Warrior Athlete Philosopher

World-Class Martial Arts with Joseph Simonet and Addy Hernandez.

Month: August 2016

The Reconciliation of Life and Death

sifu life death
The other day, I was playing at the park with my little boy Joey, and I saw a gentleman sitting in the sun reading what appeared to be a very interesting book on philosophy. I approached him and inquired about the material in which he was so studiously engaged. We struck up a conversation and I learned that the man was 85 years old, still seeming to be fully active and immersed in what brings him life and stimulation. A few weeks previous, I was having coffee with my neighbor who is 75 years old, a retired engineer, accomplished physicist and no less a family man. He confided in me that he could die tomorrow and be completely happy and content with what he had actualized in his life. These two encounters made me wonder increasingly about how I myself can achieve that level of acceptance, peace and vitality even when the longevity of my life is not assured. When I consider my goals and dreams, I am comforted by the idea that I likely have a few more decades in which I can realize my life’s potential and enjoy the comfort of my loved ones and treasured interests. But what concerns me is the inevitable point at which I can no longer gaze into the future with assuredness–when I am unable to rely upon the supply of years that are incumbent upon me. I wonder how I will reconcile my own death and will I ever reach the point where I no longer fear death but welcome its embrace?
This is a question that we all must face, and for this reason I share this struggle with my readers. Death is one of the few arenas in which all people have complete mutuality, and yet it is something that most of us in American culture avoid discussing or pondering. Overcoming the fear that accompanies uncertainty is an endeavor that we all must face. Yet so often, if one spends undue time thinking and conversing about death, he is labeled as “morbid” or “macabre”. How can we come to terms with the end of life if we don’t explore it with open-minded curiosity and fluid discussion?
One of the reasons why many of us fear death is because we know so little about the process. Even near death experiences are disputed by science as being the byproduct of chemical mechanisms, so we dismiss any spiritual meaning imparted by people who have come close to the abyss. Pursuant to our lack of empirical acumen on the topic, we often react to death with angst and unease, which is routine for humans throughout history. Just like in the 1400’s when most sailors wouldn’t venture past the known map for fear that the world would end in a cliff or an incursion of sea monsters would flounder their ship, so too is death terrifying partly because it is the great unknown.
The psychological process of dying is somewhat better understood. Erik Erickson describes phases of life ending in death, which to him involves negotiating Ego Integrity vs. Despair. Essentially, during our final years, a person slows down in productivity, comes to terms with what has been achieved and what will never be achieved, and is able to see life as well-lived even in the absence of the promise of future years. Erikson contends that if a person enters this phase of living with guilt and disappointment, then despair results. However, if a person achieves wisdom, a sense of acceptance and an embracing of life’s course and events, then a person has ego integrity without fear. This philosophy leads me to conclude that to reconcile death means reconciling life.
The question is, what is the process of this reconciliation and how do we pursue it with intentionality? Although I don’t fully know the answer to this question, I do know that it is never too early to start the journey of coming to terms with one’s mortality. The assurance of longevity is an illusion for all of us, and at any point our forthcoming timeline can be abruptly halted. We also need to consider the beliefs and perspectives that either expedite our stunt our acceptance of death. Many of us rely upon religious and spiritual beliefs to reassure ourselves that the soul is eternal. Nevertheless, no one believes in life everlasting, at least in the terrestrial sense that is the composite of all we know. No matter what we envision waits for us on the other side (or whether another side exists at all), death certainly means a complete redefining of one’s existence. In my experience, people naturally fear change and we most fear that which is unknown–death is both.
Perhaps the embracing of death means being more grateful for what one has and pining less after what one could have. It means letting go of the “somedays” and living in the now. It means seeing every day as a gift filled with opportunity and wonder, bypassing the frustrations, drudgery and resistances that prevent us from grasping our moments wholeheartedly. We must be honest with ourselves that more time is often not what is required to live well–what is required is more intentionality with which one lives. Only when we can reconcile the means by which life can be best lived is reconciling death a possibility. Coming to terms with life and letting go of all that blocks genuine living, to me, is the means by which we come to terms with all that living really means. Life is a fleeting and transient endowment that is too precious to give over to the caustic forces that erode living. In my journey, I realize with irony, that acceptance of death happens only when I can, agilely and willfully, prevent that which degrades my pursuit of meaningful and aligned living. From the cradle to the grave, life is but a succession of breaths. Be present and jealously defend each breath, and death will be reconciled with limber requital.

Bridging The Gap Between Aspiration and Actualization

Sifu Krukri
If you know many kids, you also know many would-be scientists, rock stars, screen-guild actors, inventors, presidents and superheroes. The majority of people age 10 and younger have supreme aspirations and dreams of greatness that seem borne of action movies and fairytales. After all, dreaming is fun, it is experiential and a welcome divergence from the confines of everyday reality. As the ego forms, we are naturally beckoned and captivated by the fantasy stories in which we all play a starring role. Who among us has not wanted to save the world or go down in the annals of history? The self-concept that is free from the parameters of finite capacity and resource is able to frolic in the joy of aggrandizement. Nonetheless, the youthful mind can only stave off the inevitable clash between the shadows of personality and objective reality for so long, and we all eventually must reconcile aspiration with actualization. From my standpoint, aspiration is what one values independent of commitment or effort. Actualization, on the other hand, involves the true mobilization of ability, means, effort and perseverance toward a desired end. Although the vast majority of us start out with big dreams, those visions often fail to translate into the intentional immersion that results in realizing one’s hopes, which is why the world is not overrun with prodigy. Slowly but surely, most of us can’t sustain the effective and focused effort that is the path to greatness.
How sad it is, this losing of youth’s lustrous ideals, our insidious gravitation toward mediocrity that so marks maturation. I believe further examination can propel us more toward our potential, however. In my view, we must learn to more jealously and carefully guard against the caustic forces that erode our dreams. In order to do that, we have to understand what we battle against in our journey. To me, the most significant barrier to self-actualization is, ironically, the need to be right. We seek confirmation, reinforcement, propagation and validation of things that align with our existing view of reality. The pre-set ways in which we perceive the world become an anchor on natural curiosity and therefore staunch the acquisition of new understanding. It is only through seeking out creative and challenging paradigms that we grow, and when we stop growing, we arrest the pathway to greatness.
I often implore people to embrace the spirit of the white belt. This is not because of my intolerance of experts or superiority, it is because as a teacher, I am nurtured by the pursuit of higher levels of achievement in my students. These advances can only happen if one is willing to take the stance of “not knowing”. Just like climbing a ladder, the next rung cannot be reached until the grip on the previous rung is released. In this fashion, we must let go of expertise as soon as it is gained, and once again restore a position of open-minded discovery and learning anew in order to flourish in true wisdom.
In our pursuit of self-advancement, we concentrate our efforts and focus on the building of skill and potential, and thereby may be conquered by the forces that stealthily erode what we build. Undoubtedly you yourself are the harbinger of your own success, but may you also be the vessel of your own demise? In quantum physics, certain particles are capable of getting in their own way–and I believe people, too, have the capacity to be the impediment of their own progress. Every personality has both constructive and destructive forces, and the great man is one who is as vigilant about what propagates him as he defends against what erodes him. For instance, we choose to surround ourselves by people who invite us away from ascension, we give energy to frustrations, conflicts and lax activities that don’t matter, or we marinade in self-doubt. Just like a yin yang, the darkness and light reside and coalesce within every individual, and the pursuit of excellence requires constant self-discipline, to repel that which annuls our prosperity.
The question is, do you understand the ways that you hold yourself back, the ways that you counteract your ambitions, and do you continuously work to keep those impulses in check? If not, you have probably already succumbed to an abbreviated and circumscribed version of your greatest self. Take a moment to reflect on the aspirations of your earliest years. I implore you to please, with honesty, consider whether the child inside you would feel disappointed by the adult you have become. For many of us, the answer is “yes”, but as a teacher, I am a stalwart believer in the enduring strength of the human spirit at any age. I have had pupils who are in their 80’s. I have had the uplifting joy of working with people who never stop learning and ceaselessly persist in self-improvement. With conscientious and intentional life navigation, I believe it is never too late to engineer your potential and bridge the gap between aspiration and actualization.