Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What's this "we" stuff, fanboy?

So, if you have been looking at these quadrants in the AQAL model, you should now realize that the left-side quadrants are internal parts of Being and the right-side quadrants are external parts of Being. The Upper Left, or "I" Quadrant, is the inside of the individual, while the Upper Right Quadrant, the "It' Quadrant, is the outside of the individual.

Let's take that further. The Upper quadrants are the individual. The Lower quadrants are the collective, i.e. not just you, but everyone with you.

So, the Lower Left Quadrant is the "We" quadrant. It is the internal side of the collective.

What does that mean in English?

You do not exist alone. There are many other individuals out there with you. Whenever you come into contact with some other person or group, there is a relationship that sets itself up. That relationship can be thought of as an entity in itself, really.

When you date someone, or marry them later on, you have your identity. Your partner has his or her identity. The both of you also have your fused identity together. There's three identities there. In a healthy relationship, all of them are cared for. In unhealthy ones, one or more of those identities gets out of balance.

That fused identity with your partner is not the only fused one you have. If you have children, you also have a fused family identity, or collective. If you work for a company, you are a member of that company's collective identity. If you are on a sports team or in a class, the same thing applies, and so on.

Identities can be short-lived or more or less permanent. When you are on an airplane, you are part of the "We are all on this plane together now" identity, until the trip ends and that collective disperses.

If you can open yourself up to this, you can feel the collective identity around you. In ancient times, these identities were worshiped as household deities, or saints, or ancestors. They can be felt and maintained, and they can be screwed with.

Just like everything else, "We" entities grow and evolve and unfold. You may identify with yourself early in life. Then you get a family and you identify with them. Perhaps, you are part of a tribe or a national group that you identify with. Tribes and national groups are a larger sphere of concern than families, so becoming concerned with members outside your immediate household represents an unfolding or advancement along a line of development in the "We" quadrant. Ultimately, your care can extend to "All of us", or the world's population as a whole. People at that Stage in this developmental line think of themselves not as a "Smith" or as "an American" or a "European", but as a "member of the human race on Earth".

Perhaps as time goes on, even that identity will expand, somehow.

In any case, reality in this quadrant is not about some supreme individual being, or a concrete physical existence, but rather it's about the understanding that all beings and individuals are one Entity.

Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." That has a lot of meanings along this line of development. In the early Stages, it is literal: be nice to your neighbor even if he's mean to you. Later, as you develop along this line, you understand it to mean "Love your neighbor because you ARE your neighbor."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Concrete Quadrant

Let's take a look at the Upper Right quadrant in the AQAL model given in the last post. (AQAL stands for "All Quadrants, All Levels, All Lines, All States, All Types", or just "All Quadrants, All levels" for short. This is the short hand name for Ken Wilber's Integral Operating System (IOS), which is the name of this philosophical system.)

Quadrants are all about what you believe is real. What do you believe is real?

If you believe that reality can be reduced to nothing but a bunch of atoms, molecules, and electrical impulses zipping around, then you are right! If you believe that all manifestations or feelings or knowledge of God or the Universe or Oneness is nothing other than what your biological brain is capable of experiencing, then you are right!

The Upper Right quadrant says that reality is a concrete scientifically knowable existence. Just like in the other quadrants, there are Stages here too. Quarks make up protons, and neutrons. Protons and neutrons make up atoms, along with electrons. Atoms make up molecules. Molecules make up substances which in turn make up all kinds of stuff as we know it. Planets are in solar systems. Solar Systems are in galaxies, galaxies are in universes. Hell, in today's science there are even theories about clusters of universes! Those are Stages.

The Upper Right quadrant is the exact opposite of the Upper Left, or "I" quadrant. If instead you believe that reality is truly some unknowable mystical existence and that all physical things are really an illusion manifested by this unmanifest reality, then you are looking at it from the perspective of the Upper Left quadrant.

Here's the thing... All the quadrants are right.

Reality (with a capital "R") is made up of all four perspectives simultaneously. However, most people only come from one perspective. That does not make them wrong. That only means they have a part of the whole.

So those "science people" who are extreme in their views of reality and don't believe in any "mystical hoopla" are right. However, they are only partially right. By the same token, the ones who believe that science is a "trick of God to test our faith in what is true" are also right, but again, they are only partially right.

Friday, December 12, 2008

There's 4 sides to this story....

So we talked about the development of a single individual along a spiritual line. But wait a minute.... isn't that a bit self-centered? All about "me", "myself", and "I"? You bet! Don't you think there's more to the story than that? Like what about the rest of the world's existence and development?

This is where the term "quadrants" come in. It is a basic principle in Integral philosophy or an integral approach to anything.

When you talk about yourself, or "I", that is one perspective. There's words to describe yourself in most languages, e.g. "I", "me", "mine", "myself"... etc. There are also words to describe the person you are talking to, right? Languages use words like "you", "your", "yours", "yourself" for that. "I" is first person, and "you" is second person.

So right there, there's another possible perspective.

Then of course, you can talk about "us". If you and I are speaking, then "We" understand each other, and "we" feel this way about something. There is a collective plural "we" happening there. In other words, "you" + "I" equals "We". "We" is first person plural.

It's trivial, but stay with me.

Finally, "We" can talk about some other object or person, a third person "it". The third person "it" can also be plural, i.e. "them" or "a bunch of its".

So, in all, there are four perspectives to everything. There are four facets to existence.

The four perspectives, "I", "It", "We", and "Its" can be laid out in four quadrants, like below:

So, thinking back, the spiritual line of development is a line that only exists in the Upper Left quadrant, the "I" quadrant. It's only part of the story! The Upper Left quadrant only deals with interior things inside the individual.

I'll spend a little bit of time talking about each of the other quadrants now. If you look on the diagram, you will notice that the "I" and "It" quadrants deal with the individual, and the "We" and "Its" quadrants deal with the collective. Also, the left side deals with internal things, inside of people, and the right side deals with external things, i.e. outside of people.

Thanks to wisdomspace.net for the graphic on quadrants.

Monday, December 8, 2008

To infinity and beyond!

Beyond Stage 5, there are other stages, but they are hardly worth thinking about at this point.... if thinking about them is even possible, really. Suffice it to say that once this pull towards Oneness begins, it continues. People who are in Stage 5 and passing into the higher stages will gradually pass from an ethnocentric to a world-centric view of things. Their main areas of concern will encompass more than just themselves and their immediate cultures/nations/surroundings.

One thing is important to point out on that journey: expansion of concern, compassion, and capacity for suffering are not feelings, they are experiences and deep understandings/knowings/beings. (There really is not a word for it, exactly. Picture being able to grok the experience of Oneness, rather than just theorizing about it or feeling it emotionally.) Instead of feeling concern for all beings in the world at this stage, you ARE all beings in the world, and you know it.

I am sure there are a lot of other aspects of this that I do not even touch on because I am not able to. Alas, all I can do about these stages is theorize.

Nevertheless, that spiritual line of development is only a teeny tiny portion of spiritual development itself! It's about 1/4th of it to be exact.

Now that we've described a single line of development in detail.... let's blow the doors off this thing.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Postmodernism and other complicated words

As rational thought and logic come to the fore in Stage 4, lots of interesting advances in technology and other areas of study come into being. As we are seeing today, there is an explosion of both positive developments and negative ones which threaten to destroy everything. Religion, which is seen by Stage 4 people as an annoying and deadly relic of the past, tries to make a few last gasps at preserving itself, and the rational Stage 4 opponents fight to crush it even more.

It is almost like there are two arcs of spirituality dueling there. There is a pre-personal arc, or magic/mythic arc, where people maintain that reality is some concrete magical existence run by mythical beings. Then, there is a rational arc, or personal arc, which sees reality as a concrete physical existence grounded in logic and reason. The media absolutely loves this shit too. The "conservatives" fight to advance their magic/mythic arc, while the "liberals" fight for their logical one. Then occasionally they throw in the New Age nutcases who are basically Stage 2'ers masquerading as something that is neither.

In all that fray, the third arc is completely lost, and as Stage 5 emerges, people start to find it. The third arc of human spiritual/psychological development begins with Stage 5, and in this part of the developmental path you start seeing Reality as grounded in a timeless eternal nondual reality. The mythology of the early stages seems silly and literal, while the rationality of Stage 4 seems empty and without meaning. In fact, I can remember clearly what the boundary between Stage 4 and Stage 5 feels like: all physical things are a crock, and nonduality is perfect already, so what's the point of anything?

Stage 5 often contains folks that claim to be "spiritual but not religious", and that is a phrase that typifies this stage. Dogma no longer makes sense, and rationality is not quite enough. However, some of the ideas in the dogma of the lower stages, like being a productive member of society and taking care of your family while getting along with others, are extremely useful for a happy life. Moreover, the level-headedness of the rational stages is useful for solving problems without violence and destruction. In that regard, the lower stages are transcended and included in Stage 5.

In another way of looking at it, Stage 5 starts to regard most religious practices as valid means of developing. The stage includes them all. In Stage 5, Reality is very BIG. It is so large, in fact, that it cannot be encompassed with a single faith, and people in Stage 5 start to wonder whether all faiths are simply looking at the same thing from a different angle, but getting wrapped up in the emotional garbage.

Reb Zalman Schacter once gave the analogy of the "Circle of Truth". Reality is a circle. For most of human history, we've known about a 5-degree arc on that circle. The rest of Reality was unknown to us. Over time, people and religions have explored more of Reality and uncovered more of the circle, and right now in our history, we are getting past that 180-degree arc point, so we are beginning to see points on the circle that are directly opposite to each other but BOTH true. "This is True... but.... this opposite is also True." One of my senseis, who was probably quoting another Buddhist somewhere was fond of telling me "Everything and its opposite is True, Josh."

In Stage 5, logic is only part of the pie. Your capacity for understanding Reality reaches beyond logic and dogma, and you are able to experience the truth of opposites.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Logic is Spock's religion...

After the Mythic stage of development comes the Rational stage. Eventually, people start to see some issues with worshiping and relying on magic, spirits, deities, etc. Namely, their prayers or spells usually do not seem to work. So what do they do? Sometimes, they explain it with a crutch, like a misused definition of "Faith", or they wave their hands and say that it is all part of the higher being's(s') plans. The response to this is an argument, and the argument soon recruits logic and rationale as weapons.

Eventually, some people progress to the "show me" stage, where they believe only things that they can see, or make sense of. They will say things like:

"I do not mean to say God doesn't exist. I just haven't seen evidence."

"Why do you believe in things blindly, without being shown the reason?"

Contrary to the belief of most Stage 3 individuals, people in the Rational stage are not all discounting the existence of the entities in the lower stages. They are simply saying that if those things do exist, there needs to be some explanation. Not only that, they wonder how others can abide the contradictions in the dogma of the first three stages. Examples of contradictions are how multiple Stage 3 religions can claim to be the true one, and how any beings like the one they describe would allow multiple false faiths to exist if that was the case. For instance, the largest faith in the world contains 2.5 Billion members. According to them, 3.5 Billion people are wrong, and some higher power hates or looks down on all the 3.5 Billion non-believers. How can that be true, wonder the Stage 4 folks?

Pretty much all members of the Rational stage of development would admit that they might believe in some sort of dogma if it could be proven. Once again, this stage does not do away with previous stages, it just includes them and looks at them from a higher perspective.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Myth Thumpers

The next stage is called the Mythic stage, associated with the color amber in Ken Wilber's and other literature. Somewhere around 80% or more of the world today is at this stage.

In the Mythic stage, the spirits of the previous two stages coalesce into some kind of extremely organized mythology. No more are they thought of as random entities running around performing mischief at their own whim. Instead, they are seen as intelligent beings with human qualities that participate in daily life, and have infinite knowledge and wisdom, not to mention power. Moreover, followers in this stage profess (and insist on) belief in their chosen mythology as the one true one. "Non-believers" are in big trouble, according to them.

Sometimes, as you all know, there is only one entity worshiped. All of the spirits are seen as subservient to, or part of, an over-deity that reigns everything. If you think about it, that is a piece of evidence that this line of spiritual evolution is moving towards something. If the ultimate goal is realization of Oneness with all things, and the ultimate acknowledgement of what is in each moment, and the subsequent realization of eternity.... then it makes a lot of sense that this line of development progresses towards a theme of "One". At this point, in Stage 3, it manifests as the thought of one God, but the big thing to notice in this stage is that the one God is still separate from the people it rules.

If all this sounds familiar to you, it is. Most followers of the Judeo-Christian religions, and even the Hindu, Shinto, and Zoroastrian faiths resonate with this theme.Notice again how this stage does not countermand the stages below it. It enfolds them and includes them. Of course, individuals in this stage, especially evangelical or fanatical types, may at times strike out in favor of their belief system as the one true faith, and that can be extremely dangerous... to put it mildly... no disrespect to the millions of people who have died for such reasons over the last millenium.

Sad as that may be, you can derive a lot of understanding from this observation.There is nothing you can do to convince anyone at this stage that he or she is only seeing part of the picture. Not only that, you should not try, because the people at this stage are not necessarily WRONG. They are simply taking in the world at their capacity. When their time comes to move past this stage, they will, and maybe not even in this lifetime.... and they may even destroy themselves (and us) in the process. Nevertheless, eventually they will tire of it, and humanity as a whole will statistically progress to Stage 4. It is already in process, and if we survive, it should be interesting.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Baby, it's Magic

At the next level along the line of spiritual development, the hapless and chaotic spirits that possess everything become interactive. Instead of feeling helpless about their plight, people begin to bargain with the forces of nature and the universe. They start to believe and realize that the universe operates like a machine, and that by pushing certain buttons they can get it to do things. Sometimes this button pushing amounts to no more than the random thumping of a chimp on a typewriter, but other times people in this stage figure out what a couple of the buttons do and start using them over and over.

In today's world, these are the "shamanic" or tribal religions. Mainstream examples of religions that occupy this stage would be Santeria and Voodoo.

Commonly, adherents in this stage see the world as a place of conflict, in which they occupy one side, i.e. Good or Evil. Their actions are thought to further their perceived nature of either good or evil, whichever they favor at the time.

Notice something, however. This stage does not do away with anything in the stage before it. Instead, this stage represents a flowering or unfolding of the Preconventional stage. In the first stage, there are spirits. They are still there in the second stage, even though they may grouped together or renamed as other spirits.

That makes this a good example of how Stages work in Integral Philosophy. Each successive stage enfolds and includes the one before it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ye Olde Stage

The archaic stage of development is fairly easy to point out to anyone living today. Think back to ancient religion.... not ancient, like Egyptian.... ancient like caveman. This is a lot like the Stage 1 God that I described in an earlier post.

At the archaic level, everything is a complete mystery. People at this stage believe that all creatures and objects have living spirits inside them, and that these spirits are able to influence life in different ways. Things like weather, disease, crop yield, etc. are all influenced by these spirits. The spirits themselves may or may not be intelligent, and people at this stage may not even differentiate at all between the objects and spirits. They may not even admit the presence or existence of the spirits, so much as the mystery of life itself.

Keep in mind here that I am not saying anything about specific cultures or religious faiths. All of these stages can be "colored" by any religious flavor. I am only talking in general terms.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Spiritual line of development

As I mentioned in the last post, any skill or intelligence can be gauged with a line of development. The line of development labels are a tool that's there to help you understand where you are at, and where you can be going. The "spiritual line" of development is a hot topic of study in psychology as well. James Fowler's work is often quoted by Ken Wilber and the people in his organization. It's actually a pretty complicated layout.

Before I give levels based on that system, first remember that this is not a ranking method. "High" levels are not somehow "better" than "low" levels. Unlike a caste system, where lower levels are oppressed and looked down upon, in this system, lower levels are encompassed and included in the levels above, much like molecules include atoms which in turn include even smaller particles.

Also remember that I am describing Stages here, not States. These are permanently attained positions of awareness.

So... first the labels:

Stage 0: Preverbal, predifferentiated , Archaic (Infrared)

Stage 1: Magic (Red)

Stage 2: Mythic (Amber)

Stage 3: Rational (Orange)

Stage 4: Pluralistic (Green)

Stage 5: Integral (Turquoise)

Stage 6: Transpersonal, Non-dual, Stages beyond... (Violet, Ultra-Violet, Clear light)

Over the next few posts, I'd like to take time to talk a little about each level individually.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's a fine line

Before laying out stages of spiritual growth, which is actually only a small part of the "Integral Operating System" or IOS, which is the term used to describe this philosophy, it is important to talk about lines of development.

Everyone is good at some things and not at others. Moreover, you have skill sets that you can practice, or forget. Your skill sets are not just manual labor things, or computer things, but also personal things, like your skill with relating to other people, for instance. You also have things that you develop over your life that aren't exactly skill sets, like your morality and sexuality.

All of these things progress through stages. Each of these skill sets or abilities is referred to as a line. For example, if you can read this, you have skill in reading, but you did not always. Your reading skill went through stages. As a child, you learned to recognize letters and recite the alphabet. In elementary school, you learned to sound out the letters and make words. By the time you hit third grade, you were reading easy paragraphs. By high school, you were able to read just about anything, though understanding it all was another matter. Even today, as you read more, you experience more words and learn more things, which make understanding easier.

Your reading stages were probably defined by "grade level". Stages are given names by people who create systems to name them. However, in reality they are all arbitrarily defined.

Nevertheless, the stages are there, and any skill or ability line you can think of has stages. Of particular interest are the lines in morality, cognitive skill, interpersonal relations, emotional maturity, and psychosexual development. Everybody is at different stages in each one. You may be at Stage 2 morality, Stage 3 cognitive, Stage 1 interpersonal, Stage 1 emotional, and Stage 3 psychosexual, for example. A person like that would be extremely rational or intellectually developed, but not too understanding of matters outside their own emotions or personal internal relationship... though for some reason they'd be a pistol in bed.

The number of stages, as I said, is arbitrary. One way to look at it is to use a 3-stage system. Take morality for example. Stage 1 morality would be the egocentric stage, or "me" stage. Your concern would center around fulfilling your own personal physical needs above anything else. In stage 2, you would progress to the "us" stage, where you are now ethnocentric. You realize that there is benefit to fulfilling the needs of yourself AND the people immediately around you in your own family, clan, tribe, or what have you. Upon reaching stage three, you would be at the "all of us" stage, where you are now world-centric. You realize that your tribe is connected to many others, and that all of them are dependent on each other in some way. Your primary concern would be doing what's best for all groups, tribes, clans, etc.

There are, of course, other ways to define those particular moral stages. IOS literature does not tell you what stages to use, only that there are stages, and it suggests some possible stages you could use, based on decades of psychology research.

Now, think of a line for spiritual development.... What stages do you think it would have?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A state for all stages

In Integral philosophy there are some core concepts: states, stages, lines, quadrants, and types. It will take a while to define these, but lets start with states.

You are already familiar with states. You have three major ones that happen every day: Waking, Dreaming sleep, Deep dreamless sleep. The thing that is common to all of these states is that they are temporary. You are not always awake, nor are you always asleep. Not only that, but the kind of sleep you are getting changes during the night, or from night to night.

So, states are the temporary form of your current consciousness. Their temporary, non-permanent, nature is important to remember.

Of course, there are not just 3 possible states. There are zillions. You can be in a state of meditation. Moreover, there are many different kinds of meditation that put you into different kinds of meditative states. You can be in a drug high, which is also a state. You can be in a state of depression, or elation. I am sure if you think about it, you can come up with many more types of states. Again, their unifying concept is that they are all temporary.

So, let me ask you a question.... If you take peyote and have a massively spiritual experience and see God or whatever your upbringing suggests you'd see, does that mean you are now at a high stage of spiritual evolution?


Know why? The drug effects are a state, and they are temporary! Anyone can have a spiritual experience, through drugs or other means, but how do we tell apart those who are at different stages of spiritual evolution in the permanent sense?

The answer is in the question: Stages

Let's talk about physical objects to show this. Think of an atom. An atom is a stage of matter. Atoms can get together and form molecules. Molecules include atoms. The atoms get together and form something greater than themselves alone, and usually the molecule that they form is reasonably permanent. The molecule is the next stage of matter.

Molecules can form objects, like cells, if you have enough of them. Cells can form organs. Organs can form systems. Systems can form organisms.

These are stages of matter. They are manifestations of increasing complexity, and they are relatively permanent.

Evolution of consciousness, which people seem to equate with someone's "level of spiritual evolution" also has stages. Unlike states, once you reach a new stage of consciousness, it is permanent.

We'll talk more about these later.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Integral philosophy

If you have not noticed yet in some previous posts, I am fond of systems that explain the universe, both physical and non-physical. I just am! For the most part, it's my personality. I like to look at how things work, and the universe qualifies as the biggest "thing" there really is. So hey.

One of the biggest problems in the world is the fact that there are so many systems and beliefs on how the universe works that it causes mass conflict and destruction repeatedly in our history. The bottom line of all these conflicts is a fight over what is the truth.

"My god can beat up your god."

"My way is the only way."

"Your way is evil. My way is good."

How many millions of people have died over those ideas? Yet, none of the warring religions or philosophies have EVER won once and for all.

What if they were all right? What if there was some overarching structure or principle that could unite all religions and philosophies, whether they acknowledged it or not?

They are, and there is.

Over the next batch of posts, I'm going to talk about Integral Philosophy, which was pioneered by Ken Wilber. This is a belief system, like any other, so all the disclaimers apply. However, as far as belief systems go, it is the most encompassing one I have ever seen, and it is able to literally explain anything with regard to religion or spirituality, but also physical objects, emotions, life.... everything.

When I started looking at this system, and I am still a novice, I was fascinated at how it did not do away with any of my current beliefs or practices at all. Rather, it encompassed them, validated them. It showed where tweaks are needed, but it did not in any way tell me what I should or should not do or believe. It is not dogma, and it is not new agey crap.

It is also not relativism, by the way. Relativism only gets part of the picture by stating that all actions can be viewed as good or bad depending on how you look at them. While this is true, relativism does not account for the witnessing oneness behind everything, to which there is no opposite.

The other thing is that this system is quite technical. Whenever I read these books, my brain hurts because it's like reading a graduate level philosophy text, which I don't like much. Luckily, I plan to present it in layman's terms, so anyone can understand it, because when it comes down to practicality, living this system is not hard at all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Funakoshi wrapup

Funakoshi Principle #20: Always think and devise ways to live the precepts every day.

Well, we made it. We got through all 20 Funakoshi principles. The 20th principle is a bit of a wrapup, or a reminder to.... what else?..... pay attention! Live your life in such a way that it becomes an exercise. See it as a test. See problems as opportunities to get stronger and grow.

The really crazy thing about all this spiritual stuff is that there isn't much to know. Hundreds of books are written. Zillions of methods are given. Scads of information is memorized. If you read enough books, talk to enough teachers, and do enough personal work, it all starts to sound like the same thing over and over again... because it IS, once you recognize it. There really isn't a whole lot to being happy.

Yet, all in all, it is all done this way because people are a bit thick-headed and need to be told things in many different ways in the off chance that they will understand "it". Once you understand "it", you too can write lots of books that say the same repetitious things as everyone else! It's like knowing the source of a mathematical formula that lets you derive all other formulas on your own.

Wisdom is no trick. It's just about getting "it", and then spewing your own assortment of derivatives or angle on it.

Ebb and flow

Funakoshi Principle #19: Do not forget to correctly apply: strength and weakness of power, stretching and contraction of the body and slowness and speed of techniques.

On a physical level, or an ego level, people tends towards doing things as hard as they can, or as fast as they can. Something in the strength and speed makes them feel powerful or skillful. Of course, what younger practitioners often encounter when speeding along through their brute strength is a big fat brick wall that is a lot harder and stronger than they are. Ouch! Naturally, this is not limited to newer practitioners or even to martial arts. It happens all the time in life.

People love to speed through things or barrel their way into situations. This principle points out what should be an obvious fact: sometimes doing things slowly or with softness works better.

If you are going through an intersection and a train is coming, do you barrel through without looking because you think that getting hit by a train could never happen to you? Sometimes, like in this situation, it pays to take a moment to look around and assess the environment before going over the tracks.

There are myriads of examples like this, but the point is that you can accomplish many things with softness and a well-placed lack of action, just as you can accomplish some things with force and speed too.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Heads or tails?

Funakoshi Principle #18: Practicing kata is one thing, engaging in a real fight is another.

For those that are not familiar with martial arts jargon, a "kata" is a series of choreographed techniques that are always done the same way, in the same pattern. Martial arts students do these forms over and over again in order to train their "muscle memory", which is a way of saying that the forms are made to ingrain the movements into the subconscious. Funakoshi was a big proponent of kata as a way of developing skill and character, i.e. spiritual practice. His detractors criticized this method because they said that doing kata does not have much effect on whether or not a person can fight in real life against a real opponent.

My opinion is that Funakoshi really did believe that kata was enough on its own to teach you how to fight for real. In my opinion, I also think the real answer lies somewhere in between. People who want to learn how to fight for real, and need to learn it fast, should engage in some basic training in form, but 90% of what they should do is spar against others and get the crap kicked outta them. They should also do as much as possible to build up their muscles and aerobic endurance. For pure fighting, that's basically what you need to do.

On the other hand, students who only practice kata will learn other things. They might be able to fight a little bit, but probably not very well against someone who only spars, yet they will gain some serious insight into themselves that the fighter will not.

A kata is basically a spiritual exercise. ANY action you do with repetition and intention will teach you things and become a spiritual exercise.

So when it comes down to it, why do you practice what you practice? Are you in it for fighting, or are you in it to grow spiritually?

This is true with things that have nothing to do with martial arts too.

Do you work your job to make money and become rich? Or do you do it for fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment or belonging?

Do you spend time with your family so your wife or mother doesn't yell at you? Or do you do it with the intention of helping your family members and spending valuable moments with them?

Do you engage in sports to be cool and make people like you? Or do you do it to learn about teamwork and dealing with people?

In all cases here, the same action has two sides to it and the only thing that separates them is intention. By the way, intention does not necessarily equate with pleasure or liking something. You can hate playing sports, but do it anyway with the intention of teaching yourself about teamwork, for example. Liking or disliking the action has nothing to do with whether or not you can grow from it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the down lo

Funakoshi Principle #17: Beginners must master low stance and posture, natural body positions are for the advanced.

I've always been fascinated by this subject. In Funakoshi's style of martial art, Shotokhan, and related styles like Wado Ryu, students are always taught deep stances that are low to the ground and very wide. The stances stress form and balance, as well as leg muscle strength. Naturally, if you were a trained fighter, you would look at these stances and think, "Wtf?" They don't exactly look practical because they slow you down and make it tougher for you to evade. On the other hand, they root you to the ground and make you a little tougher to knock over.

As people advance in those arts, their stances start to get a bit higher, lighter, and more mobile. However, since the person spent his or her early years training deep stances, their legs are now strong, and they have the same sense of balance when they are high up in a stance as they did when they were low in a stance. The key is to retain the feeling and mechanics of the low stance when you become advanced enough to do the high stance.

Somebody who starts out in high stances when training will not have this advantage, or will need to learn it another way. A lot of other styles never do deep stances, for example, tai quan do, Issyn Ryu, kickboxing, and many others.

Hell, Funakoshi also believed that you should not practice with weapons until you were already good with your bare hands, and many other martial arts schools believe that too. Then there's martial arts schools that put weapons into the hands of 3-year olds or teenage girls who can barely walk and chew gum at the same time. (Ok, I admit this irks the hell out of me when schools do this, because I come from the school of thought that you need to be able to punch and kick before you worry about using an implement as an extension of yourself, but it is certainly possible to do it the completely opposite way: going from weapon to empty hand at the advanced levels. Look at escrima.)

So what's the deal here? Funakoshi is obviously not preaching anything absolute because so many other groups are doing the exact opposite and they're doing fine.

The essence of this Funakoshi principle is that when you begin to learn something, you need to stick to the basics.... whatever they are. You start out being unconsciously incompetent. By sticking to the basics, you realize what you don't know and you become consciously incompetent. With more practice, you become good, i.e. consciously competent.

Once you are consciously competent, you go even further until you can just let go of the basics and allow them to happen on their own... you become unconsciously competent. This is a basic sequence of learning for most things:

unconscious incompetence --> conscious incompetence --> conscious competence --> unconscious competence

Think about it.

The lesson here is not to think that you know something when you really don't! The first stage of learning is to know that you don't know. That enables you to grow.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Still paying attention?

Funakoshi Principle #16: Be aware at all times that you have millions of potential opponents

This is yet another repetitious example of paying attention. The use of the word "opponent" tends to bring up images of a competitor working against you or a killer trying to end your life. That may be true in the sense of the Japanese used in the saying, but this can be expanded to include everyone: both those working with and against us.

In other words, be aware at all times of all your possible interactions with all people and things around you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Slice and Dice

Funakoshi Principle #15: Think of your hands and feet as swords.

For most martial artists, the meaning of this precept should be pretty clear. Your hands and feet, which do all the punching and kicking, are seamlessly integrated with you, obviously. They do all the work in a fight.

On a deeper level, this talks about awareness of your own body. When you use a weapon, it becomes an extension of yourself. Similarly, when you are using your bare hands, they are at one with your thoughts and feelings. There is no thinking "ok, here I go. I'm throwing a punch. Now, here comes a kick." When you have been doing martial arts for a while, this all happens with "mu shin", no mind. So, to be aware of your own body while moving is to be at one with it.

Much like some of the last precepts which talking about merging yourself with others, this one focuses on the individual, but says the same thing. Be aware. Be conscious. Be One.

How do you get there? Practice! Learning to move seems like the most obvious thing. Anyone with an intact spine and a limb or four can move. However, moving with intention and awareness is not immediately evident.

Try this. Look at your hand. As you look at it feel the inside of your hand. Try to sense the blood flowing through it, if you can As you do this, you might start to feel it tingle and get lighter, or even heavier depending. You've just got a glimpse of what it is like to put awareness into a body part. Over time, by doing that and learning to move that part with awareness, you can eventually do it without thinking.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hey, move it!

Funakoshi Principle #14: Move according to your opponent.

It seems like there are a lot of different translations to this one, but the one I go by is "move according to your opponent".

On a bare surface level, this means when your opponent punches, you block. When your opponent moves fast, you move fast. When your opponent is escalating, you are keeping pace, or even setting the pace if you are in control of the opponent in that moment.

On a deeper level, this is about merging with your opponent. When you move according to your opponent, you are blending with him or her. When you blend with an opponent, you merge with an opponent. Merging is both on a motion level, i.e. physical, but also on an emotional, mental, and spiritual one.

In effect, this dictum is a statement about how you should treat everyone: as if they are part of you. "Opponent" is anyone who is working against you. To work against someone is to be separate from them. Being separate from them is the opposite of merging consciousness. Thus, for everyone who is separate from you, treat them as if they are not. That in itself is a powerful tool for bringing out the best in your situation.

The Dalai Lama, in his book "The Art of Happiness At Work", reminds us that everyone we meet is dependent on us, and we are dependent on them. If you think about your job, everyone at your workplace is dependent on the work you do, or else they may not get their paycheck. The same goes for the work they do and your paycheck. This sort of thing is easy to see in small companies, but it is also true in large ones. So if you are dependent on all these people for your liveliehood, why in the world would you ever treat them with rudeness?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mano a mano

I'm back from my travels and posting again...

Funakoshi Principle #13:
Victory depends on your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones.

The other way I have seen this listed is "Respond in accordance with your opponent." Japenese language is funny like that. One set of symbols can mean two completely different things, although the deeper meanings of them can hold surprising similiarities.

Once again this whole thing goes back to perception, except this time it's perception of people. Not only is it seeing people, such as, "Oh look, there's some dude.", but also it refers to seeing inside people and understanding what is going on in real time in their minds and emotions.

In a fighting situation, such as a martial arts sparring match, this is a pretty clear-cut statement. You will win if you punch them in the ding ding. If you do not know where a ding ding is located, you better hit them somewhere else that hurts, or you lose.

However, think about it this way: Life is about interactions of all kinds, not just fights. Sometimes you may NOT want to hit somebody where they are vulnerable. In this case, it could be an effort to not hurt them emotionally, not just physically. You may want to spare someone's feelings or other parts of their being in your interaction with them, or you may not.

All that takes a lot of skill and awareness, and.... you guessed it... paying attention. "Victory" comes from knowing how to handle people. It comes from knowing when to spare their vulnerabilities when necessary, and to not spare them when necessary too. It also comes from knowing how those vulnerable points come and go, and to be able to detect the strong and weak points, as well as the emotions and sentiments, of people as they interact with you.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A quick recap

To anyone just joining us, we are a little more than half way through looking at some principles by a man named Gichin Funakoshi, who is reputed by some to be the man that made karate popular in the United States.

I am doing this as part of a general discussion on some basic spiritual principles, and using karate as an example of how living your normal life, in a normal way, IS a profound spiritual practice. You just need to consistently see it that way for it to be so, and life will take it from there.

Remember that as we go through all this, you can easily substitute your favorite activity in every place where I talk about karate or martial arts.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Don't be a loser

Funakoshi Principle #12: Do not think that you have to win, rather think that you do not have to lose.

I'm in the middle of a flurry of business trips back and forth from Minneapolis, so I haven't been around to write.

Anyway! This is an interesting principle. On its barest level, it talks about sportsmanship. For example, when you are sparring someone in martial arts, you should remember that winning isn't everything. It's whether or not you did your best that matters. Winning is generally a "nice to have" in physical tournaments, but it is not everything.

Looking at this deeper, however, it becomes more interesting than that.

What happens when all you think about is winning?

What does that do to your attitude? What does that do to your focus? Some would say it increases it, and in physical sports the "killer instinct" is necessary for winning. That's probably true. However, take a look at most (professional) athletes. What are they like?

Their focus on winning tends to concentrate their awareness on themselves, namely, their own emotions and egos and how to go about satisfying those things. This is essentially the feeding of a "false self".

Too much concentration on winning does that. It can strengthen and feed your ego and bring you away from being aware of the aspects of yourself that are closer to Consciousness. Funakoshi is saying all you have to do is concentrate on not losing. In other words, it is ok to take care of yourself and provide yourself some measure of comfort and sustenance. You should not deny those needs because their basic fulfillment is just as much a part of spirituality as any other exercise, more even.

You don't have to "lose" by not worrying about your needs at all, or even denying them completely and letting everyone else walk all over you. Concentrating on "not losing" is striking a balance between your needs and egoic desires.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Keep on burnin'

Funakoshi Principle #11: Karate is like boiling water. If you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.

In one way of looking at it, this principle says the same thing I mentioned already about the value of training and working hard on things, i.e. the point of it is to increase your baseline, or Stage, to use a Ken Wilber term.

Along those same lines, this principle can also express the importance of meditation or prayer (which technically are the same thing, if you understand how they work.) Meditation and prayer are like lifting weights, and all the basic ideas apply. If you do it more, you get more focused and centered, along with some other good side effects. If you stop, the effects diminish.

The same is also true on a physical level, as I said before, with regards to karate or any sport.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Tenth Insight

No, it's not a cheesy book! It's the next Funakoshi principle:

Funakoshi Principle #10: Put your everyday living into karate, and you will find the subtle secrets.

Anyone seeing a pattern here? Like any good teacher, Funakoshi has an underlying principle emerging. Moreover, that underlying principle rings true, and is recognizable as being his own way of saying the same thing everyone else is saying when they teach about Reality.

In my own words, I'm asserting the same thing he is: Pay attention!

When you pay attention long enough, you start to realize that life is constantly giving you clues to things, answers even. The problem is that these clues and answers are so subtle that if your attention lags for even a moment, you could miss out.

"Putting your everyday living into karate" does not necessarily mean opening soup cans with shuto strikes, or breaking frozen meat with a bare fist. (Please, never try that.) Putting your everyday living into karate means applying the principles of attention, chi, centered-ness, and awareness into your life. Training in a dojo is a good way to work on these things, but if you don't have a dojo (like me at the moment), you are still fine! You have life!

Here's a trick to show this principle of how the universe gives clues. Think of a question in your mind, something that is general and about your life. Then open a book, any book, preferably not a technical manual for an air cleaning system, but if that floats your boat, then sure. Read a passage out of that book with your question in mind. See if the text has any relevance after you think about it. Often you will find it does.

That's a little trick that forces the issue a bit, but if you just pay attention to what's going on in your life in a particular moment, with a question in mind, you will often see something that gives you a clue. Try it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

In it for life

Funakoshi Principle #9: Karate is a life-long pursuit.

In today's world of ADD kids and ADD adults, people rarely actually stick with something for long. Interests come and go and before you know it, your kid (or the parent) is onto something else. Personally, I think that the overload of information we see from technology and society today perpetuates our scatter-brained tendency.

Karate classes are just a casualty of this phenomenon. I've seen more people come and go in class than are enrolled in the class at any given time. I have put fairly high level belts on people who have earned them every bit, only to never see them again after that. Life calls.

Funakoshi would probably not be too happy with today's state of karate and martial arts in that respect.

However, hold on a minute!

Maybe not everyone is meant to be in a karate class his or her whole life? Maybe people are meant to get what they need and then move on? Perhaps all that is needed sometimes is several months of lessons to drive home some important point in life, at which step the person then moves onward?

I believe that is closer to the truth. So does this contradict Funakoshi? No. I don't think it does.

Instead of the word "karate", substitute "spiritual practice". Spiritual practice is a lifelong pursuit. That is true. A student might leave a karate class, but the student's spiritual practice goes on afterward, hopefully.

Remember, training, exercises, thrills.... these are not necessarily spiritual practice, or lifelong pursuits. However, Life is a lifelong pursuit. There is only one way out, eh? Every-day events are your teacher, and every-day actions are your spiritual practice.

I believe that Funakoshi probably equated karate with spirituality, and understood the importance of using life as your teacher. That is what he meant by the principle.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Small break from Funakoshi

Just felt like diverting....

When I die, say this for me...

If you feel sad for me, feel sad.
If you are moved to cry for me, cry.
But do not let your grief for me pull you way for even one second from doing what must be done in this present moment.
Do not allow your sadness to make you sink into the past, reminiscing of me
for when you are in the past, I am not there, and you are moving away from me.
Instead, be with me in the Present.
In this moment, I never was, and never will be again, but I am here now as much as I was before, and more.
I am the memories in your mind.
I am the air in your lungs.
I am the beauty you can see in all things.
I am YOU.
So when this moment is passed and drifts to the next, know that I am here always eternally, with you, and join me in my greatest and final realization.

Cutting class

Funakoshi Principle #8: Do not think that karate is only practiced in the dojo.

I dare say that this principle is akin to the things I have been noting on this blog for a while now. Life is a spiritual practice. There are times when we do "formal exercises" or training to sharpen parts of ourselves, such as practicing martial arts, but when you leave the classroom the learning does not need to stop. Life is your main teacher. By paying attention to the things around you, there are lessons everywhere.

I don't want to repeat this so much if it can be gleaned from past posts. Let me take another aspect of this principle.

In a sense, taking a martial arts class is the same exact thing as playing baseball, lifting weights, or joining a quiz game league: the more you practice something, the better you get... until you stop practicing. As long as you remain in the classroom, you will get better or maintain your skills. When you get out of the classroom, your skills can get rusty. So what's the point of ever really being in class, if its effects are not permanent and they only work so long as you stay in it for the rest of your life? Shouldn't the things that we can do in our everyday life and practice count for more?

As an example, why lift weights if as soon as I stop lifting weights I will almost immediately revert back to my baseline strength? I either have to lift weights for the rest of my life, or be happy with what I've got. If you like to lift weights, then that's great. It's about pleasure at that point. If you don't like lifting weights, why do it?

Ok, now that I've played Devil's advocate....

That's not to say that classrooms do not have a purpose. A sensei of mine used to say, "The worst you ever do in class is the best you will ever do on the street. The point of class is to work on your worst, and make it better."

What you do in a class over a long period of time affects your baseline. A few months of class will move up your baseline a tiny bit. A few years of class will move it up noticeably, but barely. A few decades will move it up a lot. Your baseline is what matters, not the limits of your skills in class.

Ken Wilber refers to this concept as "States" and "Stages".

A State is a temporary frame of mind or consciousness. When you practice karate in class, and you are having a good day, or a good year, you are in a very high State of practice, or a high state of proficiency. States come and go, however. Once you leave class temporarily, or for good, the State goes away, or you can revert to a lower State.

Stages are your baseline. Stages are permanent, and do not go downward easily. If you stop practicing forever, your baseline level of skill in karate is your Stage. Stages take a long time to advance. Moving up your baseline to a new level is a slow and arduous process that can take years or decades in the case of martial arts.

Stages can advance through normal activity in your life, not just class. That's the essence of what Funakoshi is saying. However, actively working on a Stage in a classroom setting can advance it faster.

A final disclaimer: This is yet another toolbox, a belief system. It is a series of labels I have put onto things that are not describable with words. Keep in mind things I've said on the blog about Oneness and a lack of advancement or striving.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Funakoshi Principle #7: Accidents arise from negligence.

Another way of wording this is inattention and neglect cause misfortune. Once again, on the surface this physically means pay attention. If you are careless in practicing martial arts, someone could get hurt, and people do get hurt. So pay attention!

The deeper meaning of this principle is... Pay attention! Yet again, here we have what is really my own personal basic guiding principle in life, paying attention.

The Japanese have a concept called "satori", which can roughly translate as "excellence", but what satori really means is attentive focus and readiness. In his book Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman's teacher, Socrates, shows him what satori feels like. He pulls out a knife and tells Dan to catch the knife when he throws it at hm. Naturally, Dan was scared half to death, but he figured he better damn well pay attention or he was about to get skewered. He might be getting skewered anyway...

Socrates never threw the knife, but Dan realized that the lesson was about how he felt when he thought Socrates was going to throw the knife. He went into a state of satori. Think about how you'd feel if someone told you they were about to throw a knife and you had to catch it.

Granted, we can't all pay attention like this all the time. Sales of headache medications would go through the roof, and Pfizer's stock would be a lot higher than it is now. However, there are other kinds of attention too, ones that take less effort. In our martial arts school, the Kodo School of Karate, we call one of them "Mind of Water". This state of consciousness is a quiet and relaxed readiness. You are not in satori, where you are trying to catch daggers, but you are attentive and awake, alert too, but not tense. Although you are not noticing every single detail of every little thing, you are tuned into the main flow of things and you understand what's happening around you as it happens.

Should anything arise that requires more attention, BANG. You switch into satori, and you focus on it. We call that "Mind of Mirror".

There is also a "Mind of Moon" where you are usually in Mind of Water, but with an added focus on trying to see everything at once in more detail. Mind of Moon talks more about noticing things with your senses: sight, sound, touch, intuition, whereas Mind of Water is a state of consciousness and may or may not deal with senses at any given time.

Neglecting to have at least one of these states active can result in accidents. Accidents mean that you missed something and it caused you to make a mistake.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Release the mind

Funakoshi Principle #6: Always be ready to release your mind.

I'll admit. There are some Funakoshi principles that are more physical than others, and some can be tough to find the deeper meaning behind them. This is not one of them.

In a strict martial arts sense, when you have practiced the physical moves for a long time they become ingrained in you, and when it comes time to do them for real (or practice) you can do them without thinking. There is a state of "no mind", or in Japanese, mu-shin. That state of no mind, where you are at one with the present moment and you just act as needed, is one of the biggest side effects of practicing martial arts. When you do it in class, it starts to spill out into your life for some things.

When you first start to get into this, it sort of comes on when it wants to. The state of no-mind in newer black belts tends to only come out under situations of extreme endurance or stress, but as they progress, it becomes easier to get to it, and eventually it can come at will. Holding it for long periods of time is another matter.

In this state, which is not just good for martial arts, but for a lot of other things too, you are not putting up any mental barriers or labels between you and the things you are looking at. Normally when you look at something, your mental chatter labels it. "Book"... "Pen"..... "Monitor"... etc. What you are therefore perceiving most of the time is your mental label of things rather than the things themselves, which have no names. When you look at something without a mental label, it can be surprising because you become aware that the thing is literally bursting into creation, in a fit of ecstasy even.

Most people can't live like this all the time, but a good substitute for that is to be able to switch into that state for little bits of time whenever you get the chance. Always being ready to release your mind means being able to do that, both in times of stress and in times of calm.

Doing this on a regular basis is a powerful exercise and spiritual practice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We interrupt this bloggin'

Usually towards the beginning of each month I like to remind everyone who is new here that sometimes it's easier to start reading this blog from the beginning instead of picking up the most recent posts first. Lately that's not quite as true because I have been doing various topics, but for the earlier stuff there definitely is a progression.

Also, we now have a "followers" widget on the right sidebar, if you look over there. Pretty cool.

It's not what you say or do...

Funakoshi Principle #5: Spirit first, technique second.

Technique is a mechanical thing. The word "technical" is part of the word "technique". Doing a technique in a technically perfect way is great, if it is even possible.

However, it is your spirit that allows the technique to accomplish its goal. Beyond that, if you can develop and focus your spirit, you can even let go of the technique, from a technical standpoint.

Confused yet?

Let's say someone throws a punch at you, and you block it.

If your technique is perfect, you might have enough speed and power to actually block that punch. You might even have enough power to break their arm as it punches, if you wish. But what are you going to DO to that person in terms of the overall fight? Are you going to scare them? Are you going to surprise them? Are you going to make them laugh? Are you going to make them your friend?

It is the spirit behind the technique that conveys its intention. If you block the punch and burn your eyes into the person, they may realize it's not a good idea to try a second punch. If you had relied only on technique, that may not be the case. They may have thought you simply got lucky and they might try again.

What about life?

Ever hear the phrase "it's not what you say, but how you say it"? Someone's language "technique" could be great, but their personality or intentions can be completely off and they can rub people the wrong way. Actually, people make a lot of problems for themselves because they are insensitive to what is behind their language technique. Your ability to not only use good wording but also to convey the proper message that you intend without creating undesired reactions in other people is what is known as people skills.

Beyond words, actions are the same. You can go to work every day as a matter of technical course. It's just what you do, and you do it by habit. OR, you can go to work every day as an exercise. See it as a test. See it as a kata. Simply see it as fun, even if it is not initially what you think of as fun!

Remember you make your reality through your thoughts, beliefs, intentions, and feelings, i.e. your spirit. The technique is what it is, whether it's throwing a punch, talking to your teacher, or going to work. The spirit is what makes that technique work the way you wish to manifest it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Control, you must learn control

Funakoshi Principle #4: First control yourself before attempting to control others.

Control.... this is a pretty profound concept in my mind, certainly not a trivial thing to talk about. It is something I have wrestled with in my own life since I was a kid and I could probably write volumes on it, but maybe it is best to start simply.

Technique..... The first thing anyone needs to be able to do is control the body. You do this as an infant learning to walk (not to mention the hundreds of other motions you learn before even attempting to walk.) You also do this in karate. When you first start out, you cannot control your body in such a way to do "good techniques", whatever they may be.

Ever look at a white belt doing a stance next to a brown belt? They are both doing a stance, but they look different. Same technique, and aside from personal differences between their body types, the difference in the way they look is control. A brown belt has been around long enough to know how to control his or her body to do a good stance. A white belt is still trying to figure out the mechanics of it.

Now what about the deeper physical aspects of control beyond motor skills? Senseis sometimes say you should "move from your center." This is the element of controlling yourself physically. Move from your center. It is not as easy as you think, and you actually spend a good deal of your early (and late) belt ranks figuring out how to move from your center.

Jujitsu has developed this concept even more highly. First you learn to control your center. Then you learn to control someone else's center (through throws and holds and other stuff). Then you learn to control the center between you and your opponent.

In karate, you are going to have a lot of trouble managing the techniques thrown at you by your opponent if you are still trying to figure out the basics of how to block or punch. You need to know how to move before you can begin to deal with stuff coming at you effectively. Once you do learn this, having an opponent trying to strike you becomes less of an issue.

So this begs some of the deeper questions about control. What is it?

Here's my definition:

Control is the identification of "self" with one's True Self, as opposed to one's desires and animal nature.

Once you do this, the wants and desires of your Animal Self (food, warmth, sex, sleep, safety) and your Inner Self (acceptance, revenge, friendship, romance, and more) can be seen for what they really are. The illusions behind them are broken and you become "free" of them. You have control. This does not mean they go away. They will always be there as long as you are human. However, when you can "control yourself", you are able to do what needs to be done at the moment, rather than what these lesser natures are telling you to do.

After doing this for a while, a funny thing happens. You realize that there is really no difference between the "self" that is you and the "self" that is someone else. It's the same Self. Once you become free of it, you contribute to all humans' abilities to become free of it as well. At that point, there is no need to "control" others forcefully or otherwise, because you understand things as they happen and are able to do what needs to be done despite the obstacles presented by someone else's desire and animal natures.

Friday, October 3, 2008

For great justice!

Funakoshi Principle #3: Karate is an aide to justice.

Alternatively, this could be translated as "Karate stands on the side of justice."

First, what the heck is justice? Second, are we supposed to be dressing up in capes and tights and going out to save people from evil villains?

I really doubt Funakoshi wanted us to don our gis and belts and go out to save little Okinawan damsels in distress, fun as it might be. As for Justice, we can bring up a lot of arguments about whether or not it even exists in life at all.

So what in the world is this principle talking about? Karate is an aid to justice??

One thing that comes to my mind when thinking about this over the years is that Justice has a lot to do with Balance.

If instead of thinking about legal matters we think about karate as an aid to Balance, then it all becomes more clear. Using the word "Justice" may just mean that we are talking about Balance as it pertains to events outside of ourselves. Balance can be an internal or external thing, but I see Justice as a purely external thing that relates to interactions between two or more things. BUT, what you do on the inside reflects what you do on the outside, so there's really no difference between the two.

So there you have it. Karate is an aid to the Balance within ourselves and between ourselves and others.

This means that if you work your technique and your awareness, you will bring Balance to your internal self, and from there that Balance will rub off on others besides you. It will rub off on situations in which you involve yourself. It will rub off on tasks that you do and things that you make.

In other words, karate is a tool, i.e. an aid. In itself, it is not Balance or Justice. It is a way of obtaining them within yourself and others.
Remember also that "karate" can be substituted with any personal spiritual practice. Your practice is what balances you.

Also keep in mind that sometimes doing nothing can be balancing. By observing and "being" you can lend your energy to the balance of the world, and therefore the "justice" of the world is aided by it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

No First Strike

Funakoshi Principle #2: There is no first attack in karate.

On a surface level, this is a pretty good observation. Karate is for defense. You do not use karate to walk into a bar and rough people up. You do not use karate to oppress your little brother or sister. etc...

All katas in Wado Ryu and Shotokan begin with a block or an evasion of some sort. In the story of the kata, you are not the attacker. You are the defender.

But all of these examples talk about technique. You can "use" karate without having to throw a technique. Using karate can be keeping your awareness on the street at a high level so you cross the road when that gang of shady-looking people is coming your way. Using karate can be burning your eyes into that mugger to make him think twice about attacking you. Using karate can be accommodating an annoying coworker in a business meeting to let them get something they really need despite the fact it stings your ego a bit. Using karate can be enforcing a boundary on your kid without instilling fear in them to do it.

We can think of many more examples.

Where does this principle apply in the non-technique examples?

To understand this, we need to realize that an "attack" is not always something physical. You can attack with words, looks, attitudes, body language, and other things.

This principle's deeper meaning is that you should be aware enough of yourself to NOT throw these kinds of attacks first. Doing that takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness because a lot of us throw these kinds of attacks unknowingly or out of habit. How many times have you found yourself in a situation where someone irked you and you just had to shoot a verbal barb at them, which wound up starting an argument? If you would have just left it alone, there would not have been a useless confrontation, right? Have you ever kicked yourself for doing that?

If you have, then you are on the right track. Becoming aware of the attacks you make against people is a first step. Catching them after the fact is progress. Catching them before you are about to do them is where you want to be.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Funakoshi Principle #1: Karate begins and ends with courtesy.

Alternatively, this can read, "Karate begins and ends with a bow."

Either way the meaning is clear. Courtesy is something the martial arts values, but why?

What I have learned over the years is that Consciousness has many aspects, and we generally cannot perceive all aspects of Consciousness simultaneously. It's too much for our minds to process all at once. Thus, we tend to break it up.

One aspect of Consciousness is compassion and kindness. From one vantage point, you might perceive that Consciousness "radiates" compassion, love, and kindness. It's definitely one way of looking at it. Another way would be to say that Consciousness IS the compassion, love, and kindness. All of these are ways of trying to say something that words cannot say.

When you go through the motions of courtesy, you are in effect capturing a tiny piece of this part of Consciousness and bringing it into your awareness. When most people are courteous, they are just doing it by rote. There is generally no intention behind it. If you go your whole life doing that, you will be well-liked but you won't get far in terms of expanding your awareness.

However, this principle of Funakoshi forces us to be courteous, with intention.

Ever hear of the principle of "Fake it 'till you make it"? It's absolutely a good method. If someone does not know how to tap into that compassionate loving aspect of Consciousness, one way to eventually learn how to do that is to FAKE being compassionate and loving with intention, and one day the true value and ability will become clear.

Interactions begin and end with courtesy. Be courteous with the intention that one day you will learn to become aware of that which is the source of courtesy.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why do you do what you do?

Continuing from my last post, martial arts is one of my personal spiritual practices, and has been for a long time. It is a good example, but not the only example, of something that is seemingly "normal" that can be made into a tremendous opportunity to evolve yourself and grow. As I talk about martial arts over the next few posts, substitute your own activity into all the spaces where I put the words "martial arts", and you will see that the concepts I'm giving are the same for your activity too.

It's all about the intention behind your actions.

Draja Mickaharic once gave me an analogy. He said life is like treading water in a really deep dark pool. At the bottom of the pool is a priceless diamond, and everyone knows that getting the diamond would be a good thing. The problem is that the diamond is too deep to get it. A person cannot hold his or her breath long enough to swim down that far. Most people struggle to get the diamond but never do, and in their despair they give up and drown. They think that since they could not get the diamond, they've "lost" the game. However, there are other people who view the whole scenario as a test to better themselves. They realize that they can't get the diamond, but that doesn't matter to them. The game is actually about learning how to hold their breath longer so they can swim deeper and deeper each time, and one day maybe eventually they will be able to get the diamond. The act of bettering themselves and the journey of working towards that diamond is what matters to them.

Both the people who drown and the people who view it as a test are doing the same actions: they are trying to get the diamond. The ONLY difference between them is how they view the situation, and what their intentions are.

Intentions change everything.

So goes the same for martial arts. Why do people do martial arts? There are all kinds of reasons. Some people want to learn to boot some head. Some people want to learn to break as many bricks as they can, with their head. Some people want to learn self-defense or street smarts. Some people want to get lots of exercise. Some people want to be sports champions and get lots of trophies.

All these things are fine. They all represent different intentions behind doing the same set of tasks. My intention was to learn about my own body, emotions, mind, and spirit. I was lucky to have a class that focused on that aspect. Few of them ever do.

The style I practiced was mostly composed of Wado Ryu, which is an Okinawan style of karate. Later on I got into other things, and before that I had done Goju Ryu, an Okinawan style with some similarities, as well as several years of fencing. On the side, I did a lot of full-contact medieval combat with historical re-enactment groups, but that was not for spiritual purposes. That was purely for booting some head. (I too like to boot head once in a while!)

The father of Wado Ryu, or more correctly, Shotokan karate, was a man named Gichin Funakoshi. Though he was the father of Okinawan karate in the United States, he was also the person who brought the idea of karate as a spiritual practice into the mainstream of thought. Before that time, karate was for life and death. You needed it to survive on Okinawa in the 1700 and 1800's. In the 20th century, however, things cooled down a lot over there, comparatively, and other reasons for practicing karate became more noticeable. Particularly, this man was fairly enlightened to the aspects of doing karate to build character and uncovering your connection to Oneness.

Funakoshi came up with 20 precepts.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Normal" Spiritual Practice

If you browse through some of my posts, I have this specific concept of "normal" with regards to spiritual practices and things, if you will. In general, the concept focuses on doing what you have to do spiritually without letting it interfere with your everyday life or your relationships with people in ways that exclude you, set you apart, or make you seem different in a showy sort of way.

Why this concept? Well, in my travels, I've met a lot of people who declare themselves as "spiritual", "psychic", "special" or what have you. Many of them were indeed psychic or special, just ask them! :) However, they were not what I call normal at all. Some of these people were so wrapped up in their games that they had trouble paying their bills, making friends, finishing their education, and a whole host of other "normal" things. They would tell me that they do not need these things because they have some "higher purpose"... as they begin proceedings for eviction from their houses, or as they get abused by their boyfriends, or as they simply forget to feed themselves.

Let me tell you something. There is nothing more "spiritual" than just living your life with mindfulness. If you do that, the changes that come will be natural, i.e. normal, and they will not set you apart or make you fail to survive in the physical world.

"But we must do these cool exercises to evolve, Josh!"

Exercises do have their place. They train your mind, emotions, and body how to pull out of your ego-induced coma that you live in. But why do exercises have to be flashy? Ask yourself that. Maybe you want them to be flashy so other people know you are doing them? That's an ego trap.

The most effective exercises are the ones that people never know you are doing. The most effective things in general are the things that do not call attention.

I also know people that have been working quite hard to train spiritually, and they have friends/relatives who have known them for 10, 20, even 30+ years that NEVER KNEW.

Those people are normal! :)

Ok, so I want to spend some time now on this blog going deeply into an example of a "normal" spiritual practice: Martial Arts.

Let's assume that martial arts is a normal activity. You know people that do them. There's a lot of increased popularity lately especially for something called Mixed Martial Arts or MMA. In essence, this is a sport. Martial arts is every bit a sport as football, and in fact it's not just one sport, it's a family of sports.

So what's spiritual about martial arts? A whole lot! I've spent the better part of 27 years now learning that side of it, and I'd like to share some insights in the next few posts.

Keep in mind that this can be a parallel to any activity of your choice. When I point out the spiritual aspects of martial arts, look for the same aspects in whatever it is you do.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Another close one

Here's another song that I really like, where the artist got really close to some interesting revelations. My comments are the bolded ones.

Sometimes, I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear
And I can't help but ask myself how much I let the fear
Take the wheel and steer <---awesome realization... fear drives people and he's realizing it's driving him
It's driven me before
And it seems to have a vague, haunting mass appeal <-- remarking on the seductive nature of fear
But lately I'm beginning to find that I
Should be the one behind the wheel <-- Beautiful analogy for being in the Now! Take the wheel.

Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there <-- Oh so close! It's about Now, not tomorrow. I would have used the phrase "Whatever the moment brings, I'll be there."
With open arms and open eyes yeah

Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there
I'll be there

So if I decide to waiver my chance to be one of the hive
Will I choose water over wine and hold my own and drive? <-- Will I choose to zone out into my own mind or be here now?
It's driven me before
And it seems to be the way that everyone else gets around <-- Realizing that most people are asleep
But lately I'm beginning to find that
When I drive myself my light is found

Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there
With open arms and open eyes yeah

Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there
I'll be there

Would you choose water over wine
Hold the wheel and drive

Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there
With open arms and open eyes yeah

Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there
I'll be there

This is a beautiful song for showing some analogies between living in the Present and living in times other than Now. When people start to "wake up", they often have these experiences that this singer is talking about. They go through brief moments where they feel like they've been asleep, and that all the things that they thought mattered a whole lot are really in their head. For brief seconds, they can see what is right in front of them, and it's so obvious that it's sometimes able to make them laugh about it.

That's what I would refer to as a "glimmer" of Consciousness in this blog. Occasionally you get rays of light shining through that dirty window of the Inner Self and you can catch a brief inkling of what is beyond. Fact is that "beyond" is right here, right in front of us, and we have our eyes shut.

Here's a link to the video:


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Insanity is the word for it

If you read my last entry, it demonstrates an important pattern in human behavior: insanity. Of course, I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist and I am probably not using the exact correct definition of what they would call insanity. However, I do mean something specific by it.

Eckhart Tolle uses the term "insane" to describe a person (or the whole human race) as someone overtaken by and wrapped up in the ego. I like that definition because I think it can be useful in describing things.

For example, when I was in my state of worry over money, I had absolutely no awareness of what was really happening in that moment: I was driving in my car with little or no traffic. Good music was playing. The weather was nice. I was healthy, and nothing was wrong. The only thing that was "wrong" in that moment was my bout of worry about a future time which doesn't exist and may never exist. The worry existed only in my brain. Outside my skin, there was no problem with anything.

That's insanity: making pain for yourself when there is really none to be had.

There are also many different levels of insanity. What happened there in the car was a moment of minor insanity, a minor and fleeting loss of awareness Consciousness, also called unconsciousness.

There is also deep insanity, or deep unconsciousness. Let's say you have an average man who just finds out that his wife cheated on him. Certainly, he will become angry. Most people would, and that's the normal reaction to it. You can be angry and conscious at the same time. However, a "normal" person would have a really tough time being conscious in that situation. Most people would become unconsious and get into an argument with the betraying wife. Fine. However, a small minority of people would become deeply unconscious. They would lose so much touch with their true nature and become so absorbed by their ego that even their mental faculties would be completely gone, and they would perpetuate violence against the women. This is how you explain the presence of dysfunctional people in a simple way, without all the subclassifications of psycology.

Individual people are not the only things that can be insane. Groups also get insane. So do nations, races, religions, and any other types of associations among people. All you have to do to see a demonstation of that is read a newspaper or news blog.

Any time you take up a position on something, either by yourself or along with your group, and you are investing yourself into that position, that is the ego fooling you into thinking that something is real, when it isn't. The same is true if you take up a position against something too, remember! Railing against something because you think it is wrong can be the same as rallying for what you think is right, if it's done with an investment of your identity into it.

Every group and every individual has a connection to Consciousness. These people and associations can be aware of that Oneness or unaware of it, and they can act accordingly.

Monday, September 15, 2008


One day not long ago I was driving to work, and I was worrying about money. It happens to the best of us, as they say! In my head, I was churning around the possibilities of what I can do with the money I have, and how I could possibly get more, because, as you may not be surprised to hear, I feel like I do not have enough money.

Then my cell phone rang. I put the call through to my car speakers via my swanky Bluetooth interface in my luxury car (whose payments are one reason why I worry whether I have enough money or not), and the person on the other end was an old friend of mine from my old job. She needed me to do some consulting work for her, just a few hours on a Saturday. Eureka! Money! At $150/hr, a few hours on a Saturday was going to be pretty decent extra cash.

So, after hanging up with her my mind went right back to work spending that money that I might be getting but did not actually have yet. It was not long before I realized that even those measly few hundred dollars was not going to make a difference in my finances. The amount of money from that work compared to the amount of debt I am in was not significant. In fact, someone could give me ten times that amount and although it would make a decent dent in my debt, it would not end it, and my daily rat race would not change at all. I would be right onto the next gig, hoping to make another score. My mood began to spiral downward.

Then I was struck by something in all of that!

My life was not going to change at all from receiving that money for the consulting work. Financially speaking, my life would be the same before and after: I would be looking for ways to get money to pay the debt. So really there was no point to getting this money. It was not going to change a thing. In fact, to really change my lifestyle in a tangible way, it would take a whole lot of money which was not likely as far as I could see. So why was I beating myself up over this?

Good question.

Then I was struck by a vision of sorts. I sort of split into two and had a conversation with myself:

Self 1: If someone paid all my debts, what would I be doing right now?
Self 2: Investing!! Putting my money to work for me instead of chasing debt!
Self 1: Ok, great. What would that get me?
Self 2: More money!! A positive net worth!
Self 1: True, and what would I do with that extra money?
Self 2: Upgrade my lifestyle, maybe go back into a little debt even?
Self 1: *Laughing* Ok, fine. How long would it take to get enough money invested to actually change my lifestyle?
Self 2: A long time. Years.
Self 1: Years?! So, ok, if I had no debt and a bunch of money in the bank, what would I be doing differently RIGHT NOW, TODAY?
Self 2: Nothing. You'd be driving to work just like this.

It was an astonishing revelation. For a few moments afterwards, I pretended that all my debts were gone and I had a bunch of money in the bank, and I felt no different. I was still in my car driving to work. I was still right here, right now.

What you've just seen here is a perfect example of someone being overtaken by ego. When you step back and look at it, all of that stuff was in my head. None of it was real. Money, debt, all those types of things are numbers, especially nowadays in the Age of Information. Money is less real now than it ever was: it's just a bunch of 1's and 0's encoded as electrical impulses. So why do we get beat up about it? It happens because the ego loves an opportunity to draw you out of the Present Moment.

If you ever realize this happening to you, stop. Ask yourself what the logical conclusion of your desires is. If you follow the logic long enough, you will start to see the emptiness and flaws in it.

Go a step further. Close your eyes and spend time pretending you have what you want. Or, more importantly, open your eyes and pretend you have everything you want already and really be honest about how that would change your Present. Would it really?

Use this as an exercise to get yourself into the Present Moment. In the end, Now is all there is.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Practice makes perfect

Hey look it's a double header today!

When I was just starting out learning an Okinawan karate style at age 16, I practiced a lot. Usually, I would practice in my room at night with the door shut, going through all the techniques I was taught, over and over. Over the next couple years afterwards, I did not practice as much. Instead of every night, I probably did it every couple nights or every few nights, and I felt guilty about it.

So one night I went to a sensei and asked, "Sensei, how often do you practice?"

"All the time." he said.

"Huh?" I asked. "All the time? How? Right now you aren't practicing, at least. You're talking to me. So that can't be true. "

He smiled at me, "Oh, but it is true. See, you need to understand something. 'Practicing' does not necessarily mean doing kicks and punches for hours on end. 'Practicing' could be doing your breathing while walking down the street, or working on your awareness and training your mind. By doing these things, you are training too."

It was an interesting revelation. What is a spiritual exercise?

Is it some kind of funky task that you hate? Is it some hugely magical undertaking every night at a precise time? Not necessarily!!

The most potent spiritual exercises are the ones you do all the time, but do not seem like exercises. They seem like normal activity.

Are you sitting in a chair right now? How's your breathing? How's your posture? What noises are there in the background? How are the moods of the people around you? What is your own emotional state? Why is it that way? What do you need to do right now despite how you feel? What are you doing instead of that?

You can run through all those things in your head at ANY time without anyone knowing you are doing it, and that is a spiritual exercise.

Not sitting down? What are you doing? Sorting mail? Then sort the mail!! Sort the mail without thinking about anything else but that mail and how you can best sort it. Enjoy the energy in the task. Enjoy the repetitive motion. Sail through the motion smoothly and easily without effort. Get better at doing it gracefully with each repetition.

Doing that is a whole lot more enjoyable than cursing your job in the mail room, no?!

Whatever you are doing is spiritual. Everything. The only difference is whether you do it with or without awareness to that fact.

Oh, so close!

Most of the music out there is great and all, but it's generally been degraded into the realm of emotion and ego. I guess I don't need to demonstrate that when you look at all the bands that are put together to churn out tunes to the masses in such a way that is optimized to demographic and music sales. However, music, like all other art, can also reflect a piece of Consciousness. Put another way, Consciousness can inspire music in such a way that it does not get clouded by mental and emotional barriers that hide the presence of Consciousness. An artist, or musician, that is inspired in this way gets glimpses of Reality without a mental filter in place that labels everything. When the artist expresses that unfiltered Reality in a non-egotistical way, the result is always something beautiful and breathtaking, like a sunset. Viewing or listening to it will stop your mental chatter in its tracks, and for a brief second, you too will see things without your filter.

Sometimes, artists are expressing their emotional crap, and most of the time it's nonsense, like most emotional crap. However, occasionally, once in a blue moon, you get an artist that's expressing something emotional which is just on the verge of a breakthrough, or a lessening of the ego, or a glimpse of Consciousness.

I want to give an example. This is a song that I really like, by Stacie Orrico, with my comments in bold:

I've got it all, but I feel so deprived
I go up, I come down and I'm emptier inside <-- Starting to realize that there's a "rat race"
Tell me what is this thing that I feel like I'm missing <-- It's your undeniable pull towards things that are Real!
And why can't I let it go

There's gotta be more to life...
Than chasing down every temporary high to satisfy me <-- Damn right!
Cause the more that I'm...
Trippin' out thinkin' there must be more to life
Well it's life, but I'm sure... There's gotta be more

(Than wanting more) <--So close!

I've got the time and I'm wasting it slowly
Here in this moment I'm half-way out the door <-- Great line! She's realizing that there's this thing called Presence, though she hasn't figured out how to pay attention to it yet
Onto the next thing, I'm searching for something that's missing

I'm wanting more

I'm always waiting on something other than this <-- And you always will, until you learn to disidentify with the wanting
Why am I feelin' like there's something I missed.... <-- What you're missing is right in front of you!
Always... Always...

More to life
There's gotta be more to life (more to life)
There's gotta be more to life (more)
More to my life

I think that's such a beautiful song because it expresses so perfectly the people that are just figuring out that maybe this whole game of "getting stuff" and "being somebody" is just that: a game, but worse, an unwinnable and unending game.

As long as you try to get and you try to win, you will never be happy and you will never win.

The secret is to let go of the game. Be in it, not of it. Play it, but realize the whole time that the game is not the point. Being there in the first place is the point.

By the way, here's the video to the song: