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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!