…Through the virtue of training, Enlighten both body and soul — Morihei Sensei

Archive for May, 2010

A Rainstorm: Walking straight through the storm

“There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.”

Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo

I first saw the above quote in the John Sayles movie Ghost Dog, starring Forrest Whitaker.  The movie is essentially about a guy who is on a path–A self-determined path–and how he relaxes into the walk down that path, despite the forces pushing against him.  He walks straight down the path despite the storm raging around him.  (John Sayles and Forrest Whitaker are two of my favorite people in movies, by the way)

I was watching a boxing match last night. (Boxing is a favorite of mine, the Queen seems to think it is barbaric[?!])  There are so many life lessons to be learned from a boxing match.  Last night I fell asleep watching Friday Night Fights, and woke up like 3am to Fight Night Club.  A veteran, skilled, slick boxer was in against a younger, unskilled, brawler.  The brawler was hitting the slick vet with headbutts, elbows, hip shots, kidney shots.  He was punching on the break.  He was holding and punching.  Low blows.  Basically, he was making the fight as unpleasant as possible.  One of the analysts mentioned that, even though a boxer may win against a brawler like that, that sort of a fight will test a boxer’s will to go through that again.  He’ll need to decide whether he wants to take that walk anymore.

Teddy Atlas would call the required mindset, “acting like a warrior.”

The lesson:   Sometimes things will go down that you just have to decide to walk through until the other side.  Your only choices will be to walk through the mess, or to quit and do something different.

I just finished reading Everyday Zen, by Charlotte Joko Beck.  To me she is in the true tradition of Shunryu Suzuki.  Towards the end of the book, she has this to say:

“The more we are aware of our expectations, the more we see that our urge is to manipulate life rather than live it just as it is.  Students whose practice is maturing aren’t angry as often because they see their expectations, their desires, before they produce anger.  But if the stage of anger is reached, it is practice. . . This very point when “I want” has been frustrated is the “gateless gate” — because the only way to transform “I want” into “I am” is to experience one’s disappointment, one’s frustration.”

Notice, if your practice fails, and you get angry, become frustrated, that actually begins the real practice.  It is only there that you have the material to work with.  If you always avoid anger.  If you never have that mess to walk through–The late bills, the broken down car, the argument with your partner, the pissed of client–You have no material to work with to walk through the Gateless Gate.

Some times you’ll just find yourself in a struggle.  And the more you struggle against the struggle, the worse it becomes.  Money in your business is slow, so you start juggling accounts, you slip and the problem spreads from your business to your personal stuff.  But the slow money is not solved.  Or you can lay in the cut, relax and do the fundamentals your business needs, it won’t alleviate the pain of the slow money, but it will move you along the path.  But you have to decide.

When the shit is raining down around you, you can dodge and avoid as much as you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a shit storm. Or you can set your mouth, and take that walk, keep moving along the path.  It’ll still be coming down, but you’ll still be moving along.  This is what the Warrior is.  The Warrior is the person who knows that the storm is just interesting background noise.  That the only thing that really exists is the Path.  The storm, if it exists at all, is only there to help highlight the Path.

Are you going to Act like a Warrior.  You’ve got to decide.


Coal Miners: Metaphor for Power Division in America

The most recent coal mining tragedy in West Virginia is a metaphor for the real power divisions in America. The underclass, and the distracted middle class in America, spend so much time and energy being angry and fighting over different issues and power divisions. Unfortunately, very few of these distinctions represent the true division of power in the United States. Issues of race, political party, religion, economic philosophy are phantasms and fabrications which obscure the only real power distinction in America. That distinction is the difference between those who own stuff, and those who don’t. But even that distinction, as simple as it sounds, can be ephemeral if one doesn’t come to terms with the difference between owning stuff and membership in the ruling class.

The John Sayles movie “Matewan”, set in early 1900s Matewan, West Virginia coal mining town, illustrates how different underclass groups are pitted against each other in the United States, while the real oppressors press down on them all. When these groups come together, the Coal Field Wars breakout, which ultimately results in extreme loss of life, but considerably improved working conditions for miners. The rub, historically outside of the timeframe of the movie, is that the coal mines remain a dangerous place to work, that only those without other viable options opt for. The annual loss of life from accidents is down, however the chronic health issues resulting from a career of going down in the pits remains a killer.

The saying goes that men go down in the hole white, black, or brown, but they all come out black.

Early in the history of coal mining in the United States, the first miners were the white Appalachian mountain folk, who lived in the coal rich hollers of the Eastern Appalachian Mountain range.  As social change occurred, and new immigrants found moved around the country, Blacks, Italian, Germans, a host of new ethnic groups found their way to the mines.  The mining companies used racial divides to pit these ethnic groups against one another.  This served to distract from the extreme abusive practices used by the mining companies against their workers, and the workers families.  As long as the ethnic groups were pitted against each other, identified each other as the source and cause of their woes, they would not realize, or be able to organize against the true oppressor, the mining companies.

For those who may question the validity of calling the mining companies abusive or oppressors, I’d be glad to write a post dedicated to that issue.  Just let me know.  Suffice it to say, the “market” did not, was not, and would not take care of these problems.

At any rate, the movie “Matewan” chronicles the beginning of the Coal Field Wars, and how union organizers got the various ethnic groups to focus, not on the phantasmic differences of race and ethnicity, but on the oppression of the mining companies.  When the mining companies met resistance from the miners, The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in, at that point in time, basically a mercenary unit, armed with guns.  The Pinkertons brought their guns and the miners and mountain folk met them.  The Coal Field Wars began.

The end result was that President Roosevelt called in the National Guard to suppress the miners and put an end to the armed conflict.  However, after much loss of life, attention was brought to the issue.  Miners were unionized in many mines, and working conditions improved greatly.  However, as we can see from recent mining accidents, and the persistant high mortality rate among miners, conditions are still very bad for that Class of Americans.

What are the take aways?  First, conflicts and divisions between race and ethnicity in America are illusions and lies used by the ruling class to keep the people from disrupting power.  Second, the only true division in America is between the ruling class and the people.  Third, the only chance The United States has going forward, is for the people to rise above the current, and worsening state of racial, religious, ethnic, divide and directly address the abuses of the ruling class.

The question then becomes, who comprise the ruling class?  This is a topic for another post, but suffice it to say being white and/or wealthy are not defining conditions.  Plenty of white people are in the underclass, whom the ruling class would, and has, gladly sacrifice.  Additionally, wealthy is neither a defining term, as plenty of wealthy individuals are utterly dependent on the good will of the Federal government and the corporations for whom they slave.

Relative thoughts on Morality

Morality is relative.  Good and Bad do not exist objectively.  Most people have a deep-seated aversion to this idea.  Many people feel that their sense of Morality is The Moral Law.  I find this extremely interesting because, just like religion, one’s morality, more often than not, is an item of pure circumstance.  A function of the accident of being born in a particular culture, in a particular geographic region, of a certain ethnic group, and a certain socio-economic class.  These are choices infants do not make.  Most people never veer from this set of accidental circumstances.  Yet, we take pride in these accidents.  We take ownership of the mere chance that one was born to a Christian couple, in an intact household, earning $150,000 per year (for example).  Or we,  take ownership of being born in a land with no trees, almost no work, where the average annual wages for an entire family are less than a laborer in Atlanta’s single pay check.  Each yields its own unique set of consequences, morals, opportunities, which we had no part in.

I digress.  Surveys of history, cross-cultures, even within different ethnic sets in the same society, will reveal differing moral codes.  What are we to make of this?  Some have made the case that, while there are variances, basic principles are universal.  I would say that this is the case only in the most general sense.  Even within the same moral code, morality becomes relative.  Murder is bad.  But what is murder?  Is all killing bad all the time?  What if someone was holding a knife to your daughter’s throat?  What if there was a really good, higher purpose for them holding that knife?  What if you thought someone was threatening another’s life, but after you killed that person, you found out there was no threat?  In all these cases, within the same moral code, the answers become relative.  Morality is relative.  There is no getting around it.

Why then be moral?  Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of moral relativity because they feel that people will not be Good without a rigid clearly defined Law.  Where did this idea come from, that people need hard directives?  It didn’t come from reality.  The jails are full of people who were brought up with delineated ideas of Heaven and Hell.  In fact, many people serving life terms in the prisons, did what they did, with the clear understanding that it would get them killed, or locked up for life.  Hard moral lines did not prevent them from doing it.

Morality is a set of rules derived by men from observing the behaviors of people walking a Righteous Path, and the resultant benefits.  Warrior culture has been developing since the beginning of mankind.  The Warrior class developed from the nature of early human hunting practices (see my earlier post).  As the Warrior class developed and began to come into conflict with the Warrior groups of competing human groups, they had to address the present fact of death and dying.  This eventually lead to certain pragmatic mystical concepts which guided behavior of the Warriors.  Warrior culture adopted these pragmatic mystical practices based on centuries of trial and error in terms of their objective benefit.  As society become more sophisticated with stratified levels of leadership, the idea of codifying these practices as a means of benefiting the larger society developed.  But the members of the larger society did not have the objective reality of death to put everything in perspective.  Thus the rules of morality became divorced from their pragmatic applications.

Concurrent, leaders realized that they could control the larger society by implementing and conditioning subjects to a moral code.  This opened the door for convenient rules that prevented people from disrupting the standing of the ruling classes.  For example, rules of morality that defined classes and made ideas of transcending class immoral (an extremely common rule throughout stratified societies).

Thus morality developed from a practical reality of men and women dealing with the ultimate reality, to an abstract set of rules for an entire society, to a subtle, but powerful means for ruling classes to solidify their power.

Comfortable or Uncomfortable?  Warrior or not?