by Hayashi Tomio

The world does not require us to function optimally to get by, or to survive. Mediocrity is, and has been for some time, the general rule of life. We see this everywhere with our growing chronic, social agitations and pathologies; Hyper-activity, attention deficit, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, opioid use, obesity, cancer, heart disease, increasing incivility and violence, family and financial stresses, all further exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. These are just some of the persistent problems weighing Western society down. Yet, despite this, most people carry on neither too mindful, nor too mindless, to make ends meet. 

I have come to know from both my personal and professional experience that we could all do much better. It is within everyone’s grasp to function at a much higher level of being if presented with an organized plan and a clear follow through.

“We have an abundance of common sense but a scarcity of common practice.”

We don’t need more sound knowledge. Knowledge abounds. We are awash in information. One might even say we are drowning in information. We need a more acute sensitivity to discriminate, to filter out the helpful from the harmful. We can gain this sensitivity by being more mindful of how life works to better understand our choices. Just because you see the correct path or understand the correct path doesn’t mean you will walk it. You will also need the courage to act upon those changes that can uplift you.

The Five Pillars of Mindfulness is a template for living a more aware and optimized life. Mindfulness is living your life with a full, expanded awareness.

The Five Pillar template comes from my lifelong study of the martial arts and from my Buddhist practices as a monk. In Traditional martial arts we rehearse movement patterns, choreographed fighting sequences, referred to in Japanese as Kata. The literal interpretation of Kata is pattern or form exercise. To phrase it differently, we study the very structure of life itself through the unique lens of physical movement.

Most laypersons are unaware of the depth and dimensionality of authentic, spiritual-based, martial art systems, particularly those that teach kata. The public sees martial arts mostly as fighting sports for the young and vigorous. This is because Western culture at large has mostly chosen to skim the surface of these arts and selected only their topical values. The type of school I am referring to is one that offers a broad education in human conflict. This type of martial school is scarce in Western cultures and disappearing in the Asian ones.   

In the past, in Asia, martial arts reached a high level of sophistication in the Buddhist monasteries. The monks transformed their fighting arts into moving meditations, kinesthetic treatises, and inquiry-based practices. They offered disciples both visceral and psychological lessons about the nature of human conflict.

Kata were crafted as awareness-expanding and sensitizing practices with the idea that over time one’s body would become sensitive to and aware of both gross and subtle energies surrounding and interpenetrating it, enough that you could discern good energy from bad to a fine degree and thus make better life decisions.

Monastic kata were also used to unravel or unmask one’s authentic nature. Authentic nature is who you would be and how you would act if you were free of all past and present limitations. Take a moment and imagine right now that you are free of all the obstacles preventing you from doing what you really want to do. Does that awaken or stir something in you?  Authentic nature is who you would be, and how you would act, if you were free of all your limitations. 

In the Esoteric Buddhist martial tradition that I practice there are five layers to any kata (a microcosmic template for everyday life). This knowledge was mostly confined to temple study. Understanding these five levels can help you to organize your current approach to life for resolving any issues and to become more aware of your potential.

I call these five layers Pillars because they strongly support the human house of being. The five Pillars are Tools, Tactics, Strategy, State of Mind and Intrinsic Energy Flow.

We all have bodies. We all have minds. We all have degrees of feeling and emotion. These three facets of our nature; Mind, Body, Emotion, are deeply entwined with one another. They represent our main tools for negotiating our lives. But these tools are very often underutilized.

Looked at differently, you don’t just ‘have’ a body. You ‘do’ your body through physical action. We use physical movement to accomplish our desires. Is there anything you can accomplish without a body?

You don’t just ‘have’ a mind.  You ‘do’ your mind through intention and thought. We use thought and intention to prepare and project our desires. In the martial arts we say, The mind prepares, the body executes.

You don’t just ‘have’ feelings. You ‘do’ emotions like love or anger through your speech and physical actions. We use emotion to give our desires greater momentum, more thrust. A strong feeling that you really want that juicy piece of fruit will move you more quickly toward acquiring it.

All relationships are negotiated through these three mediums regardless whether these relationships are with people, events, or inanimate objects. Understanding just how versatile your tools are, how and what tools you choose, and to what degree of use, is critical to your overall success. When you choose a physical action, a mental action, or an emotional response you have demonstrated your Life Tactics. Tactics are your choice of tools and choice of attitude to achieve your objectives. 

Suppose you are sitting in a cramped space having an uncomfortable conversation with a relative who is getting you emotionally upset. You decide to act. You choose to stand up to relieve the cramp in your legs. You ‘do’ your mind by stating to the other party that you’d like to change the conversation to a more pleasant topic. Failing to find agreement, you use your body to leave the room. 

The goal behind any decision represents the third Pillar—Life Strategy.  A strategy is a plan of action.

In the example above, you chose a strategy to find physical and mental relief. You could have chosen differently. You could have verbally or physically attacked the other person for making you uncomfortable. You could have asked them to leave the room. There are many ways you could have chosen to change your cramped, upset condition.

All goals, all plans, all objectives, from the simplest to the grandest, can be reduced to three primary outcomes? Your actions either add to you, cause a loss to you, or remain neutral, neither adding nor taking away from you. That’s it. Three.

As a teacher I’ve witnessed that some people choose actions that do not yield the best results. Bad choices usually occur when we are out of sync with ourselves. This happens when we are not clear-minded, when we are over-trusting, misinformed, distracted. The world is moving at breakneck speed. It’s complex, expensive, and increasingly more volatile. This mad cap pace throws people off center. It’s much harder to find and hold your center when the ground of life itself is shifting. This volatility creates uncertainty and doubt followed by mistrust. This is why anxiety is so pervasive and on the rise in the U.S and why so many people exist out of sync with their lives today.

Consider these observations from three different sources;

Only 1 % of the population is on a truly organized nutritional path.”

Gary Null, PHD, health activist, author of over 50 books.

95% of people live entranced lives”

International Academy of Consciousness

98% of American families are dysfunctional.”

John Bradshaw, author, family systems psychologist.

Happily, there are many practices available for us to regain our balance. But it is not just the availability of good practices. It’s also the commitment, time, courage to act upon them, and to act consistently. This becomes a tall order for a society that’s already pushing the limit and decrying there is not enough time.

To determine your best choice of action for any given situation is to first grasp the uniqueness of your own nature, how you fit into the world, what you want from the world, and what actions best represent who you truly are.

Be selfish when it comes to your true goals!

Meditation is one of the best practices to achieve this aim. Meditation is a grounding activity. Meditation acts as a silent mediation between discordant parts of our nature. If you feel out of sorts, if you feel that something is not quite right, that you can’t put your finger on, this is discord. Is there anybody completely free of struggle? Can you place the source of every one of your ill feelings? Meditation can get you to a right place, to a point of awareness, of peace, and hopefully, right action for more balance.

The fourth Pillar, the fourth layer of life, is called State of Mind. Because this layer is hard to see, it trips up most of us. Our mind can be such an amorphous, elusive phenomenon it could be analogized to the statement that the picture can’t see itself inside the frame. Very few people reflect on the nature of their own mind. It’s hard to see our lives from a distance, outside of our daily framework, when we are embroiled in the midst of it. Reflection is something we do often in Buddhism through meditation and introspective practices.

If Mindfulness is the trendy buzzword, it begs me to ask, when did we become so mindless? Where did we disconnect? What’s the source of this split? Have we lost our minds? Quite the contrary.

In my opinion the answer is simple. The solution is difficult. We have become too top heavy, too over-mindful. We are spending too much times in our heads, specifically, in what we Buddhist’s call the Ego-mind. We are so ego-full that we have lost the greater nature of our own minds. Mindful is not the same as egoful. In Buddhism, the Ego-mind is called Ordinary Mind. It’s that part of our mind constantly chattering to itself; analyzing, dwelling in the past, speculating on the future, always desiring, ever-grasping. The Ego-mind is all about ‘me’. Rarely, is the Ordinary Mind fixed in the present moment. There is a more expansive mind available for one to tap into, far broader than our ego.  We call this Pure Mind. The Pure mind is the source of mindfulness. 

In any gathered audience there will be wide differences in body shape, age, mentality and feeling. Pure mind transcends all these different types of individual consciousness. To become mindful, to connect to your Pure Mind, is to embrace that endless possibilities exist for all of us at any given moment. You are much greater than you think.

Nargarjuna, the Buddhist philosopher who existed in 150-250 in the Common Era once said, “All things are possible for whom emptiness is possible.”  All things are possible when you open up and think outside of your Ego frame. 

The late Buddhist scholar and author Nagaboshi Tomio, whose lineage I am part of, wrote, “Western culture is fixated on cognition.” That’s a very interesting statement. I’m still meditating on it. I interpret his statement to mean that our heady fixation is causing us to lose our inner guidance system. As a teacher of martial arts I’ve taught thousands of people. I have seen first hand that our youth are having trouble properly centering into their bodies, and by extension, their earth. For one thing, we allow excessive pollution of both. We allow too much toxicity into us and into the earth because we are loosing the ability to distinguish and feel what is toxic from what is nourishing. This is making us ambivalent by dampening our natural sensitivities. That’s my personal opinion.

There is no single cause for many of our modern problems, but the digital revolution is clearly involved. It’s pulling us out of our bodies, up into our heads, into a world of ever-widening airwave relationships to the diminishment of real organic, hands-on community. Consider that in the near future, people will be developing relationships with artificially intelligent friends, possibly even lovers. Does that seem normal?

A recent national survey found that adults spend an average of nine hours and twenty-two minutes every day in front of various screens—including smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions. We also spend on average 9.3 hours every day sitting.

Our excessive airy, electronic intercourse and physical placidity is causing a major shift in human consciousness. The human energy center is moving from its historical domain in the heart and gut, our organic centers of emotional and physical gravity, into the tilted ivory tower of the ego. I do not think this shift is good. Not the way we are preceding. We are loosing touch with natural sensitivities that have protected and guided our species for millennia. What sensitivity? The feeling to know intrinsically what is right for oneself. We are also giving up too much of our personal powers to others; to doctors hamstrung by the pharmaceutical industry, educational specialists, our scientists, and elected officials. We are letting them decide carte blanche, what’s best for us. Now, in some cases, they have excellent advice and we should follow it to a T. But not in every case! That’s really what I want to say. Not in every case! Sometimes ‘they’ get it flat out wrong. I want to assert that we have our own wisdom to tap into, and from the looks of it, that wisdom is being bled out of us, so it can be sold back to us at a premium. Look at our skyrocketing health insurance. This cost alone is making people sick.

When you are whole, when you are awake, you will know exactly what is the right course of action for you to follow.        

Because the mind is malleable, remarkable in its ability to adapt to circumstances, anyone can tap into their own wisdom center to improve the quality of their lives, their health, their vitality, regardless of age or educational status. You just have to open your mind.

Let’s return to my prior example of the uncomfortable conversation: You might have entered the room agitated by an earlier encounter that biases the present, making it more intolerable. You might have been looking for a way to release your pent up frustrations, to pass the blame for your ill feelings. An infinite number of possibilities exist for interacting with your world. 

Emancipated individuals, free from repressive life, from abusive childhood and other blinding social conditionings, choose their state of mind. They are not bound by circumstances to act or behave one way only. They are less conditioned to react habitually. The wise person will choose the higher ground, the mutually beneficial outcome, where all parties find some measure of parity, even of mutual growth. They will choose wellness over illness, compassion over competition, growth over stagnation. A spiritually liberated and mindful person is aware they always have choices of how best to use their Tools, Tactics, Strategy, State of Mind and Intrinsic Energy Flow.

The last layer, the most subtle of our life influences, the one most understated and inactive in Western culture, are the intrinsic spiritual currents flowing in and around us. In the West we call the awareness of these currents, our intuitive faculties or intuition. Intuition has been referred to as a non-linear logic. You know it, but you don’t know how you know it.

I am not intending anything mystical, magical or even religious when I state that there are spiritual currents that exist within and around us. When I use the word spiritual, I am using the term to mean simply, of the spirit, or of the unseen world. You might find it more comfortable if I swop out the word spiritual for quantum, implying influences too tiny to see with our eyes, outside of our general sensitivities, hidden, but nevertheless still having an affect upon us.

To restate, we could all benefit from a practical approach to learning how to discern subtle influences that could allow us to choose better quality nutrition, better health practices, a better life trajectory, and so on.

Are you aware that all inanimate objects, for example, emit a radiating, energetic field that is either in or out of sync with your own vibratory field? This reality forms the basis for the Chinese system of Feng Shui. The art of how and why we place objects where we do. We all possess an energy field, an Energy Body that extends beyond our own skin. We don’t stop at our epidermis.

A small example is our exposure to fluorescent lighting. The evidence is pretty solid that flourescent lights induce a stress response and negatively impacts sleep, which we know impacts emotional regulation, memory, appropriate immune responses, hormonal balance, and repair mechanisms. The healthiest light is sunlight or candlelight, followed by incandescent, then halogen, then LEDs, then CFLs. So if you sit under fluorescent lights for too long you may begin to feel uncomfortable. We all need more time in the sunshine but even that comes with precautions.

Perhaps, you are seated in a dead space in a room where the energy is stagnant. So you begin to feel low energy but you do not know why. Or the clothes you are wearing might be slightly ill-fitting or the wrong style or color choice for you today. All these subtle influences can alter your mood even pull your health down if exposed long enough. Research tells us the cell phone in our pocket is disturbing our energy fields, contributing to a sense of ill being. One study discovered substantial changes in the blood from short-term cell phone radiation exposure in nine out of ten human subjects called sticky blood or Rouleau syndrome.

All these unseen influences, these quanta, have the potential to agitate us at a core level when they are negative and invite discomfort and dis-ease into our life. Can you feel them?

You cannot control or properly defend against negative influences outside of your awareness until you become sensitive to their existence and to the range of options available to you for how to manage or minimize them. You can’t change what you are unaware needs changing. You don’t have to be bound by your prior conditioning. To break from any limitation; from narrow thinking, narrow actions, a negative or unhealthy lifestyle, you have to be more mindful, more aware of what really maters. You can expand your possibilities by cultivating a mind that allows you to clearly know, to feel, or to see when you are being adversely affected and that alternative choices  exist.

Someone once asked me what’s the best self-defense technique? I answered, “Awareness.” It supersedes any physical response like kicking or punching. What’s the best life technique? The answer is the same; Awareness, which we now trend and label as Mindfulness. Self-defense teaches options. You must learn to choose your options wisely.

Take all the negatives in your life, all the struggles, all the conflicts, your problems big and small and ask yourself, “Are you responding ably?” How do you know you are getting the full use of your tools? How do you know you aren’t functioning sub-optimally? How do you know you aren’t using your life tools, tactics or strategy in a limiting manner and this is why you aren’t resolving your problems? How do you know you haven’t been misinformed? It’s easy to blame outside causes. It’s much harder to take the reigns of your life into your own hands and direct your own destiny.

It’s also important to understand the power of having or crafting a conscious, realistic life philosophy. Life philosophy is a work-in-progress for people. Everyone has a life philosophy even if you are not aware you do. It is evident in your patterns of behavior. Your personal philosophy is your wisdom system built from collecting and applying all the great lessons you’ve learned about life.

If you want to live forever, you’re going to have a problem with aging and dying. If you want to be taller or shorter, you’re going to have a problem. If you are an adult and you want to go back to your childhood, you are going to have a problem. If you think having a lot of money is going to solve all your problems, you will have a problem. If you continuously blame others for your problems, you’re going to have a problem. These are not grounded realities or thoughts.

Healthy human life is one of response-ability, the ability to respond wholly in the moment. The more response ‘able’ and whole you are the less struggle you should find in your life. The less struggle you have, the less friction you will feel.

There are three concrete indicators that you are making the right life choices; the feeling of Joy — A sense of Vitality — The experience of Good Health. When you feel good, when you feel alive, when you are filled with energy, and when you are illness free—it doesn’t get any better than this.

So how do you get there? You will need steppingstones. Reflecting deeply on your own Five Pillars; Tools, Tactics, Strategy, State of Mind and Intrinsic Energy Flow is one method. Adopting a discipline or a practice that offers a clear path is another. Or you can meditate, sit quietly and just be, a practice used for centuries across the globe, and find that clear path within yourself.