It’s possible that the person is remembering a detail that they didn’t know they had heard. But coincidence will only take you so far, with people admitting to hearing and knowing details discussed outside the room while they were clinically dead, etc.

So, let’s examine the difference between the scientific approach and the religious approach. Catholicism is pretty straightforward and you can learn everything you need to know about death by reading the Holy Bible. Easy-peasy. Heaven, hell and the related steps are pretty clearly outlined for someone willing to read through it. Most Buddhist sects have a pretty firm belief that the end of one life simply transitions you into the next, with the person’s spirit leaving one body and finding a new life to live.

Some sects also believe that one’s reincarnation will depend on what kind of existence you led in the previous life. Bad people will become dung beetles. Good people become something better and so on and so forth. There are deeper details than that involved, but I won’t get too far beyond the fact that we believe in past lives and reincarnation. Of course, different schools of faith will have different beliefs but Buddhism and Catholicism is what I know. So there. The bottom line is that if you’re a believer in faith, life after death is a possible belief you carry. The only way to know whether it’s true or not is to take that last Nestea plunge. And then you’d be in no position to actually share the information anyway.

From a science standpoint, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we are all energy. And that’s not just a Buddhist perspective; we literally are made of energy. We’re composed of atoms, which are made of energy. Pure and simple. Electrical and chemical reactions within the body have been said to be enough to produce approximately 100 Watts of power in the average human body. Before I go down a rabbit hole of biology, let’s take a look at physics, instead. Depending on what level of physics you may be/have studied, the First Law of Thermodynamics tells us that energy is always conserved and can be changed from one form to another; never created or destroyed.

What does this mean for the human body at death? From a scientific standpoint, one would be inclined to believe that one’s energy will need to go somewhere and become SOMETHING. We simply don’t know what. If your belief is from a more theological standpoint, then the belief in an afterlife is a given and your spirit will depart the body and go up or down, depending on your specific beliefs. So one way or another, it would be reasonable to say that you’re covered. You’ll move on to a “next stage” after death. I should probably point out that this is all speculation on my part. I’m no theologian. And I’m sure as hell not a scientist. But I think that examining a subject that most people try to avoid such as death, is a good way of dispelling some of the fear and anxiety that comes along with it.

Last but certainly not least is who a person is as an individual. Our consciousness and self-awareness is something that is very hard to believe will simply blink out of existence at the point of death. I think, therefore I am, right? Consciousness needs to count for more than just a bunch of chemical and neural components of the flesh. I would think. Ultimately, the only way to know for sure will be to take that final road trip to whatever awaits. I’m sure as hell in no hurry to take that trip. All things in time. But to quote David Bowie, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” ☯

Time To KID Around, Part 3 (The Religion Aspect)

I’m going to start out this post by saying that it isn’t intended to judge or denounce anyone’s personal choices in relation to their children, nor am I trying to say that any one school of faith is better than another. Hey, I’m a man of pretty deep faith myself. But in today’s charged climate of becoming offended at absolutely anything and everything, I feel it’s important to point out that the content of this post is my opinion only. Although I’m always open to other people’s comments and/or questions, please keep them respectful, should you happen NOT to agree with my perspective here. As the last and most controversial post in my KID trilogy, religion continues to play a pretty dominant role in some households.

While faith can be a good thing, forcing one’s kids into it can have negative and even detrimental effects. When I was a child, I had Catholicism forced down my throat. My mother had gone to the seminary during an earlier chapter of her life. I had aunts who were missionary nuns and my Grandmother was about as close to the term “Bible thumper” as you can get without becoming offensive. One of the bigger problems is the fact that an hour-long sermon can be pretty damned boring to a small child, especially when they don’t understand what’s going on. It’s even worse when it’s forced upon you.

My Father worked shift work and I’ve never seen him set foot in a church for anything but a wedding or a funeral. But even on days when my brother was sick and my mother had to stay at home, I was still expected (forced, actually) to jump on my bike and go sit through church on my own. My mother would even go as far as asking me what the topic of the day’s sermon was, ensuring that I paid attention and stayed awake. Kids don’t like having things imposed on them at the best of times. Is it any wonder that I stepped away from organized religion as soon as my mother allowed me the choice?

The irony is, I have a deep love for the Holy Bible. I own two copies. Have you ever read that thing? There’s a reason why it’s one of the all-time most popular books in the world. If I had been permitted to explore the aspects of Catholicism on my own, there’s no telling what level of interest I would have developed during my formative years. Instead, I turned away and renounced any association with organized religion, much to my family’s dismay.

I found Buddhism almost by accident as a byproduct of my martial art’s training. What drew me to it was the peace of mind, body and soul. Also, the acceptance of everyone else’s faith-based perspective is a winning aspect as well. My wife’s family is of a different faith, but it’s not something that ever caused a problem between the two of us. And the important thing is that neither faith will be imposed on our children. Not everyone will necessarily agree with that perspective, and that’s okay. But I believe it’s important for someone to FIND their faith and understand what it is they’re getting into. I’ve seen too many young ones who are introduced into a school of faith without properly learning the basics concepts of birth, life and death.

Nathan, pretending to meditate

I feel that religion falls under the same category as martial arts; you shouldn’t force your children into it. Rather, be the example, guide them in the right direction and teach them right from wrong. No matter what your religion, if you let them choose and show them the way you’ll be surprised at how easily their curiosity will lead them to come to you. We’ve grown and evolved to the extent that although faith is still an important aspect of modern society, the right to choose is just as important. As I bring this trilogy post to a close, I feel it’s important for me to repeat what I mentioned in the opening paragraph. This post isn’t intended as a judgement against people’s choices or how they deal with the topic of religion with their children or within their household.

Rather, it’s simply meant get one’s wheels turning in relation to all three of the main topics that my blog is based on: martial arts, Diabetes and Buddhism. My son has seen me meditating on numerous occasions and has occasionally asked what I’m doing and why. Sometimes he imitates me, sometimes he just sits there and watches. Perhaps eventually he’ll get curious enough to ask deeper questions. Until then, as with all things related to our children, patience is key. ☯

Can There Be Hatred In Honor?

The title of today’s post poses an important question: Can you have honor while simultaneously hating another person/thing? The easy answer would be no. No you can’t. And the reason is quite simple. At its core, honor suggests a level of respect that you can’t achieve while hating something. This brings us to the question of whether you can respect a person or thing while hating them, but I don’t want to fall too far down the rabbit hole. Rather, the subject of today’s post is to focus on a strange phenomenon that I’ve seen in the martial for decades. I’m talking about the tendency to dislike and/or hate styles that are not our own. And it happens much more than one thinks.

I first ran into this phenomenon in the late 90’s, early 2000’s when I met a guy who had mutual friends within my small group of associates. We got to chatting one night and it was discovered that he also studied karate. I was a brown belt at the time and somewhat in the prime of my physical abilities, such as they were. But we got to discussing karate in greater detail and he revealed that he studied a style called Kyokushinkai. For those who may not be familiar with this style, it’s one that was developed and founded in 1964 by Masutatsu Oyama and loosely translates as “the ultimate truth,” making it less than a century old and one of the youngest styles of Japanese karate, with the exception of its own off-shoot styles.

When he asked what style I studied and I answered Uechi-Ryu, he asked if that was a style descendent from Naha-Te. I replied that it was and he sniffed and hitched his pants up and said, “Kyokushinkai incorporates Naha-Te as well…” He went on to explain the premise of his style involved constant, full-contact training to overcome the fear of being struck. I was always one to prefer learning to effectively block to PREVENT being struck, but that’s just me. But he showed a visible level of disgust at the fact I would study anything but the style he was in, and his bravado showed that he thought very little of MY karate.

Now, don’t get me wrong… Kyokushinkai is an effective style of karate, despite the fact that Master Oyama created it by bastardizing and combining elements from Shuri-te, Naha-Te, Tomari-te, Goju-Ryu, Shotokan and Shito-Ryu. Quite a colourful soup bowl, which rather goes against the whole premise of “One life, one love, one style” that most Okinawan karate practitioners believe in. But the style even practices Sanchin, one of the basic katas associated with my style, proving that most styles of karate share a background or ancestry that can be measured.

There’s a big difference between feeling one’s style is the better one and openly disrespecting and disliking another. I sincerely felt that the other martial artist disrespected my years of training and hard work with his belief that his style was “superior” and “the only real school of karate.” The boasting and the bravado went against what I was taught as a martial artist and what’s more, ended the friendship before it truly began. He might have been a great guy, overall. But when the first thing you have in common becomes a thorn in your foot, it’s a little hard to carry on.

Truthfully, one needs to understand that there is no such thing as a “bad style.” Simply a style that’s better suited to the practitioner. There are plenty of reasons why I would never practice Tae Kwon Do, but it can be easily argued as an effective martial art. In fact, one of the few combatants who genuinely rang my bell but good, was a practitioner of TKD, and he was more than quite good. The same can be said of any style, unless you refer to one of these jokers “knocking” people out by waving a hand at them… That shit’s crazy! But I digress…

A good analogy that I’ve enjoyed using to explain this to others, is one that I’ve used in martial arts circles and in my professional life. Imagine you’re installing a new bathroom in your home and the time has come to run water lines into your shower. In order to do the necessary plumbing, you’ll contact a plumber versus an electrician. By the same principle, you’ll contact the electrician to install your lighting and electricity as opposed to letting the plumber do it. Both are trained professionals, capable and necessary in their respective fields. But what they do is inherently different. Neither one is better than the other; just different.

This analogy applies to the martial arts, as well. All schools, styles and types of martial arts are different. No one style is better than any other; just different. I’ve been studying Uechi-Ryu for 33 years, this year. But I’ve trained and practiced in Kobudo, Kenpo, Kendo, Judo and Tae Kwon Do. No one will ever convince me that any of those styles are better than mine. But I can respect that they’re just as good, in their own way and offer a different perspective into an art I’ve studied for most of my life.

This is why it’s so important to respect other schools and styles and to understand that if you tried it and didn’t like it, it isn’t because it was inherently bad. It simply wasn’t for you. This is without including the whole McDojo element in the equation, of course. But if one is to have true honor and respect, then genuine dislike and hatred for other styles can’t be something one permits oneself to feel. After all, this isn’t a bad, old-school kung-fu movie. Dojo rivalries were never really a thing on Okinawa, and that’s where karate was founded. It would be reasonable to think that it should exist today, either. ☯

In Memoriam

Siblings can be a Light-send, despite the occasional rivalry. Not only do they share blood ties, they can be your backup in times of trouble, a welcome celebrater in times of joy and a tandem member of the same generation with whom you can grow up and share the memories of life with. This makes it all the more tragic when one of these siblings leaves this life before they were rightfully intended. This also brings me to my older brother, Stéphane.

On this day 30 years ago, in the early morning hours, I was awoken by my mother who told me that we had to get dressed and get to the hospital as my brother was comatose and would likely die before sunrise. Being as I was only 13 years old, my concept of death held no comfort for me and in fact, simply told me that I would be losing my only sibling and never see him again after this visit. This was mixed with the unhealthy belief I had developed from years of seeing him “on the brink,” only to come out of it and be released from the hospital a few short days later. The first night of my life that I was wrong would prove to be the last night of his.

We arrived at the hospital shortly after midnight. We were met at the elevator as we exited on my brother’s floor, by our family doctor and long-time friend, Dr. Edward Furlong. Some readers from New Brunswick (if there are any for this post) may recognize that name as he was also the Minister of Health and subsequently, Minister of Education for New Brunswick during the first decades of the 2000’s. He greeted us solemnly and walked us to my brother’s room. We could hear his moans floating down the hallway, which elicited my first and only question of the night: “I thought he was in a coma?” The doctor explained that he was, but that some unresponsive people could still make sound, under certain circumstances.

I walked into a scene that until that point, I had only seen on television. My brother was lying on his back with his head slightly elevated. He had tubes coming out of both arms, his nose and all about his head. There were multiple machines with displays, beeping and moving with a measurable rhythm. And once or twice every minute, a low moan of pain escaped from my brother’s unpainted lips. The scene immediately melted any illusions I had for his survival, as similar scenes I’d scene in movies were usually one that accompanied death, soon after. I broke into tears at the realization that this genuinely was the last night I would see my brother alive.

My parents discussed providing me with a private room so that I could potentially get some sleep as it was expected to be an extremely long night. My parents held fast to the belief that my brother would pull through, so they had unfounded expectations I would be going to school the following day. I was brought to an unoccupied room on the other side of the hospital’s wing, a fact which would become important, later in the story. I took off my shoes and slipped under the starched hospital sheets. Although it was the middle of the night and I was exhausted, I obviously couldn’t fall asleep.

I was pretty much a sobbing mess, thinking about all the times when I’d been frustrated and angry with my brother. Instead of focusing on all the good memories, thoughts of all the times we fought or disagreed came to mind, generously sprinkled with the number of times I said harsh or cruel words to him. I instantly regretted each and every one of them and swore a silent oath to make it up to him if I were ever given the opportunity, painfully unaware the chance would never present itself. I was visited frequently by either of my parents, Dr. Furlong and the score of nurses who were keeping an eye on me. I couldn’t hear my brother from where I was, but the constant visits kept me on edge as I kept expecting every person to be the one who would ultimately bring bad news.

Short minutes after the 3 a.m. hour I finally fell into a peaceful sleep, which would be immediately interrupted by my father who had come to announce that my brother had passed away, almost to the very minute that I had fallen asleep. At the risk of sounding creepy, my mother’s side of the family has been often known for strange coincidences such as this. But even the nurse who had been keeping an eye on me was able to confirm that I had fallen asleep almost to the minute that my brother finally passed. I like to think of it as his way of sharing some much-needed peace as he finally obtained his.

The weeks that followed were a blur and quite surreal. At my young age, I had unfortunately attended funerals before but never for a member of my immediate family. During the funeral viewings over two days, I sat a chair next to his coffin and never left his side, painfully aware that once that lid was closed I would never set eyes on my older brother again. It was the greatest sense of loss I had ever felt in my life to that point, for a much needed life lesson that nobody wants. Once the funeral was over, my parents and I took a trip up the Gaspé coast to get away for a bit. It was a pleasant trip, but there was always something to remind me that our family unit was a member short. And always would be.

So, why would I choose to write about this today? Well, besides the fact that today marks the 30th anniversary of his death (despite not being something one celebrates) it also dawned on me that I usually observe this day privately and I’ve never written my thoughts on how that night impacted me. And I believe it’s important. I’ve written about my brother before, and I can tell you that his personality and willingness to fight to live and survive was passed on to me. He is the biggest inspiration in my life in relation to fighting the odds, no matter what. I attribute my ability to never give up and think positive to him. He was certainly more of a teacher to me than he was ever aware.

My brother Stéphane (Left) and I

At the end of all things, his cause of death was heart failure, despite the multitude of health issues that could have done him in sooner. There is great irony in the fact that despite being a young man with the biggest heart, his heart was what finally gave out. I guess that makes sense as his heart was always what he used most. Even now, 30 years after the fact, I’m still brought to tears while writing these words. Considering I’m not the most emotional dude on the block (some rocks show more emotion than I usually do) this goes a long way towards showing the impact he had on my life, for as short a time as we were together.

Hold your loved ones close, dear readers. I often say that life doesn’t care about one’s plans. And we never know when we may lose someone near and dear, or when this life ends for ourselves. It warms my heart to know that my son Nathan now has a younger brother, Alex. Whether he realizes it or not, it’s comforting to know that he’ll have some backup, should anything ever happen to my wife and I. Even now, I pray you’re resting in peace, brother. Whether in this life or the next, I’m confident we’ll see each other again. ☯

Musical Meditation

One of the beautiful things that I’ve discovered about meditation over the decades, is that there are so many ways to do it. In fact, I would challenge you to go Google “Types of meditation” and I can promise you, you’ll get some lists. Some of the best and more prominent examples I can think of include yoga, which is stretching movements that prepare the body for extended periods of sitting for meditation, and Tai Chi, which although a martial art, holds many aspects of moving meditation and almost puts you in a meditative state if you’re practiced enough to go through your movements on muscle memory alone.

But if you look into it, even on its surface, you’ve got moving meditation, sitting meditation, mindfulness meditation, focused meditation… It can become a bit convoluted, especially if you’re a beginner and are looking to TRY meditation and aren’t certain which type would be right for you. In Zen Buddhism, we practice a form of meditation referred to as “Zazen,” which is loosely translated as “seated meditation. Since some different branches of Buddhism describe and define Zazen differently, I won’t muddy the waters by going into deep detail. But there are some really great pages that provide insight on the specifics.

As for myself, meditation can be difficult even if I’ve been doing it for decades, thanks to a lovely batch of medically-defined acronyms that make the inside of my mind feel like it’s hurtling through space on hyperdrive on a constant basis. This is why, through the practice of meditation, I usually try to empty my mind and think of nothing. Depending on your philosophical background, thinking of nothing is still thinking of something so it opens up a whole can of worms. But the practice of “no mindness” is described by the term mushin.

Mushin is translated simply as “no mind” and since thinking about not thinking or “nonthinking” is a part of Zazen, they go very well, hand-in-hand. Confused yet? Got a headache? Need to go do a quick shot of whiskey to get through all my confusing etymology? Go ahead. I’ll wait… Mushin is a term used a lot in karate as well, as the development and practice of our forms, or kata, require us to know them well enough to allow the body to do them on instinct while thinking of nothing. So I’ve been familiar with the term for some time.

But when your mind is as busy as mine, you sometimes need an extra bit of something to help you focus. And this is where music comes in. Although traditional dojos won’t usually play music during training, I’ve found that music can be an excellent addition to your training regiment and adds a certain little something. IN fact, you can read my thoughts on that very topic here. I’m surprised I found that old post, since I wrote it in February of LAST year and after almost 800 posts in just over two years, I’m starting to forget what I’ve written about and what I haven’t. But I digress…

My point is, a little touch of music can go a long way towards making your meditation efforts easier and more effective. For myself, I enjoy having some classical music playing in the background. The complexity of sound and varying tones and volumes occupy my conscious mind, making it possible for my subconscious to stretch its legs and feel around a bit, unhindered. By focusing on one singular aspect of external stimuli, it allows thoughts and ideas to float on by without my getting involved with them, which is a big part of Zazen.

I also have several hundred “spa” type instrumental songs or “meditative music” on my devices, and those are extremely helpful as well. If you meditate frequently but have never tried music, I highly recommend it. Listening to music on its own has been proven to reduce stress, depression and elevate your mood. There are even studies that have shown it helps with heart-health as it improves blood flow. I have no source on that last one, but it’s pretty cool if it’s true. So add music to meditation, and I’d say that’s a pretty calming combination.

Meditation is one of those things I could write about or talk about at length. But in the interest of keeping my posts readable without having y’all fall asleep at the keyboard or on your devices, I’ll call it quits here. But should any of you have questions or curiosities about meditation, I’m always up for a good discussion. Feel free to reach out. Otherwise, settle into a nice seiza, put on some soft music and let your mind think of not thinking… ☯

Two Strikes, You’re Out…

I think it’s a pretty fair assumption to say that war is a horrible thing. Although will will, by definition be a winning side and a losing side, I think we can all agree that everyone loses when war becomes the only viable option. It should be obvious that I would oppose war, given that it kind of goes against the whole “don’t spread suffering” thing that we Buddhist likes to tell people. But in an effort to let go of this morning’s sarcasm (like I could ever do that), there have been countless wars throughout human history; many of which we don’t even know about as they haven’t been covered by mainstream media.

Every war and/or battle has its horror and losses, but few have resonated with the world quite like the dropping of the atomic bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. Japan has always held a special place in my heart, as I’ve grown up and been exposed to its history and culture almost more so than my own. And once in a blue moon, while researching one thing I’ll stumble upon something else. This brings me to Mr. Tsutomu Yamaguchi.

I was following a routine for a while where I would write about an influential martial artist that either inspired me through their films or impressed me and drew me to the martial arts through their skills. But it dawns on me that the martial arts incorporates a lot of values that are rarely discussed. Things such as indomitable will, perseverance and survival instinct. And those values can be inspiring as well. Yamaguchi’s story resonates with me, because it shows how indomitable a person can really be, even when faced with lethal devastation.

To provide a bit of background, Yamaguchi was employed by the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as an engineer. On August 6th, 1945 he unfortunately found himself in Hiroshima when “Little Boy” was dropped. He had been in Hiroshima for a period of time on business, and was a only a couple of miles away from the spot that Little Boy exploded. He suffered several injuries, including temporary blindness, ruptured eardrums and radiation burns. But he managed to make his way to a bomb shelter and take refuge. He spent the night in this shelter before returning to Nagasaki the following day, which is where he lived.

Now, I want all of you to think about this for a second… A massive explosion takes place, miles away from where you’re standing. Not only does it still manage to knock you off your feet, but you find yourself temporarily blind, deaf and burned. But you still have the sheer strength of will and wantonness to survive and crawl yourself to a shelter. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty badass, all things considered. I don’t know if I’d have that much fortitude and I think that a good percentage of people in today’s society would likely curl up into the fetal position ad wait to be rescued. I’ve seen some people do that for non-lethal injuries. But I digress…

On August 7th, 1945 Yamaguchi returned to Nagasaki and on the morning of August 9th, he reported to work. Are you kidding me??? I’ve seen coworkers of mine call in sick because their SPOUSE didn’t get enough sleep but this guy survives a nuclear bomb drop and goes to work just over 48 hours afterwards, despite being injured? Like I said… badass! Anyway, to add salt to the wound, Yamaguchi was at work describing the Hiroshima blast to his boss when “Fat Boy” was dropped on Nagasaki. Once again, he found himself at a couple miles away from the blast and survived once again.

Despite being present at both atomic bombings, Yamaguchi went on to live a long and reasonably healthy life before succumbing to stomach cancer and passing away in 2010 at 93 years old. He kind of reminds me of my grandfather, with the exception that my grandfather was a soldier when exposed to war. The takeaway is that Yamaguchi was an engineer, a civilian and the unfortunate reality is that the innocent always pay a cost when wars are fought.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi’s story is inspiring to me because he continued to push on and fight, despite the deadly adversity he faced throughout that period in history. He was a husband and father of two daughters and live nearly a century. His will to survive was incredible and if nothing else, the man deserves a tip of the cap for his work ethic. I’m pretty certain that if an atomic bomb got dropped in Regina today, I likely wouldn’t be reporting to work a couple days later and discussing it with my boss as though it was nothing.

There were apparently many people to survive both bombings, but Yamaguchi became the only one recognized by his government as having done so. Either way, he may not know of the impact and influence he’s had on the world as a result of his will to survive. But he definitely inspired me. It’s important to keep on fighting the good fight and survive no matter the obstacles you face. You’ll be all the better for it. ☯

Zen And The Art Of Buddhism

One of the things I’m often asked is for the specifics of Buddhism and I often receive a shocked look when I don’t have an immediate answer. I usually try to explain to the person inquiring that I don’t necessarily know EVERYTHING about Buddhism, which is why I usually refer to it as a “study” as opposed to a “religion.” There’s always something new to learn and the same can be said of any faith or school of thought. And like any similar faith, there are different types and sects that accompany them.

To be honest, I don’t really want to get into all the different types of Buddhism as it can get pretty convoluted and including all the pertinent details will make this post WAY longer than it genuinely needs to be. Besides, I covered the different sects of Buddhism and you can read all about it here. But what I can say is that Zen Buddhism as I study it, originates from a Chinese form of Zen known as Ch’an. This was a form of Mahayana Buddhism that made its way to China sometime in the 6th century from India, which is where the roots of Buddhism originate from.

Zen made its way to Japan a couple of centuries later (or up to six centuries later, depending on your information source) and the term “Zen” is a Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word for “meditation,” which is the main bullet point behind what Zen Buddhism is all about. Many scholars and information sources will describe Zen as a stripped-down version of Buddhism, devoid of scripture or official, set practices. Although this is true to an extent, Zen does prescribe to certain things like the Four Noble Truths and The noble Eightfold Path.

Zen owes its beginnings to a rich soup bowl of philosophies and doctrines, including some influence from Taoism and Confucianism, especially due to its development in China. But Zen does focus primarily on the balancing of oneself through the practice of meditation in order to attain enlightenment. I’m still working on it, by the way. But control of one’s self, including restraint, discipline and the contemplation of life and its nature are all integral components to the Zen way of being. I think that this is often one of the reasons why Buddhism holds the attention of people in the Western world; because they think it’s all sitting and meditation. They’re not ENTIRELY wrong…

At the end of the day, I consider Zen to be a path towards bettering myself and finding some modicum of peace in an otherwise chaotic world. The success of that peace depends on the willingness to put in the time and effort and you may be surprised to learn that Zen incorporates certain practices such as exercising, waking up early and practicing a consistent norm of meditation, which is not always easy in the modern, family dynamic. I like to think that I’ve become pretty proficient at meditation in the past twenty years, but have you ever tried to centre yourself and fall into a deep meditation with your 6-year old breathing into your ear? Not so easy. ☯

The Most Difficult Choice…

As is the case when I have a few free moments, I was letting myself fall down the YouTube rabbit hole last week when I came across a short video that I thought was some sort of Spider-Man fan fiction. I enjoy Spider-Man as much as the next comic enthusiast and it was only a four-minute video, so I clicked on it to see what it contained. It turns out that it was the ending to “Marvel’s Spider-Man” video game on the Playstation 4 and it was emotionally crushing…

I’ll link the YouTube video at the end so that you can watch for yourself but despite the lesser graphics involved in the facial expressions, this is the first time that the ending to a video game nearly moved me to tears. Anyone who’s read any of the comics or watched any of the movies is likely aware that Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man’s Aunt May is the one who deals with raising a super-powered teenager on her own after her husband dies.

I haven’t played this video game; in fact, I haven’t had a game system in this house since I sold my xBox 360 last year. But the game seems to involve a sickness of some sort that requires inoculation through a serum. The clip I watched shows Aunt May laid up in a surgical bed, apparently dying of this sickness with Spider-Man standing nearby holding the only vial of serum. The doctor who’s apparently overseeing things tells Spider-Man that he can give May the serum and she’ll live, but the cost will be that there will none left to replicate and millions will die. Or he can let Aunt May die and allow the serum to be replicate, thereby stopping the sickness and saving uncountable lives.

The scene is powerful and emotional, and you can feel the tortured effort as Spider-Man makes the difficult yet apparently correct choice by slamming the vial down and walking away. The YouTube clip ends with the scene of May’s burial, where her headstone reads, “When you help someone, you help everyone.” Despite the dim, cold basement I was watching this from, I felt the heat rise in my face and the telltale lump in my throat that predicted the tears that would inevitably start welling up. In the midst of my emotional vulnerability, it led me to wonder: could I have made that choice? Could I have let someone I love die in order to save millions?

This isn’t the first time that an impossible dilemma is presented to a protagonist. I’m reminded of “Sophie’s Choice,” a movie from 1982 where the lead character portrays a polish immigrant who had to choose which one of her two children would be killed and which one would accompany her to a concentration camp. The terror and internal struggle, not to mention living with the decision afterwards, is unimaginable. There have been plenty of other such examples in cinema and books but that ones sticks with me.

Imagine this scenario for a moment… You’re sitting by a loved one’s bedside. Maybe it’s a spouse or a child. And you’re given a choice: cure them and let them live but others will die or let your loved one die and possibly save the lives of multiple people. Could you make that choice? WOULD you make that choice? I think that at the heart of it, we’re all aware of what the right thing to do would be, but acknowledging it and being capable of it are two entirely different things. I’ve always considered myself a good person, yet I don’t know if I could bring myself to let my wife or one of my children die, even if meant saving multiple lives. Some would call this selfish, but it’s part of the internal morals we all have that sees us want to protect the ones we love above all.

Anyway, I know this isn’t a bright, happy post but it’s certainly one to get you thinking. We often take life for granted and the reality is that choices that are depicted in the clip below often do happen, albeit maybe not including costumed heroes and a city-wide sickness. People are forced to make “live or die” choices for loved ones on a daily basis and I can’t imagine the torture involved in making such a choice. Hug your loved ones close, folks. And pray that such a choice is never yours to make. Here’s the video clip… ☯

Why So Negative?

There is suffering in the world. You may have heard me say this a time or two, and it’s one of the basics behind the study of Buddhism and trying to find inner peace. In my experience, a good amount of that suffering stems from people’s negativity and complaining. I’m certainly not innocent of this, as I occasionally do my fair share of complaining about stuff, but long-term negativity can lead to a host of problematic issues within one’s own life (which I wrote about here).

A few months ago, after some soul-searching and because of certain professional needs, I decided to reconnect with the social media world. I had closed down all of my social media accounts back in late-2018 and with the exception of this blog and email, I had no contact with the online world. I got my news and current events from the radio like I did when I was a kid, and from word-of-mouth. The latter is nice, especially due to the current state of the world as it allows me to connect with people in a direct way as opposed to through a computer screen.

Although it’s been wonderful to reconnect with some old friends that I would otherwise be unable to communicate with, I’ve also been bombarded with a social feed FILLED with negativity. The worst part, and what’s caught me by surprise, is that most of it always seems to come from the same handful of people. Although one can easily believe that we all have some of “those days” when we need to vent and complain, there’s something inherently wrong if every day, every post and every comment includes negative content or “speaking out” against someone or something.

I’m actually a big fan of the “scroll on by” concept, wherein one can simply ignore and move on when they see something they don’t agree with online. But despite that concept, there’s a definite effect that involves negativity encouraging negativity. It’s kind of the same effect that leads to riots and mass disturbances; being exposed to it in the immediate moment or the long term will eventually cause you to join in. After all, human beings are inherently pack animals.

If you haven’t read the previous post that I linked in the opening paragraph, take a quick look to see what actual physiological effects that constant negativity will have on your body. People don’t realize that when they’re in a constant state of complaining and negativity that they’re not just working towards pissing off the people in their immediate environment, they also cause damage to themselves. Take a look at someone who has an ulcer as a result of years of stress, fear and/or trauma. Negativity can easily takes its toll…

Folks, it’s easy for me to sit behind my keyboard and try to tell everyone to stop being so fuckin’ negative… I would love it if society understood that the problems of the world should be dealt with rather than posted about. I often think about my chosen career as a prime example. There are a lot of people who like to complain about my industry. But those people are always more than welcome to train for it and see if they can do better. But at the end of the day, we should all be working a little bit harder to try and keep things positive.

More than anything else, this is what the world needs, right now. Not complaining about the state of affairs, how matters in the public are dealt with or constantly bashing one’s own industries. And not everyone needs to hear you complain about why you think something is wrong, especially when law and perspective may prove otherwise. Negativity is insidious, and you’ll be surprise to look up eventually and realize that if all you do is complain and be negative, that’ll be the environment you exist in. And there’s no easier way to guarantee unhappiness than to be negative all the time. I’m sure y’all know some people like this. Now if you’ll excuse me, I got some folks to unfollow and scroll on past… ☯

Keep Pushing Hard…

Life doesn’t care about one’s plans. That’s one of my most frequently used sayings across all the forums I post on, and many people feel that it has a negative connotation to it. Honestly, nothing could be further from the truth. I repeat this short phrase, almost like a mantra on a daily basis because it reminds me that I need to keep pushing and working at everything in life. And so do you. It isn’t intended as a negative thing, it simply represents the fact that if you lie on the floor curled up in a little ball instead of getting up and working at making things happen for yourself, nothing ever will.

And this leads to suffering in one’s own life. As I’ve written about before, Buddhism has this lovely concept of Four Noble Truths; the first two being the acknowledgement of suffering and the second being that this suffering is caused by us. I always like to push it one step further and point out that most of one’s suffering is self-inflicted. It’s for this reason that it’s important that one takes the necessary steps to get up and go.

A good analogy that I’ve used on others before, is to think about the remote control to your television. When I was a kid, you had to get up off your ass and turn the dial in order to change a channel… All three channels that you HAD, depending on how well your rabbit ears were aligned. Yes, I’m THAT old… My point is, modern televisions involve remote controls and many models don’t even feature physical buttons on the actual device anymore. Times have somewhat changed.

Now imagine that the batteries in your remote are dead. If you sit back and wait for the incidental chance that someone will come along and change them out for you, you’ll likely go without the binge-watching session you had planned. Especially since no one likely knows your batteries are even dead. So, maintain your own batteries. Keep yourself charged and moving. Batteries are a good analogy, too! Like a friend of mine has told me, “Be like a battery… Some negative, some positive but all power.” Man, I gotta get that printed on a t-shirt! Daryl, if you’re reading this, beers are calling, damn it!

I guess what I’m trying to get at with this poor attempt at a Monday motivation, is that there’s no turning back. Most people live regretting the past and wishing for the future and in doing so, miss out on the present. Life is hard. It’s not MEANT to be easy. If it were, where would the challenge be? That’s why the expression is “going THROUGH hell,” not “getting to hell, suffering a bit but turning back eventually.” Shit happens, bad things fall in our laps. But we owe it to ourselves to keep fighting the good fight, no matter how hopeless or tiring it may seem. No only up is through, so you need to keep pushing.

Instead of saying I regret that, say I look forward to this…
Instead of saying I wish I had, say I WILL!
Instead of Too bad that happened to me, say I will protect myself and learn from my mistakes!
Instead of I failed, say I made a mistake but I’ll recover and win!

Y’all get what I’m throwing down, here? Does it makes as much sense in print as it does in my head? Sometimes the thoughts in my head sound great but they tend to move faster than my fingers can type, so it doesn’t always have the desired impact. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to cut yourself a break. Mistakes and hardships are how we learn and grow. There would be no progress without it. As long as you’ve learned from it and you refuse to stop fighting, you may lose the occasional battle but you’ll ultimately win the war. ☯