Living on the edge (of a spinning top)

We live on the edge right now, in this world.

We’ve probably always been living on the edge, if you consider the sheer improbability of our being here and how asteroids, super novas or black holes could remove us in a blink of an eye.

[That is the sound signalling that rice has been cooked, in case you’re listening to the audio]

We need a way to improve our understanding of

  1. who we are,
  2. where we are,
  3. when we are,
  4. what we are (this is a more difficult question).

We think we know the answer to when and where, but we haven’t positioned ourselves properly (ichi-zuke 位置付け; Rank-Placing-Tag). While it is true that we are at the top of the evolutionary tree, recall that ours is a recent outgrowth, that we are but a small branch on this great Tree of Life called Earth.


If you compress all time, we appear minute.

If you compress all time, we appear minute-like.

Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar

“Who we are” is not just what we tell others, during normal conversations, it’s also what we tell ourselves the whole time.

As you’re doing something, you are your thoughts.

Let’s say that you’re ironing your shirt: What are your thoughts?

  • Are you with the iron or are you with the shirt?
  • Are you in some other place, far away, watching TV?
  • Where are you?
  • When are you?
  • Are you in the morning before work or are you in the evening, after work?

What are you? Your job? Your nationality? Your kind (meaning “human”)?

If you put me in a group at the zoo, the answer to “what are you?” is quite simple:

There are monkeys, there are rhinos, there are birds, and there’s me, so I guess I identify myself as a “human”.

What does it mean to be “human”? Evolutionarily speaking, it’s the top.

Why? Because we developed language. Because we can work together, you know?

The 6-7 billion people currently living on this planet, not working together as one, but in communities as one, acting towards the same goals, within the same frameworks.

I live in a block of flats (which is six storeys high); this has been designed by a number of people and worked on by a number of people I will never be able to grasp. It’s not just the guys who did the work now: You have to look at the actual building plans, ask yourself what is in the background.

Why do we have the doors that we have?

How did we get the knowledge to build, to protect against earthquakes or fire, wind or rain, typhoon or hurricane?

This is all built by others for us.

So it’s not just the construction workers who happened to build your particular building (even though they will probably remain anonymous to you), it’s a whole chain stretching backward to immemorial times…

Back to the identity question:

Are you aware of the builders who created all that surrounds you or are you aware of the iron?

Remember, you’re ironing.

Are you the TV voice? Are you the persons in the book you’re reading? Are you just following a voice you’re hearing from an electronic device?

(Not following as in “follow instructions”, but just as in “What is this guy trying to say? I’m not sure I can follow”)

Where are we all heading? How can we improve?

It sounds like I’m advocating a religion (of awareness). It is NOT a religion.

People think that Christianity is a religion. Yes, it is.

People think that Islam is a religion. Yes, it is.

Buddhism is a religion. Yes, it is, but it is also a philosophy

(philo-sophia : Loving-Knowledge; contrast this with above).

People across the world need to come together, with a common language (of meanings, not necessarily words) about how to make things better (kaizen), to make things more like zen (=Good 善).

I’m not asking you to accept Buddhism or some other religion; I’m asking you to think about

  1. all the things that have come before us,
  2. what Time has filtered for us
  3. what is our duty,
  4. what is the value of our being in this world.

Think about it using the meanings that we have received from our forebears, from our ancestors. Not just grandfather and grandmother; not just Romanian and Japanese.

We need to make things better quickly and to remember that we are part of this universe, yet this universe can go on without us.

We are at the top of the Life-Tree and we’ve been cutting down at every level in the chain of life: the number of species which are disappearing, the climate change that we’re inducing…

Who (or what) is going to survive? The cockroaches? The stones? The water?

Is it going to be another 2-3 (hundreds of) millions of years before life evolves again?

And will we have the same luck that Earth would produce another human civilization if we screwed this one up?

How do we screw this one up? First of all we have climate change, and people think

“Well, big deal. It’s going to get a bit warmer. There’s going to be more snow, more extreme weather events, the tornadoes are going to get worse etc.

We’ll just have to build better: canals, levees…”

All that is true, but, in addition, global warming means we are heading towards an era of More-Instability. This is not only in terms of weather or climate; if peace, good health, well-being, confidence in the future are all predicated on some degree of stability, guess what instability brings into the picture.

If we take the time to sit quietly (zazen 座禅 Sit-Meditate), on the Ki-Merging-Path (aikido 合氣道), we come upon the idea of Calming-Down (ochitsuki 落ち着き Fall-Arrive).

It’s increasingly more difficult to calm down in this day and age because we’re facing crisis after crisis.

How do we face these crises? We face it through something called Quietness-Movement Do-as-One (静動一致). Again, quoting from Tohei Koichi (藤平光一):

No. 13 Quietness-Movement One-Match (Sei-do Icchi)


As the Madly-Spinning Top Goes-back to Quietness,

Quietness is the culmination (Extreme-Reaching) of Movement.



As it Becomes more Quiet in the Eye of the typhoon (Basis-Wind),

Movement draws its Force from Quietness.



It is a Perfect Match of Quietness and Movement into One.


By Always Calming the Mind and Integrating into One-Point Below-Navel, we Create Leisure-Inside-Busyness,

Facing Big-Things, we do Not Lose the usual (Parallel-Normal) Mind,

Facing usual-Things, we Can Achieve Effects which make the Sky Wonder and Move the Earth.




Incidentally, Quietness is repaos in my native language, in which Hyperion (= Evening-Star) says

din repaos m-am nascut

I was born from Quietness

How do we integrate mind and body into one? By letting our heart-mind (kokoro 心) sink into that One-Point Below-the-Navel (臍下の一点), by acknowledging our place in the Universe:

We’re always reaching up and we’re going to fall off unless we can find the time to look down to where we are in the great chain of life.

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