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

Tap Into The True Potential Of Human Nature

One of the best things we can do is start to recognize that everything human is natural

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By James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #123

You might think you train for a whole lot of reasons.

Maybe you think you want to get into shape.

Maybe you think you want to learn to defend yourself.

Maybe you want to find an outlet from the stress of daily life.

Maybe you want something more.

But maybe you have a feeling that something is missing. Missing from your life and missing from all of our lives.

Here is the thing, there is something missing and it is long overdue that we as a society start to recognize that it is missing.

Whatever it is that drew you to training – and likely to this podcast for that matter – is the simple fact that you feel that loss that lingers on the fringe of your awareness. That missing thing.

Some people choose to look the other way when it comes to this feeling. Some people fill their life with the need to entertain themselves so that they won’t have to think about any of it – and likely none of the things that we talk about here.

That’s ok. Just like your dog doesn’t care about the bills being paid, there are some people who don’t quite see what the priorities are, or should be, in living a life.

Most people never quite grasp even the smallest glimpse of what their lives really are, what truly it is all about or what they can do to actually see their lives for the first time. They think they are normal. That life is mundane. They don’t stop to think about the simple fact that they shouldn’t even exist and that by existing they have tremendous potential to change, well, everything – and already do so in their own blind following the blind way, changing everything without any concept of what they are doing or if it was for good or not.

Humans have been on a trajectory away from their true nature for a while now.

There is a disconnect between who we are and what we are as human beings.

This disconnect separates us from our potential. It separates us from our nature. It separates us from our past and all the things that our ancestors – who were all very smart and capable – knew to be true. The stories they told, the beliefs they had, they all told of something more. 

This more is a vast ocean. Most of us at best conceive of a bucket or two of water, some lucky ones who do the work, maybe a few more. But what is there waiting is much more expansive, its depths and the realizations to be drawn from them far beyond the understanding of most.

It isn’t that people don’t want to see what is actually there. It is more like they have been living life believing they are using their eyes but only one day realize they have never opened them and even then can only see a small portion of what is around them.

You can only blame society, cultural concepts, technology or the rise of social media so much. When it comes down to it, most people are content with the life they believe themselves to be living. Content to just stumble around. Content to not see. Content to not understand. Content to live in the dark.

This path isn’t for everyone. It is hard to come to terms with seeing how much delusion and illusion we both live in and create.

It is equally difficult for people to see how much potential they have to be the animal, the demon, the thief, the murderer – just as it is their potential to be far more and far greater than any of that.

Most of the time we aren’t even aware of what our place is in this world. We aren’t aware of who we are. We aren’t aware of why we do what we do. We aren’t even aware of what we are actually aware of and what we have completely lost touch with.

There are moments though. Maybe you are outside on a summer’s night and look up and realize that you haven’t ever seen a sunset as beautiful as what is above you and you feel something inside of you like a whisper. Or maybe you watch a hummingbird hovering in front of you and can’t believe how you have never noticed the beauty that is all around you all the time.

When we are training properly, when we actually learn how to meditate and find stillness, when we are able to turn off the chattering monkey that holds sway between our ears and causes us to be impulsive, to lash out, to be reactive and judgemental – in those moments we find a feeling of unity, calm and interconnection.

This interconnection is actually what training should be all about. A lack of training is chaos and disharmony. Train in whatever you want; be it meditation or jiu-jitsu or anything else physical or metaphysical and your prime focus needs to be in seeking union, harmony, instead of isolation.

We’ve all been there feeling alone. Feeling isolated. This actually has its basis in our deluded view of our lives. The reality of our lives is the opposite.

So how do we start to see this connection or better yet, truly understand it and make it integral to your life and your training?

Stillness. That simple.

Stillness.

Now stillness – and I mean true cultivation and acceptance of actual stillness without any judgement, interior monologue, fantasy or monkey mind swaying from the trees of the mind is a tough thing to do. You’ll think you have it, you will be sure of it, only months or years later will look back from more time practicing and realize that you didn’t have it at all.

Stillness means starting to see the perceptions as perceptions, not necessarily what is there. It means opening yourself up to sensory input in a non-judgemental and non-thinking standpoint.

It means simply being there. In the moment. Feeling it fully. No critical thought, no judgemental thought, no grasping. Just stillness.

When we begin to touch this place we find there is no room for judgement, no room for living in the past, no room for dreaming of the future, no home for an inflated self-image.

There have been times in my life where I thought it would be easier to train and live in the woods or in some remote place where life was somehow easier and more natural. Of course you could do this, lots of people now and in history have retreated from society but it is unnecessary when you start to train yourself to tap into the fact that everything human is natural. What we need to learn to do is to figure out how to live in this world in a more sane way. Our training needs to be about living in this universe but through the filter of what is real, not bound to all the fake and false views; being part of society but not necessarily buying into the aspects that would take your true humanity from you.

Each of us already has everything we need, we just have to find it.

When we start to do that we realize that the training is in everything we do. It is not just done on the mats or on a zafu. It is in how we brush our teeth, walk down the street, water the garden, feed the chickens, file that report or help a customer. The training is the way and the way is the training – it is our lives.

It is an ongoing process. One that will show you just how perfectly imperfect we all are and why our core of training needs to be in cultivation of compassion for ourselves and for all things which in the end are all part of us as well.

So right now, slow down, breathe, feel the energy within you and around you. Start to see what is there. Start to actually see who and what you are.

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

In this podcast episode we talk about Alan Watts’ book The Meaning Of Happiness: The Quest For Freedom Of Spirit In Modern Psychology And The Wisdom Of The East. Get a copy here

The transformation of the Hero’s Journey

Growth and change grows from adversity

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #122


It isn’t every day that you hear of ordinary people who go on to do extraordinary things.

The story of Joe Medicine Crow and his incredible transformation from just some guy working in the shipyards to answering the call and not just going to war but knowingly offering himself up complete with war paint and eagle feather beneath his uniform to achieve the requirements of the Crow War Chief are nothing short of the Hero’s Journey.

And while Joe Medicine Crow I personally think should be a household name and I can’t honestly understand for the life of me how there isn’t some blockbuster Hollywood movie about him, the Hero’s Journey is something of importance for anyone who is serious about transforming their lives or training in a way that is unlike the depths that most dive down to.

From my own view, I see the Hero’s Journey as an inner alchemical process where a person feels or is given what is called the ‘call’ then through what most people who write on this sort of thing they receive or find supernatural aid, break through a threshold which starts the transformation process. Here is where the waters get choppy, the person on the Hero’s Journey is generally challenged, tempted, often fails and hits rock bottom where they enter the abyss. The abyss is the place of pass or fail, they suffer and push through death to rebirth and then transform. After the transformation that can be radical as in the case of Joe Medicine Crow, there is atonement and the return from the unknown back to the world. The person who takes part in the Hero’s Journey, whether in myth or in real life is never the same – they are different. They are like the Padawan who undergoes the trials to become a full Jedi Knight. They are the young private who becomes the Crow War Chief.

It is possible for you listening to this to go through your own Hero’s Journey. I’ll caution you though, you might not like it.

Walking a certain path and dedicating yourself to it means that you are telling the universe you not only want to be different but you are up to the task. I myself have found that the when you do this the powers that be are going to help you get there but it will be through exactly this process. What you get on the other side of it is a completely different you. This in itself isn’t so special, every moment that passes changes us but sometimes these trials of death and rebirth are radical and you are left, through this alchemical process with something that no longer seems like what there was before it.

This is what growth and change is all about.

Most people these days don’t understand the true power of training. They don’t listen to the words of the old masters. They don’t believe in what our ancestors knew as fact.

Transformation is there for all of us. We just have to open ourselves to it, do the work, fail, learn and continue on.

Most of you listening to this are already on this path, especially if you are serious about your training.

This doesn’t mean that your own Hero’s Journey is going to be anything like the amazing story of Joe Medicine Crow – it doesn’t have to be, it will be your own. What you need to do though is listen to his story and dig into it and truly understand it and what it means.

The thing about Zen or martial arts or any worthwhile path is realizing that you yourself need to open yourself up to change, you yourself need to do the work that is required and you yourself are faced with decisions in your life that will make all the difference and whether you pass or fail the tests and trials that come your way you will be given the change to stand back up, dust yourself off and continue on, do better, be stronger and become someone far greater than you even realized that you could become.

It starts right now. It is fueled with bravery, courage, stillness and calm.

Treat yourself and all others with kindness and compassion.

And just imagine all the amazing things you can do. You just have to take this one step and then continue along the path.

It is a path that will change everything. But only you have the choice. Joe Medicine Crow didn’t have to do any of the things that he did. He could have just been the greyman as a private in the war – but imagine a world without people like him. Imagine a life without the inspiration of others who are lights in the darkness.

We don’t need to do things in the level of some epic Hero, our transformative process can be much smaller and more personal. What it will be though, and this I can guarantee will be something that at the other end you will look back on and say, well, that was tough at times but I am so glad it happened and I am not the same as where I was when this all started.

That is the amazing thing about both life and training in a real way with a conscious understanding at breaking through the chains that would otherwise bind us, training in a way that pushes us through delusion, training in a way that is about everything that our ancestors knew well and understood. It makes it all worthwhile.

It isn’t for the faint hearted though. It probably isn’t for everyone. But then again there is a reason there are heroes and all the rest of us mortals who look at their examples and strive simply to do them proud.

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST EPISODE AT WARRIOR’S WAY PODCAST

The True Meaning Of Discipline

Ways We Can Bring Discipline Into Every Moment And Transform Our Lives

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #120

Discipline can mean different things to different people.

Some people think that everyone needs to be like they were trained in the military, up before most people would ever want to be awake, workout, have a fierce look on their face, and treat everything like you are going into battle.

Others look at discipline as being a detached stoic, treating everything in a hands off way.

Some think of disciple as best dealt with through almost obsessive control, monitoring every small detail so that everything fits nicely, monitored and recorded.

None of this is necessarily wrong. Life though, doesn’t always fit into our framework, follow our plans, or listen to us when we tell it how it should be.

Life is messy sometimes.

Discipline for someone who trains the mind, who trains the body and who strives to put the two together in understanding and living within what is ultimate reality means that we stick to training in a way that understands that attachment to our own delusion and BS and attachment to beliefs, ignorance and aversion is the opposite of what we need to do.

Discipline is all about cutting through all delusion. It is about being the calm in the storm. It is about understanding what we are told by society, by selfish desires, by things we cling to lead us down a road that takes us away from what is true.

So what is true then and what is discipline?

Well, there are a ton of people who are going to lead you down a road of their own explanation of discipline that is actually about ego, things that are fueled by selfishness, by want. They will make you buy into this idea that we have to be hard with ourselves so that we can get stuff done. The truth is that this is, from a training perspective and especially from a Zen sort of viewpoint to be just a delusional view of reality that so many of us are constantly told we need to buy into. It is as if the only way you can live a real life is by doing things, by getting after it, by accumulating.

Look at the world around us and ask yourself what kind of damage has been done by this societal view of needing, of wanting, of taking. It is a me, me, me perspective. It isn’t discipline. It is delusion and has consequences not just with ourselves but with the world around us.

What we and the world needs most is for us to all be less delusional. To see what life actually is. You aren’t going to get there by running yourself ragged, by getting no sleep, by trying to control everything and everyone. That isn’t freedom, that isn’t peace and is nothing more than a tyrannical capitalist view that you are trying to enforce on yourself.

That doesn’t mean that you should do things or have some level of control in your life. You definitely should but discipline doesn’t mean to become an obsessed person fostering ulcers because you are trying to live like some young kid learning to be a soldier in basic training.

I don’t love the term mindfulness these days. It has become just as clichéd as some have twisted what Zen means to fit a whole host of ideas that don’t really mean what it actually means. However, mindfulness in its true sense is the most important aspect of what discipline needs to mean. In other words, we need to learn to think with a big, huge, open mind that is also able to discriminate between what is real and what is fake, what is important and what is not, what is life and what is delusion.

I remember when I was in basic training myself and a Sgt who was putting us through the game that was the training told me that the reason they do room and uniform inspections that you can never really pass is that they are trying to get people who let their minds do whatever they want to do, to instead retrain them to focus, to concentrate on small things like making a bed or polishing boots and doing these things to a high degree and an even higher standard. He said that when you can force the mind to concentrate and gain discipline it changes everything about that person.

I remember thinking that this was like the kind of thing my first Sensei taught us when we were kids and what my first Zen master taught me when we would do working meditation or eat in meditative silence in the Zendo.

Discipline. True discipline has to start with the mind. It has to start with the way we view ourselves and what reality actually may be. True discipline means cultivation of true stillness and what that not only means but what we begin to see when we knock on that door.

Unfortunately this understanding is something that is lacking these days when it comes to training and people look at discipline as more of a physical thing, something that we have to push ourselves to do. It is true we need to be disciplined as in our stick-to-it-ness but derived from compassion and our understanding of impermanence and our desire to be free of delusion. In this way discipline also means being understanding of our failings, it means being compassionate to ourselves and others, it means being in a state of constant questioning of what it is that we are being motivated by and through training to mind to focus, to concentrate and to try our best not to be controlled by a mind that is like a crazed monkey jumping and leaping from tree to tree throwing fruit at everything around it.

Think of discipline as stability. When we are able to live a life without our mind being like that monkey, without the mind leaping around, fixating, dealing out whatever its impulses want then we are able to begin to see the truth with a capital T. We are able to focus. We are able to live a life far more free from the suffering that a crazed monkey mind creates and dishes out.

When we do this a whole new world opens up for us.

The best thing is that you can start right now. Take a look what is going on between those two ears of yours.

Is there are monkey there?

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

In this episode we discuss the book In The Footsteps of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings On The Essence Of Meditation, by Phakchok Rinpoche, pick up a copy of the book here.