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.

There Is Nothing To Fear

How Training To Remember All That You Have Is Right Now Can Completely Change Your Life And Make You Truly Fearless

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast Episode 117

What are you afraid of? What fears occupy your mind, even unknowingly?

Think about it.

Don’t tell me for a second that you don’t have any fears because, frankly, you’re lying if you tell yourself that.

Here is what I want you to do. Spend a day keeping track of all the things that come into your mind that have even the slightest tinge of something fear based.

This means things you are afraid to lose. Things you are afraid to let go of. Most of your anxieties. Probably a good chunk of your motivations too.

For instance you might workout like crazy but while this is definitely a positive thing I don’t want you to stop, you might be doing it because you are trying to keep old age away, sickness away or negative images of self. All of this is actually fear-based thinking. Personally I think some fear based motivations are positive and working out to keep yourself and healthy and biologically young for as long as possible is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality of the time you have here so don’t stop that, I’m sure not going to, but understand where it is coming from.

So I want you to truly examine your life and be honest with yourself and examine the things going on inside of you. See what comes from or fueled by fear. Don’t judge it, just examine it, write it down so at the end of the day you can see a bit more clearly what the truth is for yourself.

Here is the thing. Whether you are you, me or some sage sitting in a cave meditating all day, we are stuck clinging to our view of ourselves, the big view of ‘Me’ with a capital M.

This view of Me is something that we have been each indoctrinated with since we were tiny and we cling to it like it is the only think keeping us sane and safe. The thing is, it is all a bit of a convoluted bunch of BS that we tell ourselves and believe.

Some of us believe we are our job or our career – heck there are tons of people who go out of their way to remind us of all the things they did in their career that somehow should mean something to us. Think of all the people who tout themselves as somehow a cut above because they are a doctor, a politician, former special forces, actor, singer or whatever else. If you think about it from a Zen or just a common sense perspective, what the heck does any of that have to do with you or how you should truly see life and your place in it? It doesn’t mean anything. You can’t tell me that because someone did X that they are somehow far greater than someone who quietly picks up your garbage. For that sake, the garbage-man may well have some far deeper insights into not just their own life but reality as a whole than Mr Special Forces or Mrs I’m A PhD.

I’m not saying don’t listen to these people, I’m just saying that belief in our own hype is, from a certain perspective, completely ridiculous.

So if you aren’t your job or your education or your… whatever you want to fill in the blank here with, what the heck are you?

Well that is the best question you could ask yourself to get started on truly understanding your place in this universe.

Look at your hand for a second or two. Is that hand you? What if you didn’t have it anymore? Are you now less because you don’t have that hand? Now take that same experience and travel throughout your body. Is any of the physical aspects that you would believe yourself to be actually you?

Mind blown a little? Good.

Our physical view of ourself is part of this whole delusion of the capital M, Me. This Me is actually something that has never, ever remained constant. Think back to a year ago. Are you the same person you were back then? What about a week ago?

If you are catching my drift you’ll start to see that this view of Me isn’t all that solid. This Me has changed every single day – though more accurately it has changed with each moment in the present, in the now.

Yet we all cling to our view of Me. We live in fear of letting go of all of that. We live in fear of there not being a capital M Me. Here is a little whisper of a secret though – there never was any real capital M Me, it is just smoke and mirrors that we have bought into our view of ourselves.

Within us all though is something else. If you learn to practice stillness. If you learn to sit and breathe and let go, with time what you’ll find is that there is something hidden in there that is actual truth – and that is Truth with a capital T now. What you’ll find is just as there is this illusion and delusion of a Me there is also an I.

This I is an aspect of you that touches the universe, is in contact with all things, all places, all times. It has been called a whole lot of different names but don’t get yourself too caught up in that. Keep it simple and just understand that it is there, in the background, it is the aspect of you that is at peace, the aspect that feels the interconnection between the world around us and what lies deep within, it is that part of you that will suddenly smile when you are sitting outside and your thoughts drop away for a moment and see a leaf blowing in the air, a butterfly flutter by you, sunlight dancing in the dust.

You might think, wow this guy sounds like he has somehow transcended fear. Anyone who tells you they have transcended fear is probably full of it or full of something else. We all have fear. I’m sure that even the most enlightened among us still have fear at least to some degree. What they probably have in equal measure though is the ability to see it for what it is and either let it go or turn it into something to help them become more liberated.

I might have mentioned before that during the height of COVID I had a period of time that was deeply existential and wasn’t exactly fun. I saw vividly the mortality of not just myself but every single thing around me. I’m talking my home, the trees in the backyard, my dog, you name it, we were all going to be dead.

At first I was like, ‘Eke, what the heck is going on with your brain.’ And I didn’t like it.

Then I started to understand that my training brought this up from the mud that lays at the bottom of the pool that is that Me with a capital M. It was fear of losing not just the things around me but fear of losing myself.

As with all deep experiences, this one hasn’t completely gone. It still drifts back to remind me of the reality of life, the impermanence of all things. Here is the thing though, what it taught me after a lot of sitting, a lot of letting go, a lot of questions and swallowing the answers is that truly all we have is right now. It is all we have ever had. Now.

When we were children we lived in the now. That is why afternoons playing seemed to last forever. The same with summer vacation. It was because we let go of thoughts of the future and fear and were simply fully 100 percent in the now. Enjoying the sun. Enjoying our games. Enjoying our lives fully.

At some point we replaced all that with fear of the future, dwelling in the past, afraid of everything people might think, holding ourselves back until all there was left was fear that we didn’t really want to ever admit to so we just bury it.

Fear though is darkness. Fear grows into other things. What we need to do as people who are training on this path is let it go. Breathe. Let it go.

Examine that Me with the capital M and all that you cling to. What is its purpose? What false faces does it wear that you no longer need?

Examine the I that dwells beyond that. What does it say to you?

If we want to let go of our fear and find out what this universe is truly about and our place within it we have to do the work. It won’t be easy at first but it is a path of small steps. You’ll succeed lots, fail tons but just stick to it.

Understand that there is nothing at all to fear. Everything in life is change, constant, unending change and all that there is truly is right now. In this now is everything you could ever need but you have to embrace it, love it, appreciate it and give back all you have to it. Here it comes, right now. Oops it is gone you missed it. How about right….now.

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

In this week’s episode we discussed an excerpt from Normal Fischer’s book, When You Greet Me I Bow: Notes and Reflections from a Life in Zen (please click link and pick up a copy).

The Quest For Freedom Of The Spirit

How finding stillness in everyday life can show us the true magic of reality

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

By James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode 115


One of the most important things we can learn through training is how to be still – how to actually understand and apply stillness. Stillness that isn’t just mimicking stillness.

Through stillness we start to see what is actually there.

This is one of the most important aspects of training and life that most people don’t even understand is there, have never been taught about and have no idea how to go about.

I’ve been training in martial arts alone for 40 years now – not that there is anything inherently special about that but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard comments from both students and teachers that stress that all that matters is fighting, learning new techniques, getting promoted, competing, winning, being a champion and any other multitude of things that are just external trappings. The reality though is none of that matters all that much or at least not as much as coming to an understanding of who you are – who you really are.

If being a champion matters the most what are you going to do with the rest of your life and the rest of your training when those days are well behind you?

If all that matters is learning to become the most devastating fighter who ever walked, how are you going to reconcile with the fact that all that you’ve lived in fantasy-land all your life and have actually no idea what a real fight is like?

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t train hard and strive to be the very best you can, however that rolls out for you. I spent years in my youth competing and loved the fun and competition. I always have trained for realism. The thing is, I also have been training in Zen just as much as the martial arts and especially when I hit 50 I have started to see the true potential and true need to take the most important aspects of training to their fullest.

Here is the thing. You can go to the gym. You can stand in front of the mirror in your expensive workout gear and do bicep curls and truly believe that you are getting into shape – and God bless you for it but those bicep curls alone are not doing you any good. In fact, just doing bicep curls without working all the rest of the arm – and the rest of your body even more just leads to imbalance and potential injury.

The way we spend our time training and our mindset for it is exactly the same.

If we believe ourselves to be serious about training and only focus on one aspect it leads to imbalance.

So what do we do then?

We need to train the physical body for sure. We are physical beings at the ground floor. We need to move. Through movement, through pushing ourselves we can start to find stillness.

I’m grateful for the hard Army training and tough old school martial arts I’ve had to endure. It sharpens the mind and puts you into a place where you can start to learn to quiet things down. This isn’t enough though.

What we need to do is also learn to unite the quieting of the mind with the movement of the body. This will lead to more stillness. Slow movement of martial arts, physical training, yoga and other disciplines help.

This is still not enough.

If you truly want to do the work – and I’ll be honest, it isn’t for everyone – you have to be prepared to see for the first time in your life what life actually is. Most people want to live in a world of delusion. They want to see themselves as sparkling crystals in the sunlight. They want to believe what television and social media tells them. They want to occupy themselves and mask the truth of reality. They don’t want to see what life is actually about. They don’t want to know who they really and truly are.

If you want to truly train, and I mean train in the way that wise people and sages and mystics and prophets have whispered to us, you have to sit, breathe, be truly still and let go. You need to let go of everything you cling to and listen with new ears, see with new eyes. You need to quiet the mind and let go of the thoughts rolling around in your head. You need to witness – probably for the first time since birth that you have been lead around by a storm of senses and perceptions and then something will shift. Something will change.

Stillness can lead to understanding that our senses, our perceptions and our thoughts are actually just us perceiving that we are perceiving, perceiving that we are thinking.

Behind that, if you let it, a door opens to a whole different understanding.

But like I said, most people won’t do it. Will you?

Let go and truly experience what you are and what you always have been and always will be. This is what real training is about.

It isn’t about building yourself up as something special. It isn’t about gossip or status. It isn’t about looking good in the mirror. It isn’t about anything other than finding out true limitless potential that is found in stillness.

You are not small – you are boundless.

You aren’t going to find that anywhere other than within yourself. Some of you will start today, some will forget all about this.

That’s ok – it is still there waiting inside of you, you just need to be quiet. You just need to be still. You just need to experience exactly what is really going on and then make this the central part of your training that all the rest will orbit around.

This is the path that makes all the difference. This is the Way.

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

Enduring the fires of anger

How those who make us angry or even dislike us can be among our greatest teachers

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #114

Our enemies are our greatest teachers.

Nobody likes to have enemies – at least I sure don’t – but the reality is that just like the Dalai Lama, or Yoda would tell you, anger just leads to suffering and darkness. What we need to do, through training properly, is learn to see the root cause of our anger, see full on the stupid things we ourselves have done that created the discord, accept the result and learn from it all.

It is easy in Zen or the martial arts to look at training through rose-coloured glasses. You go through the motions, you see the tip of the iceberg, you commit yourself to the aspects that are easy or fit easily in your life – what you really are doing though is forgetting about the true work. The true Way.

The simple fact is that while all the external trappings of training are beneficial, the reality is that the most important aspects of training are also the hardest.

Someone either does you harm or dislikes you or has decided to do whatever they can to harm, discredit, ruin or judge you and you feel it in your bones that this enemy hates you or feels nothing but desire for seeing you in misery. We’ve all been there.  The automatic reaction to this is anger, confusion, fear, hostility, pain and any other assortment of things that are basically summed up with the word suffering. Then we want to somehow return some form of suffering to that person, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. This is what I call the throat-punch reaction – someone does something to us and we automatically want to lash back.

Here is the thing, we don’t want to lash back with the throat punch reaction because of anything else except that you want them to feel like you feel and so you can feel right and believe that somehow they will see that they were wrong.

This is pointless though.

We all do dumb things – sometimes really, really, really dumb things. We are all human. I’m sure even the Dalai Lama has had moments in his life that he thinks to himself, “well now, that was really freaking idiotic…how have I been training this long and still do dumb stuff?” The difference between likely him and you though is he probably instantly laughs to himself and then uses that stupidity of being human as a great lesson to move on to a better place in his training.

I’m no Dalai Lama. I am a simple dude who tries to do his best, falls flat on his face, looks back on the past and wonders how on earth I’d ever been so dumb and I try to be better. Some lessons have come easy like a smack in the face that wakes you up, other lessons have been far slower coming. That’s ok though.

Over the past few years I have really come to see, despite hearing it for years or more likely decades, that compassion, patience, and letting go are the most important things to learn from training, that this is actually all that really matters in training.

You might want to believe that Zen is all about sitting. Or you might want to think that Jiu-Jitsu is all about tapping someone out. Or that you need to have high kicks or be able to meditate for 30 minutes without moving, or any other multitude of aspects of what you believe training to be. Thing is, you need to let go of that. You need to let go of this ego-centric view of what training means, this need to attain, this need to prove yourself.

What matters, what training, what the Way is about is coming to an understanding at our most fundamental level that we are all more connected than we can ever understand. This life and our view of reality in which we live is just a dream. Maybe even just a dream of a dream.

Doing harm to another just injures ourselves. This doesn’t mean not to train in your martial art though it means to train yourself so you never have to harm someone.

Responding to hate with more hate is maybe even worse than physical harm. When we lash out with hatred we lose a part of ourselves that we may not even realize we are tossing aside.

The same goes when we are judgemental, critical, mean, selfish, cruel and angry. Of course we are human so these kinds of things will still show themselves. What we don’t or shouldn’t do though if we are serious about our training is let them loose. Instead, see the anger, ask yourself where it is coming from, how much of it did we ourselves create? Then reshape that emotional response into patience and compassion.

Every morning when I sit for my meditation I think about all the people I remember and even those I no longer recall that I have wronged, that hate me, that I dislike and I send back into the universe that I hope they are loved, safe, healthy and will be liberated. I’m not doing this from some lofty perspective but from the perspective of a flawed human who makes mistakes and wishes and tries to learn from them.

If you love your life at all, or even if right now you don’t, you got here, right at this instant through all those events, mistakes, friends, enemies and whatever else has occurred. All of that happened so you could be here, right now, listening to this, breathing, maybe smiling. The question is, if you have been brought here by all these experiences, what are you going to do with it? What did you learn?

It took me 52 years to get to where I am right now. It has not been easy. Some of it was terrible. Some of it was sad. Some of it was wonderful. Some of it was crazy. All of it was, in retrospect, amazingly interesting in its highs and lows – a story of growth and change. When you can see your life in this light and learn from it you really start to see what training can actually be. What really matters most.

I hope that you are at the place in your own journey of training that you can see that compassion, and development of patience and kindness matter more than anything else.

I think that the fact that you are probably someone who understand that training is important, what I would hope is that you make patience for yourself and others the foundation of that, add to that the cultivation of compassion for others and yourself and strive, every moment you can to let go of anger. Be grateful when you get the opportunity to train to let go. Be understanding to yourself and others for the flawed humans that we all are and simply do you best to be better regardless of all the rest.

When you make this your central point of training, real growth can happen, real change.

Here is the thing: imagine if everyone lived life this way. Imagine if everyone trained this way.

Learn to breathe. Learn to let go. Endure the fire of anger with compassion.

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