Talking to the enlightened master Inside you

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Learning to use active imagination can be a game-changer for inner growth

by James Eke

from Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #129


You might think talking to an imaginary friend is not necessarily the best way for an adult to live life but as a tool in our training toolbox, psychological genius Carl Jung’s process of active imagination can literally change your life. Or at least, active imagination is a powerful tool for training and development if you learn to use it right.

The best part of it is that you’ve likely done this before back when you were a kid and your imagination brought to life conversations that few of us adults even think about on a day to day basis but were key elements of the universe we lived in when we were small.

Now you might think to yourself, are you suggesting that I have an imaginary friend-like conversation as part of my training?

Pretty much.

What we have to remember is that the levels to our minds are a much deeper ocean than we understand – even those of us who have spent decades or likely even a lifetime meditating only really are aware or understand a bucket or two of that ocean, some people, the Einsteins of the mind – people like Jung or Dogen – they might have a bucket or two more of understanding but that extra insight is worth listening to and hoisting aboard. The insights that Jung received through active imagination revolutionized not just psychology but how we view the mind.

When we are actively integrating active imagination into our toolbox of techniques the important thing to remember that just like a physical workout or working on your Jiu-Jitsu positions, if you don’t work at it, active imagination’s actual potential for you won’t be realized. It will be like that person who says they want to learn to meditate, tries it a time or two and then says they ‘can’t meditate’ or ‘can’t find the time’ or simply don’t get the point.

Active imagination is a tool to help you to tap into the collective unconscious which is a place in our deepest depths of the mind that is likely inherited from our ancestors and isn’t shaped by our personal experience or egos – it is a place of memory and impulses that is not just common to all of us but which the individual isn’t even aware of in our walkabout life. We can get in touch with this through our dreams and interpretation of them but we can also get there with active imagination.

The practice of active imagination is to plumb the collective unconscious for contact with archetypes and allow for a non-forced conversation with aspects of these archetypes. There are lots of different archetypes, the father, mother, wise old person, trickster, hero and others. These archetypes can blend with each other or take on different faces. The important thing with this training tool is to not force it but to make it something somewhat similar to meditation where you are watching thoughts arise without attachment to them and with active imagination, using the same tack and see what the conversation brings.

Ever one to go back to Star Wars analogies, I like to think of it is our chance to take part in actual conversations with our own versions of Jedi Force Ghosts. Heck, for that matter, have a conversation with Yoda about your training. See what he says and what he suggests.

What I’ve found is that it is easiest to allow this form of training to evolve in an organic sort of way. Sort of just reach out into that ocean of the mind we were talking about and allow some suggestions about who to speak to and what you’ll usually find is something – or someone – will come to mind. It could be someone from a dream, maybe a grandparent, maybe a classical archetype, a religious one, a Buddhist Bodhisattva, or some Jedi master for that matter.

The thing is, the thing you are talking to in your active imagination meditation is not actually an entity like we think about. It is a process that is helping you to translate in a way the knowledge and memory that is transmitting out of that collective unconscious. A collective unconscious that speaks in a bit of a different language of sorts so that conversing with an archetype figure allows for some of that innate wisdom and knowledge that is under the surface of that ocean to come out in a way that you can understand it better.

What you might find in these conversations my surprise you. Maybe you’ll get a different outlook. Maybe you will get some advice to live in a more conscious and compassionate manner. Maybe you might even find that talking to what is really just an aspect of yourself you haven’t noticed before will give you the ability to see life in a way that you haven’t before that is more real, more healthy, and more present.

What I have found in my life and my training is that it is far greater to have multiple ways or a number of tools that I have to access to both examine my life and not just help with my training but help to navigate this life and who I am.

Socrates said an unexamined life is not worth living and what we need to understand is that training and living itself are one and the same massive ocean – we are all standing on the beach looking out. Sunset is on the way and it is our choice how far out we want to wade into that ocean and explore it and find its potential and undiscovered amazingness. I for one want to learn as much as I can. How about you?

Listen to the full podcast episode here

Wake up!

A field guide for enlightenment

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by James Eke

from Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #127

Why should I even care about enlightenment? Is it even a thing? What difference does it actually make?

These are probably three of the most important questions that you could ask yourself.

They are also three questions that most people probably couldn’t care less about in a world where Facebook is where we find our news and our drive for material possessions and a view that taking as much as we can is somehow the key to a happy life regardless of who you need to step on or what it does to the planet we depend on.

Despite what some would tell you, there are quite a number of enlightened people on this planet right now. Some you have probably heard of, others you probably haven’t and never will – the simple truth being that few people who have any real enlightenment experience are going to be shooting YouTube videos or trending on TikTok blowing their own horn about how awesome they are.

The Dalai Lama himself doesn’t go out of his way telling people he is some enlightened being but just a simple monk.

Enlightenment is, even in some serious circles a thing of debate. I’ve even been told in the past by different Buddhist teachers not to worry about enlightenment and even that enlightenment doesn’t exist – at least not in the way we think. Then I’ve also been told by others that what we need to do in our training is devote ourselves to the understanding of what enlightenment is, what it means and do the serious work and effort to try to get there in this lifetime.

I’ll be honest with you, I used to think that a lot of what we think of enlightenment is just understanding life. Life is suffering. Check. Got it. Suffering is caused by desire and attachment. Roger. I think I get that too. Desire and attachment can be overcome. Yup, understood. The way to overcome them is something called the Eightfold path of right seeing, thought, speech, action, work, effort, mindfulness and concentration. Long shopping lists make it tough to carry the groceries but you have to do what you have to do.

You see, I may have been a Zen dude for 40 years or so but what I’m starting to see is just how important not just amassing information is but taking this knowledge, understanding it in a transcendent kind of way and not just going about your day but truly applying it.

What I’ve found recently, over the past few years, is that I have started to see things differently as I have deepened my own practice thanks to this feeling it in your bones kind of level of application.

Getting there is like realizing you have been bumping around in a dark room and then suddenly, you know, after a few decades of bumping around you realize you were in the dark all this time and that just over there is what looks like a door with light coming out from around it. Once you start opening that door everything is different.

The problem with most of us is we get mired in not just the mud of life so that all we can do is sit there, spinning the wheels thinking that if we just keep our foot on the gas we will get somewhere, but for those of us who are serious and sincere about training, we can also get caught up in our minds, compiling information, thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking until we not only get drunk on our own thoughts but deluded by them mistaking book smarts for actual ground floor truth.

You might be thinking that all of this is well and good but if enlightenment is possible, where are all the enlightened beings. Here is the thing, we are all enlightenment machines. It is not just a birthright, it is our most fundamental state, we’ve all just kind of chosen to get caught up in the BS of the world we perceive through our narrow perceptions and caught up in the BS that we fill our thoughts with through our clinging belief that is mainly just ego that doesn’t want to let go or even admit that it is just a false face.

I believe that enlightenment in this lifetime is not just possible but working towards it is the most important thing you can do. I also believe that it doesn’t matter one iota. It doesn’t matter what you think and it doesn’t matter what I think.

My rationale for this is that most of us think – that is the key word by the way – think, that we are perceiving and experiencing the universe but what if that is the first mistake and what we all are is actually something more like the universe perceiving and experiencing us?

What if all we need to do is stop spinning our wheels in the mud?

What if all we need to do is stop grasping for things?

What if all we really need to do is separate ourselves even just a little from an ego-driven experience of life?

I’m not some enlightened sage. I’m a flawed human just doing my best to not just live this life but to train and understand and apply what I am learning. Not easy. Not easy at all but that too is clinging and in moments when I let go of my ego’s hold I realize that cultivation of an entity that is a universal entity is, for a few minutes easy, simple and kind of like coming home.

Of course, when Bob introduces himself at the weekly meeting and you smile back and say ‘nice to meet you Bob, I’m the whole universe,’ he is going to look at you like you are about 11 eggs short of a dozen.

What we need to do in our training is keep some sort of enlightenment as our goal, something we really want to taste but at the same time not hold onto it too tightly. This is the same as what we need to do to understand this game-changing view of us being the universe experiencing you – we need to take this and understand what it means in our daily lives.

You are only going to get there through the practice, cultivation and understanding of stillness.

So, here is my advice. Get started. Right now. Slow it down. Start to see the truth of who you are.

Enlightenment is possible – we have some pretty good examples of it – now the work of getting there is a choice you have to make and if you don’t, well that will be just fine too. There is plenty of time.

Listen to this full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

Anger: How to recognize it, work with it and gain wisdom from it

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode 125

Acceptance of the anger inside of us is vital in our training for a few reasons. Let’s face it, when we realize the anger we carry around, the anger we foster, the anger we feed – all of it can lead us in directions that we don’t really want and make us do things that afterwards we might look at and wonder how that ever happened.

Anger is your ego lashing out in a ‘how dare you do that to me’ kind of way or it can be in a repressed darker shadow way leading you down a different path. Anger is fueled by fear, fear of believed attack, fear of a wounded ego, fear of a lot of things – what comes out the end of that can be anything from seething rage to instantaneous anger.

Anger has a way of transforming itself in us and becoming other things.

Understanding where anger comes from is good but better is recognition of our anger. Facing it. Accepting it and then using it as a tool to both cultivate compassion but also to aid in our training in a way that will take us to see parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise have noticed.

Most people walk through life and just think that they are one person. Just an single individual but as you learn to recognize the inner workings of this human being you start to see that we are all like a layered human onion with all these different aspects, different voices, different versions of you.

For most of us, even realizing the anger we feel can be hard to reckon with. Who wants to admit they are angry? I mean sure, someone cuts you off in traffic or says or does something and we get upset but anger can have a whole different face to it that loves nothing more than to live inside of us and slowly control more and more aspects.

Believe it or not though, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When we realize that we have anger in us and aren’t afraid to look at it, really deeply look at it and find its root some pretty amazing things can happen especially when we learn to channel or let go of that anger and its associated attributes.

What I have found beneficial is two things, learning to let go of attachment to things that happen and the view that things are somehow happening to me.

This me-centric thing is so common these days. I myself have come to realize just how much of my own life I viewed as having had things happen to me, this person did this to me, that situation did that and so on. All of this leaves you carrying around a heavy rucksack filled of a whole lot of shadowy, dark garbage that you don’t need, that makes you act ridiculously, make bad decisions and choices and more than anything makes you react. This reacting, especially when out of anger whether it is new or old, anger  rarely makes any sense in retrospect from the vantage point of rooting out the anger.

Here is a shocker for you. Very little actually happens to you. Things just happen. Even when people do something seemingly to you it is almost always coming from the result of something else.

This is one of the reasons that we have to elevate our training and strive to – at the very least – not get balls rolling ourselves that go in directions we don’t really want. Of course, guess what, we are all human, prone to mistakes, impulses, and just plain idiocy. Few of us escape this life without shaking our heads in wonder at the things we have done.

Now, when you are able to look at your life and your failures, mess-ups, outbursts or whatever else and hopefully show yourself some compassion, so too should we start to realize that the anger we can carry or rage from can just as easily be used to build training in compassion and understanding.

And yes, turning anger into compassion isn’t always easy. What it is though is better than carrying around resentment, feeding fuel to a fire burning within likely for zero good reason.

You might tell yourself, ‘oh I’m angry at this person or this thing for a very good reason, because of A, B or C’ and you may well have yourself fully believing it but here is the thing, whatever it was not only happened because of something else but more importantly it is 100 percent in the past. It is done. Over. Gone.

Why cling onto something is done? Why make yourself miserable or start a whole new chain of anger and assorted other results over something that literally doesn’t matter anymore?

When we start to make one of the primary cornerstones of our training stillness in the present moment we will start to see not only the results of not having that being in the moment ground floor truth of reality but how we can end up being reactive to the influences outside of that present moment.

For me, I think it is vitally important to stay grounded in the present. To let go of the past. To let go of a lot of what we all cling to. And then, probably equally important is to make compassion and sending lovingkindness back out to the world.

There are plenty of exercises and visualizations and breathing techniques we can do to help us to deal with anger and life in general. What is probably more important though is to truly examine your life. Start to see it for what it really is. Learn to be still. Learn to perceive what you are actually perceiving. Expand your awareness. Let go.

When we begin to do this. When we begin to actually train what we find is that all the external things that once felt like arrows being shot at us now have no ability to harm us. We start to see the actions, decisions, outbursts or mistakes of others as nothing different than or external to us. And as our training teaches us how to let go, how to accept our failings, how to learn, how to grow, so too do we realize how to show compassion and understanding of others. Our anger may still come but it won’t be as overpowering, it might start even to be a source for us to turn it into compassion to ourselves and others.

In the end, our anger or anyone else’s anger doesn’t bring much of value into this world. No great things were done through anger. But when we transform that anger into something positive for ourselves and the world good can come from that.

Maybe you won’t think this is all that important. Maybe you like your anger or don’t believe you have any. Maybe this is all too much and too hard to do.

For me though, I’m learning every moment to let go more. Sure, things still upset me – I’m human too – but what I have found is that turning that rising rumbling into something positive is far better not just for me myself and my training but for what I put back into this universe.

I think that is enough.

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

Respond To Life, Don’t React To It

How Cultivation Of Stillness Enables Us To Respond Wisely To What Life Throws Our Way

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #119


We all need to understand that not one single one of us is perfect. This is something that we should all be learning from the moment we are old enough to understand words. We are all a work-in-progress. We are all trying our best and need to push forward, take risks, fail lots and understand that we are simple flawed but awesome beings living and learning.

Too often we expect too much from others but not ourselves. That is why so many of us are critical and so judgemental these days. We expect more from other people than we expect from ourselves to such a degree that actually set people on a pedestal and then pretty much look for ways to knock them off.

Think about how often we are quick to judge. Think about the stones we have thrown at others either in judgement or anger. Think about the gossip and the back stabbing.

Most people engage in this to some degree but why? When we stop and think of the fact that we are all just trying to figure this life thing out as we go through it and hopefully learn as we go it seems from that perspective ridiculous to get on any sort of high horse.

From a training perspective – if not a life-lesson one – the greatest things that can actually happen in our lives is making mistakes, especially when we learn from them.

When I think of all the things I have learned by falling flat on my face it is almost ridiculous. You live long enough and get to certain perspective and you will undoubtedly look back on your life and wonder how on earth you ever did so many dumb things and wonder who that person actually was and what was going through their head at that time period but more importantly, you’ll feel almost grateful for that fall that landed you flat on your face because of what you learned from it.

This learning comes in big ways and small ways.

When we are serious about this training thing and living and breathing it, we let it swirl around and grab onto all the different aspects of our life.

What maybe first started with learning to kick and punch turns into how to breathe and that in turn leads to learning how to be more aware of the moment, then maybe how to practice stillness and reflection whether that is full-on Zen meditation or something similar.

In time this practice of stillness changes too. At least if you are diligent and train properly.

What you find is that the practice of stillness leads you to understand more and more about yourself as you stumble around in this life figuring things out, making tons of mistakes along the way.

More and more, this practice will lead you to finding yourself less reactive to the events of the world around you. You will find yourself realizing that you have become, at least at times, the calm centre of the storm.

Of course this doesn’t mean that things won’t happen that will make you sad, angry, upset or any other human emotion.

For instance, someone the other day surprised me with instead of a normal friendly greeting, decided to, as we describe it in the Army, to jack me up, to freak out on me and try at least to put me in my place. Now once upon a time that sort of thing would have really upset me, I might even have responded with an equal dose of ill-founded anger. Instead, I looked at them, wondered what the heck set them off, smiled and just kept truckin.

Was I upset, well of course I felt less than great, especially given that this person’s outburst came in front of a room of others. Who wants to be treated like garbage? Not me, not anyone.

The thing is, who knows what they were going through? Why were they upset? Nothing usually happens in isolation.

What we have though, through our training is an understanding that what we put out into the universe has a way of coming back to us. You slap someone, you generally are going to get hit back harder. That is, unless we actively work to let that go – to defuse it.

Another way of looking at it is to view it from a training perspective. I keep a bit of a slogan constantly rolling around as a focus point in my training of simply, be calm, let it go. This goes for my martial arts, say when I’m doing rolling in jiu-jitsu; be calm, let it go. This goes for my meditation when the inner dialogue starts up; be calm, let it go.  This goes for my walking around, day to day life and whatever comes my way; be calm, let it go.

There is a lot that we can react to and get overly involved with these days, whether it is some social issue, climate issue, political issue or whatever else. We can be in a constant state of reactivity if we let all of this and more run the show. But there is a better way.

Kindness, compassion and understanding are far greater especially when applied. These are life-changing things to foster as the key elements of our training and our life.

It is possible to make no mistakes in this life and still fail. However, when we live a life that is about training and train to be less reactive, to let go, to be compassionate, to be kind and understanding and to learn from it all, we go from being people stumbling in the dark and into a world where we are actually learning how to turn on the lights.

Recently in an MMA competition a competitor I choose not to name but I’m sure you know who I’m talking about snapped his leg. Sitting on the mats with his ankle and foot flopping around like it was made of rubber he chose to continue the trash talk of his opponent and even the guy’s wife. This is where the martial arts and humanity is headed if we don’t choose now to live a better life, to strive to be better people, to make humility, kindness, compassion and living in the light our whole focus.

Sure, we are going to fail. We are going to fail a lot. Like I said, sometimes you are going to do everything right and still fail. The thing is, you have been given this amazing opportunity to do something with this gift you have been given, beating literally all the odds possible and being born. You can waste that gift. You can live a small, mean, petty life or being reactive or you can choose a better path.

It won’t be easy. Nobody said it would be.

The Way is not for the faint hearted. It is like walking through life carrying a mirror and truly seeing every single thing you have done, seeing who you truly are, seeing what people see you as – and then trying to make something better from all of that.

Be calm, let go.

Simple words but ones that can not just change our training but that can change our life.

How are you going to train?

What are you going to do?

When are you going to start?

All you have is right now – so you are best to get going. The time is ticking.

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

In this episode we mention Stephen Batchelor’s latest book, pick it up here.

How To Find True Freedom

…And How Not To Be Like A Dog Chasing Hornets, Getting Stung And Then Chasing More Hornets

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #118


We are creatures of choice. Perhaps that is one of our defining features. Humans make choices. Of course just as in the biblical story of Adam and Eve and the apple, sometimes we make good ones and sometimes the choices we make are less so – all choices have consequences though.

This seems like common-sense but how many of you have made a decision to do something, or not do something, and then afterwards you felt like kicking your own butt around the block a few times – or more than a few times.

We all make choices — every moment actually. Some choices you are going to decide are good. Some you will decide were stupid. Some you’ll not even think about.

Regardless of the fact that I have been training for decades, I can honestly say that it has taken me all this time – now in my 50s – to truly see how the decisions we make or fail to, each and every single thing we do actually, has consequences.

In Buddhism we call this Karma. What it is though is cause and effect. Every breath you take causes an effect, every action you make causes an effect. Think about that for a second or two – everything you do as a living and breathing thing sends out ripples that change everything.

It isn’t just the so called bad choices — everything we do sends out ripples. Everything changes everything. Forever.

I am first to admit I have made a lot of ridiculous choices in this life. And I’m not naïve – so have you, so has everyone, so has my dog for that matter. My dog loves chasing hornets, she will leap and bite at them in the backyard for hours if I let her and yes, those same hornets will sometimes sting her and in pure dog form, a few seconds later she will be right back at it, snapping and jumping and running.

How often are you and I like that? Virtually mindlessly doing things that make no sense to anyone watching?

Maybe you engage in gossip without thinking about it.

Maybe you drink too much.

Maybe you do any other shopping list of things that someday you are going to look back on and be like, ‘hmm, interesting, why on Earth didn’t I know better?’

I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much about any of it.

For one, what is in the past is in the past. Learn from it and move on. The second is that we are all just simple and flawed human beings doing are best to get by. Sometimes we are like my dog chasing hornets not realizing what is going to happen next – the thing is though, we need to train ourselves to be better, and most importantly, to learn from our mistakes.

This goes for everything we do.

I’ve been involved in the martial arts for about 40 years and in that time I’ve met so many people who want to believe their own hype and act like training in the martial arts makes them into some sort of big screen superhero. They walk around like they are imbued with super powers; invincible, better than anyone else. Of course this is ridiculous. Actually beyond ridiculous.

Do you think that the belt that someone has given to you makes you any different than anyone else? It is ludicrous. Does the fact that you train in whatever martial art make you unbeatable – they also thought the Titanic was unsinkable.

I’ve known people who are stellar martial artists who have been killed. I’ve known people who were certain they were a cut above everyone else brought to their knees by life. I’ve known people who you’d think were ok thanks to their training who took their own lives.

I myself have been through my own share of usually naively self-created life drama.

These days though, I have taken a different path.

I first off try to do as little harm as possible. This means a lot of different things. I am a vegetarian, I try my hardest not to speak against others or gossip, I make cultivation of compassion my central training, I try my best to think first and act second, I remind myself about a thousand times a day that right now is all I have so don’t fear the future and don’t live in the past, I remind myself as well throughout my day that everything is impermanent and try to grasp what that means. Added to this I aim myself down a road where I try very hard to not be angry, not be selfish, not be cruel, not be critical.

Of course this is all very, very, very difficult.

The difference though is that if I don’t try to steer myself down this path. To understand that this is the Way. That I will realize I’m just like baby shark-dog snapping at hornets that bite back and then bite back at them because they are biting at me.

Nobody said training is easy.

To be honest, the world is full of people who give it all half an effort. And by that, I’m not talking about just training, I’m talking about life.

When all is said and done though, I think most of us want to leave this world a better place for having been in it. We can be mindless or we can be mindful.

We can be unkind or we can be kind. We can be uncompassionate or we can be compassionate.

I know the choice I’m making.

I pass and I fail all the time. The thing is, I learn from it now like never before.

My aim in this life is to be, as I’ve said before, a light in the darkness. Sometimes that light will hopefully be blazing bright and sometimes a subtle glow but light in the darkness is far better than simply bringing more darkness.

What are you going to do?

What are you doing today?

You can sit and meditate. You can kick and punch and choke people out. This is all well and good but ask yourself, what use is any of it if you are mean, cruel, angry, judgemental, selfish and cold?

Instead, how about you make your central aspect of training to be about more than something superficial. How about you make your training about being a light in the darkness.

Imagine if everyone decided today to leave the past and all those dumb choices behind them and made the present something far greater?

What are you going to do?

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

This week we talk about author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. Pick up her book Real Change here.