Category Archives: Mysticism

A Monumental Effort: Workout of the Week #68

Last week I went to Libby Hill Park for the first time.  I’ve been trying to get in good enough shape to do some real hiking, and I figured the famous Libby Hill stairs would be a great training opportunity.

I put on my 40 lb. pack and explored the park.  Then I went down and up those 153 insufferable stairs four times.  They feel like standard 7.5″ steps, so each time up equates roughly to a 10 storey building — 4o storeys in all on the day.  I’m guesstimating of course, but that’s roughly equivalent to climbing the stairs of the James Monroe Building.

When I was done I met my friend Chris for coffee, after which I went with him to Shamballa meditation group at Ekoji Buddhist Sangha.  Yep, I’m in Christian seminary.  But I really enjoy sharing spirit with others, and there was a period in my life many years ago when I might’ve called myself a Buddhist.  During discussion at the end of the meeting, some in the group expressed complex feelings about having not gone to Charlottesville to stand against the white supremacists gathering around monuments there.  Some agreed with me that the most powerful message possible was to ignore them.

Later that day the tragedy in Charlottesville unfolded.  And no there’s even more talk about monuments.   I wrote another post about that, if you’re interested in such things.

 

And now for the workout of the week.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #68

  • Pick up something heavy and carry it up something steep.  Get the heaviest thing you can safely handle — backpack, auto tire, sandbag, weighted vest, whatever — and find the steepest hill or a flight of stairs in easy striking distance.  Get your heavy thing to the top as many times as you can in 40 minutes.  Take as few 12-count breaks as you need to finish, and be careful going down on noodle legs or you’ll fall.
  • Honor the chalice.  When you’re done, stand at the top and pay homage to the chalice by reciting your interpretation of the devotional from Chapter 15 of the Cabal Fang Study Course — feel free to make changes as needed to fit your spiritual worldview: “O Holy Chalice, blood of God and Goddess, blood of ancestors and kin, blood of friends and heroes, blood of sacrifice and nourishment — thank you for your love, support, and inspirational example. But most of all, thank you for my rich inheritances—material, emotional, spiritual and philosophical. Blessings to you all; please know that you all live on in me.”  If it wasn’t for the people who came before you, who carried some very heavy chores and responsibilities up some very steep inclines, you wouldn’t have most of what you have today.

Did you like this article?  Then my book will blow your mind.  Buy a paper copy on Amazon or from Createspace or download the ebook here.

 

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The Three Reasons Why Martial Arts Are Always Spiritual (and WOOTW #67)

I’ve had many conversations with my son, my friends and my workout partners trying to get to the bottom of this question:

Why do martial arts have a profound spiritual effect on people?

In 9 out of 10 folks there seems to be a correlation between practicing martial arts and feelings of spiritual improvement — even when the specific martial art an individual is studying has no obvious spiritual components.  In addition to the aforementioned conversations I’ve done some research and some reading on the subject.  But what I’ve done mostly is a ton of soul searching and meditation.

My conclusion is that there are three primary reasons for this.

Exercise is spiritual medicine.  Exercise creates the ideal brain chemistry for spiritual experience by stimulating the production and release of endocannabinoids (the primary chemical responsible for runner’s high) and endorphins (natural pain killers).  This sets the stage for the next two reasons why martial arts correlate with spiritual experience.  The second one is…

Fraternity is a shared spiritual experience.    Working out with other people, in fact just being with other people, stimulates the production and release of vasopressin and oxytocin, the so-called “bonding molecules” which are linked with feelings of attachment, friendship and love.  Physical touching seems to be extra good and stimulating this release, and there’s a lot of touching other people in the martial arts.

That’s two reasons.  Now for the final one, the big one, the monster reason why martial arts and spiritual development go hand-in-hand.

Martial arts are about being a hero — doing battle with the Chaos Dragon — and that’s about as spiritual as it gets.  Sure, there’s some more brain chemistry involved here, but it’s more than that.  Setting goals and achieving them releases dopamine into your brain and overcoming challenges releases serotonin.  Dopamine is creates the sensation of pleasure and positive rewards, while serotonin, body’s natural anti-depressant, is tied to feelings of self worth, belonging and most of all confidence.  Fighting releases adrenaline, and that’s kind of fun and energizing too.  But the thing to focus on is that martial arts are another version of the hero myth.  As Joseph Campbell described it, the myth goes like this:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

When you’re doing martial arts you’re venturing into the unknown, facing down God-knows-what potential challenges, and practicing how to protect yourself and the people you care about from harm.  That’s the essential, central story of human civilization, starting with Marduk fighting Tiamat — the world’s oldest known story! — up through Hercules vs. the Hydra, Beowulf vs Grendel, St. George, and so on.

When you’re doing martial arts you’re acting out a story so ancient, powerful and important — how could it not be spiritual?  That’s why in Cabal Fang we fly a flag with a black dragon on it.

Here’s a great article that sums up, and backs up, the assertions about brain chemistry I just made.

And now for the workout of the week.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #67

  • 250 kicks as fast as you can.  If you want to kick as fast as a snake and as hard as a mule, you need to do more than 10 or 15 kicks a day.  My prescription is a minimum of two kicking sessions per week, one light (say a hundred kicks) and one heavy (approx 250 kicks) to a max of 1,000 per week.  More than that you’ll be wasting time and putting unnecessary wear and tear on your body.  Split your kicking time between heavy bag, shadowboxing, and focus mitts/pads.  Advanced folks should be able to get these done in under 12 minutes, but if you’re just starting out it’ll probably run more like 20.  If you’re not sore the next day you’re not working hard enough.
  • 10-Count Bodybuilders.  Beginner and intermediate players, do 50.  That should take you 7 to 12 minutes.  Advanced folks do 100.  See if you can beat my record of 16:54 or my son’s record of 16:11.
  • Confront the dragon and make a Hero’s List.  Restriction and adversity breed creativity, not freedom!  This is why your teachers gave you assignments like, “paint me a picture using just these three colors” and “make something functional from this pile of wood parts.”  Set a countdown timer for 5 minutes.  Before the timer beeps, list of 10 things you could do in your life that would exemplify the hero myth.  You might not make it to 10 but you’ll definitely have a list of things that you know you need to do but have been putting off.  Start being a hero today.
Did you like this article?  Then my book will blow your mind.  Buy a paper copy on Amazon or from Createspace or download the ebook here.

At the Crossroads of Arete and WOOTW #66

I just finished re-reading Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the third time.  It gets better every time I read it.  Haven’t read it?  You should fix that.

Anyway, one of the ideas central to the book is the Ancient Greek concept of arete or excellence.  Pirsig’s point (as I see it anyway) is that you as soon as you pluck a flower it starts to die, as soon as you mount a butterfly under glass you’ve destroyed it’s ethereal beauty, and as soon as you define excellence you’ve killed it’s dynamic, transformational potential.  Excellence (Pirsig uses the word quality) has to be ever-receding.  With excellence you never arrive.  Arete is a carrot hanging on a pole in front of a mule.  It should never get caught and eaten.  

As Lao Tzu said in Tao Te Ching,

“The tao which can be described is not the tao.”

The other day I stumbled on to an unusual coincidence concerning arete.

Flashback…

My mother had some challenges in her life that made it hard for her to be positive.  She always struggled focus on the future and on moving forward.  But she had a Bible passage that she clung to as an inspiration to be positive, and she passed on the wisdom of that passage to me when she gave me my bible about 40 years ago.

A couple of weeks ago something pretty awful happened, something really shocking and scary that put me on my heels.  So I reached out to that passage for some much-needed comfort.  The passage is Philippians 4:4-9, and it goes like this:

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say Rejoice.  Let all men know your forbearance.  The Lord is at hand.  Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  And finally my brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence (arete), if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.”

There are two things I want to point out in that passage.  The first is that Paul says “the peace of God, which passes all understanding,” which sounds a lot like the tao, or like ever-receding goodness.  The second is that, in the original Greek, the word Paul used for “excellence” is arete.

Yep, arete.

There was a Greek goddess named Arete who personified the idea.  According to Wikipedia,

“The only story involving Arete was originally told in the 5th century BC by the sophist Prodicus, and concerns the early life of the hero Heracles. At a crossroads, Arete appeared to Heracles as a young maiden, and offered him glory and a life of struggle against evil; her counterpart Kakia (κακία, “badness”), offered him wealth and pleasure. Heracles chose to follow the path of Arete.”

The concept of arete is an example of universal wisdom, and it’s embedded in all the world’s great philosophies and religions.  The quest for arete is personified in the tale of every hero, and I think also in the idea of Logos.

Which is why arete inheres in the Cabal Fang concept of mettlecraft.  Want to know more?  Get a copy of the book and read about it.  Ebook here, hardcopy here.

And now for the workout of the week.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #66

Part One — High Intensity Circuit Training.  Set up four stations — a hitting station, a lifting station, a swinging station and a squatting station.  Set a timer for rounds of 2:00 minutes, no breaks, and complete 8 rounds — that’s 16:00 minutes. For the hitting station, hit a stump with an ax, punch a heavy bag with your fists, or beat on a tire with a sledge.  For the lifting station, flip a tire, squat press a barbell, lift a sandbag, etc.  You get the idea.   Improvise!  You must go as hard as you can — hit, lift, swing and squat with the maximum intensity you can muster.  Take as few 12-count breaks as you must in order to finish standing up.  Video below.

Part Two — Meditation on arete.  What the hell is excellence anyway?  Well, if you don’t have any idea what it is, you probably aren’t going to have any luck in your pursuit of it!  So set a timer for 8 minutes.  Assume your usual meditative posture and meditate on arete.  When you’re done, get out your training log or journal and write at least 100 words on what arete means to you.

 

 

TRUTH! (and Workout of the Week #65)

“Truth?” you ask.  “What about it?”  Well, truth is a big deal.  So much so that you can, as a thought experiment, divide the world into two camps: (A) those who believe in rigid, timeless, objective truths and (B) those who believe that truth varies from person to person and objective truth is a fantasy.  And it sometimes seems as though the evening news is just a blow-by-blow retelling of the unceasing conflict between the two.

In this video, philosopher Michael Patrick Lynch walks you through how to start getting at the truth through the idea of shared, common reality.  He says,

“Protagoras said that objective truth was an illusion because “man is the measure of all things.” That can seem…liberating, because it allows each of us to discover or make our own truth.  But actually, I think it’s a bit of self-serving rationalization disguised as philosophy. It confuses the difficulty of being certain with the impossibility of truth. “

One of the best TED talks I’ve listened to in recent memory.

And now for the Cabal Fang Workout of the Week.  Sorry, by the way, for missing last week.  Stuff happened.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #65

  • Heavy Bar training drill.  Get yourself a heavy bar — a digging bar, barbell bar, etc. — and pick it up.   Small folks use a #20, big folks use a something heavier.  Beginners work for 6 minutes, intermediate 12, advanced 18 — do not put down the bar for the duration of the drill.  Move that bar around like you would a staff if you were fighting — spearing movements, jabs, pokes, blocks, bracing maneuvers (striking with the portion between the hands), and so on.  In addition, practice your Figure-4 locks.  If your arms completely gas, put the bar behind your neck and do 10 to 20 Squats, then start again.  Wear gloves if you’re a tenderfoot.
  • 24-Hour commitment to truth.  Make a commitment to speak the truth for the next 24 hours.  The point isn’t to be blunt, rude or hurtful.  To avoid that you’re going to need to slow down, choose your words carefully, and express what you’re feeling.  Note: this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about truth.  If you like this one, you might appreciate the previous one.

 

Alchemical Transformation and WOOTW #64

This week’s workout is in video format.  Enjoy!

The View from up Here

I have friends, employees and acquaintances who suffer from depression, struggle with their weight, and have issues with career.  I try to give them advice as gently as I can, reminding them that I used to be unhappy, 80 pounds overweight, and working for just over minimum wage. 

But while hiking and fishing with my son this weekend (pictures below) it occurred to me that it’s very hard to describe to someone what the world can be like for them if they embrace changes in how they think, act, feel and believe.  You can describe the view till you’re blue in the face.  But until you get up here and look down yourself, it all seems so impossible. 

People think you’re crazy, lying or exaggerating. But I’m really not. 

The world isn’t perfect. Tragedies, evils and problems big and small will always intrude. But the world is amazing and beautiful. And if you can take charge of your direction you can find a place where the view is better than you can possibly imagine.

Updates: Travel, 501(c)3 Status, WOOTW, etc.

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Temple Fund Recycling Efforts

See slideshow above.  I’ve been accumulating aluminum and other recyclables to benefit the Cabal Fang Temple Fund.  This past Saturday I took the first batch up to C&C Cullet on Route 1.  Four bags of aluminum cans, two auto batteries and 80 pounds of scrap metal earned us $50.00 to add to the Cabal Fang Temple Fund.

What’s the Cabal Fang Temple Fund?  It’s the fund to build or buy dedicated space for training and other activities.  Current balance $388.00.

More to come!

Travel Postpones Next Workout of the Week

From Thursday through Saturday this week I’ll be in Radford, VA for Karate College 2017.  Workout of the Week #62 will be delayed until July 1st.  Can you make it a week without it?  Sure you can.

501(c)3 Tax Exempt Status

A couple of months back I mailed the IRS our 501(c)3 paperwork for Cabal Fang Temple, Inc.   What was their reply?  A letter stating that they will give their ruling in no more than 180 days.  Um, okay.

So, changing the subject…

My Vacation Pictures

Speaking of travel, a couple of weekends back the wife and I took a little trip out the western part of Virginia.  We stayed at Hotel Strasburg which was was fun, but to be honest, I really can’t recommend it.  It’s a 100+ year-old building packed with antiques and it could be the ultimate in “shabby-chic.”  Problem is, it really needs some TLC and a deep cleaning.

But the we stomped around town, went to Luray one day, spent hours in the Strasburg Emporium and the Strasburg Museum, spent a day driving around on Skyline Drive, and generally had a blast.

If you’re that area, by all means stop at E. Pearls.  What an amazing shop!  I was so wrapped up in the place and talking with the shop owner that I forgot to take pictures.   He sells art and terrariums, that’s it.  Somehow he makes those things fit together, and its fun and charming and different and really cool.

And of course we sent to Family Drive-In Theatre and Cooter’s Dukes of Hazzard Museum.  How could we skip those?

See you when I get back from Karate College!