Nagasaki Media

Kendo’s Healing Message for October

As the significant changes in our lives continue, and seem to be becoming more restrictive once again, Kendo feels that it may be helpful to have a conscious perspective on our reality, something to recall when we lament the loss of all we’ve known in our lives – at least, until there’s a vaccine for Covid.

For many of us, our realities have contracted; we can’t meet with the people we used to see whenever we wanted, we can’t go to the places we once went to without a second thought, and we are increasingly ‘house-bound’ by social distancing regulations. Life can now seem quite diminished, and perhaps even oppressive.

It would be easy to feel negatively about all this, but that is to be avoided wherever possible – negative feelings can lead to depressive feelings, and when they set-in, our creativity and optimism diminish – but all this can be side-stepped, with an ‘outlook adjustment’.

Kendo would point out that our current restrictions are actually an excellent Zen Koan – a challenge for which there is no ready intellectual solution. Likewise, his recommendation is both simple and, at the same time, incredibly profound – it’s existentialism.

This is a term from philosophy, which relates to the concept of existence; we all exist, but one could ask, “How do I exist? What is the nature of my existence?” Considering this question quickly brings us back to the issue of quality-of-life, not as in ‘what does life give to me?’, but instead, ‘how am I a positive force in the life around me?’

As he has espoused for many years, Kendo has recommended giving ourselves some contemplative space, by setting-aside our technological gadgets and screens, and remembering that we are a part of the big picture of nature. Nature is so much more than our ‘monkey-minds’, which constantly demand stimulation – and, as integral parts of nature, so are we, and it’s immensely healthy to remember that, look around at nature, and begin to feel it once again.

Stilling our minds and finding complete Zen peace by meditating will always be healing and balancing, but what Kendo is recommending now is to also adopt a conscious, waking willingness to recognise the positive in the connections we still have, even in these restricted times. We are most likely in touch with at least a few people, and one of the benefits of technology is that we can contact many more, and now is an opportunity to be grateful for those relationships and to nurture them.

Some aspects of our lives have been taken away for the time being, but there’s nothing to be gained from resenting that, because it’s entirely beyond our control – say as the Japanese say, “Shou ga nai!” – it can’t be helped, so look at what is good in your life and what good you still may be able to do. You can still make a positive difference in the lives of those around you, and adopting this attitude will mean that you are being the best you can be, which will inevitably benefit your family and, by extension, the whole of society.

Kendo points out that our current Zen Koan, while initially appearing somewhat weighty, is actually giving us all the chance to focus on what really matters in human existence – each other – and how we can help each other, both the few we are currently in direct contact with, and the many we can reach remotely.

Wherever you are and whatever your circumstances, always strive to be the best you can be, and the whole world will ultimately become a better place for all.

Kendo’s Healing Message for September

As we continue to find our social lives limited by restrictions on movement and the numbers whom we can meet, how can we continue to feel ‘normal’?

The current restrictions are unwelcome but undeniably necessary, and their effect can be lessened by using apps for virtual meet-ups, but it is still all quite a change to normal life. Change can be a greater or lesser challenge for us all, and even when we steel ourselves and ‘hang in there’ or find some way of coping, what happens to us when it happens again and again, going on for so long?

It is worth remembering that some people seek solace in order to find peace of mind and understanding of themselves and their place in the universe, and they can stay away from mainstream society for years. Staying in a monastery for long-term meditation can lead to true enlightenment, which is finding answers to any and all questions about – as they say – ‘life, the universe, and everything’!

Those who act upon such a calling are unlikely to read an online blog such as this, so hopefully it can be of help to those who live comparatively regular lives and enjoy the internet; but it is worth remembering that during these socially-constrained tomes when many of us are using the internet more than ever before, the answers to our questions cannot always come from outside ourselves – some can only come from within.

Like so many who have direct experience of its benefits, the man behind Kendo Nagasaki’s mask is an advocate of meditation. The outside world can throw challenges beyond imagination at us, yet with meditation it always remains within our power to escape from the immediate negative experience of those challenges, as well as neutralise the worry which can blind us to the most powerful resource that can help us overcome reversals – our own intuitive wisdom. Once we’ve found that place of Zen peace, we will be completely at peace, and our intuitive selves will wordlessly guide us towards maintaining that peace, even when we return to the challenging ‘real world’. As Kendo points out, meditation is liberating, enlightening, and healing.

So, when you’ve streamed everything that’s looked interesting to you (and even some stuff that wasn’t!), when you’ve looked everywhere for answers but still find yourself questioning, it’s time to look within yourself. As Kendo has remarked many times before, the western world is incredibly rich in distractions and entertainments and ‘time-fillers’ which can keep the conscious mind occupied, but the time inevitably comes when we find ourselves looking for something with more meaning – something deeper. It’s been known by philosophers for centuries that the mind is a limited thing, and that true wisdom springs from more than mere ‘thought’, and once you accept this you open the door to the wealth of wisdom which lies beyond your stilled mind – this is the Buddha within.

Just as feelings cannot be ‘reasoned’ either into existence or away, enlightenment or wisdom cannot be created with the mind. Switching it off for a while allows the deeper levels of ourselves to flow naturally, giving us understanding and tolerance and resilience towards any hardship. You might have noticed that the way our lives are currently restricted upsets the conscious mind – be reassured that there is more to life than the distractions which it craves, and there is more to you, too. If the mind’s distress is upsetting you, switch it off and escape from that stress, and in the process, heal yourself on a deeper level and open yourself to the enlightenment of your own intuitive self.

Kendo might suggest that our current social restrictions are an invitation to take advantage of the solace from which the deep contemplations of those in monasteries give them so much; as the saying goes, currently, we have lemons, so let’s make lemonade! Use this time to find the true, wise depths of your own intuitive self, and you’ll have turned what at first appeared to be a negative into a life-long positive.

Kendo’s Healing Message for August

Do you know who you are? Kendo asks this apparently simple question, a question which might be thought of as having an obvious answer (“…yes, of course I know who I am!”), but it is actually quite profound because we are generally unlikely to ask it of ourselves – and yet, Kendo recommends that we should.

Who you are is more than what you do, more than your position in a family, more than your interests or vocation, more than the music you like, more than the car you drive, more than the clothes you wear or how you style your hair, more than how well you reflect or represent your social group – indeed, when pressed, we might have to concede that who we are is largely invisible, because we rarely, if ever, have to think about this core issue.

The instances given above could be thought of as the ‘dressing’ to our essential selves – the things, circumstances, or people which surround us. They undeniably have qualities of their own, but because they are external to ourselves, they have an autonomy which doesn’t depend on our presence. So, if, in one of Kendo’s ‘thought-experiments’ we take them away, what is left? Who is left?

Faith can be argued as being central to many people’s identity, and the pro-social rules and values which faiths teach are beyond reproach and an excellent ‘yardstick’ for living a good life. Buddhism, even though it has no central ‘deity’, likewise seeks to give guidance on how to live a good life, and crucially, a life which benefits others, radiating out from family, to friends and acquaintances, to the whole of society. It could be argued that once one has committed oneself to such an exclusively pro-social path, then there is little else to need to think about, other than being a conscientious vehicle for such good works. Indeed, such a teaching is central to Buddhism – allowing the mind to wander into ‘navel-gazing’ existential explorations is doing little more than indulging the conscious ‘monkey-mind’, which needs to be stilled and trained so that it understands that it is not the centre of the universe, but a part of a team dedicated to living a good life.

However, for those of us who have grown up in the reasoning, intellectualising west, we occasionally need a nugget of ‘information’ to feed to our minds, to help satisfy its appetite and at the same time guide it. All of Kendo’s works have used a mix of western rationality and the mysticisms to which people can relate here, to illustrate the simple Buddhist truth described above, and yet he goes further, which is why he asks that key question at the beginning of this message.

The ‘ego’ is an invention of western psychology, and it is a useful one, because who we are can be considered as being essentially our own ego. All us westerners have one as a result of our upbringing – it is our sense of self, what we stand for, our values, our likes and dislikes, our talents, our motivations, and in many cases, what we’ll put up with! And this is where there is potentially a problem with evolving, growing, becoming more refined, mature, and reasonable people – our egos motivate and give quality to our interactions with the world, they establish who we are in the world, and, as such, we are likely to feel a need to defend them. That is likely going to be a conscious process, and therefore limited by the mind. There is only one way to ensure that our egos are as wise as they can possibly be – Kendo’s Kyu Shin Do.

The essence of Kyu Shin Do meditation is to mentally place everything in one’s life at a safe distance away from ourselves, and then seek Zen peace at the centre of all that orbiting ‘stuff’. But as we still our minds and open ourselves to our own intuitive wisdom, our last thought can set the tone for intuitive guidance, and it is very wise to seek further wisdom regarding our essential selves – our egos. Giving the evolution of our egos over to objective wisdom also has a Shintoistic quality of humility – our intuitive selves are closer to the whole universe of nature than our little mental calculators, and making that wise, humble decision gives us the opportunity of finding true universal balance.

So, to answer Kendo’s question, do you know who you are? With Kyu Shin Do meditation, you have the opportunity of finding out just how great you could become.

Kendo’s Healing Message for July

As we all emerge from the initial impact of Covid-19 on our lives, there is perhaps one emotion which prevails, and it is not welcome – fear.

There is arguably much to fear in this ‘new normal’ – we must be afraid of getting too close to others, many of us fear for our working lives, many of us fear the consequences of losing our livelihoods, and it would be natural to fear that our hopes and aspirations have no future, from that long-promised holiday to being able to afford higher education. Perhaps more than most of us have ever known, we are living in challenging times, particularly how we see our futures.

Kendo would not point out all the foregoing – which most of us would rather push out of our minds – unless he had something to offer which could be of help, and that would be the words of the Healing Buddha, Yakushi Nyorai, who simply said, “Fear Not”.

To our western ears this sounds like little more than a platitude, a warm and fuzzy phrase to help us feel a little better for a few moments, but there’s actually a great deal more to those words when they’re considered in a Buddhist context.

One of the greatest gifts from meditation is to switch off the thinking mind and escape from the whirl of unanswerable questions it seeming willingly hoards; in reality it’s only doing its job by raising awareness of matters which clearly need consideration, but the wisest next step is to seek answers beyond the limitations of reductionism and reason alone – and they are to be found in the intuitive self. This is an equally powerful gift from meditation: the opening of the self to the wisdom of our own intuitive selves.

Even from a rationalistic western perspective, this makes sense. Accepting that the mind alone can’t give us all the answers is not to diminish it, but to give it its place as a team player. You, too, are part of that team – you have the power to choose to deal with fear by bringing your inyuitive resources to bear upon it, because once your intuition has has given you some brilliant new guidance, you’ll need to work with your mind to make it happen.

The foregoing illuminates what is arguably the fourth member of your team – hope. That hope springs from the wise interpretation of Yakushi Nyorai’s words, and it is a force to be reckoned with because you give it life and power by seeking wise counsel from your intuitive self. Such hope can be immensely powerful as a balm for our worries – perhaps that balm is what’s in the Healing Buddha’s medicine pot!

So, Kendo would reiterate the words of Yakushi Nyorai and likewise counsel, ‘Fear Not’. Fear and worry are arguably the same thing, and once you acknowledge that they’ve done their job by alerting you to something that needs intuitive guidance, you have the power to turn that negative emotion into a positive outlook and well-reasoned plans. Thus, Kendo wants you to know that in these challenging times, you don’t need to be disempowered by fear and worry, but can instead be empowered by taking the wise step of seeking guidance from your own intuition; if you put your ‘team’ to work, you’ll be the best you can be, which will benefit you, your family, and your entire society.

Stay safe, meditate, and always be positive!

Kendo’s Healing Message for June

How open-minded do you think you are? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a test for such a quality, where we could examine the results like a credit score and think about ways to improve things? Although this idea may sound like the kind of conformity encouraged in a dystopian sci-fi future, it’s actually a nice thought experiment.

Kendo points out that in the west, we are barely ever encouraged to be objective about our subjectivity; what this means is taking a step outside ourselves and evaluating the self we see as dispassionately as possible. A related aspect of so rarely stepping outside ourselves is to rarely question the objective value of what we take into our minds – it’s so easy to ‘go with the flow’ of our social group, particularly our social media group, and become caught up in things that may actually be superficial. How would we know if we don’t occasionally ‘reality-check’ ourselves?

As Kendo has often remarked, the apparently rational, reasoning mind is fallible and can fail to guide us wisely if we don’t use it wisely, and this means putting it in its proper perspective. It is healthy to be skeptical about our own minds – if they aren’t as clever as they tell us they are, we should make them work hard to justify their positions! And what is the only sure way to intuitively know whether our minds are serving us well? Meditation. Switch it off for a while, get in touch with your deeper self, and develop that intuitive double-check to use alongside mere rationality.

It’s amazing how transformative this practice can be, because it’s not until we step outside our conscious ‘psychological present’ that we begin to appreciate how unsophisticated its ideas are; when the mind becomes tempered by wisdom, a person achieves a higher level of existing and interacting with all around them.

A key example of this could be attitudes towards race. For many, there may be little more than an awareness that differences exist between cultures and races, but that is not enough for harmonious interaction between all members of society – indeed, a mere awareness of difference is a rational quantity which is simply not enough – it must be informed by objective, intuitive wisdom. In the 1980s Cold War era, singer-songwriter Sting released a song which used the medium of music to challenge western attitudes to the feared communist east; regarding the prevailing fear that the ‘other side’ may wage nuclear war on us at any time, Sting’s lyrics remarked that “…it would be such an ignorant thing to do if the Russians love their children too.” This elegant artistic fragment bypassed entrenched views and shed new light on the other side as being human too, and just over four years later and following a great deal more intuition and aspiration and hope from countless others too, the Berlin Wall came down.

Artists are fortunate to be able to escape the limitations of consciousness as they open themselves to inspiration, inspiration which may be capable of inspiring others to the extent that the world can be transformed. But, as Kendo says, we are all capable of escaping dogma, fixed attitudes, biases, and even inappropriate opinions of which we may be barely aware, and with which we have unquestioningly lived for some time, and we can do this simply by switching off our minds, finding a moment of Zen peace, and re-booting ourselves with a new objectivity.

Rationality has limits – wisdom has none. We should choose to be the wisest we can be, as Kendo always says, to be the best we can be, for ourselves, our families, and the whole of society.

Kendo’s Healing Message for May

We are undeniably living in unprecedented times, as so many of our usual freedoms are currently restricted. Of course, we all understand the benefit of complying – limiting the spread of a potentially lethal virus – but, in keeping with his philosophy of looking for the gift in any challenge, Kendo would encourage us to be ‘aware’ of more than just social distancing.

In Japanese Buddhism, the incorporated world-view of Shinto is as sensitive to nature as British Paganism, and this is central to what Kendo teaches about understanding and being sensitive to our place in the world and the universe. We are in no way separate from nature and all our actions affect it, just as it affects us, and perhaps now is the time to become more sensitive to this relationship.

One global effect of so many of us staying at home has been a huge improvement in air quality, both at ground level and in the sky. The sun has been brighter at the start of this May than many of us can ever recall, because there is so little upper atmosphere pollution from aircraft. And with far fewer hydrocarbon-burning vehicles on the roads, most countries have vastly exceeded their air pollution-reduction targets in incredibly short time-frames. This is good for nature, and consequently, can only be good for us, but most of us were not appreciably aware of the extent of the harm we were causing just by taking advantage of what’s available to us.

This positive side-effect amidst our current restrictions has granted us a glimpse of how awareness in this moment can be a catalyst for entirely positive and permanent change.

When the internal combustion engine was developed, it was always known that they produce poisonous exhausts, but that negative side-effect was glossed-over in comparison to how incredibly useful they were – on balance, of course we were going to take advantage of the technology. Ultimately, some human habitats became toxic because of them, so legislation was developed to make car engines cleaner, but because there is an ever-growing number of people using them, we will inevitably reach toxic levels again.

Likewise, we have not yet directly felt pressing consequences from upper atmosphere pollution, but it has been reported that global warming is a major effect of air travel. It is gradual and invisible, and nothing has yet forced us to be aware of it, but should we just carry on with only a dim awareness and easy dismissal that aircraft pollute, without caring until we are forced to? Sir David Attenborough has warned that we are perilously close to warming the earth so much that all the methane from thawing permafrost will be released, which will be irreversibly catastrophic.

Bearing in mind that the international holiday industry is going to be limited for the foreseeable future, shouldn’t we now think twice about the consequences of air travel for tourism? Are two or three international flights per year really justifiable? Shouldn’t our vacation decisions inevitably include concern over how much they would pollute?

In speaking of his forthcoming documentary, ‘A Life on Our Planet’, it is unsurprising that Sir David Attenborough speaks much about pollution, and his final words about what we can all do were that we should “stop waste”, of any kind, including power, food, plastics, and more. His message in the movie is uncharacteristically hard-hitting, and this can only be because he seeks to stress the urgency of our situation.

Now that we have all experienced several weeks of coping with social limitations, we should emerge in an enlightened way – not by rushing back into the old polluting, wasteful ‘normal’, but by seeking to use what we have learned to apply restraint to our impact upon nature going forward. The industrial revolution gave us enhanced capabilities and convenience, but in eagerly grasping those powers we weren’t sufficiently sophisticated to question the consequences of the associated pollution and waste; that time has now passed – Kendo counsels that this moment must be the catalyst for living in full awareness of the consequences of all our actions.

The Buddhist maxim is perhaps more pertinent now than it has ever been – Be The Best You Can Be (and the most enlightened and globally considerate), for the benefit of your family, your society, the whole of nature, and thereby the whole world.

Kendo’s Healing Message for April

Retreat Cherry Blossom 2020

 

Kendo would remind us that in Japanese Buddhism, the pure, simple beauty of the Japanese cherry blossom has been meditated and reflected upon for many centuries, and that at this difficult time for so many of us, it is more profound than ever for us all.

The cherry blossom’s brief appearance every spring is an exquisite gift from nature which cannot fail to enchant us and lift our hearts, as it reminds us that we are also a part of the essential natural energy which is capable of creating something so beautiful.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to become distracted by practical, technological, and social matters and we can lose sight of some of the fundamental benevolence and beauty around us, but the appearance of the cherry blossom is so captivating that it can cut through the everyday mental noise and re-awaken that appreciation within us.

Each and every beautiful cherry blossom flower can be thought of as representing an NHS worker – their selfless, courageous, tireless dedication to our well-being in these incredibly difficult times for them is an astonishing, humbling demonstration of benevolence by all those beautiful souls, to whom we owe so much.

The almost overwhelming beauty of a multitude of cherry blossoms can remind us of how we could be as a whole society, with the right attitude of mind, and the way we are responding together now shows that such co-operation and mutual support does come naturally; as Boris Johnson remarked, there is such a thing as society, and it can indeed be beautiful.

And for all those who have so sadly lost loved ones during the current crisis, cherry blossoms can be an inspiration. The blossoms in the Retreat’s Anniversary Orchard are about to leave us for another year, but their gift to us is the memory of their beauty, which is timeless. Having lost a loved one unexpectedly or before their time is tragic, but when we have grieved, we should often recall everything beautiful that they brought to our lives.

With the right perspective it’s clear that all the hardships, losses, and challenges that we are currently facing are actually revealing their counterparts – positivity, selflessness, and benevolence; just a moment’s meditation on that most exquisite gift from nature, the cherry blossom, can help us reach that uplifting, inspiring perspective.

Kendo’s Healing Message for March

How can we be the best we can be? Kendo tells us it begins with awareness – the choice to consider the quality of what we give and, perhaps surprisingly, what we receive.

Kendo counsels that it is wise to be mindful of what you allow into your essential self – It has been said that it is a mistake to give anyone else the power to adversely affect your feelings, but when you think about it, wouldn’t it be great to be immune to unfair criticism and even deliberate spoken or written cruelty? In these days of so very many people taking advantage of the opportunity to be outspoken on social media, we are likely to find ourselves the target of someone’s criticism. This could be as a result of our politics, our gender, our religion, our education, our nationality, and even falsehoods and ‘fake news’ – all such criticism is unfair but it’s out there and is sometimes all too easy to find. But how can we let it simply wash over us and fall away without it adversely affecting us? The answer is Zen, and particularly Zen through Kyu Shin Do.

As long as we’re trying to be good people, the beliefs we hold will naturally be moderate and pro-social, and therefore they won’t deserve unfair criticism just because they differ from someone else’s. Zen shows us that under such circumstances we don’t have to feel offended or become defensive – we just have to ‘know’ that those aspects of our ‘selves’ are good – moderate and pro-social. It’s not even necessary to wonder why someone else may want to be critical of us – what they think is their business, and if it’s negative, that too can be left with them, without us taking it on board. That is the kind of awareness of which Kendo speaks – discriminating between what is worth ‘allowing in’ to our essential selves and what should be allowed to ‘fall away’.

This is a level of discrimination which doesn’t necessarily come naturally – it has to be discovered, meditated-upon, and practised, because there are many other souls who can teach and enlighten us by illustrating other perspectives – we should always be open to learning and improving ourselves. But at the same time, we need to know when to disengage with unhelpful ‘input’, and ‘walk away’ with our balance undisturbed.

Practising such care with what we allow into our essential selves will naturally affect the quality of what we share – positively. By becoming immune to negativity, and therefore not engaging with it, we will only contribute to positive interactions, and because we will have naturally risen above taking offence or needing to retaliate to negativity, our own energy will not have been disturbed or diluted from making only the most positive contributions.

So, when you meditate, place yourself at that centre of Zen peace, allow all things to have a little distance from you in a Kyu Shin Do orbit around you (and include both external things as well as all aspects of your ‘self’), and allow your silent, wise, intuitive self to guide you regarding the things you can change for the better, and how to be at peace with those things you can’t change.

It would be nice if the world was always a nice place, but rising to its challenges is the foundation of how we grow and improve. It has been argued that negativity is a necessary evil for just that reason, but meditation and discrimination as described by Kendo can show us how to be unharmed by negativity, and become a naturally powerful agent for positivity.

Kendo’s Healing Message for February

Kendo has long advised that it’s meeting challenges that really helps us to grow – when faced with a conundrum we have to find a solution, even in those circumstances when reason doesn’t seem to help… Then, the intuitive self must be recruited and listened-to.

Perhaps one of the most challenging areas of life is other people. Our friends are great – people who think in similar ways to us, people who are supportive and contribute to whatever we do; consequently, our friends enrich our lives, they make all the good stuff go further and wider such that we have a wonderfully positive feeling of community, shared well-being, and shared positive goals.

However, by being part of the ‘solution’, our friends don’t challenge us. As comedian Bill Bailey once wrote in one of his comedy songs about teenage angst, “How can I feel pain when you’re being so supportive?”!

Of course, the practicalities of life throw up plenty of their own challenges, not least of which is finding our own peace of mind amidst the many demands on us, and in order to be the best we can be it is our duty to find the ways and make the arrangements necessary to do this (hint: meditate – Zen through Kyu Shin Do!).

But, Kendo advises that there is an ancient philosophical approach to karma which actively looks for challenges. It could be compared to asking for extra homework – which may seem masochistic, but since human life itself could be described as a constant learning journey, in both aspects of the comparison extra study always pays off.

Which brings us back to people. The old adage about ‘not judging’ is a good starting point, but it’s passive inasmuch as it’s possible to just leave things there and not consider another person’s position any further, or how you may be able to contribute to each other’s lives. Differences which may challenge us are wide-ranging, from culture to religion to work to leisure interests to sports, and more, but particularly motivation. For example, why would someone want to do harm? Why would someone want to ‘troll’? Why is someone apparently argumentative?

Kendo advises that the challenge is to avoid thinking that someone else is just ‘wrong’, or ‘unpleasant’, or ‘malicious’, but to appreciate that there are reasons behind all human actions. We are unlikely to ever know the background to someone else’s motivations, and it’s acknowledging this ‘not-knowing’ that can help us give others space, without judging them.

Kendo counsels that judging is inappropriate because it’s a rational device used to ‘close the door’ on something, thereby ending the opportunity for broader understanding. The ‘best person we can be’ is always open to broader understanding, which will lead to open-ness, which will lead to the potential for building bridges with people we might otherwise shut out, and it would be a shame to miss out on finding common understanding which may not have been immediately apparent.

Someone may be malicious because they have been wounded in the past, and giving them the ‘cold shoulder’ won’t give them any reason to view the world more favourably. Someone may seem argumentative because they have a completely different style of thinking, and disengaging with them won’t help either of you make the most of possibilities discussed together. Kendo recommends that beyond ‘not judging’, be open to your intuitive self for ways of keeping channels open between yourself and others; such altruism will inevitably help unite rather than divide, and you may even make some surprising new friends, thus broadening your enlightened community.

Kendo’s Healing Message for January

At the Retreat, the New Year’s weather has so far been surprisingly mild, very different to previous years – there has barely been a frost at all this winter and the roads haven’t even had to be salted yet this January. While this not-unwelcome break from the season’s usual biting chill has helped to somewhat kick-start our New Year’s optimism, it’s unfamiliarity is disconcerting, and rightly so.

Part of what Kendo teaches is that just because we can reason and rationalise and justify our actions, that doesn’t separate us from the ‘big picture’ of nature; true health and wellbeing spring from a sympathetic and holistic relationship with the whole of the natural world around us, of which we are inextricably a part. That’s the ‘subjective’ aspect, at which any enlightened person will arrive, but there is also an objective ‘bigger picture’ of increasingly pressing importance.

The Shinto aspect of Kendo’s holistic Zen philosophy illustrates that it’s a two-way street and that there’s more to an aware life than remembering our place in nature – humanity depends so much upon nature that we cannot survive without us ensuring that it is healthy and respected, and that’s going to require some enhanced awareness from us. When the internal combustion engine became more widely available we were never warned that its exhausts could reach toxic proportions and contribute significantly to warming the climate; when plastics became available as packaging we were never warned that they could not be digested by nature and that they would end up choking it; the ‘consumer’ blamelessly adopted the convenience of these inventions, but the consequences of their wide-spread use are now evident, and an example of the kind of forward thinking that we need to adopt.

Kendo suggests that for this New Year we all adopt a resolution of always being aware of the consequences of all our actions – not just on other people, but on nature itself. He accepts that of course we can’t all immediately buy electric cars or suddenly reject all foods packaged in plastic, but by being aware of how we use our modern conveniences, that conscientiousness will grow into progressively less harmful consequences of our lives, for which nature will reward us.

Whatever challenges we face, we still have a responsibility to the world around us, to people and to nature itself; Kendo points out that the ever-more refined awareness of how we live is a group consciousness which will support us all, as we support each other. We will all be doing the right thing by living aware lives and ‘paying it forward’ to the benefit of our future selves and our children. This is truly being the best we can be, for our families and communities and all our futures.