Preface: What did being “trapped” at the retreat do for me? The very idea that it was anything other than a retreat colored my perception staining all my thoughts and feelings. Memory and fantasy were shaded and highlighted in ways that seem grotesquely out of focus looking back. My perception of events and the path that led me to that point had to be analyzed through rigorous and correct practice before any understanding, resolution, or growth could be expected.
If you hadn’t guessed already, the two monks and carpenter came to me in the form of books and inspiration. The only way these people would have ever been able to reach me at the retreat. Surprisingly, there were several books that made their way to me with three, in particular, that I most certainly needed to read before my time at the retreat was over.
Thich Nhat Hanh and his book “Anger” were instrumental in bringing me back to the rigorous self analysis that had given me the self honesty I once had but had lost. It’s still a valuable tool in helping to identify my emotions and my reactions to them and how to express them. There is a stack of letters written to all the Angels of my life. I’ve tried to deliver some. Most will likely never make it to the recipient. I’ll hold them all and do what I can to get them into the hands of those that they are addressed to.
The Dalai Lama’s “How to Practice” helped me get back to basics and helped me understand that my practice had run off the rails. I had not been using the energy of mindfulness and the concentrated mind correctly. My moral compass was askew and as such my practice had become worthless to me even though my teachings in class were helpful to students. The success in helping my students and saying the wise things I refused to actually practice had inflated my ego and given fuel to my arrogance. the book also gave me a better understanding and translation of The Heart Sutra” which I had never properly understood or even had a good translation of and as such had never properly communicated it’s meaning to others, especially Angel.
There were dozens of copies of the Holy Bible at the retreat and everyone here wanted to find light and help within its pages. I didn’t look for salvation in it so much as forgiveness. I needed to forgive myself but searched in the book for the will to forgive the people I felt I was a victim of. That false perception of my victim status fell away in the light of truth. I was really only a victim of myself. I think all the victims in this story victimized themselves first and each other second.
This is where perception comes into play. I have seen Rashomon many years ago but never dreamed I’d be deeply embedded in as twisted and fractured a plot as that. So many characters with their own perception of the reality that probably escaped each of us. It’s plainly evident now that the “truth” of any matter is only as clear as your intent when you seek it. I’m still looking closely at my intentions and am careful not to visit that of any others lest I fall into the trap of preconceived notions.
The twenty minute audio recording from August 20th starts with Angel cursing and storming out of whatever room we were in. I had taken to making these recordings not as evidence so much as to have a mirror to show her how important it was to be moderate and get adequate sleep. We were both lost in the clouds you see. I hear myself pleading with her to stop. To sleep. I want to stop the argument and say to her that if she will put her figurative “sticks” down that I will put mine down and we can hopefully stop trying to verbally hurt each other. She likes the idea of sticks and leaves the room.
In the recording I follow and find her holding shinai, a bamboo sword. I pick one up and she begins the attack striking at me over and over while asking if I trust her after she has lied over and over. Each exclaimed question punctuated by the clash of bamboo on bamboo as I parry her blows. I don’t strike back. I’ve had to do this a lot. At least they aren’t steel swords this time.
The attacks sound vicious mainly because of her tone and questioning. Her kiai in actual practice is never so intentional. Angel’s truth and feelings often came with music and pain. Wrapped in sweet smiles and tipped with venom. Her demands for my truth come with blows and viciously veiled insults. I sometimes regretted all the training I gave her. She was already expert at inflicting pain when I met her. Her ex husband could testify to that fact if he dared offend the angels child with his own truth. He was always a coward in her recounts of his behavior. I assumed that’s why he stood so long under her assault of pain but perhaps it was love? I don’t and won’t ever know and luckily my time with her in this state was coming to an end.
I had wanted her to be safe, be able to defend herself and to understand that brute strength and size can be overcome with training. The fighting arts taught to her as an act of love and concern were to be part of my pain as much and that of my Angel. I turn off the recording and copy the file into the google drive I’m sharing with my council. Its frightening and sorrowful all at once and it’s only one of many that are here to be used as ammunition in the coming fight. I look at the sword and violin sitting on the love seat facing me. I feel nothing but sorrow. I don’t want to have these things heard by anyone. My weakness and vulnerability are starkly evident in the recordings and my love for her won’t let allow me to hurt her beyond what’s already been done. Nobody should ever know how terrible we were to each other. I won’t expose her to the world like this. These weapons must never be used. If I must I’ll bare the weight of it all myself. Better this way than to drag it all out and face the pain, shame, and suffering it would cause.
I sit back in my seat on the couch where I had been working all morning and look around the upstairs room I’ve been occupying on the farm. The house is empty, quiet asleep. The sound of the wind and the soft vibration of the space heater sitting on the floor is all I can hear. I’m alone and free. Away from the retreat and the Little city I had tried to bring to light then divide and conquer but still feeling like a prisoner. My emotions and the reactions they stimulate are strong but I’m breathing and doing my best. The Retreat has been over for several days but my mind still struggles with the old habit energies I’ve only recently begun to identify and started to deal with in a correct way. I still have belongings waiting for me in my friends basement but I hate going back to that place. So many reminders of my failure, of my terrible choices. So many who know me and what has been said about me. I’ve been struggling to win against someone who I do not want to fight at all and frankly refuse to. I’ll not drag us both through that hell again. My perceptions and those of my Angel don’t match reality and likely never will. Trotting out witnesses, videos, audio recordings, and message threads will only embarrass and cause needless suffering for us both. Time to take a fall for what I love and stop the bleeding. I pick up the phone.
The retreat is the same day after day. The routine is mind numbing at best enraging at worst. Today though, like everyday has been since my visitors came to call, I have my own routine that allows me some semblance of freedom where there shouldn’t be any. The liberty I’ve found and that grows daily can never be taken away. It is a freedom born of correct action and exploration of the self. They can’t stop me from delving deep within myself. They can’t lock me away from the infinite universes that spin and twist in the depths of my heart and mind birthing new ideas and feelings with each heartbeat.
My first task as a beginner on the path was to recognize a fundamental teaching of Buddhist psychology, that the seeds of all emotions, whether labeled positive or negative, exist within me. Some large and some small but all present and inalienable. I can’t just dig them out and toss them away or shut them in and ignore them any more than I could an upset tummy or sore knee. The first seed I recognized was that of anger. It’s very active since I’ve come to the retreat. It’s a very big seed that I had been struggling with for a long time. These seeds rise into the conscious mind when triggered by the phenomena of our world. With them these seeds bring habit energy that is sometimes very strong motivates us to act. Being unskilled, I had always reacted out of either cultivated habit or the pervasive conditioning given me by my society and environment. These reactions were almost always incorrect and caused a great deal of pain and suffering for myself and those around me. How could I learn to recognize these seeds and their associated habit energy? What could I do to put an end to the damage I do under their influence?
The first monk took time to teach me to breath again and be gentle and compassionate to myself. He said that I should take care of my anger, fear, anxiety, and other feeling in a loving and compassionate way so that their habit energy gets transformed into energy that can help the situation. The concentrated energy of mindfulness would give me this ability and lead to insight. Compassion being a core to the work.
The other monk took me aside and showed me the divisions of the path I had been walking but not paying attention to. These, in the correct order they are to be pursued are: moral discipline, meditation, and wisdom or more specifically, insight into my motivations and those of others. I had been rigorously pursuing a concentrated mind, hoping for insight while working from a foundation of delusion and incorrect perception. No wonder I was lost. I needed to fix my moral compass. It should have been obvious to every one involved that there was something very wrong.
My new morality: Help others who need and want it. When I cannot help others, I must do no harm ever.
Simple and to the point. My individual liberation from the chains of my own suffering was underway and I had been gifted with the time and lack of distraction to begin that process and escape the cyclical existence I had trapped myself in. I started to cultivate a healthy concern for others and set aside my selfishness as I identified it. Turning the self serving and arrogant feelings over and over. Poking and prodding to find my motivation. Hopefully, with time a correct practice I could change my perception in a more permanent way building upon this new moral foundation. I still have so much work to do. Porter boy is waiting that night to walk the fields with me He’s more interested in me than the birds. Just as well, I’m not carrying a shotgun. Its a shakuhachi. I look but don’t play. Porter wags his tail.
Respond rather than react. It’s a core principle in how I practice and teach sword arts. The initial demonstration for the new student, after they have learned the basics, is for them to take up a guard or kame. I take one in opposition and do not immediately attack so that their mind squirrels away to something other than me and what’s about to happen. Once I see their mind wander I launch a quick faux attack. The new student invariably flinches into some kind intercepting ward or party to stop my stroke with their weapon. Often they fail but regardless, my stroke never actually lands, instead I transition into a second and sometimes third cut. While my cuts never reach their intended target, it usually serves to make the point to the student. A trained response is always preferable to an instinctive reaction. It’s like this with all things in life.
I will often repeat a movie line: “There are two types of people in this world, trained and untrained. What do you want to be?” Somewhere in loosing our way in the clouds and storm of stress, deceit, and betrayal, I forgot this fundamental truth and stopped applying its wisdom in my life. I was morally broken. Instead of being loving and compassionate, I would use almost any perceived insult or injury to justify my own desire to lye, be divisive, use harsh language, cultivate wrong views or harmful intent, and to engage in sexual misconduct. I was acting like an animal. Like a monster.
Correct action, morally correct action, is a foundational principal in Buddhist psychology and part of the All Japan Kendo Federations “Concept and Purpose of Kendo.” In Buddhist practice, the training, is to allow the mind to concentrate in the present moment and recognize and accept the truth of our suffering, its causes, and the way to be free from it. A concentrated mind is a powerful and energetic tool to create change and contrary to the common teaching is completely possible to obtain while under the influence of various substances. However, a concentrated but morally broken mind is a danger to every one who encounters it. My failure was that I had completely skipped over a crucial and necessary first step in the way. I had neglected to establish a firm and correct moral foundation for my concentrated mind to work from. Without this my sword cut a swath of pain through almost everything that I loved and held dear while my music bearing fallen Angel played the devils fiddle for our finally.
I had deluded myself into believing that my actions were always justified and that I was constantly correct and doing only that which was right. The suffering and pain others were enduring was, to my warped perspective, entirely of their own creation and something they needed to fix on their own. I could never be bothered to concern myself with others or their struggles. There was a mission to accomplish. Suck it up and drive on. This delusion would soon be swept away and the reality of the five remembrances would hit me like a ton of bricks fashioned into a box that I’d help lock my self inside of.
We had recently lost our home and livelihood when our employer dismissed us based on rumor, speculation, and my hardline stance against allowing a known pedophile on my he premises. We were dismissed and told that we would never be paid for the time and work we had agreed to be compensated for. The blow was stunning in that it had come from a person we both supported and loved. We had poured everything we had into this dream and our pride had allowed us to pit ourselves against people with a more solid foundation in the community than I had imagined. My fervor for growth and change had set our organization on a collision course with others in the community.
I had gone so far as to feed information to the press and public about the leadership of a particular city beaurocracy and labeled them as pedophelia apologists. As Director of Operations and Business Development for the Foundation I used my broad authority to begin initiatives within the Temple to directly compete with the business operations of those who I saw as my competitors an detractors. I’ll leave my rant about the merits of competition and the strange protectionist mindset of this part of the nation to another post.
Regardless, I was in full battle mode with the pain and anger over the eviction and dismissal fueling the emotional storm that raged between my Angel and I, giving the monsters we hid all the more strength and influence over our actions. Our relationship turned toxic and wrapped in my own suffering I never took a moment to try to elevate the obvious suffering that Angel was enduring. The potions were exacting a terrible toll on her mind and spirit and lack of sleep coupled with exposure to the hostile environment our home at the temple had become compounded the paranoia that my lies had given birth to. Angel saw danger everywhere and in my own delusion I was becoming less trustworthy be the minute.
The first time I donned my bogu (armor) for kendo practice and told Angel to strike men uchi (top of my head) she struck like she was hitting me with a feather duster. I encouraged her with kind but firm guidance to trust me and my bogu. That I would be safe. Angel cried like a baby. She couldn’t let go of the pervasive conditioning of her childhood and trust that this was safe and that I would not put myself in harms way or allow her to hurt me unnecessarily. I also think that perhaps she had trouble trusting herself. This is speculation though.
At the time I’d not known the lengths she would go to to punish a love that disappointed her. I didn’t understand the self punishment that she would inflict upon herself or the impact it had had on her family and all of her romantic relationships up to and including her relationship with me. I was sadly unaware. I was trying to help my wife understand and enjoy a sport, art form, and practice of personal cultivation that I used to help me be a better person. I was sharing myself with her and showing her that vulnerability is a gift that I was willing to give to her.
I can’t speak to her feelings or motivations. I only know that it was over a year till she could start to tell me all the truths that were causing her such suffering and by then my own incorrect perception had skewed my vision and my lack of skill and understanding made it impossible for me to actually listen with love and compassion.
I’m not sure if it was too late to save her by his time. The mistakes we made were legion and at the time I could only see those working to destroy what we had led the effort in building. Everything I was was filtered through the lens of selfish intention and greed. My Angel also seemed to be seeing everything and everyone with eyes that didn’t see as they once did. We felt surrounded and set upon by enemies from all sides. Only a handful of loyal supporters stood by us as we readied ourselves for what we felt might be our last stand. We couldn’t see straight. If we had perhaps we could have saved ourselves from the disaster looming before us, so terrible in scope and aspect that we refused to look. Our delusion gave us a false sense of hope that would be our undoing.
If you do this you’ll never have a chance to try again
If you do this you’ll never have a chance to try
The same collapse
Of every thing
The same lie