Saturday, 27 February 2010

Technology and Violence

It is so much easier to be violent now than it was before "civilisation". First we used our fists, sticks and stones. Then came knives and swords. You had to be face-to-face with your enemy and within their reach. Violence was a purely physical activity and risk was very high. So you had to be reasonably sure that you could win. This is the time when many martial arts were evolved.

The invention of the gun changed everything. It is so much more accurate and effective than previous weapons (bows arrows etc). Your enemy just needs to be in your direct line of sight. You do not have to invest any physical effort. The ancient act of murder that used to put you in equal risk to your opponent has now been effectively reduced to the squeeze of one finger against a trigger. With the invention of intercontinental nuclear missiles, it is now possible to destroy the city your enemy lives in from another country by the press of a single button.

This is old news. Guns have been with us for a couple of centuries, and nuclear technology since the 2nd World War. With technology comes power, and with this power comes the responsibility to use it wisely. So what has happened recently to change the rules of engagement?

With the rapid innovation of computers over the last 20 years, it can be argued that we live in a new age of information technology. Never before have communications and intelligence been so accessible and so easily disseminated to whoever you like. This is great news for the empowerment of the individual, but that also gives people more opportunity to exploit others. Espionage or spying is the covert acquisition of information for use against an individual or organisation. People can abuse or steal without coming anywhere near their victim. So what risks do people face from modern technological espionage and how can we protect ourselves?

Cyber-attack: The internet is rife with viruses that can damage the performance of our computers or trojans that steal personal information. I'm not going to make many friends here, but the main reason for the proliferation of viruses is that we have all chosen the same kind of operating system - microsoft windows. If you are really interested in ensuring your PC is virus free, don't use windows. Find another operating system. There are a lot out there - some of which are free! If more people used windows alternatives, viruses would not spread. If you cannot do without your windows operating system, more information can be found here.

Cyber bullying: Why stand in front of someone and insult them when you can do it from your home? So much more convenient... The main source is social network sites like facebook, bebo or via email or SMS on your mobile phone. The main thing to remember is that you should not answer back. Mainly because this means you can be implicated as being part of the problem. Remember, all their activities can be recorded. Save emails, take screen prints. Don't delete abusive texts. They are all evidence. When you have enough evidence, go to your school, local authority or police. It is abuse, and there are laws against it. More advice here.

Robbery: Firstly, don't publish your home address. Secondly, don't go on facebook and tell everyone you are going on holiday for a week. You might as well put a sign on your house saying 'rob me'. Avoid putting your smart-phone location on twitter or facebook for the same reason.

Identity theft: Another reason why you can't publish your personal details is that others can use your details to get loans from banks etc. Also, get a shredder and shred all the mail that goes into your bin. That way, people cannot steal your identity.

Bank account details: Don't put them on your computer or smart phone. Need I say any more?

Smart phone: Make sure it is password protected. If you have it stolen and you haven't locked it, you may lose more than the phone. Your address book contains all your details and all your friends' addresses. Nice list of places to be robbed or identites to steal.

Make sure you use these new technology and communication skills to your advantage.
  • Children - use your communication networks to warn each other where bullies are so you can all avoid them.
  • If you don't like walking through that tough neighbourhood, you can use your smartphone to order a safe taxi home.
  • Text ahead to let people know when to expect you.
  • Access national statistics to find out how crime is dealt with in your area. If it's not good enough, lobby your political representative.
  • Email police websites to report public disorder.
Let's all work together to ensure our communications are effective and safe.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Kung Fu Tricks

The world of martial arts is full of rich tales and folklore. Ancient qigong masters were reputed to be able to transform the physical properties of objects and magically influence the weather. There are many people who claim to have powers that are almost supernatural:

But really - most of them are just smoke and mirrors or auto-suggestion at best. Most people
scoff at these parlour tricks as being far-removed from modern martial arts. And perhaps they are. For modern people cannot easily be fooled by such things. We have seen TV magicians doing these kind of things since we were children.

But consider simpler times, when such tricks could convince many that you had magical powers and were a force to be reckoned with. Would that not deter people from attacking you? Would it - at least - make people think twice about getting on the wrong side of you?

Consider this sword form.....

There is very little in the way of practical sword fighting going on here. Don't get me wrong, it is a great piece of balance, athleticism, power and sword control. But it is completely devoid of practical applications, and would be totally useless for sword fighting of any kind....


It does make people think you are a force to be reckoned with. Wouldn't that not deter people from attacking you? Would it - at least - make people think twice about getting on the wrong side of you?

Deception, smoke and mirrors take many forms.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Binaural Beats - an introduction

Binaural beats are delivered using stereo headphones. They work by playing differing frequencies into each ear. The brain tries to make sense of them as one sound, and by doing so, modifies it's own frequency. Binaurals can be used to change the state of arousal in the brain - from high energy focus, through deep relaxation to very deep delta sleep.

The internet is jam-packed full of people selling different products that incorporate binaural beats. Some companies make some pretty tall claims as to the efficacy of their products - they can turn you into a millionaire, they can make you live longer, they can help you cure disease etc...

Let's put these into perspective. Binaural beats change the frequencies of the brain. They can help you achieve a desired state of focus. They can help you enter a state of hypnotism, so suggestions for change can be fed to you. You get great sleep on them, and amazing deep states of meditation. They are not a panacea. If you are taking medication for something like depression or cancer, don't stop. If you suffer from strobe-induced epilepsy, consult your doctor before using them. What you do, is your trip entirely, and don't hold me responsible if you are sucked into any health "cures" or "instant wealth" scams using this technology.

Now we've done a little bit of expectation management, there are a lot of products on the market. There are two main approaches:

Passive: These products are generally suggestions that are fed to you - either verbally, visually or subliminally. They help you to make change. Some incorporate Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Hypnotism, Subliminal suggestions and combinations of those. They can be very effective in changing habits like giving up smoking, biting nails, healthy eating, public speaking or phobias. All you need to do is listen.

Active: These products offer a service that is more give and take. They are generally much more expensive, and follow a set curriculum. Typically, they can involve spiritual growth, shamanic journeying, out-of-body experiences or merely scientific self-exploration.

I have been more interested in the active products - choosing to use binaural beats to deepen my state of meditation. Let's start with the cheapest and work our way up......

SBAGen: This is an open-source command line program. If you are comfortable with computer languages and are interested in brainwave experimentation, this is really good. Once you get your head around how to write the programs and run them using the machine, it's great. What's more - it's free. Get it here. You can get it for all platforms.

iPhone Apps: there are a number of iPhone/iPod Touch apps that can generate binaural beats. one of the best - Mindwave 2 - costs £2.99 on itunes. There are many more. Just do a search.

BwGEN: This is a much more user-friendly program. It comes with lots of presets for different applications. You can download the shareware version here. The better service costs. It's $40 to register and get the full version.

The above are for people interested in producing their own patterns and listening to them while plugged into their computer. I like these, becuase I like to be in charge of every aspect of my experience. Let's now see the high-end products. They are typically put on CDs. The two main competitors in this field:

The Monroe Institute (Hemi-sync): The Monroe Institute was the first to experiment with binaural beats as a means of education via the exploration of consciousness. They offer single CDs and sets that have a wide range of applications. The CDs are binaural beats with verbal instructions only. You actively follow those instructions. You are also given exercises to do your own thing with that they call 'free-flow'. The only criticism is that if you buy a CD, there is little in the way of direct support from the Monroe Institute itself. You can ask questions on the website though, and they have a growing internet community. They also offer ambitious residential programs where you can experience profound states of meditation, shamanic journeying, out-of-body experiences and evolution of consciousness. They are not cheap, but the care that has been put into the programs is great. See the Monroe Institute here.

Centerpoint (Holosync): Centerpoint offer a program that is less ambitious in it's scope, but gives more support to the home user. You subscribe with them, and get regular support via emails and telephone. My personal opinion is that their awakening course can cause undesired feelings of anxiety and stress to leak into the normal day.. This is something that is encouraged, as they say these are feelings that need to be uncovered so they can be dealt with. The CD's themselves are binaurals with rain, subliminals and ringing bells. Depending on the way you choose to work, they are either boring, or zen-like. They also offer residential courses. See centerpoint here.

Whichever way you choose, binaurals are a fantastic tool for personal growth. Speaking for myself, I now get the best sleep and the most profound states of relaxation and meditation quickly and easily.

Friday, 12 February 2010

"If - thens".. are they wrecking your life?

I was recently in a conversation with a colleague at work. It was always going to be a difficult subject to discuss, and when I asked the question, I received a comment (I am paraphrasing):

"If that means you want it to happen, then I will have to speak to your manager."

From that point on, the conversation quickly descended into a classical adversarial sparring match. Emotions spiralled higher and the real meaning of the meeting was lost.

Later on, I had a revelation - it is the "If - thens" that cause many of our problems. Very often, we do not take what people say by their face values. We attach different meanings and make inferences as to each other's true intentions. That's when the "if" part of the statement is made. Next we get to the "then" part - having pre-empted, we assign consequences to the action. In this case, he will speak to my manager. "If Thens" are classic fear-driven, consequence-threatening statements that raise the stakes of almost every conversation we have.

So what do we do? We guard against the "If Then" trap. Replace "If Then" statements with "I Can" statements.

Instead of saying:
"If you're going to take that stance, then I will have to report you."

"I think you may be taking an incorrect stance. Can we discuss this?"

Can you see how the threat and fear is taken out of - what is essentially the same message? Don't believe me? Go through your day and listen to your conversations. Find out how often you use "If Then" statements. You might be surprised at how often you use them. Learn to put aside "If Thens", and you will find people warming to you more as the fear and threat is taken from your vocabulary.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

You know you've been doing tai chi too long when...

  • All your shoes have extremely thin soles.
  • All of your casual trousers are loose-fitting "just in case".
  • You are afraid to open your car boot (trunk) at supermarkets, because you forgot to take your swords out after the last class.
  • When shaking hands with people you test their rooting.
  • When standing with people, you can't help lowering your centre of gravity below theirs.
  • People with one shoulder higher than the other really irritate you. And as for people with stoops..!
  • At the bus stop, you miss your bus because you were zoned out while attaining wuji.
  • Your significant other complains that if you rotate your lower dantien while watching a movie together one more time, it will be divorce!!!!
  • You go into a period of mourning when your favourite tai chi shoes are too worn to be useful.
  • All your clothes are black... or red .... or black and red..... or white.
  • Unlike everyone else, you really do know what your chinese symbol tattoos mean.
  • All your anecdotes start with "When I was in China...."
  • You have many silk kung fu suits... but the trousers are significantly more worn and faded than the jackets and no longer match.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Leaving a legacy

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a tai chi teacher is the moment when an advanced student of yours starts to pass your lessons on to beginners. It is such a delight to see that they have taken on your training, and have managed to translate it into concepts and points of reference that they understand.

Watching this happen recently with one of my senior students has reaffirmed my belief that leaving a positive legacy is a valuable thing to try to do. The Ancient Romans new the power of a legacy. They believed that a person did not truly die until they were forgotten by those who they knew in life. So they had a paradigm that encouraged the leaving of a positive legacy. Conversely, many Taoists in China believe that the grieving process keeps the spirit attached to the griever. So they like to leave positive feelings with their relatives so that they will not grieve for long and allow their spirit to cross over.

So why is a positive legacy so important if you are not going to live to benefit from it? Having a clear view about how people will think about you after your death extends your paradigm beyond the present. By doing this, you broaden your outlook beyond the temporary needs of body and other material considerations. This wider view will also put any present problems you have into a lesser context.

So what kind of legacy do you want to leave? What kind of person do you want people to say you were?

Awakening (Author unknown)

A time comes in your life when you finally get . . . when, in the midst of all your fears and insanity, you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out . . . ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying and blaming and struggling to hold on. Then, like a child quieting down after a tantrum, you blink back your tears and begin to look at the world through new eyes.

This is your awakening.

You realize it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to magically appear over the next horizon.

You realize that in the real world there aren’t always fairy tale endings, and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you . . . and in the process a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.

You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are . . . and that’s OK. They are entitled to their own views and opinions.

You learn the importance of loving and championing yourself . . . and in the process a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval.

Your stop complaining and blaming other people for the things they did to you – or didn’t do for you – and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected.

You learn that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will always be there for you and everything isn’t always about you.

So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself . . . and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.

You stop judging and pointing fingers and you begin to accept people as they are and to overlook their shortcomings and human frailties . . . and in the process a sense of peace and contentment is born of forgiveness.

You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of view. You begin reassessing and redefining who you are and what you really stand for.

You learn the difference between wanting and needing and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you’ve outgrown, or should never have bought into to begin with.

You learn that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and you stop maneuvering through life merely as a “consumer” looking for you next fix.

You learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build a life.

You learn that you don’t know everything, it’s not you job to save the world and that you can’t teach a pig to sing. You learn the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

Then you learn about love. You learn to look at relationships as they really are and not as you would have them be. You learn that alone does not mean lonely.

You stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes. You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO.

You also stop working so hard at putting your feelings aside, smoothing things over and ignoring your needs.

You learn that your body really is your temple. You begin to care for it and treat it with respect. You begin to eat a balanced diet, drinking more water, and take more time to exercise.

You learn that being tired fuels doubt, fear, and uncertainty and so you take more time to rest. And, just food fuels the body, laughter fuels our soul. So you take more time to laugh and to play.

You learn that, for the most part, you get in life what you deserve, and that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for and that wishing for something to happen is different than working toward making it happen.

More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success you need direction, discipline and perseverance. You learn that no one can do it all alone, and that it’s OK to risk asking for help.

You learn the only thing you must truly fear is fear itself. You learn to step right into and through your fears because you know that whatever happens you can handle it and to give in to fear is to give away the right to live life on your own terms.

You learn to fight for your life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom.

You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people . . . and you lean not to always take it personally.

You learn that nobody’s punishing you and everything isn’t always somebody’s fault. It’s just life happening. You learn to admit when you are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.

You lean that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be understood and redirected or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you.

You learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we take for granted, things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about: a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, a long hot shower.

Then, you begin to take responsibility for yourself by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never, ever settle for less than your heart’s desire.

You make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting, and to stay open to every wonderful possibility.

You hang a wind chime outside your window so you can listen to the wind.

Finally, with courage in you heart, you take a stand, you take a deep breath, and you begin to design the life you want to live as best as you can.

(Author unknown)

I lifted this from the Monroe Institute website.