Build Bridges Not Walls

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build bridges not walls“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”

Sir Isaac Newton

 

Stand for what you are for not what you are against. Build bridges not walls. Mother Teresa once said she would never go to an anti-war rally, but to invite her if you were to hold a peace rally. This statement may seem trivial but the depth of this statement is profound. We are our thoughts, what we think we become. Our thoughts become actions, in this we create our world. What we seek is seeking us. The focus, the fight needs to shift to what we want to create versus what we oppose.

Human beings take action based on fear. We fight against things that we oppose. Our mind ignites this opposition against that which is different than our self, be it religion, or race, or culture, or sex. This mindset is an inflated version of our EGO standing only with others that have similar ideologies or physical make up. Our minds fight for this thought that our path is the right path, and we are different but justified in our exclusion. This way of thinking misses the universal connection of all living beings. It misses love as the source of our being and that all living beings are on the same journey. Fighting that which we oppose by building walls and using violence and bombs is the easy and ordinary path. It is the path that feeds anger and greed. It feeds vengeance and power. It feeds the voice you were unjust to me therefore I will be unjust to you. This path is a reaction to thoughts, feelings and emotions abstract from our source which is unity and love. This path of US vs THEM is not a spiritually evolved or connected path.

History is littered with examples of oppression and exclusion. Our minds create an US vs. THEM mentality, an illusion that is at the root of war, of castes, and oppression. There is no US vs. THEM, we are all brothers and sisters. There are no borders, or races or sexes. We are vibrating energy that is all connected. When we remove this illusion WALLS are pointless. In fact, walls and bombs are more than pointless they instigate, they inspire an equal opposing force as Sir Isaac Newton spelled out in his Law of Motion – for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. We speak in good faith that we want peace and harmony yet our actions are not consistent with this path. Our intentions and actions are that of violence and control, yet we are still surprised when violence comes back to us. Walls are built out of fear in an attempt to hold onto this illusion that we must protect the GOOD vs. EVIL. Those that are opposed become objects, dehumanized and easy to destroy. Bombs are dropped with the message of freedom yet the only remains are destruction and death.We become an eye for an eye society and as Mahatma Gandhi so eloquently stated “we all go blind.” The violence in the world today is simply the opposite and equal reactions of our existing actions in the world. Yet we continue on our path of using violence and to control. To control through fear and violence is a limited path that does not empower or inspire people. The oppressed eventually rise up in equal fashion to those that control. The path of opposition is an endless path of destruction and death. There is no end, only more control and violence. Fear is used to ignite this flame and money is poured into the stockpile of weapons and exclusion and again we are confounded when others do the same in opposition. Darkness does not eliminate darkness, only light as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us. It took extreme courage for Dr. King to follow a path of peace in the face of violent opposition. This was the light.

It is time to revisit this path of light and non violence. This path takes courage in the face all of the greatest fears in our minds. Yet, what greater fight is there than one of peace and love. Love is the greatest power on this earth, far greater than any bomb or wall. The seeds of love empower, and inspire the world forever changing the footprint that was left before they arrived. The power of love triumphs over fear, over control. The growth may be slow but it is permanent, far more permanent than some ideological wall that represents oppression and fear. Love is the honey that attracts, all living beings crave and want it. Mahatma Gandhi stood for a path of peace and love in the face of violence and control. Martin Luther King Jr. rallied for civil rights under the umbrella of love and peace. The path is of Mother Teresa in fighting for what we are FOR not against. This is spiritual evolution. This path will test our diligence to peace and love. It will push us to our limit, it will strive to take the love out of our hearts, to prod and anger us to join in the realm of chaos and destruction, the realm of anger and violence and death. We must stand for love in the face of the greatest tragedies, like the mother who forgave the man who killed her daughter, or like Gandhi willing to die for his faith in peace and of love. Let no one take away our choice for peace and love, this cannot be taken only given away by us. This is the courage we must have, we must build bridges of love in the midst of the storm. Yet, the more we build, the more we create the more that we inspire and the more that will join in our creation of love far distancing the control in the path of destruction on the alternate path.

We are defined by how we react in our darkest hour.

It is exactly in these moments that we must choose to build bridges and not walls. Every moment, every footprint is our choice. Always remove the barriers to fear and oppression and choose creation and love.

This is leadership. This is spiritual evolution.

Thomas D. Craig

love. inspire. unite

 

 

 

 

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No More Suffering

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No More Suffering….

I was recently on a family trip to Switzerland, a long dream of my parents to see the Alps. The trip was an amazing bonding experience with my sisters, my daughters and my parents, who are getting later in their years and physically cannot get around very well anymore. My father was using a walker to keep him stable and my mother was using a wheelchair as her knees just could not take the pounding of the daily travel stops. Between my sisters, my daughters and brother-in-law we managed to get through the constant transitions between the bus, the trains, and the various challenges in the mountains. Then we went to Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn. If you are not familiar with Zermatt, it is famous for not allowing cars into the town, nearly everyone arrives by train, and outside of small electrical carts, you walk throughout the village. Think quaint Swiss village with brown chalets, painted shutters and colorful red geraniums in every flower box. The highlight of Zermatt was taking a series of trams up the Klein Matterhorn (little Matterhorn) to reach the highest point in Europe you can reach by aerial tramway (12,740 ft). This was quite challenging for our crew as the trams did not stop so getting my parents to shuffle into the car while we folded and entered the tram with the wheelchair and walker took precision and speed. However, we made it to the mid-point and were taking these epic pictures of the mountains when I realized that through all the chaos of the tram transfer I had forgotten my bag somewhere. This wasn’t just any bag, it was my work laptop. Since we were leaving the village that day we had been requested to leave our carry-on luggage in the lobby of the hotel while we toured the mountains. I didn’t trust leaving my laptop in the lobby so I carried with me…and now, in the chaos it was gone. I searched the grounds everywhere and knew immediately I had left somewhere at the bottom of the tram while I was focused on my parents. My initial thought was it’s a laptop and can be replaced but I work for a cyber-security company so this was a serious deal as any break into the company’s system would be a global headline. Through this, I stopped, and I breathed in deeply and I focused on my family and the moment in front of me as I knew there was nothing I could change or alter my situation. We explored the top of the Klein, went inside of glacier and had amazing views of the Matterhorn. Then, on the way down the mountain daughter pulled me aside and said “how do you stay so calm? I would be freaking out if my laptop was gone.”

I smiled in this question as I knew it was the crux of all of our suffering in life. All I could think about was the guru who said “why worry if you can’t do anything about a situation, and why worry if you can.”

There were actions to take in the moment, which we did, we notified the tram operators and at the village we notified the formal Swiss lost and found system they have in place. There wasn’t anything more we could do. The event happened, I couldn’t change it so why suffer? Our suffering in life is very simple. It comes from wanting life to be different than it actually is. Just look at events in your life and notice when you have suffered it comes from your mind wanting life to be different than it actually is. We cannot control what happens in our lives but we can control how we react to it. Many Zen stories, such as Is that so?, speak of this.

I could have thrown and fit, and been sad and overwhelmed and sucked the energy of the group into my ‘problem’, and we would have missed one of the most incredible scenic moments I’ve ever experienced. The guide told us that it’s extremely rare to see the full Matterhorn as the clouds and weather keep it concealed for most of the year, maybe 8-10 times you can see it in its full glory. We experienced one of these days and it was spectacular.

Living a life with peace and love requires a life without suffering. If our mind is focused on what could or should be then we miss each moment in the present. Even when there are challenging times in our life there is something beautiful happening if we look. If we adjust our mind to accepting and flowing with life then we can find the beauty in every moment. How can we know happiness unless we know sadness? Let go of how you think life should be for you and live in each moment, it is here you will let go of attachment and flow with life. It is here you will find peace.

Two days after we left Zermatt as we were exploring Lake Lucerne I got a call that someone had turned in my bag in full with nothing missing inside.

“Why worry if you can’t do anything about a situation, and why worry if you can.”

Let go and flow.

Thomas Craig

Love. Inspire. Connect

Let Go

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let goOne of the hardest principles to understand on your journey is that the obstacle is the path. Our minds want to fight for something different that what actually is happening in your life. We fight for days of yesterday or pine for something different in the future yet we do not live in the present moment. No matter the challenge or difficulty in your life all of your fighting and wishing that it was different does not make it go away. Life is what it is. Let go, stop resisting and be in the moment. There is something to learn, something to gain from this experience. You are a product of your experiences both good and bad. Iron sharpens iron. Years from now you will look back at this experience and understand that it made you the person that you are. Every moment is a teaching moment and a moment to grow and expand. Trust in this lesson as all of your suffering comes from fighting this principle. Understand that life is always about the journey never the destination, that there is no where to get to. Understand that this moment right now is the most important moment that you will ever have. Each moment of now is all we will ever have. Be in it, experience it to the fullest, learn from it, and give thanks as this moment is expanding you.

Resisting only causes suffering and pain. Let go of the questions of why me, or the pointing of fingers why you life is challenging. Flow with life, be like water and flow. Growth comes from being uncomfortable and even pain. Safety is ordinary. We are not ordinary beings, we are extraordinary spiritual beings capable of anything. Those who grow the most have gone through the most difficult challenges. Put yourself on the edge, experience life and all of the ups and downs that go with it. Be in it to the fullest, experience all of it. Be present. When we understand this and understand that the obstacle is the path we can let go and be in each moment. This is how we spiritually evolve and grow. This is how we find peace in even the most difficult times.

Let go, spiritually evolve, and be love.

Thomas D. Craig

Vulnerability is Strength

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“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~ Rumi

rumi lightIt has taken me a lifetime to understand that vulnerability is strength, that an open heart takes courage. As a man, this principle goes against everything in how I was raised. I grew up in a small, rural, mill town, a place that if I could describe in short I would say it is old school. Old school in that boys played football, didn’t show their emotion or feelings and kept their pain in check. The be strong and act like a man mentality. This fear induced mentality has limited our growth and spiritual evolution. Yet, you still hear the remnants of this message today. Words that oppress and control women, or fight against feminism and equal wages. Words that divide and create classes, or control. This level of thinking is like the 12 year old bully with little or no depth, quick to anger using the sole judgement of physical strength. This is primal, at the lowest level of our being. It comes from the mantra that the strong will survive, physical evolution. The thought that we should never show our weaknesses or vulnerability. Yet, we are no longer a primal animal fending off the fierce creatures in the night. We are spiritual beings that are in a physical existence. When we flip this context, it is easy to see that the foundation of this mentality is based on fear and simply a mask to cover our perceived weaknesses.
As a spiritual being that is looking within, I have spent many years silencing my mind, and these old school, preconceived ideas on who I was supposed to be as a man. As I have shed these layers of self I have also shed these layers I built to shield myself from connection and love. You see, when we build these layers and masks that we wear we may shield others from our fear and weakness, yet we also keep people out and away from our true inner being. We create a sphere of isolation around us no matter how many relationships we have. Deep down we know this, we know we are not authentic or real. We understand that we are acting in our own play, pretending to be something for someone. We hold back and reserve our heart. We keep our stiff upper lips, and we keep our fear and worries to ourselves and we close our hearts. One cannot fully love unless their heart is fully open. Quid pro quo. This is life, what we want we must first become. If we want unconditional love, we must be unconditional love. Unconditional love is love without the boundaries, with no masks. It is a fully exposed heart. Yet our mind wants to shield us. The questions pound in our mind, what if they do not accept me and my weaknesses? What if I love and they do not love back? What if…? Our mind fights these questions and holds us in check. Our mind keeps us safe by keeping us confined. It takes courage to put your heart fully out there. This is the paradox as vulnerability is not weakness it is strength. To live a life exposed and out there authentically is the hardest path. It is a path that anyone can judge, yet it is also a path that has no limits. It is a path that is entirely free. No more lies, no more masks, just an exposed, vulnerable heart.
In this vulnerability we find empathy, and compassion. We find love at its root, its deepest level. In this we find authenticity and the depth of our path in this life. The courage to take this difficult path is rewarded in the relationships and authentic experiences we have in opening our heart.
To this I ask you to open your heart, find your vulnerability, remove any barriers that you have to love, and live authentically, love unconditionally and teach your children that this is the path. Let the old school way of being go and remove any predisposed way of being. I train and compete in martial arts, yet I will be the first to shed a tear with my daughters or tell them that I love them. This is the way of a Zen Warrior, the way of an open heart.
Be love for this is your source. Be authentic and vulnerable, in this you will find your freedom and deep connections in this lifetime.

Thomas D. Craig
Love. Inspire. Unite

Life is a Mirror

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red candleOur world is simply a reflection of how we view it and the thoughts and actions we put into it. Our experience in life mirrors our context of it. Like a poet, do we see beauty and love in every moment and interaction? Or like a child, do we feel and see wonder in everything in life? Or have we become cynical and resigned in our lives and our world mirrors back our context of it? One of the greatest spiritual lessons we can learn in this life is that we alone are accountable for our lives, that there is nowhere else to point our fingers. And if we understand that we alone are accountable, then we realize that we alone create our world. These two lessons are very hard to comprehend and own. It is much easier to push blame elsewhere for the pain in our lives. It is easier to see what is wrong than having to take ownership in having to look deeper both within ourselves and within others to find beauty and grace.

Yet, this is the mirror we live in. If you want happiness then be happy and reflect happiness everywhere in your life, not just in moments of joy but finding joy and laughter even when life is challenging. And then ultimately, finding someone to love and give happiness to. Herein lies another great spiritual lesson in that this life is not about you. You’re in this body connected to all living beings and thus another beings pain is your pain. When you give to another it is as if you are giving to yourself. If you are unhappy, and are looking for connection and love then give connection and love. In turn, you will receive connection and love. Let go of the attachments of the way life should be and be the light that you want the world to be. This is the mirror, we shine our light as a beacon for the world to see and emulate. Our light inspires and reflects far from our immediate surrounding. Human beings are thirsty for peace, joy and love. Look within and find peace, and create a context of this world that is filled with joy and love, and then give this to others unconditionally. This will light the flame in others who have been in perpetual darkness. As the light within you grows the barriers that you have been holding to love will dissipate and you will radiate as a divine being. Others will see this beacon and they will gravitate to you, they will want this energy you are giving. They will want this connection.

Be the light and reflect this brightly for all to see. Be accountable for your life, create an empowering context filled with peace and love and shine. You are light, you are divine SHINE.

Thomas D. Craig
Love. Inspire. Unite

Footprints

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We’re born, and we die, turning to dust. All we leave are our footprints. Every moment in our life is a footprint. Let’s get present to the footprints we’re leaving on this journey. We love, we inspire, and we unite. Long after our physical body is gone, the echoes of our footprints remain. – Thomas D. Craig – Conquer Thyself: Change Yourself Change the World (April 2018 release date)

footprintsOur lives in this body go by in a flash of time in the universe. As human beings we churn many cycles in our mind on superficial things such as getting ahead, the car we drive, or job we have. Our mind gravitates to the ego and this physical body, yet life is not about these things. At some point, perhaps on your last breath you will understand that you cannot take things with you on your spiritual journey. At some point you will realize that life was about the experiences that you had in each present moment, that life was about each step, each footprint along your journey.

In order to live an impactful, intentional life we must create with the end in mind. We must look to the end and write our story. Perhaps you are familiar with the exercise in writing your own eulogy and imagining what people will say after you pass in this body. To create this reality we must write these words down in the life that we are creating and the accomplishments we want in this body, and then we must create actions consistent with our plan to get us to this goal. We create and start with the end to point us in the direction on our journey. Like a map, yet the map is never the territory, it is simply a direction for us to point us along our journey. Once we know where we want to go we step one step at a time. Each step is our journey and it is always in a moment of NOW. Just as stepping into a river is never the same river twice, so is life, both are always changing, always new in each step that we take. Every moment is fresh and new and an opportunity for us to live fully and present in each step of our journey.

We must get present to the end and the direction that we want to take on our spiritual evolution. We must get present that each moment is fresh and new and that each moment and interaction could be our last with the world around us. It could be our last or the living being we are present with. Life is precious and changes suddenly, it should never be taken for granted. Life is contained in these singular moments that we experience in every step. Imagine that these words, these actions that you have with the living beings around you could be the last that you have with them. If you lived in this manner, how would you act? What words would you say? Would you focus on trivial matters or would you focus on being present and being love?

Understand that our lives are a series of footprints, what tracks do you want to leave for humanity? How do you want to be remembered in every interaction that you have? Are you pulling up humanity? What is the experience that people have with you? How do you make them feel? The experiences, the footprints that you leave will be left long after you say your goodbyes, or you expire.

Brothers and sisters, get present to the moment of NOW. Get present to the footprints that you leave in life. Get present to how you make people feel when you are with them, how you impact the world around you. Remember that each moment in your life is a footprint, step wisely and with your heart filled with compassion and love.

Thomas D. Craig
Love. Inspire. Unite

Authenticity is the Path to Freedom

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“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” –Bruce Lee

young boy chain fenceWe are never truly free until we are fully authentic in our lives. Authentic in who we are and what we stand for indifferent to the judgement and opinions around us. Authentic in our thoughts and our actions. Too often our lives are spent trying to cater to the expectations of another. We make decisions and take action based on the thoughts and opinions of the people in our lives. We are imprisoned in the masks that we wear far away from our authentic self, the inner being within us, our source. Our inner being is free of judgment and fear. Our authentic self is not confined by our sex, status, or race. It is not confined by some defined role, or predestined life. It is not even confined by our body as our authentic self is our vibrating energy that cannot be created or destroyed. Once we get past the masks we wear, and the internal and external judgement, we strip away the layers to a space of nothing. It is here in this space of nothing that we find stillness, and in this stillness our inner being and divine light. It is here that we find our purpose and what we stand for in this lifetime. We cannot evolve on our spiritual path until we strip away our layers and are authentic in every phase of our lives.

I know this deeply as it took me forty years to understand this. I had built up a life of masks and lies. I couldn’t see it at the time but I was expending considerable energy trying to please my parents, my friends, my workmates, my children, and others in who I felt they wanted me to be. My energy was spent on going to school, finding a certain type of job, even getting married all to please what I thought others wanted to see from me. I was a slave to the judgement and opinion around me. I was a slave to my mind creating most of these thoughts, all generated out of fear in that I would not be lovable or good enough if I didn’t conform to what I thought others wanted to see and hear from me. Year after year I churned out this life and I was shackled to a life of lies. When I began to meditate, and awaken I realized how inauthentic I was in my life in every area. I would act a certain way to my workmates, a different way to a certain set of friends and another to others. I acted a certain way to my family, and to my parents. When I realized this I cried as I didn’t realize how pervasive my inauthenticity really was. My life of lies was incredibly heavy as I carried around all of these expectations from others. When I cut this baggage and removed my masks I became free. My spirit lit up and lived in the space that anything was possible in my life and I could be anything that I chose to be. I do not have words to express how light and alive I felt after choosing an authentic way of being. Choosing this path was not easy and I was worried I would fall back into an inauthentic way of being so I found a necklace of wood mala beads and wrapped this around my wrist as a constant reminder to never allow this to happen again. I have since added another necklace to the other wrist to balance this out, and nearly 10 years later I still wear this every day as a reminder to always think and act in an authentic way.

When I initially chose this way of being it was difficult at first. There were friends and family used to my way of being for many, many years. Often we mock what we don’t understand. I had college friends make fun of me for my beliefs in meditation and being a vegetarian. My mother to this day refuses to admit I wrote my first book as it has the word Buddha in the title. It took me many years to finally understand that I’m not responsible for other people’s happiness. I’m here to act with integrity, with authenticity and with love. You be you, and I’ll be me. The challenging thing about living an authentic life is that far too often it is the people closest to our lives, like our friends and family that challenge our beliefs and try to steer us onto a different path. It takes courage to live an authentic life, to live from our heart. There is no one that you have answer to on this planet other than the person you look at in the mirror. It is this person alone that you have to look at deeply, past those eyes staring back at you, deep into your soul. This is the person you have to answer for a life fully lived, for a life lived authentically and with love, for a life that pulls up humanity. On your last breath in this lifetime you want to be able to answer your inner voice in that you lived a life on the edge, authentically and from your heart. When you can live your life in this way, past your fear and with authenticity then you will truly be free.

To Express Oneself Honestly

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To Express Oneself Honestly
Why I Train and Follow a Path that I Love

“To express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself- that, my friend, is very hard to do.” -Bruce Lee-

I’m posting these thoughts on August 24, 2017 the day I compete in the Master Senior Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’ve had so many people question why I train. Comments from some spiritual friends who ask me how I can follow a path of love and peace and yet train in martial arts. They are perplexed by this concept. I have tried to explain in vain that I practice the gentle art, arte suave, the martial art where you can defend and control your opponent without having to strike endlessly to the face or body. I tried to explain that the root of modern day martial arts can be traced back to the Shaolin Temple in China where monks practiced to keep their body in tune with their spirit and enhance their chi energy as well as protect themselves against continuous attacks on the temple. True martial artists would be the last people that would fight, only doing so to protect themselves and those around them from harm but never to inflict unnecessary damage to an individual. The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba talked of the Japanese term for Budo which in it’s original Asian concept means to stop or prohibit violence or war. Ueshiba talked of Bu meaning to halt the thrusting blade, and used the term Budo then as a form of love. I was so taken by this thought that I once named my dog Bu, everyone thought he was a ghost but he was love to me. Yet, I am questioned consistently about this apparent dichotomy in following a path of peace and practicing how to defend myself. I also get comments from family members and some friends that question why at my age I still train in such a physical activity. Comments such as “you are too old, and you are going to get hurt.” Last, I get comments asking why I compete as in the mind of the person questioning they wonder how I can practice a path that looks within and works to remove the ego yet competes to beat the opponent and win. Here are 5 reasons why I train and follow a path that I love.
1. Follow a Path that you LOVE
One of the greatest principles you can learn in life is to follow a path that makes your heart sing, one that you jump out of bed in the morning. Human beings are too inclined to follow the herd, the path of an ordinary existence. It takes courage to muffle the voices of judgment and pessimism. We are only free when we are authentic to ourselves. I train because I love Jiu Jitsu. It moves me. One of my training partners, Chris always has a smile on his face and when I ask him why he simply just says “I am training in Jiu Jitsu man, how can I not smile.” Jiu Jitsu is intellectual, like human chess always evolving. It humbles the strongest as you die over and over again on the mats. It encourages you to find the way, to get better. There are no short cuts in Jiu Jitsu only hard work and determination. It typically takes 10-12+ years to get a black belt in the art and there is a saying a black belt is simply a white belt who didn’t quit. This is true. No matter what it is you love dive into this with all of your heart. When we following a path that we love it is not work or difficult as it is part of our way of being.

2. Age is just a number
I am disheartened when people tell me I am too old for something. I am disheartened as I know they live their lives this way. Why would we put a restriction on life because of some arbitrary age limit? Especially if this is a path that you love, as if you have to hang up your dreams, your passion because of your age. This is ridiculous to me. In addition the thought that one might get hurt following their passion is living a life cautious and afraid. It is living in the fear versus living fully on the edge. When you live afraid, you are not living, you are simply existing surrounded by your self created barriers and walls. I know people my age who are  physically broken down because of their diet and lifestyle or too afraid to put themselves out there for fear of failure or what others might say. These barriers are self created. You get to choose your life. You are the actor in your play. You can choose to be fit and healthy and live life to the fullest or you can listen to these voices that tell you that you should or shouldn’t do things because of your age or other circumstances in life like your sex, or race or status in life. Do not listen to the hecklers, they are simply holding you down. Often this comes from family or friends in not encouraging dreams. Their words are typically a reflection of how they view themselves. Let these voices go and follow the path of your dreams.

3. Be Perfect Every Day
The concept of perfection to me is living authentically, acting with integrity to the world and myself and to remove any barriers I have to love. Being perfect is being the best possible being you can be in each moment, in each day. I tell my girls to look in the mirror each day, and truly look at that being starting back. This is the only person that you ever have to answer to. I ask them to look and then ask that person staring back at them three questions. One, are you living an authentic life that is true to yourself and not being influenced by the world and judgement around you? Until you do this you will never be free. Two, are you acting with integrity and honoring your word to yourself and the world around you? All we have is our actions and our word. If we cannot honor this then what are to the world. It is important to be your word. And last is the question, are you acting and being love in every moment to every living being? Our task is to remove any barriers we have within ourselves to love. Everything I do in life comes back to these three questions. Jiu Jitsu is a microcosm of this. I train to be the best I can be in every moment. My opponent is always myself, the person I train or compete with is simply a vehicle to test whether I can be the best that I can be. This is why we bow to our opponent an offering of thanks for allowing us to test ourselves.

4. All we ever have is right NOW
Jiu Jitsu epitomizes this principle in life. When we carry our past or hopes for the future into our present moment we become attached that our life should be different than it actually is. In quieting the mind we realize that all of that is noise, that life is beautiful exactly the way it is right now. When we get present to this principle life becomes very simple, we remove any attachments that keep us from this NOW state of mind. In Jiu Jitsu you have to be in the state of now or you will die. It is this simple. If you bring a heavy mind and are thinking about other things your opponent will submit you. In this way Jiu Jitsu is a form of meditation, a form that amplifies this moment of NOW and refreshes the soul. This is one of the reasons I love Jiu Jitsu so much. No matter the pains going on in my life I can train and I can let all of this go for the present moment. In this I am forever grateful for Jiu Jitsu in allowing me to experience this. Find a passion in your life that also forces you to stay in the present moment. Many monasteries call this walking or working meditation in having you be present in every action. Jiu Jitsu has allowed me to see the value in these actions and I carry this over to everything else that I do be it cooking or mowing the lawn as all we ever have is each moment and there is no guarantee that we will have another.

5. Live on purpose and on the edge
Human beings shy away from their true wants and desires in life. Often this is driven by fear. Fear that we are not capable of the task or fear and worry in what others will think of us. This fear keeps us complacent in life. We live an apathetic life yet deep inside our fire burns for a deeper meaning and purpose. You often hear of people talk of living a live with purpose, yet I suggest living a life ON purpose. The difference to me is that when you live with a purpose it is like carry around a bag with you, almost like a nice to have in your life. I think our purpose is way deeper than this. First and foremost my purpose is to connect to the divine within myself. The body I carry is simply baggage around an incredible, divine light. My ultimate purpose is to connect with this light inside of me. Next, I am not here on this planet, in this body and lifetime for myself. I am here to lift humanity. I am here to connect others to that divine being within themselves to find a path of purpose, peace and love. All of us have something we are here for on this planet, something to provide humanity and all living beings. Find it, live a life that is ON PURPOSE not drifting through an ordinary existence. Finally live on the edge beyond your fear. Fail often as this means you are pushing your edge and expanding. Growth comes from expanding. The edge may be scary to you yet this is the place to live. This is why I compete in Jiu Jitsu. The loneliest walk in the world for a fighter is from the dressing room or edge of the mat to the ring. You see on this walk there is no place to hide, you are simply shrouded in a thin Gi with barely anything underneath. Nearly naked figuratively and metaphorically the mind races and begin to question everything about yourself. The voices shout in the head asking am I good enough? Or can I do this? These voices drown out any other thoughts and question everything about who we are and what we stand for in this life. It takes tremendous courage to take this walk and to stand in this space of the unknown, and the question of am I good enough? With everything, ultimately our fight is always within, to quiet these thoughts and to be in this state of now and be the best that we can be in every moment. Winning or losing is never the quest, it is simply did we honor ourself and be the best that we can be in every moment. This is all we can ever do. This is why I train in Jiu Jitsu to stand in this space, to push me on the edge to answer this question over and over again. It is my training for life as we all have this question for everything that we do. Find your purpose in lifting up humanity, find your edge and constantly push it. Expand, fail, grow and inspire the world around you.

As far as I go, I will continue not to listen to the skeptics or those who judge. I will follow a path that I love and be the best that I can be in every moment.

This is the path of a Zen warrior.

Thomas D. Craig
Love. Inspire. Unite

All Living Beings are Dying

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I am dying.norman cousins death quote

In writing these words I find freedom and power. The resistance and fear of death has been notorious throughout human history. We fight and resist the inevitable as if death is something we can control. The western mindset refuses to talk or even think about death as if we speak the words then we lose power and our mortality becomes imminent. This train of thought binds us in fear and restricts us from truly living our lives. When we resist the action persists. Our mind avoids the topic and our lives build up in a crescendo of fear and anxiety up until the day we die and living a life that is never free.

In this way of thinking we resist a natural transition and the obvious but avoided truth that all living beings are dying . Quantum physics has shown us that below our physical bodies we are vibrating energy. The law of thermodynamics tells us that you cannot create or destroy energy; therefore, death is simply a transition of energy. Indifferent to the west, the eastern mind embraces death as a natural part of our existence. It is not to be feared but embraced, a moment to rejoice after a lifetime that has been fully lived. When one is present that all living beings are dying we become united as one. We understand and feel compassion as each living being is simply an expression of ourselves on the same journey that will eventually end and transition. We are connected as brothers and sisters in a blip of time that could end in any moment. The basis of our fears such as greed, or anger, or jealousy dissipate as our ego disappears in this universal connection of oneness. This egotisical view of life is filled with judgement and competitiveness. The “I” versus “we” conversation that you may have in your head. This context comes from a mind that views this body, this ego and this one life as finite. It does not come from a view that all beings are dying and that we are all connected. Until you remove this thought that you are on a solo journey, in one lifetime you will not see what I speak of nor have the compassion and love for all beings. If you understood this connection then every living being would be like your mother on her deathbed. You would kneel, and give your heart and unconditional love to every living being.

As human beings we cannot fully live until we embrace death. When you are present to this lesson not only do you view all living beings with love and compassion but you embrace life. Understanding that each moment could be your last in this lifetime gets you present to the concept of NOW. Not what happened in the past, or what you want to happen in the future, but each moment right now. The moment of now is beyond expectations or attachments and allows one to choose each moment in every breath no matter the circumstance. When we embrace death and this moment of now we can then truly live. Imagine this, in this concept of now and embracing death every interaction  with other beings would be filled with love and compassion. In every moment, we would be very present in how we touched every individual that we came across. In our mind we would ask ourselves, how did we leave them? Did we pull up humanity? Being present to the concept that this may be our last moment, we would ask ourselves, how did we make that person feel?, did we act with integrity? Were we authentic with them? Did we act from our heart with love? We live life as if we have time, as if we can wait for someday to truly live yet this is not embracing death. To truly live we must embrace that every moment is precious that all we have is right now, not tomorrow, not someday. These places do not exist. Every day, every moment becomes an exercise in how do we live life to the fullest, and with gratitude and who can we make a difference with on this planet. This is fully living.

I became a hospice volunteer so I could get present to death, fully living, and each moment of now. This past year I have watched my ex wife and mother of my two children suddenly pass away. I tried to prepare my daughters for this moment and to embrace every moment with their mother before she transitioned from this lifetime, yet this lesson of embracing death is one of the more challenging we have as human beings. We want to resist until it is too late. Waiting until your deathbed that realize that you didn’t fully live is too late. A Zen Warrior embraces death in every moment. Understanding this changes our perspective from fear and resistance to gratitude and love. A human being can create anything with gratitude and love as there is nothing more powerful. Do not live a life in fear and resistance, let this go. Get present to your mortality, embrace it. Get present that all living beings are dying as this will shift your connection to everything in this Universe. Embrace death, get present to it. Spend time with those who do not have much time left as you will begin to understand this lesson. To live we must die and then live again. Living a life in fear is a life asleep. Let go, embrace it, all of it, every moment and be love.

Thomas D. Craig

Zen Warrior

 

Chop Wood Carry Water (revisited)

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Before enlightenment chop wood carry water, after enlightenment chop wood carry water. – Zen proverb

The concept and the word Zen have transcended beyond chop wood carry waterjust a sect of Buddhist philosophy becoming synonymous with simplicity, peace and love. I have written and spoken about finding the path within for many years and the most searched for phrase every day on my blog is the Zen proverb Chop Wood Carry Water. I have found this phrase is many places, it was used as a marketing slogan by the Edmonton Oiler hockey team, linked to time after time again in articles, and posted all over the Internet. This fascinates me as Zen kōans and proverbs are typically used to ignite inner thought with unanswerable questions. These thoughts or questions were to ponder while you searched for the personal meaning within oneself. Yet, I smile and understand everytime I see this quote as Chop Wood Carry Water is one of my favorites. I have used this in my life many times as a mantra to live from and inspire me to live along my path.

This concept of chopping wood and carrying water before enlightenment and after enlightenment I see in many areas of life. As human beings we think that in our journey there is a final destination to get to, and when we think we arrive we stop doing the things that got us there in the first place. This applies to anything in life be it a spiritual journey, personal relationships or your career. This quote is a reminder that we create the fundamentals for success on our journey, the framework of our path and we must continue doing the basics at all times. There is no mystical place of enlightenment or end destination that we finally get to hang up our robe and do whatever we please as our mind things we have finally made it. We create the intention of our path and the actions for us to attain checkpoints along with path and we do these fundamentals. For myself, this means eating healthy and right so I have the energy to work, to be a single dad and to train in martial arts and to follow my spiritual path. It also means getting to bed by a certain time so I can get up at 5 am and meditate for 2 hours. This is chop wood carry water. Doing the basics as the framework of my journey. There are many days I want to stray from this path, yet I know the path that I have intended to take I must follow these fundamentals. When I stray I am off track. The discipline to continue doing the basic fundamentals for the success of our path is the essence of this proverb. I love the fact the Edmonton Oiler hockey team used this phrase as there slogan as it means they were focused on the basics, the fundamentals to achieve success. It means they understood as a team no one was above another that they must all do the basics along the journey. No one was above this. I have seen many famous ball players, or even entertainers get the big contract and the hunger and actions they took to get on top disappeared because they had made it in their mind. They believe in their mindset that they are above the small things and no longer need to do this. This mindset is far from chop wood and carry water. As individuals, no matter the place on our journey we must create the framework for a successful journey, the basics and do this throughout our lives. We must stay hungry as if we have never arrived at our destination as in truth the journey is never about the destination, it is always about the path.

When I look deeper at Chop Wood Carry Water, I read into it as walking the walk. So often I see people speak words that are not in concert with their actions. When we Chop Wood Carry Water we walk the walk of our thoughts, and our actions. Mahatma Gandhi once said “happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” This is walking the walk. I see hypocrisy often in life. In truth all we have in this life is our word. Our word to others of course, but most importantly to ourselves. When we shift our thoughts, our intentions to spoken words out loud we have now created destinations along our journey for us to strive for. It is our responsibility to honor these words with action. Chop Wood Carry Water is a mantra to me to walk the walk. My mission in life is to inspire and teach people to look within to find peace and love. If I am not following a path of peace and love and looking within myself then I am not walking the walk. My two daughters find this frustrating at times as I do not drink, smoke or do drugs. I tell them that what I say I do. I create with them honoring their word and following a path where they can look in the mirror and know they did the best they could, authentically and with integrity. A Zen Warrior is one who looks within and walks the walk. They do what they say. They inspire through their actions.

On your journey, honor this way of being, continue to Chop Wood and Carry Water no matter where you are on the journey. Embrace the fundamentals and never stray from this path. Remember what got you to the place that you are and create the path you need to get you to where you are going. There is no end, only destinations along the journey and the basics of chopping wood and carrying water to reach them.

Thomas D. Craig

Zen Warrior – Igniting a Revolution of Love

Enlightened by a Monk’s Burp

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“We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.” ~Anias Nin

shaolin monk meditatingWe create the experience of our world. From how we view it, to our state of being in it, to how others view and treat us. This creation is simply the reflection of how we view ourselves. We alone create the context of our lives. Yet, even knowing this I’m constantly catching myself limiting the boundaries of who I am and what I am capable of in this lifetime. In truth, we are boundless beings that are powerful and extraordinary, and capable of anything. There are no levels of beings higher than others, we are all connected and divine. It took the burp of a monk to remind of this lesson.
Ever since I was a child I’ve been fascinated with the martial arts, I guess I can blame the TV show Kung Fu, in my humble opinion the best show of all time. I wanted to be Kwai Chang Caine. I wanted to live at the Shaolin Monastery and train and learn from the monks. I loved everything about it. The path of physically training and defending others who could not defend themselves. The path of looking within and bettering self. The path of humility and love for all creatures.
As I grew older I gravitated toward martial arts training and immersing myself in the arts. I watched movies and have trained most of my life in one form or another. Then the philosophy pulled me in. Every time I visited a book store I was leaving with some form of Buddhist or eastern philosophy book. Finally through a series of events I let go of other’s judgements and expectations and I lived from my heart, authentic and filled with love. I was on a spiritual path, and now more than ever the Shaolin Temple beckoned me. It was a someday trip that I had to take. I mentioned my wish to travel with a fellow writer friend of mine, Bill Porter. Bill is an extraordinary individual. He was one of the first westerners allowed into China in the early 70’s reporting for the BBC. He eventually traveled the country in search of wandering monks and wrote about this experience in his books Zen Baggage and Road to Heaven. He also translates ancient Chinese texts such as the Tao Te Ching and the poetry of Buddhist monks. His book under his translation pen name Red Pine titled The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain is one of my favorites. Bill knows the Abbott at the Shaolin Temple and had previously taken friends on a tour of the area. When I told him of my desire to go to the temple he simply stated, “Thomas when you go I will send you a gift so the Abbott will have an audience with you.” In reading his words my mind shifted from a someday possibility to a I have to create this trip mentality. I needed to go. It’s funny how often words from another plant a seed and change your perspective.
I immediately researched staying at the temple and found I could stay in an International hostel near the monastery and train with the monks. I booked my trip and was off to China 6 months later. The Shaolin Temple was important for me to visit not because of the TV show, but because this is the place the Indian monk Bodhidharma settled in around 500 A.D. Bodhidharma (called Damo in China) is credited for founding Zen Buddhism and for the creation of most modern day martial arts. You see, the Shaolin Temple was my Mecca. There was a source of energy here that I needed to experience.
I had four goals on my trip, first I wanted to experience and follow in the footsteps of Damo. I did this, I visited the cave he supposedly meditated in for 9 straight years, and I extensively explored the temple having almost unlimited access behind normally closed doors as a student. Second, I wanted to climb and visit Songshan (Mt. Song) one of the 5 sacred mountains in China. This mountain looks down upon the temple and juts into the sky after a steep trail along granite cliffs. A generous and eccentric individual from Latvia named Carlos offered to take myself and Asbjorn (who I dubbed the Viking monk as he was this stout individual, with a shaved head and big red beard from Norway). We climbed and slept at the top of the mountain where Carlos showed us this secret path that led to an opening to view the sunset looking down on the granite cliffs below. This trip was majestic and a great bonding experience with my fellow travelers. Third on my list was to train Kung Fu with the monks. The Shaolin monks are legendary for their amazing skills (trust me on this just YouTube Shaolin monks). I trained for 5 hours a day at the temple and had the opportunity to watch their demonstration team put on a show for a visiting dignitary. I cannot describe in words what I saw as you wouldn’t believe it. These monks train from the time they walk, endless hours each day until they can do these incredible physical feats. I saw a monk do two finger pushups, another flip high into the air and then land flat on his back on the hard granite floor and then pop straight back up to his feet, and finally I saw a monk do a handstand with one finger on each hand. These experiences were amazing, but I wanted more, I wanted the inner monk, the inner journey. This led to my fourth goal on this trip, I wanted to sit and meditate with the Shaolin monks. This one was a bit tougher as these monks are on a personal spiritual journey and not bucket list fulfillment from a guy visiting from Seattle in the USA. Carlos and I put in a request to the monastery and were accepted to meditate for one session with the monks.

I had to purchase a special long robe as the traditional Kung Fu outfit was not sufficient for this experience and was told where to go in a private part of the temple. The temple was broken into the public area where tourists would visit during the day and then on one side of the temple were the warrior monks and the Kung Fu training. The warrior monks took certain vows but were allowed to eat meat and marry outside the temple if they wanted to. My experience with them was mixed, these monks were not Kwai Chang Caine. They seemed pulled into the illusion of the material world. I saw them like any other being on this planet on their iPhone and even saw one in a BMW. They treated the children with strict discipline and even violence. I saw two young boys, roughly 9 or 10 forced to grab one of their legs above their head in a standing split position and stand there without moving. I watched them stand in this position for an hour until I had to leave. Who knows how much longer they were forced to stand there. However, on the other side of the temple there was the private section where the fully ordained monks lived and meditated for most of the day. These monks took extreme vows in their practice and in my mind were the real deal. To me they were on a whole other level has beings on this planet.
Carlos and I walked the dirt road into the private area of the temple and then into a maze of darkened corridors and finally into a building with an adjoining outside courtyard. The building was the meditation center for the monks who would had 2-3 hour meditation sessions continuously throughout the day. Outside the room were tables with various snacks such as bananas, and nuts to keep the energy up for the monks during the day and outside the hallway was a grass courtyard that innocently held a small clothesline holding one brown monks robe blowing in the breeze. Carlos and I waited patiently outside meditation hall for our turn to enter and join the monks in the session and straight at our schedule time of 5:30 in the evening a bell rang in the complex and the doors opened. Out sprung 5-6 monks in various colored robes. One of them spoke and in Chinese and waived for us to come in. Carlos and I snapped to attention and entered the roughly 50 x 30 foot room. Upon entering we quickly noticed the benches around the edges of the room holding cushions for sitting in meditation but our attention was drawn to the center where there was a large statue of Buddha enclosed in glass case. A monk pointed to us and then to the other monks who were quickly walking as fast as they could around the Buddha statue. Carlos and I put our heads down and followed behind as quickly as we could. This spiritual whirlpool quickly branched out into the very fast, Formula 1 lane immediately next to the statue, followed by a very fast but sustainable lane and then finally a third lane reserved for the elder and hobbled monks. Carlos and I settled into the second lane and walked as fast as we could. It reminded me of the times as a child we would walk around the edge of the swimming pool to create a whirlpool. I noticed if I looked up I would get slightly knocked off my circle and would have to lean in toward the center to keep my balance. The monks had these long sleeves on their robes and they would whip these up and down in a snap to match their fast pace like the snapping of a towel. As we traveled around and around in our circle of Buddha a smaller monk traveled the outside of the rectangle with a long stick about 6 feet long. As he walked every few steps he would bring down the stick and beat the floor. Faster and faster he would beat the floor as this was our tempo to march around Buddha. Finally after 15 minutes or so of racing with the monks another bell rang and all the monks immediately stopped and took seats along the outside of the room. Another monk shuttled us to specific seats and motioned for us to watch the other monks. I noticed none of the monks took off their shoes or crossed their legs so I wondered what was to take place next on this journey. Finally the smaller monk who was our tempo guide came around with small cups. He handed out one cup per monk (roughly 30-35 in the room) and then came around with a large kettle of tea. He poured our cups full and I watched intently what to do next. First I noticed to hold the cup on the top and bottom but not around the edges. Then I noticed the monks immediately began to drink quickly. They didn’t waste any time. In this I followed their lead. However, I quickly learned why they held the cup on the top and bottom as the tea was extremely hot. It burned my throat. I started to gasp and my throat gurgled but I held it in. The solitude in the room overwhelmed my desire to gasp. I didn’t want to be the guy who disrupted the Shaolin monks. As I was trying to swallow and contain my gasp the tea monk came by again for round two. I didn’t know what to do as if I refused was this improper protocol. The monk I was supposed to follow sitting next to me nodded for another pour of tea so I did the same. This time I took 2-3 sips versus the one gulp in trying to monitor the steaming beverage. Immediately after he gulped his tea the monk next to me place the cup on the floor in front of him. I reached out and did the same thinking nothing of it until he nodded to me with a quiet grunt and pointed to the line on the floor. In looking back at his cup he had place exactly above a line on the slab floor. I adjusted mine so it was in proper order and then in quick time the small monk came by and collected all of the cups. As soon as this was complete the monks rose and immediately went back to speed walking around the glassed case Buddha. Carlos and I went back to our routine and after another 10 minutes or so and an active sweat another bell rang and all the monks rushed out the door of the room.
Carlos and I stood frozen not know what was next, or if the session was over. Our guardian monks however, came over and nudged us out of the room to follow the herd. Carlos and I quickly walked out the door and down the corridor and into another room. Once we walked in I got the message as I saw six monks holding up their robes with one hand and peeing with the other into individual holes in the ground. I tried not to laugh or smile as I was not expecting this, and I turned and walked out of the room. I didn’t need to relieve myself. Carlos and I waited until the monks began to head back to the meditation room that I wanted to rename in mind the speed walking room. Once inside we took a few more laps getting our heart beat up until they directed us to what looked like the guest meditation seats in the room. It looked like each individual had their own seat based on seniority in the room and we were place on the south end furthest away from the oldest and brightly colored robe of the senior monk.
Once seated each monk took their shoes off, pulled in pillows around their body to get comfortable for a long meditation session. Having a daily practice of an hour to 2.5 hours a day meditating I wasn’t too concerned about this session outside of my throat. I couldn’t shake the urge to gurgle or burp after that hot tea had scalded me. I pulled in pillows underneath my knees as I knew how gravity pulled at the body after 2 hours of sitting in one place. I was worried about making sounds as I heard about these sessions. Apparently an individual monk would walk around the hall with a wooden sword and if you were out of line or fell asleep he would bonk you with the sword. My entire goal of the session was to avoid the wooden sword. The monks didn’t waste time or any ritual in meditating. Immediately you could hear deep breaths taking place and in sneaking a quick glance around the room the monks were fast into their practice. I closed my eyes and followed suit. I still felt this sense of intimidation as if I didn’t belong. I viewed the monks above me and I just wanted to fly under the radar and fit in. I never considered myself at an equal. In closing my eyes I started to get frustrated as I couldn’t let go, I couldn’t relax. I was tense and my throat wouldn’t let go. Instead of focusing on my breathing and my mantra I was focused on not burping. It became all I could think about. It consumed me. Five, ten, even fifteen minutes went by and I couldn’t relax. If something didn’t change I was going to get bonked by the sword guy, and it was going to be the longest two hours of my life. And then as if on cue a monk from across the room spoke to me in a way I would never have expected. He burped loudly. I smiled inside as a burp had never meant so much to me. Then another monk burped and another until 7-8 monks were burping like frogs in a pond. I let out my gurgle and all of my tension. In this one moment I was enlightened from a monk’s burp. It spoke volumes to me. It spoke that we were the same, that we were equal. It spoke that there is no right or wrong or certain way of doing things. That there was just this moment and it was perfect exactly how it was. I let go and I meditated with vivid colors and could feel the energy of the monks. It was an amazing session, calm but filled with connection across the room. I sat with an inner smile at peace and happy in this moment of NOW.

Carlos sitting next to me struggled. He told me before going in he hadn’t meditated much so this session was a struggle for him. He hadn’t placed pillows below his knees and gravity got the best of him. He audibly groaned in pain and tried to wrap his arms around his knees to hold them up. The small monk who was our speed walking timekeeper, our cup bearer and tea master was also the wooden sword guy. I could feel him walking around the room and every time Carlos would make a sound he would stand in front of him. Carlos must have heard him too as he would stop groaning for a moment and settle until the monk left and then he would start in again. I didn’t know if Carlos was going to make it to the end as he was in great pain. Finally after a few hours the bell sounded and without circumstance the monks put on their shoes and shuffled out of the room. I was filled with energy after this amazing session and quickly put on my shoes and bounced up. The guardian monk pointed at me to follow the herd and I began to do so but kept pointing back at Carlos who was not moving. I think his legs were asleep as he just sat there moaning in his eastern European accent. The monks persisted and shuffled me out of the room leaving only Carlos. I guess they figured he would eventually make it out of there or they forgot about him. They kept shooing me down the hall to some unknown area and each time I kept pointing back to the room to get Carlos but because everything was in silence and we had a language barrier we couldn’t understand each other, in turn they kept shooing me on. Finally I motioned for one of the monks to come with me back to the room and pointed to Carlos who had finally made it to his feet and was slowly putting on his shoes. The monk smiled I guess in appreciation for his pain and waited for him to finish and then waived for him to follow as well. Carlos could barely walk so we went slow until we finally entered a large hall filled with rows of long tables and in the front was a huge black pot of hot soup and a table of condiments to add additional flavor. Another monk came up and handed us a bowl and chopsticks and pointed to where we should sit after we got our food. From my view, each monk had their own eating spot with individual bowls and chopsticks for each meal. The room was completely silent filled with intentional eating and smiles in their eyes. This is hard to describe in words but there was a peace and happiness in the eyes of these monks. They eased this sense of compassion and kindness to Carlos and I. I was very aware that this was an incredible honor to be asked to dine with them and I took it all in one bite of the vegetarian noodle soup at a time. After we finished, we were led into the kitchen where we washed our own bowls, bowed in Namaste to the monks in the room and left back to our dirt road and our International Hostel. This walk took extra long as Carlos couldn’t shake his legs from hurting. He couldn’t wake them. Myself on the other hand I was awake as I had ever been all from the echoes of the burp of a Shaolin monk.

Thomas D. Craig

Love. Inspire. Unite