The Neutral Mind

“Empty your mind.
Be formless, shapeless, like water.
You put water into a cup; it becomes the cup.
You put water into a teapot; it becomes the teapot.
You put it into a bottle; it becomes the bottle.
Now water can flow, or it can crash."
-Bruce Lee

Cluttered

I lie in bed and close my eyes. Everything is dark and quiet. The guardian of my mind, the watcher of my thoughts, lowers his awareness. The levee breaks. Wave upon wave of thoughts come as I ride the torrent of past actions and future hopes. I am in dangerous waters; the flow of time carries me beyond the shores of sleep. This is not where I want to be. I need sleep, yet all I have are my thoughts.

The restraint on my mind is my weakness. I know I am supposed to welcome my thoughts and then let them go. This is what I practice, but I am only a novice. Rather than let them go, I hold on to them. Rather than mastering my thoughts, I let them carry me away on the tide, tossing me wherever they go.

Empty

When your mind is crowded with thoughts and information about all the things you’ve learned and how you feel about them, there isn’t room for much else. You’ve given up access to new possibilities and points of view; you’ve limited yourself. In order to learn new information, we must first make room to let that information in.

Shannon Lee

Emptying my mind is the first and hardest step. Therefore, the practice of meditation is important. If there is anything I wish to accomplish through meditation, it is the ability to rule my mind. I want to be able to control my thoughts. On a basic level, it is so I can sleep at night. On an advanced level, it is to remove the clutter.

Emptying my mind is the purge process. It is the elimination of the unnecessary and irrelevant. It is the letting go of preconceived ideas that are preventing me from seeing the whole truth. The growth that I seek comes through the pruning of dead thoughts and the removing of the vines of misinformation which is choking my personal tree of knowledge. New growth needs the space and energy that can only come from the eradication of the old and useless.

Open

Make room for the possibility that maybe you don’t already know all of what you believe to be true—that what you believe is, in fact, a work in progress, capable of changing and evolving as you learn and grow.

Shannon Lee

Humanity is fractured by ideology.

  • Creativity vs. Evolution
  • Conservative vs. Liberal
  • Freedom vs. Control
  • Love vs. Hate

I can connect the dots of my own belief systems and be at peace that I am on the correct side of all the divisions. But what if I am wrong? What if I chose the wrong side? I can either close myself off and hunker down in my own dogmatic ignorance, or I can open my mind and welcome the possibility of discovering the real truth. Better to be shaken to my core than to live in a false fantasy.

There may even be a chance that my beliefs are not wrong. Maybe, they are just not fully developed. Fool would I be if I took a little learning and left it at that. I must cultivate the knowledge that I do have. I must be open to receiving more. Then, I may be able to grasp a greater understanding of the material. This is the path to wisdom.

Preconceptions

Because of our beliefs and our preferences, we walk around collecting the evidence of our experiences to bolster our beliefs. If I walk into a party with a sense of dread, then I am subconsciously looking for evidence of that dread to prove myself right.

Shannon Lee

We have all been there. We thought it was going to be bad and it turned out to be so. We are programmed to see only the things we are looking for. How much have we lost by following this programming? How much could we have gained if we went into the situation with a neutral mind?

To achieve the neutral mind, I must:

  • Unclutter the mind by releasing thoughts and beliefs that are unnecessary.
  • With an empty mind, allow it to open to new possibilities.
  • Eliminate preconceptions of what may come.

This is a practice. With time and consistency, mastery of the mind is possible.

Quoted material obtained from Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee by Shannon Lee.

What We May Be

Do you know what you are? Hopefully by this time, you have figured it out. You know your strengths and weaknesses. You understand the opportunities available to you and the potential threats that could endanger you.

It takes an honest assessment to find out who you are. Anything else could create a dangerous illusion that masks your true self. What you are is here in the present. It is an accumulation of all your past choices. It is not what you hope to be. What you are is the facts of your life right now.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

William Shakespeare

The future will be the accumulation of your choices going forward. They will be combined with past decisions to create the next version of you. What will be your next version?

Shakespeare said we don’t know what we may become. This is true. The potential and the opportunities are there. Yet only some will capitalize on them. Others will sit back and be passively led. Their hopes and dreams will be nothing more than fantasy. Their fortunes and misfortunes will be no more than a product of chance.

Today is a new beginning. If fortune favors us with a tomorrow, it will be the next beginning. Though tomorrow is not guaranteed, we must still plan for it. We must act on those plans today so that we can be at a better starting point tomorrow. If we can continually build upon the plans of each day, we can get closer to our true potential and discover what we may be.

Build the New

How much energy have I spent in reliving the past? It is a time locked in concrete and cannot be changed. All the “I wish I would have, could have, or should have” to no avail. What is done is done, yet so hard to be done with.

There are a few old computer programs I liked. They were familiar, therefore making it easier to use. But as technology improved, they became less appealing, buggier, and simply outdated. To keep those programs operating took more work and eventually the costs outweighed the benefits.

Like the computer programs, companies often struggle when they can’t adapt to the times. They held onto the old ways of doing business and got outpaced by their competitors. The “why fix it if it ain’t broke” mentality holds true, unless one is unaware that it is indeed broken.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Socrates

Companies that can build the new stay relevant.

Computer programs that are technologically with the times will outperform the legacy programs of yesterday.

And then, there is us. If we are constantly fighting the old, we will continuously find ourselves in a losing battle. Would it not be better for us to concentrate on building the new?

Mind, body, and spirit. If what we did in the past is no longer serving us, we would be better off building a new way to do things. It takes observation and analysis to build self-awareness. This is review of the past, not dwelling in the past. We must look to the future and plan a deviation from previously failed actions. This is strategy, not fantasy. It is in the present moment that the changes are made. Work on building the new, not fighting the old.

Protecting Our Holy of Holies

A person’s skin is an amazing organ. It helps to hold all the important stuff inside. It is a shield that protects the person from any unwanted stuff from getting in. Taking care of one’s skin is a no-brainer and not doing so causes a lot of pain and many adverse health conditions.

Did you know we have an invisible skin that protects our souls and spirits? This membrane is designed much like the body’s skin. It keeps the harmful stuff out and the good stuff in. we must protect it or else our hearts and minds will suffer. What is this invisible shield? It is our conscience.

Fear all that is not accepted by your conscience. -Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

We should fear the deleterious effects of the things we put in our bodies. If there is a chance that it would harm us, why would we allow it inside of us? If our bodies are temples, then our conscience is the doorway to the holy of holies. It would be unwise to desecrate that which we should hold most sacred.

Strength from Good Actions

Each repetition with that heavy weight reinforced the signal to my muscles—they must become stronger. Oh, the strength won’t come today. No, today is the sacrifice that precedes the gain in strength tomorrow. Or in my case, the strength that may come someday in the future. With strength training, there is no immediate gratification. There is only the next repetition, the preparation for the next building block to be added to the foundation.

Every time I do a good deed, my expectation isn’t for my own benefit. But for every good deed I do, I become stronger. My ability to perform more good deeds increases. Whether that good deed is for myself or for others, I get stronger. And when those deeds are directed toward others, they, the recipients, get stronger. The community gets stronger.

Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.

Plato

The beauty of strength training is that anybody can do it and reap the benefits. There is no prejudice. There is no exclusion for only a certain group of people. Everybody can train and become stronger. Strength goes beyond muscles, tendons, and bones. It is developed in our good actions. Each good action is another repetition promoting positive change and adding to another layer on top of the foundation.

Action breeds action. Inaction does the same. To become stronger, we must train.

Primal Union

Guard your senses.

Smelling something bad, my first instinct is to move away from the odor. If it is toxic, I could be in danger. Otherwise, it is just unpleasant. Our noses are a first line of defense that would be unwise to ignore.

If it smells bad, it is probably not a good idea to eat it. If it tastes bad, spitting it out would be preferable to swallowing it. Taste, like smell, is a protective measure designed for our safety.

Touch, like the other two senses, is a protective measure. The skin holds everything in and is designed to keep the unwanted out. Pain is a fantastic indicator of a break in the system.

That leaves hearing and sight. Over-exposure can cause irreparable damage. Like the other major senses, they send their signals to the brain. However, hearing and sight are gateways to the soul. If we do not guard what we hear and see, we can allow unwanted and potentially dangerous messages to penetrate our inner beings and expose us to subtle toxins.

Temper your sharpness.

If it is sharp, it is designed to penetrate and cut. It is a weapon that can hurt ourselves and others. Our weapons are our words and actions. Lacking discipline, our sharpness will leave pain in its wake.

Think of a swordsman. Any fool can pick up a sword without regard to the damage it can cause. But a master knows its power and will only use it in times of dire need.

Mask your brightness.

There is a great light within each of us. It is my pride that would cause me to shine my light on those unwilling to see it. If I become so bright, others will either turn away or attempt to dim it. They will only see and hear the things they choose.

I can attempt to mask my brightness with humility. Therefore, others can choose of their own accord whether to see my light.

Be at one with the earth.

To be at one with the earth is to live in harmony. The instrumentalist that cannot maintain harmony will not get the chair in the orchestra. The team member that sows discord will eventually get thrown out of the office. We are a part of this universe. We are a member of our community, a community that will live long after we are no more.

We are the catalysts for a better tomorrow. To be at one with this earth, we must be the stewards that ensure that work is done.

Guard your senses. Temper your sharpness. Mask your brightness. Be at one with the earth. This is primal union.

Lao Tzu

Primal Union

How do we achieve primal union? We must become the people we were intended to be. we cannot do this if we cannot guard our senses. If we cut and injure others, who would be willing to come close to us? If we think that shining the repulsive light of our pride on others will attract them to us, then we are mistaken. And if we cannot  be in harmony with the universe, then we will get greased like a squeaky wheel.

Lessons in History

A quick look back:

  • The Persians thought to rule the world.
  • Alexander the Great did the same.
  • The Romans, a few hundred years later, took up the mantle of world domination.
  • Genghis Khan wanted to claim the world as his. And if he could not do it, then maybe one of his many children could try when he was done.
  • A little guy with a big ego from France traipsed across Europe leaving countless dead in his wake.
  • A madman in Germany. We all know what he was about.

This list is not exhaustive and certainly not excusive to only them.

History Lesson: Throughout the ages, there has always been individuals that have wreaked havoc across the land motivated by power, money, and sex.

The greatest of the world dominators live on perpetually in the history books. But the timeline in between every one of them is littered with lesser men who tried to become like them. As it was back then, so it is now, and so it shall always be.

Chances are that you are not one of these megalomaniacs. And if you not one of them, then are most likely one of their targets.

What has changed?

It certainly isn’t the heart of the villain. But be not deceived, they are some of the greatest students of history. They have studied their predecessors and have learned from their mistakes. Well known super-villains will eventually come to ruin. The advance in technology over the last century makes it even harder to survive. Therefore, it is better to operate in the shadows than to promote your evil in the open.

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all lessons in history.

Aldous Huxley

What is the lesson? Is it to conceal your maneuvering towards world domination? No, this lesson is to identify those that would use us for their nefarious purposes. We must look within the shadows to see who is operating there. We all fear the direct assault, but that is not the most dangerous. They are often from the shadowspawn lurking behind the scenes. We must be wary of the wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Within Oneself

Belief

I have a confession to make. I believe in myself. I believe I can achieve what I set out to do in life. This is my faith. I am an optimist when it comes to fulfilling my destiny. Better to be an optimist than a pessimist.

This does have a drawback. Sometimes I get so excited about my hopes for the future and how I intend to achieve it that I want to share with others. But as I learned in The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler, telling others what I intend to do before I do it, prematurely sends dopamine to the brain. Because I imagined it and told others, I have tricked my brain into thinking it has already been accomplished. This makes doing the work even harder as the brain has already gotten the “high” it was looking for.*

Do I need to tell others? No. I have a belief in myself. That is enough. Therefore, I must temper my excitement. I must let go of the egotistical desire for aplomb. I don’t need to convince others of my plans. Instead, I must execute the plans.

Contentment

What makes me happy? Am I a dog that derives happiness from the approval of others? Happiness is internal. Being designed for action, I am happiest when I perform the work I was created to do. If I squander away my time, if I do nothing or get “busy” doing that which is outside of my life’s purpose, then my happiness wanes. Isn’t this true for all of us?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do find joy in the success of others. If you are happy, then I am happy for you. But to be content with myself, I must do what God created me to do.

Acceptance

Approval is nice. So is acceptance. However, this also is internal. My conscience is intact. It knows what is right and wrong. If I violate it, it sends a message to the rest of my being that I am in a state of discord. If I repeatedly abuse my conscience and learn to dismiss its signal of disapproval, then I will nullify this beautiful tool designed for harmony. I am what I am. I am not what I am not. I can accept this. It is something I can work with. I hope the world can accept this. If not, then I apologize. For I cannot be anything other than what I am.

Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need other’s approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.

Lao Tzu

We must look inward to find our peace, our harmony, and our happiness. Others cannot provide this for us. It is a task we must achieve on our own.


*While Latham and Locke originally believed that making your goal public increased motivation, a series of additional studies by NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer showed that talking about a goal significantly lessens your chances of achieving it. By giving voice to an aim, you’re creating what’s called a “social reality,” and this has negative consequences for real reality. The act of telling someone about your goal gives you the feeling that the goal’s already been achieved. It releases the dopamine you’re supposed to get afterward, prematurely. -Art of Impossible, Steven Kotler

On Suffering

How do I suffer?

  • In the mornings from a poor night’s sleep.
  • Mobility issues in my hips and shoulders. Back and neck pain.
  • Wanting things that I do not or cannot have.

Nearly all my suffering is either physical or mental. Occasionally, I suffer emotionally. Emotional suffering I usually include with mental and falls into the “I want but cannot have” category.

I must live with my suffering. It is generally accepted as a natural part of my life. It is what it is. But should that be the case?

A poor night’s sleep.

There are those who are adamant that this is a condition associated with getting older. Yet, I have seen older adults that do not struggle with this. Why is it only some that have this problem? Why do I have this problem? I can’t imagine this being a genetic flaw. And if is not genetic, then is it self-induced?

Reasons why my poor sleep performance is my fault:

  • Slept too long the morning before.
  • Not enough activity during the day.
  • Too much stimulation (or stimulants) in the evening.
  • Too much food/water before bed.
  • Alcohol. Click here for a wonderful Art of Manliness podcast on whether to drink or not.

If I check any of the boxes above, then I am ultimately to blame. If I don’t do anything to change these behaviors, then I will suffer.

Mobility and pain.

When it comes to mobility and pain issues, I must look to the fix. As we age, these problems will only get worse if they are not addressed. Mobility issues can be corrected, but it takes work, consistency, and patience. Pain, in my case, can be remedied through strength training. If not, the only other solution is surgery. With these two options, I will take strength training any day.

Unfulfilled wants and desires.

“What is the proper limits to one’s wealth,” Seneca asked. His twofold answer is to have what is essential and then to have what is enough. Beginning with the essential, do I and my family have it? Well, that depends on what is essential. At one time, essential meant food, shelter, and clothes on the back. Today, some would consider medicine, internet, television, phone, a car for each family member of driving age, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and a whole host of “I can’t live without it” consumer products.

My family has food, shelter, and clothes. Some of the extras are important. Medicine to treat illness, a phone to communicate, and reliable transportation will certainly make life easier. But do I need the latest phone to play the latest game, the newest car that passes the “socially acceptable” test, or the game-changing drug that will melt all the bodyfat away? I don’t need any of these, I only need what is enough. Constantly chasing after the newest and what everybody else has will leave me always wanting no matter how much I already have.

Suffering is necessary until you realize it is unnecessary.

Eckhart Tolle

I don’t have to suffer. It is not a requirement for existence on this planet. I can analyze, I can correct, and I can desire less. I might not be able to remove all my pain and hardship, but I can take the steps to eliminate most of it from my life. Rather than being overwhelmed by a multitude of suffering coming from a multitude of different areas, I can target them individually until the majority are removed. Suffering is only necessary if I allow it to be.

Obstacles in Life

There was a change in Thursday’s practice schedule. It was a little chaotic, and Alec didn’t have a chance to warm-up. This was my fault. I should have had him do it on his own or work a few minutes with the other class.

Right away, I could tell something was off. So far this season, Alec has had phenomenal practices. He has been attentive to the lectures and has given 100% in the drills. I have been happy with his progress. But at this practice, that wasn’t the case. He was distracted during the lectures which made his drill practice subpar. And then when it was time to wrestle, he had no confidence and was beaten by everyone he went against. What was going on?

After every practice, Alec and I have an After-Action Review (AAR). The one after this practice didn’t go well. I highlighted all the things he did wrong. Usually, I start with all the positives and then proceed to the areas he can work on. But in this case, it was all negative. As his athletic manager, I dropped the ball and didn’t consider the underlying factors. Later that night, we talked about what could have been better. We both agreed this was a one-off event, and we would do our best to learn from it and then move on. We also talked about why he was wrestling and its real-world applications.

The Obvious

The obvious application is how to handle a physical confrontation with another person. Wrestling is a great preventative measure against bullies. Bullies do not prefer to prey on a superior target. It does not enhance their reputations if they cannot defeat their opponent. Therefore, the bully looks to target a victim that is deemed mentally and/or physically weaker. A strong capable body and mind is one’s best defense against the bully.

In Relation to Math

As a part of our conversation, we discussed math. Mathematicians must be able to solve the problem in front of them. These problems range in complexity. Some problems are seen often. Once we understand the steps to solve them,  the problems become easier. But other problems are more complex and require more time and effort. Fortunately, most problems have a solution.

The wrestler’s problem is the opponent. The skillset, speed, and strength of the opponent determines the complexity. And like math, there is usually an available solution. The winner of the match is the one who discovers the solution the quickest.

In NOT Giving Up

Wrestling is one of the great sports that effectively taxes the mind and body. Enough pain and frustration will cause the faint of heart to throw in the towel. For the wrestler, the key to victory lies in overcoming the desire to give up. After all, the last one standing gets the crown.

Alec may not participate in the sport of wrestling his whole life. Yet, he will be wrestling throughout his lifetime. He is going to face situations where quitting will be an available option. Whether it is frustration with friends and family, co-workers and supervisors, or kings and countries, he will have to navigate seemingly insurmountable obstacles. What he does now will develop him to meet those future challenges head-on.

The real obstacles in life lie in the heart of man.

Bertrand Russell

The real beauty of wrestling is that it develops confidence and courage. To show hesitation is to show a lack of both. Currently, Alec has neither as a wrestler. He will get there, but he isn’t there yet. My job as his “manager” is to get him there. Of course, I want him to win, but winning at this stage is less important than his journey to excellence. Time under tension is one the best ways to develop muscles. Time under tension (experience) on the mat is going build both his confidence and courage. It is going to enable him to overcome the obstacles he is facing now and the future real obstacles he is going to face in life.

Difficulty shows what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. Why? So that you may become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat.

Epictetus