Let’s See You Suffer Through This Post…

I talk about suffering a lot in some of my posts, and I come by it honestly. As most Buddhists know, the acknowledgement and elimination of suffering are some of the basic concepts behind Buddhism. In fact, Buddhism at its core is based on something referred to as the Four Noble Truths. Those truths are: the existence of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering and the path required to END suffering. That last one ties into the Noble Eightfold Path, but I don’t want to delve too deeply into the religious or philosophical side of things. I wanna talk about suffering…

Dharma Wheel depicting the Noble Eightfold Path

When someone uses the word “suffering,” most people will associate it with terminal disease, war, poverty or extreme tragedy. But the reality is that suffering is a very common and everyday thing. But realistically, “suffering” is defined as “the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship.” Tell me that there hasn’t been at least a BIT of that in your everyday life. Suffering comes in various forms and as it happens, we often don’t recognize it for what it is.

The elimination of suffering is the way to peace. Letting go of hate, stopping the propagation of aggression and allowing yourself to let go of the little things is what will ultimately lead to a happier life. This isn’t always an easy thing. In modern society, some people just want to watch the world burn. The unfortunate reality is that sometimes, you end up caught in the flames.

So when you’re reading my posts and I mention the “elimination of suffering,” this is usually what I’m referring to. No, I’m not depressed or in some deep stage of suffering, myself. I simply relate my writing to the everyday things that cause everyday hardships. And there are a lot of them. Hopefully, that answers some of the questions I’ve gotten on the subject. ☯

If Owning Problems Was Cash, I’d Be Bill Gates…

The world is a complicated place. There is no easy solution, when dealing with the day-to-day requirements of adult life and I’ll totally admit that there are days where I’d rather crawl into my blanket fort and colour than deal with those requirements. What’s more is that there will always be “battles” to be fought because, well… You’re an individual and your thoughts, opinions and methods won’t always match up to everyone else’s. You can’t expect to see eye-to-eye with everyone and this can become a problem, especially if that mismatch takes place between you and an employer.

One of the more important aspects of adulthood is being able to own up to your problems. As children (at least in my generation), our parents taught us to be honest about things and admit when we’ve done something wrong. Basically, the foundation for owning up to your problems has already been laid. But once childhood has melted away, a lot of us revert to blaming everything on others. And although other individuals will undoubtedly have some responsibility, it won’t be until you face up to your role in any specific issue that you can start to live with less stress.

One good example is an associate of mine that I’ve known for over twenty-five years. Good guy, good heart, he’d totally be one of those people who would drive an hour to spend the entire day helping you move your house. However… He’s one of those individuals who ALWAYS blames everything on everyone else. Even when the problem is a direct result of his actions, he still feels that he bears none of the responsibility.

Not everyone is that extreme. The person in question unfortunately butts heads with everyone in his environment; co-workers, supervisors and even the members of his household. And over just about everything! Someone took the parking spot he wants? Fight. There’s been a change in policy regarding something in his work? Refuses to do it and fights about it.

The main component of that last paragraph is to learn to pick your battles. Not everyone seems capable of this very simple thing, but some people go out of their way to try and ice-skate uphill! Honestly, when it comes to work, unless you’re the owner of your own company, sometimes it’s best to just clock in, do as you’re asked and clock out. There’s nothing wrong with voicing your opinion, but tempting faith by refusing to do things on the job is just ASKING for trouble. But I digress…

The point of today’s post isn’t necessarily about CAUSING the problems so much as it’s about taking responsibility for them. That seems to be an aspect that most people have issues with. And there are a batch of really good, yet complicated psychological and physiological reasons why most people do this. For the most part, people are programmed simply to never admit that they’re wrong. For others it can be things like having a fear of failure, appearing weak to others or being a total douche. I don’t know, I’m not a psychologist.

A had a conversation with a friend of mine named Marty, a little over a year ago when I was facing something difficult. Truth be told, I’m still neck-deep in that difficulty, but a theory he discussed got me thinking about who bears the responsibility behind the problems we face. There are always three sides to every problem in life: the part that’s your fault, the part that’s someone else’s fault and the part that’s random events outside your control.

The part that’s someone else’s fault. You don’t live on this planet alone. Because of that, things that you deal with will always have an outside component. Even when it seems as though it was something you did. The problem with this aspect, and the reason I listed it first, is because it’s the one most people tend to focus on. “How can I blame this on someone else?” is often the credo of the problem-solving millennial (I’m not limiting this concept to millennials, just to be clear)

Random events outside your control. There are elements of every problem that are simply the result of things you can’t change. A good example of this would be working on an important online project at home when a thunderstorm knocks out the power. This results in your project being lost to the ether due to the loss of internet. You can’t control the coming of a storm any more than you can control the tide or the phases of the moon… Sometimes you simply need to understand that there is LITERALLY nothing you can do to alter that aspect of the difficulty you face.

The part that’s your fault. This is the big one, the one people hate, the one people refuse to admit and deal with. See, no matter what the difficulty there are things you will have said and done that have gotten you to the here and now. This means that whether directly or indirectly, you bear some of the responsibility for where you’re at. This is where it becomes important to control one’s thoughts, words and actions in order to prevent causing and/or aggravating problems within your own life. This is not to say that you can’t offer up your opinion or voice your objections; it simply becomes a matter of picking your battles.

When you recognize the role you play in the events of your life and begin to be proactive in how you deal with, it can go a long way towards the elimination of suffering and the promotion of peace within your own life. There will always be an aspect of life that’s out of your control. And you can’t control others. You can only control yourself. I think it’s Epictetus who said, “It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

Ohm, Excuse Me…

Do you have a personal mantra? Do you have ANY mantra? What the hell is a mantra, anyway? The term is used fairly often in modern society. Not a month goes by where I don’t hear someone say, “Oh, yes! It’s my personal mantra…” For the most part, they’re referring to some clever quip or saying that they feel has significant impact on their daily lives and/or their existence. But what is an actual mantra, and what purpose does it serve?

Simply and traditionally speaking, a mantra is defined as “a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.” Typically originating from the Hindu or Buddhist faiths, the using of a mantra focuses your active mind’s attention in such a way that it allows your thoughts and mind to float freely. It can help with relaxation and does, in fact, focus your meditation. It can be extremely handy if you’re a newcomer to the meditation scene and are having difficulty sitting still or concentrating.

That being said, I should reiterate a point I’ve often made in the past that there are various forms of meditation, from the traditional image most people have as illustrated above, to moving meditations such as Tai Chi or even Yoga. Not every method and/or form will require a mantra, and not every mantra is a simple “ohm.” It can be pretty much anything you choose, so long as it works to help you focus and concentrate.

Personally, I don’t use a mantra when I meditate. I prefer silence or some soft background music with forest or ocean sounds. By focusing on these sounds, I’m focusing my mind. I’ve usually referred to this as an “external mantra.” Silence can also be an effective mantra, since focusing solely on the silence and concentrating on it will have most of the same benefits as an active, repetitive mantra.

Depending on what school of thought you prescribe to, the use of the mantra “ohm” causes a reverberation throughout the body that religious monks believe has spiritual or religious effects on the body. I couldn’t find a stock photo to demonstrate it and I’m too cheap to buy one, but there is a Hindu symbol that represents “ohm,” (also spelled aum or om) and you can hit up Wikipedia under “mantra” if you want to see it. It’s been made popular in such a way that the symbol is represented on yoga gear, jewellery and clothing apparel.

On a last note, a personal mantra is something a bit different. This usually involves a saying or quote that resonates with a person and has a direct impact on how they live their life. Something along the lines of, “Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza…” Anyone who recognizes that quote will understand how badly I just aged myself, but it’s usually something a person repeats or states to themselves or others often but has nothing to do with an actual mantra or meditation.

Although you don’t NEED a mantra in order to meditate, it can be a handy and useful practice to help you focus and concentration when doing so. Sometimes life makes it a bit difficult to find a quiet moment to meditate and a mantra can also help block the outside world. In fact, there are some YouTube videos with hours of mantra chanting, for those who want to have a listen at what it should sound like. ☯

Cause And Effect ⚖️

I used to love physics in high school. Yes, I was one of those freaks; I even took some of the advanced physics classes in my senior year for extra credit. A part of me gets a headache every time I even THINK about some of the concepts we studied in those classes, while another part of me absolutely immersed myself in it and considered it the highlight of my high school years. And no, before you ask I didn’t carry a pocket protector or have a little strip of tape holding my glasses together.

I had an interesting discussion over a week ago about the concept of karma. Much like most of us have at some point, some folks try to seek out some form of faith and are uncertain where to look. During this discussion, it was mentioned that the concept of karma was considered more as a result of cause and effect as opposed to some form of intervention from a divine presence. I think this was an interesting comment, especially since that’s basically what karma is; cause and effect.

Nature and the universe has a way of balancing itself out. Think about the course of your day and how things end up. If you walk up to a hornet’s nest and kick it, you’ll get stung. Cause and effect. And this happens in just about every aspect of our lives. Looking at it simply from a physics perspective, Isaac Newton once explained that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. He was mostly referring to the exercised forces on objects that counteract one another, but the concept is very much the same.

The so-called “Law of cause and Effect” states that every effect has a specific and predictable cause and every cause or action has a specific and predictable effect. The back and forth that takes place within this law is a result of the choices you make, the decisions you take and the path you choose to pursue in life. Sounds a bit like karma to me…🤷‍♂️

I could get into Einstein’s theory of special relativity and REALLY give everyone a nosebleed (myself included), but quantum physiques was never a specialty or forte of mine. If you want to seriously fall down the rabbit hole without the benefit of a net, feel free to Google “causality” and see how long it takes before you need several shots of Fireball to make the buzzing in your head come to a stop. But I digress…

Karma, such as it is, is defined as the effect on one’s life from accumulated causes they’ve generated. Yes, within Buddhist terminology, karma is considered as “the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.” I think that’s pretty spot on, and whether you buy into the concept of reincarnation or moving on to another form of existence, the message if pretty simple: live well and you’ll be well. Live badly and you may live badly.

Something from my Catholic upbringing is working its way up to the surface… Something about living by the sword means dying by the sword… Really, if you look closely enough at most schools of faith and even people who believe themselves to be Atheists (because believing in nothing is still believing in SOMETHING, but I’ll save that for another day), there’ll be something similar or identical to this concept.

So effectively, I’m sure you’ve noticed that those who intentionally do wrong, live a life of violence, commit crimes and harm others, usually don’t go on to retire at a ripe old age, hugging their grandchildren while sipping lemonade on the porch. There’s a lot to be said for living a “good” life and doing “good” things. No matter what your faith or your thoughts, living as pure and noble a life is what every person should aspire to. ☯

I’ll Just Leave This Right Here…

I’m usually pretty loud and wordy, a trait that I’m quite confident I inherited from my mother. Although I usually have the ability to control my volume and she’s pure-blooded French-Acadian and for a gentle woman, her voice not only carries volumes, it never stops. ANYWAY… I sincerely love my mother, so don’t interpret the above-comment as something negative.

I simply bring this up because I realize that my posts can often become long and convoluted and can be quite the read. So today, I’m keeping it simple with the above illustration. I forget where I found it; it was a couple of week’s ago. But I think it carries an important message about controlling one’s emotions and maintaining self-control when faced with the obstacles of daily life. Enjoy! ☯

Don’t Be Rude!

Do you remember the last time someone was intentionally rude to you? How did it make you feel? Did you dwell on it? Did it sit on your mind for a period of time after the exchange was over? Maybe not. Perhaps you’re the type of person who has thick enough skin that other people’s comments simply slide right on off your shoulders. Or maybe you’re in denial. I don’t know, I’m not a therapist or psychologist. But I DO know that most people who say they aren’t affected by rudeness, still are.

To be rude is defined as being offensively impolite or ill-mannered. The best example that comes to mind is several months ago when I pulled out into traffic into the path of an oncoming vehicle (allegedly). The person took active steps to follow me to a red light and went on to call me by a plethora of inappropriate names and insult me for cutting him off. To this day, I can neither confirm nor deny that I ACTUALLY cut him off, as it’s not my nature to go pulling out into traffic if there’s a risk of a collision. But whether he pulled into my lane or was speeding or I DID cut him off, I can’t be responsible for other people’s perception.

So, why are people rude? Rudeness breeds suffering, the elimination of which is at the very heart of my beliefs, yet it seems that people do it with impunity. As much as we often don’t like to think so, many of us are rude to others in the way we interact with others, the things we say and the things we do. Sometimes this rudeness happens without our knowledge that we are doing it.

Most of us spend our childhood being taught by our parents (and grandparents) that’s it’s wrong to be rude, disrespectful even. But as we reach adulthood, a sense of entitlement often makes us disregard those teachings in relation to how we interact with others and how we treat them. Although none of this is anything new, it’s important to remember not to escalate the situation or reciprocate the behaviour.

A person’s behaviour, whether rude or not, will often be rooted in their own self-esteem and perspectives. That person who bumps into you in a public place without apologizing may be going through something that actively occupies their thoughts. There’s a good chance they weren’t even aware they bumped into you. The person who screams or swears at you in public for taking a parking space or possibly cutting them off in traffic has likely forgotten about you ten minutes later and the interaction isn’t worth the stress you allow yourself to feel as a result.

As difficult as it may be to smile and walk away sometimes, rudeness is one of those behaviours that feeds on itself. If you let someone’s rudeness get to you, you’ll likely be rude to someone else and so on and so forth. Kindness is the best reaction to rudeness and walking away from the situation is always best. Don’t contribute to the suffering in the world. Light knows, there’s enough of it as it is. After all, you can only control your own words and actions; never those of others. ☯

The Most Unlikely Sources…

Something important to bear in mind is that inspiration and learning can come from some very unlikely sources. Every Sunday, I try to choose someone that has taught me something, guided me or inspired me throughout my life. I hate to admit it, but it’s been a challenge. I’ve mainly tried to keep this contained to martial artists, including the likes of Michele “The Mouse” Krasnoo, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, Ronda Roussey and even Miyamoto Musashi. All of these folks have had an impact on my life and have inspired what paths I’ve chosen.

But I’ve also made a point of including people who have inspired or guided me in other ways, like my father. Ultimately, we can find inspiration in negative places as well. I only say this because the subject of this week’s “inspiration” post is someone who has had about as much negative (if not more) influence on the general public as positive. I am referring to a reasonably well-known action star named Steven Seagal.

It may be considered an unpopular opinion by some, but Seagal played an integral role in my interest of the martial arts. After all, he’s a master of Aikido, studied/taught in Japan and starred in a number of action movies that came out during those impressionable years when I was young enough to be impressed but old enough to think, “Hmm, this martial arts stuff is pretty cool!” He moved to Japan and studied Aikido there, and claims to have also been the “first non-Asian to open a dojo in Japan.” Whether this is true or not is anyone’s guess, but he’s had a colourful life prior to returning to the United States where he began acting in movies.

He has starred in almost five dozen movies, although a good number of those beyond the mid-90’s went straight to video. I first saw him when I was ten years old in a movie called Above The Law. In it, he plays a police officer and martial artists who uncovers a government conspiracy and helps put an end to it. Sounds pretty heroic, right? In fact, the majority of his movies have involved the protagonist being some sort of military/police/operative who ultimately saves the day. But that’s the whole point, right? We usually WANT to see the hero win. As a kid, I was awe-struck by Seagal’s ability to use grappling and striking as a means of defeating even the most difficult of enemies. And all of his films up until the late 90’s were pretty bad-ass. I can still watch some of them with deep enjoyment, although much more criticism on his martial arts technique.

Then it gets a bit convoluted. Seagal identifies as a Buddhist and martial artist. This holds some special meaning to me, being a Buddhist and martial artist myself. But it stands to reason that someone who practices a religion devoted to the elimination of suffering in the world should be doing just that, shouldn’t they? Seagal has been the subject of a lot of controversy recent decades, including allegations of sexual assault, violence against the people he works with and has ongoing feuds with the majority of his Hollywood counterparts, notably Jean-Claude Van Damme, as a prime example. Not a very Zen-like approach to life, especially a blessed one such as his.

In recent decades, Seagal has become something of a walking joke when one considers his strange political views, ongoing opinions about how other martial artists aren’t “true martial artists” and his apparent lack of self-care where his body is concerned. The man has ballooned up to the point that he almost looks like a cartoon character! My wife and I recently watched him on Netflix in a film called Maximum Conviction, where he starred alongside Steve Austin. Once again, he was portrayed as some sort of specialist who simply couldn’t be defeated. The movie basically starts out by having him beat up a prison inmate who happens to be over twice his mass!

I’m not saying that a genuine martial artist would be unable to defeat a larger opponent, but given the fact that he was 60 years of age in that movie, couple with how he’s let himself go physically, one needs to face reality at some point. It’s no surprise this was yet another straight-to-DVD movie. Even WITH Diabetes, I consider it a point of health, personal care and importance to try and maintain my physical fitness to the best of my ability; a task I feel that I’m still on top of, despite my gut slowly trying to overtake my efforts. But I digress…

My point is, Seagal helps to provide guidance in a very specific way: he’s shown me how NOT to be. His behaviours definitely don’t fall in line with someone who is a true student of the Buddhist or Martial Way. His concepts and abilities with the martial arts have been questioned for decades, both for their authenticity and truth behind his claims. None of this is how a true martial artists or Buddhist would be intended to behave. When I need to know how NOT to comport myself, I need only think of Steven Seagal. ☯

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover, Even If The Cover Should Reveal What’s Inside

I remember a story from years ago when I was a manager at my hometown’s local pharmacy. Yes, I was a pharmacy manager… In general, it was an uninteresting job. But like most things in life, there can be lessons to learn behind the scenes, if you’re willing to listen. This is one of those lessons…

I was helping the merchandising staff get some stock out to the floor and I was working in the painkillers and vitamins section with one of the pharmacy technicians. The pharmacy staff were always a little “holier than thou” with the front store staff as they believed that the dispensary was the only reason for the location’s existence. So, there would sometimes be a BIT of tension there. Especially since I technically had no direct authority over them as they fell under the umbrella of the Pharmacist/Owner.

Anyway, I was shelving painkillers (Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen) and the tech was shelving some vitamins. We had a plastic bin for damaged and expired goods on a wheeled cart between our two respective aisles. At one point, we took a break and I glanced down into the bin and noticed a coupled of expired items I had tossed. I also noticed a full, unopened box of multivitamins sitting in the bin. I picked them up and checked the expiration date. They were good until the following year.

I asked the tech why the vitamins were sitting in the throwaway bin. The tech took the box from my hand and showed me where the cardboard was slightly damaged on one end. That was it. The ends were still sealed and by proxy, the bottle of vitamins inside was still sealed tight and the vitamins were in perfectly good condition. I explained to the tech that we couldn’t throw out the box of vitamins based on a bit of scratched cardboard as there was nothing wrong with the bottle inside (part of my responsibility included shrinkage).

The tech pursed her lips and turned her nose up, explaining that she wouldn’t buy a damaged box and couldn’t see any customer doing so either. I asked her, “Why not? If the bottle and the vitamins are intact, there’s literally nothing wrong with it, why would you not still purchase it? Who cares if the box has some scratched up cardboard on it?” She simply shrugged and had no viable answer to give me. I was at a loss and a little bit confused, as my feeling was that the little bit of damage on the outside didn’t take away the value of what was contained within. Apparently, she didn’t agree…

This is an important lesson for the world in general, especially in today’s society of social media filters, photoshopped pictures and everybody’s immediate obsession with their outside appearance. Bullying is at an all-time high, and people’s ability to resist or stand up to it is at an all-time low. But the unfortunate reality is that the first thing people see when meeting us is what’s on the outside. And more often than not, their assessment of you is over before they get to know what’s inside the package.

The Buddhist in me thinks that this is a sad state for the world to be in. The loud, French martial artist with the attitude in me thinks that I don’t give a shit what other people think about me one way or another, but not everyone is as thick skinned. Either way, the important thing to remember is that first impressions are simply that: a first impression. Until you’ve taken the time to look beneath the surface and see what the second, third and fourth impressions may yield, judgements should be reserved and withheld. ☯

Mind And Body Connection

What is this mind and body connection we hear about in the martial arts? Depending on the instructor you have, you may hear the term often. In some circles, they throw “spirit” in there, and it becomes “mind, body and spirit,” but it’s the same concept. So, what does it mean? What are they referring to and how does it relate to martial arts?

If I have to explain what the body is, maybe you need to turn off your internet and go back to school. Your body encompasses everything that you are, INCLUDING the mind. In some respects, the body can be considered the vehicle of the mind. The real question is, what the difference between the mind and your brain may be. Is there a difference? Of course there is, and I’m going to explain it to you…

Your brain is physical (d-uh, right?). It’s the organ contained in the skull and is the most complex organ in your body. The common human brain contains over 70 billion neurons (when you total up all parts of the respective brain) and those neurons communicate through synapses that helps to control the body as a whole. Your brain is physical, tangible and part of your body. The mind is a tad bit different…

The mind is the invisible part of who you are; your thoughts, feelings, emotions and personality. Everyone has a brain. But your mind? That’s yours and yours alone. It defines who you are and how you behave in everyday life and in all the things you do. Without your mind, you wouldn’t be the person you are today. And THAT’S the difference. How does this relate to the martial arts?

In karate, we perform drills ad nauseam, the idea being that repeated drills will help “drill” the technique into us. And it’s extremely effective. It’s called “muscle memory” and it’s quite good at helping us to train to the point where, if someone attacks we can respond accordingly without hesitation. But the mind still needs to have an active role in there, despite muscle memory.

Mind and body are both part of the same whole, and it’s important that you train with that totality in mind. Your mind will tell you how to feel so that your body can react. Proper training and martial arts cannot be studied without both. So pay close attention to both. This is the only way to truly accomplish any goal, martial arts or otherwise. ☯

The Sword Saint

This week, I’ve decided to focus my attentions on someone whom I’ve read about since I was a young child: Miyamoto Musashi. Most people aren’t familiar with the name, though he was well-known in feudal Japan as the greatest swordsman to have ever been. People are more familiar with the book he wrote before the end of his life: The Book of Five Rings.

Musashi is thought to have been born in Japan in the late 1500’s by the name “Bennosuke” to a farmer. The history is a bit difficult to trace, but there is some debate as to exactly where and in what Province Musashi was born. Musashi was raised by his uncle after the death of his father, and was taught Buddhism, reading and writing (which was not a common thing in that era).

Musashi’s name was changed to “Takezo” later in life and he began to study the sword, either from his father or under his uncle, fighting and winning his first duel at the age of thirteen. Musashi was said to have fought (and won) 61 duels and battles, leading to the creation of a legend in his own right. He developed and refined his own style of two-sword combat called Niten Ichi-ryu, making use of both a katana and a wakizashi in combat.

Although best known as a swordsman, Musashi was a philosopher, artist, painter and calligrapher. I could go on about the different skills he developed and mastered throughout the course of his life, but suffice it to say that Musashi was a firm believer in studying one thing in order to master another. For example, if you study only the sword you will grow to be ignorant and unaware of anything else. In order to truly master a skill, you need to branch out and have some variety.

Miyamoto Musashi is a source of inspiration for me, because he walked his own path. Although receiving instruction at some point in his young age, he went on to develop and master his own style, suited to his own needs. A variation of his style of swordsmanship is still studied today. He’s written various works and created multiple pieces of art, and can be cited as a source of popular quotes (feel free to Google “Musashi quotes”).

To be honest, I could share quotes and passages from some of his works, but that would scarcely do him justice. If you want to learn all you can about Miyamoto Musashi, my best suggestion would be to get tour hands on a copy of his book, The Book Of Five Rings. The version translated and written by Hanshi Stephen Kaufman is the most popular version (and the most complete one). It’s a fascinating read, and the material can apply to many aspects of life, not just combat. ☯