The Black Belt Blueprint

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This book was eminently readable and touched on a lot of ground without wasting its breath, so to speak.

Reading it has shown me a lot of hidden meaning in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. For example the more spiritual aspects of it such as mindfulness during grappling or using BJJ to master life in general.

This has dramatically increased my interest in the art because it’s shown me that there is an intellectualism of it beyond simply showing up to train. Thus it’s given me something to think about while training.

It’s shown me overarching principles of BJJ and a three-part strategy for improving based on conditioning, concepts and techniques. As a white belt, I look forward to putting into practice his advice of mastering one sequence (perhaps pulling guard followed by a triangle). The concept I will focus on first is remembering to breathe properly whilst grappling.

It was a quick read but you can’t really expect a martial arts book to be too heavy. It was particularly readable because it was so relatable due to the practice that I’ve done

Energetic Awareness and Resilience of Spirit

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Recently I moved house and found myself in an environment which I would describe as having an extremely low-vibrational energy. Painfully stuck and apathetic. Unable to see the good which just 2 days ago seemed manifestly obvious to me. At first I felt my usual mood was maintained but after spending a night there I began to feel panicked as I felt the good vibes leaving me despite my conscious intent, yet there seemed to be a reservoir of bad vibes in the house. My usual sense of high emotional state was being sapped away and I felt this shadowy, stagnant feeling of hopelessness and pointlessness seeping in. I knew exactly what was going on though. The place stinks of a special kind of depression, even when no one is there it resides figuratively in the “soul” of the place. It’s my job to let the place air out and continue to cultivate good energy through choices. Hopefully the other person will become less depressed and make better choices themselves such as by eating healthily and cleaning their room from time to time.

This stark contrast has gotten me thinking about the nature of high and low vibrational energy states. There seems to be a useful dichotomy here: two opposite attitudes about energetic states. Examining both in their extremes can help us to paint a conclusion about what a good middle-ground is.

On the one hand there’s the hyper-vigilant. They’ve learned that being in depressing environments is contagious. They’ve learned to let go of toxic relationships. They’re sensitive and can tell a mile away when someone is at a very low, depressed state. They are almost paranoid about it. After all, it’s “better” to be at a higher state and only we are responsible for our own states. How dare people bring unwelcome infectious energy into our reality, don’t they know anything? Taken to its extreme one could completely avoid people or environments even at great personal cost. They begin to seem neurotic, like someone obsessed with germs.

On the other hand there are those who are tone deaf or don’t believe in energy states at all. Probably the type that is suspicious of any kind of nuance or idea that isn’t on TV. They don’t notice energy dynamics or its manifestations and thus don’t make conscious attempts to improve their state in life. It’s luck of the draw: they might stay in a toxic relationship or never think to lift themselves out of a self-destructive pattern. Because it’s all the same to them they’re able to mix with anyone without worrying about their life getting better or worse (when to the keen observer it clearly does).

There’s positives and negatives about both. I do believe that our lives are influenced by the energetic. I believe that some lives are better than others, some states are better than others. Some people are more hopeless or depressing than others. Not wanting to improve your life just seems akin to laziness and irresponsibility to me. Given that who we closely associate with can have a profound impact on our thinking, our mood, our choices et cetera it seems insane to me to be completely liberal about who, where and with what we choose to associate.

Yet clearly we can’t have complete control over the presences that enter and leave our lives. Although something like that is ideal. I believe it’s important to cultivate a resilient spirit. We need to be able to stay grounded and maintain our sense of self whether surrounded by people with unconscious black holes in their soul or people that are loving life personified. To be able to function in the full spectrum we must expose ourselves to the full spectrum? We need to be able to mix with everyone and yet make positive, self-responsible choices to move our lives forward.

Cultivate a resilient spirit by decoupling energetic states from your sense of self. Yet make hard judgements and choices about it to make your life better in the long run. This is of day-to-day practical choices though: when it comes to your awareness don’t divide the world into good and bad, keep the non-duality of it.

I’ve had a major insight that has transformed my meditation practise. It’s about saying “yes” to whatever happens to be in your soul. You must have an attitude of “yes, and…” where you ascent to distractions but simultaneously try to keep focusing on the object of meditation.

Saying no creates like a shadowy dead zone in your soul; where you are the judger saying no and your energies feel suppressed. There is a dynamic of dual awareness. Whereas saying yes creates an atmosphere of unity: non dual awareness. “It’s all ok but keep refocusing as well.”

Thus it seems that meditation involves two seperate practices: actual meditation, and non-judgement.

Mantra Meditation With Yogis

Walking through the city recently I stumbled upon this wonderful place called Crossways. It’s a peaceful oasis right in the heart of Melbourne. On the second level, there’s a restaurant that serves highly affordable vegetarian meals and sells Hare Krishna books (bare with me on this). On the third level, there’s nothing but tables, couches and a book shelf with Eastern classics. And on the fourth level, there’s a yoga studio called Urban Yoga which is operated by the same crowd I think.

As someone who’s becoming very interested in the spiritual side of life, this place seemed like the ideal place to relax and recoup after work, without necessarily going straight home. I like to go there, get something to eat, read and maybe chat to someone. People can be so warm and unpretentious at places like this, it really takes the edge off.

I decided to go to a talk at the yoga studio about “living in the moment”. What could be a more enriching thing to do than that? It cost $7, included a meal and was about 2 hours of intense spiritual vibes. I should mention that many of them are Hare Krishnas (Hare Krishnas are a modern Hindu movement). There are negative connotations to Hare Krishnas but I experienced it to be the quintessential Indian, spiritual, yogi experience. Much more laid back than zen-Buddhism but strikingly similar in may ways.

We sung mantras and someone passingly mentioned past lives (which made me bristle). That was about the extent of the dogmatism, though. The rest of it was spiritual not religious, based on experience, not scripture.

The mantras were intoxicating. It helped me to lose my sensible everyday self in a shared experience. That was simply beautiful. I understand what spiritualists mean when they talk about connection and love. I experienced it as “letting my guard down”. And I did indeed manage to let it down. I felt unguarded in the company of others, perhaps for the first time since my childhood. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so cozy with other people.

There was then a discussion about living in the moment. It was quite enlightening. Nothing I haven’t read before though. “You’ve got to quiet the mind”, “find an object for it to focus on”. Et cetera. The theory is incredibly simple, yet ironically living in the moment can be difficult because it’s not of the intellect. I believe that learning directly from others is much better because there’s a whole new depth of meaning occurring, energetically, beyond words. Although reading from a book can be better than trying to will or intellectualise yourself into the right state.

After that there was a guided meditation, it was very brief – only about 5 minutes. I couldn’t hear the girl very well. I could feel a huge difference having the energy of others meditating in the room. Finally we did more chanting. Then had a meal and chatted.

I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. There were definitely positives such as a feeling of community and losing myself. However, there were negatives as well. I thought there was a strong dynamic of status consciousness. You could feel the will of people to be above you somehow. You could see it in their efforts to gain honour by helping to clean up the plates – any way they could to feel elevated. The drive for status lacked the usual external accouterments such as money or achievements. I did feel that someones’ body seemed to affect their worth but there were other other avenues as well. The will for status seemed to manifest almost in its pure form since all those attachments weren’t part of the culture of the place. That made the drive reveal itself directly, and it seemed evil. Social niceties and self-consciousness can ebb away when the mind is quieted and you may experience unalloyed intent to dominate. Or unalloyed pain at being slighted or rejected.

These base sentiments are part and parcel with the visceral highs of being truly connected with others in a community. Nonetheless, I find it deeply troubling to not be respected. And I don’t much feel like having to change my life or behaviour to earn the respect of a bunch of people that didn’t respect me before. I’ll be respected and it will be on my own terms. But I digress.

I think these spiritual or religious experiences provide a vital service to the human soul. In the modern world one simply forgets that they have a place in life and we grow ever more egoic and isolated. We mistake so much stuff for who we are. I think it’s an important thing to peel away the ego from time to time; and experience raw, energetic interaction. Things like being able to connect with others or to struggle with another with no external accouterments to degrade them: these are human skills that a man (or woman) ought to have. Yet ironically this is in fact why the mind grew so awesome at all.

Sitting in Kinglake National Park

It’s the queen’s birthday (a public holiday) and I currently have the use of a car, so I decided to go to nature. Perhaps there ought to be a verb for walking alone in the forest for the purposes of renewal; one never knows what to call it.

I looked on google maps for a place to go. I glanced for the usual places: The Dandenong ranges, Yarra valley. I felt tired of those places though which is surprising. My eyes gingerly scanned for other large green areas on the map nearby Melbourne. I noticed one huge one that seems to dwarf Melbourne and is about 90 minutes away, merely called “state forest”. How did I not notice that before. It was a bit intense for what I was in the mood for though. Then nearby I noticed the township of Kinglake and its surrounding forest. My mind was instantly made up.

Kinglake has become a very special place in my opinion. Seven years ago it was one of the places hit hardest by the black Saturday bushfires. That was Australia’s worst bushfire ever: 173 people died. That makes it an interesting place to visit in my opinion, and sure enough I was not disappointed.

Whilst driving through the winding, hilly roads to get there, I was first struck by the idyllic scenery. There’s nothing quite like the views in this part of the world; somewhere between the rolling hills of a farm and the forest of local trees insulating it.

Next, as I approached Kinglake, I had this incredible impression of youthfulness. Call me crazy, but the flora had this nubile quality. It gave you that gentle “aww” feeling you get when you’re looking at a baby animal. Virgin also seems an apt description. As I got closer into town I noticed the sparse, tidily constructed houses overlooking the rolling countryside. As if to keep a lookout. The whole place seemed brand new. Not just physically, but spiritually as well. It had the wisdom that a person has after they suffer tremendous misfortune and are then curiously freed from attachments. It seemed quite buddhist. It also had a frontier-like quality which was a wonderful, clean-slate kind of vibe I feel lucky to have witnessed.

I’m someone that meditates often. I’ve lived in a zen temple for a while and have read plenty of books about spiritually. Yet I was positively embarrassed by how heavy and complicate I seemed whilst talking to the two people at the grocery store. They have got to be the nicest, most humble people I’ve met in Australia. Also, if it were at all possible; the guy’s hands struck me as looking like the hands of someone that’s adapted to bush-fire territory.

I asked for recommendations about where I could go for a bush walk. He eagerly produced a tourist map and started making suggestions. Soon a nice, kind of old lady was helping me as well. She made a good pitch about a walking track at a waterfall so I decided upon that one. I thanked them greatly and was on my way after they ensured that I took the map with me. I noticed this enterprising sort of vibe, on some level they were aware of the need to rebuild the town’s reputation with visitors. I also recall that there was an uncommon rapport between them, almost like childhood friends.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig stresses the virtue of the roads less travelled. The ones you find yourself on when you turn off a busy highway then keep going. When nothing lies ahead except unknown towns. This day trip has shown me what he meant and it is indeed more spiritual this way. Taking the busy highway seems commercial, socially conditioned just as the city is. Yet here the nature is encroaching upon the roads ever so slightly and the personality of the location is more pronounced. It’s poetic, for lack of a better word.

I like a nature walk to be almost entirely free of other people. Unless you have a walking-partner with you, that’s different. Constantly seeing people makes it little different from walking through a city park. You never really lose your self-consciousness. Many Chinese in particular appear to have mastered the art of being competitive in the most relaxed of natural locations, acting as though it were an airport or something. Since they can’t have inner peace, apparently no one else should either.

Well I went on the walk along the creek and eventually got far enough away that people were scarce. I took a picture of the idyllic valley and waterfall views, although I was bored in about 2 minutes of it. Safe to say that’s because of the internet. I kept going and eventually found myself on a path going up to the top of a hill. I took a 90 degree turn, directly into the bushland and made my way towards the afternoon sun. This would finally give the me the palette-cleansing experience that I sought.

Wading through the dense thicket of flora can be quite daunting to a city person at first. The initial reaction is to expect there to be spiders and snakes everywhere. To worry about dirtiness and be offended by how everything around piled on top of each other. Gingerly stepping over logs and brushing away arboreal impediments. Soon enough though; you relax your standards of critters and dirtiness. That in itself is liberating.

I forged into the sun-lit bush for about 2 minutes, long enough to lose sight of the path but hopefully not long enough to get lost. The warm afternoon sun brightly mingling with the leaves ahead was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time. Well, aside from some women in the city, but that’s apples to oranges.

I reached the smallest of clearings where I could sit without sitting on a pile of sharp sticks. Still very much intoxicated by the scene ahead. I’ve always idealised about being able to abide in these beautiful moments. To be fully in the moment, sensually, for a good long time. To somehow shift one’s state of consciousness to match the grandeur of the surroundings. So I sat down in the shrubs to try. What always happens when I’m in nature is that I just start pondering more intensely than ever. I want to write. That’s where I am writing this right now, typing on my iPhone, sitting on who knows what.

I hope what I’m siting on will never be given a name. That is because it’s at the border of living and unliving. Entropy at work that would usually be cleaned out of awareness. Definite, hard and fast objects that have a recognisable form and purpose, that is what we’re used to. Ultimately though it all decays and entropies. That makes our over-familiarity with conceptual objects illusory. Soon enough though my mind does label the miscellaneousness beneath me: “ecologists probably have a term for it”. After that my experience of the ground was rendered a nice, familiar hue of certainty and I felt a faint satisfaction of having captured a rogue phenomenon into my world-view, even though I was consciously hoping not to do that.

Despite my professed love of nature, I never stay with it for as long as I might hope to. It simply makes me want to start writing, much more than I do in the city. I’ll also use the opportunity to plan my life back home, hopefully bringing back a newly inspired vision. The city is where the people are and that’s where private achievement may become substantive, real in a more concrete sense. It’s where the the heart is, where we go to die. In the city though we subtly become enmeshed in the web of social thoughts and activities. Nature liberates one’s mind. Nature frees our spirit and lets it stretch its wings. It cleanses the soul for a time.

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

A few weeks ago my mother invited me to a talk by one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders. I’d never heard of him before but was immediately interested in checking it out. The talk went for an hour and I was engaged the whole time. Obviously he’s much more successful than me, but all the same he was a man after my own heart. Clearly an unsettled sort of fellow that had found a temporary measure of public peace through intense inner work. Knowledge, wisdom, travel. These appeared to be his values. I can’t help but think he isbn9780857059987-detailbecame a humanitarian not out of compassion, but out of the philosophy that it was the best thing one could do with their life.

He spoke briefly about his humanitarian work, being the French ambassador to Senegal and the immigration situation in Europe. He advocated less immigrants which I was surprised about but also agreed with. Mostly though he spoke about a pilgrimage that he made through Spain. From somewhere I don’t know to Santiago de Compostela. He took “the Northern Route” through the Basque country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. It was an ancient pilgrimage first made by King Alfonso to visit the remains of St James the apostle. No one knows how those remains got from the holy lands to Spain.

I instantly swooped in at the idea of purchasing a copy of his book and getting it signed. We waited in line for a few minutes as he sat at the table signing books. It would be the first time I’d ever spoken to a “famous person” before. He’s the sort of famous person I admire because in my opinion he has done everything in his life that I would like to do. Become a doctor, travel, lead an organisation, write a book, make a positive impact. There aren’t many people to my knowledge who have “done it all” like that. I was actually quite star struck even though I’d never heard of him before and impressed with his energy. There was nothing too special about the moment we spoke, if anything a bit disillusioning because he was just another person – I’ve seen many of them already. He seemed to simultaneously abhor the encumbrances of social status yet had just made a talk to many people about his accomplishments. Contradictions can exist in nature; and especially in complicated personalities. He signed the book although I can’t read what it says (I think that’s the fashion). It’s now become very valuable to me.

The book is a lovely hardback with quite thick, luxuriously spaced pages. It’s gorgeous to look at because of the distinctly Spanish cover art, richly contrasting colours, the obvious subject matter of a pilgrimage and the prestige of the name on the front. It’s about 230 pages. I’d say it was written in the tradition of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It seems to have that enlightened quality to it. And of course it’s a book of the travel genre too. There were some laugh out loud moments and it painted a picture of the various places along the way pretty well without overdoing it. It wasn’t too challenging or rigorous – it had the tone of someone who had transcended beyond valuing intellect. And of course, it was originally written in French. It seemed to maintain its French aspect. English always seems quite utilitarian by comparison.

There was nothing too surprising about it. No big twists or anything. It was merely an anecdote of the 800km pilgrimage he took by foot. Being a travel book it was quite sensuous: a sore foot, the sound of snoring, visual features along the path. It was spiritual in intent. He was alone much of the time but also with people at various times too: so there was a balance of inner thoughts and interactions. He walked for several weeks, it was hard, there were places along the way, he went through different stages.

This wasn’t an idle story meant for entertainment I don’t think. This book is meant to teach something. It was rather unique and authentic in the sense that it doesn’t presume to uncover any huge secret or anything. The lesson is in the story itself. Lessons of learning to let go of what’s unnecessary. To live in the present. Peel away layers until you get to deeper truths. Then when he finished the journey it was a little bit disappointing – he hadn’t gotten some big change which would be his salvation. Having been on a few journeys myself this matches my experience – it was good that he risked telling it exactly how it is despite it being disenchanting. Soon enough things went back to normal with the addition of some golden memories. Yet, and I can attest to this, one is subtly changed by these sorts of journeys in ways that emerge over the course of a lifetime. Perhaps even, it was a spiritual journey taken as a young man which seeded the wisdom to found Doctors Without Borders or write books.

“His anecdote helped me reconcile two contrasting realities hitherto incompatible: the splendour of the Christian liturgy and the primitive simplicity of the Way.”

“For several months after my return, I tried to apply my reflections on my fears to the whole of my life. I calmly examine what I carried on my back. I cast off many things, many projects, many constraints. I tried to lighten my load to make it easier to bear the mochila (backpack) of existence.”