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Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

POWER OF TRANSFORMATION

“The inside and the outside – they are made of the same flesh”.  This is reportedly the cry a student of Chan (Zen) cried out when he reached enlightenment.  It is an apt description of the basic principle a Tai-chi teacher tries to teach to his students to bring them to their first perceptual breakthrough.

Every discipline of personal development is based on the principle that, to change one’s life, you need to change what is going on within yourself.  What else can we do?  We can’t change the whole world around just to our liking.

And so we learn how perfecting proper body mechanics allows us to perform physical tasks easily.  Learning about the mechanics of our attention (mind) allows us to be effective in interpersonal relationships and in navigating our lives.

As we discover the physical and mental behavior patterns that presently fill us, learn which ones are effective and which interfere with our power in life, we can reconstruct the very mechanisms we use to live our lives.

And then we discover that much of the way we perceive the world around us is really a reflection of the patterns of behavior within us.  As we become more creative in gaining Tai-chi skills, the world itself seems to change and not be as threatening or as cold.

The student discovers that much of what he took to be the cold reality of life was just the projection of a story he was telling himself, onto the world outside.

At this point he realizes that part of that story was his identity.  To really gain power in life, to be able to drop the behavior patterns of battle and self destruction, you have to allow that story about your identity to change.

And then you become just a simple person.  In another Zen story, a Buddhist student brags to his Taoist friend that his Buddhist teacher can create miracles.  “With a movement of his arm he can make an entire dinner appear in the middle of the forest.  He can knock over a band of robbers with one breath.  He can clear a valley of fog with one in-breath.”   The Taoist student was not impressed.  “That’s nothing compared to my teacher,” he said.  “What can your Taoist teacher do?”  The Taoist student replied, “When my teacher is hungry, he eats.  When he is tired, he sleeps.”

To what degree do the stories we have been told, affect our perceptions and our behaviors?  We trust that pieces of paper (money) have great value and then numbers in computer memory have great value and then learn, as we have lately, that there is nothing really backing up that value.  These are stories we tell each other to help our lives run smoother.

But we have all learned what happens when some of us no longer believe those stories.  Perhaps we need to base our lives on stories that are not “built on shifting sands”. 

In the novel, The Doubting Snake, I suggest this battle of stories is the basis for the underlying drama of our times and that those who become the new story tellers, can lead us into more meaningful lives.

But we must begin by understanding the stories that we have based our lives on.  To what degree is health, loving relationships, and a feeling of connection to the earth important in our lives?  And to what degree does the quest for money overshadow these values?

If you tell yourself a new story, a healthy one, that story may resonate with others and become their story.  The power of life is to be the story teller and not just the actor portraying someone else’s story.

Transform the inside to transform the outside. This is what every Tai-chi student must realize at deeper and deeper levels.

SHOW ME YOUR ORIGINAL FACE

In Zen (Japanese) and Chan (Chinese) Buddhism, a “Koan” is a challenging question or statement used to bring the student to a higher level of awareness. The sixth patriarch of Chan Buddhism used this Koan, “Give your bones to your father and your flesh to your mother and show me your original face”.
This Koan was a wonderful guide to me in my practice of Zen during my high school and college days. I studied in a Zen center in Ithaca, N. Y. while attending Cornell. The teacher was a toll taker on the New York State Thruway. At the same time, I studied at an Esalen study group, which was one of the beginning attempts at learning about the relationships between mind and body. My major was the evolution of animal behavior (“ethology”). I felt all this meshed together well.
Once out of college my work as a zoologist brought me in constant close contact with many species of wild animals. I had to work with each animal at its own level of awareness and become sensitive to its “point of view”. This work made me realize how “stuck” my own point of view had become. I had to connect with each animal by adopting its “dynamics of attention” because the animal was certainly not going to change to accommodate me. This in turn, made me sensitive to how variable the dynamics of attention are in people. Most people are stuck with one pattern of behavior – one set of responses to situations they encounter in everyday life. But that pattern is very different in each person.
I began to understand that developing yourself as a person is not a matter of having the “correct” pattern of responses. It is a matter of bringing creativity into your daily life so that you can adapt to each situation. Not only will you respond more effectively but, by being more creative in your life, you will live a more joyful life. Giving up addiction to your patterns allows you to “show your original face” which is your creativity.
With this in mind it is easy to understand why Tai-chi was invented. The slow forms require your attention to flow smoothly, along with the momentum of the body. Your movements are jerky and awkward when your attention is pulled by thoughts and other patterns. The slow forms un-trap your attention and allow it to return to its original state.
The Push Hands exercise requires that you fill your partner with your attention so that you are aware of the state of every muscle and joint in his body. You become aware of the patterns of attention within each part of the partner’s body so that you can take advantage of “dead spots” and throw the partner off balance. This means that your attention must become a living being. Attention no longer just means what your eyes are looking at. It is a vibrant, responsive energy.
When you develop that state of attention, you realize that attention is a universal energy, flowing through all living things. You then realize your connectedness to the rest of life. You feel that connectedness as much as you feel a hard physical object. Attention thus becomes a sense that allows you to feel how you are connected to your surroundings. You are no longer an isolated lump of flesh.
The Zookinesis exercise system strengthens that awareness and brings it into higher resolution so that you can truly use it as a sense. It ignites the awareness of each muscle, organ and cell of the body so that your body becomes stronger from the inside out.
With the colder weather approaching, the attention naturally starts to condense and focus within the body. If your body awareness is dead, then you will just feel dead, meaning tired. But if you develop your body awareness, winter can be an exciting, healing time. You can set aside a part of each day for your practice.
The summer naturally allows attention to expand into the environment. Attention goes through many patterns of expansion and contraction. Notice when your attention expands and contracts, from night to day, from in-breath to out-breath and during other cycles. You will become aware of attention itself as a living, breathing energy. Your identity will no longer be defined by the patterns of behavior and responses to situations. Your attention will be allowed to follow natural cycles and thus, your behavior as a person will start to follow those cycles.
If this becomes true for enough people, then the culture will start to follow natural cycles. When we become more natural in our lives, then creativity becomes a stronger influence. You can say that your spirit, your “original face” comes out. You see yourself, not as a collection of opinions but as joy, ready to leap from each cell of your body and participate in the world.
When in college, I also studied sociology and anthropology. I was especially interested in the question, “What is the role of culture?” What is a culture supposed to do for people? From the many cultures I studied around the world, it seemed that a culture is supposed to help its people to be happier. Is our culture doing that for us? Is it helping us to be healthier? How can we create a culture within our own lives that will help us achieve these goals?
The sixth patriarch of Chan Buddhism suggested that you need to clear out your programmed behaviors first and feel how you are connected to life itself. One of the basic principles of Zookinesis is that your life is formed from what you pay attention to. Do you pay attention to your patterns or to life around you? Use what you pay attention to, to lift yourself up out of the heavy mud of your patterns. Feel your attention and its dynamics. Does it feel like a weapon, helping you battle through the day? Does it feel like a race car? Look for role models in nature to help craft your attention.
I used the animals I worked with simply because that was my job. Notice how you feel when your attention is a machine gun as compared to a soaring eagle. Is the spirit inside us an expression of our creativity or of patterns of defense and aggressiveness caused by fear. In other words, does fear rule our lives, or joy? Give your bones back to your father and your flesh back to your mother and show your original face!