‘Satori’ is a term derived from Japanese Buddhism. It is sometimes used inter-changeably with the word ‘Kensho’, or the Chinese concept of ‘Wu’.
These terms refer to the moment in time where we experience a ‘glimpse of awakening’. We may experience Satori many times in our lives, but often we fail to recognise it.
This calm state occurs when we reside purely in the present moment. It is a state of emptiness, during which you begin to see into your true nature. Experiencing and recognising Satori is thought to be a step towards enlightenment or nirvana.
Traditionally, the use of meditation and the study of Koans are the primary tools used to practice Satori. Koans are riddles or answer-less questions used by early Zen masters to test their student’s progress.
Aside from the traditional methods, sports, music and just about any other challenging activity can also act as a gateway to Satori. The Satori experience is found when the football flies through the air towards you; when the gymnast is mid somersault; when the climber jumps to reach for the last hold.
BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU AS A GATEWAY
One of the most powerful gateways to Satori that I know of is martial arts. I love to train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), so we’ll use that as an example. This being said, maybe I don’t love BJJ… Perhaps instead I just love to experience Satori, a welcome break from my sometimes noisy mind. BJJ acts merely a wrapping… Author Dan Millman speaks about this in his book ‘Way of the Peaceful Warrior‘.
Anyway, in Jiu Jitsu, a large part of training consists of sparring with an opponent. In sparring, you battle one on one with your sparring partner, trying to gain a dominant position and cause them to submit, using a variety of nasty choke holds or joint locks.
If you are submitted or you ‘tap out’, you are essentially admitting that on this occasion, your opponent is victorious and could have ended your life. Then you dust yourself off, smile, and go at it again.
When you are first introduced to sparring as a beginner, it is quite common that your first response will be to panic. Your body becomes tense, you are anything but relaxed. When sparring some of the higher grades, I remember a feeling of helplessness and to some extent claustrophobia. You try to perform techniques, but your body doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. It can be quite uncomfortable, fighting for your life so to speak, against someone who knows what they are doing – but it is all part of the learning process.
As you become a bit more experienced, you start to adapt. Your body becomes more alert and sensitive, yet is able to stay calm and relaxed. Your actions become free and spontaneous as you go with the flow, not resisting against your partner but instead using their momentum and balance against them.
Your mind is still, focussed solely on the present moment, completely free of emotions. Your concentration is so powerful that you have no recognition of your surrounding environment. You are completely drawn into the moment, with your full attention centred on your current actions.
The beauty of Jiu Jitsu as a platform for Satori is that if you wander out of this present state even for a moment, it’s usually game over, especially when you are facing someone with experience. If your concentration lapses and you start to concern yourself with the past or future, your opponent will submit you. It is as simple as that. It really comes down to remaining in Satori or death.
I’m definitely no expert in Jiu Jitsu, far from it. I’m still a beginner, trying to learn as much as possible.
But I think the sheer intensity of the sport means you can experience satori quite regularly in practice, and BJJ perhaps may be a quicker route than others. When you first start you are often thrown straight into the deep end, to train and fight with the sharks, before you have even learned to swim. You’re forced to adapt pretty quickly, and in doing so you start to experience satori more and more.
SATORI IN EVERYDAY LIFE
The challenge we face is trying to expand this state of awareness into everyday life, to remain calm and present at all times. Being in a constant state of Satori often gives a feeling of empowerment, and allows us to look at life without the lenses and barriers we developed.
Satori can be used as a tool to gain a greater understanding of yourself and how to approach life. Decisions can be approached with a more relaxed mindset, with less worry about the outcomes. The overall living experience of can deeply evolve, as can our relationships with the people around us. You become more mindful.
As I mentioned, meditation is a great way to practice Satori, focussing on the present moment and the movement of the breath. But you can also use your own personal gateways. Many of mine are movement related: martial arts, football, climbing, and a few others. For you it may be dance, swimming, music or even chess. No person is gonna be exactly the same.
The important thing is to find something you love that brings you to a present state, and throw yourself into it. When you master your art, I believe you take a big step towards mastering yourself.
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Great article. Thanks
Thanks very much!
Very interesting read on the “Satori” experience. If you don’t mind I shall link to your post on my blog as it definitely has a good explanation for many who practise BJJ and can’t figure out how they become aware of things sometimes. Nice photos as well.
Thanks Antoine! Yeah that would be great!