There is a saying translated from ancient Sanskrit that says, “As the mind, so the person; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.”
There is only one thing in this world that we can strive to control: our thoughts. A controlled mind is a calm mind. It is a mind at peace. What can be more valuable in this world than to find peace?
We create our own reality. How you see the world is exactly how you experience it. If you see the world as a wonderful and amazing thing, and allow for the complete range of experiences without judging from your own narrow perspective, then, and only then, can you truly enjoy the peace.
How powerful is the mind to determine your experience? Ever have someone close to you, maybe even a parent, look at you like a complete stranger, maybe even in fear of what you’re doing there, due to loss of cognitive abilities from the symptoms of Alzheimer’s?
Imagine being an adopted child and one day a stranger knocks at the door to your home. Your adoptive parents come to the door and recognize that it’s your birth mother. One moment this woman is a complete stranger, and the next she’s “Mommy!”
Nothing about the child of the parent with Alzheimer’s changed, just as nothing about the woman in the doorway changed-except in the mind of the observer.
Your whole world is nothing more or less than how you see it.
For at least as long as any written and recorded human history, the practice of meditation has been advised by the wise. Traditions all over the world include some form of meditation, regardless of the beliefs. It truly is a nonsectarian practice. It doesn’t matter if you are a Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Moslem, Agnostic, or even an Atheist – meditation can change your world.
“As a person acts, so he becomes in life. Those who do good, become good; those who do harm, become bad. Good deeds make one pure; bad deeds make one impure. So we are said to be what our desire is. As our desire is, so is our will. As our will is, so are our acts. As we act, so we become.” From the Upanishads
With greater clarity our acts can be consistent with the life we want for ourselves. We can begin to see what things we do that are leading us astray and we can see what we do that goes in the direction we want. Then, we can easily and sincerely evaluate why we are getting more of what we want or more of what we don’t want out of life and make the necessary adjustments and efforts to better steer the course.
Meditation is the key to unlock the mystery and bring us that clarity. From the Native American’s “Secret Spot” or “Sitting Place” to the great yogis of India or the martial arts masters, they all attained the highest levels through the consistent practice of sitting quietly.
In the Upanishads it says, “By knowing one piece of gold, all things made out of gold can be known: they differ only in name or form, while the stuff of which all are made is gold.” then it is asked, “What is that one by knowing which we can know the nature of everything else?” And the answer? “Consciousness.”
This is not going to be understood through intellectual study. You can read every book on the subject and still not understand. Only by training the attention to look inward, through meditation, can one truly catch it.
According to the Buddha, the only hell exists within the mind. As long as the mind remains like a wild monkey – so difficult to focus and stuck in the chaos – it is in the realm of Mara or the bondage of selfish attachments, temptations, and our clinging to things that keep us from finding true inner peace.
The first thing one has to learn in order to practice meditation is concentration. In Ch’iang Shan Ba Gua Zhang, the first level of meditation practice is called “the Concentration Exercise”. Think of it as “pre-meditation.”
The Concentration Exercise can branch out into various visualization exercises, but it is initially taught as follows:
Visualize a number in your mind, 50 is a good place to start, but some may want to start with 20. The goal is to count backwards in your mind, seeing each number clearly before going on to the next number. Take notice how often you lose track, or you may even start again when you do to challenge yourself. See how many attempts it takes to get to zero without losing track.
When you reach zero, you are finished with the exercise and may just continue to sit quietly until it becomes uncomfortable. How long? That depends on you. If it is causing stress, then it is too long.
It is interesting to note how the Concentration Exercise naturally leads one to focus on the third eye point. As you visualize, it is as if you are creating a mental screen where you are seeing the numbers.
In the Bhagavad Gita, it says, “…through devotion and the power of meditation, with your mind completely stilled and your concentration fixed in the center of spiritual awareness between the eyebrows, you will realize the Supreme.”
In mind research conducted by Jose Silva, creator of the Silva Method, he found that closing the eyes and looking about 20 degrees upward would trigger the brain into what is known as Alpha (a much calmer, focused state).
For some, numbers may be stressful. If numbers is something you work with all day then it may not be the way to go for you. Two other visualizations that are useful are the “Flower Meditation” and the “Happiness Meditation”. These are both described in Master Park’s book, “Fundamentals of Pa Kua Chang, Volume 2”.
Don’t “see” it?
Occasionally, a student will ask what to do if they can’t “see” anything in their mind’s eye. They may say, “I can’t visualize.”
First, saying that you “can’t” about anything, puts up a road block that will make it impossible.
Second, if I ask you to describe your dog, cat, car, etc. could you do it? If you say your car is brown, and it is outside where you can’t physically see it, then how do you know? Did you memorize the letters, “b-r-o-w-n”? Of course not. You saw it in your mind. We all think in pictures.
Some are certainly more visual than others, and will find it easier, but everyone can visualize – it’s just a matter of concentration. Your ability to focus – control your mind – is essentially the foundation of the whole practice of martial arts. It is worth the time to work on it, just as we do with any skill.
When we are practicing our “shadow boxing”, making various defenses and attacks with no one in front of us, visualization is the key to how valuable and efficient our practice time is. It will be as real as we can make it.
Watch the Breath
Another effective approach to practice meditation is to simply watch, or pay attention to, the breath. Work on breathing smoothly with an even rhythm. Also, breathe as quietly as you can, making it very thin and even. Allow the lower abdomen to move freely with each breath. Imagine you are a baby sleeping in a crib, perfectly comfortable and content.
It is important to be comfortable during meditation. If not, then the mind gets too caught up in the discomfort. Then the practice is nothing more than a struggle with the will. A strong will can overcome, but that doesn’t mean you are meditating. An uncomfortable posture makes it impossible to relax and let go. With so many struggles in life we don’t need to add another.
Sitting in a chair with the back straight is probably the most practical way for a westerner to start. Although you can lie down, it is not best simply because it is too easy to fall asleep. However, lying down meditation is practiced and still very powerful as long as you are well rested and can maintain a focused mind.
Leaning back is also okay (in a straight-back chair or against a tree), as long as you do try to keep the spine aligned yet relaxed.
Seiza (kneeling), crossed-legged, half-lotus, and full lotus, with or without an appropriate cushion (determined individually) are all the most common traditional sitting meditation postures because they allow you to align yourself in such a way that you no longer have to pay attention to the posture. The proper alignment will promote deeper meditation. Energies will flow naturally. The organs are unobstructed and better able to function optimally. You can completely let go physically, with a feeling of “locking in” and so the mind follows.
Although various exercises are called meditation exercises, true meditation is to empty the mind. The terms, “no mind” or “no thoughts” apply here. Once you can concentrate and improve your visualization skills, you have a harness on your thoughts and control your mind.
The next step is to completely empty the mind of all thoughts. If a thought enters don’t give it any energy. Avoid attachment. Let it go. The empty mind – true meditation – is the most difficult.
When the mind becomes clear of thoughts, one color is seen. According to Shizu (Grand-Teacher, Master Park) we all see one color eventually, though there can be various colors experienced during the process.
It is not good for the student to know what that color is before experiencing it for him or herself. It is too easy to trick ourselves and try to look for or create the color with thought. To experience it correctly, it must come on its own, naturally, by letting go.
There is a concept in Taoism called Wu Wei, or “non-doing”. It refers to a sense of oneself as connected to all others, all things, and to one’s environment. The sense of being separate disappears. Action is spontaneous and effortless.
Also known in Japanese as Mushin, it is the ultimate state for a martial artist to strive for. In a self defense situation, there is no self to defend. It is only spontaneous reaction to what is offered. No decision to injure or not injure. No fear from concern of what might happen. Just a total spontaneous responsive flow. You completely get out of your own way.
This can be seen in professional sports at the highest level. Where an action (a tennis serve, a dive, a gymnastics flip, a ball through hoop, etc.) has been done so many times that the person can do it in their sleep, why do some mess up at the most inopportune time while others more consistently do not? Because the intellect gets out of the way and lets the body do what it knows.
In our lives, we can be just as spontaneous if we consistently practice being in the moment. If we learn to listen to what others are saying, including observing body language, do you think we can better communicate? Might that help personal relationships? Could it help professionally?
In sparring practice, if we are looking for the hook we’ll get hit with the front kick. The same goes in a conversation: if we are not listening then we will more likely say the wrong thing.
In meditation there is a concept to “unplug the senses.” It is not that the sense organs stop working, it’s just that you stop putting your attention there. You stop sending energy there. When you are achieving the illusive one-pointed focus, you begin to lose the sense of your physical body. And the more profound is your level of concentration, the more you will lose your sense of your body. You will begin to realize that you are not your body. You are far greater.
However, you are also not your mind. The mind is made up of various layers of what we perceive as ourselves. These layers include the senses, the emotions, the will, and the intellect.. As deeper levels of meditation are attained, layers are stripped away until the realization that YOU are still aware. And what you are aware of is that you are conscious, and a part of something much greater than you could have imagined. This is the Realization of Self; Nirvana; Samadhi; Heaven; Dao, and the Oneness.
This realization will greatly effect your behavior: your actions and reactions to things in your everyday life. Your health will improve. You’ll have more energy. You will no longer be a slave to physical cravings or the need to fulfill emotional needs through physical activities. You will be in control of your experiences because you will be in control of your thoughts.
A skeptic once asked the Buddha; “What have you gained through meditation?” To which the Buddha replied, “Nothing at all.” “Then, what good is it?” The skeptic wondered. The Buddha continued, “Let me tell you what I lost through meditation: sickness, anger, depression, insecurity, the burden of old age, the fear of death. That is the good of meditation, which leads to nirvana.”
So just as the rock sculpture adds nothing to the rock, meditation allows us to chisel away at the illusion of who we think we are, so as to discover who we really are – our true nature; our true Self.
Are you really practicing martial arts?
Martial arts without meditation are not martial arts at all. Without the consistent practice to control our thoughts the mind gets caught up in the illusions and the chaos of the world around us. Without meditation, martial arts are just about fighting. Let’s stop the fighting.
Originally Published in June, 2005 under the title “Nothing to Gain”