A few fundamentals you will need to help keep your meditation practice going strong
You might think you don’t need anything to mediate — and that is kind of right but also a bit flawed in its approach. To meditate and keep on meditating you are going to need a few things to help make it a thing you can stick with instead of something to aspire to.
Zafu. You can call it a meditation cushion, a pillow or zafu but whatever you call it, this is something most people who meditate for years sit on daily. Get whatever colour you want, it will be under your backside.
Zabuton. You have a zafu and may think that is good enough but eventually you are going to wish you had something soft under your knees and legs. A zabuton goes under your zafu and make sitting — especially for longer periods of time like meditating on a cloud. There are loads of things to get you distracted and having one less thing makes a huge difference. Believe me, you want this.
Meditation Bench. Yes, that’s right, a meditation bench — you don’t have to sit on the floor, on a yoga block or even on a cushion, you can sit on a cool bench and this is one of the best I’ve seen. Check it out!
Meditation bell. Start and end your meditation sessions with intention. Not only does it sound great but it makes the training aspect far more formal and dedicated. I think this is a great way to train.
Tibetan Meditation Bowl Bell. I personally like using this for starting and ending my meditation sessions. I love the resonance that these bowl bells make. Again, it puts some tradition and seriousness of ritual into your meditation. Not a bad idea at all.
Buddha Statue. Make your meditation space your own retreat center. Make it into your own Zen Temple. This Buddha is 15” tall and meditating with the Buddha nearby just sounds like a good idea don’t you think?
Big Buddha Statue. If you have the room, why not have a nearly life-sized Buddha? I think this would be a great addition to any space you want to transform into a place of peace and stillness.
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 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.
I think of anger as a dark, black and massive octopus-like thing that has an ability to reach out with its sinewy limbs and tentacles and make their way into parts of you that you don’t expect, slowly drawing you in, often unaware, until all there is left is its darkness.
Maybe you haven’t experienced it. Maybe you haven’t been aware of it. I expect however that you, like all of us, have more anger hiding in the dimly lit places inside of you than you realize.
You may think right now that this doesn’t apply to you but unless you are some kind of next level being, that kind of delusional thinking is only going to cause you problems.
Looking back over my life I can now see, thanks to a lot of training on this aspect of the human condition, that I have had whole periods of my life that were controlled to varying degrees by anger.
Of course at the time I didn’t realize it.
I’m sure that on the outside, people would have thought I was a pretty happy, go-lucky guy.
It is only when we start to really look for this sneaky thing lurking, wanting to grab a hold of us, wanting to dominate us from the inside that we can see the power it had and has. And here is the thing, anger is always going to be an aspect of human life. This is part of the reason why it is so important that we recognize it and root it out when we find it. Anger has a way of festering and growing and forming a whole different reality – it makes you see things in a different way than you would normally if anger wasn’t ruling the roost.
When it comes to training, one of the most important things any of us can do is come face to face with this, learn to see the root of it, recognize the power it has over you, and understand how it feels, where it came from and how you deal with it.
I’ve trained in martial arts that try to get people to tap into their anger to channel it into aggression so that they can release more power. This is the wrong way to do things. We don’t want to learn to use anger and be powered by it. What we need to do is actually the opposite.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hit the pads. This doesn’t mean either that there aren’t times that we need to let go and give it. What we have to avoid simply is the fueling of that with anger. Walking this path just lets that dark octopus grab hold of more of us and eventually steer us around without us realizing it.
So what do we do when we believe someone has wronged us?
What do we do when someone hurts us?
What do we do when something really makes us angry?
I’ll tell you what I’ve learned to do. I shine a light on it as soon as I’m able to recognize it. I force myself to breathe. I recognize the anger for what it is, find its root and then acknowledge it and let it go.
Does this mean I never get angry? Of course not. This upset me. People upset me. Things get my gears going. What I do though is take these moments as opportunities to train myself to let the anger go and not let it fester within. I take it as a chance to really see things as impermanent and potentially bound to suffering – and let’s face it, anger leads to suffering, anger is suffering.
A Zen master I train with told me recently that to train against killing and to train against anger also means to train not to gossip, not to criticize and not to spread fake news or conspiracy theories. He pointed out that all the negative and mean things we say – even if we think we are doing right by saying them or posting them actually do us more harm than we realize and have the potential to harm others without us knowing it. He noted that we all have a choice to spread goodness that is really good or what we think is goodness that is actually bad, unfortunately most people aren’t able to see these realities in a time of social media where everyone publicly airs their dirty laundry and thinks that their opinions – whether right or wrong are somehow important to tell people about.
Think of how many people who have ended up in hospital from COVID due to all of the misinformation that has been spread around. People have died in hospital fighting to the end with their doctor and nurses that they couldn’t possibly have COVID because they read on social media that it doesn’t exist. You think what you spread in anger and delusion doesn’t matter but it can be just as dangerous as physical violence.
My view on this is to not criticize, not to spread foolishness, not to judge. Of course I’m human. I will get a bee in my bonnet just like anyone, but there is no reason to get into it with others, especially not in a way that can cause harm.
Most of our anger is based on fear and seasoned with ego. We want to believe that we are right and special and important and when something happens that makes us angry that thing is usually our deluded view of that thing somehow threatening our self-view. How dare that person do that to me? How dare that person be like that? How dare that thing think it can do that? Me, me, me.
To learn to train against letting anger take-over is to learn to let go of our clinging to this illusion of who we think we are, learning to see us all as flawed humans trying to do their best and failing, learning to see all life as a chance to train compassion, kindness and understanding.
Now you might think this is all wishy-washy rainbows and butterflies but it is actually what living an engaged and enlightened life is all about.
Learning to breathe and let go should be the core aspect of our training. It should be what we do when we train physically. It should be what we do while we are at work. It should be what we do when we are in school. Without it we are simply not finding out who we truly are and who we truly can be.
It isn’t going to be easy but I can tell you that training this way will change your life. Letting go of anger, not being controlled by it, lashing out, holding it in, being small – it is the difference between living in the darkness and living in the light.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather train and try, every day, to live in the light.
I don’t know about you, but I am reminded daily by how much the pandemic has changed me.
I don’t think for a second I am the same person I was when this all started if I really examine who I am right now, what has happened since the start of this crazy train we’ve been riding and everything I’ve done to fill the spaces within that.
Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been all puppies and rainbows. This thing has been hard. If you have spent the time wisely though I think it has also had huge potential.
I’m not saying by any stretch that this gong-show has been good. It has been a dystopic brutal horror that has made untold millions suffer and millions die. The rest of us have also seen our lives we thought we had completely rear-ended and changed – likely forever in one way or another.
That said, I myself have used a lot of discipline and purposefully used this long year and a half plus to deepen my meditation, to work on my fitness in new ways, to develop my martial arts and training and to create in big and small ways.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and reality that before all of this never would have dawned on me.
I’ve filled my days with a structure I don’t know that I had in the same way before this. More time working on my Zen and in a different and deeper way than ever. Focused time on fitness, spending time daily on full-body strength workouts, running or cycling and yoga five days of the week. Due to all the things I’ve had to come up with teaching online classes and social distanced in person, I’ve created so much new material that I’m actually blown away with for creative development of different aspects of martial arts and movement that has been now added to what I train and what I’ll be teaching. This includes some completely new ways of training that I’m really excited to be starting to teach now to my students.
All of this and I’ve also learned how to play the violin – and I’ve gotten pretty darn good if I do say so myself.
I’ve also found that I spent more time outside of all of this just being.
I noticed the cherry blossoms this spring like never before. I feel a kinship to the hummingbird the visits me every day outside of my home office window. I walk the dogs and feel appreciation for just being able to do exactly what I am doing in being outside, walking. My relationship feels better than ever and I look forward to all the little moments of sitting watching a movie or sitting outside having a tea like I don’t remember ever feeling before.
When it comes to the students who have stuck it out through this daunting time with me and each other I feel inspired by them. I feel immense gratitude for having people who are there for each other and me. For those who dropped along the way for whatever reason, I hope they are doing well and still getting things done.
My son Khaelys has been a key player in keeping interest up for the online training I’ve been doing and recently set up a Discord page for us to use for our online training and discussions about everything and anything and I feel like we are really on to something there with using technology not as something to use to fill space when we are bored but using it as its potential was from the start – for something that helps us, fosters growth, support and a future we have dreamt of for a long time into our present. I’m still trying to figure out how we can keep using the technology as things change and move through this because honestly, why lose something that works.
All of this is exciting.
What does the future hold? Change. That is it. Life is impermanent that means that it always has been. Everything changes and we cannot think for a second that we can hold onto anything. This isn’t something to stress about though this is something that we can use to understand how amazing this moment you are in right now is. It is something to make you realize how special everything that is in your life is. It is something to make you realize that you can do amazing things if you set yourself up to do so and to grow and to help others to grow.
I’ll tell you something. People talk about wanting to go back to how things were but honestly, there was a lot that wasn’t so golden. The way things were before wasn’t so great. Before this most of us just went through life with blinders on. We consumed. We dreamed. We didn’t live. People acted indifferent to people. People lived in a world of greed, selfishness and utter delusion.
Of course some of this won’t just go away. I’m not living in some fantasy that the world will finally become the place it could be. There will still be people who don’t care about anything other than themselves. There probably always will be.
The pandemic though forced us all – or many of us at least – to hit the brakes. To see how grateful we need to be for having a life at all. You missed Jiu-Jitsu or going to the movies or travel? Well good. That means that there were and are things in your life that you should be more grateful for and express that gratitude for. This means that we need to learn to judge less and be kind more. We need to be less petty and more compassionate. We need to see our lives for what they are – these things that somehow out of the infinite cosmos somehow beat all the odds and managed to exist.
You are here. I am here.
The question that remains is what are you going to do with that?
Sure. You can go back to living a shallow life. Spend it filled up because you think you need to be distracted. This is your life though. Who knows what comes next?
Become friends with that hummingbird. Talk to that crow. Eat a carrot and be grateful to the farmer who grew it and the worker who picked it and the driver who transported it and yeah, to the sun for shining and the earth for nurturing it all so you can be alive.
Training means that we examine our lives. Never before in a hundred years have we been sent to our rooms by life and told to think about what we have done.
We have a choice now as the door starts to slowly open to a new day.
What are you going to do from here?
What kind of life do you want?
What is important?
For me, I think I am just at the start of something bigger than I could ever have expected. I feel like my whole life has brought me to right now as I’m sitting here right now. As I’m sitting here I’m laying the foundation for what comes next.
If you are listening to this podcast you have made it too. I bet if you examine your life since COVID first hit you will see the changes that have come in your life. It is easy to see them all as negative but honestly, pick yourself up and look with new eyes. See what really happened. The profound lessons learned, the person you are now compared to that other one – if you are like me you’ll probably wish you could go back in time, especially during the hardest, bleakest days and say, ‘hey, you just wait, this is going to be ok, just be kind, just be compassionate, just be light in the darkness and support others to be that way.’
Remember the human cost of all of this. Never forget it. But be like the phoenix that is going to rise from the ashes and become something greater.
Going on from here is going to take a bit of courage, more compassion and more understanding. You don’t need to go back to the so called old way of doing things. Your old normal life is gone. I’m saying that you should let it go. There wasn’t nothing all that special about it – we can all do better.
I know I am sure going to try, otherwise this whole experience has been a waste of a very valuable lesson – a lesson that can make our whole world better.