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#51 - The Universal Subject of Mind

As one considers the power of mind over matter, one can see that one’s perception has a tremendous impact on how one engages with the world. If you don’t perceive a problem, why would you fix that which “ain’t broke?” So, the mind shapes the material reality more than the material reality shapes the mind. In fact, occasionally one may resist what is perceived due to a kind of confirmation bias.

Consider a mirage and the way that light is shaped by water molecules causing our mind to fill in the gaps. This is the case for most of that we do. One cannot perceive everything, so we all make assumptions about existence. Sometimes these turn out to be true and efficient styles of managing life. Sometimes the assumption is inaccurate to the point of “making an ass out of me and you.” It may be that the only person one can be true to is oneself.

We make excuses for failing to follow our own rules or losing a competition. Usually, we claim inadequacy because that provides a path to success. If it is always our fault that we do not achieve success, then it doesn’t matter how successful or powerful the other is. I could win regardless of their ability. This may be untrue, and further as we improve ourselves our opponent may do the same to a greater or lesser degree. It rejects the agency of the other. This is connected to how we perceive others in our lives, as subjects or objects.

In Zen all others in the universe are subjects, not objects. If another is an object then they are to be manipulated and changed, without the same agency to enact change in oneself, others, or the world. Consider how parents or siblings can see a son or younger sister as the same as they were in middle or high school even years into their 20s or 30s. This is a symptom of seeing the other as an object, not a subject in one’s own right.

John Bauer

If others are a subject, then they can change the world the same as we are. They have the same ability to determine success or failure at a given task as we are. They have their own interests and fears. By appreciating both the independent nature of another and what Buddhists term anatta – the lack of self and interconnectedness of existence – we have a more empathetic view of life. We are all subjects of our own story and build the story of the universe in concert with each other.

The Jewish concept of hitlabshut has a similar perspective. Creation is not set in stone, but rather a mutual creation with the higher concepts of reality which are enclothed in lower. For example, Justice enclothed by Glory or Wisdom enclothed by Mercy. One could also look at the Spirit being enclothed by our material body. It is by recognizing the way the higher means of engagement that one can shift the lower to lead toward synthesis or reintegration in tikkun olam.

There are two attitudes about which aspect of life is more important: the external or the internal, material or spiritual, ideas or actions. Many would say actions, but where does the decision to act come from? This also expands into thoughts about conflict: does the environment have a greater impact or the training that one does? If it is the training, then safety should be the priority to ensure continuous growth in the secure and predictable school. If the environment, then preparation for a wide variety of situations approximating what would occur in a conflict would be the priority. Most people find that a balance is necessary.

As one begins, the safety and security of a blossoming student is the priority. Perfection of form in a perfect environment would be the goal, so that a base line of the technique would be developed. Once that exists then application in a wide variety of environments and circumstances could be explored. Some styles focus on the form and perception of an artistic performance, and others focus more on application with less attention to the specific foundations of technique. This tends to be a difference between traditional martial arts and modern self-defense.

The long-practiced principles of the biomechanics of combat but does not have the fluidity of movement that exists with a softer stance, changing guards, and guerilla warfare. Once, armies lined up before each other at a prearranged location before attacking each other. This rigidity of engagement became much less effective as weapons became more accurate and smaller forces began to challenge larger armies that fluidity of combat and emphasis on evasion became more necessary. It may also come about from the focus of armies as pieces on a map to be moved as opposed to individuals who have agency and can engage in less predictable ways.

Rembrant Tharmenz

This chaos of life makes seeing a path to an advantageous position is necessary and moving the feet to get there prior to striking more imperative. In grappling, the common phrase is position before submission. Otherwise, your opponent will move to a position where the attack or submission is less effective, if not impossible. It is always easier to succeed in a conflict if one adjusts to have a superior position before engaging in conflict – no matter whether of a physical or more mental or spiritual variety.

In less physical kinds of conflict there is still a choice between engaging with hard or soft power. One could engage with mandates or demands as opposed to requests or inducements. One uses rhetorical power, and the other still uses physical force. These can come in multiple fashions. On one hand we have bribes, reason, debate, and other fashions of convincing the other that there are more pros than cons to a decision. The other does not bother with that and provides an ultimate con to disobeying the mandate such as prison or death.

One of these relationships is one based on engagement of equals. The other has a clear hierarchy to fit within.

In a more egalitarian society discussions are more likely to occur. This gives people with more of a quick wit and silver tongue an advantage. Sometimes, decisions need to be made more quickly. Paralysis while debating which direction to move when defending oneself will lead to no defense at all, for example. At the same time, this allows for perspectives to be shared that would lead to a more complete understanding of the question at hand.

In a tyrannical or oligarchic system, mandates from the ruling class are more likely. This leads to a more stable hierarchy, potentially more rapid actions in the face of catastrophe, and a fear-based response from individuals. This fear-based response is on both sides, on one hand the fear of violent punishment, and on the other fear of violent revolution.

Frantisek Bohumil Doubek

The first collaborative relationship is more likely in free societies like republics or democracies. In this society there is a means to overcome disagreements within the society without violence. This relationship also provides a way to heal from trauma experienced. It also permits for more individuality in a society. In this manner, when faced with a disagreeable request there are many options. One can attempt to disprove the necessity of it, argue for an exception, or otherwise publicly express the reasons for disagreement. The individual can provide perspective and shape society.

The second command relationship is more likely in a police state of some variety. In this state people will have to hide their individual behaviors from others for fear of the punishment. It is a less trusting society, and one where the people are at odds with the society. The option when faced with a disagreeable mandate is to totally disobey and risk the punishment, to overthrow the society, or to lie and hide the rebellion.

This can be brought from a large-scale societal picture to one of individual relationships between a father and child, a wife and husband, or of friends. Which relationship would you prefer there, and why would it be any different for others? I believe that one leads to more empathy and harmony, and the other leads to more fear and distrust.

-- SG

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This blog has been a work of love developed over the past ten years and finally brought to life through the dedicated tech help by Soren, who was originally my physical therapist and now is a time-limited partner who managers two other martial arts training centers. Being an old gay guy I struggle to function well in the blog-a-sphere so this presentation will be a bit rough at first. Feel free to lend your ideas.


Since my teen years I have believed that through appropriate touch we can heal ourselves. But the journey to better understand my own dynamics and gain enough awareness to be able to write about our complex humanness only coalesced after I had an opportunity to be in prison. There I had time to do deep self-examinations about why I was who I am and how I could translate that into helping others make discoveries for themselves. I do not claim to be a professional therapist or counselor.


But I do believe there are others in this world who might benefit from these ideas presented in this blog platform. Having grown to the point of releasing nearly all of my fears and can now truly say that I love every moment and feel in partnership with my soul, I feel that others may benefit from my travels. Being non-judgmental I welcome your insights, whatever they may be, and I will strive to help everyone find greater peace in their lives. and Hoshow, LLC.


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