Halloween1

It was a cool fall night in the mountains of Utah and the rest I was trying to get before an all night adventure was proving impossible. I was so excited for what was to come but never could have guessed how monumental a turning point this night would end up being.

I was on the heels of a disaster I had just gone through and was spending a lot of time healing in the area. On my previous visit the man who would become my teacher, to my surprise, said to me “next time you come out, we’ll go ghost hunting.” You see, I had met this shaman years earlier and it seemed to take an endless amount of time to get him to give me the time of day and more years after that to convince him to begin teaching me his ways.

We left to head up into the mountains around midnight. Our destination was a very old cemetery that held the bodies and some of the souls of both Natives and Westerners who had been killed by war, illness, and natural causes. We spent the entire night in that cemetery and over the course of that time, I came to understand there is a veil between the physical and spirit worlds. It seemed my teacher had lifted that veil for me, giving me a glimpse into this other parallel yet mysterious reality.

I was already a senior practitioner of the traditions i had been studying since I was a teenager and was doing my best to bring the Japanese/Vedic fire ceremony to the western world as my teacher had instructed but what I experienced that night ended up being the first initiation that would change the course of my life and path.

Halloween seems the most appropriate time to write about this experience as in America, Halloween has become a very fun holiday with costumes, partying, and imbibing. However looking back over the haunted roots of the holiday can provide us some insights into what happens during this seasonal transition from fall to winter.

It is thought that Halloween developed out of the original Celtic harvest festival of Samhain “sah-win” which ushered in the darker half of the year. Most cultures have some form of harvest festival; in Japanese Shinto, Shyuki Taisai is celebrated to offer food from the harvest and thanksgiving to the deities. It is natural for humans to thank the divine for a prosperous harvest season.

In modern society, of course we have become disconnected from the cycles of nature but a quick look through our past can allow us to more clearly see our roots as human beings who are inseparably bound to great nature. Without the harmony of 4 the elements of

Earth
Water
Fire
Air

and the abundance of food and blessings of Great Nature (Daishizen), We cannot sustain our existence.

Spiritually, Halloween was a pagan holiday known as All Hallows Eve which was Christianized like many pagan holidays. It is thought to be the day when the veils I speak of above is at its thinnest and spirits are said to more easily be able to come into our world.

The celts believed that during Samhain, the spirits of the dead would return to mingle with the living and the spirits of those who had recently died could more easily transition into the other world. Transition points in the physical world tend to open the gates to the spiritual world and one of the most profound transition times we have is from the abundance of summer to the stillness of winter.

It is believed by many that costumes, jack-o-lanterns, bonfires, and other Halloween traditions were originally used to both ward off evil spirits and aid departed spirits in their journeys. Food offerings were left on doorsteps to aid the spirits of the departed.

That tradition has filtered in our modern culture as a fun dress up holiday.

Samhain became Halloween with the early Christian Missionaries who attempted to convert the celts from their native spirituality. All Hallows Eve was renamed “All Saints Day;” a more Christian appropriate label.

This Halloween we will celebrate with a traditional Japanese Fire Ceremony with Vedic Roots known as Goma. However you spend Halloween, please enjoy yourself and try to remember that with the veil being thinnest, it may be more easily to tap into your intuition and messages from the universe.

I know a few people who recount stories of college professors who really had an impact on them but it seems these stories are becoming more rare. I was one of those fortunate few.

Flashback to me as a teenager in high school..years before I was running into burning buildings and driving drunk students to the ER, I had just begun training in the warrior martial art that I continue to practice today and was like a sponge soaking up anything to do with Asian spiritual traditions.

As a child I had wanted to be a Catholic Priest and then started looking eastward in my teens before finally settling in on enjoying the common threads at the core of all traditions before man began to shape them.

I was full of way too much energy, too many stupid questions, and not much life experience and drove everyone around me nuts.

I had decided that I must go to Miami University in Ohio in order to further my martial arts training with my teacher there and while visiting the school, of course had to meet the professor of Asian traditions.

In I walked to the office of religion and looking for any available professor to chat with. There behind the desk in an office full of thousands of books sat a white bearded laid back man who looked like the perfect quintessential scholar. He spoke with eloquence in a tone reminiscent of the ivy league scholars of old. He had time to speak with me and took an interest in my passion and all of my teenage energy. His name was Dr. Alan Miller and I remember him telling me his dream was to retire in a library.

Over my years in college, I took every class he taught but beyond that, whenever I found myself lonely or misunderstood, I would stop into his office and minutes of conversation would turn into hours to where he would realize his next class started 15 minutes ago. He was always available, always tolerant, and always willing to listen to whatever was on my mind and share his own wisdom from his scholarly path.

But perhaps the most notable thing about Dr. Miller and the one thing I continue to appreciate to this day above all else is that he got me. If I needed to take 10 days off from classes to spend time with one of my teachers, he made room for that. When I either refused or was simply unable to write papers in the correct academic manner with appropriate footnotes and references because I was quoting my teachers, my experience, and sometimes couldn’t even remember whom had given me an insight I was using in a paper, he allowed me to get away with it. He once even told me I would probably have issues with other professors but he liked my style because I “did it well.”

And have issues with other professors I did.

Where other professors tried to make me conform, he didn’t. And where I judged other professors for being too academic and disconnected, I respected Dr. Miller because he was a non judgmental scholar of the highest order who could discuss any topic in any subject from religion to history to engineering .

At one point a 6 page paper he assigned us turned into a 32 page paper for me because it was of a topic of my choice. And I sure chose…at the expense of all my other classes!

At some point during my junior year, Dr. Miller told me he was retiring and moving to washington state. I remember being very sad however he also told me that the Department of Religion had told him he could teach a class on any topic at all and he chose “Spiritual Autobiography.” The class began with 6 students and involved reading autobiographies from different religious traditions around the world.

Great class

About 1 month into the class, Dr. Miller announced he had been diagnosed with some health issues that required surgery and would be out for 6 weeks. He suggested we work on writing our own spiritual autobiographies and reconvene when he returned.

In his honor, the class continued to meet every Tues and thurs at 11am without him. When the religion department attempted to assign a grad student to monitor the class because “DJ Siclari is not a suitable proctor,” we just took our meetings off campus…meeting at ponds, lakes, restaurants, fields etc.

Dr. Miller returned from surgery with a positive outcome and joined the class. But the dynamic was different as he no longer felt like a professor but seemed more like one of us. We were all working on our spiritual autobiographies and he was too. Finally all 7 of us, including Dr. Miller, shared our stories with each other. At the end of the semester, we took him out for Indian Food and gave him a copy of all of our biographies compiled into a bound work complete with pictures from the class for him to remember the last class he was to teach.

I was able to visit him and his wife several years later in Washington State and visited him again last week. Though it was a short drive from the ferry station to his house, when he met my sister and I at the top of his driveway, he was engrossed in a book. I realized he is living his dream as I walked through the stacks and stacks of books in his small cabin and asked him if he knew how many he had.

His answer “About 7000.”

In an age of e-books, kindle, and audiobooks you can download on your phone, I’d say he has indeed retired in a library.

It was wonderful to reconnect with an old friend and professor who was there for me when I felt there was no one else I could talk to about my real interests. For Alan Miller religion was his rebellion…he was pursuing a degree in engineering and switched to religion because it was out of the norm. He walked the path and continues to walk the path of an academic scholar very well and continues to be full of gems of knowledge and insight when I see him.

We reminisced at his house and over Thai Food. He updated me on his health and let me know he is loving teaching a class for adults and we discussed how few of the undergrads who came through his classes at Miami really had any interest in the material and he was feeling more and more generationally removed coupled with the fact that many of the students were Christian Missionairies planning to go to Asia to proselytize their beliefs.

Our time together came and went far too fast and before we knew it, my sister and I were on the ferry back to Seattle.

He and his wife recently acquired a puppy named “Mujo’ in honor or impermanence which as fate would have it ended up being a perfectly fitting name as Mujo destroys everything he comes into contact with!

I’ve always been fascinated with fire…first playing with it, then fighting it, and now one of my core spiritual practices is a fire ceremony. Anyway rewind a few years…

I was a 20 year old college student/ firefighter-EMT and it was 3am. I was dead asleep when I was jolted awake by the squeal of my fire dept pager. The call was for a fire alarm at the house next door to me. This particular night I just did not feel like getting out of bed as 99% of the time, fire alarms are false. So, I threw on the scanner to see what the police would say when they arrived. I did not expect what was to come next or how that day would forever change my life.

I laid there for about 2 minutes still half asleep expecting to be cancelled. My mom was visiting town and so if I didn’t have to lose sleep, I wasn’t going to as there were plenty of other folks who would go.

“Second floor fully engulfed” crackled over the radio.

Holy shit. I flew out of bed, struggled to find the pair of jeans to throw on that I wore under my bunker pants, threw on slippers or flip flops or whatever was closest, ripped a tee shirt putting it on and ran out the door.

I ran downstairs, out the back, jumped in my car, through the lights and siren on, and then looked up.

The entire second floor of the house next door was in flames. These are what we live for and they don’t happen very often.

carI somehow managed to make it to the station faster than I ever have before despite the 2 minute delay. I don’t remember those moments but I think I was doing about 85 through the center of the sleeping farming/college community.

Typically I would make the 3rd or 4th truck out. This time I made the first engine out.

I ran into the station, through on my gear, and jumped in the truck and began testing my air pack.

Being on the first engine, myself and my partner were the first ones in. If you’ve never been in a burning building, it’s kind of a unique experience. First, it’s like walking around your house with a blindfold on as you can’t see anything at all so becoming disoriented is the norm which is why you try to bring a hose with you so you can find your way back out.

Secondly it’s hotter than hell. Imagine the hottest day in the desert you can imagine. Then take it up a few notches. And you have about 40 pounds of equipment on you.

Thirdly, it’s loud and noisy and finally, you don’t really know if the next step you take is going to be on a floor that may or may not support your weight. So, it’s kind of a special feeling. LOL.

Dragging a fully charged hose, we ran up the stairs to the second floor with the familiar Darth Vader in and out breaths that come with breathing from a tank and at the top of the stairs, I felt something under my feet. I immediately knew what it was and dropped the hose and told my partner “I have a victim.” I grabbed the shoulders and he grabbed the knees and we went back down the stairs out to the front lawn.

The 21 year old guy was unconscious but breathing. By this time a few more trucks were arriving and the ambulance brought up the airway bag. Since I was the most highly trained medical person on the Fire Dept at that time, I pulled out the oxygen and began ventilating him when I had that “oh shit” moment that we never look forward to.

I was feeling resistance as I squeezed the bag that is connected to the oxygen tank and the mask that i was holding over his nose and mouth. My heart skipped a beat as I realized.

I was having a hard time getting air in.

In a burning building scenario, the hot air causes the trachea to swell and if the swelling (tracheal edema) is bad enough, it pinches off the airway. That’s a very bad thing. I was not going to let this kid die and have to see his parents on the front lawn the next day.

Tried to get a breathing tube in but the swelling was increasing and we were only a few minutes from the hospital so I handed him off to an EMT who begged me to go to the ER with him but the chief wanted me back with my partner in the building. Off he went to the ER and back thru the gates of hell I went.

Ambulance-225x300It took hours to get that fire under control and we were on scene for nearly 20 hours. I recall having assistance from every surrounding town. The second floor of the building was completely destroyed and the building condemned until it was gutted and rebuilt. I remember not being able to see anything and having to navigate this enormous structure using just my hands to guide me and the hose I was pulling as a lifeline – both to find my way back out and to prevent a flashover scenario.

A flashover occurs when the temperature gets so high that everything spontaneously combusts. The hose can be used to force smoke and heat out a window by creating a stream of moving air that follows the water. Interestingly, until a hole is cut in the roof or fans are setup to release the heat and smoke, dumping too much water creates a lot of steam that can burn.

This fire was really a beast.

Will never forget that day.

Incidentally I later learned that young man went on to become a dentist.

Growing up I was something of a slob. It was so bad that I would spend all day cleaning my room or the garage only to have my mother come home and say “That’s clean?” Incidentally my mother used to comment on how neat I kept things on the ambulance when I was a medic and well, I think I owe it to my patients to know where everything is.

Anyway, during one of my early visits to study the native spirituality of Japan from Rev. Koichi Barrish, the first non Japanese person in history to be ordained a priest of Shinto, we were sitting with some other guests who were there and he noticed some of my clothes weren’t folded. Always seeming to be particularly tough on me he said (in front of everyone) “Siclari, get your stuff in order. When I traveled with my teacher, his clothes were always perfectly folded and everything was meticulous.”

That moment marked a turning point in my life. I could no longer be comfortable with things in a state of disarray around me.

Indeed one of the hallmarks of Shinto, and indeed anything truly spiritual, is purity – the purity of returning to the basic bright state of connection with self and between self and great nature/universal energies. As with all things in life, the external reflects the internal and a neat, organized, and clean space mirrors and creates a neat, organized, and clean internal state and vice versa.

As a suggestion, I recommend cleaning your personal space at least once a week and making an effort to keep your desk, clothing, and personal items arranged in a neat order. You may find doing so alleviates chaos in your life and draws more abundance, happiness, and connection with the divine. And it will save you time looking for misplaced items too. J

As always I am forever grateful to my teacher for such a simple yet powerfully life changing lesson.

Last week I was practicing my very inconsistent back handsprings and I noticed something curious:

When I commit 100% to the movement, I land on my hands however when I commit 90%, I land on my head. And landing on my feet hurts less!

This reminds me of something my teacher, Ajari Jomyo Tanaka, once said (paraphrased)

Put your Spirit into what you do…this is best.

In today’s fast paced society, how easy is it to get sucked into the consumption mentality? Examples abound of quick fixes, magic pills, and entitlement. However, I am constantly reminded that anything truly worthwhile in life is usually on the long path. All of my proudest accomplishments took years and my latest acrobatic quest is going to take a while as well.

BUT, isn’t it the journey itself that is ripe with lessons, fun, and countless personal discoveries? Perhaps the ancients and their wisdom got it right…perhaps the most important investment in life is how and what we commit our body, mind, and spirit to…

Here is my very first attempt at a rings routine… naturally filmed at the end of a 2 hour session:

I set a goal for 2012 to get in the best shape of my life, reconstitute and master my body, become physically, mentally, and spiritually stronger than is/was possible for me, and reverse aging. My plan for doing this was a combination of physical training, diet modifications, and spiritual work. I am training daily now with an Olympic gymnastics coach and several Cirque du Soleil Acrobats. In 7 weeks I have dropped 20 pounds, my blood chemistry is better than a teenager’s, and I feel amazing.

Even though I was always an athlete, I was something of a weak child and had GI and other issues that held me back from maximizing my physical potential. Part of this project is completely healing any residual weaknesses. Recent breakthrough research shows us we can actually change our genetic code with the power of focused intent.

When I first met Uldi, a Hungarian who is my primary coach, he said to me (in typical European style) “You are very strong and very fit compared to most but for what you want to do, you are fat and weak.”

That’s when I knew he was the mentor I wanted and needed. I always seem to have had this masochistic leaning when it comes to choosing teachers and while I seem to have this karmic ability to draw amazing teachers, they are always tough on me. I knew this would be no different, but everything truly worthwhile in life comes complete with its challenges. Uldi told me it was going to be hell, he was going to make me suffer for awhile, and then it would be heaven.

And he wasn’t kidding.

The first month was definitely hell as my body, mind, and spirit rebelled. Now, I’d say I’m in purgatory heading closer to the pearly gates.

On the first day, we were at a park and I did 15 chinups on my second set. Hey, I thought that was pretty good. Uldi just shrugged and said “you must be at 30 very soon.” Nothing like being pushed by a man who can hold an iron cross for 30 seconds.

He told me I needed to lose 20 pounds and to eat light…and when I thought I was eating light, to eat half of that. For that first month, I primarily ate soup. My body hated it…my energy level and moods were all over the place as I completely cut out wheat, dairy, anything processed, sugar, anything fried, dessert, etc and replaced it with healthy alternatives like juices, dark chocolate, organic meats, rice, and potatoes, goat’s milk and cheese, raw foods, and the Hungarian food that Uldi’s wife would make for me

People asked me “where is this 20 pounds going to come from? You’re already in shape.” I really didn’t know but I just followed his advice and stayed true to my commitment as I have found that commitment, tenacity, and the desire to stay true at all cost is what has gotten me the best results in life so far. As one of my teachers once told me: “I started teaching you because you’re a pain in the ass and don’t give up.”

Those early workouts consisted of running stairs…lots of stairs…followed by hills…followed by climbing a mountain. Then I did this with a 20 pound weight vest. 1000 reps with resistance bands and weights in one sessions would not be an underestimate. And core, core, and more core. There were days of running, doing 50 pushups, and continuing to run only to repeat. The run apparently was my rest time. And then the freerunning…jumping over picnic tables, fences, walls, from one wall to another, flips, etc…..constant conquest of my fear. The freedom that comes with transcendence of fear has been a big part of my quest since I was a teenager and will be a central theme of my writings.

With my medical background, I have the ability to run my own lab tests. Over the summer, there were some things that were not exactly where I’d like them to be. (like my prolactin was elevated. WTF, I know I’m in touch with my feminine side but I’ll stick to goat milk for now). Recently, I reran comprehensive blood chemistry and then reviewed it with a specialist in metabolic optimization. Everything was perfect.

Side note: Going to the lab is always so funny….you have to sit in the waiting room with a bunch of horribly unhealthy fat people. So when I get in there, the phlebotomists (who aren’t always the happiest people) look at me and are always like “why are you here?” And I’m usually running hormone panels so I try not imagine what they are thinking I’m actually there for and I think to myself “I’ve been waiting out there for an hour with miserable people, and I’m hungry, give me the damn needle, I’ll draw it myself.”

Anyway, my body went through a massive detox and now I finally feel like I am on the other side of it and I feel amazing. Our bodies store all kinds of things in excess weight including physical toxins, old emotional baggage, and negative energies and I had to let go of several old things I was hanging onto during the process.

I look forward to what the next months will bring with my training.

While I realize my project is a bit extreme, I invite everyone to get out there and make changes in your health. We are spiritual beings in physical bodies. And it is our bodies that provide us the vehicle to do everything we do in life.

And I hope to get some guest articles on this blog written by the acrobats I train with who are extreme examples of what’s possible for the human body and mind to achieve.

I have been on a quest in 2012 to completely reconstitute my body, move into perfect health, and become stronger than is possible for most people. And I am reversing the aging process as well. It’s my latest challenge.

During my daily training with circus acrobats and gymnasts, I get told I’m fat and weak quite often. Here’s a funny video of me recently after over an hour of one such butt kicking session with my Hungarian Olympic Coach. The form is very imperfect, but hey I was tired by then…and I’m very new at this!

I have decided to begin a series of short stories of profound moments in my life. Some of these will be of time spent with my teachers, some will be solo, and some will be downright hilarious! In this series I hope to recall some of my profound lessons, funny moments, and embarrasing realizations as a student of life.

Memoirs of moments with Teachers 1: The most profound peace

It was a crisp October day in Vermont and I was visiting my teacher. When I first met this particular teacher, a Japanese monk, as a teenager, he was living for the summer months on a 70 acre old farm house in rural Vermont that he had adapted to a temple. The house was complete with a kitchen table that had been sawed down so that guests could sit on the floor Japanese style. I recall only seeing one chair in the entire house which, not surprisingly, seemed to be more decorative than practical as it was never used.

One of the highlights of being in Vermont in the fall is the spectacular changing colors of the mountain foliage. One side of Sensei’s house faced the mountains and the other faced a huge open field. It was mid to late afternoon (my memory has become a bit fuzzy) before dinner and Sensei, his wife, and myself were sitting on the floor in the guest room having green tea looking out over the field. This room had sliding glass doors and gave us a spectacular view. Green tea is almost sacred in Japan and is a nectar of relaxation and peace so to this day when I sip on hot Sencha green tea, I am transported to a place of gratitude and peace.

In those days most of our interactions consisted of me asking silly intellectual questions about spirituality and much to my dismay, Sensei retorting with questions of his own about how school was, how my sister is doing, if my mom is healthy, and how we would all wear neckties if Bill Clinton san visited his temple.

At some point, Sensei and his wife began to quietly sing a Japanese children’s song that began “Aki no yuu hi ni…” I did not know the meaning of this song however I listened as they sang while sipping tea and gazing out over the orange hues of the sun beginning to set captivated by the rainbow of colors that covered the trees in the field. At that moment, I was both gently nudged and fully shaken into nakaima the center of now..completely in the present moment. It was the most profound feeling of complete and magical peace I had ever experienced and remains so to this day.

After the singing was finished, I asked Sensei about the meaning of the song. Turns out it was about how the mountain wears a kimono in the fall as the leaves change. I remember thinking how our American nursery rhymes have children falling off trees in their cradles where this Japanese tune spoke of the mystery and beauty of nature. But that is a hallmark of Japanese culture – a perfect intermingling of the modern world and the wonder of nature.

I think often about that moment. And it’s likely Sensei doesn’t recall it at all which I think it so interesting – how what is just another moment in a teacher’s life can be such a powerful crystallized moment for a student. And it’s those moments that help us realize just how powerful, wonderful, and fully actualized an ascended master’s life truly is.