November 28, 2013 – I’m relaxing at my mother-in-law’s home following a vigorous Action Strength/JKD workout in her back yard.  It was a vacation week for me; I hadn’t all out killed myself, but was feeling strong and energized as I skimmed through my Facebook feed. Sandwiched in between posts about Thanksgiving, family and pumpkin pie was a post from Harinder Singh Sabharwal on the JKDAA group page calling out all Action Strength students and instructors to make December 2013 31 Days of the Great Gama – 15,500 Dands and 31,000 Bhetaks/ 500 Dands, 1000 Bhetaks daily.  Beginning December 1, 2013, ending December 31, 2013.

Wait….what?

As a relative newbie, I had only been Action Strengthing for a little over a year.  I had been cranking out a minimum of 50/100 Dands and Bhetaks daily during that time and was working my way up to higher numbers so that the next time I attended an A.S. workshop I could nail the 500/1000 challenge within 30 minutes along with the bragging rights and tee shirt, but 500/1000 every day for a month?  Was I ready for that?  I think I pondered that question for about a second and a half, turned to my wife, told her about the challenge and said, “I’m going to do it.”

“Ok,” she said.  That was all she needed to say.  She knew how excitedly I had embraced Action Strength training after the level 1 certification.  She knew my mind was made up.  I looked over the details, read how to break up the sets depending on my level of strength and decided I would be up to 250/500 twice a day to start, with the goal of 500/1000 non-stop by the end of the month.  I don’t think I took the challenge out of an ego thing; granted, the whole JKDAA Community was watching as the enthusiastic and committed comments poured in to the post, but I think I just wanted to see what I was capable of. In my short time Action Strength training, I had watched previous limitations fall away as my strength increased, so I was curious to see what I could do if I put my mind to it.  In retrospect, the “challenge” was exactly what I needed.  It was almost as if Singh had said, “Put up or shut up.”…drops mic.

So two days later I began the challenge and dug in see what I was made of.  Singh had pointed out that this challenge was more about forging an iron will than anything else.  I learned that lesson pretty early as I had to push past some substantial mental barriers to hit my regular groove, but once there it became familiar and even comfortable territory.  I could do this.  I would do this.

As the days and weeks progressed, I felt myself growing stronger and unconsciously I created a new strength set point each day from which to build upon for the following workout.  The whole process ultimately came down to forging new neural habits of strength and indomitability. As it turns out, 31 days was a perfect length of time for the challenge since research shows that new habits usually take between 21-30 days to be laid down in our brains.  Repetition is the mother of all skill.  By continually firing the same neurons again and again, we were creating the mental pathways for not only physical strength, but also those for mental fortitude and unconquerable determination.

Making my way through the month, I stumbled upon a handful of insights that helped me to make each day better than the last.  I will be adding these insights to my personal Action Strength notebook and will teach them to my students, but I wanted to share them with you as well in case you find anything that might help you with your training:

  1. The importance of proper form (A.K.A. Posture) – This point although obvious, cannot be overstated. If you aren’t maintaining a neutral spine, correct hand/foot placement, and firing the three triggers – at such high numbers, you’re asking for an injury.  I found that as long as I kept correct form my tempo and endurance would eventually sink into a groove that I could maintain throughout the workout.  If my form fell apart, so did everything else.
  2. Correct breathing and Pranayama for recovery – Without the proper breathing cadence I couldn’t keep my system oxygenated enough to continue.  In other words, whenever I sacrificed my breathing to go faster or harder, I got gassed.  As in shooting, I tried to adopt the motto of “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” with my breathing.  Even, steady breathing made all the difference for me. And between sets, if I needed to recharge, the breathing exercises Sifu teaches were a major lifesaver and helped my system rebalance in time for the next set.
  3. Have a visual focal point – In yoga, the visual focal point is called a Dristhi, or focused gaze, and is used as a means for developing concentrated intention.  I can’t speak for others, but when I do Dands, I find it very helpful to place a small object on the ground about a foot and a half in front of my hands to as a visual focal point.  This serves two purposes; first, it obviously helps to keep your attention focused and not running willy-nilly all over the place.  Intention is a force of nature and it is harnessed through attention.  Locking onto one object helped to shut out distractions and kept my awareness on the task at hand.  Secondly, by keeping your eyes locked on that point helps to ensure that the spine remains straight between the neck and head.  If I looked down or back toward my feet, I broke the alignment of the spine and suffered a power falloff in the overall technique.  For the Bhetaks, I posted a small picture of the Great Gama on the wall at roughly eye level.  This helped me keep my head up and focus straight ahead.  Plus, it kept me inspired.  (I didn’t want to let the big guy down, after all.)
  4. Count mindfully and keep a tally of completed sets – This ties in with the previous point.  Staying focused and free from distractions is the key to success in a challenge like this. In fact, the mental focus needs to be almost meditative in nature.  I learned very quickly that when performing high reps of these exercises counting quality was vitally important. The counting of the repetitions is like a mantra used in meditation practice; it anchors you to the present moment along with the breath.  While subconsciously monitoring form and breathing, I found that the bulk of my awareness would rest on the count of repetitions. But just as in meditation, distractions will compete for attention. Sensations in the body, thoughts in the mind, and sounds in the environment – all would arise and fight for attention, occasionally distracting me enough to lose count.  (I found trying to use a clicker less than ideal).  And nothing’s worse than losing count and having to go back to the last spot you remembered to make sure you get your reps in – plus it jacks up your overall time.  The point is, lock your awareness on the rep count.  Make it the one thing you’re doing right now.  There will be time to think about other things later.  Just imagine, if you’re able to maintain your focus as you crank out your 500/1000, how much more easily can you keep your cool when you’re sparring or in a real fight?  I also kept a small dry erase board handy and hashed off each completed set of 50/100.  This helped me stay motivated by being able to look down and see how far I had come and kept me pushing to finish strong. But more importantly, it once again helped me to not lose count.  The last thing I wanted to do was accidentally miss a set and have to go back and do it over.  That sucks.
  5. Invoke images of archetypal strength – This one helped to power me through the days where I just wasn’t feeling it.  First thing in the morning or right after work, there were times when the whole notion of D&Bs (as I called them) wasn’t terribly appealing.  But once I tapped into an archetype of strength, be it Bruce Lee, the Great Gama, Rickson Gracie, The Mighty Thor, or whoever, I felt like I could pull it off.  Where attention goes, energy flows, and when you invoke the image of strength and superior will into your being, you are able to convert that mental energy into its physical component.  This also helped out when I hit a wall and was feeling like I was ready to give in.  One look at the Great Gama helped me dig deeper and activate those buried energy reserves.
  6. Start at a moderate pace and pick up speed – As I got closer to the end of the month, moving faster became more important if I wanted to hit my 30 minute goal.  But I also learned the hard way that even after being well warmed up, jumping right into Dands at a blistering pace was asking for injury.  My shoulders and hips protested and it set a cruddy tone for the entire workout.  So I chose to make my first set something of a warm-up in which I moved at a moderately even pace.  Actually, even by the first 25 reps, I would find my groove and could pick up speed.  The lesson here: start slow and progressively crank the speed as you catch the groove.
  7. Override negative self-talk – This might be the most powerful insight I gained during the challenge.  Know that you are stronger than what your mind tells you.  The bodily limitations you believe you have don’t exist in your body; they exist in your mind.  Through this challenge I learned that I was infinitely stronger than I had believed myself to be.  And, if it wasn’t for this experience, I would still believe in those limitations. When we push ourselves through the invisible walls in our minds, we discover a new source of strength, perseverance, courage and will.  We recognize that if this barrier falls, we can surely transcend other obstacles to our success.  Yes, the mind (ego) will complain and create seemingly convincing arguments to stop and give up, but the ego is ultimately an illusion that knows it’s losing some of its hold over you every time you complete your workout.  The ego is self-indulgent.  It wants things easy and without any effort.  And when you tell it to sit down and shut up so you can do what you have to do, it fears its own death.  Ignore it.  Move on.  Know that your mind will quit 100 times before your body does.  The idea of the impossible only exists in the mind.  Transcend the mind and work directly with the body.  It will be happy to show you what it can do when you get rid of the middleman.
  8. Persist – Just keep going.  These three words should be considered a mantra in and of themselves.  Half of forging an iron will is simply refusing to quit.  You’ll get sweaty, tired, perhaps sore, or simply exhausted.  Just keep going.  You may want to give up, puke, put it off, or make excuses.  Just keep going.  While this challenge helps to build a physically strong body, I found it was more about mental toughness than any other attribute.  You are fighting to overcome the weakness, self-doubt, and fear that weighs us down.  A challenge like this is a perfect opportunity to do battle with our own demons and send them packing, and in this case, we don’t take them on with a direct assault; we just outlast them.
  9. Listen to your body and be safe – Yes, it’s a challenge, and yes, we want to break through our limitations, but not at the expense of safety or long term health and wellness.  After hearing me talk about persisting and “Just Keep Going”, it might be easy to think that I’m suggesting you push your body to the breaking point.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As a Yogi, I live to maintain mind-body balance in everything I do, Action Strength included.  And overriding negative and limiting self talk is very different than heeding your body’s warnings when you need to rest or take some time off.  Durning the month, I had to find a way to keep myself in balance while completing my daily numbers, working, traveling across the country, attending a mind/body workshop, and dealing with holiday visitors and get-togethers.  During all that, I listened to the signals my body was sending me.  If I felt low on energy, I made sure to take my time and not rush through to try and break some Gama land speed record.  I gave myself the rest and nutrition I needed and my body was able to recover and improve at a reasonable pace.  Ultimately, listen to what your body needs and honor your own sense of inner balance.
  10. Enjoy the strength – Lastly, be sure to appreciate the rewards of completing a challenge like this. Whether it was at the end of each day or at the end of the month, I found the sense of accomplishment from completing my numbers to be deeply satisfying.  Many would share their numbers on FB which not only served as an affirmation of achieving their daily goal, but also as an inspiration for the rest of us.  It felt good knowing that usually before most people were out of bed I had cranked out my 250/500 (or later in the month 500/1000).  I felt energized, invigorated and alive – and it’s a great feeling.  It’s unfortunate that most of the people you meet don’t really know what it feels like to be strong.  This isn’t a superiority thing – it’s simply recognizing that strength of this kind is a unique experience.  It’s empowering and rewarding; it makes you feel confident and believe in yourself.  I also think it’s humbling and gratifying to see what our mind/bodies are capable of.  It’s actually awe-inspiring to consider that with the correct training method, such incredible potential can be unleashed.  Our bodies were meant to be used, to be strengthened, and eventhough they are temporary and will one day wear out, we have an amazing opportunity to build and use our bodies to their fullest while we can.  A challenge like this is an assertion of our strength and an occasion to be grateful for our physical abilities.

So a month later, I completed the challenge, achieved my goal of 500/1000 in under 30 minutes and accomplished far more than I expected from two simple exercises and what amounts to an “I dare you” contest.  I changed as a person, strengthened my will, and had a glimpse of the potential that lies hidden within each of us.  How do I feel?  I feel strong, capable, empowered.  But most importantly, I feel grateful.  Grateful for the opportunity to learn this training method, grateful for my fellow Action Strength brothers and sisters, and grateful for Sifu Singh for inspiring us to roar.

Recap 2013

January 3, 2014

Although I’m a little late to the 2013 recap party, late is better than never and while a part of me resists posting a year in review, another part looks back at everything that happened in a short 365 days and realized that it’s worthwhile to recapitulate those experiences and reflect on how each one has changed us for better or worse.  Ultimately, all of the experiences we have matter in one way or another, although they may or may not have the epic importance we often assign to them.  Either way, each event becomes metabolized and integrated into our mind and body, transforming biography into biology.  We become our experiences and to paraphrase the Vedas, if you want to understand your health and body now, look at your past experiences; if you want to know what your body will be like in the future, look at what you are experiencing now.  So, as with many of my posts, awareness is a recurring theme.  Putting your attention on your past experiences can reveal a great deal about what brought you to where you are as well as inform the choices you make going forward.

In that spirit, I’d like to take a high level, quick pass through some of the more memorable experiences of my 2013: Having a front row seat to a Magic Kingdom Flag retreat ceremony honoring my brother-in-law, Mike Hall, a returning Army Veteran; Celebrating 20 years as a Walt Disney World Cast Member and enjoying a pretty epic Cast Service Award Celebration; Aligning myself with the Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association, an amazing group of folks dedicated to perpetuating Bruce Lee’s philosophy and lifestyle and wading back into the comfortable waters of martial arts instruction through teaching my first Damini Project Self Defense Program; Attending a super-memorable Seduction of Spirit meditation workshop at the Chopra Center for Well Being with my wife Dana and good friends Sujata and Nick; Re-upping my JKD training at the JKDAA East Coast Retreat in May; Taking an incredibly road trip from San Francisco to Seattle, seeing old friends and family, tasting wine and encouraging Dana’s amateur studies in Volcanology; hitting the one-year mark for exclusive training in Action Strength and feeling stronger than ever (see a previous post); Celebrating 7 years married to my wonderful wife; Continuing to teach some incredible yoga and meditation students including 20 or so WDW Executives for a special event; Deepened my own understanding of yoga, meditation and Ayurveda and made some new friends during the Chopra Center’s Perfect Health Program; and wrapped up the year by participating in a 31 Day Gama Challenge (15500 Hindu Push-ups and 31,000 Hindu Squats).

Some experiences have been less than ideal, especially situations in which I’ve had to watch those that are close to me experiencing health challenges or simply struggle to cope with the reality of existential suffering (impermanence, sickness, old age, death).  I’ve also experienced the loss of friends and family, (some close, some I knew only long ago) and felt grief, sadness as well as the twinge of my own mortality, an ever present reminder of the impermanence of physical existence.

No matter what happened this year however, I’ve tried to remain grounded in gratitude.  Each event, each experience, each beginning or ending relationship is an opportunity to learn and grow, to expand rather than contract.  Life is a continuum of experiences and the way we not only live, but interpret our experiences determines how those perceptions will affect us.  Living in mindful gratitude helps us to experience our lives, the good and the bad with grace and fulfillment, happiness and equanimity.

So, as I say goodbye to 2013, I want to thank my family, friends, students, and teachers who served as companions and guides over the past year.  Without you, I would have nothing.  You have my heartfelt thanks for making 2013 a year to remember.  You have also inspired me to make 2014 the best I can make it.

May the New Year lead you to all the peace, happiness, and fulfillment you could ever desire.

Namaste,

-Adam

Ego Uploaded

December 20, 2013

The arrival of the internet has dramatically changed the way we access information and interact with each other. The last 15 years or so have witnessed an explosion of (mostly) unrestricted information; facts, documents, and images on virtually every topic we can conceive of. Sacred or profane, beautiful or ugly, creative, destructive, and everything in between is accessible on the internet. The volume of knowledge is so seemingly endless that the term “Information Superhighway” barely hints at the sheer amount of content at our fingertips within each browser session.

Now add to the largely objective body of knowledge contained within the internet a relatively new subjective experience – social media. Social media consists of websites and applications that are used to create, share, and exchange information in online networks and communities. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram to name a few are popular social media sites in which users can interact with other users or friends and build a personalized online environment.

So what? Who doesn’t know that, right?

True. But in this post I’d like to take a closer look at what I believe to be an interesting psychological byproduct of our online social media lives. With over 1.11 billion Facebook users and 250 million active Twitter accounts, it’s clear that a huge portion of the population invests time in social media. As an active Facebook user for the last 4 years I have been both a participant and witness to the way in which we as individuals have integrated ourselves into the social media culture. During a recent conversation with my good friend Marcus, I made an off the cuff comment that Facebook has become our “digital ego”, an idea that has been percolating within me ever since that time. The more I thought it over, the more I saw the somewhat disconcerting truth of this notion. Since my personal experience has been with Facebook, I’ll use it as my common denominator as we go forward.

Before I go into the concept of a digital ego, let me define what I mean by ego. Psychologically, the ego is the sense of a separate self that is unique to each of us. The ego is the conscious, subjective sense of I, me, and mine. It is the boundary between my personal self and the extended reality. It is the line of distinction that separates our individuality from the world and others. In the language of Vedanta, the world’s oldest and most comprehensive science of spirituality, the ego is known as the Ahankara, or the part of the mind known as the “I-former”, in which we are most deeply identified with possessions, positions, and self-image. We all have an ego, and that’s not a bad thing. Some spiritual traditions talk of destroying or getting rid of the ego as if it is an enemy that needs to be vanquished. That is not the purpose of this post, as if that is something that could even be realistically achieved. I believe we need to perhaps tame the ego, manage it, make it a potential friend rather than an enemy, but not destroy it. Ram Dass, the great spiritual teacher once wrote that the ego should be like the house you live in, which you are free to step out of as you choose; not a prison that keeps you trapped.

So anyway, back to the idea of a digital ego. Think about it for a minute. Now that we understand what our ego is, when we consider social media, isn’t what we define as our Facebook or Twitter profile really the equivalent of a digital ego? In many ways, by interacting on a social media site, we are uploading our ego to share with the internet audience. If you find this notion mildly disturbing (or downright alarming), you probably have good reason to think so. Take a moment to consider the content that you routinely post or upload to a site like Facebook:

About You – Basically a summary of who you are; your story, background, where you’re from, education, where you work, where you live, relationships, ideology, and beliefs.

Photos – Some might describe social media in a nutshell as being an online photo album; snapshots and frozen moments in time from childhood, relationships, vacations, major (or not so major) life events, images of family, meals, memes, and even mundane glimpses into an ordinary day are displayed for all our friends (or more, depending on your security settings) to see and comment on.

Friends – Whether they are real people you personally know offline or online faces you’ve never shared the same air with, much can be learned from those we call our friends. To quote Miguel de Cervantes, “Tell me what company you keep and I’ll tell you what you are.” The people we friend on Facebook or follow on Twitter spin a complicated web of relationships that reflect a great deal about who we are and what we stand for. To invoke some more Sanskrit terminology, Tat Tvam Asi – which means, I am that, you are that, all this is that, and that’s all there is. More simply, we can think of it this way – though the mirror of relationship, I discover my true self. This may be not as true with online relationships, where some users have hundreds or thousands of friends, all with varying interests, beliefs, and perceptions of the world. But to some degree it still applies. Your friendships are a window into some of your deeper qualities that you may not even realize are out there for others to see.

Likes – These are the ideas, people, and websites that you are passionate about. They continue to round out the picture of your digital self-image, showing others those things that you’re really into; be they a political party, a public figure, a sports team, public policy, a celebrity or musician.

Other Stuff – The ever increasing categories on Facebook that further detail out the unique bits and pieces of your online ego; Places you’ve been, Sports, Music, Movies, TV Shows, Books, Events, Groups, Notes, and an Activity Log. All these things in the study of consciousness can be referred to as qualia, or the raw elements of experience that add even more depth and detail to the ego upload.

Posts – Posts consist of your regular, perhaps daily uploads. Thoughts, musings, joys, sorrows, gripes, complaints, rants, selfies, daily activity, quotes, poems, links to articles or videos all fall into this category. If the other online content is the equivalent of your digital ego, posts are your online thoughts.

So, with all these things on display for the world to view, we can see how social media can truly be thought of as your digital self-image, a projection of who you are into cyberspace. Social media isn’t inherently good or bad, it simply is. However, thanks to the insidious nature of the human ego itself, the digital ego can go awry, often leading to some less than productive results. Let’s take a look at how the digital ego can go bad.

First, as an extension of the personality into the virtual realm, the ego often views social media as another realm to conquer, a land over which to assert its strength. The ego loves to feel powerful, so it will rarely pass on an opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of its position. It wants to show off, whether that’s with possessions or knowledge. It always has a point to prove and can’t resist making sure everyone knows it. The ego craves attention, so even if it’s losing a battle in a comment section of a post, it would rather fight on and get the attention than back down and feel small and insignificant.

Second, the ego loves to talk about itself. A lot. The ego can go on and on and on about its exploits, no matter how inane. It’s what drives the countless uploads of mundane images, a rundown of daily events, details of a workout, or mindless ramblings that seem to have no real point other than to draw attention to the self. The ego is incredibly self-indulgent and believes that everything it does to be of earth-shattering importance. Desperate to be heard in its search for significance, the ego will use any excuse it can find to insert itself into a conversation and co-opt it for its own uses.

Third, as an offshoot of the previous point, the digital ego loves to use the social medial environment as its own personal Roman Forum. Climbing high upon its soapbox, the ego loves to make speech after speech, pontificating on what it believes to be wrong with the world. It rants and vents away tirelessly, as if its endless complaining will change the state of the world. Even if it’s in the minority or a voice of one, the ego wants to make itself heard so it can maintain its authority and self-importance.

Finally, and perhaps the most insidious aspect of a twisted digital ego comes out in the form of rampant negativity, sarcasm, cynicism, and trolling. In a last resort to get the attention it craves, the ego sinks to its lowest level and blasts away at indiscriminate targets for sheer pleasure of irritating others and evoking a response. When another person flames back in an act of internet self-defense, the ego feels justified; if it can’t have your acceptance, it will settle for your hatred. Attention is attention, after all.

Fortunately, my experiences with these types of distorted digital egos have been very few and far between. Most, if not all of my Facebook friends seem to be wonderful people who aren’t ruled by their ego. But on occasion, on another’s wall or in a thread I’ve seen some of the behaviors described above. Perhaps you have as well. Perhaps, like me you’ve had times when you’ve felt the pull of an inflated digital ego. If that’s the case, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help avoid the digital ego traps.

1. Is it kind, is it necessary, it is true? This question from the Indian saint Sai Baba eloquently simplified the idea of what Buddhists would call right speech. If the three criteria of kindness, necessity, and truth are being met by what you’re posting or sharing online, you’ll most likely be keeping the ego in check.

2. Is it snark? This term is a colloquial combination of the words snide and remark. It often consists of biting cruel humor or wit, commonly used to verbally attack someone or something. If something you post falls into this category, it’s a safe bet that your ego is running the show.

3. Are you having a reactive response? Not far removed from the Fight or Flight Response, the Reactive response is a biological response to a threat, not to your body, but to your ego or self- image. A reactive response is just what it sounds like, an automatic, Pavlovian, knee-jerk type of behavior that is an unconscious retaliation to a perceived threat to an ego boundary. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to recognize this type of response until it’s over, but if you identify a comment or post that fits into this category, chances are high that your ego was at the helm.

4. Are you making the world (or internet) a better place? There’s a ton of negativity in the world, and it seems there’s even more on the internet. Is what you’re saying, posting or sharing making the world better off in the process? I hate to be blunt, but if you’re not helping to make things better, you’re part of the problem.

5. Is this post the result of a conscious choice? This question is the byproduct of a deep understanding of the Law of Karma that encourages us to make conscious choices in each moment. If you’re paying attention to your gut and asking if your actions will be helpful and nourishing to everyone impacted by this choice, you’re choosing consciously. If not, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an ego-based choice, but the less awareness you bring to the table, the more likely you are to fall back into reactive behavior.

6. How can I help, how can I serve? This question is the internal dialogue of spirit. It wants to help others, to bring happiness and fulfillment into the world. The internal dialogue of the ego is, “What’s in it for me?” If you’re asking this question instead, your ego is calling the shots.

Although the digital ego clearly can run amiss at times, it can also be a great opportunity for increased self-awareness and the ability to help others. Through our social networking we can make the conscious choice to help make the online world a better place. I think the most important question we can ask ourselves if we choose to embrace social medial is “What do I stand for?” This question might sound simplistic and obvious, but I believe few of us recognize the way its answers lay the groundwork for how you define your online persona.

Your online presence is a unique opportunity to share your thoughts, ideas, beliefs, pictures and more with the whole world. And I mean the whole world. Just as a personal sidebar, I believe the notion of internet privacy* to be a complete and total illusion. Gone are the days of my childhood where a lone wolf hero could go off the grid without someone finding clues to his whereabouts or bits of his past to catch up to him. We live in a technologically rich society where information is the most prized commodity there is. If someone wants to find out about you, they will find a way to do it. Anything you upload to the internet, no matter how secure you believe it to be can always be found and exposed. Our lives are open books to anyone who digs deep enough with enough tenacity. Between the internet and cell phone technology, the idea of personal secrets that no one knows about is rapidly becoming a distant memory. But I digress.

The way you conduct yourself online is a powerful responsibility. With it you can create happiness or joy, anger or sorrow. The words and images we share with others affect their thoughts, state of mind, levels of happiness, and on a more subtle level, their overall wellbeing. When I created my Facebook account, I wanted to be a mindfully aware and responsible contributor to the world of social media. So I chose to apply the yoga principle of Ahimsa, or non-violence to my online presence. In this case, non-violence refers to the intellectual violence caused by hurtful speech or images. I made the decision to make a positive contribution to the world rather than increasing the surplus of negativity in the world. If I was going to say anything, I wanted to make sure that first and foremost, I did no harm.

This continues to be my goal, but it’s not always easy. I occasionally find myself wishing to unleash some “wrathful compassion” on someone who I think needs a little shake up to their Facebook status quo. Whenever I feel this urge though, I try to remember to stop and consider how my words or post will be received and the impact it will have on others. As one of my meditation teachers is fond of saying, “You can’t un-ring the bell”. Once that vibration is released, there’s no pulling it back. Or more appropriately one might say, “Pain is temporary, but posts on Facebook are forever.” In addition, my reaction is a lesson in and of itself. My need to defend my own point of view says something about how secure I feel in my beliefs. The more secure I feel, the more defenseless I can become. It also brings to mind a teaching from Dr. Wayne Dyer who reminds us that when an orange is squeezed, only orange juice comes out because that’s all that’s inside it. By analogy, we are all being squeezed by life’s challenges – when that happens, what comes out of you?

Ultimately our uploaded ego can bring peace or it can bring war. Just like the electricity that lights either a kindergarten or a torture chamber, we can allow our digital persona to wield social media for good or ill. The choice rests with us and that choice begins in awareness.

* or global privacy, for that matter

According to many of the world’s great wisdom traditions, the ultimate nature of reality is Oneness or Unity. Beyond all diversity and separation is a level of nature that is infinite and indivisible. This oneness goes by different names in different traditions – The Tao, Buddha Mind, Brahman, Pure Consciousness, God, or The Unified Field (to name just a few) and is said to underlie the entire universe as well as flow through, in, and around every particle of creation. These traditions claim that we are this field and it is our true nature. For most of us though, the existence of this deeper level of reality is overshadowed and hidden from us by the restless activity of our mind. However, with the right tools, we can go beyond the turbulence of our daily lives and tap into this transcendent level of reality.

Vedanta, the thousands-year old spiritual philosophy from ancient India is the tradition with which I am most intimately familiar. Translated as “The end of the Vedas,” it is the encapsulation of the entire body of Vedic wisdom as related to health, mind, body, emotions, spiritual practices, and ultimately, spiritual liberation or enlightenment. In regards to the one reality, Vedanta prescribes four paths to unity known as yogas. Each of these yogas can be considered roadmaps to higher awareness and are explored based upon an aspirant’s specific temperament or personal tendencies. Briefly, these yogas are as follows:

Gyan Yoga – The yoga of science and understanding. This is the path of using the mind to go beyond the mind and relies heavily upon intellectual study and understanding.
Bhakti Yoga – The yoga of love and devotion. This path fosters the deepening of loving relationships to a beloved or to the divine.
Karma Yoga – The yoga of selfless service. This path focuses on the practice and recognition that all action belongs to the Supreme Being.
Raja Yoga – The Royal Path. This is the yoga of meditation and all its allied disciplines (including yoga poses, breathing exercises, moral observances, etc.)

Each of these yogas are valid paths to higher states of consciousness and will be more or less appealing to an individual depending on their natural disposition. No path is superior to another and when one begins to progress along one path, the other yogas often express themselves through the individual as well.

With this brief introduction laid down, I’d like to spend the remainder of this post exploring just one of these yogas and describe in some depth the potential pitfalls along the path.

Gyan Yoga – The Razor’s Edge

As the road to unity through intellectual knowledge and understanding, Gyan yoga can be an incredibly fulfilling path leading to the heights of creativity, innovation, exploration and scientific discovery. As the yoga of science, it is a path for probing the laws of nature through our human nervous system. Every scientist that has ever lived, has at heart, been a Gyan yogi – one seeking the truth of our universe through the power of the intellect and its formidable instrument, the scientific method. It may seem a paradox to view science as a tool for spiritual awakening, but science can in fact be a powerful ally for discovering the hidden truths behind great spiritual teachings.

However, Vedanta cautions us that Gyan yoga can be a potentially treacherous path, calling it the razor’s edge. In gaining knowledge into the laws of nature, we run the risk of arrogance. Fed by this arrogance, the ego grows and inflates until it overshadows the spirit, which is the truth at the heart of reality. In an attempt to use the mind to go beyond the mind, we discover just how slippery our ego actually is. Rather than cultivating humility, awe and a sense of wonder at the unknown mysteries of the universe, the small self of the ego tries to take credit for its knowledge and assumes a locked, inflexible and rigid worldview. Thus ironically, what began as a genuine scientific quest for truth and understanding turns into a mutated form of self absorption and hubris, obscuring the wisdom once passionately pursued.

The great scientists throughout history have been truly humble individuals, deeply embracing the unknown and ever open to new possibilities, from whatever direction they might come. As Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” This mindset is the mark of a true explorer, whether the field is biology, geology, astronomy, or particle physics. To admit one doesn’t know allows room for new and exciting possibilities to exist. On the other hand, assuming one has all the answers locks out countless choices, options, and prospects for new discovery.

Lost in this twisted intellectual labyrinth, an individual gets swept up into a highly critical, negative worldview that is driven by what I call the three intellectual poisons. Don’t bother looking for these in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, or Yoga Sutras – because I came up with them; or I should say, I’ve observed them to be the fundamental modus operandi of individuals caught up in this warped form of over-intellectualism. Let’s take a closer look at these three qualities and how they manifest themselves.

1. Malignant Sarcasm

Sarcasm is a form of sharp or cutting language (spoken or written) in which remarks that mean the opposite of what they seem to say are used to mock or deride another. Sarcasm is very often employed as comedic tool to deliver an amusing dig or retort to an opponent. Now don’t get me wrong, I occasionally use sarcasm. Used sparingly, it can add some spice to discussions and relationships. Throwing out the occasional well-timed zinger causes a shift in perspective and can lighten the mood. However, this isn’t the type of sarcasm we’re talking about.

As one of the three intellectual poisons, malignant sarcasm becomes a highly destructive force, especially so when combined with the other two poisons. The term comes from the Greek word sarkazein, which means “to tear or strip the flesh off.” Clearly, sarcasm is not meant to be a warm and fuzzy form of communication. It is an intentionally hurtful remark that is in no way constructive. In fact upon closer examination, we can see that sarcasm is actually hostility disguised as humor. Sarcasm is a tool the intellect uses to passive-aggressively tear down another. Sarcasm is a form of intellectual violence. For some people sarcasm is their primary form of communication and for others it defines their sense of humor. Personally, I think sarcasm is the poor man’s sense of humor. A great sense of humor relies on creativity, paradox, and absurdity. Violence, not so much…but that’s just my opinion.

Additionally, for most sarcastic adepts, they rarely think about how the recipient feels. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a sarcastic salvo, you most likely feel put down, insulted and as if the sarcastic person is a jerk. At its heart, sarcasm is a subtle form of bullying and bullying is an expression of insecurity and cowardice. Therefore, the sarcastic abuse of another really doesn’t so much define the recipient as it does the attacker. In the end, sarcasm is a hurtful assault on another dressed up as humor. It’s the intellect’s way of imposing its superiority over others to fortifying its self image.

2. Cynicism

Cynicism is a general attitude of scornful or jaded negativity and overall distrust in the sincerity of a person’s true motives. Cynics are often characterized by doubt and pessimism in a general sense and bitter and scornful disparagement of specific ideals or beliefs of which they disapprove. Cynics would most likely describe themselves as realists rather than pessimists, however their unrelenting negativity often paints a different picture. The word cynic refers to a school of ancient Greek philosophy that was known for their overall contempt of innate human virtue and morality. Cynics were often known as dog-men for their fondness of public urination and had the reputation of being rude, insensitive, and otherwise offensive. In contemporary times, the term has come to broadly define individuals who have a lack of faith or hope in the human race on the whole. Although most cynics have a keen intellect and an above average intelligence, they rarely choose to put those qualities to constructive use.

This intellectual poison may come about as the result of minor or major disappointments throughout life, through the recognition that “life just isn’t fair”, or through more deeply seated existential suffering that we all face at times throughout our lives. However, the cynical attitude towards life is most likely the byproduct of what neurologists refer to the “Negativity Bias” in our brains that has conditioned us to look for threats rather than support. If not held in check, this biological inheritance makes us quick to find fault and hesitant to see the positive possibilities in a given situation. Most likely, the choice to become cynical isn’t a conscious one. Long-held cynicism is the result of habitual thoughts that reinforce a view of the world that is untrustworthy. Despite their often keen intellect and love of facts, cynics put their attention on what’s wrong with life rather than what’s right. Over time, all they’re able to see is a world filtered through their own negative perceptions. In a cynical worldview, the intellect has just enough knowledge to be harmful; just enough rope to hang itself.

Personally, I don’t believe cynicism possesses any redeeming qualities as a worldview. It’s a dark, biting, jaded way of looking at life. I’m no Pollyanna – I realize that life can be challenging, that disappointments abound, and that suffering is a very real part of our world; however I also know that the answer isn’t to be a spiteful dog-man full of mean-spirited contempt for the world. In our culture (and thanks to our biology) being negative is easy. Anyone can do it. There’s no skill involved; it takes no real effort. Being positive and choosing to see the bright side of things takes work, persistence and faith in humanity. It’s easy to have low expectations and to be perpetually disappointed when life barely lives up to them. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A cynical outlook is a perception, and perceptions can be changed. There are ways out of the suffering and paths to liberation do exist. But they have to be chosen.

3. Ruthless Skepticism

One of the core tenets of our modern scientific worldview, skepticism is an attitude marked by a tendency to question or doubt what others accept to be true, especially so when there’s a lack of evidence to support a particular belief or theory. A skeptic is one who keeps an open mind, but requires evidence for any claim. On the whole, I think skeptical inquiry is a very healthy and natural intellectual instrument for looking beyond appearances or the surface level of an idea or concept. I regularly rely on skeptical inquiry to probe deeper into what I read or hear from any source. As a student of Buddhist philosophy, I have found no better representation of this ideal than in this quote from Lord Buddha:

Do not believe in what you have heard.
Do not believe in tradition because it is handed down many generations.
Do not believe in anything that has been spoken many times.
Do not believe because the written statements come from some old sage.
Do not believe in conjecture.
Do not believe in authority or teachers or elders.
But after careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and it will benefit one and all, then accept it and live by it.

This is wise council for any explorer, whether the field is religion, science, psychology, molecular biology, or consciousness itself. To not question long held beliefs and concepts is dangerous and can lead to blind devotion, complacency, and a tacit acceptance of the status quo. We must question…and doubt…and ask why, for these are the rules of the explorer. If we honestly wish to learn, we have to be willing to objectively explore even our most long held beliefs and ideals. Only then will we discover their validity, or lack thereof.

The problem arises when skepticism becomes pathological. I call this ruthless skepticism, but may also be referred to as “dogmatic”, “zealous”, or militant skepticism. When fueled by the philosophy of rationalism, skepticism becomes characterized by resistance to any new ideas or new evidence. Anything that cannot be seen, measured, or empirically analyzed is excluded; revelation, mysticism, subjective experience, and knowledge of a transcendent level of reality beyond the physical universe are dismissed as primitive superstitions. This is not the open-minded inquiry in service of the search for truth we mentioned earlier, but rather a perversion of the quest for knowledge. The followers of this narrow-minded and intolerant creed take no prisoners in defending what they believe is an attempt to stave off the forces of unreason. They mock, insult, and character-assassinate anyone who oppose their rigid worldview; portraying as foolish, half-witted, naïve, gullible, ignorant, irrational and stupid those unfortunate enough to hold an alternative point of view. These people are not explorers – but rather believe they are guardians at the gates in an ideological battle between reason and the ignorant masses that risk dragging civilization back into the dark ages.

Ruthless skeptics have made science their irrefutable religion and will deny the existence of other possibilities with the intolerant zeal of a fundamentalist Christian. They refuse to acknowledge alternative views, cannot think outside of the box and are unwilling to critically examine their own beliefs. For such individuals, it is much easier (and safer) to heckle those who don’t share their worldview than to actually roll up their sleeves and get dirty in the hard work of research and personal experience. The ruthless skeptics of the world are no longer scientists in the true sense – they’re not interested in exploring all the possibilities, they are dedicated to crushing all resistance in the pursuit of their agenda.

As you can see, any of these three poisons are insidious on their own, but when combined together, they become a triple-threat of intellectual disaster that the ancient sages warned us about. The intellect becomes a self righteous monster that is more interested in proving its own position than seeking truth, understanding or enlightenment. The servant of the ego, rather than the spirit, it uses clever and hurtful tactics to create further separation, fostering unchecked pride and hubris. While justifying this behavior with claims of science and rationalism, the ego driven-intellect blasts opponents with cynical and sarcastic laced skepticism, chopping off another’s head so it can stand taller.

Sadly, such individuals can’t see past their own biases. The critical intellect is never used for its ultimate purpose – self exploration. This is ironic indeed, because it’s such individuals with their penetrating minds that have the potential to discover nature’s deepest secrets. If they could turn their intelligence inward for exploration rather than outward in the perceived battle against the “feeble minded dupes and dopes of the world,” they would experience an entirely new universe.

If we are to use our mind and intellect to the fullest, to pursue the path of Gyan Yoga and enjoy the countless benefits science, technology, medicine, progress, innovation, evolution and enlightenment have to offer, we must be willing to recognize our place in the greater scheme of the universe. To forget that it is Spirit moving through us and essentially “running the show” is to get caught in the mistake of the intellect. Rather than walking the razor’s edge, we run the risk of slipping off and loosing ourselves in the process.

This past weekend marks one year since I completed the Action Strength Level 1 Certification workshop in Boca Raton Florida. The details of that weekend were described in another post; needless to say, it was an amazing experience that has transformed my notions of fitness and strength. When I got back home and started to integrate the Action Strength training into my regular workouts I made a commitment to myself. I would, for the next year abandon my previous strength training routine and adopt an exclusive Action Strength training program. This week marks the one year anniversary of that commitment and I wanted to take a few minutes to detail out the results of this experiment.

Just to provide some background, I have been strength training consistently since the late ‘80s. My focus was largely on traditional weight training and cardio. As a skinny kid with a fast metabolism, my intention was mostly to gain weight and build muscle bulk as opposed to getting stronger. I was mostly self-taught (with the help of some good books) and would weight train 3 days a week and pick up a little cardio here and there, but I stayed away from overly intense aerobic activity for fear that it would eat up the muscle mass I was trying to build. I followed this formula largely unchanged for the last 20 years or so. It seemed to work for the most part. I was healthy, I felt good, looked pretty good, and felt reasonably strong. Or so I thought.

Upon taking up Action Strength full time, I committed to training only with Kettlebells, Gada, Malavidya, and Tia Chi exercised taught by Harinder Singh Sabharwal. No more barbells, dumbbells, curl bars, machines, or exercise bike. I would train 3-4 times a week, start out slow and easy with the progressions that Singh taught us and test it out. This was the opportunity to see what this system could do over the long haul. I had watched Singh, Gavin, Brian, and Nick demonstrate some serious strength during the Level 1 Certification and as an Action Strength newbie, I wanted to see how my strength would improved if I dug in gave it my best.

So what have I learned? Simply put, a lot. Drastically changing up a long held training plan can be a little unsettling as your nervous system adapts to change. But that’s ok, because after all, that’s part of the whole Action Strength (and Jeet Kune Do) mentality – constant adaptation. Overall, it’s been a great year of training and learning. Since I currently train alone, I’ve only had my notes and my own experience to build upon, but this has been a great test of how well I understood the material as well as my relationship to my body, my beliefs, and my perceived limitations. To summarize the past year, I’ve broken down some of the specific lessons I learned below.

• Strength is a skill. Just like a martial art, strength can be taught and developed through regular practice and training. The Action Strength exercises, like martial arts techniques, can be complex movements with intricate and nuanced details that take time to learn and master. As opposed to isolated weight training exercises, Action Strength exercises recruit the whole body for a synergistic movement as a unit. To master these techniques takes hundreds of mindful repetitions. One does not snatch a kettlebell perfectly on the first attempt. It takes months (or much longer) of dedicated practice to hone the form until a technique can be performed impeccably. Over the last year, I’ve experienced a continual refinement of each technique I perform, and with it came increased ability to perform more repetitions and manage my breath and energy more efficiently. In hindsight, I can see the learning curve for each technique I use and can recognize a significant increase in my overall ability. There will always be room for improvement, but regular training can certainly build the skill of strength.

• I can honestly say that without a doubt, I have never been stronger. These exercises and the way they require dedicated attention to posture, breathing, and intent can build incredible levels of strength and endurance. After years of traditional weight training, I can see a HUGE difference in my total level of strength. In addition, although I don’t follow a set cardio routine, thanks to high intensity swings, Dands, Bhetaks, Gada swings, and snatches, I have a greatly increased level of endurance and aerobic conditioning than prior to adopting this training. I’ve also been able to recognize (through my own experience) that endurance in the human species was designed for short, intense bursts rather than long and sustained drives to a finish line. Action Strength cultivates this ability to a very high degree.

• I look and feel better than I have in a long time. Keep in mind, I didn’t think I was out of shape when I first learned Action Strength. Nevertheless, I feel like this is the way you should feel when you work out – energized, not depleted. Flexible and limber, not stiff and sore. Strength that is fluid, functional, and adaptive, not isolated or restricted to a specific movement. Lean, fit, and muscular, not bulky and muscle bound.

• Action Strength workouts take less time. High intensity exercises that recruit the maximum amount of muscle allow for a training session to be much shorter than a typical workout. Before Action Strength, I would train for 60 to 75 minutes for a full body workout (not including aerobic training). With Action Strength, I spend no more than 40 minutes for a workout (including warm-up) that is several orders of magnitude more intense and effective than the way I was formerly training. Considering what can be accomplished with these exercises, even 40 minutes is on the long side. If pressed for time, I can easily get a powerful training session in as little as 20 minutes.

• I was much stronger than I realized (and so are you). Our minds are very quick to set limits that become the boundaries of what we believe we can experience. But those limits can be transcended with understanding (and the right training). With the correct progressions, I have witnessed my strength increase to the point where goals that I once believed were unachievable became possible. Plateaus can be overcome, fears can fade away, and a new level of possibility can open up to us. This type of training helps us to truly unleash the potential that lies hidden within.

• Fewer Injuries. Despite the fact that I am training with more intensity and regularly hurling a 35lb – 44lb Kettlebell over my head, I have experienced fewer training – related injuries that with my previous program. I attribute this to a couple factors: First, the whole body activation of Action Strength exercises helps to stabilize, counterbalance, and reinforce the body’s structure during intense movements, thereby supporting weaker areas and preventing injury. Second, specific exercises such as Dands, Push-Planks, and Push-turns help to lubricate and strengthen the posterior chain in the lower back, protecting it from strains and overextension. Third, the synchronization of posture, breathing, and intent help to maintain proper alignment, support to the abdominal walls, and keep our attention locked on impeccably performing the required number of repetitions. Lastly, as the Action Strength exercises are performed with a great deal of attention to form and technical precision aligned with the breath, the tendency to favor speed over form is minimized. With the exception of testing requirements, we move mindfully from ballistics to grinds and back again, using breathing awareness to manage our energy and our emotional state, always remembering to never to sacrifice correct form for the number of reps.

• Focused Mind. Thanks to the skill and focus required to perform these exercises, it becomes essential to maintain present moment awareness. Despite the intensity of the training, I often find my mind settling into a quiet and steady resolve, my attention riding along with the breath. This relative stillness is a departure from my previous training in that rather than having to fight off the constant distractions that might try to pull me away from my training, the rhythmic pulse of my breath helps to keep my awareness grounded and calm, like the eye of a storm. Better still, this focus often stays with me, post workout. Along with the muscle pump and endorphin dump that comes with an intense workout, my mind typically feels much more steady and grounded following and Action Strength workout than with typical weight training, and we can all use a little bit more of that, right?

Well, I think these points pretty much sum up the results of my year-long Action Strength experiment. Will I return to traditional weight training? Not likely. I’ll probably give myself the flexibility to use some of the old traditional weight training exercises from time to time, but I plan to stick with Action Strength as my primary program for strength and conditioning. It made it through a year of scrutiny and if you ask me, it definitely delivers as an incredibly effective functional fitness program. Plus, I’m excited to see what’s to come. If I’ve seen the benefits I mentioned above over a year’s time, how much more can I expect 2 or 5 years from now? There’s most certainly a trip to the Action Strength Level 2 Certification somewhere down the line for me.

If you’re on the fence about trying Action Strength (especially if you’re a JKDAA member), take my word for it and dive in. You won’t be disappointed in the result you see in just a short amount of time. If you’re wondering why you should train in a functional fitness program specifically geared towards building the strength attributes necessary for martial arts training, consider this: few activities are as physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding as being in a fight. If you can train your body, mind, and emotions to not only survive, but thrive under such intense conditions, how much more fit and able will you be when it comes to a specific sport or activity?

For an Action Strength Instructor near you, visit http://jkdathletics.com/action-strength/functional-fitness-attribute-development/

In Strength,
-Adam

Thoughts on Syria

September 1, 2013

Thoughts on Syria

In light of the recent events in Syria and President Obama’s pushing for US military action in that region, I’ve had some thoughts I wanted to share. From the outset, let me say that the gas attack in Syria, intentional or accidental, is horrible. The lives lost and the terror and horror of a civil war is simply put, an unimaginably terrible thing. While we are all forming our personal opinions (such as this one) on what we as a nation should do, one thing to always remember is this; we, from our comfortable lives in this part of the world cannot ever begin to understand what it must be like to be immersed in such a struggle. We have no common denominator for what this experience must be like for the Syrian people, and our best and most well thought out pontification on this matter will always fall short of the reality they are experiencing.

With that said, let me state that I do not support US military involvement in this situation. I have several reasons for believing as I do, which I will discuss in the paragraphs that follow. You are welcome to disagree with me as this is my personal and admittedly limited perspective. However, I do want to share my thoughts based upon my training in both yoga and the martial arts to explain why I believe what I do.

First, as a student and teacher of yoga, one of the fundamental principles behind the yoga philosophy is the observance of non-violence. Yoga is the recognition of the union of all that is. Your individuality is woven into the fabric of life; we are all strands in the fabric of the universe, and when we recognize this we lose the ability to act in ways that are harmful of others. This may sound like a lofty and overly idealistic notion to hold in this day and age, but we as a society must be beginning to realize that the violent approach to national and personal relationships is ultimately doomed to failure in the long run. Can we not see that the notion of supposedly bringing peace by killing others will never be an option in a civilized society? If we are to be standing on the moral high ground, we must at least acknowledge that our current paradigm must be fundamentally re-written. Violence always begets violence. And just as we as individuals have our own karma, so to do we as a nation create karmic consequences with every choice we make on a global scale. No one will argue that there is an over abundance of violence in our world today. A “Limited Military Operation” creates more violence in the world as a whole and only adds to destabilize the coherence of the entire planet. Some might think such a non-violent approach to be a Pollyanna and naive attempt to ignore the reality of the world we live in. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we will realize that any approach that doesn’t put the value of life and its preservation at the highest level of importance has and will always fail to bring a lasting peace to a region, country, or the world.

Second, as a martial artist, I have always relied on my training, both physical and psychological, to help me realize that a physical action or confrontation should always be considered the very last option in the resolution of a conflict. There are several reasons for this. First, as mentioned earlier, every choice we make has unseen consequences, and acting with violence will always play out in ways that very often remain hidden until much later. We may end up causing ourselves or others unintended physical or emotional harm, or possibly end up in jail for taking the low road to winning. Second, the path of physical violence is quite simply, the easy way out. Our biological heritage has hard-wired our nervous system to make war much more easily than to make peace. Always on the lookout for threats, out primitive ancestors were on the verge of fight or flight and self defense to protect the tribe and the species. Being peaceful took a great effort to override the primitive conditioning that made hostility so natural. It’s not easy to choose the non-violent path. It takes effort and training to recondition the brain’s natural conditioning. As martial artists, this is what we can call “Self-Perfection”. We consciously rise above the basest, most primitive level of our awareness and make the most evolved choice, injuring the opponent only if necessary and if so, only to a reasonable degree. Lastly, as martial artists, we are expected to have trained our minds and bodies to be above average, to be warriors. As warriors we are meant to stand above the crowd, having the foresight to understand the implications of our actions and always using our skill to uphold what Jack Hoban calls the “Life Value”. This is the understanding that nothing, NOTHING, is more important than the protection of life. When this core value of the warrior is compromised, all subsequent values begin to decay. Even in the event when the taking of a life is necessary, it is a decision that is understood to support the overall order of the universe rather than to serve a personal advantage or primitive urge to destroy.

As a side note in regards to both yoga and the martial arts, students of yoga may be familiar with the epic tale of the Bhagavad Gita in which the forces of good and evil are about wage a bloody and terrible war. Observing the battle about to take place, Arjuna, the finest of all warriors, seeks council from his charioteer, Krishna. Arjuna is reluctant to do battle with the forces of evil as members of the opposing army consists of his beloved relatives and teachers. In a fit of self pity and cowardice, Arjuna begs Krishna for guidance. Krishna tells Arjuna to stand up, follow his Dharma, or duty and fight. But the war Krishna urges Arjuna to fight is one with ignorance. Krishna is actually an incarnation of God and teaches Arjuna the ways of yoga and transcendence and helps him realize that the true enemy is our own ignorance, our own divided nature and it is only through yoga or union that we are able to go beyond our own primitive nature. This is the true work of the warrior, and should inspire us to seek the highest good for all in all things.

To continue, related neither to martial arts or yoga, I wish to look at the Syrian crisis through what might seem to be an unrelated lens, that of Star Trek. For those unfamiliar with any of the multiple incarnations of the Star Trek franchise, the United Federation of Planets, or Starfleet has at it’s core a charter of peace for all civilizations it comes into contact with. Specifically, Starfleet’s General Order Number One is known as the Prime Directive, which dictates that that there can be no interference with the internal development of outside civilizations. And while we don’t live in the 23rd century and aren’t obligated to follow a fictitious rule of intergalactic relations, understanding the Prime Directive can shed some valuable insight into our current foreign policy.

Why the Prime Directive? Why would this be so important? Well it all comes down to honoring the natural growth (and dare I say) evolution of a culture or society. Ultimately, in the greater scheme of things, we all have the right to be as wise or stupid as we choose. And more often than not it is through our stupidity that we gain wisdom. But this entire process would be thrown off entirely if an outside force attempted to interfere with our choice to be stupid at a given point in time, even if that force thought it had your best interests at heart. Sometimes we have to learn to fall down before we can get up. This applies both to individuals and nations. When we interfere with the development of others, we’re messing with their karma, their chance to learn from their mistakes.

This brings us to another point in which we believe we know what’s best for another. We assume (always risky) that our way of life is what another wants for themselves and then attempt to impose our values, beliefs, government upon the other, thinking that we’re lifting them up. But are we? Are we really helping them in the long run. And what’s more, who died and left us in charge of making the choices for another? It’s one thing if they are asking for help, but even if they are, we have a responsibility to make the most skillful choice. Sometimes that choice involves giving someone the space they need to make and learn from their own mistakes.

The Syrian people are fighting a civil war. It is an internal conflict (at least for now) and as painful as it is to witness from the international sidelines, would our interference be the most evolutionary, helpful, and compassionate choice at this time? What if the Syrian people need to get through this war on their own terms to recognize how horrible such a conflict can be and emerge stronger and more evolved than they were before? How can we know if we’re helping or hurting them in the long run? Consider this: if an outside force had interfered with our own Civil War, would we have really learned the lessons we had to learn as a nation? What if General Lee’s Confederate forces had been bombed out of existence by a “benevolent” third party who wanted to dictate how our war should be fought?

We can play “what if” all day and never arrive at a feasible conclusion and that’s not my ultimate point. I do however want to show that this is clearly not a black and white issue. We can point out that women and children have been killed in this conflict and it’s our duty as world citizens to bring an end to the bloodshed, but once again, who has the ultimate 60,000 foot view to fully understand the consequences of our actions in the long run if we do?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I’m not a diplomat an expert in the development of nation-states, politics, or foreign policy. But I do think we should tread extraordinarily carefully in this situation. Another nation’s long term development is at stake here, along with the lives of countless soldiers, rebels, and civilians. Not to mention the unforeseen consequences of our actions should we decide to use military force. What this all comes down to is a word I’ve already mentioned – Karma. In Sanskrit karma simply means “action,” but it also implies the consequences of that action. Conscious choice-making is what karma is all about. To make a conscious choice means acting only when we know that our choice will generate the most peace, harmony and compassion for not only ourselves, but for anyone affected by that choice. To our leaders making this decision: there’s no doubt this is a difficult choice, but that’s a part of the role you’ve chosen to play. And if you ask you heart for guidance, the answer will become clear.

Om Kriyam Namah – My Actions are Aligned with Cosmic Law.

Lessons from Silence

June 28, 2013

A short time ago I had the privilege of participating in 3 day silent Chopra Center meditation retreat known as Seduction of Silence.  This retreat was an offshoot of a 7 day program called Seduction of Spirit.  Those of us taking place in the silent retreat were part of the larger group as well, but for three days we were not to speak or engage in conversations with others.  As you might imagine, this experience is a big departure from one’s regular daily activities.  Extended time in silence can be difficult to explain.  It creates a deepened understanding of life that doesn’t translate easily into spoken language, which explains why it’s taken me some time to integrate the experience and share with you here.  What follows are a few of the insights I gained and how I perceived the experience.

The silent portion of the retreat began for us on a Tuesday morning.  We had been instructed the previous day that upon waking we were not to speak and to avoid overt forms of communication (such as sign language or writing) unless absolutely necessary.  Since we were in a retreat setting, we were more or less isolated from the outside world and surrounded by a team of volunteers to provide help and support if needed.   This was a good thing, as choosing deliberately to not speak outside of this environment in our daily lives would be both challenging and frustrating.  At the retreat we were provided with a button to wear that told the other participants we were “Honoring Silence”.  This helped prevent others from trying to engage us in conversation while we were deepening our meditation practice.  We also had a separate dining area so we wouldn’t get drawn into the conversations and activity of other participants during mealtimes.  However I chose to eat in the main area along with my wife who was not in silence, but was attending her first retreat of this kind.

The majority of the retreat was spent either in meditation, yoga or attending various lectures or activities.  Though this entire time though, we were silent.  No comments to one another about the weather, the food or any of life’s usually trivialities.  It was very interesting to notice my mind during this experience as the urge to speak would arise, (usually out of some conditioned response) and be held in check by my commitment to remain silent.  I was initially surprised by how often the desire to speak would come up, but after a few hours had passed those urges became less pronounced and less desperate and demanding.   I can’t speak for the other participants, but after a while it felt as if I slipped into a “silence groove” that started to feel more and more familiar.  Similar to breaking in a pair of new shoes – in the beginning it’s awkward and uncomfortable, but as time passes, the shoes (or silence) begins to feel like home.

During this time some interesting insights began to reveal themselves to me.  Nothing otherworldly or ‘far out’ as you might expect; but rather a simple, down to earth and common sense understanding of myself, humanity, communication, ego, attention, stillness and spirit.  Here in brief are the lessons I learned.

1.  We talk too much.  That’s right – as individuals, as groups of people, as a race, we just talk much too much.  Now don’t get me wrong, human communication has been and continues to be a vital and important part of our culture, society, growth, development, and evolution.   However, what I noticed as I spent this time in silence was that much of our normal speech consists of mindless filler, rather than quality communication.  Not unlike the empty calories from a light beer, we regularly engage in conversations that seem to focus on trivialities, stating or restating the obvious or providing narration and running commentary on life’s events.  We seem compelled to fill the space with, as Eckhart Tolle says, “one damn thing after another” in hopes of avoiding a dreaded lull in the conversation.  You might know people like this as I do, who would rather fill the air with genuine nonsense rather than accept the natural stillness that provides a refreshing counterpoint between words and sentences.

Even worse than mindless verbal dumping is however, the negative use of speech to pollute the environment or willfully harm others.   In his amazing book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz challenges us to live the first agreement and Be Impeccable with the Word.  Being impeccable with the word means we choose our words consciously, speaking positively, seeking to uplift others, to speak with compassion, kindness and peace.  The opposite of impeccability is gossip, hurtful speech, cynicism, and chronic negativity.   Ultimately, our words have power to create or destroy and we should choose them with care.

But to return to my main point, in talking more than is necessary we water down the quality of what we have to say; the ratio of meaning to words spoken becomes terribly imbalanced.  I’m not saying that everything we say has to be a deep thought or a powerful and transformational insight, however in practicing mindful speech we can raise the level of our conversation substantially.  That mindfulness also helps us recognize when silence is the best answer.  As a relatively introverted person, I find that I would rather speak only when needed rather than just out of a conventional need to talk.  Before I move on to my next point I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu:

“He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know.”

This quote has frequently served as a reminder that in matters of spoken communication less can indeed be more.

2.  We talk about ourselves…a lot.  This one hit much closer to home than I wanted to admit, but once I dug a little deeper into it, I saw just how powerful and liberating this insight was.  When you talk, how much of that talk is about yourself?  If you’re honest, you’ll probably find that much of your conversation is used to glorify and validate the ego.  I was once given some valuable advice about conversations that sheds light on this notion: If you want a conversation to be about another person, ask lots of questions; if you want it to be about you, don’t.  But before we beat ourselves up over this, it’s important to realize that this is all the ego knows how to do.  It wants attention.  It wants approval and validation.  So it’s only natural that it will try to steer the conversation back towards itself whenever the chance arises.  Subtly or overt, the ego finds ways to say “Hey, look at me, I’m here; I’m special.”

As I spent more time in silence, I could feel my ego becoming increasingly irritable.  After all, if I wasn’t talking, then how would it get the attention it craved?  It’s at times like this that you discover just how slippery the ego is, because as the silence deepened, my ego tried to use sneaky, ninja-like non-verbal tactics to get the attention of others.  Some were successful, some weren’t; but what I came away with was a deep appreciation for how desperate the small self is for attention and approval.  Normally, when we are engaged in our daily lives, that external activity overshadows the ego’s game plan, but in silence that strategy stands out with more clarity.  It doesn’t mean that we are always successful in slaying the thousand header dragon as Carlos Castaneda calls it, but through the awareness of what‘s really going on we gain the power to tell the ego to sit down and shut up for a while.  It’s not as if we dissolve or destroy the ego, just tame it; and time in silence can be a great obedience school.

3.  Silence deepens our ability to observe the world.  In our daily lives most of us are inundated with activity, distractions, and attention grabbing situations and concerns.  No matter what we’re doing, there is always something going on, something to pull us away from our true state of ever present witnessing awareness.  In prolonged silence though, things get very quiet.  This may seem incredibly obvious, but the silence I’m talking about isn’t just the decreased external activity experienced during a meditation retreat.  Rather, I’m referring to the mental state of spaciousness that comes about as the intellect and ego take a time out.  To refer to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle once again, the whole process is about what could be called “Space Consciousness”.  In other words, through silence, you create a more intimate relationship with that space, because it feels as if there is so much more of it.  This is just the opposite of the way we normally function in the world.  It’s as if we have a big beautiful room that we keep filling with furniture.  We keep adding more and more to the room until there isn’t even space for us to move, and in doing so the room becomes unusable.

But through silence, the thought furniture is hauled away of its own accord and we are able to just be in the space.  That space, the witnessing self and true nature of who we are becomes the background of all our activity.  The result of which is that we experience a heightened state of observation or witnessing.  At times during the retreat it felt as if all there was for me to do was watch – watch others, nature, my own behavior and thoughts.  With the mental clutter in my mind temporarily abated, I found myself listening more deeply, witnessing more, and being more present.  Less caught up in the drama, I could just watch it without judgment.  If I had to use a word to describe this experience I would choose ‘Moksha”, a Sanskrit word that means “liberation”.  In this type of liberation, we truly are free to be in the present moment.  No longer tormented by the illusions of the past or future, we can truly live in the eternal Now.

4.  In silence we experience a shift in awareness.   What do I mean by a shift in awareness?  In simple terms, it means a change in perception.  We’re all used to looking at the world in a unique, specific and conditioned manner.  What we don’t often realize is that there are other perspectives, other states of awareness beyond what we’ve come to expect as normal.

According to Vedanta, the world’s oldest living spiritual philosophy, there are 7 states of awareness, but only the first three – deep sleep, dreaming, and waking are obvious to most people.  To use video game language, the remaining four states could be considered “Level -ups” into a completely new way of looking at the world.   Each changing state of consciousness has its own unique biology, perceptions, knowledge, and reality.  Extended time in silence helps to clear the lenses of perception and allow for a shift into higher states and a more expanded sense of self.

Spending that time in silence, I began to experience a reality in which I felt a deep connection with others without ever having spoken to them.  The communication was both subtle and profound and was I imagine a result of the decreased mental static that we were all experiencing.  In that stillness, we could communicate soul to soul, rather than mind to mind or ego to ego.  This is the true goal of Yoga and meditation; the union between mind, body, spirit, and environment.  The more time I spent in silence, the more I felt the boundaries between myself and others beginning to dissolve, even if just temporarily.  This was truly an amazing feeling, something not easily captured by words, but real and tangible nonetheless.  Although this experience became less pronounced following the retreat, it served to validate the deepest truths of Yoga and Vedanta – that there is ultimately only one reality and through the practices of Yoga, Meditation, and Silence, we can have direct experience of that reality and know it as our true nature.

5.  I didn’t want the silence to end.  As the last day of silence wound to a close, I found myself not wanting to return to speaking.  I think my reluctance to talk stemmed from how much I had enjoyed the time in stillness, but there was also a side of me that wanted to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment for having made it through those three days.  In fact, I wanted it to last longer.   Silence had become an intimate friend and I wanted to stay wrapped up in it for as long as I could.  But with this desire to remain in stillness came one last insight – perhaps my desire to prolong my silence was just another way for my ego to draw attention to itself in a game of spiritual one-upmanship.  How important and special would my ego feel knowing it out-silenced everybody else?  Hmmm.  Sneaky bugger, the ego.

Regardless, the following day I began speaking again.  Softly, mindfully, and I hope, with more awareness than before.  I admit it was a little disappointing to begin talking.  It initially felt crude and clumsy compared to the second attention I had experienced during those three days, but as time wore on I was soon back to normal conversation as if nothing had happened.   I knew though, that the experience had changed me.  Profound silence of this kind touches everyone in a slightly different way, but we are all transformed to the very core of our being when we embrace the stillness within.   This was an amazing experience; one that I’ll never forget; one that will continue to provide insight and understanding for a long time to come.

Namaste,

-Adam

It’s been a little over a week since I attended the 2013 Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association East Coast Retreat in Boca Raton Florida. It was a four day martial arts seminar that consisted of Special Ops Kali, Military JKD, Collapsible Baton, Pepper Spray, and Simunation Reality Based Handgun instruction. An amazing learning opportunity, this program was without a doubt one of the best and most comprehensive martial arts training seminars I have ever attended. In this post I want to describe and recap my experience for the benefit of those who couldn’t attend, but to also reabsorb the wealth of information and knowledge I received during those few short (albeit very intense) days. Here goes…

The retreat officially began on Friday morning at 8:00 am. I had unfortunately not been able to attend Sifu Singh’s Tia Chi class the evening before, nonetheless, I was excited to begin training with my fellow members of the Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association. I had been on a hiatus from my JKD training for the last few years, but after attending the Action Strength certification in October of 2012, I realized just how much I had been missing my JKD roots and was eager to jump back into training. That morning we hit the ground running with Sgt. John Riddle, a 28 year veteran police officer with the West Palm Beach Police Department and Instructor at Progressive Self Defense Systems. John’s program consisted of instruction in use of both the Collapsible Baton and Pepper Spray. The majority of the day was spent working with the baton – types of batons, how to carry, deploy, strike and defend; striking targets, and baton retention. Drilling through multiple carry positions, opening techniques and strikes, we laid down the neuromuscular pathways that would help us to use the baton under pressure. I think we all had our eyes opened to the unmistakable effectiveness of this powerful impact weapon. It’s small, concealable, easy to deploy, highly functional, and a great tool to add to any self defense tool bag.

After dinner we returned to learn about all the subtleties and applications of pepper spray as a self defense option. The discussion covered all the details of pepper spray usage: the active ingredient (oleoresin capsicum), the physical and psychological effects of use, different delivery systems, spray patterns and carry positions. We also explored the Tactical “L” as a pattern of movement to integrate during the deployment of the spray. We were then able to drill our deployment using training canisters against John’s BOB training dummies, ensuring accurate targeting and spray patterns. Finally, to close out the night, John gave us the option of experiencing the effects of pepper spray firsthand. As I had no backup driver back to my hotel and the effects could take 45 minutes to an hour to wear off, I had to pass on this opportunity. However, one member of our group chose to get sprayed (thanks JB, for taking one for the team). In the end, I came away with a deep appreciation for the simple and direct effectiveness of this tool. As a force multiplier, pepper spray is a highly beneficial weapon that can be carried by women and men alike and is not to be underestimated.

Through all this, I can’t speak highly enough of John’s instruction. The thoroughness of these two courses, the detail of the information, plus his years of experience made for a very educational and entertaining learning experience. Not only did we get the technical knowledge, but we also received a unique perspective into situational awareness, the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act), law enforcement, and the legal implications of using either of these tools to defend ourselves. John was the consummate professional who could both instruct from a theoretical perspective and demonstrate his skill forged through real life experience. I felt as if no stone was left unturned as his knowledge as a teacher was largely unparalleled to any instruction I have received in the past. I’m sure that my fellow classmates would agree that no one could have been more deserving of Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame’s Instructor of the Year award. Thanks John, for setting the bar so high.

With one day and two courses down, we returned Saturday morning to dig into the meat of Special Ops Kali with Sifu Singh. We began with a few Action Strength ground flows to warm us up and center our breathing. Singh then began to detail out the theoretical framework for our JKD weapons curriculum. Building from the ground up, Singh broke out the self-preservation strategy (defang the snake), elaborated on the self-perfection training drills used to hone our attributes, and listed out the specific aspects of the weapons game such as footwork, zoning, weapons ranges, and striking angles. Once the theory was laid down, it was time to drill; Largo Mano, Numerada, Sumbrada, and light sparring – we trained through each drill and slowly began to merge them together one by one into a flow. By the time our lunch break rolled around, we were all ready for a breather, but it didn’t last long, for as soon as we returned it was back to training, but this time with the blade. Hubud and the U Drill were integrated into the matrix; meeting the force, passing the force, riding the force; all were drilled repeatedly until we were able to merge the knife and stick together. As Saturday afternoon wound to a close, Singh called out the drills while we transitioned from one partner to the next, sampling the energy of our fellow students. I found this to be an amazing exercise as 1) I had to manage my breathing during what turned out to be a 30-40 minute round of continuous drilling and sparring, and 2) with so much external activity and the drills being called out, it provided a unique opportunity for some profound mental stillness. I realized that there was not time for the ego to take over when a stick or knife was coming at me, I had to just BE in the moment. It was all great stuff and my mind was reeling…but there were still two more days to go.

Sunday morning began with more Action Strength but Singh wasted no time in moving us into the Military JKD applications. The theoretical map of the art continued to grow as we were introduced to the fundamental JKD concepts of primary and secondary attacks, the 5 ways of attack, the 3 phases of a fight; interception and destructions, the straight blast, and JKD trapping. Each principle was integrated out of a moving platform of footwork, the straight lead and Pak Sao; continually moving us closer to sparring with each drill. Returning to the theory once again, Singh explained the various possible reactions to the blast and how to counter each one. More drills, more experience, more sweat.

Sifu Singh also explored the emotional dimension of the fight in great detail, looping back to the importance of breath control and how through a deeper understanding of the emotional and mental aspects of a fight we can learn to use our minds rather than be used by them, resulting in panic and defeat. Wrapping up the theory, Singh elaborated on the arts we could draw from for finishing/follow up arts and techniques. Broken down into three levels, each group of techniques offered us multiple options along a practical use of force continuum.

Not one to let us get stuck in our heads for too long however, Singh ordered us to suit up with our gear and prepare for one last round of drills and sparring. This final round was the culmination of all we had worked on: Single Stick, Knife, Espada Y Daga, Eye Jabs, Jeet Teks, Straight Blasts, Trapping and more. Weaving drills together with sparring, we switched partners and ran through it once again. When it was all over, soaked in sweat, Singh guided us through a breathing exercise to help slow down our mental activity after the high level of training intensity we had experienced.

By the end of the day I was exhausted, but more than satisfied with everything I had learned. I was especially fascinated by the map Sifu Singh had used to develop a sound theoretical framework for understanding JKD. As many of us know, while Jeet Kune Do is an incredible art that’s both highly effective and great fun to train in, the intellectual understanding of the art is not without its challenges. Singh’s background allows him to look at Bruce Lee’s theories and art through the eyes of a computer programmer and translate the ‘program’ into a tangible and workable outline for training and evolution in the martial arts. Coupled with his skill as an athlete and martial artist, Singh’s teaching ability places him firmly on the cutting edge of the martial arts frontier. He led an amazing program that was evenly paced, highly informative, fun and physically demanding. I look forward to my next opportunity to train with him and his highly skilled senior instructors, all of whom treated each of us like family throughout the entire weekend.

For most of us, the retreat ended Sunday evening after we received our certificates of completion along with a few well earned promotions for some of the JKDAA Instructors. But for four of us, we still had one more day of training to go…

Despite the fatigue I felt throughout my body I was still highly anticipating the final day of the retreat with John, who would lead us through a Simunation Reality Based Handgun Training Course. Far more than firing at paper targets in a shooting range, the Simunation program involved active combat shooting drills and situational training to prepare the student for an actual high-stress handgun scenario. The Simunation system utilizes paint marking cartridges fired at 430 feet per second which, when coupled with appropriate body protection allows trainees to fire at living, moving targets in realistic situations.

The Simunation classes are small, so the four of us received some incredibly personal instruction from John in handgun basics, drawing, clearing misfires, and active shooting drills. With each exercise we integrated the previous skill until we were able to fire on command, move, reload, and resume firing under various conditions. We were then introduced to the steps for clearing and searching rooms and buildings. John’s school features a ‘shoot house’ – a fabricated set of rooms, hallways, and functioning doors that allowed us to practice our movements and techniques in the most realistic setting possible. Each of us had the opportunity to make our way through individual rooms and doorways, buttonhook around tight turns, and crisscross an entry while working with a partner. The training was both insightful and practical, giving us real world tools and techniques that are used by law enforcement agencies under actual life or death situations.

The culmination of our training was live scenario training in which each of us, suited up in protective gear and armed with fully loaded Simunation handguns had to defend ourselves against potentially armed and dangerous attackers. We each experienced two scenarios, one solo, the other as a team. In both cases adrenaline was running high as we tried to anticipate where an attack might come from and how best to respond, both tactically, legally, and ethically. To make matters worse, prior to the team scenario, John had us sprint roughly 100 feet to further amp up our emotional content. For those of us waiting outside to participate, the sounds of gunshots and yelling added yet another level of realism to the experience.

When it was all over, we were each debriefed on the scenarios and the choices we made. We also heard from the attackers and John who offered additional insights into our performance. Overall, it was an incredible experience, one that I won’t soon forget. In fact, I’m looking forward to taking the next level of Simunation training with John in the future, as I’m convinced this type of training provides the knowledge and practical experience that can save your life or that of your loved ones under pressure.

So there you have it. At the end of this long and action packed retreat, I can say without hesitation, that the 2013 JKD Athletic Association East Coast retreat was an amazing martial arts training opportunity. From the quality of instruction to the specific curriculum, to the camaraderie of everyone participating, the entirety of the event was truly outstanding. For those of you who might be interested in expanding your training, or those who might be looking to test the waters of the martial arts in a reality-based training program, I can’t recommend this course and those offered by the JKD Athletic Association highly enough. I also can’t express my gratitude enough to all those who assisted me with my training – John, Singh, Brian, Gavin, Clay, Bev, JB, Kyle, Darrell, Vicki, Leigh, Kirk, Liz, Cat, Francisco and Anshu. You guys are the best. See you soon!

The discussion that follows came about after a link I posted on FaceBook sparked an interesting debate between an old college friend and myself. The link was about what’s known as the Maharishi Effect, a little known phenomenon in which the effects of large groups of meditators practicing a specific technique together can supposedly impact the population at large, even those who aren’t meditating. This is claimed to be due to the nature of the field of consciousness and how energetic ripples can spread out from from a point of higher concentration and spill over into the larger environment. If this sounds like something out of science fiction, you’d probably be right, however, large scale scientific studies seem to have confirmed this effect.

The conversation my friend and I shared hovered around the validity of these claims, the scientific method, and the nature of the world we live in. After reading it through, it seemed like a conversation worth sharing. So out of courtesy I removed my friend’s name from the transcript (we’ll call him Frank), but the rest is pretty much word for word. I hope you like it.

It went something like this:
Adam Brady shared Spirit Science and Metaphysics’s photo.

Yes, yes, and yes! (My emphasis)

Did you know that group meditation has a measurable impact on the behavior of the world around you? A great example of this is the Maharishi Effect, where in 1978 a group of 7000 individuals meditating on thoughts of love and peace were able to radiate loving energy energy which reduced global crime rates, violence, and casualties during the times of their meditation over the course of 3 weeks by an average of 16%. Suicide rates and automobile accidents also were reduced with all variables accounted for. In fact, there was a 72% reduction in terrorist during the times at which this group was meditation. Almost 50 studies have been done further confirming the benefits of global meditation and it’s direct impact on everything in the world, even so far as to have the results published in the Journal of Crime and Justice in 1981. We know meditation has endless health and psychological benefits, but it is now being explored by politics and sociology because of its undeniable energetic impact. Everything is energy, including your thoughts. These thoughts have a radiant quality that ripple through the consciousness field and energetically effect all things around you. If you want to change the state of society, it starts right now by finding peace and love within yourself.

“I think the claim can be plausibly made that the potential impact of this research exceeds that of any other ongoing social or psychological research program. It has survived a broader array of statistical tests than most research in the field of conflict resolution. This work and the theory that informs it deserve the most serious consideration by academics and policy makers alike.” — David Edwards Ph.D., Professor of Government, University of Texas at Austin

http://maharishi-programmes.globalgoodnews.com/maharishi-effect/

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10683169608409775

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J076v36n01_12


<Frank> No doubt that meditation can be useful personally, but not upon other subjects in the manner claimed by the article.
<Adam Brady> Frank, I’m going to have to differ with you on this one. The TM organization has been running experiments on the effects of group meditation for over 40 years with hundreds of published research and articles demonstrating that the Maharishi Effect spills out into the collective consciousness of a given population. You can find the studies to back up the claims at TM.org, or in books such as Victory Before War or Permanent Peace. Not only that, I can attest to my own experiences in large group meditations as being something that appears to have far reaching effects. I know it runs contrary to modern, conventional science, but I truly believe there’s something more going on than just relaxation.
<Frank> I don’t differ with your sincerity, Adam! But is there any credible outside peer-reviewed evidence? I doubt it. Same goes for remote prayer — there’s no physical mechanism. I don’t have anything against TM per se, just unrealistic claims about what it can achieve. (That goes for a lot of things!) I’m sure you can “feel” some effect, but I just suggest caution about what is perception and what is objectively measurable.

No disagreement, I hope, that more people acting thoughtfully and positively makes for a better world! I don’t doubt that group meditation helps the participants to do just that. Shouldn’t that be enough to claim?
<Adam Brady> Frank – have no fear, I didn’t think you we’re questioning my sincerity. However, I do want to address the points you make here.

Most importantly, while I appreciate the benefits and advancements we have enjoyed thanks to the scientific method and a rational materialistic worldview, I find it to be far from complete when attempting to explain the true nature of reality, especially in light of how consciousness factors in to the overall picture.

In regards to the lack of peer reviewed evidence for the Maharishi Effect, Remote Prayer, Remote Viewing, Non-Local healing/intentionality, and other similar phenomena, that lack of evidence really depends on when you choose to look. Currently, hosts of physicians, physicists, engineers, researchers and organizations such as the institute of Heartmath, and the Institute of Noetic Sciences (to name just a few) are aligned with this paradigm and their work supports the same overall conclusions that the TM folks arrive at. Most of these individuals or groups aren’t well known because they are underfunded, marginalized, and sit on what is considered the fringes of science due to a deeply entrenched materialistic worldview that patently denies any experience that falls outside the boundaries of conventional science and experience. Furthermore, from a scientific standpoint, ‘measuring the immeasurable’ is not a field that most scientists are eager to explore, in fact, many in the scientific community regard the serious study of the Hard Problem of consciousness to be a dangerous and potentially career killing move.

If the scientific establishment denies the plausibility of group meditation influencing society on the whole, it’s not surprising that getting another group to take interest in replicating large scale experiments such as what the TM group has been doing since the ’70s is unlikely, especially when confirmation of their findings has the potential to upturn the whole apple cart of established belief. Ideas like this one are hard to swallow because they mean a complete reframing of how we think the world works, and are generally met with rigid opposition. I’m not saying its a conspiracy, but old ideas can be hard to change, especially when it calls for a paradigm shift. If you remember, not so long ago, in light of the Newtonian worldview, physicists felt certain there was nothing more to learn, until of course, this whole quantum mechanics thing showed up and turned the whole scientific community on its head.

Further, I can’t accept that just because something hasn’t been objectively proven means that it’s ultimately not possible, period, end of sentence; only that we currently lack the necessary tools and or mental framework to understand what may be happening. No, there may not be a physical mechanism for these types of things, or at least not in the sense that we can readily detect, but does that mean nothing’s happening, or that it’s not real, or does it simply mean that our tools (and our minds) have limits?

While I agree that subjective perception doesn’t necessarily reflect objective truth, that doesn’t mean those perceptions aren’t valid and should automatically be dismissed. This is the very reason the TM folks do the research they do. They practice their technique, have certain experiences subjectively and then ask, ‘what are the measurable, objective markers associated with those subjective experiences in regards to blood pressure, heart rate, brainwave coherence, levels of blood lactate, or neurotransmitter levels in the meditator?’ Once they had repeatable results, they then looked at what those effects might be in the surrounding environment, based upon the predicted field effect of a consciousness – based model of reality. So, ruling out the subjective perceptions can sometimes be like throwing out the baby with the bath water; they may not have ultimate scientific validity, but they can often be an indirect tool to help get you there.

And just so you know, while I posted this link because I believe in the value of group meditation to influence the world at large, I’m not a TMer nor am I associated with the TM Organization in any way. However, I have been practicing meditation for over 16 years as well as studying meditation and consciousness in an effort to deepen my understanding of how the practices of meditation and yoga can do what they do. In that study, I have come to appreciate the work the TM organization has done to deepen our understanding of meditation, consciousness, and transformation. I would love to see outside groups replicate their experiments and results, but for the reasons mentioned above, I don’t think that’s likely anytime soon, so in the meantime, they have the largest collection of data on the effects of meditation and in many ways serve as the benchmark to compare against.

You ask if helping people live thoughtfully and positively isn’t enough to claim from meditation. Perhaps it would be if those were the only benefits, but even aside for the debated Maharishi Effect, the list of benefits that come from meditating (alone or in a group) could easily fill several volumes. As a meditation teacher, to not share those benefits with others, I believe is a grave disservice to the practice.

In the final analysis, there’s no doubt that a healthy dose of skepticism is beneficial to any field of study, but at the end of the day, the difference between a seeker and a skeptic is that one explores the unknown and validates it through his own experience, while the other sits back and claims “that’s not possible.” As a seeker, I have chosen to explore my life with an open, yet skeptical mind to seek the sources of my own ignorance. In doing so, I have tried to follow the teachings of the Buddha when he said:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

This is where I fall back on the validity of my own experience. I’ve had experiences that support my belief that this stuff is real. Can I prove to you or my meditation students that the Maharishi Effect is real? No, I can’t. I can only teach them what I’ve learned and encourage them to have their own experiences to either validate or disprove the idea. To me, that’s what it means to be a scientist of yourself and to use your life as the laboratory.
<Frank> Thanks for the thoughtful response. I don’t disagree at all with any personal benefits from meditation or the ability to measure response in blood pressure, etc. of an individual. I read an article (in Smithsonian, I think) recently about Aung San Suu Kyi and how deep meditation helped her get through her long isolation and not get overcome with anger. Quite inspiring, really, to the point that I’d be interested in trying it some time. (You’re the man for that!)

Yes, scientific tools are imperfect, and there will always be unknowns. Yes, there is always (as it should be!) a certain amount of resistance to radical ideas. (Just look at plate tectonics, for example, which we take for granted now, but was a radical idea just 50 years ago.) And yes, scientists are human, too, and have their own nutty fringes. I don’t subscribe to the extreme “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist,” but a hypothesis without any supporting evidence (theoretical or measurable) is still just a hypothesis (take string theory, for example). In the case of remote prayer, however, there was actually a properly conducted study recently (can’t find it offhand) that found no statistically significant effect on hospital patient outcomes. ESP, psychic awareness, etc. have not stood up to careful study. It’s hard to justify funding to properly test more of the same.

Whatever the individual effects and benefits of meditation are, to extrapolate to an effect on others (who are not aware of the activity), is a huge leap to be rightly regarded (in my opinion) with some skepticism. It’s fine for the TM’ers to believe it, but I don’t like to see them trying to get public monetary support for “fighting crime” without good *independent* evidence — that’s what raises the big red flags for me (and why I felt compelled to make a comment). You wouldn’t trust a pharma company’s claims for a drug and buy their product if it didn’t have some measure of independent FDA review. (Although too many people believe the claims of “natural” herbal medicines that fall outside of FDA review, even Steve Jobs.) That kind of self-serving promotion is what turns me off of the TM organization, though not necessarily the practice itself. I’m totally fine with your own promotion of personal benefits, which I agree are real. All I’m saying is to be careful extrapolating beyond that.

Good conversation, Adam!
<Adam Brady> I definitely hear what you’re saying Frank. All good points you make and I agree that we should be cautious when public funds are involved. The self serving promotion you mention is a turn off for me as well, however as I said earlier, the TM folks have run the most rigorous and robust studies on meditation to date (in no small part due to an enormous budget), so I feel somewhat obligated to as Bruce Lee would say, “Absorb what is useful, Reject what is useless…” I know some former TMers who tell me the organization is a cult, a very well meaning cult, but still a cult. So, to the discriminating mind, (which I like to think I have) I’ll take what I like and leave the rest.

As for the Maharishi Effect and other fringe-dwelling ideas, I hope the future will give us that independent, peer reviewed validation that will bring it out of obscure “woo-woo” circles and into the world for serious consideration. In the meantime, I still share the idea with my students and let them take it or leave it.

Thanks for the great discussion Frank. I appreciate an intellectual sparring match as it helps me to better articulate my beliefs and encourages me to deepen my understanding of other perspectives. You da man!

Signing off on 2012

January 1, 2013

While I don’t usually write a synopsis or “Year in Review” for the 365 days that have passed since the last New Year, I think there’s some value in reflecting on the major milestones that marked the potential turning points my life has taken in 2012.  When I consider each of these choices or experiences, I realize that without them, my life could be very different than where I find it now had I made a different choice or missed a given opportunity.  Therefore, the emotion that I find most appropriate on this New Year’s Eve 2012 is gratitude.  Would I call 2012 a perfect year for me?  No, but what year could ever live up to that expectation?  A year is far more than a sum total of days or experiences. To use a somewhat overused phrase, “It is what it is.”  The value of a calendar year is a subjective experience.  It’s an interpretation based upon who we are as individuals and how the passage of time relates to our personal dreams, hopes, expectations, or fears.  We give meaning to each year as it goes by; without us, a year would be empty pages on a calendar.

With this in mind, I choose to look at this past year in appreciation for those whose lives have touched mine, for those whose lives I’ve been able to touch, and for those experiences and people that helped make me a better person. Some of the more memorable moments include: the loss of Chopra Center Co-Founder and Medical Director Dr. David Simon, who will always be remembered as an amazing teacher, gentle soul, and lighthearted kindred spirit to his beloved Hafiz; attendance at the Chopra Center’s final SynchroDestiny course in February which sparked some amazing coincidences, the effects of which are still being felt to this day; becoming a certified Hardstyle Kettlebell Instructor thanks to some great instruction by Franz Snideman; seeing the successful launch of an after work meditation class that to date has helped introduce over 100 WDW Cast Members to the transformative effect of a meditation practice; teaching 3 Primordial Sound Meditation Classes and sharing the practice with several friends such as Laura and John Giancarlo and Christopher Gayle; having the pleasure of completing 3 years of teaching Yoga to my students at the Orlando DRC; re-launching my website with help from my good friend, Andres Handschy; beginning to train in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu with my wife Dana; also cheering for Dana as she continued her amateur running career and successfully completing her 11th half marathon; getting to spend quality time with my family over the summer as my brother Matt and I helped my parents lighten their load of archival toys and relics from their attic in Pennsylvania; experiencing the unparalleled beauty and magnificent cuisine of France for 2 weeks with Dana; attending an Action Strength Certification course in Boca Raton with Harinder Singh Sabharwal and tapping into a new understanding of functional strength training and JKD; getting to hang for several days with longtime buddy and soul brother Marc Pfeifer; witnessing the turbulence and anxiety of one of the most divisive presidential campaigns I can remember; sharing a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family at my brother’s home; watching with interest as the world didn’t end on December 21*; and spending the Christmas Holidays with Dana’s family in chilly Philadelphia.

For each of these experiences, I am grateful.  Even for those experiences that might be perceived as negative or upsetting (some unlisted here), I choose to be grateful. Each person, each opportunity has been metabolized into who I am.  This is true for each of us.  No matter what 2012 has been like for us, it’s imperative not to lose sight of the fact that the circumstances of our lives are not as important as how we respond to those circumstances.  Life is what we make it.  Knowing that, reflect back on this past year and recognize that while what happened may not have been your choosing, the meaning you give it will rest with you alone.

                An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves. – Bill Vaughn

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I close out this interesting, amazing, challenging, thoughtful, sometimes painful, uncertain, and always transformative year with heartfelt thanks to my family, friends, students, and teachers who have helped me grow and inspired me to keep going.

May 2013 bless the world with infinite peace, harmony, laughter & love.

Namaste,

-Adam

* Just for the sake of argument, I’m not one who thought the world might self-apocalypse at the end of the Mayan 5124 year cycle.  I do, however believe that December 21, 2012 does mark the end of one world age and the beginning of another; one hopefully that is heralded by a shift in our global consciousness for the better.  Ritam…