Philosopher. Shaman. Poet. Warrior. Martial Arts expert. Speaker. Spiritual Leader. This, and much more, is Hanakia Zedek, a dreadlocked mystic who was born in the streets of Brooklyn, NY, and now lives near the tree-lined banks of Minnehaha Creek in South Minneapolis. But Hana, as he is called by friends, also is much less. Nothing, actually.
His philosophy: Everything comes out of Nothing. He explains that this philosophy “allows for the release of all that you hold onto – belief, fear, ego, hope, faith, worry, pain; all of which we have created and been trained to believe in; all of which create separation within ourselves and the Universe.”
“Not a thing truly exists, because it all comes from Nothing,” he writes on his website. “And The Nothing is all that really is…96 percent of the Universe is Nothing, 4 percent is that which we call everything…You do the math! In between the cells of anything is Nothing, and when you break anything down, what you find is Nothing.”
Hana is not big on believing in anything. He says, “It is not about whom or what you believe in. It is about what you do, what you choose to think, and how you choose to feel. It is this which shapes your reality.”
Pick up his new book, a small hand-sized edition called Tao-Zen Verses (Whistling Shade), and you’ll get a sense of this man.
“As a man I walk half blind
Half trained to look as a man with nothing to see
Half trained as a Warrior to see Nothing
I have found the truth
Blind as a man and blind to man
I am the blind leading the blind
Therefore I can truly see
“I’ve taken my understanding and my connection from the Tao and Zen, not the religions, just Tao and Zen, and extrapolated the experience of what they’re saying,” he said in an interview with The Edge at his home. “In the Tao and the Zen, it says you can’t point to the Tao or you can’t identify Zen by trying to explain it. This is my experience in it.”
On a warm Indian summer day in October, Hana pointed out the circle of chairs surrounding a fire pit, just outside his back door, where groups meet for drumming and sharing. Stepping inside, Hana led the way to the steps going downstairs, down “The Rabbit Hole,” as it is called, a dark shamanic lair with altars and transformative video and pulsing technobeats, where I imagine many a soul has been turned inside out, fresh for reemergence into the vast brightness of the outer world.
Sitting down for tea, I begin:
If someone were to come up off the street and ask you, “Who are you?” what would you say?
Hanakia Zedek: The first thing I would probably say, to flip them out, is, “I’m nobody.” And when they say, “What does that mean?” I would say, “I don’t assign meaning to who I am, so I don’t feel like I’m my body, my Spirit, my mind, my soul, my emotions.”
Those to me are things that are tools, and those things don’t identify who I am. Even the title that I’ve given myself, Hanakia Zedek, is just a title, a character, a persona, but that’s not necessarily who I am – it’s who I use.
If I were to say, “I am nobody,” that would mean my essence isn’t anything that we identify with as human beings. From a religious or spiritual standpoint, we try to identify ourselves with spirit or soul or god or whatever these projections of who we think we are. I don’t feel that’s who we are. While saying “I am nobody” would kind of freak somebody out, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel that I have no worth. I respect whatever it is, whoever it is I am at any time, or whoever anybody else is. I just don’t feel that we are what we think we are. We are certainly not what we think we are.
So, who are we actually? A Shaman friend in Missouri once told me that these are just space suits, these bodies.
HZ: I feel the same way. I feel the body is a space ship, and what it does is occupies space and traverses space. We use it as a suit or a vehicle to move from point to point. But, to answer your question, who are we? The more that I investigate, the more that I look at it, and the more that I watch, listen and come to understand silence, emptiness, nothingness, I see that that’s what we come out of. We may be that, but I know that something emerges from that.
In the story The Greatest Power, by Demi, an emperor asks his kingdom, “What’s the greatest gift? Whoever brings me the greatest gift can be a princess, a prince.” Everybody shows up to give the emperor all these flowery things, all these big things. But then this little girl comes up and gives him a seed.
And the emperor says, “How is this the greatest gift?”
She says, “The nothing in this seed is the space in between where life exists.” Out of the nothingness inside of this seed grows whatever it is going to grow into. There is something inexplicable in there that emerges into something. It is out of nothing that we come from. So that’s what I feel that we are.
But that’s where we don’t go. People are afraid of nothing. They are afraid of darkness. They are afraid of the void. Just like when we were cave people, we were afraid of the dark. So, of course, we are going to glorify the sun when it comes out, or anything that we can project into the heavens, because we feel that’s what saves us.
So that’s why I revert back into that darkness. That’s why I hold that space for people. It’s important for us to get there to really figure things out. It’s like wholly going down a rabbit hole. We have to go into this hole of self to become whole. What’s in us that needs to come out is all the stuff that we’ve accumulated, or that’s been given to us, or that we’ve been told we are. We can go in there and excavate all of that stuff to find out what it actually is, and the more that we get out, the more that we get rid of, we find there really isn’t anything there.
When a child is born, that child doesn’t have the kind of information that we give it. As far as it knows, it just is. It may be identifying itself or not identifying itself. If we don’t say there is a God or laws or rules or all this stuff, who knows what that being would grow into, what that being would access as knowledge. I don’t feel that we are anything at all, but we give meaning and we assign meaning to a myriad of different things that we, ourselves, are projecting as real.
You said that Hanakia Zedek is a title. What does it represent?
HZ: That shifts and changes. I used to be a minister. I used to be a religious leader. I used to call myself a spiritual leader, but I know that it’s more than that. The title, for me, is someone who holds that transformatory state, the state of change, the state of potentiality. I just created this name. A friend told me that in Hebrew it means “priest of light out of darkness.” Oh, that’s interesting! That’s pretty much what it is.
Hanakia comes from three words: The German name Hans, which I really liked; Anika, which is a Gaelic name meaning beloved, another name I love; and the word Ki, the Japanese word for energy. Zedek is part of Melchizedek, who was known to be a priest king who had no beginning, no end, no mother, no father. I thought that was really interesting, so I wanted to capture that essence.
I created that name for a game, Dungeons and Dragons, when they said that I needed a name. So, as I’m creating this name I’m starting to feel different things about it, and then I’m playing the game as a magic-using human who turns into a wizard. And suddenly everything that was going on in the game started to happen in my everyday life. And then I realized, oh, I didn’t choose this name, this name chose me. I had to stop playing the game, because it got too weird, things moving around the room and stuff like that.
So I just let myself go, the self that I thought I was, and I moved into whatever was emerging. When I’m not teaching or I’m not in the presence of another human being, there isn’t anything there. Even when I’m talking now, I’m not even thinking. I’ve trained myself not to trust what I think or not to rely on what I think, so I just let that go. Whatever is appearing in the present or whatever I am dealing with, that’s what I extrapolate from.
Even as a young boy, were you even reluctant to take on the story and the identity that we all create for ourselves as individuals?
HZ: My mother had my brother and I reading really early. I was reading and speaking around age 1. She had like flashcards and such, so by the time I got to 5 I was already reading whatever was available. She had books on psychic energy, positive thinking, mind over matter, perception, some African mysticism, and some occult stuff, so I was reading that stuff, plus the bible and other doctrines.
When I was younger I moved into the belief stuff, but moved very rapidly out of it because I saw that it was limited. There was only so far I could go. But I identified with the magic and the mysticism of Christ and Buddha. I also read comic books, the whole hero’s journey, super hero type thing, where the person is pressed up against something, usually themselves, and then the true self really emerges. That was my background.
When I was 13 years old, I had a severe car accident where I almost died. They were going to amputate my left leg. My leg was severed in three places. It was actually turned around, facing me. All the bones had moved to the bottom of the leg. First I asked them to get the leg out of my face. They turned it around and then took an x-ray. They were like, “No, this has to come off. It’s already dead. Gangrene is going to set in.”
I’m sitting there thinking about all the stuff that I read, all of the stuff that I can’t understand, and I was like, “Now, right now, this is where I have to use this.” So, I just pulled it together. I could feel the energy inside me, and I’m focusing in on the leg. I remember looking at a chart when they were wheeling me through the hospital, a chart of the human bone structure, and I was like, “Okay, that’s the way the bones in your leg are supposed to look. I know they don’t look like that now, but that’s the way they’re supposed to look.”
So, I just laid there and just saw that. It wasn’t visualization or anything. I was dealing with the energy inside me and the leg itself – and then I started to see it. I saw the energy. It was like, “Okay, we are going to do this, we are going to do this.”
The doctors came back in to see where they were going to cut the leg, and they saw that all the bones had started moving back and fusing, and they are looking around. I’m not going to say anything, because they’d think I was crazy.
So they said, “Well, we don’t know what happened. Things are going to work out. It looks like there is life back in the leg.” I didn’t say anything.
They said, “Well, we are going to put some hardware in there. You’ll probably walk with a limp.” They put the hardware in there, and sure enough, the bones grew right over it, as if it wasn’t even there. So it was really at that point when I was 13 that I understood, “Okay, this is what I need to be doing and eventually this is what I need to be teaching.” I didn’t then know what it would turn into, but I had a good hold on it then.
Everything kept pointing back to this emptiness, this space where this stuff just arose out of nothing. You don’t have to pray, you don’t have to hope, you don’t have to do all of this stuff that we’re trained to do. You sit, you wait, you feel it, and it’s right there. By that time, it has already read your intent, so it’s already doing what is necessary – probably before you even know what it’s doing. It’s outside of the framework of time.
When I talk to somebody about the Law of Attraction, what I say is that when you try to attract something, you actually repel it because you don’t realize that the connection is already there. It’s like when you go to reach for a feather in the air. You go to reach for it and it moves because the air pressure pushes it. Your pressure of want, your pressure of desire, pushes things away. But if you are constantly receptive and in the space of allowance and awareness, you see the synchronicity, you see how things lined up, and you see that when you want something, that’s actually you telling you that that’s already available. The desire is saying, “Oh, this is part of who you are. All you have to do is allow it to happen.”
It’s hard to show people that they already do that. So I ask, “Okay, how many times in your life have things just appeared, for some weird, strange reason? You’ll think of somebody and the phone will ring?” What I show them is that by the time they get the inkling, they are actually striving for something they already have. All they have to do is just receive it, or allow it to emerge.
It’s complicated, because we have society saying one thing and religion saying something else and you have spirituality trying to mix everything together so everybody’s happy. But if you look at it in nature, the tree doesn’t want for anything. It just moves where it needs to. A blade of grass doesn’t pray. But you can see a blade of grass coming up through concrete. How? We have that information inside that is inherent, that shows us what we need to do, but we have been trained out of that. I just tell people to come back to that space inside them and just remember when that is happening. These unexpected experiences happen, and then we go, “This is coincidence,” or fear or doubt moves us out of it. I just move them into the certainty of it and show them how to cultivate that.
So it’s essential to become empty inside?
HZ: It’s not something we force. It an awareness that there is an emptiness that you shouldn’t be trying to fill. Just harvest that space. There is a book called, Cultivating the Empty Field written by Chinese Zen masters. That’s the great thing about Zen. How do you cultivate emptiness? How do you be nothing? It bends the mind. But that’s the objective, to bend the mind out of the way, so it’s more a realization that it’s okay to be alone, it’s okay to have nothing to do, it’s okay to have that space, because when we’re creating something, that’s where it comes out of. We have a blank page, we have an empty canvas, and then we decide. We get this feeling and then it starts bubbling and churning like anything else in the universe. It bubbles, it churns, it booms, and explodes, and then it is something that we identify.
Are you getting a sense that more people are moving into that space, or not?
HZ: I don’t know. I think this is where the variance in the paradigm shift is. You have sections that are holding back, and the movement forward is inevitable. I have clients who are religious and who are believers, and they come to me for different things. I know that they are not going to move out of that, so I show them how their belief can help and aid them.
The normal person doesn’t even want to hear the word spirituality or religion. There’s this movement to something almost like common sense. You explain something and people don’t want to hear it anymore, and then you say something that makes sense, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” We know there’s a change happening. You can see factions and you can see that movement. The election of Obama, the first black president, was a major shift. Hillary was almost the first woman president. So, change is happening in cultures, in systems of belief, in family dynamics, in social structures. There is movement and there is going to be a shift out of the way things were. Change is inevitable.
Everything is in flux, moving from one state to a different state.
HZ: That’s a universal principle. We try to establish balance, but I don’t think that ever really happens. There’s always this imbalance, this pressing, and then the shift comes, and then the moment that the shift comes, it is already changing again. There’s a play on words that I do with people: “Nothing stays, and it’s the only thing that does. Everything changes, but nothing changes.” Not a thing changes, and it’s the nothing that creates that shift, but it stays the same. Nothing is the thing that remains permanent, but not a thing is permanent because these things are constantly in flux. It’s almost like this abstract field implodes or explodes or something happens. It creates waves, but it doesn’t change.
And we identify with the wave as opposed to the nothingness.
HZ: Exactly. That’s why I use that philosophy of nothing, because it’s a play on words and a play on our own absurdity. I’m going to have a philosophy of nothing and people are going to think that it is absolutely absurd, because how can you have a philosophy of something that doesn’t exist? That’s the point. All we do is create philosophies about things that don’t exist, so I’m holding to that absurdity. I’m pointing it out and then asking, what if we look at that nothing and adhere to that and come to understand what that actually means as an origin or as a functional principle of release, of understanding? We can’t really hold onto anything, and anything that we hold onto we destroy. So what if we just let go of everything? What if we allow ourselves to become detached?
What happens is we become more connected. The more detached we are, the more we are not holding onto something, the more that we can see it for what it is and really appreciate it. That’s when the love happens, not when you’re forcing it.
Yes, there are things that we do, things that we create, things that we project, and there is a whole world construct that we think we are living in – which is awesome in itself – but if you let that stuff go, it is even more awesome. Because now you are realizing that almost sublime connection when you don’t really have to do anything. Your presence, your understanding, your allowance, is part of what it is.
It’s just, we try. That’s the problem, man. We try so hard, and we don’t have to. It could be effortless, it really could be. I’m not saying that it’s not valid what people have gone through, because it is – the things that have happened to them, the horrors and the atrocities. What I’m saying is that if we come into an understanding of that essence, we don’t have to fight for all these things that we’ve created. We can just let them go and just let them be.
I think life is like art. It’s this beautiful thing, until we start believing in it. Just appreciate it. That’s what I feel about culture. That’s what I feel about religion. I don’t think that it should be guiding us and leading us. I think it should be appreciated, because it’s a matter of expression. It’s a matter of projection. It’s like a movie. It’s a beautiful thing, but as a principle of living life, no, I don’t think it has worked in the past 4,000 to 5,000 years.
When we love something so much, our culture tends to create a religion or something out of it and say, “That’s the way.”
HZ: Taoism! How do you make a religion out of the Tao? This is inconceivable. It just boggles my mind. I was talking to a friend about Taosim. Let’s forget the “ism” part, let’s just go back to what this cat was saying. Some of the greatest minds are the poets, who offer up their experiential extrapolations in that moment. That’s it, and then you let it go. We can’t hold onto that. You can’t hold onto a beautiful fish or a bird or a lake. You just appreciate it for what it is. It’s changing, it’s moving, it’s flowing. Our way of holding things is stagnation. It doesn’t work. It kills things. It destroys things.
For more information on Hanakia Zedek, visit: www.hanakiazedek.org; www.hanakia.multiply.com; www.emissaryarts.com; or www.thephilosophyofnothing.blogspot.com. For more information on the new book Tao-Zen Verses, visit www.whistlingshade.com/taozen.html