"When I forget my ways, I am in The Way"

Philosophical and experiential notes on Nothingness, with supporting insights from martial arts, quantum physics and Taoism


Countless volumes, both ancient and current, record not nearly enough to say about what can't be said.


JOB: A COMEDY OF JUSTICE, Robert A. Heinlein
A wry look at heaven and hell, and the powers that control them. The story of a modern day Job, who unwittingly finds himself the hapless victim of a bet between God and the Devil, complete with a series of constantly cruel cosmic twists that confound, frustrate and confuse him. If that sounds a bit familiar, you may enjoy what is one of my favorite science fiction books of all time.

Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman
Takuan Soho

One of my favorite books, and one that I consistently reach for. The simplicity and directness of its wisdom is such that I read just a small amount and put it down. Time to practice. Talks plainly, avoiding the terminology of Buddhism. "In a life-and-death situation of being sword-tip to sword-tip with the enemy, where should the swordsman put his mind?" Put his mind? Where does the mind reside? Where should it reside? The book uses some martial arts references, but its aim is to the everyday person. It's easy to read, but very quickly you realize that you are going too fast. This is a book to stuff in your daypack, pull out in the middle of nature, read a paragraph, and then close your eyes.
Marco Santello's true life account is an excellent insight into the first, timid steps taken into the deeper path or way. He begins his narrative by revealing an inner compulsion he had experienced even as a youth, an unquenchable thirst for something that, at the time, was impossible to define. He also conveys how odd it seems to him that no one else seems to think or talk about the kinds of things he finds himself often pondering.

As the story unfolds, Santello shares how his hunger continued unabated into young adulthood, eventually driving him into the martial arts. The allure of the martial arts was that it seemed to promise a 'way of living,' a quality he found elusive upon becoming a student. Entering college, he eventually meets an older master teacher, himself a former martial artist. As his apprenticeship slowly begins to unfold, Santello honestly conveys his early fears and concerns, including anxieties over what he might be getting himself into. 

“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.” - Yoda, Jedi Master

KI IN DAILY LIFE, Koichi Tohei
Discover the principles of Ki, developed by Koichi Tohei, foremost student of the founder of Aikido, and an acclaimed Aikido master himself. While originally written for the martial arts student, the principles are highly useful for all of us and led to the founding of The Ki Society. The principles of Ki are also the principles of the third degree black belt curriculum at Great River Jiu Jitsu. The principles are: Relax, Keep Weight Underside, Maintain One Point, and Extend Ki.
Much to his surprise, therapist Dr. Michael Newton discovers that many of his patients have memories of their times between lives. During the course of his resulting research, he posits a theory that as eternal beings or souls, we are each at certain 'levels' of awareness and achievement, both on this side and the other side of life. The book is highly informative regarding the 'organizational levels' that we belong to on the 'other side', levels that we rise or fall too depending on our maturity and development as a soul. It is also revealing in the sense that we may not be quite as far along as we tend to think we are. 
First published in 1992, Michael Talbot is able to effectively communicate the startling and converging theories of physicist David Bohm, a protege of Einstein, and renowned Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram. Their independently derived theories that the universe is constructed holographically was my first exposure to the excitement of cutting edge physics shaking hands with esoteric mysticism. "Most mind-boggling of all are Bohm's fully developed ideas about wholeness. Because everything in the cosmos is made out of the seamless holographic fabric of the implicate order, he believes it is as meaningless to view the universe as composed of "parts," as it is to view the different geyers in a fountain as separate from the water out of which they flow."

I picked this book up in the midst of renewed studies about Nothingness. This time with an eye on quantum physics. A warning: I suppose I may be a little harsh in this review, because it triggers me on the concept of certainty.

“Everything you have ever seen, tasted, touched, heard or smelled at one time had no existence. Every thing has a beginning and an end. And this beginning or genesis takes place within a field of NOTHINGNESS.

"And when at last, be it a mere moment or after vast ages seemingly without end, this thing dies or expires, the field it occupies returns to that state of NOTHINGNESS". [1]

I am not at all certain that "everything has a beginning and an end." Why must we be so needy of certainty? So that we can convey how certain and confident we are? I don't think confidence solely occurs in the presence of certainty.

There's really no way to be 100% certain that everything has a beginning and an end. Yet we seem to succumb to certainty almost as a default behavior. Especially when everyone else is doing it too. And certainty seems to be an excruciatingly difficult habit to break, in part because of our need to be certain and in part because we often refuse to question behaviors that seem too 'right' to question.

Additionally, this quote, and the book itself does not shed any light on Nothingness. It is talking in circles, which is, to me, a disappointing disservice. It touches Nothingness, and then retreats. Nothingness is too important a topic to be casually thrown about. It's like the blustery speaker who talks with authority to the crowd, yet is clueless about the subject. But their authoritative tone convinces the crowd.

Look, if you're going to tackle Nothingness, that's cool. But if you're going to expound on it or teach it - then bring some substance to the table. Help us relate to it. Otherwise, you just end up clouding the issue behind the thin veil of cobbled together and inane phrases that sound all mystical and authoritative.

This book is not my 'cup of tea.' Its catchy title promises, but doesn't deliver.

[1] Excerpt From: Nada, Zilchand. “The Tao of Nothingness.” Zilchand Nada, 2013-10-01.

Zen in Film
Easily one of the most zen characters ever portrayed in film. Anthony Hopkins, in typical and amazing immersive acting, portrays Burt Munro, an old New Zealander who defied all odds. True life story.

Munro encounters each person he meets with genuine, warm-hearted acceptance, and each obstacle in his path with an untiring tenacity to overcome. Munro's quote of Theodore Roosevelt conveys not just his relaxed and inclusive approach to everyone he meets, but also illustrates the single-minded determination of the man or woman who find themselves isolated and alone on a solitary quest.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”