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The Sage

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” This may take you back a bit as I am assuming the majority of my reading audience is not Buddhist. It’s okay. Neither am I. However, I have spent considerable time among Buddhists from numerous sects to include time spent in a Zen monastery in up state New York during my college years. To paraphrase the quote, be careful of people who claim to hold secrets or truths about life, mastery or any expression of art and trade. Finding your personal truth is paramount to a life fulfilled. Insisting your personal truth is universal is ego. Reading and paraphrasing books and then crafting your own quotable quotes is an excellent way to inspire others to study and connect to personal resources.  It is NOT a vehicle to control others and dictate and control their behaviors. Cults of personality are built on such methods and you will do well to steer to clear of such people.  A lion does not have to tell you its a lion. A sage should show their wisdom by their actions, not the silky poetry they speak.

When you least expect it, the sage will appear in your life. I once quietly observed a Japanese woman delicately eating her sushi and taking her tea very slowly. She took each piece of sushi in her chopsticks, looked at it a moment, rested it in a small dish of soy sauce, picked it up, looked at it again and then ate it. I felt like a savage as I realized that I had devoured my own plate in a careless, thoughtless action. This was a miracle as I still struggle with using chopsticks efficiently! In that small moment, without words, the Japanese woman taught me to eat slowly, to appreciate what was in front of me and to practice mindful gratitude.  Mindfulness. This is one of the many great lessons the sage will teach.

The sage will help guide you in your life. They can’t climb the mountain for you but they can certainly advise you on the many paths that lead to the summit. Find your true path, hear your true calling, embrace the call, take the journey, be open to receive the wisdom of the sage. My next installment we will discuss the gift of the magical tools that aid us on our journey.

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The Journey

We’ve heard a call in our lives. Perhaps we chose not to listen. If so, then our lives are not on the natural course that sings from our souls. If we have listened to the call, then our lives are on course and we are in harmony with our true nature. Bam! That’s all you need to know about life and living powerfully. You’re welcome. If only it could be that simple.

He stood on the narrow path in the woods just beyond the main trail. The rest of the group continued on the marked trail, phones in hand, chatting incessantly and not paying attention to their surroundings. He shook his head in disgust and wanted the trail experience to be uniquely his own. He began to break from all the marked trails and started making his own way through the woods. The vistas were incredible. The cuts on his skin told him that the way had been rough, more than a few times he had lost his way and he had to take a moment to gather his wits, calm down and get his bearings. It was in these moments of quiet that he began to hear his inner voice. A sense of personal freedom began to grow within him as he continued deep into the woods.

We can all do as others do. We can all get the newest phones, the biggest televisions, the latest clothes, speak with the newest slang and have all the updated hair cuts. If any of these things go against the naturalness of who you are, then you are simply walking a well worn path. There is nothing unique and you will be lost in the din of the masses.

I confess that I at times struggle with personal relationships. I guess this is my reality as I continue to forge my own path in the wilderness of life. I have many friends and they are all dear to me. As I continue to wage personal battles with my own emotions, I am often guilty of drifting away from my social circles. I have weird interests as compared to most men my age. I have always preferred to be alone even as a child. As an adult, I have had to be careful to not push others away from me so as not to insult them. My wife gets concerned and no doubt inpatient when I shut off the world and refuse to be social. My journey is one of wrangling a semi public persona with an introverted personality.  “They would be better off not hanging out with me..” is a thought that sometimes crosses my mind when I consider investing in close friendships. Where do these thoughts come from? Well, that would be a topic for a book! Your journey is yours. Just as my journey is mine.  In spite of my own struggles, I can tell you, I can implore you that walking your path is a far greater joy than walking the same paths of so many others who have gone before us.  Guard your thoughts carefully. Study them, shape them. Learn from them. Don’t fear the next steps on your journey. Be proud of the tracks you leave.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” -Marcus Aurelius

Refusing the Call

He could have let the injustice continue. He could have just stayed in the confines of his church and tried to promote change from his pulpit. He could have just refused to hear the call for greater influence and given way to fear and doubt. Instead, he wrote, he spoke,he marched, he sang, he stood tall on the shoulders of giants and cemented a legacy of passive change.  Rest in peace Dr. King.

Most of us refuse the calls we hear in life. Our many moments of personal greatness can be lost in a whisper if we allow our fears to shout in our heads and drown out the thunder of personal expression. To refuse is easy. To hear and embrace takes real courage. The sacrifices we make can be monumental, painful and cause us to question if we made the right choice or if it truly was a mistake to hear our inner calling? I’ve been there. Many, many times. I can tell you what its like to sink into a chair, head in hands, past due bills laid in front of me and wonder how I was going to make it through the month with my business expenses. I can tell you how close I have come to wanting to give it all up, to lock the door, to send out notices that the program was over and vanish into ambiguity. Yet, still, there is the  call. God, the universe, however you deem to see a greater power does indeed provide so long as you are there to see the signs and move forward. You must not refuse your call.

“We cannot direct the winds, we can only adjust our sails.” – Aristotle.

 

The Call

I have a picture of myself at age 5, empty Christmas wrapping tube in hand “sword fighting” my father who had his own cardboard tube. I kept the picture on my desk in my last commercial space for my business. People ask me how I got into martial arts training. The fact is, it got into me a very long time ago. Any movie or tv show that featured any action with a sword or anything martial in theme had my full attention. I devoured books on similar themes from my school and local library. I spent countless hours outdoors, in the woods, slaying hoards of evil armies, single handed with my make shift wooden blades. My father found it impossible to keep duct tape in the house. Silver duct tape makes an excellent coating on a wooden blade to give it that “real” look of shining steel. I wanted to grow up, sword in hand and right the wrongs of the world. This was my call and I could hear it as a deafening roar in my ears.

Most of us fail to hear our calling. We dismiss the call as whimsical and favor instead to move toward what is practical. While being practical has its place, so does having a passion. I may not be on horseback, sword held high above my head and slaying evil, but, I am able to wield a blade with historical techniques and use my passion in an attempt to fuel others and help them remember a call they heard so long ago.

Return to your source. A dear friend and one of my many mentors once asked me, “when you sit alone, in the quiet, legs crossed, eyes closed. That voice you hear inside, that authentic voice that is your true nature, will you like what you hear?” I invite you to do the same. Create a quiet moment for yourself. Don’t tell me you can’t find those moments. I promise you, if you look for the right time, you will never find it. Create it. Make it a priority. Sit comfortably. Try to keep your spine straight. Imagine I put a thread on the top of your head and have begun to pull up slowly and  help you sit erect. Let your chin drop just slightly. Rest your hands on your thighs, naturally. Let your mouth relax and let your lips purse just lightly. Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth and pull a long, luxurious breath through your nose. Exhale that breath through your teeth, gently. Keep your eyes closed. Now, in your mind imagine standing on a street corner. You are watching the many cars pass in front of you. Your goal is to cross the street. Breathe. Just. Breathe. The cars represent your thoughts. Let them pass, do not take them too seriously.  Try not to force yourself across the street. When the time is right, you will find yourself on the other side with no memory of taking a single step. This is the mind of no mind, the duende as the Spanish swordsman, the dancer, the bullfighter would call it. These are your first steps on reconnecting to your calling.

Create a quiet space. Sit in relaxation. Breathe. Repeat.

Sitting and doing nothing can often be sitting and doing something.

Hear your call…….

Thresholds

When I was in elementary school, there was a scholastic publication of young authors called Thresholds. It was a large bound book of printed sheets of short stories and poetry from all across the state of Maine. I loved how it felt in my hands when I read through the pages. I loved the sultry feel of the thick sheets of paper that turned with a hefty lift from my thumb and index finger. It felt……majestic. I would often run my hand over the face of each sheet to smooth it out before reading. Every story, every poem seemed to speak to me as I drank each word and in my young mind, I wanted to be among these authors who graced those extravagant pages. Fast forward a few years later and I would join those authors not once, but four times and would later be selected to twice attend The Young Authors Institute. I still have a little white coffee mug  with their logo in my attic office!

We all must pass through certain thresholds in our lives. Not once, not twice or even three times, but several times. My business motto is ” Always Improve. Always Evolve. Never Give Up.” I embraced martial arts training as a vehicle for self expression, fitness, knowledge, self defense and personal growth. I still seek those qualities and have passed through my own thresholds in my life. As will you. The mistake is not recognizing those thresholds when they come. Not getting what we want is very often exactly what we need. If and when we are let down by others. and we will be, we should work hard to build those people up, take them with us on our journey so long as they are willing to stand beside us. We should recognize when a job is no longer a dream and a career has become a killer. We should seek the stillness of self to take a look down now and then and see if our feet are in motion or have we grown roots?

We must cultivate the courage to cross the threshold when we see it. A young warrior making his way along a mountain path suddenly paused as he noticed that in order to continue his journey, he needed to traverse a large ravine. Going from one side to the other would be accomplished by walking across a blown down tree. Not a large tree, not a wide foothold, it seemed to promise a resulting plummet to the waiting depths with one ill placed step. Hearing a tap….tap……tap……tap  behind him, he noticed a blind man with a walking stick easily make his way from one side of the ravine to the other by crossing, sightless over the blown down tree as his bridge.

Very often, taking the most terrifying steps is the safest thing we can do.

 

Social media is awash with self help, positive, life changing quotes, memes, stories etc. All of these can be wonderful. All of these can quickly be scrolled by and forgotten. All of us, every one of us in this life is doing what we can to get by and more. All of us are busy with looking ahead, planning the next this or that and very often leave the present moment forgotten to our ambitions. Many people will tell you that looking back on your life can be a mistake. Somehow looking back has become a negative and the fear of over the shoulder reflection may give way to dwelling. While this can certainly be true, I firmly believe that looking back IS looking ahead. If you are wise in life, you have learned from your mistakes. If your sense of empathy is strong, you have learned to be accountable for any actions that have brought others pain or discomfort. If you are lacking empathy, then the whole world is your enemy and everyone who has ever hurt you is to blame and nothing you did or didn’t do is even in question. Reflection and contemplation are essential for any relationship as well as the relationship you have with yourself.

Sometimes looking back is looking ahead. Doesn’t it feel great to look back and see how far you have come in life? Not where you want to be? Reflect. What decisions or actions brought you here? Is there a relationship that has become toxic and unsustainable? Reflect. Is this relationship worth keeping? Before making those big decisions, dig deep and reflect upon the breadth and depth of that relationship rather than make an impulsive split. I’ve had to do that several times in my own life. Each split has been painful but carefully weighed out, measured and observed. Sometimes saying no to someone is saying yes to yourself. Reflection allows us this luxury. Without reflection and self direction, we may continue to teach the negative personalities in our lives that their behavior is acceptable, thereby giving them permission to continue their abuses. Reflect. Stand up for yourself, say NO to the pain and say YES to your healing.

Sometimes looking back is looking ahead. Reflect. Think about the joys in your life. Reflect. Think about what moves and inspires you, think about what consumes your time in such a way that you simply cannot wait to engage the activity once more. Reflect. Move toward the light of your life and let the darkness that was once there be a source of thanks. A source of thanks? Yes. Without the dark, we could not possibly know the light.

Sometimes looking back is looking ahead. Don’t be afraid to take a glance over your shoulder now and then.

Reflect.

The boy was blindfolded, all around him he could hear the chants, the drums, the taunts of his fellow tribesmen. The bonfire warmed his skin and he listened carefully for the footsteps of his grandfather circling him. The blindfold removed, the boy was confronted with a fearsome man wearing a terrifying mask. The boy was given a small stick and ordered to fight, to push back the demon or risk being devoured by the beast. The boy, terrified, sweating, shaking, raised his weapon and pursued his monster with vigor. Screams, howls, roars rose up from the wild depths of the boys imagination as he swung his weapon in blinding,unskilled, fearsome arcs.  The demon defeated, the man took of his mask and the boy stumbled back in confusion to see that he had defeated his grandfather in trial by combat. The mask was then placed on the boy’s head and he would then undergo a series of rituals to pass him into the world of men.

Such was the life of young men in New Guinea.  The rites of man, the role and ritual of tribal tradition were strong. Young women faced similar trials as she passed from being a girl into the realm of her womanhood. Female as creator, destroyer, protector, educator and warrior were also strong beliefs among several tribal nations world wide.

We all wear masks. We all undergo rituals that pass us from one point in life to another. At some point, the mask is removed and through our humanity, through all of our imperfections a great truth can be revealed.

Rituals need not be so extreme as the one described above. Simply, a small ritual of daily prayer can be life changing. One’s cup of coffee in the morning can be essential and no doubt, a ritual. Take the time for the small points in life. Small stones build great walls.