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West Meets East

Why not "East meets West", as most people know the phrase? Because the Eastern/Asian religions and philosophies have been around a helluva lot longer than those in the Western world. Besides, this is about the craft meeting the East - and goodness knows the craft is new enough. And don't grouse to me about being p.c. Get over it.

Prior crankiness aside, you can incorporate certain practices into your spirituality without raping & pillaging an entire culture or religion. All of these practices can stand completely on their own, overlapping each other's specialized areas in varying degrees. You could, however, view these three entries respectively as preparing the mind, preparing the body, and honing the blade.

Shambhala - Preparing the Mind

Specifically, Shambhala Training: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. No, no Rambo-esque mayhem or war-mongering. These teachings are offered to all people, regardless of religious path, in the theory that "we all want to live sane, dignified lives, and that this is possible." Shambhala was founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who took the tools of Buddhism and made them into forms that everyone can use. You can receive formal Buddhist training through Shambhala if you like, but the Warriorship series will give you all you need without having to change your religion. It dovetails nicely with Feri - and other craft traditions, for that matter - due to its emphasis on cultivating compassion, fearlessness, and seeing things as they really are. The meditation and mind-training are key. Shambhala also publishes the magazine Shambhala Sun, which is offered in the same spirit as the Warriorship trainings. One note: there are many challenges when translating concepts from one language/culture to another. For example, it was explained to me that all the talk about renunciation of the body is actually renunciation of being attached to the body's demands. It doesn't mean to scourge yourself or go without food or water (or sex, for that matter: read the founder's biography). It means to teach yourself how not to be made miserable by your impulses. Always ask someone if you have questions about a concept.

Hatha Yoga - Preparing the Body

This one can be a bit tricky. Hatha yoga relates specifically to asanas, the physical postures that can make one look like Gumby's second cousin. There are actually eight "limbs" of yoga, each a distinctive path to spiritual enlightenment. Some yogis practice certain paths to the exclusion of others, and others work a bit of each limb into their practice. Indians are mixed in their opinions of secular Americans "doing" hatha yoga. Many laugh at all the gear, special clothing, classes, and trendy variations. Others are annoyed that what was once a low-key way to get ready to meditate has become such a commodified practice. Others are simply glad that more people are finding value in this practice, and wish everyone well. And, of course, there are those with mixed feelings about the whole thing.

Most Americans start practicing hatha yoga for its physical benefits, and then slowly (if ever) come to know the richness behind it. I originally started because it was recommended as a way to release stress and anxiety. It did that, and more. I guess the key to practicing hatha yoga respectfully is to get some training in the asanas, get educated on yoga's history and key precepts, then develop your home practice and do it regularly. Stay respectful, and know that you're only touching the surface of what it has to offer. Don't worry about which hatha yoga style is the "right one": the important thing is to find one that suits your needs and abilities. And try not to get caught up in all the fripperies. Remember that hatha yoga's main function is to prepare you for the rigors of meditation (altho you can make the poses into meditations in and of themselves). Hatha yoga can help you delve deeply into awareness, to see what's really going on in your body. The body doesn't lie, and will often tell you things if you're ready to listen. Plus, it really does make meditation easier: it calms down the mind, body, and senses, plus helps open up places that might otherwise cause pain while sitting. See Recommended Resources for more about hatha yoga, and some of its better American hybrids.

Martial Arts - Honing the Blade

Here's where we get to the war-mongering mentioned at the beginning of this page... nah, just kidding. Most martial arts embody a paradox: the more you know how to fight, the less you'll need to fight. Martial arts do NOT encourage recklessness or wanton violence; if a person uses their skills towards those ends, that's a problem with them, not the art itself. It used to be that you had to really search out a teacher, and literally beg for months to be taken on as a student. Nowadays, just about anyone can walk into a studio, plunk down their dues, grab a gi, and get going. There are several Reclaiming and Feri practitioners who study Aikido, Tai Chi, and other forms. Martial arts can develop discipline, and help you maintain a clear mind in the face of danger. It can help you see when it's appropriate to act, or better to wait. Then if it is time to act, to do so with precision: no more and no less energy expended than absolutely necessary. It teaches you how to deal with power responsibly, which is why it is such a valuable practice: not just in the Feri Tradition, but for life in general as well. Then there's the richness of the various philosophies that support each art. More in Recommended Resources.