How to Escape the Trap of Self-Importance

Are you more important than other people?

Sure, in your own world you are king.

But everybody has their own spheres of influence.

Let’s suppose you act as if yours is more important than theirs.

How would that affect your relationship with them?

A Very Common Pitfall

Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and emperor of Rome (A.D. 161–180), talks about this in his Meditations:

 “From Alexander the Platonist: Not to be constantly telling people (or writing them) that I’m too busy, unless I really am. Similarly, not to be always ducking my responsibilities to the people around me because of ‘pressing business.'” – Meditations, I.12

Self importance is a common and dangerous psychological trap.

A Question of Habit

We can all get a little carried away with ourselves, and tend to think we are more important than we are.

This can work against!

If we place the concerns of other people as second priority, they can place our business as second priority, in return.

Clearly, no man is an island.

But there is so much more to avoiding the pitfalls of becoming self-important:

  • Self importance has many nuances. Most of them are not blatant and direct. They often take the form of subtle tactics to keep people away, and to place what is important to us ahead of what is important to them.
  • Self importance is a habit. We practice it. We develop a certain way of working with other people, and we adopt that as our norm.
  • Self-importance can be overcome by changing habits. We can willfully try to accommodate others, and make their concerns our own. The more we practice that, the more of a habit becomes.

An Especially Important Message for People with Wealth

Many people who have achieved wealth think they are more important than other people.

They think that money makes the man.

They forget all the “little people” who helped them get to where they are.

Ironically, this can mark the beginning of the end, because as people feel alienated from them, they will no longer want to do business with them.

Have You Developed Good Habits?

Each one of us is important in our own way.

We each have a circle of people who depend on us, and upon whom we depend.

Our contribution to them is important.

And their contribution to us is important.

And so it is important to live our life showing that we understand this.

And that takes practice.

What do you think? Have you developed the habit of showing other people that they are important, too?

 

Want to learn more?
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How to Show Gratitude Through Acts of Benevolence

What makes people brave?

How can heroes perform mighty feats?

Why do people stand up to evil?

They all tap into extraordinary power – power that helps them help others. Even save others.

It’s called gratitude.

Gratitude Can Save Lives

Sir Nicholas Winton organized the rescue and passage to Britain of about 669 mostly Jewish Czechoslovakian children destined for the Nazi death camps before World War II, in an operation known as the Czech Kindertransport.

Here is a video of a tribute to him that will bring tears to your eyes within 20 seconds.

Sir Nicholas was in a position to make a tremendous difference in the lives of many people.

And he did so – at great personal risk.

And what do you think fueled his exceptional bravery?

I am willing to bet it was gratitude.

Gratitude Leads to Benevolence

When we show gratitude, we show the world that we do not take for granted our good fortune.

We communicate that the good things in life that happen to us are tremendous gifts.

We show that we feel especially privileged to benefit from such gifts, and that they are to be shared.

This recognition keeps us humble, and so we can see the needs of others less fortunate.

It is not just a question, however, of saying, “”It’s good to be grateful,” or “Look for opportunities to show gratitude every chance you get.”

Here’s what else you need to know:

  • Sir Winston must have felt tremendous gratitude for his lot in life. That was the source of his outstanding benevolence towards others – especially children in dire need. It was also the source of his tremendous strength. Even people who have status and power must be strong enough to stand up to evil.
  • When people of power do the right thing, lives can literally be saved. They have the means and connections to give hundreds and thousands of people a second chance at life. It is especially important for them to do so when governments and armies are committed to the destruction of others.
  • It is too easy to hide your eyes and not take action. People can kid themselves into thinking that their status and position will save them. But that is squandering the good fortune they’ve experienced in achieving that status and position. To not help others is really to express ingratitude for the power you have. It must be used to benefit others.

Power to do Good

Times of war and great evil are exceptional. For so many people, life is in the balance.

In more normal times, however, the same ideas hold.

People who achieve wealth and power – the world class – are positioned to do tremendous good.

Their money, their connections, and most importantly their benevolent attitude can improve the quality of life for multitudes of people.

This benevolence is a pure expression of the gratitude they feel for their good fortune.

The Joy of Sharing the Gift

Everything we achieve in life is a gift.

The real joy in receiving that gift lies in sharing that gift.

When we feel gratitude for what we have, sharing it comes naturally.

Our acts of benevolence demonstrate the gratitude we feel.

In certain times, these acts of benevolence can literally save lives.

In other times, they can certainly help many people.

What do you think? Do you truly feel grateful for what you have? Is it easy to share?

 

Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.

How to Get Connected to Your World

What brings out the best in you?

A good outfit, so you are lookin’ good? Sure.

A good man, or are a good woman, who stands by you? No doubt.

A good job, so you can do your best work? That could certainly do it.

How about a mission – to bring out the best in everybody?! Now you’re talking.

A Great Mission Can Bring Out YOUR Greatness

This is exactly what Will Allen and his Growing Power organization are doing for people.

But it’s greatness in a humble way. In a connected way.

Through urban farming:

We all need to be part of something that can change our lives for the better.

We Each Have a Yearning to be Connected

We all know that growing your own food is healthier and cheaper than buying it. That is a given.

But Will is teaching us so much more!

  • Urban farming can feed people on a large scale. Growing Power feeds 10,000 people. This is not simply a little family farm.
  • People grow personally through self-reliance. If it is up to you, you must get out of bed and get it done. The farming life requires you to persevere through trial and tribulation.
  • A connectedness to the earth is spiritually uplifting. Handling fertile soil calms you down. It also gives you faith and trust that good things can happen.

Are You Financially Self-Reliant?

People need to take financial responsibility for their financial position in life.

It is easy to blame outside forces such as the economy, the market, and your stockbroker for bad things that happen.

True, there are external influences that present you with favorable or unfavorable circumstances.

But at the end of the day it is up to you to make lemonade out of lemons.

You Can be the Big Person

We always tell ourselves to be the big man or woman.

To do the right thing even though other people are not.

Certain activities can help us become that big person.

Urban farming is one of them.

The hands-on approach is a great way to get our food. It is also a great way to manage our money.

To be connected to our world.

Do you feel connected to your world? What can you do to get more connected?

 

Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.

How to be Centered, Strong, and Supple

Are you too strong?

Too set in your ways?

Or perhaps, are you too flexible?

Maybe too yielding?

No worries.

You can be strong yet supple.

You just have to find the middle road.

Where is Your Center?

Marcus Aurelius strives for the middle ground in his Meditations:

“From Apollonius: Independence and unvarying reliability, and to pay attention to nothing, no matter how fleetingly, except the logos. And to be the same in all circumstances – intense pain, the loss of a child, chronic illness. And to see clearly, from his example, that a man can show both strength and flexibility… His patience in teaching. And to have seen someone who clearly viewed his expertise and ability as a teacher as the humblest of virtues… And to have learned how to accept favors from friends without losing your self-respect or appearing ungrateful.” – Meditations, I.8

Here you see the importance of being strong yet supple.

Of remaining centered.

On the one hand, you need to take can a stand and stick to your values.

By the same token, you can’t be rigid because you always have something to learn.

And, even strong people need help sometimes. They shouldn’t be too proud to accept it.

Staying Calm Amidst the Storm

People often say, “keep your eye on the prize and you won’t fail.”

And, “that which does not bend, breaks.”

All true. But what else do we need to know?

  • Integrity lies in consistency. There are good times, and bad times; times of joy, and times of sorrow. If we can take each one in stride, we won’t get carried away with extreme emotions.
  • We have much to offer our friends. We can be anchors for them amidst the raging storms of life. We have learned much from experience, and can help them get through the same experiences.
  • We also need our friends. They may have learned things we need to know. Friendship is a give-and-take with both parties complementing the strengths and weaknesses of the other.

A Centered Approach to Finance

Financial management is a lifelong process.

And we don’t finally just “get it.”

There is always more to learn as the field changes, and as our life circumstances change.

We need to stay the course, yet redirect as needed.

How to Chart Your Own Course

Life in general – and the world of finance in particular – contain many ups and downs.

If you can stay calm and centered, you can still chart the course that is right for you.

What about you? Are you able to stay strong, yet remain supple?

 

Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.

Are You the Last of the Big-Time Spenders?

Could you spend $1 billion?

Seriously.

Let’s assume you have it in your pocket right now.

(Feels good, doesn’t it? Kind of bulky. But we’ll take care of that…)

Oh, and here are the rules:

Can’t donate it, and can’t invest it.

You have to spend it.

Takes some really big dreaming, doesn’t it?

Are You Ready for the Challenge?

LaTisha Styles has issued this exact challenge on Youngfinances.com.

“”My fiancé…argued that no one could easily spend one billion dollars without wasting money.
I disagreed, stating that I could spend one billion dollars easily.
So he came up with a challenge.
HOW WOULD I SPEND ONE BILLION DOLLARS?
The challenge is this. Spend one billion dollars. Every single cent.
The conditions: I have to spend it on myself. No donating, no buying investments, none of that. I mean, if I made one billion dollars the first time, starting from zero, I could certainly make it again.
Donald Trump is living proof. He has been bankrupt and earned it all back and more.
Richard Pryor’s character in the movie Brewster’s Millions faced a similar challenge. He had to spend a $30 million inheritance in 30 days.
Faced with this challenge, someone who has never had that much money would find it difficult to figure out how to spend it.
I disagree. I think I could spend one billion.
Once I started looking for ways to spend one billion dollars, I realized that I had to dream big. Really big.””

For sure, to make big money – and to spend big money – you have to think big about money.

Here’s the secret:

Our definition of ourselves, and what is possible for us, limits what we achieve in life.

If we think we can handle $1 billion, odds are we will get it.

Do You Have What It Takes?

Conventional wisdom says, “You achieve wealth and success by visualizing the end results.”

True. But there is more to it than that.

To really make it big, a few other items need to fall in place:

  • Anybody can give be successful. Age, experience, and resources, can either be liabilities or assets, depending on your outlook. Success takes good ideas that can solve people’s problems, and the determination to stick with them.
  • You can’t take it with you. You can certainly spend a boatload of money on fancy toys. However, there will always be a fancier toy to buy next year. Why chase the glitter when the glitter doesn’t last?
  • The best pleasures lie in helping others. Can you imagine having the money to rebuild an entire town after a hurricane or flood strikes? How about setting up a food kitchen to feed the homeless people in an entire city for a year? Or maybe approaching some Third World dictator and literally ransoming 100,000 people to freedom?

Are You Ready to do Good?

In the final analysis, wealth and success are not hard to achieve.

They take doing the right things, for the right amount of time, and in the right way.

The key is making yourself worthy of that wealth and success.

For when they come to you, you need to be prepared to do good things with them.

Are you ready for your success? What will you do when you get it?

 

Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.

Is Your Compassion Practical?

cmas12_BV_daveism_compassionDo you feel bad about the people suffering around the world?

Of course you do.

But what can you do about it?

Give some money? Give a little time?

How about inventing something that can literally improve the lives of thousands?

COMPASSION could and should be practical.

These young entrepreneurs think so.

They have found a way to equip poor people with shoes for five years at a time! Check out this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2zEQE6udPg

We all reach points in our lives when we need help from others.

It would be great to have simple, effective, and cheap solutions available in a pinch.

DESIRE to help others = change!

You know what? Contrary to popular belief, these advances in technology ARE NOT driven chiefly by intellectual curiosity.

It is the excitement of making a difference in peoples lives that drives people to solve the world’s problems.

The folks at The Shoe That Grows are a great example.

Here’s what we can learn:

  • It was the compassion for children who had no shoes that drove this technical innovation. It was not simply a case of some mad scientist retreating into his lab for days at a time. The desire to help people in need, and make a difference in peoples lives, drove the research.
  • Thinking out of the box – putting aside our basic assumptions about the world – can lead to wonderfully efficient and effective solutions to our problems. When our kids grow, we simply go out and buy them new shoes, right? Whoever thought of a shoe that could grow when the foot grows?! You have to suspend your beliefs about what is a shoe to come up with that!
  • If we put our minds to it, and if we collaborate with people whose talents and skills complement our own, we can each do small things that nonetheless can change the world in a big way. Who do you think could help more people over time: big governments with big money and big bureaucrats – and big institutions like the United Nations – or small charitable, entrepreneurial, groups with a hands-on approach to problem-solving?

Put MONEY in the right hands.

It ultimately takes money to make dreams come true.

When products like this come long that can make a real impact on peoples lives, the market needs to take over and get them to where they are needed.

Wouldn’t you love to allocate some of your assets to businesses like this that can make a difference?

If we want to make our compassion practical, we have to put our money where our heart is.

PRACTICAL COMPASSION can be exciting!

Some of us are entrepreneurs, some of us are inventors, some of us are investors, and some of us are givers.

We each have a way to make a difference in the lives of people that need help.

The important thing is DOING IT because believe it or not, the reality of people’s lives can be changed.

And when you do that, life can get very, very exciting.

Are you excited? What are you doing to make a difference in the lives of people that need help? What can you do?

 

Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.

Keep It Simple, Simon

dreamstime_xs_10800677Did you know that you can have a super-amount of stuff, but still lead a simple life?

That you can have a multitude of accounts and businesses and assets, yet still not feel overburdened?

That you can even be at the hub of a network of thousands of connections – even tens of thousands – and yet still not feel pulled in every which direction?

Of course you can. Why?

Because the complexity of life – or lack thereof – is all in your head. It truly is.

Mother DOES Know Best.

So says Marcus Aurelius, one of our main guides in practical philosophy. Here is a quote on this topic from his Meditations:

“From my mother: Her reverence for the divine, her generosity, her inability not only to do wrong but even to conceive of doing it. And the simple way she lived – not in the least like the rich.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations I.3

There you have it: simplicity can lead to generosity and doing good.

And the payoff for such a life is: FREEDOM.

Feeling FREE!

Clean mind = clean hands. That is what it comes down to.

Everybody thinks that the “good life” is comprised of externals: the toys, the status, the achievements.

Nope. That stuff binds you down unless mentally you have risen above it all and take it for what it is: just stuff.

And so you remain free of it. You use it, but it doesn’t not use you.

Consider the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius

  • All good comes from the divine. What else is really worthy of our reverence? With feelings of reverence we can really – I mean really and truly – see the good in our lives. And feel obligated to do good ourselves. Pay it back.
  • Doing good comes from thinking good. People grow “from the inside out,” (like a plant!) If you don’t think bad thoughts, how can you do bad things? All our actions are fertilized in the mind. Where else would they grow?
  • Living simply can help you appreciate what you have. You know you don’t NEED that much. And even the stuff you WANT doesn’t add up to all that much, does it? So when you have MORE you can really appreciate it because you are already content. You know it is extra.

MORE for good.

So what do you do when you have more? You share it.

You become a giving, generous, helpful, do-gooder.

You give of your time and money.

(And you also buy a lot of life insurance to benefit your favorite charity, because that is a great way to leverage your dollars for future generations.)

FREEDOM is a state of mind.

You can have it all.

And you can share it.

And do great things with it – be a real cause for good.

You just have to keep your head above it all.

Do you feel free? Or are you stuck in all your stuff? Is it time to simplify thinsg in your mind?

 

Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.

Think Big, Stand Tall, Get Rich

YOU can be a mover.

A shaker.

A creator.

Especially if you are young.

Even if you have no money or family connections.

Despite what all the naysayers tell you.

And you can start it NOW.

You just need to be excited.

Can you hear the beat of your own drum?

Artist and Activist Henry Rollins helps us hear our own inner calling with this short and sweet video:

You know what the bottom line is here?

Very simply:

YOUR life is what YOU make of it!

Life is an “equal opportunity employer” when it comes to chances to be great.

No one has an edge.

We can each be a mover, shaker, or creator – in our own way! 

Generate your own excitement!

Everybody knows that “You can do whatever you set your mind to.”

And, “Don’t let anyone kill your dream.”

Sure, but let’s take a look at what that all means:

  • You are who you are because of who you come, not because of what you have. You know that, right? How many people do you know – or have heard about – that have a ton of stuff, but are bad apples?
  • We must each accept what we have and make the best of it.  We have what we have. Some people have more than you, and some have less. Whatever we have is our starting point. We take it from there.
  • A strong moral compass and sense of civic duty are key to getting the most out of yourself, and out of life.  It’s more than just thinking big – it’s thinking big and also tall. Big in the sense that you go for it – be all you can be. Tall in the sense that you stand tall and be able to look at yourself in the mirror each day of your journey.

People who think rich, get rich.

You can see how this all applies to the world of money.

Even people who start with nothing can become rich!

How many rags-to-riches stories have you heard?

Do you think these men and women sat around grumbling about what they didn’t have?!

No WAY!  They made the most of what they had. And so could you!

Turning lemons into lemonade.

There is always going to be somebody who has more money than you, and someone who has less.

Better connections than you, and also worse than you.

Attended a better school, and also a worse school.

None of it matters.

You have been given enough to run with. Nobody will make the most of it for you.

Only you can.

You just need to be excited about the prospects..

What excites you?

 

Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.

A Good Man

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-son-helping-his-father-image23409287It takes a man to make a man.

I know, I know.

Some people believe it takes a village to raise a child.

Others go with two moms, or two dads.

And how about single moms?

Or when grandma raises the kids?

There is room for a whole diversity of opinion, right?

Let’s start with the idea that boys need their dads.

Marcus Aurelius thinks so.

The idea of manliness

Here is what this great philosopher says about the topic in his Meditations:

“My father (from my own memories and his reputation) – integrity and manliness.”

You know why this idea resonates with me?

Because the world needs men who are men.

Not in the macho sense, but in the sense of people who will take charge, protect others, and be courageous.

Whom to admire?

Being a man is not just about being tough and strong.

Far from it.

Being a man means:

  • Being good. Having clear values and being guided by them. Taking a stand. Saying “No!” when you must.
  • Doing the right thing. Developing a good reputation. Learning from your experience. Honoring your teachers – especially your parents.
  • Doing good for others. Taking charge. Protecting the weak. Giving people courage.

Manliness as a legacy

Yep. The big, hairy brute is not the epitome of manliness. The strong, caring man is, however.

This is very true with regards to money.

In the world of finance, the man steps up and buys the life insurance he needs to protect his family, even when he is not around to provide for them.

That is a supreme act of love and caring.  The real man provides for his family from the grave, you might say.

The path to goodness

The fact of the matter is that the great men of history have come from all types of families.

Many, in fact, were orphans.

Some achieved their greatness because of their childhood circumstances; others, in spite of them.

But they all did good in some way.

What do you think it takes to make a good man?

 

Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.

You, Too, Could Move a Mountain With a Chisel

When you think of doing the impossible, what comes to mind?

Getting your dream job? Finding your soulmate? Solving world hunger?

How about moving a mountain with handtools?

It has been done. By one man.

It took him a number of years, but in doing so he greatly improved the lives of his family and village.

And you know what? You could do the same kind of thing. If you wanted to.

It Takes Devotion

Dashrath Manjhi, a laborer from Bihar, wanted his people to have access to doctors, schools, and jobs.

Armed with only a hammer, chisel, and crowbar, he carved a road through the 300-foot mountain that isolated his village from the nearest town.

He did the impossible:

(If you are viewing this in an email, click here to watch the video on Youtube).

One word comes to mind when I view this: devotion.

When you are 100% devoted, you can do the ”impossible.”

You – Yes YOU – Can Make a Difference

Contrary to popular belief, one lone person can make a tremendous difference in people’s lives.

How, you ask? Well, let’s boil it down:

  • Dashrath showed us that by using even simple tools, people can literally move mountains. When there is a will, there is a way. Some of the greatest feats in the history of humanity have been accomplished by people who “rose to the occasion.” Can you think of some?
  • Dedicating yourself to helping others is key to rising above your own limitations. Dashrath was moved to help his wife get to the village. And others as well. You can be sure when the going got rough, he thought of them and became inspired.
  • You can have a permanent impact on the lives of those who come after you. Think about how many generations of people will now benefit from Dashrath’s digging. The quality of life of his great-great-great grandchildren will be higher because of what he did. And note that in the video, they still talk about him as if he is alive, in a way. He has a living legacy.

Financial Devotion

Guess what?

This has everything to do with buying life insurance.

When you purchase a policy, you are devoting yourself to the welfare of others.

With this devotion, you can find a way to fund the policy.

And so you will leave a legacy of caring – and inspire others to in turn become devoted to their loved ones.

What Mountain Will You Move?

We are each facing a mountain that prevents us from getting what we need in life. From what those we love need in life.

Sure, we can climb it. But it would still be there to impede others.

Better we should move it so all can proceed safely.

What mountain must you move?

 

Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.

The “New” Normal

Are your kids “normal?”

I hope not.

Being “normal” (i.e like everyone else) is really not most important to kids (or for that matter, to adults).

Being accepted for who they are – especially their differences – is key.

How do you know?

Just ask the handicapped children using 3D arms from the Collective Project.

Being ALL They Can Be

Check out this short video about the 3D printing techonology of this cutting-edge group:

This wonderful medical technology is helping these kids people realize their potential even with severe physical handicaps.

They used to be the kids on the outside – ostrasized and alienated. Now they are COOL,

There is Hope for Everyone

Big surprise, right?

Here we thought that kids just want to be like everyone else.

Well, if  you do not have an arm, then you won’t ever be like everyone else.

…So then what?

Well – you can still be YOU with the help of technology like this.

There are some big takeaways here:

  • People want to express themselves in their own way. Technology can help them do that.
  • Technology can be an artistic medium! 3D printing technology in particular can help people “be” themselves with joy and exuberance.
  • The scientific and political communities can be very benevolent. The folks at the Collective Project are trying to make these 3D arms available for handicapped children at no cost to the parents.

Let Them Be

It is so hard to let our children be themselves, especially when they have handicaps.

We always want to mold them in our image.

Am I right?

How do you keep yourself from trying to mold the kids under your care, in your own image?

 

Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.

“Who Do You Think You Are?”

D’var Torah for the Shloshim of Leon Kobrin, Aryeh Leib ben Chaim
8 Adar 5773 / February 18, 2013

My Father’s teachings

My father preached the importance of a number of principles related to the “self.”  One of these was “Know Thyself”.  As a matter of explanation, he provided this model:

“If I know you better than you know yourself, then I win.”
“If you know me better than I know myself, then you win.”

Clearly he focused on who you are with regards to someone else.  It is less clear to me that he identified with the larger picture, such as where one stands in the universe – in the grand scheme of things.  He did, however, stress another precept with possible metaphysical overtones:  “Be pure in thought”.  I am going to now work with these themes and wrestle a bit with the question of “Who do you think you are?”

This question has enormous appeal to me because it can be broken down into fascinating component parts.  There is the “You” who is doing the thinking; there is the thinking itself; and then there is the “you” who is the object of the thinking.  What can we learn about these parts that will give us insight into how we humans form and use identities?

Stopping thinking

To begin, we will focus on thinking.  People like to think a lot, to use their minds.  What, though, would happen if we stopped thinking?  This is an unusual approach for learning about thinking, so we will call upon an unusual learning methodology.

I recently completed a martial arts training exercise that explored the state of being called Mushin.  As described in my training guide, Mushin is a level of consciousness in which you “go with the flow and let ‘it’ happen“.  This means you are focused completely in the present with no regard for the past or the future.  You are “calm and centered, and your reactions are spontaneous and creative.” (1)

Mushin affects how you see your world. The world slows down because your perception of time has changed.  You are completely in the moment to the exclusion of everything else.  As the guide continues, “In Mushin, we‘re surrendering to the consciousness of no-mind.  The chatter ceases and only the moment matters.  We are no longer there, except as part of the universe.  And so the universe is moving through us, with us.” (2)

This idea is not as esoteric as it sounds.  Professional athletes have coined terms such as “being in the zone” and “flowing” to describe their experience of this state.  Musicians get “swept up in the music and make no claim it is their own”. (3)  Painters get “inspired” and “moved from within”.  Poets, writers, and many other artists have stated the same.  Inventors and engineers have related how ideas and solutions ”just came to them”.  Extremely fearful situations, such as losing control of your car and facing an immanent crash, can put you right in the moment.  As a matter of fact, most people you know will probably report feeling like this at some point in their lives.

I am certainly not an expert in Mushin, but I do believe that I have experienced this state a number of times, in small ways.  It has occurred now and then throughout my athletic career.  I have felt the flow while long-distance running.  I have been in the zone while playing ball.  As a writer, there have been occasions when my essays seemed to have written themselves:  I would wake up with the words streaming out of me.  In some high stress situations of everyday life, such as medical emergencies among friends and family members, and even streetfights as a kid, I have been totally consumed by what was happening at the moment.  (Interestingly, the more I learn about martial arts, the more I see that a truly effective practitioner is one who can “stop thinking” and let his training take over in a combat situation).

My recent Mushin exercise helped me further understand what it means to “be here, now”.  It involved simply eating a bowl of popcorn, kernel by kernel, with no distractions or outside thoughts.  It allowed me to engage with what I was doing.  All too often, people treat their lives as an abstraction, especially when they eat.  If someone was to ask “What are you doing?” when you are at your dining-room table, the answer would typically be “having dinner” or “grabbing a bite”.  During my training, my answer would have been “I am eating popcorn”.  Just  that.

If someone was to then ask me, “Who are you?”,  I would have simply said “I am the guy eating popcorn.”  Depending on how engaged I was, I might even have said, “I am the popcorn.”  If I was really deep into the experience, I could have dropped the “I” in my response and just said “eating popcorn”.  When you are concerned about nothing but what you are doing at the time, the “who” that is doing stuff, and the “what” you are doing, tend to merge.

Very interesting:  you don’t always have to “be somebody”.  You can just do what you are doing and not worry so much about who is doing it.  There is a time and place for everything, and that includes thinking.  Yet, here is something remarkable and ironic:  the “no-mind” character of Mushin is achieved through a very active use of the mind, through concentration!

Concentration

“Concentration… is the ability to absorb oneself mentally, physically and emotionally in a specific moment.  In that moment there may be an experience, feeling or thought that takes place. …this effortless state seems to demand a prepared and disciplined mind…you have to truly just be.  You have to wait and be. The essence of Mushin lies in the breath.  The breath and the mind are inseparable… as your breathing slows, your mind slows, and you’re able to touch that state of no-mind…” (4) (We will discuss the role played by breath further in this paper).

So, you really have to “think hard” in order to be able to “not think at all!” Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan – a noted physicist and religious scholar – talks about this very point in his book, “Jewish Mediation”.  Here he provides a vivid description of what appears to me to be the same form of consciousness-raising concentration that is used to promote Mushin:

“Anyone who has ever worked on a difficult problem, especially in mathematics or the sciences, knows that at a certain point the mind seems to ‘lock on’ to the problem.  At that point, solving the problem becomes the most important thing in the world, and every fiber of one’s being is concentrated on finding a solution.”
“I use the term ‘locking on’ since this is the subjective feeling that one has in the kind of problem-solving that I am describing.  When one is locked on to a problem, there is a tremendous, almost sensual joy in solving it.  It is possible to go without food and sleep, to dismiss all fatigue, until the problem is solved.  Beyond this, it appears that one can call forth intellectual resources of which one is usually totally unaware.”
“Being locked on to a problem also brings a person into a state of consciousness different from his normal state.  A much greater portion of the mind seems to be involved in solving the problem than in a normal mental state.”

Rabbi Kaplan continues:

“This locked-on state of consciousness appears to be associated with increased physical energy.  The pulse is quicker, and one may perspire profusely.  Sometimes, one even has the experience of trembling with creativity.  It seems that while one is in such a state, the energy that one is utilizing is much greater than normal, and not only is the mind completely involved in the creative effort, but also the body.”

He sees the locked-on “hot” mode of thought (his words) as a companion to what he calls a relaxed, “cool” mode of thought, which he portrays this way:

“There appears to be … another type of problem-solving consciousness.  The first time I became aware of it was when, in the course of Kabbalistic research, I was trying to figure out the properties of a five-dimensional hypercube.  The problem was extremely difficult (and) I had spent several afternoons sweating over (it) without coming even close to a solution.”
“Then, one evening, I was relaxing in the bathtub, and my mind wandered to the problem, almost off-handedly.  Suddenly, every aspect of the problem seemed perfectly clear…”
“Eventually, I began to realize that this was happening to me often…  but the experience was very different from being locked on to a problem.  Quite to the contrary, the mind was free to wander wherever it wanted, but it seemed to hit upon the answers with surprising clarity.” (5) 

It seems to me that Rabbi Kaplan is here describing Mushin.  He seems to have attained a state of “no-mind” that had been achieved through a very active use of the mind.  In doing so, he tapped into a “greater portion” of his mind than normal.
The prospect of tapping into a “greater portion” of mind is intriguing. What is meant by it?

Enter Psychocybernetics

This question has been expertly addressed by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, the father of what is now called Positive Psychology.  He founded the field of Psycho-Cybernetics and popularized the role of self-image in human development and functioning. First, here is his overall perspective:

1) The brain and nervous system work as a goal-striving servo-mechanism that is directed by the mind.

2) If the mind gives it directions for success, then success is achieved.  If it delivers instructions for failure, then failure is achieved.

3) The directions given are based on your self-image.

4) Our self-image is produced through the programming we take on in our lives.  This programming is produced through a combination of three influences: the dictates of authoritative sources; intense personal experiences; and repetitive messages.

5) If your self-image accurately reflects your real limits and capabilities, then you function at your potential.  If your self-image either short-changes or exaggerates your capabilities, then your potential is either under- or over- utilized.

6) Growth in life can only occur from “the inside out, not the outside in”, meaning that the self-image must first be altered before life changes can occur.

7) Within each of us is a life instinct that is biased towards health and happiness.  That is, in essence, our “natural” state. (6)

Amazingly, Dr. Maltz references two modes of thinking, just as were presented by Rabbi Kaplan, and by the description of Mushin in my training guide:

“Servo-mechanisms are divided into two general types: (1) where the target, goal, or “answer” is known and the objective is to reach it or accomplish it; (2) where the target or “answer” is not known and the objective is to discover or locate it. The human brain and nervous system operate both ways.”

He uses the act of picking up a pencil as an example of the first mode. The first time you had to do so, you went through a process of trial and error until the procedure for successfully doing so had been formulated.  That procedure then became remembered for future use, and is duplicated on future efforts. Your conscious thought then just has to select the goal –  your desire to have the pencil – and your brain/nervous system servo-mechanism will activate the response needed to achieve the goal. (7).

Recalling a name temporarily forgotten is an example of the second type of servo-mechanism.  A “scanner” in your brain roams through your stored memories until the correct name is recognized. (8)

One mode of thinking here is active, and the other passive (just as in the examples from our other sources!), and both are automatic.  Dr. Maltz points out that the word cybernetics comes from the Greek word meaning literally “the steersman”.  Servo-mechanisms are so constructed that they automatically “steer” their way to a goal, target or answer.  Depending on the “marching orders” given it by the self–image, the servo-mechanism will produce either success or failure for you, with regards to your natural instinct for health and happiness. (9)

A greater mind

Now, here is where Dr. Maltz sees a “greater mind” in operation.  He asks, “Are you connected to an infinite storehouse of ideas, knowledge and power?”(10).  He reports that many have claimed that the answer to this question is “yes”, and cites these examples:

1) “Many great thinkers of all ages have believed that a human being’s ‘stored information’ is not limited to personal memories of past experiences and learned facts.  ‘There is one mind common to all individual men’ said (poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo) Emerson, who compared our individual minds to the inlets in an ocean of universal mind.”
2) “Thomas Edison believed that he got some of his ideas from a source outside himself.  Once, when complimented for a creative idea, he disclaimed credit, saying that ‘ideas are in the air’, and if he had not discovered it, someone else would have.”
3) “The famous composer Schubert is said to have told a friend that his own creative process consisted of ‘remembering a melody’ that neither he nor anyone else had ever thought of before.” (11)

Let’s assume that we do, indeed, pool our thoughts with others.  The contents of our own minds are borrowed by other people, and we borrow from theirs.  Does that mean our identities – the people we imagine ourselves to be, the “who” part of the “who do you think you are” equation – are shared as well?

The soul

To probe this question, we will call upon Biblical scholar Ethan Dor Shav.  In his illuminating essay, “Soul of Fire:  A Theory of Biblical Man”, he shows how the Tenakh – the Hebrew Bible – contains a very sophisticated conception of the soul and “afterlife.”  This cosmology portrays humans with four main components that are conjoined to the four main spheres of heaven and earth.  They are etzem/basar (body) with earth; nefesh with water; ruah with wind; and neshama with fire.  It is the ruah-soul (pronounced ROO-akh) that will help us understand the “spiritual” interconnectedness of people.

In his study of Biblical texts, Ethan emphasizes understanding the meaning of words in context.  Here is what he has gleaned from Tenakh about ruah:

1) Ruah is shared by all breathing animals (Psalms 104.30; Ecclesiastes 3:19; Genesis 7:15). (Nowhere in the 389 references to ruah in the Hebrew and Aramaic scriptures is the term ascribed to a non-breathing creature). Humans are therefore connected to all higher animals.
2) Higher animals are distinguished by the notion of “social self” that accounts for social relationships and inter-subjective dealings.
3) The Bible stresses sensitivity to these relations.  For example, the decree “You shall not kill a mother and its young on the same day” reflects mother-child empathy. (Leviticus 22:28)
4) The social nature of ruah is expressed in a number of Biblical scenes, including the “ruah of jealousy” (Numbers 5:14), the “ruah of rejection” (Isaiah 54:6), the “ruah of in-law tensions” (Genesis 26:35), the “ruah of political conspiracy” (Judges 9:23), and the “ruah of treachery” (Malachi 2:16).
5) Ruah can also express the highest social ideals:  the “ruah of wisdom and understanding”, the “ruah of counsel and might”, and the “ruah of knowledge and Fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:4)
6) Ruah can be transferred.  It passed from Moses to the seventy elders (Numbers 11:25), and Elisha pleaded of Elijah for a double-portion of his ruah. (II Kings 2:9).
7) “Ruah is passed on… to people with whom one has interacted closely.  A father and mother, in particular, give children not only of their body’s genes (as biological parents), but also of their spirit (as relational parents).  This… explains the circling nature of the Biblical Wind”. (Genesis 1.2).
8) “Ruah can affect large groups.  It can be felt sweeping over a sport stadium, soaring in music, or infecting a mob. In these situations, the power of ruah may run both ways – from a ruah-infused leader to the masses, or vice versa, from the cumulative spirit of the group to the leader.”

Ethan states that,

“A creature with an individual social persona can become self-aware.  As anyone who has practiced meditation knows, awareness and consciousness are connected to breath.  So when people control their breathing, they can increase their self-awareness.” (12)

Ethan is arguing that the ruah of society grants each individual a social persona, on top of his or her organic and animal selves. (These are described in his studies on etzem/basar and nefesh).   He also claims that we can become aware of the self we have been given, by controlling our breath and meditating, for example.  The question for me is this: in being so “enlightened”, so much higher in consciousness, how should that affect our perception of ourselves?

Here is where we look at the “You” who is thinking about yourself.  It gets tricky, but we will try to get an idea of what is meant.

Ethan gives us an answer with his summary description of ruah. He points out that it is never really completely part of man – it is basically a “ruah of the Lord”.  He gives a number of examples of how this is the case.

1) When ruah initially appears in the Torah, it is when God appears in the “ruah of the day” to confront Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3.8).
2) The Torah says it was God who took of the ruah of Moses and gave it to the elders (Numbers 11:25).
3) It was the ‘Ruah of the Lord’ that gave Samson the strength to tear the lion apart (Judges 14:6).  The “added ‘spirit’ was a momentary gift, a burst of bravery, a feeling that he could achieve anything.”
4) With Saul, God gave ruah but also took it away.  Saul’s persona was transformed into a charismatic king with the addition of ruah (I Samuel 10:6), but then it departed from him.
“In ancient Israelite thought,” Ethan concludes, “An individual is possessed by ruah, not vice versa.  Like a social mantel, we assume the air of our ruah during life – rich or poor, husband or wife, meek or brave – but it does not incarnate our inner self.” (13)

From Ethan’s of view, we as a human society partake of the ruah, of the wind-spirit, that God makes available to us. We use it to bind ourselves to one another and act as a unit.  From my understanding, just as an individual can “go with the flow” of the physical activity for which he has prepared, he can also “go with the flow“ of the group activity for which he has been accustomed.  He can “become one” with his social environment just as he can “become one” with his physical environment.  And yet how does he maintain his own special oneness, his own uniqueness?  By remaining self-aware, by staying detached from his thoughts and his emotions. Does he then assume the perspective of the “You” who “thinks about who You are”? That is a topic for our next study.

(1) Martial Arts Fitness Corporation, “Lessons in Mindfulness 2.4” p. 9
(2) Ibid., p. 9
(3) Ibid., p. 15
(4) Ibid., p. 14
(5) Aryeh Kaplan, Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide, (New York, NY: Shocken Books) pp. 28-30
(6) Maxwell Maltz, MD, The New Psycho-Cybernetics, (New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press) pp. 15-30
(7) Ibid., pp. 30-31
(8) Ibid., p. 33
(9) Ibid., p 30
(10) Ibid., p 35
(11) Ibid., pp. 35-36
(12) Ethan Dor Shav,  “Soul of Fire: A Theory of Biblical Man”, Azure Magazine, (Autumn 5766/2005), pp. 90-93
(13) Ibid.,  p. 93

 

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The Persecution Rests

This essay is dedicated to the memory of my father, Leon Kobrin. This week is the first anniversary of his passing. Dad’s dream  was to promote a cruise that would bring people of different races, religions, and nationalities together on the high seas. He called it the “Unity Cruise”.

SK 4 Shevat 5774

A day of rest has been a fixture in both religious and secular societies throughout time. It is an essential part of the lifestyle of Jews, Christians, and Moslems. The Chinese and the Cherokees had rest days. Even the Soviet Union had a state rest day.

In his book “The Sabbath” (1), Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel portrays “rest “ as one of the three integral components of the Sabbath. (The other two are joy and holiness). The word he uses to characterize rest is menuha (pronounced “meh noo KHA”). His understanding of that term can give us a deep insight into what it really means to “be at rest”.

Rabbi Heschel’s analysis focuses on the Biblical verses that record God’s creation of the Sabbath. He compares and contrasts Genesis 2.2 with Exodus 20.11. Here is his question:

What was created on the seventh day?

The words, “On the seventh day God finished his work” (Genesis 2:2) seem to be a puzzle. Is it not said: “He rested on the seventh day”?” “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth” (Exodus 20:11). We would surely expect the Bible to tell us that on the sixth day God finished His work. (2)

Menuha is part of creation.

Here is his answer:

Obviously, the ancient Rabbis concluded, there was an act of creation on the seventh day. Just as heaven and earth were created in six days, menuha was created on the Sabbath.

“After the six days of creation – what did the universe still lack? Menuha. Came the Sabbath, came menuha, and the universe was complete.” (Ref Rashi on Megilla 9A, ref Medrash).

Menuha, which we usually render with “rest”, means here much more than withdrawal from labor and exertion, more than freedom from toil, strain, or activity of any kind. Menuha is not a negative concept, but something real and intrinsically positive. This must have been the view of the ancient rabbis if they believed that it took a special act of creation to bring it into being, that the universe would be incomplete without it.

Menuha is real. We can strive for it.

“What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose.” (Ref Rashi on Genesis 2.2, referencing  the Medrash)

To the Biblical mind menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony. The word with which Job described the state after life he was longing for is derived from the same root as menuha. It is the state wherein man lies still, wherein the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.

Menuha means no more fighting, fear or distrust.

It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust. The essence of good life is menuha. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters” (the waters of menuha).(3)

The problem is persecution.

Fighting, fear and distrust can all be considered forms of persecution. The definition of persecution is “to harass with ill-treatment, especially because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or beliefs; to annoy persistently; to take vengeance upon.” The biblical citations below cast menuha as a respite from such troubles. This is especially true in the references to freedom from God’s wrath. It is our beliefs that lead us to stray. They are therefore the root cause of God’s “vengeance”.

Biblical support for menuha as rest from persecution.

Dev 12.9-11. Moses speech re: how to live in the Land. Am Yisrael can choose the way of safety from its enemies.

2 Samuel 14.15-17. Tranquility for people who are being targeted for “blood vengeance”.

1 Kings 8.56. (preceded by 8.44-53). God’s people delivered from persecution by its enemies.

Tehillim 23.1,2. God protects from enemies and adversaries.

Tehillim 95.11. Rest from God’s wrath.

Job 3:13-16. Death (or never being born!) as a “place” where “the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.”

Ruth 1.9. Women find security in the homes of their husbands.

1 Chronicles 22.9. David charges his son Solomon to build the Temple because he, Solomon, is a man at rest from his enemies.

Menuha in the World to Come. 

Rabbi Heschel makes the point that “in later times, menuha became a synonym for the life in the world to come, for eternal life.” (3)  He cites the “E-l Malei Rachamim” prayer as an example.

For every man and woman to make peace with his Maker is the ultimate goal. Until that time, the menuha that we achieve on Shabbat could only be a temporary respite from our troubles. Once our “rest” day is over, we must go back and deal with the persecution we face. Indeed, many of us must deal with with persecution on the Sabbath day as well.

For some of us it is because of our religion, or our religious denomination. For others, it is due to gender, race, or country of origin. Then again it could be due to financial status or political belief.

Once we remove oppression and persecution from the equation of social interaction, we can all enjoy the long-term rest we seek.

  1. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York, NY: Farar, Strauss and Giroux, 1951). Noted throughout the book.
  2. Ibid., p. 22
  3. Ibid., pp. 22-23
 

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Avraham Avinu as a Martial Artist


The assignment: this month’s activity is to write about a great martial artist. They can come from any style or discipline, an ancient master or a contemporary master. Research his life and art or arts that he has practiced. Include any facts that you feel are interesting or important. Include all you can discover about their personal philosophy and the ways in which they viewed their art and practice beyond physical technique.

I am writing about Avraham Avinu, Abraham, our Father, otherwise known as the Biblical Patriarch Abraham. My knowledge of his life in general, and his martial practice in particular, is drawn from the Bible itself, along with the commentaries of Biblical scholars. Although he is not called a martial artist per se, it is clear from my understanding of martial arts that he was indeed a master.

In traditional martial arts training, the real battle of life is the battle for self-mastery. Only a warrior who is at peace with himself can promote a peaceful resolution of conflict with an opponent, be the confrontation verbal or physical. The martial artist is considered to have seven weapons for engaging the enemy of his own poorly-controlled self in everyday life: concentration, affirmations and visualizations, breathing techniques, meditation, reading inspirational writings, physical practice, and consciously designing your life. (from Lessons in Mindfulness: Supporting the Practice of Serious Martial Artists, Module 1 Lesson 8: Our Deeds Determine Us, p7).

In this paper I will present examples of Biblical texts that can be interpreted to show how Avraham Avinu did indeed employ many of these weapons in his own personal growth struggle and martial leadership. We will start with an account of his role in one of the major battles reported in the Torah, or Bible.

Combat

In the book of Genesis (Bereshit) chapter 14, the Torah describes a dramatic war featuring many armies. Here are the highlights:

The kings of four countries wage war against the kings of five countries in what appears to be a rebellion;

The rebels win and take with them the spoils of war;

These spoils include Lot, the nephew of Avraham, and his possessions;

News of this capture is brought to Avraham, who musters a military campaign to rescue his kinsman;

Avraham prevails and returns with not only Lot but all the spoils as well;

Avraham attempts to return the goods he retrieved to their rightful owner but is given the opportunity by their spokesman to keep them as a reward;

Avraham rebuffs this offer to avoid a becoming indebted to these people, and emphasizes that he serves only God.

Avraham’s martial prowess in this episode is revealed from a variety of vantage points. The text says in Chapter 14 verse 14 that Avraham had a fighting force of 318 trained men at his side. That being the case, they must have had very advanced fighting skills to take on four armies! Since they had to rely on hand-to-hand combat, they must have been superb martial artists. And, the text does emphasize that all the soldiers were trained by Avraham, so he must have been a superior martial arts instructor.

However, Rashi calculates that the figure 318 is actually a symbolic way of referring to Eliezer, Avrahams chief servant. If that was the case, then only two men took on the four armies, and their martial arts skills must have been even greater!

Malbim on this verse, quoting the Rambam in the Guide for the Perplexed 11.38, points out that the man whom the spirit of God envelopes becomes imbued with wise counsel and strength that will sometimes cause him to challenge a great army with courage and fearless strength. He points to other incidents in the Bible in which men exhibited such spiritually-based martial capability.

Looking at the original Rambam text (Friedlander translation page 229), the Rambam states that every man possesses a measure of this courage, but that it increases among those who employ it more frequently (and diminishes among those who use it rarely). From this perspective we can claim that Avraham must have indeed led a life of bravery so that it was second nature for him to stand up for his family even against a multitude of foes.

And, it should be emphasized that this strength was not of the ego but of humility. He could very easily have accepted the spoils he had recaptured, as most victors would have done. Instead, he declined them and pledged his allegiance to God, the Ultimate Source of power. We can see here the virtues of wisdom, benevolence, sincerity and bravery that characterize the true martial arts master, as taught in traditional schools.

Concentration

How did Avraham achieve this mastery? What led him onto this path? In the Mishneh Torah (Avodat Kochavim Chapter 1), the Rambam describes the process through which Avraham became a believer in the One and Only God.

First he tells how people came to believe in false gods. Here is a summary:

In the days of Enosh (grandson of Adam HaRishon, Adam the first man), the wise men of the generation made a grave error of thoughtless counsel (Touger translation page 14). Their error in thinking took this form:

God created the stars and heavenly spheres;

People praise and glorify God;

Therefore, people should praise and glory those who serve Him, namely His creations.

As a result, they constructed temples to the stars and offered sacrifices to them;

False prophets arose and devised symbols to represent these gods so it would be easy for all the common people to engage in this worship;

People then began to believe that these symbols really had the power of creation, and the True Creator was forgotten.

In essence, people lost their mindfulness or consciousness of how God’s creation really works. Thus mindless, they endowed simple wood and stone objects with false powers. One could say that false thinking had led to no thinking, which in turn led to lives based on falsehood.

Thankfully, a man arose to correct peoples thinking: Avraham. The Rambam describes his ascent to the position of “pillar of the world” as follows:

Even as a young child, he thought incessantly about how the world works;

He came on his own to conclusions such as: How is it possible for heavenly sphere to continue to revolve without anyone controlling it?;

He realized then there was One God who controlled the spheres as well as all of creation;

He recognized that the whole world had made a mistake in serving the stars and images, and that they had lost awareness of the truth;

He then began to debate his neighbors to dissuade them from following the wrong path in life.

In essence, Avraham regained – through correct thinking – the mindfulness people had lost through false thinking. By probing deeply with his mind and asserting control over his thoughts, he cast aside beliefs that did not seem true and replaced them with beliefs that more accurately reflected reality. The concentration and thought control that he exhibited are basic martial arts skills. The place of these skills in the career of the artist is described in this training guide:

practice is so much more than just mindless robotic exercises designed to get you into shape. It increases focus and concentration, and helps you to strengthen your body and mind.

High-achieving individuals almost always share certain common characteristics. One of their acute distinctions is the ability to concentrate and focus their minds. They are able to dwell on one idea for extended periods of time without interruption.

Our thoughts hold extreme power.Your future resides in your thoughts from this moment on. Be ultimately aware, giving time and attention only to those thoughts you consciously choose to develop. Change your thoughts and your behaviors will begin to change.

(from Lessons in Mindfulness: Supporting the Practice of Serious Martial Artists, Module 1 Lesson 6: The Power of Thought, pp 4-7).

In correcting his thoughts, Avraham not only transformed his own life, but as we will see later, became a key figure in the elevation of mankind. First, we will examine evidence that shows how Avraham engaged in yet another of the basic martial art skills that actually enabled him to concentrate and establish thought control. That skill is meditation.

Meditation

The centrality of meditation to traditional martial arts is articulated in this training guide:

When people use the term environment, they are usually referring to an external setting or place. Rxternal environments can significantly impact our behavior and our thoughts. (But) most of us don’t realize that we also have an internal environment.

Most people recognize the need for a little self-control. But few of us comprehend the difference between self-control and mastery of the self, which includes control over thoughts and feelings, discipline of the breath, and command over mood and attitudes.

Our internal environment is made up of thoughts, vibration, and consciousness. It is the lens through which we view the world. Our internal environment ultimately determines the degree of happiness we experience over our lifetime. We have the power to master the most difficult part of our practice, the self. To maintain and eventually master the internal environment, learn to monitor thoughts, feelings and emotions.

(from Lessons in Mindfulness: Supporting the Practice of Serious Martial Artists, Module 1 Lesson 11: Mastering Your Internal Environment, pp 4-8).

In his book Meditation and the Bible, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan discusses how the prophets used meditation to achieve their unique states of consciousness. He points to numerous Biblical verses that can be interpreted as referring to meditative states, once the vocabulary is understood. Here are some examples that involve Avraham:

The very first mention of a prophet in the Bible occurs after King Abimelech had attempted to take Sarah away from Abraham, and had been warned by God in a dream not to do so. God then tells Abimelech, Now restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you (Genesis 20.7). There are many forced attempts that try to explain why this verse mentions that Abraham was a prophet, and what effect this would have on his prayer. But if we understand that the main power of a prophet is the ability to channel spiritual energy, the reason is obvious. Through his prayer, Abraham was able to channel such spiritual energy, and it was therefore likely that his prayer would be effective.(p 29)

Phrases (in the Bible) speak of using God’s name as a means of attaining the prophetic state. Some Kabbalists also see the use of God’s name as a method of attaining enlightment. In the case of Abraham, the Bible says that he called in the name of God (Genesis 12.8). This is usually interpreted to mean that he prayed in God’s name, or announced God’s existence to the world, but the Kabbalistc interpretation fits the word more literally. (p 75)

The concept of a prophetic dream and that of a vision are so close to each other that they both can be considered the same. The reason for this is that they both have the same source..

Such a prophetic dream comes through meditation (hitbodedut) involving the mind and consciousness. As a result of the power of this meditation on a subject in the mind, a strong impression is made on the soul. Through this meditation, the soul elevates itself. This is actually the meaning of the word chalom, meaning dream. It comes from the root meaning to strengthen. When one is in a state of preparation through meditation (hitbodedut), he is strengthened through a prophetic dream.

A prophetic vision is also the result of meditation. It is in this manner that one receives a prophetic message, and the words are engraved (chakak) in his heart in a spiritual manner.

After the vision leaves him, he divests himself of the (meditative) form. This is alluded to in the Torah, which says God left when He was finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place (Genesis 18:33). This means that Abraham returned to his prior level, where he was before he had his vision.(pp 90-91)

Rabbi Kaplan points out that Avraham had achieved enlightment, as described by the word Tamim.

According to the Maharal (of Prague, the eminent Kabbalist and mystic Rabbi Judah Low), the number seven refers to the seven days of creation, and hence, this number always denotes the perfection of the physical world. The number eight is the next step, and therefore denotes one step above the physical. Whenever we find the number eight used, it is in reference to something that brings one into the spiritual realm.

The Maharal speaks of the number eight with regard to circumcision, which is always performed when the child is eight days old. Sex involves some of mans deepest emotions and strongest desires. In giving Abraham a covenant related to the sex organ, prescribing it for the eighth day, God indicated that these emotions and desires would henceforth be used for the mystical quest of the Divine on a transcendental level

It is significant to note that before giving Abraham the commandment of circumcision, God told him, Walk before Me and be complete (tamim) (Genesis 17.1)….The word Tamim denotes spiritual completeness, where one can attain the eighth level, above the mundane.

As the renowned exegete, Rabbi Isaac Abarbanel, explains, the word Tamim has the connotation of true enlightment and prophecy, as distinguished from spurious mystical states. (pp 10-141)

As a prophet and master meditator, Avraham transcended his self and thus reached the state of Tamim, or enlightment.

Physical practice

Avraham apparently practiced the Abir Keshet martial art. This system is not mentioned in the Bible specifically, but is alluded to in certain text. Today’s Grand Master of the art, the Aluf Abir, is the holder of a tradition that he dates back to the time of the Patriarchs. Here is a summary of its features (source: www.abir.org)

Abir, as a fighting system of the people of Israel, began with the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham was the son of Terach, the warlord of Nimrod, ruler of the kingdom of Babylon. Abraham taught Abir Keshet, the fighting system from his father, to his son Isaac, who in turn taught his own son, Jacob. Jacob further developed this art and gave a unique form to each of his sons, who later became the twelve tribes of Israel.

The system includes therapeutic use of diet, herbs, oils, extracts, compresses, massage and self-induced change produced through special motivational motions and verbal fortification of one’s positive connection with our innermost built-in positive aspects.

Categories of training include tribal warrior arts utilizing bio-mechanical principles; emulation of the characteristic movements and spirits of the fighting animals who symbolically represent the attributes of specific tribes (of Israel, i.e. Lion tribe of Judah, snake tribe of Dan, etc.); warrior arts using arched limbs (keshet means bow in Hebrew); combat forms based on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet; building connections with the God, people, land and Torah of Israel.

The art emphasizes getting in touch with your central good core, and from that center forging positive relationships with the world around you: your people, your land, your tradition, your God. The extreme importance of this approach to life is clearly seen when considering the state of the world at the time the art was developed.

Affirmations and visualizations

In the passages leading up to the story of the Flood, the Torah characterizes the actions that led to our demise. In Genesis 6.5 it says, “God saw that man’s wickedness on earth was increasing. Every impulse of his innermost thought was only for evil, all day long.” (Kaplan translation). The Hebrew word for evil is rah, and for impulse of his innermost thoughts, the Hebrew is yetzer machshevot lev. Rah is frequently translated as evil, but I think a closer meaning, according to many Biblical contexts, would be injurious or harmful; causing pain, unhappiness or misery. Lev, as pointed out by scholar Ethan Dor Shav (Hebrewwisdom blog), means the location of the mind. The Torah is therefore telling us that at this point in history, people were wholly consumed with thoughts of harming one another.

Then, in Genesis 6.9, 10, the Torah states, “The world was corrupt before God, and the land was filled with crime. God saw the world, and it was corrupted. All flesh had perverted its way on earth.” (Kaplan translation). It is interesting to note that the same Hebrew word sh-cht is used to mean both corruption and perversion. Corruption and perversion of what? The natural social order. How do we know that? Because the Hebrew word for crime here hamas can refer to the underhanded dealings people perpetrate to undermine the social fabric of trust. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch describes it this way in his commentary on this verse:

“by hamas – underhand dealing by cunning, astute dishonesty, craftily keeping within the letter of the law – (society) does go to ruin; by wrongs which human justice cannot reach, but which can only be prevented by self-judging conscientiousness before God. Immorality kills this trait of the human mind, and with its loss the grave of civic well-being is also dug.” A number of commentators (Rashi, Ramban, Hirsch,) point out that physical violence, including robbery and sexual deviance, takes place as well.

In essence, people’s conniving ways had become the norm, and so their inner moral voices became stilled. We had then put ourselves on a path of societal destruction, and that was we got, in the form of the Flood. Only Noah and his family were selected to survive the destruction. Why them? Because through Noah, righteousness could become the norm and humanity could then embark on the path of social growth. The Torah says that Noah, a righteous man, was perfect in his generation (Genesis 9.1). Here is what Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says on this verse: “moral depravity and improbity, moral and social corruption are shown us immediately as the character of the time, in contrast to which Noah was tzadik and tamim. Tzadik against hamas The tzadik looks at everything objectively, at nothing from the standpoint of his own interest, but everything from the point of view of what is right.”

God gave human society a new start after the Flood. On what basis did He believe that we could become a righteous people? The text shows that God perceived our potential to transcend ourselves. Genesis 8.21 portrays God’s regard for us: “God said to Himself, Never again will I curse the soil because of man, for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth. I will never strike down all that I have done.” On this verse Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch maintains that the translation of the Hebrew word nar simply as youth is misleading; it can more deeply be understood as to shake off, and he references other locations in Tenakh in which it means just that (i.e. Judges 16.20). He says that youth are called naarim because it is the time in which young human beings really want to grow out of themselves.

This mode of self-reinvention to transcend the ego and liberate your inner, higher self – is part and parcel of traditional martial arts training. For example, here is what is said about the importance of self-programming:

(Repeating affirmations) is one of the most powerful techniques you can practice, and is similar to visualizations or imagery. Visualizations are like videotape, with pictures and images. Affirmations are like audiotapes, without pictures, only sound.

Learning to listen intently to others will help your relationships, but we also need to listen to our inner dialogue or self-talk. Many of us talk much worse to ourselves than we would allow others to talk to us. These destructive thoughts often sabotage our successes.

You are what you think about. Moods, habits and behaviors are all formed from thoughts. By controlling your thoughts, you control your deeds and take control over your life.(From Lessons in Mindfulness: Supporting the Practice of Serious Martial Artists, Module 1 Lesson 8: Our Deeds Determine Us, pp. 12-13).

In the time leading up to the Flood, people filled their minds with thoughts of malice, and these naturally translated into harmful deeds. They went looking for harm, and they found it until virtually all humanity was led to its death. After the Flood, people would have to look for good, so good things would happen and society could flourish. It was in this circumstance that Abir may have developed, and it was at this time that Avraham was selected to lead people onto the right path.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel asks, “Why and for what purpose was Abraham chosen to become a great and mighty nation, and to be a blessing to all the nations on the earth? In order that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice. (Genesis 18.18,19). Righteousness is foremost among the things God asks of man.”

“This is sublime knowledge, sublime understanding, a new grammar of experience. What we encounter in the world is not neutral, impersonal being what we encounter is full of God’s kindness, justice and righteousness. ..Gods love and kindness indicate a road.”

“Knowledge of God is action toward man, sharing his concern for justice; sympathy in action. The prophet is a man who sees the world with the eyes of God, and in the sight of God even things of beauty or acts of ritual are an abomination when associated with injustice.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel , The Prophets, An Introduction, pp 210-212).

The Torah provides many examples of how Avraham succeed in making his life a vehicle for righteousness:

He made peace with his nephew Lot to alleviate the dispute over land;

He showed kindness to the three strangers who visited him in the hottest part of the day;

He advocated on behalf of the people of Sodom;

His prayers helped heal the women in the house of Abimelekh from God’s decree against them;

He preserved the dignity of his departed family members by securing proper burial arrangements.

With these examples of how Avraham worked on himself, he can be viewed as a true martial arts master and role model for all people.

 

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Real Peace


Asssignment:
Strive to experience real peace for 24 hours. This means no talking and no entertainment, like television, radio and movies. If possible, relax and spend the day in complete solitude with little communication. Limit your activities to thinking, reading (an inspirational, preferably non-fiction book), writing, walking, meditating, or practicing. Be completely aware of everything around you. Notice thoughts and feelings as the day passes. Be watchful and observe yourself.
Do not use the day for work, but better understand the value of peace.

This essay is being written on Saturday night, April 28, after the Jewish Sabbath has ended. I have spent the last 25 hours trying to further appreciate the value of peace.

As I related in the first version of this assignment, the Jewish Sabbath is designed to be a day of peace. I did not work at my job or plan my life. I did not become distracted by electronic media. I did not travel out of my community. I also did not phone or email any of my out-of-town relatives whom I have been helping to deal with major medical and elder-care issues.

On this particular Shabbat I took two additional measures to insure peace. One was that my wife and I did not host friends for meals or visit anyone in their homes. In addition, I did not participate in group prayer services or study groups.

This last item was a major step for me. I am very social and have been part of the Fair Lawn Jewish community for many years. The synagogue is a central meeting place for us. The structure of the prayer service, as handed down through the generations, brings people together for contemplation, petition, praise and many other forms of worship.

At the same time, we have a strong tradition of meditation and consciousness-raising. This activity, called hitbodeduth, was described in the first paper of this assignment. I decided to make that a bigger part of my day. My understanding of it is in development; as a matter of fact, one of the major projects of my life is an attempt to make prayer more meaningful. So the day became a learning opportunity

Customarily, Jews pray three times/day, four times on Shabbat. Since I did not daven with a congregation, I had time for other, more personal matters. One was meditation. I did not feel rushed in my morning practice, so I actually did a “double workout”. Usually I practice it for ten minutes every morning; today I went for two ten-minute sessions. I was not exactly satisfied with my first attempt, so I went for a second. Over the past few months I have started to recognize how truly important meditation is to my martial arts practice – as well as to my life practice – and today was a day to make it more of a fixture in my life.

In addition, I spent more time with affirmations. I have become a big advocate of self-talk as a key to designing myself. I see that we become the messages we tell ourselves. I try to incorporate “reprogramming” myself into my meditation, after the regular session. With pure meditation, we see our thoughts and try to detach ourselves from them. With my self-talk addition, I self-evaluate and “write new scripts” for thoughts that need to be changed. Without a lot of distractions today, I was able to be more sensitive to my reactions to different thoughts, and rewrite them. I would love to be able to maintain that awareness and control even in the midst of a very busy day.

My morning seder, or order of activity, included also breathing and visualization.

Throughout the day, I was able to address some of the larger issues related to prayer by engaging in some serious textual study. One topic of focus was the idea or truth conveyed by different prayers. I try to spend as much time as I can on this as a way of tapping into ancient wisdom. Today, I was able to concentrate on one of my favorite prayers, known as Nishmat.

Here is a translation from the Hebrew of one of its many powerful stanzas:

The limbs You have apportioned for us,
and the spirit and soul that You have breathed into our nostrils,
and the tongue You have set in our mouth,
behold, they will thank, bless, praise, glorify, exalt, revere, sanctify, and proclaim the sovereignty of Your Name, our King.

For every mouth will thank You,
and every tongue will swear allegiance to You,
and every knee will bend to you,
and all that stand up will prostrate themselves before You,
and all hearts will be in awe of You,
and all internal organs and kidneys will sing to Your Name, as it is written,
“All my bones will say, ‘God, who is like You?!”

To me, these phrases are virtually crying out, “Do Chi Kung!” What I hear as commonly called the health benefits, and getting more profound feelings of chi, can be understood in this sense as praises to God. Improving your circulation, and enhancing the functioning of your internal organs, are in a sense ways of thanking God for the life He has given you. Chi Kung as a form of prayer – to me, a very exciting idea.

Unfortunately, most of the Jews I know are not sufficiently educated about the body/mind connection, or on the translation of the liturgy, to take this perspective on our prayer. I am sure other religions have the same problem. The irony is that our prayer service is ready-made for having an uplifting spiritual experience. This day and this study have really brought me in touch with my own dissatisfaction with the current state of prayer.

I reread as well the introduction to one of my favorite siddurim (prayer books): the Metsudah Siddur, compiled by Rabbi Avroham Davis. Here is one of his points that made a lot of sense to me:

“The halacha (Jewish Law) teaches us that man must pray in the same place regularly, for if the body wanders from place to place it will lack tranquility of spirit and be unable to concentrate on the prayer. An intelligent man will certainly infer from this halacha that if while praying the body needs to rest in one place, how much more so his spirit. In truth it is indeed difficult to restrict oneself to a single thought. It is a formidable task requiring a great deal of practice and self-control, but for what was man created if not to strain every fiber and nerve in his body to serve God?”

Well. Talk about the importance of mindfulness, and the need for constant meditation to discipline the mind! Reading this made me all the more eager to engage in physical practice, as that is moving meditation and presents an even stronger challenge to controlling thoughts. I had two good physical practices today.

All in all it was a wonderful day. I have come to the conclusion that hitbodeduth encompasses a wide range of mind/body disciplines: breathing, sitting meditation, affirmations, visualizations, physical practice, as well as the verbal expressions: praise, thanks, blessing etc. What a great discovery.

I feel that the day of peacefulness freed me to concentrate on some very productive learning and growth activities. It was a great idea, and I hope to repeat it.

 

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