Wake up!

A field guide for enlightenment

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by James Eke

from Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #127

Why should I even care about enlightenment? Is it even a thing? What difference does it actually make?

These are probably three of the most important questions that you could ask yourself.

They are also three questions that most people probably couldn’t care less about in a world where Facebook is where we find our news and our drive for material possessions and a view that taking as much as we can is somehow the key to a happy life regardless of who you need to step on or what it does to the planet we depend on.

Despite what some would tell you, there are quite a number of enlightened people on this planet right now. Some you have probably heard of, others you probably haven’t and never will – the simple truth being that few people who have any real enlightenment experience are going to be shooting YouTube videos or trending on TikTok blowing their own horn about how awesome they are.

The Dalai Lama himself doesn’t go out of his way telling people he is some enlightened being but just a simple monk.

Enlightenment is, even in some serious circles a thing of debate. I’ve even been told in the past by different Buddhist teachers not to worry about enlightenment and even that enlightenment doesn’t exist – at least not in the way we think. Then I’ve also been told by others that what we need to do in our training is devote ourselves to the understanding of what enlightenment is, what it means and do the serious work and effort to try to get there in this lifetime.

I’ll be honest with you, I used to think that a lot of what we think of enlightenment is just understanding life. Life is suffering. Check. Got it. Suffering is caused by desire and attachment. Roger. I think I get that too. Desire and attachment can be overcome. Yup, understood. The way to overcome them is something called the Eightfold path of right seeing, thought, speech, action, work, effort, mindfulness and concentration. Long shopping lists make it tough to carry the groceries but you have to do what you have to do.

You see, I may have been a Zen dude for 40 years or so but what I’m starting to see is just how important not just amassing information is but taking this knowledge, understanding it in a transcendent kind of way and not just going about your day but truly applying it.

What I’ve found recently, over the past few years, is that I have started to see things differently as I have deepened my own practice thanks to this feeling it in your bones kind of level of application.

Getting there is like realizing you have been bumping around in a dark room and then suddenly, you know, after a few decades of bumping around you realize you were in the dark all this time and that just over there is what looks like a door with light coming out from around it. Once you start opening that door everything is different.

The problem with most of us is we get mired in not just the mud of life so that all we can do is sit there, spinning the wheels thinking that if we just keep our foot on the gas we will get somewhere, but for those of us who are serious and sincere about training, we can also get caught up in our minds, compiling information, thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking until we not only get drunk on our own thoughts but deluded by them mistaking book smarts for actual ground floor truth.

You might be thinking that all of this is well and good but if enlightenment is possible, where are all the enlightened beings. Here is the thing, we are all enlightenment machines. It is not just a birthright, it is our most fundamental state, we’ve all just kind of chosen to get caught up in the BS of the world we perceive through our narrow perceptions and caught up in the BS that we fill our thoughts with through our clinging belief that is mainly just ego that doesn’t want to let go or even admit that it is just a false face.

I believe that enlightenment in this lifetime is not just possible but working towards it is the most important thing you can do. I also believe that it doesn’t matter one iota. It doesn’t matter what you think and it doesn’t matter what I think.

My rationale for this is that most of us think – that is the key word by the way – think, that we are perceiving and experiencing the universe but what if that is the first mistake and what we all are is actually something more like the universe perceiving and experiencing us?

What if all we need to do is stop spinning our wheels in the mud?

What if all we need to do is stop grasping for things?

What if all we really need to do is separate ourselves even just a little from an ego-driven experience of life?

I’m not some enlightened sage. I’m a flawed human just doing my best to not just live this life but to train and understand and apply what I am learning. Not easy. Not easy at all but that too is clinging and in moments when I let go of my ego’s hold I realize that cultivation of an entity that is a universal entity is, for a few minutes easy, simple and kind of like coming home.

Of course, when Bob introduces himself at the weekly meeting and you smile back and say ‘nice to meet you Bob, I’m the whole universe,’ he is going to look at you like you are about 11 eggs short of a dozen.

What we need to do in our training is keep some sort of enlightenment as our goal, something we really want to taste but at the same time not hold onto it too tightly. This is the same as what we need to do to understand this game-changing view of us being the universe experiencing you – we need to take this and understand what it means in our daily lives.

You are only going to get there through the practice, cultivation and understanding of stillness.

So, here is my advice. Get started. Right now. Slow it down. Start to see the truth of who you are.

Enlightenment is possible – we have some pretty good examples of it – now the work of getting there is a choice you have to make and if you don’t, well that will be just fine too. There is plenty of time.

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

Tap Into The True Potential Of Human Nature

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

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

By James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #123

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

Maybe you think you want to get into shape.

Maybe you think you want to learn to defend yourself.

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

Maybe you want something more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stillness. That simple.

Stillness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The transformation of the Hero’s Journey

Growth and change grows from adversity

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #122


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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what growth and change is all about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treat yourself and all others with kindness and compassion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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