Have A Little Faith…

Thich Nhat Hanh was once quoted as saying: “There is a misconception that Buddhism is a religion, and that you worship Buddha. Buddhism is a practice, like yoga. You can be a Christian and practice Buddhism. I met a Catholic priest who lives in a Buddhist monastery in France. He told me that Buddhism makes me a better Christian.”

Religion is a very fluid thing in the modern world. In recent decades, the newer generations have moved further and further from organized religion. Some of this is simply the way of the times; where science and an evidence-based society have moved away from the theological and the unknown. More and more answers that were once provided by religion have been “updated” by science, and faith often takes to the wayside.

I had a rare opportunity this morning as I attended Sunday mass with my mother. As a die hard Catholic, she trained in a convent with the eventual goal of becoming a nun. As I sit here typing this, it dawns on me that I’m quite grateful she chose not to pursue that particular vocation.

As my eyes took in the grand hall of the majestic structure I was seated in, it dawned on me that I had very clear memories of being in church during my childhood. The seats were usually full to the point that there were some services that we had to step out from. But there was probably about 30% to 40% of the seating space occupied, leaving the place feel reasonably empty, which is unfortunate.

While I was listening to the sermon, it dawned on me that Catholic mass is, in effect, like an extremely old form of blogging. Seriously! Think about it for a moment: you have a person who has studied a specific topic or subject for quite a number of years. He then selects excerpts of subject matter, sometimes at random, sometimes not, and provides the pertinent information to a specified audience of interested listeners. Sound familiar? that’s pretty much what blogging is, for the most part.

One part of the sermon that peaked my interest was the fact that the priest was covering subject matter related to death and what comes after, a subject I’ve covered myself in previous blog posts and in other discussion-based forums. The similarities between what the catholic faith believes and what I’ve written about were many, and it brought me to the realization that more often than most of us choose to believe, most mainstream religions will have more similarities than difference in their core beliefs.

There is enough room in this world for everyone’s belief system. At the end of the day, sometimes having faith just means you’re faithful. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with sitting in a specified building and following along out of a specific manuscript; our beliefs can be just that: OUR BELIEFS. But whatever those beliefs may be, remember to be tolerant of others’ perspectives, especially at times when they may conflict with yours. The true test of genuine faith is trusting that even though not everyone will believe your point of view or share your theological views, we ultimately all come from the same place. ☯

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“But I Don’t Wanna Train With A White Belt…”

Some of the masters in Japan used to have a saying: “Black belts don’t sweat.” Not only is this an incredibly inaccurate statement, it’s an ignorant one as well. Reaching black belt level is genuinely only the tip of the iceberg and the beginning of one’s in-depth training in the martial arts. My Sensei used to say that passing your black belt test was a way to finally and formally ask your Sensei to teach you karate. That perspective always stuck with me.

But the sweating perspective is one that has been circulated and that I’ve heard on occasion during my time in Japan. What I have found over the years, both in Japan and in Canada, is that advanced students will often have a stigma against students of a lower rank. Especially white belts.

Some schools have an established standard in which green or blue belts will take time to provide introductory instructions to new students and white belts. This is reasonable, since black belts and the head instructor are likely to be smaller in number than lower ranked students. So for the most part, it’s a matter of structuring. Which is fine.

The problem begins when one holds any sort of stigma against lower ranked belts simply for the sake of their inexperience. I’ve seen some advanced belts who have made their feelings clear, “my forms and techniques are way too advanced to be spending time with a white belt…” Terrible, terrible…

I’m reminded of a story that originated out of a school related to my style, in the United States. They put on a seminar and were teaching a variety of techniques and weapons and students could partner up or work alone and learn a little bit from every station. At one point, an older gentleman (I wouldn’t begin to guess at his age) came into the dojo wearing a white belt. He began stretching and warming up, and I noticed a number of younger students chuckling among themselves and making jokes. It seemed the majority of students were of the opinion that the man was too old to be starting karate and that his presence at the afternoon’s class was a waste of time.

We paired off for some light sparring at one point and a green belt was left with the old white belt as a partner. It was almost like one of those scenarios where you get chosen last during a dodgeball game… You could tell the green belt felt pretty confident about his odds and squared off with a smirk in his face.

I won’t bore you with the play-by-play of how the match went, but I will tell you this: the old white belted man kicked the living s&*t out of the green belt and made him yield! We came to find out that the old man was actually a master from Okinawa who had attended the seminar. He had a personal philosophy against the ranking system and chose not to wear a black belt. The look on the green belt’s face was priceless.

The lesson here is that there is always a lesson. That is to say, no matter what rank one holds, you can always learn from someone higher. You can always learn from someone lower. Some of the best lessons I’ve learned have come from training with lower ranked belts. Especially since their lack of experience often provides an unpredictability that we often don’t get, through structured martial arts. In the real world, things won’t always be structured and will rarely be rehearsed. So take the lessons where and when you can get them, and don’t be afraid to give up some of your time to teach when needed. In fact, the martial arts ladder requires it. You only get what you’re willing to give. And don’t forget that at one time or another, you WERE a white belt…

I’ve taken a break from writing about my strange odyssey for the next couple of days, since I’m essentially enjoying some down time and have nothing pertaining to the journey happening until next week. But rest assured I’ll keep you all updated once things get back into the swing of it! ☯

A Strange Odyssey, Day 5…

Today, I chose to exercise a personal demon… I visited my old high school. Although I generally don’t talk about it a great deal, I was badly bullied during my school years. I mean the kind of bullying that goes beyond the current, modern-day snowflake definition that everyone wears slogans on their shirts and take to social media about.

I often lived in a lonely shadow, hurriedly sneaking out of school at the end of the day to avoid contact with anyone who may try to hurt me. One of the worst incidents I ever had, involved three guys taking their turns beating on me. The VERY worst incident involved a case where I had another student stab me in the forearm with a pocket knife…

High school and school in general, never held any affection for me. Although I’ve always been a student of all knowledge, there was no love lost when I finally received my diploma and walked away. In fact, I very nearly declined to attend my own graduation and I certainly didn’t attend my prom. The painful memories and dislike I felt went as far as having me refuse to attend my 20-year high school reunion.

One of the perks of being home… Access to the ocean!

I think the subject of bullying has been covered often enough in recent years that I don’t need to climb up onto my soapbox, and I certainly don’t need to explain the reasons why bullying is bad. Suffice it to say that once my martial arts skills progressed significantly, the bullying magically stopped. Imagine that.

All jokes aside, I took a step towards personal healing today as I stepped into that long-hated institution and walked the very halls that were the place of my subjugation. I walked straight to the administration office and introduced myself to the secretary. A very kind woman, she invited me to walk through the main area and look at the graduation mosaics, which would certainly yield a photo of me from twenty three years ago!

I would have loved taking a few photographs, but I thought I would avoid the complications of a random adult male snapping photos inside a high school’s hallways! It did spark an idea, though. I asked the secretary if she knew who I could contact in regards to obtaining a copy of my graduation yearbook. I never got one; in fact, I’ve never even seen it.

The good news is that she believed that there would be spares in the school library and that any extras could certainly be sold. She took my name and contact number and promised to look into it and get back to me. I left the school property with a renewed sense of healing as though I had found a way to bridge a gap that has existed in my personal timeline for the past two decades.

I’ve always said that it’s an important thing to remember where you came from. This helps guide you to where you may be going and your development as the person you’re meant to become. I have a lot of bad memories from my school years; some medically-related, some bullying-related. And some of this has made it difficult for me to recall the good times I actually had through school.

And although I hadn’t planned on being home in northern New Brunswick, the unexpected change in travel plans may have yielded something positive. Even if life doesn’t care about your plan, it doesn’t mean it intends something bad. Sometimes it’s just a matter of perspective. ☯

A Strange Odyssey, Day 4…

They say you can’t go home again, but there’s definitely something to be said for doing that exact thing. I woke up this morning and checked out of my hotel. With the sudden changes in my plan and an additional stop added to my week, I decided there was nothing to be gained by staying at a hotel. I decided to hit the open road and go visit my parents on the north shore of New Brunswick.

My morning was an uneventful few hours of coffee and reading, followed by my last appointment in Fredericton. The appointment went well (I caused a few laughs, as usual) and I hit the open road as soon as it was done. After three days of having a rental vehicle, I finally figured out how to sync my cell phone with it so that I could listen to music, place phone calls through the car’s speaker system and use the talk-to-text function.

Lush, forested hills and appalachian mountains, coupled with curving highways

I stopped at a gas station in a city called Miramichi and got some caffeine. then I carried on to Bathurst, where I was able to stop in and have a brief chat with one of my oldest friends. My karate instructor’s son, actually.

I got back on the road and made it to Dalhousie just shortly after 6:00 pm local time and met up with my parents. My father, ever the charmer, took one look at me and bellowed “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?” Now, just to be clear, despite being confined to a wheelchair, my father is a very large, very intimidating man.

His second major complaint was that I didn’t bring his grandson with me! What can i say? You can’t please everyone. My mother and I stepped out and enjoyed supper out coupled with conversation. Now, as I sit in a local coffee shop (because they have internet) I’m taking it all in and wondering how I got here.

The mountainy side of Dalhousie (yes, my vehicle was parked when I took the photo)

Last week i was planing and prepping for a five-day stint in Fredericton before flying back to Saskatchewan. Now, I’m sitting in my home town having coffee and letting the childhood memories flood in. It’s a nice and unexpected turn of events to be able to see my parents. but I still can’t wait to get home to my family.

It would take a lot to flood this town!

I’ll be home for a few days until my next appointment. Following that, I’ll be making my way back to Fredericton for the last leg of my journey and the return home to my family. I’ll keep you all posted on the shenanigans I get into while here. ☯

A Strange Odyssey, Day 3…

Today was a good day. I actually managed to get a full night’s sleep last night, which is more than I can say for the previous three nights. I should also mentioned that I’ve gotten through the entirety of the work day without slamming my head into anything, so… there’s that.

But it has been a genuinely good day. I met some interesting and fascinating people and got a glimpse into a potential future path. I nearly had a heart attack, considering I left and went on to other things without bringing my prized fedora (yes, that’s right! I wear a fedora! What of it?) I had to make my way back to retrieve it.

The Odyssey is far from over. In fact, it has been extended. It seems there will be another stop on the journey; one that was unexpected until yesterday. But as much as it pains me to be far from my family for several days longer, I will have the opportunity to pay a visit to my parents.

In the meantime, I’ve been able to enjoy the City of Fredericton and get a small taste of back home. For example, I had the pleasure of enjoying an Alpine beer during supper last night. I haven’t been able to find Alpine anywhere in Saskatchewan for the past ten years. It’s a little thing, but it was nice to experience it.

That’s it! Not exactly a long or comprehensive post. What can I say? They can’t all be winners. I managed to get through the day without getting hurt or hurting anyone else. I didn’t have anything weird happen to me and I didn’t glare at anyone on the highway. Granted, the day ain’t over yet! Hey, I’ve even managed to get my blood sugars under control! I guess we’ll see what the rest of the week will bring. ☯

Life Is Short

David Wong once wrote, “…life is a flickering candle we all carry around. A gust of wind, a meaningless accident, a microsecond of carelessness, and it’s out. Forever.”

The fragility life is no secret. No matter how strong or healthy we happen to be, the way life ends is the same for all of us. And there is ultimately no avoiding it.

Regardless of what your beliefs may be, religious or scientific, death is a contemplated reality for all of us. We’ve all wondered and pondered about it at some point. For the most part, our ability NOT to think about it on a constant basis is what makes it possible for us to make it through life every day without freaking out.

Lately, I’ve begun realizing that I have reached the point in my existence where life has started to take away more than it gives. Although life is a balance of give and take, eventually the well dries out.

About a week ago, I heard about a work colleague who passed away. It was tragic and sudden. He was out with members of his family and just… died. The only thing worse than passing away like that is doing it in front of family. What struck me most significantly is that this colleague was the same age as I am. Sort of got me thinking.

Sometimes we take life for granted. We neglect to take note of the beauty and the blessings in our lives. It’s human nature to find it easier to complain than praise. But we need to realize that problems can be dealt with, money can be earned but time can never be taken back. So appreciate the life you have in the moment. If your life has aspects that make you suffer, make a change. Do whatever is necessary to keep that smile on your face! ☯

To Chi Or Not To Chi, That Is The Question…

What is chi? It’s a term often associated with the martial arts and usually referenced as something mystical in popular cinema. Chi or Qi, depending on your source, is defined as a pseudoscientific , unverified concept that is believed to be the underlying “life force” or energy that sustains life (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qi).

In the Japanese martial arts, this is referred to as the Hara. More specifically, we tend to centralize this to the stomach area, although it doesn’t refer to the organ itself. But it is considered the energy field of the body that sustains us (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hara_(tanden))

I’ll admit that I’m a weird mish-mash of traditional and modern beliefs. Although I don’t believe we encapsulate an unseen, unproven energy field that sustains us and makes us stronger in the martial arts (if we can tap into it), there’s no denying that from a purely scientific perspective, we have to concede that we are primarily composed of energy.

This energy is based on the atoms that constitute us, and in no way forms some unseen energy that allows us to pulverize bricks or knock people over without touching them.

I’ve written a few times on the fact that living things tend to move, and movement creates energy. This energy is required to maintain life. One needs to wonder what the possible connections may be, between the scientific energy that we know to exist or the pseudoscientific energy that’s been discussed and studied for over 2,000 years. ☯