Peace is a Practice

Sitting still is not the same as being present.

When I was about 19 years old, a friend and mentor introduced me to the philosophies, religions, and spiritual practices of South and East Asia, specifically Buddhism, Taoism, and, to a lesser degree, Hinduism. His goal was not to convert me to a particular belief system (he also introduced me to Aristotle, Plato, Nietzsche, et al), but to open my mind to different perspectives and to give me a means by which to be more grounded, mindful, and compassionate with myself and others, something I desperately needed. I was lost and he was trying to help me find my way.

During this time, we had many conversations about life, philosophy, and practice. I am not sure whether it was from one of those conversations or from one of the books I was reading, but, when life gets hectic or is not going as planned, and I am feeling overwhelmed, unsettled, and anxious, I am reminded of something I either heard or read. Paraphrasing to the best of my memory: It is easy to sit mindfully and to be at peace alone, next to a stream, on the top of a mountain, but the ability to do this next to the highway, at rush hour, with all of the noise and distractions, is where we are truly tested.

Mindfulness, the ability to be still, to be present, patient, and compassionate, is a skill and, like all skills, it requires discipline and practice. Once we have some base level of skill developed in ideal circumstances, like sitting daily meditation for 10-20 minutes in a quiet, relaxing space and setting, we begin to see that every moment, every circumstance, and every interaction is an opportunity to practice. By practicing mindfulness in this way, even though we will fall short, often, very often, we give give ourselves the permission and the opportunity to step back from what is happening, both internally and externally, and to look at it through a different lens, a lens of empathy and loving understanding.

Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh (artist unknown, unless otherwise noted).

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