It’s been over forty years since I first put on a Gi and started martial art training. Shin Kyu Sik, my first instructor (in Tang Soo Do) many years ago said to me, “If you are unlucky these days you may get into a fight once or twice in your life, but you fight battles within yourself every day”. That simple message applying my training to the inner game of life has stayed with me all my life. Since then I have studied various forms of Karate and Kung Fu spanning soft internal styles as well as hard external styles. Martial arts for me has not been about fighting another opponent as much as training mind and body to face large and small everyday battles of life effectively with alert calmness and equanimity. Of course proficiency in techniques is part of the art, but its greatest practicality in modern life is as a vehicle for strengthening mind and character. In the last ten years especially, passing this on to others as an instructor and coach is immensely rewarding.
In these interesting times as more momentum builds in social progress, the pressure to keep up with technology and social trends. At an entrepreneurial level to stay relevant in how we communicate and offer products and services we must also keep abreast of diversification and new niches of business. Information and knowledge is becoming as much a high demand and major commodity as is any material commodity product or service. Our times are becoming characterised by designer lives, where customised controllable environments, homes, transportation, fashion and interests are more accessible faster. Our mindset is also more important in adapting and thriving among more and more options, complexities of challenges, with a greater emphasis on competing and performing with our minds rather than just working with our hands. Self-doubt, negative beliefs, emotional and mental resistance to change, susceptibility to stress and many other challenges to psycho-emotional wellbeing are things we must combat in our lives more than ever. Creative thinking and cutting edge knowledge in a particular field of interest is becoming more important. Thankfully there are also more supports and sources of information on how to combat personal obstacles and build knowledge and skills than ever before.
The growing demand for insights and skills on playing the inner game of life is beginning to catch up with the expanding demand for tools of developing the skills, processes and knowledge needed to move forward in any given industry. Many of my posts refer to ‘conscious presence’ because it is a passion I have and I believe it is at the root of mastering one’s inner game, whatever the journey, as well as providing for spiritual growth.
Ancient philosophies such as Taoism and Zen, are perhaps easier to couch in modern terms than main stream religious sources, for their minimal religious terminology and universality in presenting principles for truth, righteous living and heightened consciousness. They make a play of paradoxes and opposites to help us pierce the dualism of mind and form to get to unity of pure consciousness and presence in the moment. In this way, practice and understanding promises a better conscious observation of mind-stuff as it arises and more conscious choice as to what we take on or let go in our individual approaches to life. Conscious observation of self is transformational in itself while also providing an inner platform from which to consciously re-design our own thinking and focus.
In the meantime the age-old clues as to what that foundation is, behind thoughts and feelings – conducive or not so conducive, still provide apt guidance towards the self awareness that enables self-transformation and development. In the end, contacting and aligning with the true substance of what and who we are beneath it all becomes the most authentic and rock solid foundation to being solid, happy and empowered. It is connecting and living from a deep conscious self awareness that enables us to know who we are, what we really want and know our purpose. It is where we can find fulfilment in what we are and do, as well as create lives where we can be and do more fulfilling things.
Because this seat of ‘self’ is beyond concept (thought) and form, words like ‘space’, ‘presence’, ‘pure consciousness’ ‘mindfulness’ , ‘essence’ and ‘state-of-being’ are modern terms for an awakening experience that might have once had associations with terms like ‘spirit’ and ‘God’. Whatever the words, for words are only words, it is an authentic and immediately personal experience that is relevant, liberating and empowering, that people are increasingly looking for (knowingly or sub-consciously). The age old trend for increasing peace and prosperity is becoming real for more and more of the worlds population.
As has often been the case historically, it is often in the face of challenges and adversity where we are most likely to go beyond our familiar dependencies and escapism to get to a new depth and breadth of being, because a real crisis occurs when the old familiar ways become inadequate. It is discomfort, inner tension and real life needs that drive us to dig deeper and open up to a greater source of strength, clarity or sense of purpose and connection in life.
This is where the training I began to discuss above can come in handy, as does the way we live in general. Practical training and philosophies can offer a form of view and experience that brings us to lucid moments at times we would otherwise go into ‘flight or fight’. Certain mind training provides reference points for the formless, where our ‘aha’ moments can arise. A principle that is referred to in the paradoxes and play of opposites in martial arts, Taoism and Zen is ‘non-action in action’ and ‘action in non-action’.
It is not very ‘zen’ of me to conceptualise this principle. .. however … it applies to an experience that could be described as meditation in action. In a pure moment of being present we can perform an action with full clarity and consciousness, rooted in the space and consciousness from which the action is occurring. If we are fully aligned and attuned in an action being performed, and identifying with the space or ‘non-action’ in which it is occurring, a quality of ‘nowness’ enables purposeful, creative and fulfilling focus to occur. Also conscious alignment and attunement with the stillness and being-ness from which any given action has arisen, is an inner action in and of itself – the action of aligning and attuning the consciousness itself.
This awareness in action while knowing the reason and benefits of what we are doing at any time in the day, nourishes the consciousness of feeling in the flow of life and energisation by doing something that invigorates a sense of purpose. This is compared to the dullness of biding time, doing something for the sake of it, being in a mindset of ‘having to do’ something we don’t want to do or really care about. These negative types of mindsets take us away from being empowered and conscious individuals living in sync with life in general. Transformation of consciousness and reality occur together.
A simple example comes from Zen in the form of Zen walking. Walking can be a mundane thing we do unconsciously to get somewhere we want to be or maybe would rather not be. However, even this simple process can be used as part of enjoyment and self-mastery, especially if we try it as a conscious practice a number of times. Try this version of practice on a weekend, start or finish of the day and go barefoot on wet sand or grass to get the full benefits of earthing and restorative electron flow in and around the body in addition to the exercise for mind. This helps balance and replenish mind and body as well as practicing mindfulness:
- allow the breath to become open, flowing and fully relaxed
- stand still and balanced, gaze slightly down along the nose, feeling through the legs and feet into the ground, breathe in the lower belly, arms relaxed by the sides or finger interlocked comfortably at the lower abdomen where you are taking the breathe.
- Begin to walk slowly, steadily and purposefully in a circle or straight line with a soft steady gaze and calm natural breath.
- Allow your steps to be slow enough to feel the point of balance on each foot rolls from heel to toes and the other foot lifts and moves forwards.
- Try adjusting the speed until the walk feels slow, steady and natural – encouraging a strong sense of balance and being with each step and the movement during each step.
- Do this long enough (5-20 minutes) that your inner body awareness and outer awareness feel unified (no boundaries) with breath and movement.
Once you do this you can subtly do it while browsing in a shop, walking from the desk to printer or table to refrigerator – any moments through the day to train oneself towards consistent mindfulness.
Waking up in conscious presence each day and appreciating the song of birds outside my window, bringing that wakeful presence into body awareness, the living space around me and then my actions throughout the day, adds so much to what I consider my quality of living and enhances my relationships. It is an aspect of where spiritual practice and daily living are one and the same. The accumulated store of conscious moments over days, weeks and years bring you to an enriched space where (to quote Dan Millman) “there are no ordinary moments”.
Photo from Visual Hunt (quote added)