Archive for the Spirituality Category

Living on the Edge

Posted in Questions, Spirituality, Zen on July 19, 2014 by seniorsamurai

“The ‘thought picture’ of what happened in a place is still out there. It is as if the action is still going on: if you stand very quietly you know they’re still there; you just can’t see them.”    – Toni Morrison, Beloved


On a visit to Viet Nam I had the opportunity to enter a tiny portion of the vast Cu Chi tunnel system. The Vietnamese built the tunnels during wars with the French and, later, the Americans. This elaborate tunnel system is enormous — 124 + miles — and offered a relatively safe place for secret travel, food, shelter, and medical care.


In retrospect, upon lowering myself into this magnificent space I felt something eerie and haunting. It was as if there were still spirits from the war, patrolling the tunnels and maintaining the sacred grounds. I suspect I might experience the same feelings if I walked the beaches of Normandy or stood overlooking battle sites at Gettysburg.


I’m coming around to Morrison’s point of view. These locations (and thousands like them across the globe) are not only historical reminders of death and destruction: there’s more that you ‘just can’t see.’ I wonder if it’s possible — and extremely important — to honor the souls who transitioned from those places more than once a year? And can we offer more than flags? And how should we do it?


By accident I found a good first step from reading provided by the monk Thomas Merton who says, “For the real stuff dig deep; for real stuff look deep, a place of clear thought, quiet solitude a place where inner core is buried. There must be a clear space that’s accumulated all the cells of the body labeled private.”


So if we all took time to meditate and reflect deeply at these places, what would happen? What would come up? If we consciously spend more time considering the ramifications of our decisions would it take us longer to rush off to war? Would we be able to martial a more compassionate first response?


Merton wanted to station himself — like the artist, writer, or sage — in a margin that exempts him from complicity in society, the Church, monasticism. From that point he could speak purely, openly, and with wisdom. He called it living on the margin without losing faith in the world. It was his way of finding his center.


How might you live on the margins?


Morning Has Broken

Posted in Aging, Friendship, Spirituality with tags , , on December 28, 2013 by seniorsamurai
Morning Has Broken

Morning Has Broken (Photo credit: zenera)

Singer and song writer Yusuf Islam (a.ka. Cat Stevens) wrote a popular song titled, Morning Has Broken that starts with the stanza, “Morning has broken, like the first morning …”

Because I’m a usually an early riser who loves the piece and quiet before the sun shows up, I’ve come to believe that no morning is in fact the same and that each morning is the first morning. No matter the rituals that might take place like clockwork, it’s the exact moment for that time.

My year is split equally between two distinctly different locations: a condominium complex in northern Florida, contrasts sharply with our farm house, barn and large meadow on a pond in New Hampshire.

Florida serves as a winter home, free from severe temperatures, months of snow, and days of depressing gray overcast weather. A place where I don’t have to worry about yard work, house upkeep, and I have an abundance of free time to follow my whims.

In Florida the early morning rhythms of my ‘hood’ begins with the newspaper delivery by 5:30, followed by a neighbor faithfully walking his dog. He’s usually greeted by several sets of joggers out it get in a run in before it’s time to strap on the corporate holster (cell phones, lap top) and head out to take on the global markets. Finally before the neighborhood settles down a few garage doors open and discharge the remaining daily workforce. By that time I’ve welcomed another day with my morning rituals.

In N.H. in our life on a dirt road, morning presents itself very differently. From my second story office overlooking the pond I may see a light across the water in one of the few, year round houses. Instead of the newspaper, joggers, dog walker scenario I’m more likely to see the local beaver family cruising the shore line. Their usually followed by from one to three families of geese coming in, full squawking mode, looking for my wife’s corn meal breakfast handout. About that time the sun begins to crest the ridge and I can get on with my coffee on the dock.

In both instances I’ve come to appreciate my surroundings even if one may seem a little more exotic that the other. They both present a ‘first morning ‘ with all the hope and glory of a new beginning. What will this day bring? What will I contribute to this day that is worthwhile to mankind?

I’ve also come to believe that during this time if I’m quiet and I listen closely, both places reveal secrets from long ago. Voices in the wind, from the creatures and people who we the current neighbors  have replaced. I believe there are echoes in the grasses and stones. Much of it coming from long before us humans came to these places. It’s the voices of the land, the spirits of the wind and, the shadows of the moon. But mostly, in both places, it’s the voice of silence.

What do you hear at your silent places?



Artist or Warrior: Part #1

Posted in Martial Arts, Spirituality, Zen on December 21, 2013 by seniorsamurai
Saotome-Sensei teaching at the 2003 Summer Cam...

Saotome-Sensei teaching at the 2003 Summer Camp in the Rockies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mitsugi Saotome has devoted his life to the study and teaching of Aikido, the martial art of peace and beauty. Further, he is a personal descendent of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei,  the founder of aikido.

However in her book about Saotome, Susan Perry writes that he “insists that there is art in martial arts” and in his opinion, “the skills involved in art work are warrior skills.” Saotome himself also works as an artist with wood, stone, fabric and ink.

Some of Saotome’s thoughts in this regard are:

  • “A rock or piece of wood talks to me”
  • “ I approach my medium by meeting the objects at hand with an eye for their uniqueness and listen with an open heart for their messages to me”
  • “ The warriors spirit is the struggle for life—spiritual as well as physical”
  • “ One has to study things to see how to use them. But people are too busy today. It takes time to stop and look”
  • “ Proper design is based on a very deep respect for the universal spirit”
  • “The objects that I fashion are not entirely my idea. I see shape and then inspiration comes. Universal forces created the form not humans”
  • “ Carving natural wood, making designs, working with my hands—these are my meditation”

My or our job is to make the leap from Saotome to your endeavors.


What Do You Expect From Your Practice?

Posted in Aging, Spirituality, Zen with tags , , , , , , on December 14, 2013 by seniorsamurai
The main hall of Antaiji Temple at Hyōgo Prefe...

The main hall of Antaiji Temple at Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Antaiji is a monastery in rural Japan where Zen is practiced without any additions or modifications. This means that Zazen (sitting meditation) is practiced solely for the purpose of Zazen. According to Abbott Muho the message is clear, “Zazen will not get you anywhere. Zazen is without gain. Zazen, which is one with enlightenment, is what is put into practice here.”

Each day, all of the practical life activities year around Antaiji is centered on Zazen at. Resident life is simple and pure. Antaiji has no parishioners, and there are a minimum of Buddhist services. Instead, the self sufficient life to enable Zazen involves a lot of work in the fields and forests. Muho says, “Our Zazen practice is based on the Zen motto: “A day without work is a day without food”. Work and food here are directly related, with all of the residents actions  rooted in and aimed at the one force that keeps them alive.

This lifestyle isn’t an ideal but it is an actual practice which is manifested in the basic attitude of one’s actions in every day life. Practioners use Zazen to cause an inner revolution in themselves, while covered with sweat and dirt in summer, persevering in the snow and cold of winter. Their day to day life is also not a form of asceticism, but the plain, original form of Zen life, which requires long years of practice. Self sufficiency for the residents isn’t a goal in itself – it only serves to support the practice of Zazen.

So what’s my point you ask?  My point is that staying at Antaiji, people do so because they want to live their lives as bodhisattvas, serving the Sangha (community of practitioners) while not expecting any reward.

Can we say that, even on even some minor level,  about our practice in the dojo, Sangha, or day-to-day living? Or, are these done with an expectation of  some reward? 




Framing Your House

Posted in Aging, Friendship, Martial Arts, Questions, Spirituality with tags , , on December 7, 2013 by seniorsamurai
A classical aikido throw being practiced. Tori...

A classical aikido throw being practiced. Tori maintains balance and structure to throw uke, while uke safely takes a forward roll (mae ukemi). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Poet Maya Stein  wrote about a potters effort to sculpt a face, “Her fingers could not handle the finer points of the clay, and so it’s face warped into a caricature with oblique white ovals for eyes and improbably round lips. There wasn’t much to the skull or the ears, and hardly a trace of the jaw line that marked her own silhouette. She was simple and doughy; the roughest of creatures, but such is the beginning that marks any beginning: vague outlines, hopeful guesses at proportion, an innocence of form and shape. The hard work will come soon enough, of course, the ruthless attempts at getting it right and the self-flagellation that ensues when failure hits, the way we chew and scrape at our own tender insides. So she will do her best love her now, this uneven, funny being, and hold her for exactly what she is: blameless and forgiving. “

Reframing this text in the context of aikido goes something like this:  In the beginning her hands could not handle the finer points of the technique, and so her face froze into a frown with wide questioning eyes and improbably questioning lips. There wasn’t much to her effort, and hardly a trace of completion that marked her finishing throw. She was simply and clearly, the most awkward of students, but such is the beginning that marks any beginner: stumbling entering steps, hopeful guesses at positioning and proportion, a clueless innocence of what exactly comes next. The hard work will come soon enough, of course, the ruthless attempts at getting it right and the self-flagellation that ensues when failure hits, the way we chew and scrape at our own tender insides for our inadequacies. So we Uke, do our best to support and take Ukemi for her now, this uneven, clumsy being, and honor her for exactly what she is: a work in progress just stepping on the path…just exactly like we did in the beginning and continue to do one practice and one technique at a time.

Why should we martial artists be different from a potter, musician, weaver, or swordsman?

FBI’s Fugative List

Posted in Aging, Questions, Spirituality with tags , , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by seniorsamurai
Catholic Worker front page (July-August 1963)

Catholic Worker front page (July-August 1963) (Photo credit: jimforest)

Daniel Barrigan was an American Catholic priest, peace activist, and poet. He, along with his brother Philip, was for a time on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for their involvement in antiwar protests during the Vietnam war? When Daniel died his daughter Frida Barrigan wrote an article in The Catholic Worker titled, Remembrance of My Father.

In it she said:

“I miss that voice—-gruff and gentle at the same time. I miss his fearlessness—born out of practice and prayer rather than bombast and machismo. I miss his impatience with formality and decorum, with how things are supposed to work.”

Try a little test. When I say a person of  ‘practice and prayer’ who and what kind of a person comes to your mind? Then contrast that person to one who might come to mind when I say, ‘bombast and machismo.’ I doubt that those folks are the same.

The quote made me wonder if how we see and define ourselves will even come close to how our children and grandchildren will speak of us when we’re gone.

How do you think your children will characterize you….bombast and machismo or someone kinder and gentler born out of prayer and kindness?

Maybe we should ask them while we have time to sandpaper a few rough edges?

You’ve Got to Be Kidding?

Posted in Aging, Friendship, Questions, Spirituality, Zen on September 14, 2013 by seniorsamurai
Time me

Time me



When people inquire about I do with my time I say I have some daily activities that I call practices that keep me busy almost full time. I go on to say that specifically my practices are: aikido, watercolors, writing. At that point I usually get a blank look.


 In the beginning I thought that I must have given some weird response or spoken in Swahili. It’s as if they expected an answer that my practices are going to lead me to a new career in which I likely will get paid a lot and have prospects of advancement.  




In David Whyte’s book, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, I got some insight into peoples responses. When he discusses contemplating telling the world of his decision to live in alignment with his true self…. A poet.


 If you want to meet terrifying silence, tell the world you are going full time as a poet.  Who would give me a word of encouragement if I did?  It has never been easy to go full-time as a poet in any recorded portion of human history.  When we announce to the world that we are about to go full-time as a poet, people do not come up to us, slapping us on the back, saying, “Great career move, David,” or “I hear they are taking them on at Lockheed right now,” or “Marvelous.  I hear there’s a decent dental plan comes with the verse.”


 Funny of course. But it’s a very real insight to the reality of the situation.


 So be prepared for the looks and the unspoken look of, what a waste of time’ or, there’s definitely no money in that. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have someone ask,’ tell me more please?’ And’ what happens to you when you do these practices?’


 Maybe the next time someone takes the risk of telling you their dream that fits in the category of ‘way outside the box’ your response will be 100% supportive and inquisitive.