The Wandering Monk

Brewmaster Rysu – New Posts On Tuesdays


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The Inked Perspective

Do you have any tattoos?  Statistically speaking, if you’re under the age of 40, you probably do.  Tattoos and their images have changed over the last 20 years, especially.  Once, they were considered to be marks of a vagabond or person of ill-temperament, but recently they have made a striking comeback, even becoming more and more accepted in today’s work places (so long as professionalism is portrayed).  

But what does a tattoo really mean?  Tattoos can have individual meanings, some deeply rooted in emotion, others tributes to the past, or to family members.  Some are scenes that depict metaphor, and some are chosen just because they look cool.  Whatever your reason, the deeper questions to ask and their subsequent answers might shock you. 

Consider the human psyche a moment.  A few blog posts ago I talked about icebergs, or core value systems that influence surface actions and reactions to our daily situations.  Who a person is will always be imbued on a task or situation they are involved in.  The more customization and the more a person can offer individually, the more personality and unique flavor of their person remains.  So then, think about what meaning tattoos can have, when the person is you and the ink is permanent.  

For some, tattoos are nothing special.  Some people love getting them because they love the process, so it’s a hobby.  Others don’t care what it is so long as it’s new.  Some get them as part of major trips or adventures they go on, and some use them to weave intricate stories of their past and the lives they lead.

Those who get them for the sake of getting them still tell us a lot about those people.  What does it mean when a person discards the clear representation of permanence and subjects him or herself to the idea of getting permanently drawn on with haphazard disregard?  Well, maybe it means they don’t take life too seriously.  Maybe it means that the experience and the present moment of enjoying the time getting it is enough, and that the impermanence of life supersedes the supposed permanence of the ink.  No one can fault them for this, and I’m certainly doing no such thing in this post.  But it tells a unique tale about them and their perspective on life, doesn’t it?

Take they who use tattoos to weave intricate stories of their past and the lives they lead.  Consider one such person that may exist in your life.  A person who’s tattoos all retain deeply personal and intimate moments in their lives — moments that don’t just mean something to them because of their significance in their life, but also serve to remind them of a lesson they may forget.  For many, this is the case, and perhaps is the most accepted reason for getting a tattoo in the first place.  Clearly it means they are deep thinkers, or have a connection to their lives that can only be best represented in the immortal artistry of permanent ink.  Even if you knew nothing about this person other than the story of their tattoos, imagine the true nature of their personality you could intuit from them with only that information. 

Now, before you get all up in arms, consider that it’s never a good idea to make a snap decision about someone based on any one thing, no matter how intricate and revealing you think it might be.  We are all onions, layered with simplicity and complexity abound, and the mixture of those two concepts in each of us varies — sometimes even day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year, or across our entire lifetime.  Psycho-analyzing someone based on this is probably not the best method, but for the sake of this blog post, considering that which is implied by tattoos may lead you to understanding a person’s point of view better.

I’ll wrap this post up with a small revelation — I have many tattoos.  I feel like it might be a bit narcissistic to analyze myself using the methods above, but given the information that I have them, has your opinion or perspective of me as a blogger, writer, brewer, philosopher, creator, or person changed?  

Let me know in the comments below.  

Thanks for reading.

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What isn’t Meditation?

In martial arts, among many things, we learn that the philosophy of what we learn is all around us.  When we master ourselves, we inherently master our environment, and when we do that, the happy by-product is that we are able to defend ourselves against those who have not mastered themselves.  To that end, we learn the task of centering.  Physical centering, in that we must learn where the center of our bodies are, of balance and of our motions; of how to maintain our center even as we transition and move, fluidly and swiftly. But more than that, we learn about the centering of ourselves.

Finding your center is more than just finding where your center of gravity is.  It’s also above finding the present moment.  When we spend our time in the present moment, our once scattered focus becomes attuned to the now, and seeing the details we would normally miss becomes simple, and even automatic.  It enhances our memory, our productivity, our emotional fortitude, and sheds our regret of the past and our fear of the future.  You could spend your whole life trying to find your true center and it would not be a wasted life.

But what does that mean in practical, every day life?  Consider meditation.  When most hear this word, they think of dedicated monks in temples, chanting mantra and treasuring all life, down to the bug on the ground.  And they would not be wrong with this vision of meditation.  But consider that, at its heart, meditation is simply bringing yourself into the present moment. To that end, meditation is anything that engages you completely, extracts you from your linear, scattered thought processes, and that grounds you in the now.  

I read a book called the Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh in which he describes meditation as being something as simple as washing the dishes, so long as we remain in that moment and focus only on our dishes, not on the future, or the past; not on our day, or what we will do after the dishes, or what we have done even before we began doing those dishes.  Another book, A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation by Rod Meade Sperry, describes meditation as the centering and clearing of the mind.  It further stipulates that the phrase “I will meditate on that” is nonsensical, given the goal is to not think.  

Honestly, sometimes we do need to disconnect from the world around us for a while and push all our lingering thoughts from our minds.  Zen Buddhists call this Zazen and it’s often done by focusing on your breathing.  If you’d like to try it, simply sit in a comfortable sitting position, glance downward at the floor so as not to strain your eyes and focus all of your attention on counting each inhale and exhale, aware of every breath.  As thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them once you notice them and then gently guide your attention back to your breathing.  

This is what is taught by many Buddhist teachers.  But, let’s take a look at what we’re doing when we do this.  Are we emptying our mind?  Or are we withdrawing our awareness to a point that is within each moment, tracked by our every breath?  To me, this is as much a meditation as the dishes; you’re actively bringing yourself to this moment.

In martial arts, we do this as well.  A distracted mind misses details and goes against the flow of a fight.  A mind worrying about the future or the past is not taken by the energy of the present moment and cannot sail those waters safely.  So as we practice our martial arts, we mind our technique and our detail, our center and our stance, our philosophy and our energy, and when we practice, we are meditating.  No other distraction exists while we practice, or else if it does, we are not practicing, we are repeating.  So to find your true center in martial arts, one must find their spiritual and meditative center first.  And to find that, one must be aware of the present moment.  This is mediation.

My mother wakes up every morning and spends an amount of time sitting at her kitchen table nursing a cup of coffee.  She wakes up early so that she is alone, that she has enough time to enjoy it without worrying about her time.  During this time, she sheds her worries of the day before, her expectations of the day today, or the implications of her actions for tomorrow.  During this time, she simply drinks her coffee and enjoys it for what it is; a moment of silence in the present moment.  This is meditation.

Friends of mine are regulars at a local gym and ritually attend every morning at 5:00AM and every evening at 8:00PM.  During this time, their minds are focused on their tasks.  Further, their minds are centered on the specific action they’re performing.  To not be focused on it could mean injury at worst, or poor quality of training at least.  They are not worried about the time before or after their gym experience.  They are not worried about the machine they’ll use next or the exercise they’ll be performing.  They’re in this moment.  This is meditation.

These examples are only a few, but it brings along on a journey where we can arrive at the conclusion that anything we do can be meditation, so long as it brings us to the now, and so long as we are not distracted by the rest of our lives or our worries of the world.  And so we arrive at the title of this article, What isn’t Meditation?

All things can be meditation and all things can not be meditation.  Meditation and its existence is a word that we use to describe anytime we apply our whole self to a task.  So perhaps it isn’t an action at all, but a way of life.  

And by the way, if you took the time to read this post fully, and without distraction, then I thank you for meditating with me.  

Until next time.


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Icebergs

There are popular resiliency lessons in the modern world that talk about Icebergs. No, they’re not talking about floating ice masses that peak out over the surface of the water, but metaphorically, the analogy is similar.  ‘Iceberg’ refers to the idea that we all have surface reactions and interactions that are driven by deeply seeded core values and beliefs.  In an effort to better find ourselves and to evaluate positive, helpful interaction with others in our daily lives, the Iceberg lesson began.

In general, our surface emotions are the day-to-day responses we have based on our core value systems.  If we believe that we should respect our elders, then we might react towards another person being disrespectful towards their elders adversely, perhaps even without knowing why.  Not all Icebergs are bad, and it isn’t about eliminating the core value that produces a surface reaction, much like a real iceberg, it’s about understanding that it’s there and negotiating it safely.

Complicating the matter are enablers.  These are usually friends that reinforce negative surface behavior out of the notion that they’re supporting their friend (perhaps an iceberg in and of itself) rather than helping their friend discover the methodology behind their reactions.  The key to this is the questions during the discussion.  Whereas an enabler will ask ‘Why’ questions, the helpful friend will ask ‘What’ questions instead.

For example, a man sits down to watch football with his son and his wife reminds him about the leaky sink.  The man thinks in his head that it’s a small leak and he can fix it later, but on the surface he yells at his wife to back off.  

The conversation he might have with an enabler might ask questions like “Why did she do that?” Or “Why didn’t she get your son to do it? Is she babying him?” Or even if they’re trying to be helpful, they might ask “Why do you think you got so angry?” 

Conversely, another friend might ask him objective, root-searching questions.  “What did it mean to you that she asked you to do that?” Or “What was the part about that conversation that upset you the most?” Or even “What do you think made you react like that?”  

Discovering the root cause of the problem doesn’t make it go away, but it does help the man and his wife navigate their icebergs a little easier, reducing their conflicts and enabling their happiness.  The chain reaction is positive and helpful, not deconstructive.  


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Time and the Human Experience

Consider what the word ‘Time’ means to you.  When you think of it casually, the definition and the ideas associated with it seem simple to understand.  Time is the dimension of the passage of events from one to another and our experience with it, right?  It’s the progression of events, one after another, towards the future and from the past and the position we are at right now is the present.

Human Beings love boxes and labels.  I recently wrote a post about Gas Station Sushi that talked briefly about this, but more to the point is that labels are funny things.  When we look at them in passing, they seem to represent exactly what they were intended for; to easily convey an idea or a set of preconceptions.  But the harder we look at it, the more abstract and disconnected we feel from the label.  Some people even adhere so strictly to labels that without the boundaries of labels to guide them, they feel like all is chaos.  And they aren’t wrong, are they?

The YouTube channel vSauce recently posted a video on the passage of time and it’s abiguity as well as the method in which we, as human beings, have kept track of it.  When you look at the past methods we’ve used to track time, it becomes clearer and clearer that we have tried desperately to fit our common perception of reality into boxes so we can quell our lack of total explanation.  

The way the earth turns in relation to the sun has some interesting impacts on the measurement of time, from day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, century-to-century, and millennium-to-millennium.  It makes muddies our once crisp view on time and the manner in which we track it.  It’s an example of universal occurrences that are wild and chaotic that the human experience tries to quantify for the sake of our own understanding.  

Philosophically it brings a few points to mind.  Foremost is the idea of dimensions; if Time is a dimension because it’s a manner of perception, then shouldn’t all of our experience as human beings be consider its own dimension?  After all, whether it’s a dog’s view on reality or an extraterrestrial’s, their entire concept of existence is entirely and abstractly different than our own.  The next idea that comes to mind is that the universe, while amazing and marvelous, is the result of billions of years of actions and reactions that coalesced into only one possible outcome given the variables abound.  Some people call it ‘intelligent design’ because it is so vast and incomprehensible, because it’s so calculated and exacting.  But is it?

Let’s go back to ‘time’ as an experience.   As box-creating, boundary-setting human beings, having established words like ‘past’, ‘present’, and ‘future’, we are surprisingly unable to set an exact instance of experience between the past and the present or the present and the future.  Some say it’s the transition of awareness; when you are aware of an event that is no longer, it has transitioned to the past, whereas if you are aware of an event that will come to pass but hasn’t yet, you’re referring to that as a future event.  But where do we draw the line? Can we observe a moment becoming part of the past, or is it only when we realize it? ‘Now’ can either be one second, or it can be a moment, an hour, or a day.  So long as our perception establishes the sensation of the ‘now’.  As I write this, is each word I write the ‘present’ and the previous word the ‘past’?  And if this is my present now, by the time you read this, it will be my past, but your present.  For me, it’s my present but your future.  Geesh!

Astrophysicists Neil deGrasse Tyson and Steven Hawking have explained many times in many places that gravity can stretch and impact time.  But if time is an experience, then the dimension of time is within us and so gravity stretches us.  The gravity of distant stars skewing our perception of the universe may be another creature’s normal, non-altered reality.  When we look into the sky, we see the light of a billion-billion stars, whose light is reaching us long after its source has faded into oblivion.  This means that we’re experiencing the past in the present and that we are those stars’ future to their present.  

It seems to me that the perception of time is relative to the human experience.  With this in mind, our strict adherence and obsession with time to measure our lives, our days, our experiences, seems a tad silly.  It’s this idea that reminds me that we created words to conceptualize experiences and ideas so we can share them with each other.  So we can learn, and think, and grow.  Ironically, when we spend so much time on the constraints of the labels we’re using, we are robbing ourselves of the very experiences we’re trying to share.  

So, the next time you’re late, just remember that it’s all relative.