Why practice your form of particular martial arts, meditation, silent retreat or whatever relaxation techniques? We practice to apply the principles we are taught. While practice does bring benefit in reinforcing our learning, the true benefit lies outside of the practices and in the practical application of what we learn as applied to everyday situations. Applying the essence of the art forms we learn to our interactions and experience has the capacity to lessen the suffering of both ourselves and others.
We develop situational awareness and understanding of our influence on what’s happening when we take the time to observe ourselves, our behaviors and more importantly the thoughts driving us in any given situation. We develop the capability of observing without judgement and more specifically without fear of loss and how we think others are judging us through the the art forms of martial arts or meditation. This allows us over time to recognize the transient nature of our thoughts and emotions. Thoughts come and go. It’s our focus on the thoughts making them recur over and over until we generate the dis ease that filters into our body, awareness, and attention. Emotions are the energy we experience in response to the unfolding moment including both external and internal realities. When we hold onto our emotions and the thoughts they generate, we create the altered reality we generally experience in our daily lives. This leaves us to ride the waves of our experience or get crushed by the force of them.
Practicing meditative or a martial art chips away at the mental and emotional structures we build up over our lifetimes. Practice begins to lessens the waves or at least the destruction caused by the major waves impacting the shores of our soul. Reflecting on the essence of our practices allows us to simplify the practice into things we can apply moment-to-moment and not just to the situations of our art forms. Our interactions slowly change to more manageable situations. We find the emotional trauma and suffering doesn’t last as long. Anger, sadness or happiness come and go just as the thoughts we witnessed in our practices. Herein lies the true benefit of practice.
We bring about more life satisfaction if we can reduce how long we hold on to the anger, sadness or other things that make us suffer. Reducing the suffering in our lives in turn provides an example for others to follow. This is the pebble we drop into the stream of life having the potential to lessen the suffering not only of ourselves but those we interact with. We help others by maintaining our calm and center during the storms we encounter day to day. Instead of stressing out, we can simply adapt to the ever changing moment benefiting both ourselves and others.
When we apply what we learn in our practices in this manner, we move from practicing when we set time aside to do so towards practicing all of the time we are awake. This impacts others even when we are not awake and thus we connect with something beyond ourselves when we turn our lives from practice into an art form itself. May we all enjoy the practice of making our life into an art form.
Self-control is fundamental in martial arts. Any martial arts class will work on this even if it’s not directly addressed. Sometimes in classes for 4-8 year olds it is necessary to not only focus on the topic but dedicate exercises that develop it. One of the exercises used in my son’s class is to stand for a specified time at attention without moving, talking or fidgeting. It’s amazing how difficult it is for kids to do this and I argue many adults I know as well.
This simple activity or rather lack of activity is a form of meditation. It uses a standing posture and guidance to help students develop the ability to focus and let go of distractions. For kids the distractions are over-abundance of energy, itchy noses, noises, and talking to name a few. It sets the stage for the kids to focus on the instructions that follow. It gathers their energy which is critical to later stages of learning.
How can we use this simple exercise in our daily activities as adults? Before entering a room where we have to present to an audience we can stand quietly for a moment or two. We can stand quietly while waiting in line at the store or the airport. We can suspend judgement and sit without moving during conversations which helps us listen with intent. It’s up to us to find opportunities to use what we learn in our martial arts classes. It’s up to us to exercise our self-control like the muscle it is.
“We make vessels of clay,” observed Lao-tzu,
“but their true nature is in the emptiness within.”
The Taoist Arts approach to stillness at least in the guise of meditation is emptying our minds without focussing on emptying or stillness itself. There is no stated goal of Taoist meditation during a particular sitting session. The direction is as simple as, “If thoughts come in, just let them go. Don’t focus on them.” This observation of our chattering mind is extremely useful as it allows us to experience how our particular mind works with the thoughts, feelings and what-nots that lurk within us. Observing this while sitting still in a posture facilitating internal circulation allows us to connect mind and body in subtle ways.
Certainly, there are other martial arts and meditation practices that can help us connect in this manner. The form is not as important as the non-judgmental observing of ourselves. Over time with a long-term practice, we get to know ourselves and how we respond internally to the events around us. This understanding born out of observation enables us to see the myriad things in the world and not be moved by them. Stillness emerges. Once we connect with some level of stillness within ourselves, we are more relaxed and able to weather difficult experiences. Our manager can come yell at us and we respond with calm and listening to what’s behind the words so we can interact in a way to discharge the angst and deal with the problem at hand. Our spouse can come home all wound up from work and we can interact with them in such a way to help them understand they are home and safe. We may find ourselves in a car accident and react as we can to avoid death or dismemberment if at all possible. Connecting with the stillness within allows us to respond appropriately to the situation and it’s needs. This is the function of stillness. We see a need and fill the need. We observe without judgement and do what’s necessary in the short-term while not sacrificing the long-term.
SIDE NOTE: Stillness is an unstated foundational concept of managing the “business of you” I share on another blog at www.bizofyou.com. Instead of meditation, martial arts or other art forms, it looks at ourselves through the lenses of business and systems thinking to ultimately achieve the same thing, using stillness to create the life we truly want.
As stated in the post, Using our Bubbling Spring, I’ve added a fictional collaboration to my manuscript where various characters come together in a tai chi class to create the book Managing the Business of You. The concepts in the book are derived from quality and business management principles but are born out of my work in the internal martial arts. Here’s another except from the manuscript I’m attempting to discover an agent who connects with the ideas therein.
After the retreat our collaborators went out for dinner together. They talked of their experiences. They shared how their bodies felt after a weekend retreat. They related how their thinking had changed through the course of the weekend. Emmet agreed and indicated he could see it in the faces and bodies of most of the participants during the final meditation session. “The stillness was palpable. People’s bodies were relaxed and there was a spirit in their eyes that was not so evident when we started a couple of days ago. There was something under the surface so to speak that helped people maintain upright postures and a relaxed nature even with the two ambulances roared past during the sitting sessions. “I think if the ambulances had come by when we started, people would not have been able to stay centered.” Sarah was smiling. “As you were describing our retreat, I had the image of an iceberg come to mind.” Connie loved these random associations. They showed active imagination and free association she tried so hard to get people in her practice to let happen. “Icebergs are amazing symbols. They are so stable amidst both calm and rough seas. They emerge out of the great ice floes at the poles and float out into the oceans shedding material and adding their pent up water to the environment.” Emmet followed the flow of meaning developing. “That’s a good image of the class but not necessarily the icy coldness of an iceberg.” Connie immediately added, “symbols are not perfect just like life itself.” Emmet continued, “the class was very stable like an iceberg despite the agitating nature of the ambulances and other distractions.” Felicia had an odd look on her face. “I don’t know if I follow the whole iceberg analogy, but I definitely felt the connect we had as a group. Everyone was working better together after the meditation sessions. Our movements felt more alive and expressive as well.” Ricky and Ronda Roots said at the same time, “We were connecting.”
The group was amused as usual when Ricky and Ronda spoke at the same time with the same or similar words. The completed each other’s sentences and did not regret the interruption. The Roots have a connection that few relationships do. They integrated so much of their lives it was like they were of one mind. Although no one had asked, most wondered what their sex life was as connected as they appear to be. The collaborators enjoyed this even if it was a little threatening to the feeling of loneliness within us all. Felicia added to the dialog, “We were connected, having fun and just allowing ourselves to be who we are.” Emmet was enjoying the fact that his instructions had a positive impact on people’s lives outside of class. “We were practicing stillness.”