Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Death of an Autumn Leaf

The wind had changed. It wasn't so sweet and warm anymore. Instead it had become colder and cutting, coarse and unforgiving. Sometimes warm days would come again, but day by day the autumn cold was getting nearer. The Leaf was no longer caressed by tender sunshine and sweet summer days. Instead it felt its life force diminish as the Sun no longer touched its green skin as tenderly and lovingly as it had done in the summer months.
The Leaf was starting to feel old and brittle. No longer was it young and green. It had become old, its younger days had passed. Its colours had turned to the most beautiful rainbow of yellow, orange and rusty, with some shades of green forgotten here and there. It knew that this was the exuberance of its impending death, the last glimmer of a setting sun. It was like it was putting on its most beautiful clothes preparing for its departure. 
As it sat there blown by the cold autumn wind, still linked through its drying stem to the Tree of Life, it couldn't help but reflect on the Great Emptiness. Above it, the big blue sky with an autumn crispness it had never seen before and yet so strangely familiar, of a divine beauty and yet so sad... 

The Leaf knew its end was near, but the big blue sky above it would continue to be, along with the bright shiny stars. How come it was sad and at the same time happy? There was a feeling of eternity in all this atmosphere, mixed with a feeling of ending, its end. What would happen to it? It would no longer be able to feel the warm Sun carressing it, nor the bright mornings with the Wind blowing through the trees and waking up all its brothers and sisters in the joyous frenzy of a sunrise, when all nature would be waking up. All that had passed... As it looked to the Earth knowing that that was where it was going to end up dying, it couldn't help but wonder what it would feel like - dying? It had seen some of its brothers and sisters fall from the Tree of Life and be blown gently away, and as they floated gently through the air and touched the ground there was an eery feeling - they weren't so different from a moment ago and yet something fundamental had changed about them. Their appearance hadn't changed, yet it could not feel their presence anymore. It knew it would never be able to speak to them again. It felt sad. There was no purpose in all this. Why should they die? Why should It die? Why was all beauty and happiness condemned to come to an end? It looked at its brothers and sisters on the ground remembering all the happy rustling of the spring and summer. But they were there no more, their decaying bodies the only remnants of their existence. Still, something strange was going on. It was like they were there but not in their rusty leaf bodies. It felt as if somehow they had become part of the Tree again... Surely this couldn't be... 

But as the Leaf was thinking about all this, a cold, dry wind started blowing. The distant Sun was shining its last rays from behind a grey cloud. The Leaf was scared, it wanted to hang onto the Tree, and gazed scared and sad to its dry stem, its last sap of Life. But even that had become a mere memory. The wind was picking up and It knew Its time had come. A gust of cold, cutting wind severed its link to the Tree of Life. Suddenly the Leaf felt the Wind no more. It was floating gently on its wings, as if it were a child gently swayed to sleep. As it was floating on the Wind, it couldn't help notice the silence. The rustling of the trees had become a faint sound somewhere in the distance. Half asleep, the Leaf felt as it was gently laid down by the Wind in the welcoming arms of the Great Mother - Earth. As it touched the ground, for a moment there was a flash, like a deja-vu, the same embrace of the Mother Earth, in which the Leaf was coming into existence. Now the Mother was embracing her whilst receiving It back. It was funny - death felt like nothing it had anticipated. Although it felt slowly dissolving into the arms of the Great Mother, it didn't feel lonely. Actually quite the opposite. It felt very much connected to all and everything. Its brothers and sisters whom it had weeped for as they had died before, were all here. Strange, this "here", but welcoming. If in the past it used to look at the Earth, the Great Mother, and glanced at the sky, the Great Father, being in this "here" felt as if both cosmic parents were united and it was within. How strange, and yet so eerily beautiful...


The Sun was peeking through the morning clouds with a pink-orange shimmer, and a fresh morning breeze was waking up all the leaves. Birds were chirping their happy morning songs, as the whole forest was waking up. A young green leaf bud was also waking up. Its brothers and sisters were already singing their wake-up song as the wind was blowing through the trees and caressing their green bodies. The Leaf bud had had the strangest of dreams. It had dreamt about a clear blue sky, of a clarity it had never seen before, about a wind that was very different from the one it knew, and in this dream the wind had torn a Leaf from the Tree. The torn Leaf was much bigger than the leaf bud, and its colours... it had never seen such colours! As it was thinking about this Leaf blown away by the wind, it remembered feeling a strange familiarity with this Leaf it had never seen before... Well, it was only a dream, and now it was time for the beginning of a new day, as the Leaf bud was gently caressed by the Sun's warm embrace.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Ordinary Day

Today is an ordinary day. No special mood, no special practice. No special events. Awareness of  aversion towards the average, the banal. It comes from my lack of hope. If something special happens, then that gives one hope that a "special" experience, whatever that may be, will bring joy and happiness. Samsara continued. More joy! More happiness! These all stem from the discontentment with here and now. What i fail to receive from the here and now, I hope to get in the future. But a totally ordinary day is a day of death for the ego - nothing there to hope for. I am forced to stay here, for there is nothing to take me out of here for now. My ego is in despair, although most people would call it boredom. Perhaps there is no better moment for meditation than an ordinary day, because there is forceful silence. The ego does not wish it, yet it is there. Ordinary is the name of the present. And being there, in the absence of anything special to take me away from the here and now, the ego with its conflicts is beautifully exposed. There is delight in this pain, part  of me feeling the pain of the ego, part of me being the observer of its torment. Strange bitter-sweetness! I sit and watch the show inside...

Sunday, 31 March 2013


A lotus bud on a lake on a bright sunny morning
The beauty of its future blossom so perfect
Yet it sleeps unaware of Heaven's plan within it
Who is in control?

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Kyudo - Achieving Harmony with Bows and Arrows

What attracted me to Kyudo was the fact that, like many japanese arts, it is only an external excuse for an internal journey of spiritual self-development. Although it derives from a martial art in which people were shooting their arrows to kill other people, Kyudo nowadays resembles more a target shooting practice. But this is where the similarities end. Right off the bat, the first big difference from "western" target shooting is that  the aim is not to hit the target. In fact hitting the target is almost irrelevant. And if one is new to Japanese culture or to oriental philosophy this is like a wall - what? If I shoot at a target but it doesn't matter if I hit it, what's the point?

Well, what would be the point to shooting at a target anyway? In the olden days it would have had a very clear finality - you would have killed your enemy. Or you could have gone hunting for a meal. But let's take target shooting with bows and arrows as a sport - the western sport - why do people do that? Some for the concentration it cultivates. Others for the competition. Others as a way to release accumulated feelings. The Japanese take this to a whole new level. Like they do with the Tea Ceremony - the goal is not to drink a cup of tea. The goal is to make it a meditation. When practicing Kyudo one is not aided by sights, scopes, stabilisers and what have you in western target archery, one is not focused on the arrow hitting the target. One is focused on cultivating the Spirit through the ritual of shooting. Yes - there is ritual. Again, nothing to do with religion. For the beginner, a series of postures and movements he has to learn by heart and accept them as such, many of them redundant at first sight if we were to consider shooting for the target centre. But as one advances one begins to understand their reason for existence - namely the link between these and the inside world of the shooter, the meditation that is Kyudo. 

The practice begins with the setting up of the Dojo - the room where Kyudo is practiced. When things are in their place, the senior conducting the practice assembles the students in front of the Kamiza - the place of honour. Then, students and master bow to each other and then to the Kamiza. The Kamiza holds a writing of the three principles of Kyudo: beauty, truth, goodness. To their development is the practice dedicated. Then practice begins.

The ritual of shooting is slow. Posture is all important. Every move is slow, deliberate, yet natural. The slowness is for cultivating awareness for every detail, every move. Awareness - not to shoot more accurately, but for the purpose of cultivating it and bringing it into everyday life. The slowness contrasts with the rhythm of everyday hectic life, and the deeper one goes with Kyudo, the more one takes back into daily life the calmness, serenity, awareness and peace developed in Kyudo. There is no hurry. There is no objective to be checked. There is only the present moment. Every move performed with the utmost attention and presence, the spine erect, the movements stemming from the pelvis. The movements are encouraged to originate in the pelvis, as the energy is directed to the Dan Tian, one of the main energy centres of the body. Even when one shoots, one has to "shoot from the belly". All these details may seem unnecessary, but the very idea of Kyudo is that they are reflected in the shot and it is these details that make or break the harmony of the shot and the inner harmony of the shooter. 

The bow is raised maintaining the upright posture, and then descended in a movement that extends the bow and prepares for the shot. Next is the most important part of shooting: maintaining the bow in tension (Kai) and preparing for the release of the arrow (Hanare). Cultivating the correct posture is difficult enough as it is, but maintaining its elegance and beauty while keeping a bow tense in the air is quite a challenge, considering that the right pull strength for the bow is chosen just beneath what one can physically pull. This I find to be the essence of Kyudo (and also typical of Japanese culture and history): cultivating the ability to maintain harmony, beauty and inner power even in the face of those things that push one to one's limits. It is easy to be serene in peaceful times. Mastery lies in maintaining that serenity and grace even in the middle of the storm. 

If we compare Kyudo to sitting meditation, there is a difference in that Kyudo makes the level of progress of the student very visible to the trained eye. There is no way to shoot correctly whilst not being harmonious on the inside. On the other hand, the development of correct shooting develops inner atributes. One can hit the target and not be harmonious, which is why hitting the target is not important. It is much better to shoot harmoniously and miss the target altogether, than to shoot ugly and hit the bull's eye. In fact practice begins by shooting at a straw target (makiwara) at two meters distance - it is almost impossible to miss, which moves the emphasis towards the shooting itself. 

In examinations at the basic levels students have to show that they can perform ritual shooting and going through all the phases of the shooting without missing any movements or adding unnecessary ones. Posture, attitude, harmony and inner strength as demonstrated in the shot become progressively more important at later stages.  At the very highest levels of Kyudo the practitioners (already masters themselves at this level) are evaluated in their practice by other masters and criteria are here in the lines of: "the shot has to be transparent" or "truthful". At these levels the refinement is such that the emphasis is placed on the degree of inner perfection that the practitioner of Kyudo has achieved so far, and that is evaluated through the shooting. It is not uncommon for practitioners to fail an exam at this level for 10 or 15 years, but in the end, it is the perseverance and dedication towards self-perfectioning that counts. Adding another "dan" to one's level is merely the exterior recognition of the level of harmony and peace that already has become present in the life of a Kyudo practitioner.