Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Power of Clarity

The able-bodied among us walk effortlessly, without conscious thought.

Place these same people in a dark, unfamiliar space, and ask them to take a step forward. How does it compare?

Give the stranger in the dark, unfamiliar space your verbal assurance that all will be well. "Trust me." Now ask him to take that step.

Have some "peers" limping on crutches or holding icepacks in the waiting area. "He told me it would be alright, but..."

Offer another person a new technique from the Ministry of Silly Walks and tell him that, so long as he walks just like this when he enters the dark room, he'll be fine.

How about telling a final candidate that the experiment starts on the other side of the room, which unfortunately just blew an electrical circuit, knocking out the lights. No problem--just a straight shot across and we can get started.

In each case--except perhaps for the last--direct attention was brought to our innate ability to walk, each time with varying results. These other steps were rooted in thought, doubt, distrust, and maybe even false confidence, and each showed a physical result. If I tell you you will stumble, or even if I tell you that you will not, I direct you to doubt your ability--and it likely will show. If I tell you there are fresh cookies on the other side of the room, though, it's likely you will not take one conscious step along the way. This is clarity: Your body knows what to do to get to the cookies and it will adapt to the situation as necessary.

* * *

I met a salesman who was not confident in his presentation. He knew the product had public perception problems. He studied the material to assure me--and perhaps himself--that the perception problems were unfounded. In the end, as I listened, all I heard was his doubt. Worse, all of this was doubt that he brought with him, since I offered neither resistance nor challenge of my own. Maybe he was rooted in false confidence in someone else's proven process, maybe not. It doesn't matter: He was clearly struggling with himself.

Maybe with practice these skills will integrate like walking, on call to achieve his intention. Perhaps that comes with experiencing a sequence of successes, like a child taking those first shaky steps. In truth, though, situations such as this might not require long periods of practice and sacrifice to master responses for each and every situation; instead, mastering taking one step from the top of our 100-foot pole should be sufficient to defeat your one, true enemy.

Masakatsu Agatsu Katsuhayabi!
True Victory is Victory over Oneself in this Instant!

Acting with clarity does not guarantee any particular kind of success... However, given that you are already dead--as the samurai might say--why not step boldly? Why would you defeat yourself before ever facing the enemy? Why would you offer him the means to kill you?

The Sword Mountain practices are designed to help you recognize and then shatter the barriers you place before you on your path to freedom in every situation. If you see yourself in any of the above, do contact us sooner rather than later so we can help you rediscover your footing. 

That is our purpose.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012: Year of the Koan

It is a rare event, but I do occasionally browse the stats for this website and puzzle over why Google directed you to me from so far away, why anyone would be interested in that old post, or why you picked it up and thought to build a commentary around it. Sometimes it's a worthwhile exercise, like last night when I saw that someone found "News from Inside the Cave," a post from December 2010. Go ahead and click it if you like--I did; it'll pop up in a new window so you don't lose your place here.

One year later, I can see where I was. Now, I can plot where I am. Join them with a line and I can see a trajectory of sorts. I can say positively that, in spite of all of the chaos we encounter from day to day in life, I met those objectives in one form or another, though not necessarily as I would have envisioned. Form, it seems, is not guaranteed...

If we took a snapshot today, I would say that formal Aikido practice has faded away. I saw that coming as my Zen practice grew: Aikido became a laboratory for exploring Zen--and particularly the koan--on every level, and progressed to become one means to convey some of what I found to people who spoke Aikido. As this trend progressed, Aikido began to lose its distinction. Focusing on integration, individual components dissolved as any situation became an opportunity to practice the same. Today I will say that, given my own particular circumstances, maintaining an Aikido practice is simply requiring too much conscious effort; as such, you should note in the sidebar that scheduled Aikido classes no longer appear.

What about formal Zen practice? Interestingly enough, it's taken the same path as Aikido. Formal Zen practice became a laboratory to explore "True Zen," and then formal practice time became a method to convey findings to people who speak Zen. Now what is it? For now, we should take the last sentence from the Aikido paragraph and replace "Aikido" with "Zen."

Very well then. What should become of the Tuesday and Thursday, 6:30-8:00 P.M. time slots? We will dedicate this time to public koan practice.

Personally, I can say that koan study has been the most direct, most valuable, and most revealing key to my practice, informing my Aikido and Zen practices, then unlocking other aspects of my life. Koan practice is infinitely portable: it can occur simply in conversation, whether over coffee, over dinner, on a park bench, or on a walk around a lake; then, when you are alone, you can re-examine the exchanges more deeply. You may spar with advanced practitioners to sharpen your skills and learn some new techniques, or perhaps you will be thrown when challenging a stranger. After all, koan exchanges are occurring in plain sight all around you... You will see them if you can tune in to the conversation just beneath the words.

So, for the next round, I challenge you to join me for public koan practice. Local folks are welcome to join me in person, and we may open up via the internet (Skype, Google+, Twitter, etc.) for those more remote. Watch the Twitter and Facebook feeds (links to the right) for details.

I will reconsider formal Zen and Aikido practices later for those who show promise with the koan...

Sound interesting? Your feedback is welcome!

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012: Keep One Point

Speech and silence, movement and stillness. Each heartbeat and every breath. All the comings, all the goings. Everything accumulated or found, all that was discarded or lost. Up until this point in your life, what have they served?

Now, you wake up where you are, within your own circumstances. You sense you have a previously determined trajectory and momentum. Welcome to a show already in progress. Now, who are you?

... and what is your destination?

Hold this point knowing you are already there. Now, open your eyes and look around: What matches and what does not? Every thing and every thought. Every sensation and every emotion. Whatever catches your attention: The entire universe presents itself to assist you on this journey. Open doors allow your passage; closed doors seal off wrong paths. Ease of movement reaffirms your choice while obstacles and temptations test your faith. Those who appear to assist you along the way are blessings, while those who depart were meant only to take to this far.

If ever you lose sight of your one point, simply return to it. Your having strayed is an opportunity to sharpen your focus.

Finally, know that if all is lost, all possessions, all relationships, your health, or even your life, then this too was part of something larger--even if you cannot yet comprehend it.

Does it sound difficult? What if I showed you that you already live this way? One might say that where you are now, everything you experience as you encounter the unpredictable events of life, is precisely a reflection of your one point... but maybe you just do not know what point you are holding. Perhaps the point you are holding allows you to shift points as you go. Perhaps the point you hold is "no point." Do you know what it is? If not, perhaps you are holding the point where you are looking for the point... Does it sound silly? Perhaps you hold the point of protecting your own ground...

What is the point? It is your choice...

Once we fully understand the practice of keeping one point, we are ready to find the point that contains every point, including perhaps itself. From there, you may extend yourself to the edges of the universe and beyond.

Join us at Sword Mountain to begin. Your destination is less than one breath from here.

Happy New Year! Let this be the one.