The Wandering Monk

Brewmaster Rysu – New Posts On Tuesdays

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Where We Stand

It has been a long time since I’ve posted. 11 months, to be exact. In that time, so much has changed that I’ve honestly forgotten where I was when last I posted here. All I know is … things have changed.

Or have they?

I took this picture of a Sunrise over Philadelphia. I’m visiting for some training, you see, and haven’t seen a Pennsylvania sunrise in some time.

Here’s a recent picture of the sunset in Alaska, only a week or so before the above picture.

If we were to compare the two scenes, we can see some interesting parallels and some stark contrasts. The golden-amber sun of both pictures casts radiant beams of light towards us in both pictures. It seems to touch all that we see, physically, like little fingers of warmth offering the softest reassurances.

In the first picture, it’s industrial, isn’t it? Buildings, cars, few trees, clear skies. Yet still a beautiful sight to behold and one that can easily beacon a smile if you let it.

In the second picture, it’s wild, isn’t it? Grassy, rolling hills giving way to a sleeping forest, tumbling mountains standing sentinel in the distance. The clouds are full and swelling, and capture the sunlight in a myriad of ways.

Isn’t it interesting how different things are between those two pictures, when all that has changed is where we are standing, when we are looking, and how we are seeing.

Consider what this lesson can lead to in our own lives.

What would you say if I said that everything you see, experience, love, and fear will all be gone — and no one knows when? What would you say if I said that you’re living in a dream world that you created — that it is changing. And what if I said that no matter how much everything changes — and it is always changing! — that you have the power to see it through whichever lens you decide?

You have the power to see the beauty in all that is around you, even if you’re seeing from a different place than you had been before.

So, here’s to taking a step back, maybe even two, and maybe even one to the right or left. Here’s to smiling at something that you’ve seen a thousand times, just because this time you’re seeing it in a different light, from a different place, or in a different frame of mind.



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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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The Meaning of Happiness

What a broad title, huh?  You probably read this with some mixed emotions.  Is this going to be philosophy?  Is it an idealist’s take on it all? Is it sarcasm?

The answer is: Yes.  While I can’t honestly speak for everyone, I have recently reflected on myself and I’ve found some really amazing things.  Things that ultimately lead me to finding my own place in the world.  Let’s start from the beginning.

A few years ago I began to reinvent myself.  I went through some pretty bad times and had some emotional break downs and when I emerged on the other side, I came to the conclusion that I needed to know who I really was beyond that which was regularly beaten down by the world.  I’ve always been a spiritual person and I have been a Zen Buddhist for many years.  So, it’s no surprise that I found my biggest clue by looking inward and asking — and facing — the hard questions.

First, I needed to know what I wasn’t.  I scanned through my past, and I looked at who I saw.  Not just the parts that I was OK with, and not just the parts that I was ashamed of.  But all of it!  I saw myself as someone whose happiness was defined by external sources; by attachments that I talked myself into thinking I didn’t really need, but I might as well enjoy while I had them.  The truth was, I did need them and when they were taken from me, I felt a massive void in myself.  But was this who I was?

No, of course not.  My suffering came from being who I wasn’t.  My conclusion in my search to find what I was not lead me to learn some key things about myself:

  1. I am not weak.
  2. I am not helpless.
  3. I do not need someone else to define my happiness.
  4. I do not need to sacrifice all of myself for someone else’s happiness.

Armed with this knowledge, I had a foothold in my self reflection.  I probed further, needing answers.  I arrived at a series of true self assessments that ultimately surrounded some fundamental necessities.  Before I could ever understand who I was, I first needed to forgive myself. You probably read that and thought “What did you do that you need to forgive yourself?”  The answer isn’t as obvious as you think.  It’s not some crime, or secret thing I have been harboring, but it might as well have been.

All my life I have taken the blame for my own self-destruction.  I had internalized all the pain I had gone through and had made myself out to be a victim, while secretly and simultaneously feeling guilty for doing that, knowing deep down that it wasn’t the right path.  I compromised my values and I let people use me as a doormat.  I let fear, anger, depression rule my life instead of embracing happiness.

I forgave myself because I didn’t know how to be happy.  I had only ever known sadness and conflict in my life and so I thought it was all I could ever know.  I thought it was the only way I could feel.

Truth is, happiness is a choice.  Once I forgave myself and accepted that all my mistakes, flaws, problems, and issues were part of the whole.  I no longer tried to cut those pieces of myself out of my life, or pretend they didn’t exist.  I accepted myself fully.  And when I did, this really amazing thing happened: I felt complete.

So now that I’ve looked into myself and forgave myself for all of my flaws and mistakes, the next step was to bring myself some real love.  Not love from someone else, but love from myself, to myself.  To do this, I had to be my own friend.  I had to teach myself to treat myself like I would treat my best friend.  I began this radical movement of compassion towards myself.  I felt the things I felt, and I embraced them and comforted them as one might do a friend going through a hard time.  And guess what? I appreciated my own sense of compassion, which only furthered my happiness.

The next step was true independence.  I had met my true self; both emotionally, psychologically, and metaphysically, but how did I maintain that image in the presence of someone else whose energy would surely try to dissuade me from my own ideals?  I found the answer in understanding how to stand with myself.  To that end, I refused any relationships of any kind until I was happy, comfortable, and enjoyed being alone with myself first.

Fast forward the better part of a year, and I am blessed to know real happiness every day.  I wake up happy that I have something in my life worth living for and that I have an everlasting source of happiness that can never be taken from me.

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.
–Hellen Keller