Understanding Selflessness — And Why It Is Important

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By James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #121


We all have a choice to make.

We can make it right now.

We can spend the rest of our lives living in the light or we can do the opposite.

Maybe the rest of your life is too long to think about, how about this moment? If you can commit 100 per cent to being a light in the darkness right now then that is getting somewhere.

If you can do it right now, this idea of what right now really means can become a way of life, and this idea of being a true light shining in the darkness can start to make some major impacts not just in your life but in the world and maybe the universe itself.

Most people walk through life with blinders on. Maybe they don’t want to or are unable to see the truest nature of reality. Maybe they are just so caught up with the delusion that swirls around them that is fed by culture and society and the endless churn of information we get flooded with.

You see, the society or better yet, the view of reality that we are all fed is nothing but a lie. The truth of our lives and our reality is far different than most will ever really see – to get there you have to get down to some fairly serious training.

I’m not going to get into what that means right now. But let’s just say that our self-centered view of reality, the I, I, I, me, me, me is not only the central aspect of our delusion but maybe the beginning of a radical shift in your view of things, what causes so much trouble in all of our lives.

We cling to things. We want things. We worry about things. We fear things. All of this happens in the shifting sands of how we see life. Generally we spend way too much time dwelling on the past or fearing and fretting about the future. Here is a little mind-blowing secret: none of that exists. The past is gone and of no value to you. The future isn’t here and also of no sense worth worrying about. What you are left with is right now in this moment.

When we start to understand that all we have is now and there is no guarantee of anything else and add to this that all the other myriad of things around us also face the same fact but end up suffering from skirting the magnitude of this mixed with an obsession with self, what you are left with – if you really want to be a light in this world instead of just more darkness – is that there is just one option left; to help.

The level of helping can be in big ways or in small ways. You can make a conscious effort to mitigate the level of harm you cause in the world – of course you won’t be able to completely avoid it. Wash your hands and you are killing things, walk down the sidewalk, the same, eat food, yup, more death and destruction.

What I try to do is balance it.

Help as many people and things as I can. When given an opportunity to help something, you do what you can.

Are you going to always succeed? Nope. You’ll fail and you’ll fail some more. What you can do is turn these failures into lessons and opportunities to expand your world, expand your perception, expand your view of life and your place in it. And the best part of failing is learning and doing better as a flawed human.

In the Army when I was in training and throughout my career we were bombarded with the concept of service before self. This means putting serving your country and its peoples ahead of your own desires and in some cases your own life. In military terms this means being willing to put your life at stake for the greater good.

Interestingly enough, this same concept is what Buddhism pretty much is pointing at as well, albeit from a different angle. This path is one of putting the liberation or the relieving of suffering of all living things ahead of all other things so that it is literally what you are looking at as a huge part of your training. It is what some call the Bodhisattva path.

Now some of you might be like, yeah, ok whatever, I’m not a Buddhist. Well, you don’t have to be. What you can be though is a super person who makes selflessness the central tenet of whatever training you make yours.

You train in the martial arts? Great, instead of focus on how to destroy someone, how to harm someone, make your training be about how to defend yourself for sure but to mitigate the damage you would do to someone else. Make violence itself something that you avoid. Ask yourself how you can do kickboxing or jiu-jitsu or karate or whatever else but from the standpoint of protection of others, of not letting your ego grab hold, of helping others first and foremost.

When you make this what your training is about and less about building yourself up, less of competing with others, less of a self-focussed view of training and more of a view of what you can do to help others you will find your whole training change and more importantly, your whole life will change.

What things can we all do to help cultivate this self-less approach? Well we can judge less, we can be critical less, we can gossip less, we can be mean and thoughtless less. We can smile more. We can be kind more. We can help more.

An amazing thing will happen when we start down this path to help spread light in this world. We will find that it changes our outlook and not only that, it makes you less likely to react to things as you once did, it will make you smile more, it will make you actually look for ways to help more.

So here is a little practice that you can do anytime of the day, it just takes a few slow breaths. As you breathe in, think about the people and things in your life, even those you have issues with, and send them and visualize them being surrounded and getting loving-kindness. See them in that light.

You want this to be a thing that you think of regularly.

You see an ant wandering down the sidewalk, send it loving-kindness.

Some woman in the grocery is dealing with a screaming kid, loving-kindness.

You are getting choked out in jiu-jitsu, defend yourself but then send loving-kindness.

You can work this in whatever way you want. Sometimes when I’m out for a walk or riding my bike and I pass someone or see something I just say to myself, “I hope you have a life of happiness and joy.” I’ve known Zen masters who make it a practice to make a more formal bow and recitation when they pass things.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. It is similar to how I was raised in the martial arts that when you bow to someone in the dojo you think to yourself of how grateful you are for them to be here training with you, that you have gratitude for them being in your life and that you hope they never have to use what you will be training in together and that you do your utmost that nobody is injured in training.

We take this same concept we use in the dojo and expand it to mean even more in life.

For me, in the past few years I’ve really amped up this aspect of my training and have found that it makes a huge impact. Give it time and it changes the way you see most things and how you react to them as well.

When it comes to training, whatever that means to you, we need a kind of practice that actually has an impact on our lives. One that changes us and for the better – without that we will find ourselves habitually following the same patterns we always have, spinning our wheels in the mud.

I want more from my life. I remind myself constantly that even the dimmest light in the darkness beams outward.

See how it goes. Better yet, let me know.

We can add to the darkness and delusion of this world. We can be ambivalent to it. Or we can decide right now to be a light casting all of that away.

What are you going to do?

I know what I will be doing.   

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

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.

Defusing The Worst Evil There Is: Anger

How learning some simple things can help us deal with the anger we all carry around

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast Episode 116

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.

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

The Anxiety Of Ending

Photo by Ben Mack on Pexels.com

by James Eke

from Warrior’s Way Podcast episode 112

I don’t think for a moment that anyone from crackpot-conspiracy theorists to hypochondriac germa-phobes and all the rest of everyone in-between will escape from COVID unscathed.

We have all been through something hard. Something bizarre. Something that has changed the way we think, act and feel.

Many people have lost those they cared about or lost businesses or simply their view of who they thought they were.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.

Will COVID ever be gone? At this point it doesn’t look that way. How will we have to respond to it? Well, it probably depends on where you live.

I’m in Canada and our government took things very seriously. My martial arts school for instance was shut down with imposed restrictions during the first lockdown, then we were allowed to open for a few months and had to stay six feet apart with masks on, then we were shut down another 8 months and as I’m recording this we probably have another month before we can open, likely with the same six feet apart rule.

More than one person has asked me what I think martial arts training is going to be like or, maybe more honestly, how they can feel ok with getting back to things like they were before.

My best advice is 100 per cent in line with my own personal blinking neon sign view of training – be kind and compassionate to yourself and to others.

What does that mean though?

COVID has been a very valuable lesson for us in terms of view of self and our relation to others. It has been valuable in teaching us patience and being in the moment.

Before COVID most people in the West looked at their lives as somehow solitary special moonbeams but suddenly we all had to realize that the things we do could not just impact others but could kill them – most importantly, the simple fact that all of us are connect to each other in ways we probably never realized.

I think that moving forward through the place we are with the pandemic and where we are headed it is important for us to be kind and compassionate with ourselves and others. Not everyone will be in the same place with this. We need to let go of the need to get things back to whatever normal used to be – whatever it is we remember that being. Truth be told, there was nothings so inherently great about the greedy, selfish, self-centred way things were before.

We have been given a chance to make a new normal for ourselves and for our world – a world that is kinder, more understanding, more supportive, more able to adjust to things.

We know now how important people who have our backs are and how important it is to have others backs.

We know now that we have to think about others perhaps more than ourselves.

We know now that we have to take care of this planet and our communities.

All of this is valuable.

As for what you need to do to move on from here, I think that first of all you need to make sure you are training your inner self to be resilient, calm and compassionate – this means meditation, this means learning to let go, this means training and cultivating compassion which can be a lot harder than learning how to sit and breathe.

I think you need to stay in shape physically. This means working out for sure but also getting back on the dojo mats and training. At first this might be some solo work or training that you can do at an arms-length.

Martial arts done in a kind and compassionate manner but allowing us to release frustration, allowing us to interact with others in a safe environment is going to be a salve for the wounds left by COVID.

We have to move forward. We have to follow that light at the end of the tunnel. We have to do it in a way though that is not going to harm others or cause any more misery.

Martial arts and training has always had a power to it – a power that has the ability to heal. This is going to be even more important in the months and years to come.

We have to have faith and understanding in our training partners. We have to have admiration for our teachers and schools that have weathered this terrible storm and ensured that we have dojos to train at when so many didn’t make it. We have to love our systems and styles that have given us so much and will continue to help us to evolve and grow.

Most of all though, we have to have compassion and kindness for ourselves. Don’t push ourselves too hard when what we need is to be slow and understanding.

This path of training is long and difficult but if we stick to it amazing things can happen. There is nothing to fear when we keep our light of compassion shining and our mind open and able to see what is right and what isn’t working.

We can push through this – we’ve made it this far together and we can and will be standing together in the new world that will replace that old one we have already lost. Let’s let it go and find something better together.

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