Archive for November, 2010

Success in Practice

Success in Practice

by Jeffrey Brooks

Among modern Buddhists there is anxiety about who is recognized as an advanced practitioner. Modern Buddhism will become mature as the causes for this anxiety, inwardly and culturally, withdraw.

The same anxiety afflicts martial arts practice in the modern world. It is an unnecessary distraction. We can set aside this concern right now and get on with our practice and our lives.

The question inevitably arises. We devote so much sweat and struggle and heart to our martial arts training. How do we know if we are succeeding?

Let’s take martial arts as an example.

Non martial artists sometimes think that the measure of success is how many people you beat up. In martial arts movies each challenge takes the form of a single combat to destruction or death. If this really were the way to measure success then there would be only one excellent martial artist, with a lot of dead ones, and that winner would soon tire out and be replaced by another temporary victor.

In real life dopes like that get straightened out quick – ganged up on in the schoolyard or hustled off to jail. It is in no way a measure of a successful martial arts practice.

Some feel that the best measure of success is tournament wins. Points scored and trophies won give them confidence that they are achieving skills. There are some very skillful tournament competitors. And there is no doubt that the pressure of an upcoming match gives lots of martial artists the incentive to train hard and go deeper than they otherwise would.

But if winning contests were a reliable measure of success then the feeling of elation that comes from winning a match would not fade in seconds or hours after a victory, replaced by the need for another. And there is always the idea in the back of your mind, if you are competing, that many great fighters were never signed up for that match. That on the street, in a prison, in the military, somewhere out there, there are people whose fighting skills are extremely high, who are training furiously for encounters in which there are no rules and no time outs, whose propensity for violence is high, who you might face someday, but never in an organized tournament, at a level of conflict no cage could contain.

Not that the tournament-trained person would necessarily be at a disadvantage, just that, as you head home with your trophy, you can’t know.

Some martial artists measure their success by rank. Rank can be meaningful within a dojo or a style to indicate proficiency in a skill set or advancement in curriculum. And it organizes the relationships within the group – who leads, who follows, who is an authority, who works together. But between styles ranks may vary in meaning. Within schools the ranks may be awarded to people of widely differing skill levels. Some schools may keep solid, hard-working members at white belt or green belt for years; in others you will find 10 year olds with high degree black belts. You will find people who have been treading the same ground for thirty years, getting promoted higher and higher, acquiring Japanese titles and an aura of omniscience whose skill is declining and their egos bloating.

If rank were a true measure of success then ranks would be transferable between schools, and the people who held them would have no anxiety inside or outside their school about their proficiency. High ranks would mean mastery, low ranks would mean humble aspiration and everyone would respect everyone else. Ranks may mean something to the people involved in a given group, but rank, in itself, is not a reliable measure of success.

When I look out over a class I am leading, martial artists or law enforcement, recruits or operations specialists, the challenge of understanding how to measure success is always present. If I am not sure what they need to achieve how can they know if their time is well spent? If there is no clear way to establish what is valued, what matters and what works, then how can I ever expect a high level of performance from the group?

But I do know what success is. It is not the same every moment for every person but in the long run there are a set of guiding principles we can rely on and which we can use to measure our achievement:

Everyone trains sincerely – that means they are focused on what they are doing and trying hard

Everyone becomes more skillful when they leave than they were when they entered

Everyone’s body is tested and pushed to a high level of performance

Everyone’s mind is stabilized and clear

Everyone is introduced to a new idea, technique or insight

Everyone reviews what they know how to do

Everyone takes a deeper responsibility for their own training and for the people around them

Everyone becomes aware that consistency is indispensible for high skill

Everyone is reminded that the ultimate test is coming

That the people we will face are training to the limit of their ability

That are no time outs in life

No breaks

No shortcuts

No one else to carry on the battle

If they absorb this and act on it we have a successful training.

Do it for a lifetime and you are a successful martial artist.

Jeff Brooks taught karate in Northampton, MA, daily from 1988 to 2009, and led Mountain Zendo from 1994 to 2009. He now lives in a vast ocean of mist covered mountains rising to the sky, working in law enforcement. He can be reached through Mountain Zendo or at “”  His articles and books are collected at


To Allow Everything To Blossom

To Allow Everything To Blossom

by Susan Downing

Last weekend was my Reiki Girls weekend.  At least that’s how I think of it.  I’ve written before about how three of my Reiki-practicing friends and I get together once a month to do a three-day-in-a-row Reiki share.  We spend several hours together on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, doing Reiki for each other. We usually have some tea in there somewhere, as we discuss our sessions, and we nibble on chocolate kisses.  This weekend we did some redecorating in my healing room at the Center, too.  But it’s the Reiki that forms  the centerpiece of each day, the unbroken stream of energy which flows between all of us for those hours and which keeps us in each other’s hearts the rest of the month, even if we don’t talk until the next share.

It’s been six months now, since we began getting together, and we all look forward to it so much – last month I had to miss two of the three days because I was in Minnesota with my daughter, and a couple of us have missed days due to being sick – too sick to drag ourselves out even for Reiki (and unwilling to spread germs in any case.) So, why do we work so hard to juggle our schedules to make these three-day-shares possible?

Well, you might ask, who wouldn’t want to have three good friends give you Reiki three days in a row and be able to return the favor?  But I’ve come to understand that there’s something about the way we do Reiki that makes the experience extra potent.  Part of it is that  our shares are an oasis of focused, loving attention. We are there to take good care of each other, focused solely on that for those hours.  There’s a deep trust between us, a willingness to totally let go and let our friends just work their Reiki magic.

I think one of the reasons we trust each other so much is that we all work the same way:  we go into our Reiki sessions knowing that we are working without intention or goal, not focused on an outcome, but rather simply bringing the energy for each other’s greatest good.  As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, it is so much easier to do this in Reiki than in life.  Than outside the healing room.  And that, I think, is why our shares seem like such a  calm, loving, renewing, supportive refuge.  It’s precisely because we are doing Reiki that we are able to let go of intention when we are there, and just be with each other.  Which means that every month, we are spending hours and hours together in a frame of mind that has nothing to do with manipulating circumstances, trying to make things happen in a certain way, or bring about a certain outcome. I’m sure that’s exactly why it is such a precious time for all of us.

Certainly, this kind of interaction can only happen when there is deep trust and affection,but I believe that it’s practicing Reiki together, consciously putting ourselves in a setting where we let go of conscious intention – that has helped us achieve that closeness.  And what’s more, it occurs to me that our shares are important not only for the healing they bring each of us – because how could healing not result in that love-filled atmosphere? – but also because they allow us to practice, over and over again, being with people and not trying to achieve a goal or outcome from the interaction.  So, we can leave that room each day, having reinforced that way of being with others.  I am sure it carries over into our other interactions. At least it seems to me that it must.  Reiki girls, you can write in and say what you think. But that’s the way it seems to me.

I feel so fortunate to have not only the Reiki girls in my life, but everyone with whom I share Reiki, whether they’re my clients, friends or students.  What a blessing to have all of you to share this closeness with, and to constantly practice this vital skill of just being, of bringing loving, healing energy, not to make something happen, but to allow everything to happen, to blossom and to grow.  Thank you all.


The Dragons Roar

The Dragons Roar

by Jeffrey Brooks


We can hear the dragons roar as the wind passes through the branches of the trees. We can hear them if we are still. If we have dropped our body and mind and listen whole heartedly – not half way, not distracted, not dutifully trying to hear a dragon roar, but openly, with our work complete and our mind present, stable and clear throughout the ten directions. If we try to select a piece of the sound we will have nothing. How can we select a piece and separate it from its reality? But we are always tempted to do it if we have not put our concerns down and let our disturbances subside.

If we separate ourselves from the natural world and live in a mediated and constructed world (city and highway, office and apartment, car and computer and phone) we receive fragments of experience extracted from the context from which they actually arose.  We believe we are able to interpret this flow of images and language and understand it accurately. The condition of our mind and the mechanized environment it engages with will not permit it.

We are misled. We mislead ourselves. The dragons roar becomes inaudible.


From home, to feel tough, people seek violent images.  From home, to feel connected, people seek sexual images. This is taken for granted as natural and good. It is neither. It is a source of suffering.

The insidious decontextualization of the images of war which misleads armchair combatants is identical to the insidious effect of the decontextualization of pornographic images as observed by armchair amorists.

When a young man is placed in a situation of physical jeopardy he will change to adapt to it and to accommodate it as best he can. If it is in the schoolyard or on the street he will become attuned to danger, and, if he can, he will become stronger and tougher and faster to meet the challenge. Competitive sports mimic this challenge and mimic the result.  In a healthy environment he will win the respect of the other people in the neighborhood, not by killing all opponents, but by resolving to meet the challenge with dignity and courage and accept the difficulty without shrinking from it.

In warfare, in taking on the responsibility of common defense, whether as a volunteer or draftee, a young man will also rise to the challenge. Whether to meet the ideal of defending his country or defending other people’s lives, or to meet the practical challenge of keeping himself and his friends alive under threat, he will be presented with the opportunity to become stronger,  more skillful more courageous and more vigilant.

This ideal is not always met, on the battlefield, on the ballfield or in our neighborhoods, but the possibility is there. And the ideal is often met. The ideal will never be met by people observing images of these scenes from the safe remove of a living room, classroom or board room. When these images are decontextualized, and especially when they are removed from the physical and temporal circumstance under which they occurred, the images will not provide any demand or opportunity for transformation by the viewer. They do not acknowledge the will or life of the viewer but demand that the viewer passively absorb, lifelessly accept the image as it passes. This is also how glamour works.


They do provide a feeling in the mind of the viewer, but that feeling is based in the viewer’s limited experience, it is a projection of the viewer’s experience, not based on the reality from which the image was extracted.

If life decisions, cultural judgments or public policy is based on these misunderstanding the resulting action will diverge from reality. Negative consequences are inevitable as a result of this. Pretenders to toughness will live a fantasy life, and make fantasy decisions, based on this error.

When a strong person with battlefield or street experience looks at an image of violence it is possible for them to understand it in a way that no armchair observer or moviegoer ever can. When a person who was present at an incident scene observes the image they can understand it with even more precision. It is obvious. Yet most of us are subject to a torrent of impressions which have been elided from their context. Most do not know Afghanistan or Oprah and most believe they do.

When a handsome, accomplished, high status male looks at an image of a sexy beautiful woman he can respond to that image in an informed way. Real women, with the degree of attractiveness and personal power depicted in the image, have often looked at him this way in real life, and may have responded to him in real life the way they are responding in the pornographic depiction.

There are very few such people however in the audience for pornographic (explicitly sexual) imagery.

Most viewers have less physical attractiveness and lower status than would be necessary to attract the enduring positive attention of the series of women they see depicted in this imagery. They can imagine how the interaction might go based on what they see depicted, but their reality does not go like that. By returning to representation of sexual activity for pleasure they, among other things, delete the motivation they might otherwise have to go to the gym, work hard, increase their status, be faithful – inwardly and in action – to their families, and to turn their attention to the things of this world that can provide them not only with lasting emotional satisfaction but with sexual satisfaction as well.

To the degree that they engage in a decontextualized depiction of sexual contact they reduce their incentive to become the kind of person who can actually expect this kind of interaction to arise in reality. Personal decisions, cultural choices and public policy made on the basis of this false understanding of sexuality, a sexuality drained of its temporal, physical and social context, and its reciprocal responsibility, can be expected to have harmful results. This includes the degradation of individual health, vitality, social skill, confidence and social cohesion.

These are some of the ways in which decontextualixed images of violence and decontextualized images of sexuality are equally false and equally harmful.

We can notice this. We can reduce our contact with misrepresentation. We can avoid the disorientation that comes to relentless exposure to reproduced music, reproduced image, reproduced human action; the confusion that comes from immersion in reality made of recording and photography and architecture.

As a result we can regain the opportunity to connect face to face with the reality of our own lives.

To practice honestly.

To live vigorously and deeply.

To hear the dragons roar with our own ears.

Jeff Brooks taught karate in Northampton, MA, daily from 1988 to 2009, and led Mountain Zendo from 1994 to 2009. He now lives in a vast ocean of mist covered mountains rising to the sky, working in law enforcement. He can be reached through Mountain Zendo or at “”  His articles and books are collected at


This Very Second, Every Second

This Very Second, Every Second

by Susan Downing

As I lay the sheet on my treatment table and run my hand over it to smooth out any wrinkles, do I ask myself, of the client I’m expecting, “Oh, I wonder what will be going on with Ann today”? No.  I just wait for her to come and tell me.  As the door opens and I hear her walk into the Center, do I think, “I hope she will be receptive to her session.” No.  I just do the session and see what happens.  Before she even lies down on the table, do I think about where I will put my hands, how long I’ll leave them there?  No. I just start working and move where and when I feel drawn to do.   As I’m doing the actual session, do I think, “Well, this is okay right now, but where will I need to place my hands next?  What will Ann need?  Will she feel better if I leave my hands here longer? What is she feeling right now?”  Do I worry about her reaction, as in “Oh, what if she doesn’t  feel better? I hope she does!  Will she think Reiki is worthless?  Will she refer me to her friends?” Do I second-guess myself by thinking, “Maybe this isn’t the best way to have my hands behind her head. Maybe I should move them.”?  Or even think, “Please, please let her lungs clear up after this session.”?  No.  Not at all. 

Through years of focused practice – both in meditation and Reiki – my Reiki-ing has evolved to the point that I am able to work with my clients without thinking about any of these things.  Certainly, I am very happy when a client feels great after Reiki, when they feel less anxiety or pain when the session is over, when they say they want to come back in a week or two.  But I never go into a session – whether it’s for a client or for a friend or a student – with an outcome in mind.  As I tell my students so often that if they remember nothing else, they’ll remember this, our job as Reiki practitioners is not to try to bring about any result.  We simply pass on the energy with a loving heart and let the recipient make use of it any way he or she can.  

That is such a liberating way to work – to concentrate only on being focused on simply bringing the energy, on being present with the person on the table.  Because when that is our only focus, we connect more strongly with that person and the energy flows more strongly. And we gradually become skilled at knowing where to put our hands and for how long, without thinking consciously about it.  Our action is natural and flows easily.  There is full and open communication between the practitioner and the recipient.  That is what makes for enjoyable Reiki-ing, for both people involved.

I’ve known that for a long time, and as I said, it is very easy for me to practice Reiki this way. When I am doing Reiki for someone, it is easy for me to come to the interaction without preconceptions, without a desire to manipulate the situation or achieve a certain outcome or result.  I just give this act of Reiki-ing my full attention and see what happens.  And what happens is pretty much always at least enjoyable, sometimes profound, sometimes profoundly moving.

Guess what? The same is true of the non-Reiki-ing parts of my life.  The more I am able to come to my interactions without preconceptions or desire for a certain outcome, the more enjoyable they are.  I certainly realize that, but it is not always easy to come to a situation without a result in mind.  Sometimes it’s very difficult indeed!  So, when I had this insight about how I do Reiki, I suddenly felt heartened, because I realized that through practicing Reiki I have gradually acquired the ability to focus entirely on right now and just come to the world with an open heart, to be present with whoever I’m with.

This is what devoting my life to Reiki has done for me, and I see that this is what Reiki is doing for my students who are going deeply into it, too.  As I encourage them to just let the energy flow without trying to direct it or without trying to achieve any result, I see them learning how to settle in and let go of any intention other than the intention to bring the energy with a loving heart.  And this is an approach we are all learning to bring to the rest of our lives, too: no need to think ahead about what will be needed, what a reaction will be, what will come next. Just take care of this very second, every second.  




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