Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Gun Culture"

The problem is as much of "gun culture" as it is as legal.

This is the only country that deifies the gun.
Venerates the gun.
Worships the gun.
Idolizes the gun.

In fact the attitude toward the gun is akin to a primitive culture worshiping a stone idol. The gun in of itself is a tool, nothing more. In most countries it's seen as a tool, like a hammer or a wrench. It has no more significance than that. It's only in America that we bestow such powers and defend its rights as if the gun were a living being. This comes from the fact that a gun can have an effect not unlike a narcotic.

I do believe that the feeling of handling a gun for some can be very similar to the "fix" of a heroin injection. That euphoria of power and control is very intoxicating, especially to those who feel powerless or that their life is somehow not in control. Unfortunately, it's a hollow and false sense of power that's derived from the object of the gun and not from within. That's why gun ownership is so vehemently being protected, instead of the reality of the data that shows an exponential rise in the rate of gun violence in this country as compared to others.

 It's really a matter of "gun culture" in this country and that so many turn to guns to provide that sense of power. We have more gun shops than all the Starbucks in the world. We have gun shows, gun conventions, gun collecting as a hobby. I'm not criticizing these things, just pointing out how much the gun, a tool, is a part of the identity of the culture. It becomes a substitute identity for American men. Why are so many of the violent mass gun shooting perpetrated by adolescent males? Many young men today face an increasing complex world where competition to achieve becomes more important than self-satisfaction or happiness. In fact they are told that happiness can only be derived by financial achievement and if they don't measure up they will be looked upon as "failures". This only enforces feelings of inadequacy within these young men and they turn to other means for internal support. Most use drugs, others hide in escapist fantasy games or alcohol but a few can pick up a gun and feel a sense of power. The power to grant life or death. To most people that kind of power only illustrates a monster but for young men who have no sense of self or personal inner-strength, that power becomes their new identity. Why do young disenfranchised men join gangs or become part of organized crime?

The power of a gun replaces the feeling of an internal sense of weakness that many men feel and gives them an intoxicating power that they can't manifest on their own. When combined with mental illness, severe feeling of inadequacy, weakness or powerlessness, it becomes deadly. We have to reexamine what pressures we put on ourselves and our young men. We have to look into what kind of society we want and why is the gun so worshiped in our culture. Look at the movie posters, the video games and other artifacts of our culture and you can see how ubiquitous the gun is in all these images. Can we have functioning society without measuring it by financial statuses? Can we teach young men to have a healthy sense of self without putting the pressures of artificial standards of achievement, like social and financial status? Where can our internal sense of power come from, especially if we divorce ourselves from gun culture? Can we instill a sense of power, even masculine power, without resorting to objects of violence like guns?

True power can only come from within and should never be associated with objects such as guns, physical domination or money. We have to look within ourselves to see how much we have given over to these objects at expense of our own internal power.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What is Self–Confidence?

We promote martial arts as way of building self-confidence but what is self-confidence? Where does it come from? Are some of us born with it or is it learned? Do we confuse ego with confidence? Ego really comes from fear, from a need to hide because it masks a profound lack of self-worth. I recently had this discussion with a friend; they felt that showing any true feelings was somehow a sign of weakness. I tried to show them that confronting ones insecurities and being honest with one self is actually a sign of courage. Courage is the ability to vulnerable in front of others and from this power of vulnerability, comes the confidence to be your true self.

Some people find confidence or courage with alcohol, some from a gun. This is defiantly the case when self-appointed vigilantes patrol the streets in a need to control their environment, when really they are just scared with their feelings of lack of control and their own insecurities. Infantile gun fantasies take over the rational mind and they find themselves confronted with the realities that they sought out to create. By that time it’s too late before tragedy occurs. The comparison to recent events should seem obvious. My insightful brother pointed out to me that; “We are the architects of our own realities and sadly, our own miseries”.

The gun makes them feel strong and important but that feeling of superiority comes from the gun, not within. It's a completely external confidence because inside, they really are scared little children. I never understood this until I started studying Kung Fu. Chinese martial makes one go within and find that confidence inside of you. Not that you have the power to beat someone up but that you’re confronted for the first time with your own weaknesses and become more self-aware, as well as compassionate toward the self. That compassion then is extended towards others and is the foundation of self confidence.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Masters and the Secret of the Iron Palm

by Alex Lamas

This is not going to be what you think it's going to be. It is not a explanation of how to do Iron palm, nor is it a examination of the various techniques. It is an example of how two different view points of contentment versus ambition can define the individual. So please stick with me.

Once a generation or two ago, there were two martial arts masters. Both came from different countries and emigrated to the US, New York City to be exact. Both started teaching in the 50's or 60's and by the 1970's, were highly accomplished with large schools and many wonderful students. Both developed and practiced Iron Palm training from a young age and by the time of mastery, both were able to display almost super-human skill. What differed was their approach.

The first master worked brutally hard, smashing his hands with amazing force and at times fracturing them. By the time his hands healed, he had virtually turned them to iron, making them formidable weapons. He could crush boards, brick and ice, any hard substance would succumb to his power. His hands were legendary.

The other master took great care and treated his hands with gentleness. First, he would hit a rice bag, neither too hard nor too soft and after a few years he would eventually graduate to a sand bag. After each training session he would treat his hands with salves and medicine, massaging them whether they needed it or not. After a few yew years he would then graduate to a bag filled with metal shot, still hitting with force but slowly and gradually increasing the force of his strikes with the passing years. It took time and he could eventually condition his hands by hitting a can filled with lead but as always, neither too hard nor too soft and still treating himself with the utmost care afterwards. In time he too had achieved iron hands and he too could display his power with feats of crushing brick and stone.

After many years the first master had achieved world-wide fame, wealth and an abundance of followers. However, being human, with the passing years his health would slow and his hands deteriorated as fast as they were strengthened. Eventually his hands became crippled and he would need assistance to do the most mundane tasks. They were arthritic and twisted to the point of almost being useless.

The second master did not achieve the same level of status, however he enjoyed a small but fiercely loyal following. He was and is famous in certain circles and enjoys a high level of respect from the community. He on occasion will teach at his will or whim and has quite a healthy lifestyle with certain exceptions. His hands are to this day his best feature. They are strong, yet pliable and they look as if they belonged to a concert pianist. Don't be fooled, they can still make bricks crumble under his power.

It is wondered whether ambition and contentment are at odds. If one is content, does that mean they have no ambition? If one is ambitious, are they incapable of being satisfied and doomed to always chase more? Can these two qualities coexist? From the latter example it can. The second master did not lack ambition, nor was he lethargic or in any way a "slacker". He took care and was quite mindful of his processes. He also knew when enough was enough. He built a fine school, had hundreds of students but his concerns were more of the quality of his teaching and his practice, rather than accumulation of power, wealth or status. Even when power was bestowed on him he accepted it reluctantly and took it on as a responsibility rather than a privilege. Even to this day he shuns the lime light.

When our ambitions exceed our needs, that is when we start down the road to self-destruction. When we are obsessed with accumulation that is in adverse affect of our own well-being, it at this point we doom ourselves to the continuing cycle of more, faster, bigger, better. When we cannot find an end to this cycle, our discontentment becomes greed and leads to depression. Lack of satisfaction can be as dangerous as a total lack of ambition. We cling to defined outcomes and if they are met, we increase them and if the increase is not met, we suffer for our addictions. Addiction to more is an addiction to self and our egos, then we become nothing but beings bent on satiating our own gross appetites. The Buddhist concept of the "hungry ghost".

At some point we can find our contentment when we concern ourselves with the quality of our goals, rather than the quantity of our ambitions. Am I healthy? Can I live comfortably? Do I treat myself, my loved ones and neighbors with care and compassion? Am I mindful of the impact that I have on my body, mind and the world outside? Those are the questions that we should be motivated to answer.

Do not think of this as a critique of the first master. He enjoyed his life and his accomplishments. Even long after death he has a high level of respect but he made his choices and they were his. His results stood for themselves, as well as the consequences to his well-being. We can have ambition but what are we ambitious about? Do we want more or can we care more? Do we treat ourselves with kindness and can we transfer that quality to others? Let's treat ourselves with the kindness and compassion we would show our loved ones. Balancing the right ambitions with being satisfied and grateful for what we have can lead to true growth.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What is…
by Alex Lamas

What is Uncertainty- It’s good to be in the space of uncertainty in that place is an opportunity for new discovery. It’s like the opening of a lotus flower one petal at a time each unfolding is new discovery to the center of truth. I love Kung Fu because it is a path to myself. Not from an ego sense or self-centered point of view but as a self-exploration.

What is Being Powerful-
Being great and powerful is being true to who you are, being authentic and coming from a place of love and not from ego.

What is Teaching Martial Arts-
For me, teaching Kung Fu is not about cultivating killers but cultivating liberators. I try to show each student the way to their own personal freedom so they can express themselves honestly and without fear.
by Alex Lamas

In the spring of 2005 I was involved in a rather nasty car accident. I was struck from behind while stopped at a stop sign. I suffered from a severe neck sprain, whiplash, and a broken tooth. After a series of doctors, physical therapists and an acupuncturist for the pain, I came to the suffering part. The bill, the insurance company only paid for a portion of my medical and dental procedures. At this point I realized that the pain was real and suffering, realized.

Luckily at that time I started practicing meditation under the guidance of Thai Buddhist monks. Meditation taught me that grand, ultimate awareness is the key. So many of us dull our senses and wander in the dark when we need the light the most. We watch too much television, drink alcohol and take drugs when we need to have ourselves at full attention. I'm not making a judgment on these activities, I love “The Sopranos” and German beer. But we medicate ourselves with entertaining distractions to avoid the pain. This is making a judgment on pain. There is a Zen saying, "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." In order to release pain we must experience it first. We must observe it and ourselves without judgment and allow ourselves to feel the full range of emotions good or bad. When we suppress our emotions or worse, avoid them, then and only then will they have power over us. I realized by using a non-judgmental observation of how I felt, I was able to experience the emotions so I could release them.

Non-attachment is the only way to end the suffering so many of us go through. In Buddhism we practice this daily. The Buddha taught that suffering is caused by our attachments to things, thoughts and emotions, good and bad. Our attachments serve us and allow us to believe certain things that we want to believe in ourselves. They allow us to have judgments on ourselves and the people in our lives, so we are able to feel frustrated by them. But all these attachments are not real, they cloud our reality and keep us in a state of delusion, so we can believe what we want to believe and not deal with reality. Why is reality so scary?

Reality is absolute. Things are exactly as they seem and life is just what it is. Nothing is hidden unless we make the choice not to see. Morality is relative but there are universal truths, lying, stealing, killing and harming others or nature are defilements of our own spirit. Sure you may say you are only hurting yourself but this is a defilement of your life and what of the other people who care for you? Why not honor their love by honoring yourself every day and how do we achieve this honoring? By honoring our word, by living in the present moment as much as we can and by allowing all our emotions, thoughts and feelings to arise so they can cease. The most important lesson that I have learned is from the Buddha's first sermon to his followers; "All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing" what has a beginning, has an end. Every bad situation that we find ourselves in has an ending, because it's all temporary and by being aware of how we feel and act in those situations we can transcend them, learn and grow. All that has a beginning has an end, the spirit is the only thing that is deathless.

You need not become a Buddhist to use meditation or to believe in the philosophy of the nature of suffering. Many other religions come to the same conclusions through different paths. The techniques and principles are quite secular and follow sound psychological understanding on how the mind works. It was Carl Jung who coined the phrase, "what you resist, persists." In other words, whenever you suppress or avoid an emotion or situation that thing will haunt and control you until it is realized. Once done and brought out into the light it loses all power. If starting out on a path of meditation be warned, at the beginning I found that I felt much worse than better. I became angry and was given to quick bouts of depression during this time. The difference was that the spells of bad emotions although very intense were short lived. This was because I was uncovering all the hurt, frustrations and anger I had suppressed for 30 years. I wasn't alone many other meditation practitioners have had similar experiences.

It's a clearing of the mind and it's important not to judge these experiences but to just be in them and forgive yourself and others for what ever may come up. We constantly judge, we are judging machines and it may be easy to say that we mustn't, we still judge everything and everyone that comes into our lives. Instead, be aware of when we judge. Observe it so then we can let it go and make choices based on the choice itself and not on considerations from meanings that we make up. Judgments are based on pure ego and have nothing to do with reality. They are the consideration created by us, to make us feel better about accepting or rejecting something that is presented in our lives. These judgments aren't real, they're fantasies created in our mind. When we release our judgments we can have opportunity to truly be free to make choices and not worry about making mistakes. Worrying is also created by ego and has no basis in reality. It's a fantasy about the future and story that is given power so we don't have to responsible about the choices we may have made. Awareness brings us back to the present moment and forces us to deal with what is happening now. Worrying is a distraction from dealing with reality because we know that reality is absolute. Only by being aware can we eventually come to the cessation of what we were suffering from and realize that many of our fears, worries, anger and judgments are creations of ego and don't exist in reality.

Reality just is.

Copyright  2007 Alex Lamas, All rights reserved.
by Alex Lamas

I once had a meditation teacher who was a Buddhist monk from Thailand and one night he gave us a wonderful Dharma talk in the form of a story from his childhood. When he was four years old he dreamed of going to that distant place on the horizon where the land touched the sky. So one day he and a few of his friends decided to do just that.

They set off from their village to find this magical place. Through the forest, across farm fields and into wilderness they traveled but the farther they walked, the farther away their destination appeared to be. They couldn’t understand why that place kept moving away while they kept walking toward it. They were frustrated because they kept chasing something they could never reach.

The kids soon noticed that they were hopelessly lost and the sun was beginning to go down. My teacher and his friends saw a farmer in the distance and they all ran to him for help. The farmer informed them that they were more than 10 miles away from their village but he could help them get home.

A year or two later, like most children his age, my teacher learned in school about geography, astronomy, the planets and the solar system. Through knowledge he gained wisdom about the curvature of the earth and how what he saw was an illusion. From his story I realized what he was trying to tell us, that you can’t always trust what you see and if you want to have wisdom and insight you first must drop your assumptions.

Assumptions are the lies we tell ourselves to strengthen our attachment to false beliefs and ideas. Assumptions feed delusion and cause needless suffering. Think of how many times we’ve assumed something only to find out we were completely mistaken. How many times have we imagined how someone will react to a situation or confrontation only to be surprised or disappointed by the reality of the event?

True wisdom comes from the awareness of what is and not from anticipating, judging or assuming. Insight is to see things as they truly are and not to be clouded by the false judgments of our busy minds. In martial arts one must never over-estimate or under-estimate an opponent, just deal with what is in front of you. To assume someone is powerful because of their large size is not to take into account that they may be slow, or not. This creates a false fear. To judge someone because of there gender is not to take into account their skill and accuracy in aim, or not. This can create false confidence. The key is not assume or judge but just be ready. Be in a state of readiness is the ideal of all martial artists and is important in all aspects of life.

Bruce Lee had the perfect philosophy when he once said, "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend."

Wisdom begins when we drop our assumptions; otherwise insight becomes as illusive as that far off place where the land touches the sky.

Copyright  2007 Alex Lamas, All rights reserved.