Respond To Life, Don’t React To It

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

Photo by Prasanth Inturi on Pexels.com

by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #119


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

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

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

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

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

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

This learning comes in big ways and small ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be calm, let go.

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

How are you going to train?

What are you going to do?

When are you going to start?

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

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

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

How To Find True Freedom

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

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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.

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