Zen Again

Photo Credit: Patrick Vierthaler Flickr via Compfight cc

I used to look at zen as my in-between phase when I transitioned from religion to irreligion. But that is somewhat inaccurate as I have never really left it, nor do I think I can.

When some people hear “zen” they think of zen buddhism — of temples and monks, sitting in meditation, the two major schools — Soto and Rinzai, enlightenment, different ceremonies and so on. That is zen buddhism as a religion and an institution. That is not what I am referring to.

Zen can exist without its external trappings, without its ranks or priesthoods, even without its doctrines, because it is ultimately a way of seeing, of being aware of reality as it really is. The zen master D.T. Suzuki said, “Zen opens a man’s eyes to the greatest mystery as it is daily and hourly performed.”

A disciple asked his master, “What do you mean by seeing reality as it really is?”

The master answered, “When some people look at the moon, some might see the face of their lover, or some might see a huge ball of cheese.”

Applied to a local setting, we can say that some see the current president as the country’s savior and some see him as an evil monster. But few really see him for who he is, and yet no one would admit that.

What attracted me to zen was its total irreverence for even its own authority figures. Even Gautama Buddha himself said, “You monks and wise people, do not accept my words merely out of respect or reverence. You must examine and test them just as a goldsmith analyzes gold — by cutting, rubbing, and burning it.”

A student once asked Master Yunmen, “What is the buddha?” The master answered, “Dried dung.”

Buddhahood or enlightenment is often seen as something to achieve, a state of being that people think once attained, will give them endless bliss or contentment, but it’s not. The master breaks that illusion by referring to it as dried dung. It is not some special, spiritual way of life. It is waking up from our illusions of a utopian future and recognizing the miracle of the very life we are already living now.

Linjin said, “Those who are content to be nothing special are noble people. Don’t strive. Be ordinary. Buddhism has no room for special effort. Eat and drink, then move your bowels and piss, and when you’re tired, go to sleep. Fools will find me ridiculous, but the wise will understand.”

Zen masters are famous for not even trying to live up to the image of a master. Those who do are probably fake and after your money or allegiance. The true masters called each other fools, would make fun of their scripture and even burn them. They are often portrayed in paintings as comical and ridiculous.

What they are really trying to do is prevent their followers from idolizing them too much, from thinking that they had to be their master in order to be enlightened. That was not the point. The point was to seek the enlightened being within themselves.

Alan Watts said of these masters, “It amused them to think that they and their wise brothers were supposed by ordinary standards to be especially holy. They realized that everything was holy, even cooking pots and odd leaves blown about by the wind, and that there was nothing particularly venerable about themselves.”

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

It’s All About You

Some time ago, I found myself in the middle of a fight between two friends. Greg was visibly angry because of something Maria had said in a meeting. His face turned red and his eyes blazed as he shouted across the room at Maria. Maria also started to yell back and the rest of us had to keep the two of them from going at each other because they were on their feet and about to advance on each other.

I told the others to take care of Maria while I quickly ushered Greg into an adjoining room.

“Ok, calm down. Breathe,” I said.

“But…” he started.

“Shhh…don’t talk. I’ll give you time to talk. Take a minute to cool your head first,” I said.

After a minute, I said, “Ok, so what happened back there?”

“You know, she’s so careless with her words. She acts like such a know-it-all and says this and that,” Greg goes on and on ranting for a couple of minutes. Then he stops.

“Are you done?” I asked.

He thinks for a minute, then says, “Yeah, I’m done.”

“Can I talk now?” I said.

“Yeah, sure,” he said.

Greg and I had recently attended a seminar and I thought it was quite relevant to remind him of something we learned there.

“Do you remember that talk we attended? Where the speaker talked about being more aware of our own thoughts and feelings, and that when we dislike another person, it’s usually because we dislike the very same thing in ourselves. Well, I’m not going to say who’s wrong or who’s right between the two of you, but why don’t you take this chance to see why you dislike her so much? Maybe it’s not about her at all but about you,” I said.

The speaker was actually drawing on something that German novelist Hermann Hesse said, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

So I talked with Greg for the next 30 minutes or so, and every time he went on a finger-pointing mode, I gently pointed him back to himself. “Look, I said, she has her own issues to deal with. I understand why you don’t like her but it’s a more difficult task to change the way she is. What is more doable is to change the way you look at her and the situation. If you understand what it is about her that you hate about yourself, then you can move forward from there, and perhaps even understand her a bit better.”

His eyes lit up as he slowly understood what I was driving at. After an hour, I had the two of them apologize to each other and they were on more amicable terms after that.

These days, I still see a lot of hate going around on Facebook, Twitter and so on. Why don’t you take some time to ask yourselves — what is it about Rodrigo Duterte that I don’t like in myself? What is it about Leni that I don’t like in myself? What is it about Mocha Uson, Loida Lewis, Tito Sotto, Manny Pacquaio, Edgar Matobato, the Dutertards, the Yellowtards,  and so on and so forth, that I don’t like about myself?

This only works if you take an honest look at yourself. Don’t try to apply this to others. Don’t say, “Oh, so and so should read this and do it.” No, do it yourself.

It’s all about you.

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Live Long and Happy

Photo by Andy Uyboco

What makes for a long and happy life?

Most people chase after money and fame as if these were the keys to living long and happy. We live in a society that highly rewards actors, actresses and basketball players over teachers and policemen. Yet we also hear of rich or famous people taking their own lives. So what is the secret really? What should we invest on today to have a happy and healthy tomorrow?

Fortunately, we now have a scientific basis for determining this. Dr. Robert Waldinger, the current director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, shared the findings of this study which began in 1938 with 268 men. At that time Harvard was an all-male school so the participants were all men. The study would later take in an additional 456 boys from Boston’s poorest families — these boys were specifically chosen because of their very troubled and disadvantaged backgrounds.

So what we now have is data that encompasses nearly 80 years of the lives of these 724 men, around 60 of whom are still alive and still participating in the study. What the researchers do every year is to ask these men, asking about their lives at home, at work, their health, family, friends, and so on. They do face-to-face interviews, gather medical records, even go so far as to getting blood samples or x-rays or brain scans themselves. They talk to their wives and children, and even take videos of husband and wife talking together about their deepest concerns.

The result is a robust year by year account of the lives of these boys who grew to different walks of life — lawyers, bankers, doctors and even one president of the United States. Some of them had rags-to-riches stories while others made the journey in the opposite direction.

The founders of the study have long passed away and they would probably never have imagined that what they started would have lasted this long. But we are fortunate that it has because we now have a glimpse of the answer to the question most people ask — what is the key to a happy and healthy life?

And the answer is the good life is built with good relationships. So while it may be interesting to have money and fame and to exercise and watch your diet, the study found that those who live the longest and happiest were those who were in steady and secure relationships — people who knew there were other people they could depend on, whom they could trust with their lives.

Those in the study who were more socially connected turned out to be happier, healthier and they lived longer. The converse is also true — those who were lonelier than they wanted to be, who were more socially disconnected and isolated, deteriorated faster in terms of health and brain function, and they lived shorter lives.

Another insight from the data is that it is not just the number of social connections that you have — meaning it’s not just the quantity of your friends — but the quality of your friendship that matters. Rather than having a large number of casual acquaintances, having a few good friends, or a spouse whom you can really talk to about your innermost desires, anxieties, and so on, is very important.

As Waldinger says about these people, “At age 50, it wasn’t their middle age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80’s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.”

Good relationships also seem to protect our brains. Those who reported good relationships in their 80’s had sharper memories than those who were in conflicted relationships.

Some of you who began reading this article would probably already have known the answer. In fact, the answer is not surprising or new to us at all. Yet despite this, why do people chase after the wrong things? Waldinger says that it’s because we usually want the quick fix and the easy solution — and relationships are anything but easy. They are complicated and messy and require a lot of work.

But the payoff is worth it. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get to work.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

FMA

Grandmaster Benjamin Luna Lema, Founder of Lightning Scientific Arnis International (LSAI). Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A few years ago, I was looking for a sport to replace basketball. I love the game but age had caught up with me and I was already feeling some discomfort in my knee. Then I learned that a friend of mine was into Filipino Martial Arts (FMA). I had always loved to learn martial arts even as a kid, but my desire was cut short one day when my 7-year old self came home from an impromptu karate class at a neighbor’s house, and I told my dad I wanted to join, and he said no.

And that was that.

But then I was around 40 already, and dad could no longer object, so I decided to see what it was all about. At this stage, the only exposure I had to it was seeing a trailer of the Lito Lapid movie, Kamagong, back in high school — and it portrayed two people holding two sticks each in both hands trying to hit each other. So my first thought going in was that FMA was all about using sticks.

I was about to get an education.

I entered the gym to observe the action. My longtime friend and former college roommate, Joepot, met me and explained things as we went along.

Filipino Martial Arts is also called arnis or kali or escrima. Practitioners are called arnisadors or escrimadors. Unlike most other martial arts where beginners learn to fight with bare hands, and are only made to handle weapons at higher levels, novice escrimadors are taught to use sticks right from the start.

The logic is pretty straightforward: As a beginner, if you get into a real fight, you need every advantage you can get. If you went home that night after your first lesson, and found yourself face to face with an intruder inside your house, would you rather face him with your bare hands or armed with a weapon?

In other martial arts, you might spend months or years training before you are prepared to get into a real fight. In arnis, you are taught how to whack someone hard on the head as your first lesson, which is probably as good a defense as any if you find yourself backed to a corner.

As the lessons progress, the weapons become shorter, you move from stick to knife to empty hand. So the assumption is that you only fight with your bare hands when your skill level is high enough, but even then, the basic philosophy is to seize every advantage you can. Any object within reach can be a weapon — a bottle, a vase, even your cellphone. There is no such thing as a fair fight, especially on the street.

My friend then told a story of his law school classmate who approached him one day, after learning that he was an FMA instructor. This classmate said, “So what would you do if I rushed you like this?” And he suddenly rushed headfirst trying to grapple my friend in a bear hug, but he suddenly stopped short when he saw that my friend held a ballpen in his hand aimed towards his attacker’s oncoming head.

“Hey, that’s not fair,” he said.

“Well, you asked me what I would do. That’s exactly what I would do,” my friend replied.

Arnis teaches one to have a healthy respect of weapons, especially knives. The worst thing that a martial art can teach is false confidence — for you to face an armed attacker thinking that you can grapple with him or disarm him with techniques you learned just the other night. Most of the time, the best defense is to run, or to distract or hurt your opponent enough for you to run away.

After that introduction, I was sold.

 

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Learn Arnis with Mandirigmang Kaliradman YMCA Chapter at the Davao YMCA Gym (near Central Bank/Sutherland Global Services) along Jacinto Ext., Davao City, 6PM to 8PM (T-Th-S).

The Reluctant Leader (Part 2)

Last week, I talked about my participation in a leadership and life-coaching program that I joined seven years ago. As I said, I would like to share the lessons I learned there, coupled with the experience of being in a leadership position in our family corporation.

The first lesson is to STEP UP.

Opportunities abound for leadership. You may not necessarily be a leader by position or by rank, but life always offers many chances for you to show some facet of leadership — whether it is your passion, dedication, creativity, diligence, discipline or commitment. The problem is that most people hesitate to show this side of themselves. They don’t want the attention. They don’t want to stand out, and so they lose out.

The second lesson is to RECOGNIZE THE DOERS.

There are talkers and there are doers, and one who is good at talking is not necessarily good at doing.

One of the key points the seminar facilitators drummed into us was that we should always measure our success or failure based on results. That means if you set a sales target of P10 million within 1 month, and by the end of the month, you only achieved 9.99 million, then you have not accomplished your goal 100%. If you set a personal goal not to be late for work throughout the year, and you missed one day, then you have not achieved that goal.

How eloquently you compose your goal doesn’t matter. The reason or excuse why you missed that one day, or why you lack that 100-peso sale doesn’t matter. Your intent and desire to achieve that goal doesn’t matter. Only the results matter, because results don’t lie.

The talkers have their place. They sometimes generate some bright ideas. But ideas without implementation will merely remain as pretty dreams. It is ultimately the doers who will give you results — and some doers are not what you expect them to be.

If you want your organization to go somewhere, place a high value on your doers.

The third lesson is to EMPOWER THE DOERS.

Our seminar group was divided into several smaller groups and each group had a leader. The leaders of each group formed the council of leaders and we had to meet regularly to update each other and plan how to achieve the group goals. Along the way, I noticed that some of the leaders were not so cooperative, and some were only talkers — they would promise this and that but had little or no results.

My coach’s advice was to open the leadership council to other members of the team. We went through the group’s list of names one by one and he helped me identify and recognize those who had potential. So I opened the invitation to the entire team and began to observe who would respond. Eventually, the person who became my most trusted second-in-command was not even one of the group leaders. But he took the challenge to step up and show his interest and commitment, and I rewarded that by ceding more and more control and authority to him.

The fourth lesson is to UNDERSTAND AND LOVE YOUR TEAM.

That old saying is very true — people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Being a very cerebral person, I had difficulty connecting with some people in my team. Thankfully, my coach and teammates were very supportive in helping me in this regard. I went to the point of personally calling each member of my team just to talk to them and get to know how they are.

Do not always sound high and mighty. Do not act like a know-it-all. Be humble. Show people you are willing to listen and that you care.

 

* The seminars mentioned are still being offered by OCCI Global. The program trilogy consists of 3 courses – FLEX, ALC and LEAP. You can read more at www.occi.ph. This is not a paid endorsement.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

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