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The Dark Side Of Pain

steve pray

 

Pain eats your soul.
You want to move but you can’t.
Life is out there waiting,
Calling you to come out and play,
People to see, places to be,
Exciting, active and fun…
The spirit is willing, but the body is tired,
Every move jars the soul,
Pain screams around the joints,
They give way and are unstable,
Medication has a price that is just as bad.

Everybody assumes you will fully repair,
That is the confidence of youth.
You end up joining the pretence,
Because it’s easier than trying to explain.
In the end life can only get worse,
It comes sooner to some than others,
But why tell them that?

Bed becomes your torture chamber,
No position has rest,
No sleep, no respite.
The dark quiet hours make you think,
You feel the reaper in the shadows.
Death is a warm painless blanket,
Where sleep finally awaits.

No seat is comfortable,
No shoes or clothes fit without discomfort,
Everything comes with a problem,
Can’t stand, walk, sit or lay without pain,
Every bit of furniture has to be examined,
So you don’t get stuck and embarrassed.

Your painful gait gets in everyone’s way,
Too slow, with that painful limp.
No disabled parking means going home,
Having to fully open your car door,
Means traffic slows with impatient horns.

Paralympians put you to shame,
But they’re disabled not sick.
Others can’t tell the difference,
And if your sickness isn’t visible enough,
People think you’re lazy.

Many are worse off than you.
Their struggle makes your problems seem small.
It’s all a matter of perspective,
But you can only speak from your own.
Why bother to write?
Because that old man/lady hobbling in your way,
Created the world you now inhabit,
And could probably save you from many mistakes.

By Steve Rowe

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Cognitive Dissonance In The Martial Arts

face claw

I posted recently on Facebook about Firemen who rescued some piglets from a fire and how the grateful farmer then slaughtered them and rewarded the firemen with sausages made from their carcasses. As a meditation I suggested that if that made the readers uncomfortable it might be because they were experiencing ‘cognitive dissonance’ because they might hold two opposing views about the piglets, one because they are cute and cuddly and the other because they like them as food.

This then made me think that it might be a good idea to draw some of my teachings together under this label to explain the difference between blind assumptions that create the condition and using it as a tool in our martial arts and in stressful times.

Let me explain.

In the book ‘The Prehistory Of The Mind’ Steven Mithen explains the development of the human mind as like ‘a Swiss army penknife’ with utilities like the need for survival, the need for love and affection, the need to procreate, the need to communicate and recognising what we need to eat and so on that develop faster than all other parts of the mind. These utilities are separate from each other and this explains why we can see baby pigs as cute and cuddly one moment and then be eating them later; as it utilises different parts of the mind.

Steven then relates how as humankind developed, some people have developed channels between these utilities and can start to relate one to the other, bringing about in some the need to reconcile the apparent dissonance between the two.

So in our meditation and self study we need to recognise the ‘blind assumptions’ about everything that our culture and upbringing has given us as a set of views and values and then apply our own critical thinking to them to decide if we really do think that way and to find what our views really are. This process dramatically changed me as a person as I realised that I had previously just adopted the views and values of my family and culture without challenging them!  I had been wearing a mask all this time and not known it, my deep rooted fears and anxieties were borne out of cognitive dissonance because the views I thought I held weren’t really me and deep down I felt uncomfortable with them.

Good meditation took me through this process of self examination to find out who I really was and to find my own resonance.  It was a huge relief to eventually discover who I was and the views that really resonated with me.

Then as martial artists we can train this dissonance as a tool when life serves up it’s usual unpalatable fayre. If we have to defend ourselves or someone else, or fight to keep the peace and we don’t like hurting anyone or anything, we need the skill to be able to disassociate our connection to another person to see them purely as a target to hurt them enough to stop them and this is where a trained ‘cognitive dissonance’ can work for good.

When I’ve had to take a loved pet to the vet to have them put down, when someone close to me is dying painfully, when all I want to do is to collapse in a sea of emotion but someone has to take action to get things done, that necessary separation, if well trained, can come to the fore.

If you are an empathic person and naturally link into someone else’s anger, pain, suffering or depression you end up taking on their emotions and life can be really hard! The person might feel better after an hour but you can still be walking about with their depression for weeks if you’re not careful! Again training for that separation, so you can deal with their emotions positively, you create that ‘cognitive dissonance’ until you can bring the resonance between you back is a real skill.

The ability to be able to ‘wake up’ using mindfulness, to examine our mind and opinions, to discover who we really are what we really think, to understand and connect the different parts of our mind and draw on that embedded ‘utilitarian’ part as a skillset takes regular daily training can be truly life changing – and it helps to develop the necessary toolbox to make us more emotionally intelligent.

That has got to be worth the effort!

 

 

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Direct Knowledge Is Different

steve profile books

 

I used to get my knowledge and wisdom from others at lectures, in books and lecture tapes.  I would meditate for ages on the wisdom of the Buddha, Lao Tsu, Ajhan’s Chah and Sumedho, Alan Watts, Kahil Gibran and many others, I studied Buddhism, Zen, Chan, Taoism, Wicca, Paganism, Ritual Magik, Spiritualism and all their associated arts, but when the breakthrough occurred, I stopped.

No longer did I need to refer to others, because I was able to look inside and find my own ‘wisdom mind’. When I sat or stood still, I could access the part of me that I never could before and I found the true purpose of meditation.

Before, I knew a lot about these subjects and could quote a host of others and what they thought about them, but I didn’t really know what I was talking about because I didn’t have the direct experience. I thought I had because I had the knowledge, but it hadn’t changed me as a person. A big difference!

When a Buddhist monk lectured, they would sit quietly first and when they spoke it was like something spoke through them, they could answer questions with frightening honesty and humility but I never quite got what they were doing until it happened to me. In the Martial Arts I would see true mastery when a teacher could just respond with whatever someone threw at them with ease and never have to bully to impress. Eventually I realised that when you had absorbed the knowledge properly with the right kind of mind – you became it.

Meditation became my study instead of reading, instead of acting the part I became it.  My martial arts training became a meditation. Whenever I needed help or advice, instead of going to a book, I sat still, when I had a problem, in that stillness I always found the answer.

I could teach and lecture without notes, all I had to do was go to that place in my mind and everything came out in a well structured approach sensitive to the audience and students needs.

I had found the difference between knowing about something and actually knowing it.

There are many that know ‘about’ various subjects and can quote just about everyone, but those that really ‘know’ directly and are it, live it every day.

And they truly are like diamonds on a beach of pebbles.

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If I die tonight

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Dedicated to my good friend the late Graham Wendes.

If I die tonight will the universe stop?
If I return to the Tao it will be like a wave returning to the sea;
No more ‘being human’ and only ‘sensing’ the infinite;
From whence I came, I will return and be it once more.
My ‘place of refuge’ becomes my home again.

In the infinite, all time exists all of the time, the theatre of life exists because the pot is stirred;
When stirred, one plays off against the other in a binary fashion, simple appears complicated as the picture of life is created;
Pulsing continuously into an ever changing picture like a TV signal;
With each part not realising that that they are all joined, made from the same binary code that itself joins to form the unrecognisable infinite.

The universe creates the unfolding drama to satisfy itself, we unwittingly keep recreating a similar drama for our amusement with theatre, films and TV –
When we wake up, we see it.

By Steve Rowe

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I Should Be Dead

Dead

I know it, the reaper came, hovered and left. I stood between the worlds for months after a collapse with a second serious infection, 5 life saving and crippling surgeries on top of the 9 I’d already had and a second round of months of a cocktail of life saving, gut wrenching, antibiotics and hallucinogenic pain killers left me in serious doubt as to whether I was still meant to be here.

But here I am… still feeling ‘out of place’ and on borrowed time. Pain is a constant reminder and fatigue is always pulling at the back of my eyes and keeping the handbrake on my body. Everything has to be done slowly and carefully, teaching me ‘mindfulness’ in a most unexpected way, death always feels like it could it come with the next breath.

But this is not bad. It gives me perspective and vision that was not available to me before. Other people have a ‘bucket list’ when on borrowed time and try to fit everything into whatever time they have left, frantically running round like headless chickens trying to be distracted from their future demise having lost all perspective due to fear. I’m lucky because a lifetime of meditation and study allows me to sit in the ‘Tao’ and to see my finite life from an infinite mind.

What is important? It’s important to be ‘at ease’ with what and who you are and what part you have to play in this theatre of life. You are born out of this world and not into it. You are a part of everything in this theatre and have always been here in one way or another since the ‘big bang’.

My disability slows me down, this makes me pay attention to everything I rushed past before, ‘paying attention’ to everything, time, places, things, people, their characteristics, actions, words and this opens doors that I never saw before. Sitting still and in constant pain allows me to find that ‘place of refuge’ in my mind where the infinite me that holds all wisdom exists and pain is put into perspective.

I stopped contacting people that didn’t contact me and I let them go. I stopped talking to people that only contacted me when I was ‘useful’ and I let them go. I stopped taking part in the circus of ego feeding, back slapping events that only fed the negativity of needing to be an accepted part of it and fear of being excluded.  I stopped worrying about people, things and places because everything eventually turns to dust, all matter is impermanent. I learned that sometimes anxiety, depression, pain and suffering just arises, but it will pass if you let it be and don’t hang your hat on it. Nothing belongs to me – it’s all transitory.

If I smile with my face I immediately feel better, if I smile from the heart, I feel content and at peace, ‘letting go’ is the capacity to just watch everything as it passes, pay it attention but see it for what it is. If you know the names of your demons, they can’t touch you. Helping people is better than harming them, allowing them to be what they are, without imposing your wishes on them creates a healthy relationship. Building bridges is better than blowing them up, food parcels work better than bombs, inclusion works better than exclusion, ‘spreading the load’ in society makes ‘being human’ turn into humankind.

I don’t need to go anywhere, I don’t need to do anything, I don’t need to become anything, on the contrary, the best me is when I let go of all that desire and then intelligently engage with life from the right perspective and let it all happen naturally.

The more you stir the pot, the more trouble you create, the more you try to ‘make your mark’ and impose yourself and your views over others, the more they will reject you. When you create harmony in yourself, when you spread that into your environment, when you support all the building bricks of life on this planet – then you’ve really got the right perspective.

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Standing Neigong

standing

Standing Neigong

Several people have today messaged me asking questions about neigong and to explain the benefits and basics of how we do it in our training system.

The benefits of Standing neigong are as follows:

Good posture
Good balance
Good rooting
An understanding of left/right and upper/lower body harmony
Good breathing
An aware, focused sensitive and intense mind
Emotional intelligence
An intuitive understanding of yin and yang

The 5 basic postures are:

Neutral
Upper Yin
Upper Yang
Lower Yin
Lower Yang

There is an excellent set of videos called ‘stand still – be fit’ that can be seen here:

 

The basic way that we teach at Shi Kon is as follows:

Neutral
Stand with the feet pointing to the front and under the line of the shoulders.
Straighten the body and raise the head ‘as if suspended by a rope from above’.
Place the tongue to the top palette with the eyes looking straight ahead.
Loosen ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists.
Lightly and actively stretch the myofascia up through the crown of the head and out through the fingertips .
Gently spiral the myofascia outwards from both feet upwards not affecting the ankles or knees and gently opening the hips, releasing the buttocks and lower back to allow the spine to lengthen and to stabilise the core into the diaphragm.
Turn the palms of the hands to face backwards returning them to the inwards position from the wrists only.
Gently pull the PC muscle until it engages the tailbone.
Find your natural breathing rhythm as taught in class breathing from the dantien.
Ensure left and right harmony in feet, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows,wrists and hands.
Ensure upper and lower harmony of feet to hands, ankles to wrists, knees to elbows and hips to shoulders.
These basics are maintained at all times and then:

Upper Yin
Bring the arms up and rest their weight onto your core.
Gently bow and connect the 3 bows of legs, spine and arms.
Connect with the energy and rest the mind and emotions on:
Patience
Kindness
Tolerance 
Compassion

Lower Yin
Is the same apart from the arms being down in the same frame in front of the Dantien.

Upper Yang
In upper yin turn the hands over at the wrists and slightly cup them bowing the 3 bows more intensely connecting with the energy and resting the mind and emotions on:
Resolve
Determination 
Courage
Power

Lower Yang
Is the same apart from the arms being down with the same frame until the thumbs point to the middle of your legs.

Apart from the occasional fist, crane beak and needle hand the entire Tai Chi form is the transitioning of these hands, therefore essential learning for any Tai Chi practitioner. In Shi Kon we don’t hold any position for too long but transition from one to the other learning how to switch polarity and mindset at will.

This is only the basics and a reminder for those training in the Shi Kon system, IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU ARE TAUGHT BY A PROPERLY REGISTERED SHI KON INSTRUCTOR.

 

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Mindfulness

mindfulness

 

MINDFULNESS

Our use of the word ‘mind’ in English can be quite versatile.  As a noun it describes our awareness, consciousness and thought, as a verb it can mean ‘to take care of’ like in ‘mind the child’ or when getting on a train ‘mind the gap’, so to be ‘mindful’ is to increase our awareness and consciousness and to take care of our thinking and feelings.

So we ‘mind the mind’, we take care of it.  All the time we remain mindful, we are watching our thoughts, emotions and actions and this act in itself is life changing. Most of the time we are not aware of them because we are them, this is the mindless state as written in the Dhammapada – ‘The mindless are as if dead already’.

When we start to watch and take care of ourselves we begin the process of investigating why we think or do things and the effect those actions have on ourself, others and our environment, this means we become aware of our karma and also begin ‘minding’ others and the world around us.

We realise that we have the choice  – ‘alive, aware, caring and careful’ or ‘dead, thoughtless, not caring and zombie like’, it’s scary when we realise how many ‘zombies’ there are in the world and that we were one of them – and will continue to be if we don’t practice mindfulness continuously!

Any activity that brings us to this calm, aware, focused and sensitive state is mindfulness training, focusing on our breath and/or a calming activity like Tai Chi, walking, sitting, standing or laying down, with good posture and deep breathing will help, too often people become ‘result driven’ and try too hard finding it self defeating. Good posture, deep breathing, allowing and watching the thoughts come and go will gradually reduce the activity of of the brain and bring us to that lovely mindful state where we become aware that we are far more than just one individual, isolated, emotionally damaged, zombie.

When we are in this engaged, mindful state we realise that by letting go our negativity, life becomes much easier as we become more emotionally intelligent, can see all points of view and not want to create unnecessary harm and friction. The irony is that we are more likely to live a happy successful life with meaning and purpose when we can ‘fit in’ with the right kind of lifestyle and people.

Good posture and deep breathing alleviates excessive tension and calms both mind and body, this reduces damage in the body, lowers blood pressure and reduces the likelihood of a heart attack, stroke and many other related illnesses.  It helps us to engage with others and a learning environment, meaning that whilst alive we are learning and using the brain cognitively, reducing the chance of dementia and other forms of early demise.

‘Mindfulness is the path to the deathless – the mindful never die, the mindless are as if dead already’ – Dhammapada 21

There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t begin a mindful life from this moment on, I started 40 years ago and have not regretted a single ‘engaged’ moment….

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